Disney has revealed the name and opening for the overhauled Splash Mountain inspired by the Princess and the Frog that’s coming to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This post shares new info and recaps past “progress” on the project. Plus, commentary on the quick turnaround timeline, when Splash Mountain will likely close, and more. (Updated July 4, 2022.)
This news comes from the Essence Festival of Culture, where the the Walt Disney Company is the exclusive entertainment sponsor. This year’s celebration has been a multi-city event culminating this weekend in New Orleans, with panels throughout the first weekend of July.
This year’s Essence Fest celebrates the “Power of Joy” and the many ways that’s reflected in Disney storytelling. As the exclusive entertainment sponsor, Disney will bring talent and exclusive experiences from Disney Cruise Line, Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, and virtually every other division of the company.
Panels that could pertain to the Princess and the Frog–and thus this attraction–will be held on Friday and Sunday. Disney has already confirmed that more details will be revealed about the Splash Mountain reimagining during the Essence Festival of Culture, so it’s safe to expect details, concept art, and other reveals on either or both days of this weekend.
We’ll keep this post updated as new information is released. For now, here’s what has been announced about the overhauled attraction at the 2022 Essence Fest:
The name of the new attraction evolving from the reimagining of Splash Mountain is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
The all-new attraction will bring guests into the world of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ film “The Princess and the Frog” like never before. According to Disney, the reimagined ride will open at Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California in late 2024.
Here’s a video that Disney released about the new attraction:
Walt Disney Imagineers have been frequent travelers to Louisiana while conducting extensive research to ensure Tiana’s Bayou Adventure preserves the heart and soul of the city that inspired Princess Tiana’s story. From exploring the French Market and the bayou, to consulting with academics, chefs, musicians and cultural institutions, Imagineers have received inspiration from all over the region and learned from local experts along the way.
This research was explored in detail today at the French Quarter’s historic Preservation Hall during an intimate event held in honor of ESSENCE Fest, happening this weekend in New Orleans. With its own distinct history bringing people together, Preservation Hall was the ideal location to celebrate an attraction where music and community are at the heart of a transformational journey.
UPDATE: Disney has also revealed a new look for Tiana, with character costume art pictured above. This is based upon researching prevailing trends of the 1920s – the era in which our story takes place – to looking through family archives, the team ensured Tiana’s look was historically accurate and authentic to the character. Tiana was equally at home in the bayou as she was at a banquet, and Imagineers wanted her look to reflect that, and be a compliment to the story’s setting.
Disney’s panels at the ESSENCE Fest have now concluded, so what’s covered here encompasses everything revealed during the event. (There was also a subsequent segment on Good Morning America, but that covered the exact same details revealed over the weekend.)
The celebration included a panel moderated by Victoria Uwumarogie, senior lifestyle editor at ESSENCE Magazine. Joining me in this discussion were colleagues and friends Charita Carter, executive producer of relevancy activations at Walt Disney Imagineering, Ted Robledo, executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering and Stella Chase, daughter of the late Chef Leah Chase who inspired Tiana’s story.
Guests were treated to live art demonstrations provided by emerging talent from YAYA Arts Center, an organization we’ve engaged to commission artwork from alumna Sharika Mahdi. Music from the world-renowned Preservation Hall Jazz Band echoed throughout the hall, along with a performance by the voice of Mama Odie and living legend herself, Jenifer Lewis.
According to Disney, guests are in for a true treat with local flavor when Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens in late 2024. As Charita Carter shared that “in many ways, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is a love letter to New Orleans.”
Carter continued, “like the musical city that inspired this attraction, Tiana’s second act is about a community working in harmony to achieve something extraordinary. She reminds us of an immutable truth we can all relate to: ‘if you do your best each and every day, good things are sure to come your way.’ And that’s a melody we can all sing along to!”
To be able to join New Orleans in the celebration of Black joy as we bring Tiana’s story to its roots is a full-circle moment I’m so proud to realize.
Ted Robledo added that “the joie de vivre that animates this region so brilliantly not only inspired Tiana’s journey, but also our team at Walt Disney Imagineering.” It’s our intention to do that jubilant spirit justice when advancing the storyline of Princess Tiana at our parks.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will pick up this story after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure — featuring some of the powerful music from the film — as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance. During this celebration, guests will hear original music inspired by songs from the film. Tiana is leading the way and guests will be able to encounter old friends and make new ones along the way as well.
Last summer, the company shared more details on the Disney Parks Blog. That update included a ~30 minute roundtable video included numerous individuals, including Charita Carter, Senior Producer for Walt Disney Imagineering. You can watch it in full for yourself below:
During that roundtable, Imagineer Charita Carter stated that Disney will “advance the storytelling and really just kind of change the game” when it comes to the advance Audio Animatronics and scenic visuals utilized in the reimagined ride.
Despite its duration, that was the only tidbit about the actual attraction that came from the roundtable. The rest was about Tiana’s cultural impact, the creative process behind the upcoming attraction, and Imagineers efforts to research New Orleans to tell a story that’s as authentic to the region as it is to the characters’ stories. There wasn’t much substance about the proposed ride.
That brings us to the commentary section of the post, where we’ll speculate about the feasibility of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opening in late 2024 given that Splash Mountain still doesn’t have a closure date.
Many fans are understandably skeptical, especially given that the cloned TRON Lightcycle Run still isn’t open and that project has been in progress for the better part of 5 years. Nevertheless, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opening in late 2024 is reasonable.
For one thing, the lethargic pace of TRON Lightcycle run is deliberate. At first, Disney moved at a snail’s pace on that to spread CapEx costs out over multiple fiscal years. Then came the closure and uncertainty about travel thereafter, which resulted in a pause and slow restart.
However, if the company wanted that roller coaster finished 2 or even 3 years ago, they could’ve made it happen. They didn’t, so it didn’t. At this point, work has accelerated on TRON Lightcycle Run and the timeline has moved forward. Again, by choice.
The point is that TRON Lightcycle Run is a poor comparison because it’s prolonged timeline was deliberate from the outset, and not a showcase of how slowly construction necessarily occurs at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. (Just look how much faster they hustle when DVC contracts can be sold!)
There are also a slew of recent ride reimaginings that showcase just how quickly Imagineering can move. The best examples here are Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at Disney California Adventure and Frozen Ever After at EPCOT.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout took less than a year in total, with most of the exterior transformation occurring while Tower of Terror was still operational. Once the Hollywood Tower Hotel went vacant, the Collector took up residence in only 5 months. Without question, that’s the fastest turnaround time for Imagineering in recent memory–and the results were shockingly good.
Converting Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After took a bit more time, but still occurred in under two years. That attraction might be the better comparison, as both are boat rides that will require new staging, the replacement of numerous show scenes, and more. (I’d be curious to hear from accountants about the depreciation rules for new builds v. renovations, as I suspect that comes into play with all of these projects.)
As a much lengthier attraction, reimagining Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be a more involved process than those for Mission Breakout or Frozen Ever After. Still, those illustrate what can be accomplished in a couple years or less.
Our expectation with the Princess and the Frog attraction is that a lot of the existing Brer Critter Audio Animatronics will be reused. That makes sense–a lot of those Audio Animatronics themselves are recycled from America Sings at Disneyland and had nothing to do with Splash Mountain’s source material. Going forward, they’ll likely be given new life as part of an “expanded universe” for the Princess and the Frog.
To me, this seems like a savvy move all around. It’ll allow redevelopment costs and budget to be allocated towards other components of the project, potentially shorten the construction timeline, and might blunt some of the fan outrage. Those ‘supporting player’ musical critters are beloved and themselves totally noncontroversial, so that seems like a win all around.
In addition to those, it’s likely that there will be advanced Audio Animatronics and scenic illusions based on the roundtable video above. That instantly calls to mind Na’vi River Journey at Animal Kingdom, which melds Audio Animatronics and practical sets with screens and other effects. Splash Mountain already has dozens of AAs, so it’ll likely avoid all of the pitfalls that make Na’vi River Journey underwhelming in spots.
This is also reminiscent of both Mission Breakout and Frozen Ever After, which use a mix of screens and Audio Animatronics.
All of these things are fabricated and staged off-site, and then installed inside the attraction when the time is right. It’s not like Imagineers have to wait for Splash Mountain to close, and then go inside and start building a bunch of AAs and screens with hammers and chisels (or whatever tools are used for making that stuff–I’m not a scientist). In other words, construction crews don’t need to wait before starting work on the Princess and the Frog ride. That work has already begun.
As for when the attraction closure will begin, my expectation is that both Splash Mountains go down in January 2023 during what would normally be the ride’s winter refurbishment. The attraction is currently in rough shape with many broken effects and Audio Animatronics, suggesting that not much was fixed during the last refurbishment. That was probably intentional–a limited refurbishment budget for a ride with a limited shelf life.
Magic Kingdom opening TRON Lightcycle Run around the same time that Splash Mountain goes down for its multi-year reimagining into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure just makes sense from an operational standpoint. Magic Kingdom needs the headliner ride capacity, so it’s hard to see much of a gap between the closure of Splash Mountain and opening of TRON Lightcycle Run.
From my perspective, that only reinforces the likelihood that TRON Lightcycle Run is opening in Late 2022, and not Summer 2023 as some have speculated. The bigger question is whether TRON Lightcycle Run debuts before or after Splash Mountain closes. It would make sense to close Splash Mountain first so the farewell of that doesn’t overshadow the debut of TRON Lightcycle Run, but my bet is on the new ride opening about a month before Splash Mountain goes down. Those are just guesses, though.
It also wouldn’t surprise me if Splash Mountain closed earlier than January 2023. That’s the latest and most likely date, but I could also see the attraction going down in mid-August or early September 2022. That would get both coasts through the busy summer season, with the rides closing at the start of the off-season. While crowds do pick up again from October through December, those months are also colder and Splash Mountain becomes less popular.
My sincere hope is that this earlier closing timeframe ends up being accurate. (Or at the very least, work begins on the new attraction while the old one is still operating, a la Tower of Terror to Mission Breakout.) Honestly, if Splash Mountain closed tomorrow, I’d be fine with that–even if it meant not getting to “say goodbye” to the old ride.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is likely going to be around for decades to come, so I’d like for Imagineering to have as much time as possible to do it justice. Sacrificing a few months of the old ride for even incremental improvements to the quality of the new ride that’ll be around for years to come is a worthwhile trade-off, in my opinion. (Obviously, my opinion doesn’t matter–the timeline is what it is.)
Given the underlying reasons for the Splash Mountain closure, I would not expect a “long goodbye” or a line of tribute merchandise. However, I do expect an announcement at the D23 Expo (or even before that) that provides a closure date and timeline to indirectly incentivize unofficial farewell trips.
It also remains possible that the Disneyland version closes first. From a logistics perspective, starting there is more convenient and would likely facilitate a smoother and speedier transformation at Walt Disney World. However, I’m not sure if the optics of staggering the projects makes that approach less desirable. (At the very least, I’d expect closure dates to be announced simultaneously.)
Ultimately, that’s our perspective on the feasibility of this overhaul timeline and likely closure date for Splash Mountain. While I think the attraction most likely won’t close until after TRON Lightcycle Run opens, I hope it happens before that to give Imagineering a little more time to produce a high-quality attraction, and not just a quick and superficial redo.
Both Splash Mountain and Princess and the Frog deserve better than that. This reimagining NEEDS the very best creative talent, budget, time, and all other resources. I hope Disney is cognizant of the fact that the Splash Mountain reimagining is going to be under a microscope, both from fans and in the mainstream.
If the end result of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure feels rushed, sloppy, or phoned-in, it’s going to attract criticism from a diverse array of people. As the company has been getting a lot of social backlash recently, hopefully they realize the importance of avoiding that for once. Here’s hoping that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure delivers an exceptional experience that effectively silences critics and wins over skeptics.
Oh, and as for the name…I’m of two minds about that. As I’ve said before, I was really hoping for “Splash Mountain ~ Voyage of the Log with Princess and the Frog: New Adventures with Princess Tiana!” That was mostly in jest, poking fun at Disney’s comically-long attraction names (although I think incorporating “log” and “frog” into the name would’ve been a solid move).
With that said, I’m pleased that this ride name doesn’t have any punctuation. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is short and sweet, and easy to remember. I personally would’ve preferred “Tiana’s Bayou Blast,” but maybe that sounds too much like a royal flavor of Mountain Dew. (Maybe Tiana’s Bayou Bash?)
I do think a lot of Walt Disney World fans and even regular guests will still just call it Splash Mountain. That’s such an iconic and memorable name, with strong brand recognition. Given that, I’m sort of surprised that name isn’t living on…but I also get the desire to make a clean break from the past. Disney wants this to be perceived as entirely new (even if it’s not) and a fresh start for the ride. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds. We’ll keep you posted if and when there are more updates this weekend!
Thoughts on the Splash Mountain reimagining? How much of the current attraction (e.g. random musical critter AAs) are you expecting to appear in the reimagined version? Excited for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, or do you wish it were called “Splash Mountain ~ Voyage of the Log with Princess and the Frog: New Adventures with Princess Tiana!“? Expectations regarding the Splash Mountain reimagining timeline? Keep the comments civil, as this is not the place for politically-charged arguing, culture wars, antagonism, personal attacks, or cheap shots. We will be heavy-handed in deleting any comments that cross the line, irrespective of viewpoint. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s priorities. If you wish to shout your outrage into the internet abyss, that’s why Facebook was invented.