Disney has revealed the name, opening timeline, concept art, and details for Splash Mountain’s reimagining inspired by Princess and the Frog coming to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This shares new info, construction permits, project progress, when Splash Mountain will likely close, commentary on the turnaround timeline and more. (Updated October 16, 2022.)
Let’s start with the new name of the attraction evolving from the reimagining of Splash Mountain: 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.
During the D23 Expo in Anaheim last month, Walt Disney Imagineering shared more details about the reimagined ride, including a model showcasing how Splash Mountain would be transformed. See our Photos & Video of the Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Model, which offers a comprehensive look at the changes to the mountain’s exterior, queue, and even on-ride details that’ll be added to the attraction as it becomes Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
October 16, 2022 Update: Walt Disney Imagineering has filed a permit with Orange County (Florida) to commence construction on the reimagining of Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Walt Disney World.
The permit is for “Project CY1899” with an address in Magic Kingdom associated with Splash Mountain and an expiration date of June 30, 2024. It lists Balfour Beatty Construction LLC as the contractor on the project.
There are a few things worth noting with regard to this permit…
First, this “Notice of Commencement” does not actually mean that construction will begin immediately. While this is a necessary prerequisite to the start of work on the Splash Mountain transformation, it’s not conclusive as to when it will start. Walt Disney World has filed plenty of permits weeks or months before construction actually commenced.
Below, we discuss what date Splash Mountain is likely to close, and when construction is actually likely to begin.
Second, the expiration date is not indicative of a completion or opening date for a project or attraction, but it does indicate the latest date when all construction is expected to be finished on that component of the project. Due to the closure, we’ve seen some permits need to be re-filed due to prematurely expiring, but that’s not the norm.
Likewise, we’ll discuss the likelihood that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open by Summer 2024 in the commentary below.
Finally, it’s common for these construction permits to be assigned to third party contractors. In fact, Imagineering always works with outside teams–and there will be different contractors for the Florida and California versions of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. (One of the contractors working on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance actually made a significant mistake in California, causing that version of the attraction–which had been well ahead of schedule previously–to open after its Florida counterpart.)
For its part, Balfour Beatty Construction is highly regarded and has extensive experience with major projects in the Orlando area. They’ve been involved with many components of the EPCOT overhaul, including the currently-paused Play Pavilion. Prior to that, they were responsible for Pandora – World of Avatar, Gran Destino Tower, Reflections Lakeside Lodge, plus Cabana Bay & Loews Sapphire Falls Resorts at Universal Orlando and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
As for when the attraction closure will begin, my expectation is that both Splash Mountains will close within the next few months. 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.
It would also make sense to close Splash Mountain first so the fan “farewell” of that doesn’t overshadow the debut of TRON Lightcycle Run. While there are a range of possibilities, my bet is that the Splash Mountain permanently closes a couple of months before TRON Lightcycle Run opens.
As for a specific date, I’m not sure. I’ll put it this way: I don’t think Splash Mountain will close before Orange County winter break ends and Walt Disney World Marathon concludes. That’s when the worst of holiday season crowds subside, and Splash Mountain will be useful in adding to Magic Kingdom’s capacity during those busy dates. I also think Disney will want to close the attraction almost immediately after the holiday season concludes to provide maximum downtime to accomplish the reimagining.
Accordingly, my prediction is that Splash Mountain will permanently close on January 9, 2023 at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. (There’s no marathon at Disneyland, but Los Angeles schools go back into session January 6, so closing that version after the weekend on the same date also makes sense.)
My sincere hope is that Splash Mountain doesn’t remain open much longer than that. Honestly, if the ride quietly closed tomorrow, I’d be fine with that–even if it meant not getting to “say goodbye” to Splash Mountain.
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. At this point, I don’t even expect Disney to announce the closure date in advance to indirectly incentivize unofficial farewell trips. It’s very clear that Disney doesn’t want to draw further attention to Splash Mountain, even if that means forgoing revenue on goodbye trips and souvenirs.
It’s likely that there will be a red-text blurb posted to the current Splash Mountain attraction page indicating it’ll be closing a few weeks before that occurs. Beyond that, we expect the company to only acknowledge the closure of Splash Mountain when discussing the future of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. They definitely are not going to make a big deal about the end of Splash Mountain. This is unprecedented for a marquee attraction, but it is what it is.
This brings us to 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.
Nevertheless, I am still somewhat skeptical that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open in 2024. I’m downright doubtful that it’ll debut by the June 30, 2024 date listed on the above permit. Even though it would make sense to open a log flume ride in the summer, there’s a lot of work to be done here. On top of that, the existing Splash Mountain infrastructure could need more work than is presently known.
Imagineering has had difficulty with delays in recent years, and there’s potential for more of that with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure–especially given the unknowns. It’s possible this project moves faster than expected and Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens by June 30, 2024. However, if I had to bet on an earlier or later date, my money would be on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure slipping into 2025. Of course, all of this is speculative–and being posted before work has even started!
With the Splash Mountain closing date and Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opening date speculation out of the way, let’s take a look at what Imagineers have been doing behind the scenes to prepare for the ride reimagining…
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.
Imagineering also noted that to ensure Tiana’s Bayou Adventure authentically reflects the real-life inspiration of Tiana’s story, their creative team has consulted and collaborated with a host of academics, musicians, and artists across the New Orleans region.
As far as updates go, this is really of the non-update variety…but it is interesting to compare the art with the current Laughing Place scene in Splash Mountain. This “inspirational” art might serve as a template for how that could be modified to fit Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, swapping out turtles and gophers for frogs and fireflies.
Prior to this, Disney also revealed a new look for Tiana, with character costume art pictured above.
This is based upon researching prevailing trends of the 1920s and looking through family archives to ensure 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 setting of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
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!”
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.
Ultimately, that’s our perspective on the feasibility of this overhaul timeline and likely closure date for Splash Mountain. Personally, I hope Splash Mountain closes before TRON Lightcycle Run opens in Spring 2023 to give Imagineering a 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 refer to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure as “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.
However, 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.