Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is a new attraction replacing Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This shares everything we know so far: opening timeframe, construction progress, concept art, and commentary about the Princess and the Frog inspired log flume ride. (Updated June 27, 2023.)
Let’s start with a couple of updates, the first of which is that Splash Mountain at Disneyland is now closed. It ended operations at the start of the summer season, roughly 4 months after the Magic Kingdom version of Splash Mountain closed to be reimagined into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
Walls are already up around Splash Mountain in Critter Country. If the pace of construction at Walt Disney World is any indication, the project will soon kick into high gear in California. That’s doubly true given the tight timeline for completion, and considering the Disneyland transformation is already several months behind. We should continue to see Tiana’s Bayou Adventure start to take shape throughout the remainder of this year and into 2024 on both coasts.
Earlier this month, Imagineering revealed that they are collaborating with award-winning artists PJ Morton and Terence Blanchard on the music in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Both natives of New Orleans, PJ and Terence will help Disney score a lyrical love letter to the region that first inspired The Princess and the Frog.
Both PJ and Terence are multiple Grammy award-winning musicians; Terence also played all of Louis the Alligator’s trumpet parts in The Princess and the Frog. PJ is writing, arranging and producing the original song for the attraction. He’s performing on and producing the sessions in New Orleans of all-new arrangements of the song, as well as songs from the film that’ll play in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
Terence Blanchard is helming music arrangement for the queue in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. He’s working to select songs from the movie, as well as iconic themes from New Orleans. There will be more to share down the road as teams make progress on a new original song composed by PJ Morton and new renditions of fan favorite music from the film.
June 27, 2023 Update: Walt Disney Imagineering has completed a major milestone in the transformation of Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure: the tiara-topped water tower is up at Magic Kingdom.
This Tiana’s Foods water tower is the icon of the attraction, and was first revealed in the scale model of the attraction at the D23 Expo last year. Imagineering also previously released Tiana’s Foods backstory about the attraction, which included an image of the Princess and the Frog characters installing the water tower outside the salt dome (above).
Now life imitates art, I guess, and the tiara-topped water tower has been added to Magic Kingdom.
The water tower has a “Tiana’s Foods” painted marquee on the front, which is the name of the employee-owned company that Tiana founded according to the backstory of the ride. On top of the tiara itself there are two stars, which are a reference to Ray and Evangeline.
As discussed below, we’re not super-enthused about the Tiana’s Foods backstory, and are hopeful that Imagineering doesn’t place it front-and-center in the actual attraction. The Tiana’s Foods logos emblazoned on the water tower and all over the construction walls don’t exactly bode well for that, though.
(A bit of an aside, but we’ve overheard more than one conversation between confused guests “debating” whether this will be a ride or restaurant due to Tiana’s Foods signage on those walls. It seems obvious to diehard Disney fans that Splash Mountain wouldn’t be converted to a restaurant, but not everyone follows this stuff closely. It’s completely understandable that those signs could cause confusion for the average guest.
If the goal is free advertising for the attraction–and it should be–having concept art and other teasers that refer to this Tiana’s Bayou Adventure makes so much more sense than simple Tiana’s Foods signs. I normally get the desire for immersion or whatever, but it’s active construction site. Immersion is already off the table.)
Speaking of construction, earlier this month we observed the removal of the tree stump that was the signature feature of Chickapin Hill. Getting rid of that indirectly explains why this water tower is “necessary” to give Tiana’s Bayou Adventure its own unique visual identity. Otherwise, it would just look like a big mound rising out of the ground.
It still does look like that…but now there’s a tiara-topped water tower in the foreground to engage the eye. I have nothing against the water tower, but I also don’t really think it was necessary to chop off the tree stump. That looked cooler than a mound.
My guess is that it wouldn’t have “made sense” in the context of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure since this is supposed to be a salt dome now. The thing is…a lot of this new attraction set in New Orleans and located in Frontierland is going to require suspension of disbelief or logic-bending.
Frankly, I’m fine with the rest of the internal inconsistencies around Tiana’s Bayou Adventure–and the average guest will not care. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the one thing Imagineering deemed a dealbreaker for whatever reason was also the one thing that looked good. Over the years, Disney has been willing to hand-waive away a lot and (rightfully!) prioritized aesthetics over story on a case-by-case basis. This should have been one of those times.
On a very positive note, Disney has also confirmed that there will be 17 original character Audio Animatronics from The Princess and the Frog physically created for the attraction, in addition to those repurposed from Splash Mountain. This will include multiple appearances of Princess Tiana, who will make wardrobe changes throughout the ride, plus other major and recognizable characters from the movie, including Louis the Alligator and Mama Odie.
One such new character is Prince Naveen’s younger brother, Ralphie, shown below playing the drums . These brand-new and reimagined Audio-Animatronics figures will bring the invigorating sounds of New Orleans to life. These will be scenes you commonly see in New Orleans: the joie de vivre influencing every movement–including with a band of friendly critters playing joyful Zydeco-style music.
Imagineering shared that it’s creating brand-new characters with distinct names and personalities as part of an expanded Princess and the Frog universe for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Along with this, there will be dozens of entirely new Audio Animatronics figures, including adorable critters with incredible talent, bringing the “diverse flavors of musical gumbo found in New Orleans!”
In addition to the new characters, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will feature the familiar faces from the film such as Princess Tiana, Prince Naveen, Louis, Eudora, Charlotte, “Big Daddy,” the King and Queen of Maldonia, and Prince Ralphie. The attraction will also serve up new and original music alongside favorite tunes from Princess and the Frog, as well as the alluring scent of beignets being prepared for the party in the attraction queue. But wait, there’s more…
One of the returning characters who Disney has highlighted is Mama Odie, reprising her role as the catalyst to that magic and joking with guests along the ride after a special display of her magic. The legendary actress Jenifer Lewis, who starred as the voice of Mama Odie, is once again returning to her role for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Additional voice talent from the film reprising their roles include Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen, Michael Leon Wooley as Louis, and Anika Noni Rose as Princess Tiana.
Given what Imagineering has announced about Mama Odie and the model of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure that’s already been unveiled (see below), it seems highly likely that Mama Odie and her display of magic will be the final scene before the attraction’s climactic drop. Here’s a look at the model:
On a positive note, we are really reassured by Imagineering’s announcement that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will feature dozens of entirely new Audio Animatronics. I’ve gotta admit that I was getting a little worried about the lack of detail, and was concerned complaints that “it’s going to be all screen-based” might have a degree of validity as Disney continued to focus on sharing details about research trips to New Orleans.
My guess is that “entirely new” actually means some Audio Animatronics will be repurposed from Splash Mountain, and they’ll be reskinned or otherwise refreshed. So not really entirely new–more like somewhat new or reimagined. Still, it’s incredibly promising that the number of Audio Animatronics is in the dozens (plural). That alone bodes really well for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, and should put to rest supposed rumors that the attraction would be all screens.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure recycling a lot of the existing Brer Critter Audio Animatronics makes complete sense–a lot of those Audio Animatronics in Splash Mountain were recycled from America Sings at Disneyland and cloned for Magic Kingdom; they had nothing to do with Splash Mountain’s source material.
Going forward, those AAs are likely be given new life as part of an “expanded universe” for the Princess and the Frog. This makes even more sense now given what we’ve seen of the concept art and the bullet points above about a brand-new cast of original Disney characters with distinct names and personalities, as well as adorable critters with incredible talent. My guess is this means we’ll be getting more extensive backstory about all of the animals that inhabit the attraction, which is fine by me.
One of the things I loved about Splash Mountain was all of the critters, totally unrelated to the story being told, who inhabited Chickapin Hill. Why were they there? What was their deal? They were not just anonymous animals that spontaneously gathered to watch Brer Rabbit’s attempt kidnapping.
In fact, the alligator band–The Swamp Boys–had a concert poster in the queue. It would’ve been great to know more about these critters, even if wholly immaterial to the attraction itself. While wholly unnecessary, it would’ve been added color, world-building details for the eager fan. (I also vividly recall inspecting all of the birdhouses as a kid, wondering who/what lived inside.) I really hope Tiana’s Bayou Adventure tells more of the story of the expanded universe of these critters.
As for the construction to transform Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, crews are moving fast on the Walt Disney World version of the attraction. A lot has already happened, and we recently observed construction workers on site after midnight.
You can see work on the facade of the attraction from the ground in front of the former Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, as well as an elevated vantage from the queue of the latter. You can also get a look at what’s changed thus far in the outdoor queue (not a whole lot) from the platform of the Walt Disney World Railroad Station in Frontierland.
With that update out of the way, here’s everything else we know about Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, including a recent timeline (of sorts) of announcements about the project…
The biggest and most substantive details were revealed last fall at the D23 Expo when Walt Disney Imagineering shared more details about the reimagined ride, including a model showcasing how Splash Mountain would be transformed.
Note that the model is the Disneyland version of the attraction. There are going to be slight differences between the two both outside and inside the attraction, due to the layout of the entrance, queue, and staging of some show scenes. The logs are also different at Disneyland–side by side seating will still exist in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Magic Kingdom.
It’s our understanding that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Disneyland will have some details not present in the Walt Disney World version (the opposite is probably also true).
In early 2023, Imagineering shared new backstory for the queue of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. The set-up to the ride will essentially explain the “next chapter” of the story for Tiana, set after The Princess and the Frog. Within the queue, guests will discover that she continues to grow her business with Tiana’s Foods, which is an employee-owned cooperative. Combining her talents with those of the local community, Tiana has transformed an aging salt mine and built a beloved brand.
Many fans expressed concern or disappointment about this backstory. While it doesn’t get me the least bit excited, I also don’t think it really matters. It sounds like the backstory will be mostly relegated to the queue of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, setting the stage for the action to come. As with other queue backstories, it’s something most guests will probably miss.
One specific that has fans upset is that the pretense of the ride is Tiana inviting us “to help with the missing ingredient for the party.” I could be wrong, but this strikes me as an obvious MacGuffin.
For those who aren’t fans of Alfred Hitchcock or Pulp Fiction (first of all…why not?), a MacGuffin is an seemingly-significant item that advances the plot and motivates the characters, but ends up being irrelevant or unimportant. Muppet Haunted Mansionalso uses this device, cleverly calling it The Great MacGuffin.
Personally, I appreciate good world-building and superfluous backstory, with my one condition being that it doesn’t as a substitute for substance and isn’t an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. Around these parts, we call that “The Dino-Rama Rule.”
There are so many queues at Walt Disney World that reward astute observers, but are unnecessary to the main attraction experience. I’m expecting something similar with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. But who knows.
On a more substantive note, 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, 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. We’ve seen some permits needing to be re-filed due to prematurely expiring, but that’s not the norm. 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.
This brings us to the feasibility of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opening in late 2024.
Many fans are understandably skeptical, especially given that the cloned TRON Lightcycle Run project has been in progress for the better part of 5 years. Nevertheless, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opening in late 2024 is reasonable. At least at Walt Disney World.
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. 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.
As a counterpoint, look at the relatively 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. 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.)
Reimagining Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be a more complicated process than even Frozen Ever After. Splash Mountain was a really long ride, with dozens of Audio Animatronics and elaborate scenes. At least some of that will stay put, but a ton of it will need to change. Unlike the transformation from Maelstrom to Frozen Ever After, the load/unload area and queue will not need to be reworked with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Splash Mountain was already a high capacity attraction with a lengthy line.
Repurposing Splash Mountain’s Audio Animatronics is 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. 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. Imagineers have been doing a ton of work off-site before Splash Mountain even closed.
It’s not like they were waiting for that, and then finally go inside for the first time 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 the advanced Audio Animatronics, it’s safe to assume one or more will be Princess Tiana, plus perhaps Prince Naveen and other characters. Given the emphasis on her, I’d also imagine that Mama Odie right before the drop will be an impressive AA, as will whatever “magic” effect occurs via the bottles. These advanced AAs should be really impressive–better than recent princesses and princes at Walt Disney World, but probably not on the same level as the Na’vi Shaman.
Imagineering has made tremendous strides with Audio Animatronics of animated characters in the last several years. It’s probably fair to say that the projected faces on Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train haven’t aged well; those are an example of ambitions outpacing available technology, which was still in an awkward position.
By contrast, the new Elsa Audio Animatronics for the upcoming Arendelle lands and the Belle and Beast AAs that have already debuted at Tokyo Disneyland as part of Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast are amazing. Those are absolutely stunning, and perfectly meld old and new technology to create something more true to the animated character models. Those have excellent fluidity and features, and will also age much more gracefully than their counterparts in Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
While I’d imagine some Walt Disney World fans will remain skeptical, with the cynical view that the Asia parks always get nicer things, I do not expect that to be the case here. (And to the contrary, the company does spend big on Walt Disney World…it’s just not always what we want to see!) There’s every reason to believe that at least some of the human characters will be envelope-pushing Audio Animatronics.
With all of that said, 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 should not be misconstrued as a rumor–I truly do not know how this will play out.
With the 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!”
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 for Splash Mountain to be transformed into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Personally, I hope Imagineering is given as much time as necessary 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. 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.