Because of the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which required changes to the northern perimeter of Disneyland, the Rivers of America attractions, including the Disneyland Railroad, were closed for over a year and a half. Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island and Fantasmic! opened earlier this month, but it wasn’t until the end of July that the watercraft and the trains returned.
While the official opening was on Saturday, July 29, I attended an opening ceremony for the Return of the Disneyland Classics on Friday morning. The ceremony was held on the riverboat dock. The Mark Twain was festively decorated for the occasion.
As part of the opening Disneyland President Michael Colglazier touched on some of the announcements made at D23 about new experiences that are coming to Disneyland. He also took a moment to offer a tribute to Marty Sklar, the longtime Disney Imagineer who died on Thursday. A tremendous loss to the Disney community.
Once the ceremony concluded, we were invited to take a trip on the Mark Twain along the Rivers of America: the Mississippi, Columbia River Gorge, Missouri, and Rio Grande. There’s new landscaping and new rock work along most of the river area.
The Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes were preparing to open as we sailed by. In the photo below you can see the new walkway next to the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, which will eventually lead to one of the entrances to Galaxy’s Edge. The Hungry Bear dining area along the river’s edge is really a nice place to relax while you watch the traffic on the river go by.
The part of the Rivers that I think most of us have been anticipating is the Columbia River Gorge, with its new elevated train trestles and five waterfalls. It really is gorgeous. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)
We stopped for a while at that point. The narrator talked to us about Walt Disney’s love of trains and how it was inspired by animators Ollie Johnson and Ward Kimball. They both had their own backyard railroads, with engines named the Marie E and Chloe respectively. John and Nancy Lasseter now own the Marie E. And there they were, coming ’round the bend on the Disneyland Railroad: the Marie E, towing the Chloe – I believe it was the first time they had ever been together. Certainly the first time they’d ever been at Disneyland!
John Lasseter was driving the train, with Nancy beside him. It was a great moment.
Not long after they went by, the C. K. Holliday appeared, with train cars full of Disney characters and cast members. (Click on the photo for a larger image.) There were even a few fireworks above it.
Columbia River Gorge, Marie E, C. K. Holliday:
We continued our journey…The Lakota village has returned, and we still hear the chanting of the shaman. His figure is much closer than it used to be.
Looking back toward the Columbia River Gorge, with a family of moose near the river bank. There are lots of other animals, too – deer, elk, raccoons, beaver, etc.,
Kim Irvine, Art Director for the Rivers of America, talked a little about the landscaping and other aspects of the project.
Though the official opening wasn’t until Saturday, the canoes, Mark Twain, and Sailing Ship Columbia were open to guests on Friday. Nice to see the different watercraft sharing the river again.
Here’s a look at the path between the Hungry Bear Restaurant and the river, which will eventually lead into Galaxy’s Edge.
John Lasseter was at the New Orleans Square train station in his engineer overalls and hat. He was excited about his role in helping to re-open the Disneyland Railroad that morning.
Our last event was a ride on the Disneyland Railroad. We took the “Grand Circle Tour” starting from New Orleans Square, so the very first part we saw was the new tracks and trestles. We couldn’t really see the waterfalls from the train, but it was great to be up on the trestles looking over the river.
As we approached Big Thunder Mountain we passed over one of what will be an entrance to Galaxy’s Edge – below us were guests on Big Thunder Trail.
Lots of new landscaping and rock work in that area.
Approaching Fantasyland, we passed above what used to be Big Thunder Ranch, and made a left turn, to eventually join up with the original railroad tracks. The area below the train in the photo is the third entrance to Galaxy’s Edge. The path just visible behind the trees on the far right is Big Thunder Trail.
There was lots of new landscaping in this area as well. And some new furry friends, too.
I didn’t notice the fox inside the log until I zoomed in on the photo.
No changes in the railroad from Toon Town Station to Tomorrowland Station, as far as I could tell. Once we left Tomorrowland we entered the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. Both of them have been repainted and greatly enhanced with brighter lighting and even some special effects.
I was happy to see the triceratops family has returned. 🙂
The diorama still concludes with the dramatic battle between the tyrannosaurus rex and the stegosaurus.
The video below includes the new sections – New Orleans Square to Toon Town, and Tomorrowland to Main Street.