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Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #9 ‘Frontierland’

#7 Go West, Young Disneylander 10/01/13

Howdy pard!  Welcome back to Lance’s Armchair Imagineer.

It should be pretty obvious, we’ll be talking about Frontierland this time.

I enjoy this rustic, atmospheric area of the Park celebrating the Pioneering Spirit. There’s a lot of ambiance and sense of place here. Not the authentic American West, by any means, but an idealized 50’s TV version (this is Disneyland, after all.) Let’s take a stroll through the stockade gates and amble forth into what was once the Largest Land in the Park.

Frontierland doesn’t have a great deal of attractions by number, but there are some fun things to explore and one great headliner thrill ride.

The centerpiece of this land is ‘The Rivers of America’ with its fleet of two large ships and many canoes (the latter is technically in Critter Country and we’ll get to it when we get to that area in the future). Of course, the ‘River’ circles Tom Sawyer Island.

When you first stroll into the area from The Hub, take a few minutes to appreciate the details here. The Stockade gate, the Frontier storefronts complete with wood plank sidewalks and hitching posts. There’s also a lot of ambient sounds and music to help set the mood. This goes for everywhere in Disneyland, you can just hear it here better because this area tends to be less densely populated than the other areas of the Park. A welcome respite. Note: The Gate has one of two ATMs in the Park.

On your right..

THE FRONTIERLAND SHOOTIN’ EXPOSITION. A Coin-Operated shooting gallery which sports some deceptively hi-tech targets. Nice to see that this venerable attraction is still here in this PC age. It’s harmless fun and beautiful to look at. My suggestion is don’t waste a single ‘shot’. You are paying for a set amount of trigger pulls. Use ‘em productively. The kids enjoy this and the Adults should give it a competitive shot once in a while. Note?  Maybe a Holiday redress.

No one appreciates my joke about retheming it to Bambi. Shoot over a lamp and start the forrest fire, get Bambi’s mom. Yeah. I didn’t think so.

A little further along on your left is…

THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE SALOON. I have so many happy childhood memories of seeing the show here on my annual trip with Mom. It was the classic Wally Boag / Betty Taylor headlined variety show: The Golden Horseshoe Review which ran for a record amount of performances…but never seemed to get old. According to Wiki: This variety show ran a record 39,000 times and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running musical of all time. It was a lot of fun. It was so sad when we recently lost Wally and Betty. Betty never failed to pick me as the little boy in the audience to sing to. Talk about making me giggle and blush!

And it’s also nice to sit down and enjoy lunch while you enjoy the show. I love the chili in a bread bowl myself. Satisfying. Anyway, I consider this a Must Do….especially on days when you need a little break. It’s also a great lunch stop since a fun show is included. Get there 20-30 minutes before showtime to get a decent seat and grab your grub.

Currently, the theater has a few rotating acts (mostly Billy Hill and the Hillbillies or the comedy troupe Laughing Stock), all fun, though I prefer the former. My single note: I wouldn’t mind an occassional recreation of the classic Review show…for old time’s sake. If they can tribute Michael Jackson, I think the Disney legends Wally Boag and Betty Taylor are equally worthy within The Magic Kingdom.  Of course, you know me. I’d like to see a number of rotating shows in this venue….including special Holiday-Themed programs.

Across from the entranceway is the dock for both ships of the Rivers of America Fleet:

THE SAILING SHIP COLUMBIA is a gorgeous recreation of the famed sailing ship.  Because of Fantasmic, this ship isn’t as available as The Mark Twain, so when you get a chance, take her for a ride around the island.

There’s a fantastic historical narration, lots of soundtrack songs of the period and an actual Maritime Museum below decks.  It’s also just fun to run around on and explore. Love it just the way it is.

THE MARK TWAIN STEAMBOAT.  Walt’s love of Twain led to this recreation of a classic Mississippi Riverboat. Like the Columbia, the audio track is informative and entertaining. The ship is beautiful. You can take it easy on the lower decks just above water level or go above for a more panoramic view. Love it just as it is.

Here’s my great tip: Sometimes if you ask politely at the dock, you will be allowed to go up into the Wheelhouse with the Ship Captain! The view is the best, the Captain will answer your questions about the ship. You get to ring the bell and blow the whistle…and you’ll get an exclusive souvenir certificate proving the whole thing!

Great photo ops too as you can see.

Can you spot your Humble Author taking a spin around the river on this fine Dapper Day?

TOM SAWYER ISLAND: Just a nice environment to stroll and explore. Good for parents to relax while their kids run off some excess energy and get a little dirt on their clothes. In fact, this environment is a perfect example of Walt’s basic vision of the park….where parents and children can both enjoy themselves. Accessible only by raft, I miss the Mike Fink Keel Boats, but I heard they could tip over!

There are a lot of fun areas to explore and play. As you know, the runaway success of the Pirates of the Caribbean films has lead to (what I assume is a temporary) Pirate re-theming of much of the island (my closing picture is from there). It completely makes sense to do this until that trend runs her course…and the Pirate gags are fun.  They don’t allow anyone here after dark for obvious safety reasons, so no point in suggesting a Halloween overlay!

Honestly, I’ve never gotten around to the Big Thunder Ranch ‘Petting Zoo’ or whatever it is. The few times I tried, it was closed for one reason or another. I look forward to seeing what’s going on there when the timing’s right. The Big Thunder Bar-B-Q to the right of this area is great.  A little pricey because the delicious food is bottomless, but the entertainment is fun. I do wish there were an alternative entree menu. Less food and more affordable.

And now, the Special Nighttime Show….

FANTASMIC: This water-based parade-show is still going strong after two decades. It’s a gorgeous and a technically sharp production. You really have to get there early to get a decent seat. (Think the Parade times 3). There’s a pricey reserved seating option. Tried it once and was behind a large stone pillar and a guy the size of the Hulk. I didn’t see a damned thing for my 80 bucks (or whatever it was).  So, you have to get there early for that too and chose your seating carefully. On a technical level, I’m more impressed with the new World of Color Show over at DCA, but Fantasmic still has some amazing and exclusive features like live performers, the use of The Sailing Ship Columbia and the backdrop of Tom Sawyer’s Island.

The last listed Frontierland Attraction is also the Headliner.


A great Thrill Ride with an attractive queue and some Imagineering-level theming and art direction. It’s definitely on the ‘must do’ agenda. I also appreciate the few echoes of the Vintage Nature’s Wonderland Train ride. There’s even a much-appreciated Fastpass option. No notes here.

And that’s the tour. I have some overall, general thoughts about Frontierland before I sign off.

The Frontierland of the 50’s and early 60’s was huge and kinetic. Horse drawn stages, the Mine Train, live Cowboys and Native Americans. It was larger and more alive. More evocative of the excitement of the Wide Open Spaces of the American Frontier. Of course, Westerns were much more popular in the pre-Star Wars, Anime, and Video game days.

I would issue a challenge to the WDI Wizards to take another look at Frontierland and figure out a way to get some of this back. A way to open it up. Unlike Tomorrowland which practically needs a bulldozer to save, Frontierland has a solid foundation on which to expand. It’s easy to be complacent since the area works as is, but isn’t it time to do something big and sophisticated here?  The breathtaking rockwork in Cars Land practically demands a similar effort in a land representing the Southwest, even more than it’s animated echo.  And of course, a wonderful outdoor Attraction to play against this backdrop. Bring back a little of this magic.

The legendary, never-realized Western River Expedition would do nicely.

Something to think about as we ride off into the sunset.

Please Pony Express me Your thoughts, feedback, and ideas!

Thanks for Reading and Imagining!


(Click the READ MORE button to see Reader Comments and, better still, to add your own!)

Extinct Attraction Poster Theater Presents…

12 Responses to “Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #9 ‘Frontierland’”

  • Wendy says:

    Howdy Lance. Glad to see ya here in my favorite Disney Land. Lookin’ mighty fine in yer Western duds!

    I treasure my early memories of Frontierland – the Mine Train, riding the mules, sitting around the circle watching the Native American dancers, running wild on Tom Sawyer’s Island. Guess the romance of the (50s) Old West just speaks to me. I’ve travelled through Arizona and New Mexico many times and was fascinated by the natural beauty and color. Would love to see something more Bryce Canyon-like maybe, just a little different than DCA’s Radiator Springs.

    The one part of Frontierland I’ve never done is the Shooting Exposition. I must make a note to try this next time.

    Another big regret I have is I do not remember seeing the wonderful Betty Taylor and the comedic genius Wally Boag in the Golden Horseshoe Revue. They brought a revival of this back earlier this year for the Limited Time Magic promotion and I wasn’t lucky enough to see this, either. I was hoping to hear they would bring back the Revue from time to time.

    But the Golden Horseshoe is where I discovered my favorite act in the whole park – Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. This show never gets old. And when Elvis Billy brings out his pros-teeth-is, the laugh riot ensues. I love watching the audience and their reactions.

    Nothing better than bellying up to the bar, ordering the biggest mozzarella sticks in the West, and an ice cream sundae, and enjoying a great show in the air conditioning. An extra thrill is when you can score a seat in the areas on either side of the stage. You could very well end up as part of the show!

    Lately they have moved the Billy’s out of the GHS and out in the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree area. What I like about this is there is more interaction with them; sometimes they come out into the audience all up close and personal-like. Yee haw! The only thing I’m not real thrilled about is when they are put out on the trail, on the outside of the BTM Ranch. There’s really no place to sit and listen and people are having to walk in between the Billy’s and their audience while they are performing. And while yer in that neck of the woods, watch out for another great performer, Farley the Fiddler.

    Boarding the Columbia, I noticed one thing – no place to sit! Talk about benches!! But it is fun nonetheless.

    I hadn’t discovered riding in the wheelhouse of the Mark Twain until a couple of years ago. After listening to the iconic whistle for many years, it is exciting to be able to blow the whistle yourself. Worth the ride right there.

    On one of my last trips I was alone for a day and decided to take the raft over to the island. Spent about an hour exploring and taking photos. Very relaxing. I still miss Fort Wilderness.

    Big Thunder Mountain has been closed for a while and hear it’s return has been pushed back until around February 2014. Wish they could add a few more animals, sounds, etc. to it. But love it any way, especially the corkscrew part.

    Lance, go to the Ranch and pet the goats. Say hi to Jane (the goat) for me.

  • I like the little things like the horseshoe prints in the cement “dirt road” – Miss the Pendelton shop and other frontier-themed merchandise that used to be here… kinda glad the candy shop is now pins, makes it easier to stay out of!

    I’m a pretty fair shot, so I like to do the shootin’ gallery when I have someone there to “impress” – or at least someone to pick out my next target for me!

    The mexican restaurant is still pretty fair price/food wise, although it could use a quality booster!

    I try to go into the petting zoo just as a matter of form – keeping some traffic in there so that they will keep it around – city kids having so few chances to interact with farm animals, y’know. It is fun to see “Santa’s” Reindeer in there at Holiday time – and you can see Santa and Mrs. Clause if you want… one rainy day when I was there alone I got a lovely hug from Chip & Dale in their holiday duds!

    There’s that large mine shaft and “fishing hole” on the other side of the bridge from Big Thunder Mountain that really begs for some more – SOMETHING – animals? an action play? all it has is a couple of electric fish jumping, if you know where to look.

  • Wendy says:

    Think of it more as a Petting Ranch, than a zoo.

    Last year, they didn’t have the reindeer due to some little-known federal law (from a story in the OC Register Nov. 6, 2012):

    For the first time in seven years, Disneyland will stop hosting reindeer-in-training that had been in the petting zoo during the holiday season. Disney’s official reason: “The reindeer are at the North Pole preparing for the holidays,” said Suzi Brown, a Disneyland Resort spokeswoman. The back story: Disney officials recently discovered a little-known federal rule, in the Animal Welfare Act, requiring a 6-foot-high fence around certain animals, including reindeer, in public displays.

    Disney was allowed to get around the rule by using other barriers, because the reindeer were only there temporarily. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found no problems with the enclosures, said David Sacks, a department spokesman. OC Animal Care, the county’s animal-control department, also approved the previous displays. But Disney officials, after discovering the rule, thought it best to halt Santa’s Reindeer Roundup this year. A 6-foot fence is too tall for smaller visitors to easily see the reindeer.

    Santa’s Reindeer Roundup was popular: One year, 20,000 visitors lined up to see the reindeer on their first day in the park. Usually, eight reindeer lived for a few months inside the Big Thunder Ranch corral; visitors couldn’t touch them.

  • lance says:

    Hey Wendy. Thanks for the pair of great comments. Let’s do this one first….

    Yes, of course, the rockwork in Frontierland would be different than the Cadillac Range of Radiator Springs. A classic Monument Valley look. Back when my mom lived in Santa Fe, I’d make my two or three annual drives to and from there through the most gorgeous natural landscapes I’ve ever seen. I’d time my comings and goings to coincide with sunsets at the right places. I also never took the same exact route twice…sometime swinging South, sometimes North. Convertible top down? Always. I have a special affection for that landscape and it manages to find it’s way into any animated series I get to write. There’s a Swat KATS, a Jonny Quest, and a Scooby-Doo all set in that sort of environment. No accident.

    I didn’t even know they did recreations of the Classic Golden Horseshoe Review. Must see that. Must.

    I almost caught Billy Hill at Big Thunder some months back, but two numbers into the act. It began to sprinkle. Those boys unplugged and split as fast as you could say Cherry Blossom Special. That was a bummer…but less so than a group electrocution. Now, they have a themed Halloween show which I need to catch.

    Big Thunder…so I hear, was discovered to be a bit rotted out in Rainbow Ridge (surviving since the 50′s mine ride and moved to Big Thunder). Anyway, the retracking job grew a lot more complicated, necessitating a longer refurb. They are adding some new environmental details as far as I know.

    I’ll say hi to your Goat pal. Last few times I tried to go, it was closed for some special event or another.

    OK…Great note as always. Onto the other! See you there!

  • lance says:

    Hey Karen! Welcome back!

    Yeah. I dig all the little ambient details too. They don’t miss a trick. I’ll have to watch you Annie Oakley it up one of these times.

    I like that Zocalo place too. One of my favorite eateries in the park. Good prices, great seating, and never a line. To my unsophisticated palate, that’s pretty much Mexican food for my taste buds. Love the warm cinnamon chips too. The location is good too. Kind of a ‘secret passageway’ between Fantasyland and Frontierland with convenient and uncrowded bathrooms in that tunnel. This sounds a little strange, but one Christmas season, a friend and I got the dispenser Hot chocolate. I usually think that stuff tastes like powered mud in scalding hot water (Not at Disneyland, I mean in general), but it was a cold night and they spiced it with holiday cinnamon. Anyway, it was freakishly tasty and satisfying…..like REAL hot chocolate, not dispenser-grade crap. Now, I almost always get it.

    A Castmember friend in-the-know told me that the Park’s cooking and drinking fountain water is re-re-re filtered to be as pure and tasty as any water you could buy. That’s partially why that Hot chocolate is so freakin’ good! (especially with the Christmas enhancements!)

    OK, that’s two votes for me to visit the animals. It shall be done. Hey. I like varmints.

    and Karen. I know exactly the ‘dead zone’ you’re talking about. I never mind more stuff as long as it adds to the ambience…but not the noise.

    Thanks as always for dropping by!

  • lance says:

    Hey again Wendy. Not much for me to add here except Thanks for the interesting data!


  • Robert Rose says:

    One of my regrets is that for the last several years it was operational, I didn’t get to ride the Mine Train as my visits were usually on off-season weekdays, when it wasn’t running. So my memories of it are vague. I like Big Thunder, but I sometimes miss the more sedate rides of the past.

    I’m going to be a total heretic here and say that I actually preferred the “Sam the Bartender” show that ran for some years after the original Golden Horseshoe Revue finally closed. The one time I saw the original, I was totally grossed out by the drawn-out “spitting teeth” gag, and it turned me off on pretty much the whole performance. Somewhere I believe I have a videotape of the Sam show, but it was a slightly cut-down version and didn’t feature the original star who I preferred. Ah well. I do wish they’d bring back some kind of full-on show there.

    I too miss the Keel Boats, and several of the old features of Tom Sawyer’s Island. Maybe when/if they take down the Pirates theming, they might consider revamping some of the rest of it. Not just Ft. Wilderness, but the Secret Tunnel! Yeah!

  • Daria says:

    Hey, Cowboy! Thank you for your excellent Mouseketeer-style roundup of the attractions of Frontierland. As small children, my sis and I spent a good deal of time in that part of the Park, since our dad was a manic fan of Western films and anything to do with the fabled Old West. After all, this is the fellow who played Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and the soundtrack to “The Alamo” so often that he ran through several copies of the 33-1/3 lps AND took his two little daughters and wife all the way to the Wiltern Theatre to see the 3-plus hours of “How The West Was Won” during its opening weekend. (I remember the Porky Pig cartoon and a pipe organ, but that’s about it). Good ol’ Bill acted like a bigger kid than we tiny tots were from the very minute he saw the Indian encampment, the tribal dancers and the stagecoaches. We still have a stack of his Kodak black and white snaps of the tribal dance exhibitions of the early 1960s (typically labeled “Real Live Reds!”). Yikes. Well, like I said, it was the early 1960s and he genuinely enjoyed every minute of the Frontierland of that era.

    By the time my sis and I were old enough to visit the Park, the “Daniel Boone” craze was long over, so I don’t remember ever having a coonskin cap. (I actually bought one for Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick a decade ago because he mentioned that having one of those fuzzy monstrosities was a cherished childhood memory). I do, however, remember getting the squashed penny from one of those little machines, taking a few poorly aimed shots at the shooting gallery (Daddy helped), and feeding popcorn to some poor ducks certain to have had perpetual indigestion. We did not attend the Golden Horseshoe Review in those days, at least that I recall, but I do remember the enjoyable picnics of cold chicken, potato salad and peach cobbler under the trees in the expansive picnic area just north of the massive location of the old mines and caverns. (And thanks for reminding me that it is now the site of “The Haunted Mansion,” Lance)!

    My sis and I and several of our “Park Pals” finally discovered the Golden Horseshoe in the 1980s and visited it from time to time through the early 1990s. Sadly, it was usually closed when we attended the numerous private parties courtesy of my credit union or the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim, so we had to make do with new Frontierland treats like roasted turkey legs or their amazingly good (and Fred Flintstone sized) barbecued beef ribs. It was also in Frontierland that I first tasted what’s now called Kettle Corn (as sold over at Downtown Disney). For a short period during the early 1990s, Disneyland altered some of the popcorn vendors’ booths so that they instead offered the “Sugar Corn” recipe as sold in the park in France. Yum!

    These days, Big Thunder Railroad has been down more often than active and is currently undergoing major renovations, leaving little reason to head over to Frontierland. Still, I do enjoy riding aboard the beautiful Columbia or the mighty Mark Twain which is more often in use. (I have fond memories of being hit on by a squeaky-clean riverboat gambler/cowboy type while hanging around on deck, which infuriated a bored friend of mine)! It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I finally took a keelboat over to Tom Sawyer’s Island and had a merry little romp around the real estate. I’m afraid that was a one-shot for me (’cause my bad back is hurting just thinking about that trek now). I suppose that’s why it’s best to travel when you’re young. (Pass the painkillers, please)!

    I miss the Pendleton supply store–they had such lovely woolen items. Pity that it was usually far too hot and dusty to show off what you’d bought there. The shop was in the shadow of the Frontierland fort…which, after watching the then popular “F Troop,” we little kids kept expecting to fall into the street below. It hasn’t happened yet, but as Mom used to say, “Where there’s life there’s hope, you know.”

  • lance says:

    Hey Robert. Welcome back,

    My own Early Frontierland days are probably more vague than your own. The Golden Horseshoe Review I remember well, the Mine Train a little…(almost as if a distant dream). The rest of it…Mules, Stagecoaches, etc. I have no memory of that…though I visited the park when those things were still there. Go figure.

    I remember liking the Sam Show, but missing the original (spitting teeth and all). Maybe that Sam version is archived somewhere. I never got the see the Woody’s Roundup version. If we can’t have the original, I’ll take Billy Hill.

    You remind me about Ft. Wilderness. Yeah. Huge mistake to close that. It was half the fun of the Island. There she stands, all locked up and used for storage. Maddening. They definitely need to plus it up and reopen it…secret passage and all.

    Thanks for dropping by Robert!

  • lance says:

    Daria! Hi!

    Your typically great comments speak well for themselves. Very interesting reading. Nothing for me to add really.

    I know the merchandise is generally less special and authentic than it used to be, but they still have way too many things I want, but don’t have the money or room for….so, it’s not like there isn’t a lot to still get.

    Thanks as always!

  • Mark Lewis says:

    You really do a great service with your blog here, for those who might not be as knowledgeable about all the different areas of the park and what they can do there. You deserve a lot of credit for all the work you’ve put into these.

    I don’t have much to add, except to say that I’m always struck by how great all those old attraction posters are when I see a bunch of them (like you’ve posted here). Great graphic design, great use of flat color, sometimes even some unconventional color choices that you wouldn’t think would work, but they do!

    Ah, well; what can you expect from an art/graphic design geek? I guess this is like watching those old HB shows on lunch breaks, and getting caught up in looking at how great all the backgrounds were!

  • lance says:

    Hey Mark,

    Well you know how much I love the Attraction Posters…especially the earlier graphic, silkscreen ones. Such amazing color choices. I used this Blog to post as many as I felt like. I love that there was an initiative to do a series of old school style ones for the rebooted DCA. Good for them. I also LOVE that Disney did a long overdue book of their gorgeous Attraction Posters. It seems to be pretty comprehensive. Also, gutsy of them to do many of the pages with the artwork at the same size as you can buy a single matted image in the park for $39.00.

    I personally bought an extra copy to cut up and frame many pages. Had to spring for the Matte, but I still came out ahead! Matted and framed, you can’t tell the difference.

    Because it’s me, I have a single note: There should be more Attraction Posters generated to cover all things, extinct AND extant alike. Things like The Magical Map Show, each individual Train Station, etc. (OK, maybe Not Rocket Rods or Superstar Limo!).

    Thanks for playing along, Mark. You speak true when you say “It isn’t a real trip to Disneyland without a spin on Pirates and Mansion” Couldn’t agree more.

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