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.
BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN:
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…