Tiana's Bayou Adventure Review: A Mixed Bag of Magic and Missed Opportunities

15 days ago in "Tiana's Bayou Adventure"

Tiana's Bayou Adventure Ride Through
Posted: Thursday June 27, 2024 10:00am ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

Tiana's Bayou Adventure officially opens June 28, 2024 at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, replacing the 30-year-old iconic Splash Mountain with a more inclusive and updated ride experience.

Splash Mountain closed in January 2023 to make way for a new attraction themed around Disney's 2009 film "The Princess and the Frog." The decision to re-theme the ride was announced in June 2020, following calls for Disney to address the problematic and racially insensitive elements associated with the original Song of the South film, on which Splash Mountain was based.

Cultural Significance and Representation

Tiana's Bayou Adventure marks a significant step forward in Disney's commitment to inclusivity and diversity. As Disney's first African-American princess, Tiana brings much-needed representation to the park, resonating with guests of all ages and backgrounds.

The ride is rooted in New Orleans's rich cultural heritage, adding a layer of authenticity and celebrating African-American culture. This shift reflects Disney's ongoing efforts to tell more diverse and inclusive stories within its parks, and the company should be applauded for its efforts.

Like the original announcement to replace Splash Mountain, the early previews of Tiana's Bayou Adventure have been met with a mixed response from fans. The first reveal of the entire ride in a YouTube POV posted by Disney was met with resounding criticism. When ride previews began a few days later, real-world opinions showed more positivity.

We've had the opportunity to experience Tiana's Bayou Adventure on several occasions over the last month, and here are some spoiler-filled thoughts on Walt Disney World's relaunch of a Magic Kingdom classic.

PHOTO GALLERY - Tiana's Bayou Adventure Complete Ride Through
PHOTO GALLERY - Tiana's Bayou Adventure Exterior and Queue

Familiar, But Different

While Tiana's Bayou Adventure uses the original Splash Mountain ride system, the attraction has been updated in almost every area, from the queue to the loading station and the scenery along the ride path. The ride length remains the same at 11 minutes, and you still get just as wet as you did on the ride's predecessor.

The exterior has been transformed into a scene from the bayou with an impressive collection of artificial greenery. Imagineers spent months installing each piece by hand, and it is one of Disney's most impressive pieces of artificial landscaping in the parks, rivaled only by Pandora - The World of AVATAR.

While the outdoor section of the queue remains mostly unchanged, the indoor sections have seen a lot of updates. In the barn, we venture into Tiana's office, which contains many details to fill in the backstory.

Among the artifacts in the office are a fox, rabbit, and bear, in a nod to the former Splash Mountain.

There are newspaper clippings and photos of Tiana's favorite memories, including the princess and her friends loading ingredients into logs for transport. It's a lot to take in, and usually, this part of the queue is fast-moving, so the message may be lost to many guests.

Moving further into the queue, we enter Tiana's Kitchen. There are lots to look at on the walls, and freshly made beignets are on the table. It is a richly detailed space and a great photo op for those waiting in line.

Heading towards the loading station, we pass through the tunnels of the former salt mine, which is now home to Tiana's Foods business.

The station itself has seen some changes. We now see cranes lifting crates overhead, and there are multiple Cast Member positions alongside the boarding area, which presumably helps with operations.

Technological Magic

Tiana's Bayou Adventure makes use of Walt Disney Imagineering's latest generation of A-1000 Audio-Animatronics. Guests see expressive figures with fully sculpted faces (no projected faces) and fluid movements that rival some of Disney's best work.

Disney Animations' artists, including the original animators of Tiana, Louis and Naveen - Mark Henn, Eric Goldberg, and Randy Haycock - were instrumental in both the animation work and designs of the figures in the attraction.

Tiana appears in audio-animatronic form no less than four times, and Disney says there are 48 new audio-animatronics, although some of them have only limited motion.

The standout figure is, of course, Tiana, along with Mama Odie, who appears twice, and Louis, the alligator.

While the audio-animatronics figures are impressive, they are less effective than some of Disney's other recent figures. Compared to Hondo in Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, the figures in Tiana's Bayou Adventure feel a little squandered. The animatronics do not have much dialogue, with most of the figures only offering a single line at a time as logs pass by. In contrast, Hondo appears much more life-like as he engages the audience in the Smugglers Run pre-show.

The finale scene is an elaborate set filled with audio-animatronics and figures. The scene looks fantastic, and so much is happening that it is hard to know where to look. It is one of those scenes that you want to see over and over again to take in all of the details.

The incorporation of multiple cutting-edge Audio-Animatronics is a very welcome addition, and fears of the ride being largely screen-based were unfounded.

Alongside audio-animatronics, Imagineers have also used projections in several scenes. In some parts, they look out of place, especially when riders see the same character as a fully sculpted 3D figure, but in other areas, projections add to the scene. In the elaborate finale scene, projected window scenes add depth, evoking a similar effect to the multi-plane camera in animation. The projections are bright and clear, with excellent color rendition and contrast.

As seen in other recent Disney attractions, lighting design has taken a big step forward. The new LED powered fixtures deliver deep, vibrant colors, bringing scenes to life in ways that were not possible before. Alongside the well-lit inside show scenes, the exterior looks warm and inviting at night. Fireflies dance in the trees, and the bayou is bathed in a purple/blue glow.

Music plays a big role in the original movie, and designers have done an excellent job of incorporating songs from the film, as well as new original pieces for the ride, including "Special Spice," composed for the ride by PJ Morton with vocals by Anika Noni Rose, the original voice of Princess Tiana. A new sound system was installed through the ride-path, and it sounds great.

Storyline and Narrative Challenges

The biggest shortcoming of Tiana's Bayou Adventure is, without doubt, the story. When the ride was announced, details of the story were scarce, which continued throughout the gradual reveal of the ride in the final months leading up to the opening. Fans felt that although Disney was somewhat secretive about the story, it would all make sense once the attraction opened. It became apparent that once the full-ride experience was revealed, the story was the weak link of the reimagining. It goes something like this:

Tiana's Bayou Adventure picks up the story after the events of the film. After opening Tiana's Palace, the princess continues to grow her business with an employee-owned cooperative, Tiana's Foods, which can be found in a former salt mining facility that Tiana has transformed.

Following her successes, Princess Tiana is hosting a party for the people of New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season of 1927, but there's been a mix-up in the party preparations between Prince Naveen and Louis - no one booked a band, and Tiana needs help finding musicians for tonight's party.

According to Louis, the bayou is the best place to find talented musicians so helpful party goers board log flumes to explore. Among the cypress trees are musical critters with instruments made from found objects and natural materials, playing Zydeco, Rara and Afro-Cuban music. Tiana loves their sound; it's just the ingredient she was looking for.

With the talented critter bands booked for the big party, it's time to hurry back out of the bayou - and luckily, Mama Odie knows a shortcut that will send guests speeding down to the celebration.

Following a 50-foot drop, the logs roll into a New Orleans neighborhood soiree at Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen's home.

On its own, the story seems workable as a new D-Ticket ride in Fantasyland, but it falls woefully short of being the basis for a major E-Ticket thrill ride in Frontierland and a replacement for an iconic thrill ride.

The story doesn't read well on paper and fares even worse on the ride. Depending on the timing of the logs, some riders miss the single lines of dialog from the audio-animatronics that tell the story and are left confused about what is supposed to be happening. In our rider groups during previews, nobody could retell the story with any confidence, and some riders had absolutely no idea what it was about.

The queue and lead-up to the ride are entirely based around Tiana's Foods business, but once the ride begins, this story aspect is dropped as we focus on missing musicians. The story jump adds to the confusion, and the queue loses its effectiveness as a lead-up to the ride's story.

The flaws in the story are most apparent when it does not fit the ride system that the designers inherited from Splash Mountain, which was a thrill ride based around its 50-ft drop. Disney spent decades promoting the Magic Kingdom mountains to fans, with the 5-story plummet being a core memory of millions of Disney guests. Splash Mountain masterfully built up tension before the drop, creating a thrill element greater than the drop itself. Tiana's Bayou Adventure is the opposite. There is no attempt to build any sense of trepidation about the ride's signature drop, and it almost seems that the finale is an inconvenience that must be worked around. The lack of use of the drop as a key part of the story reinforces the argument that Tianas Bayou Adventure would have served better as an all-new attraction built for a Fantasyland audience without a thrill-ride element, perhaps with a similar ride system to Na'vi River Journey.

Missed Opportunities

The significance of the drop leads us to the next major problem with Tiana's Bayou Adventure story—there is no antagonist or even hint of any danger. Anyone who has seen the Princess and The Frog movie will undoubtedly expect to see Dr. Facilier and the fantastically vibrant and sinister imagery accompanying him in the attraction; amazingly, he is nowhere to be found. The former Laughing Place scene would seem to be the obvious place for Dr. Facilier's appearance, building tension through the scene and leading to an escape from the shadows via the 50-foot drop - all accompanied by one of the best songs in the movie "Are You Ready."

Some may argue that the ride is geared towards younger guests, and that Dr. Facilier would be too scary. However, it would seem likely that the majority of younger guests have already seen Dr. Facilier in the movie, and the 40" height requirement for the ride goes some way to restrict who can experience the attraction, not to mention the fact that Dr. Facilier features heavily in Magic Kingdom's own Halloween Party.

Summing Up

Updating and evolving Disney attractions is crucial for keeping the parks relevant and inclusive, and Tiana's Bayou Adventure represents Disney's commitment to diversifying its storytelling and addressing past controversies.

Tiana's Bayou Adventure is a polarizing experience. Longtime fans of Splash Mountain may struggle to accept the changes, while others welcome the new representation and updated experience.

Comparing Tiana's Bayou Adventure with past updates, such as the reimagining of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Tower of Terror at Disneyland Resort, shows that changes can be met with initial resistance but often become accepted parts of the park over time.

Ultimately, Tiana's Bayou Adventure offers a blend of impressive technological advancements and cultural significance balanced against story and design shortcomings.

Whether you like the story or not, the familiar sound of logs (and screams) taking the 50 ft plunge is a welcome return to the Magic Kingdom, and most guests will be happy to experience a classic Disney World ride experience once again.

See More of Tiana's Bayou Adventure

PHOTO GALLERY - Tiana's Bayou Adventure Complete Ride Through
PHOTO GALLERY - Tiana's Bayou Adventure Exterior and Queue

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Tha Realest13 hours ago

My eyes rolled so hard I looked like the Louis AA when his body freezes up

EagleScout61013 hours ago

Drew the Disney Dude1 day ago

My Google Photos map of the area around Tiana’s Bayou Adventure — 2,750+ photos and videos. The bright red areas line up. 😅

GhostHost10007 days ago

The moment we’ve all been waiting for lol

EagleScout6107 days ago

Disney has put out a new lyric video for Special Spice.

flyerjab7 days ago

Planning on a follow up as I have ridden it more since my first ride on Wednesday. It has definitely grown on me. The music throughout the attraction is excellent. And the awkward timing issues were not an issue this time, making the movements and actions of the A1000s much better. And the screens, especially of Mama Odie, have to be some of the most crisp, clear screens I have seen. Overall, I still give Splash the nod, but this is much, much closer now in terms of enjoyment and overall ride experience.

Kirby867 days ago

My best guess whatever company they use to make merchandise probably reused the Splash Mountain molds for the log since the ride vehicle outside of Brer Rabbit being there is the same. It's cheaper to reuse that. Also keep in mind the original model showing of what Tianas Bayou Adventure would look like did have Brer Rabbit still on the logs. Toys are made so far in advance they could have used that as a reference.

Ice Gator8 days ago

Thank goodness they made a better poster. A few weeks ago I felt this was one of the elements of the attraction they were lacking on. The initial “official” poster is horrible. This looks like something worth framing and has a lot more detail to it Now if only they’d address why some of the merch items still have Brer Rabbit on the front of the log…like why would they let that slide?

Sneakman8 days ago

“East? I thought you said Weast!”

James Alucobond9 days ago

The exterior before passing under the train station is all remote bayou. It doesn’t need complementary New Orleans elements surrounding it any more than Splash needed scenery from elsewhere in Georgia framing it. That’s not to suggest that Pecos Bill will be around long term, but it’s been a southwestern restaurant sandwiched between southeastern attractions (Country Bears and Splash) for a long time.

EagleScout6109 days ago

I thought you meant to say where. My bad

JoeCamel9 days ago

Probably just ignore it. You should have a meal with an imagineer and see how they explain it

TheCoasterNerd9 days ago

I am aware that there  are rumors. I was sort of hinting that there still are.

EagleScout6109 days ago

Pecos Bill retheme thread It's unconfirmed if it'll be Tiana, but it's still in development apparently: