Recently, my 9-year-old son had a magical experience at the Magic Kingdom that he can’t stop talking about. Now, before you ask, “Well, aren’t most experiences at Walt Disney World magical?” let me say this was an unexpected surprise. I’m sure you know what I mean — when a cast member goes the extra mile to do something unscheduled or unplanned just to add a little pixie dust to a guest’s day.
It began when my daughter and I went to meet with Rapunzel and my husband and son, seeking a little something more adventuresome, joined the queue to ride onboard the Liberty Belle, the Magic Kingdom’s iconic riverboat. Like many boys, my son is fascinated by the different modes of transportation at Disney. So as he and my husband were chatting with a cast member about various aspects of the triple-deck paddleboat, my husband asked if guests were allowed to ride in the wheelhouse.
To my son’s great joy, the answer was “yes.” Not only that, but he was allowed to pilot the boat on its 17-minute journey on the Rivers of America around Tom Sawyer Island. (Before you fear for your life the next time you step on the Liberty Belle, know that it runs on a track and the “steering” is all part of the “story.”) On the way up to the helm, my son passed through the captain’s quarters, modeled after a cabin on a 19th century paddleboat. It was a unique site that many passengers might not readily notice behind the wooden doors that lead to the wheelhouse atop the Liberty Belle. (See AllEars photos of the captain’s quarters with this feature.)
Once up top, he had the best view on the ship, almost eye level with many of the adjacent attractions, such as the tallest hill on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The pilothouse isn’t large, but there was plenty of room for the cast member and my son to man the open-window helm while my husband watched. There even was an elevated platform behind the wheel that allowed my son to stand a little higher and see out over the wheel and across the bow.
My son was encouraged to ring the bell and blow the horn at the halfway point of the journey. He had a unique vantage point for seeing all the familiar sites along the river: the Native American encampment, the white river markers, the wooden fort on the island. Perhaps the best part of the journey, though, was hearing about the pilot’s experiences on the Liberty Belle. Luckily for him, the cast member who provided the tour was someone who had been manning the helm of the boat for some time, so he had lots of stories to share.
At the end of the trip, my son received a special pilot’s license, good for one year at Walt Disney World. He was thrilled. We’re just happy it specifies where he is allowed to pilot boats.