Liberty Belle Riverboat – Part 2

Yesterday I discussed the history of The Liberty Belle Riverboat. Now it’s time to take a ride on this wonderful vessel. It’s okay if you have a large group as the boat holds 450 people. This is also the only ride in the Magic Kingdom that allows guests to get up and walk around while their vehicle is in motion. The Liberty Belle begins operation each day at 10am or 11am and departs on the hour and half-hour. If you find you’ve arrived right after the Liberty Belle has left port, don’t hang around waiting for it to return. The ship rarely fills to capacity and you can usually dash aboard at the last minute. Limited seating is available in the queue and on all decks. However, even on busy days it’s easy to find a bench.

Liberty Belle Wating Area

Onboard Seating

Before we set sail, let’s take a quick tour of the Liberty Belle. The boat has three decks. As I mentioned earlier, guests enter on the middle deck. Most people head to the upper deck for what they perceive to be the best view. However, if you choose to ride topside, you will be in the sun for thirteen minutes. Others head for the lower deck to find a spot at the very front of the ship. Personally, I like the middle deck best. It’s high enough to afford a good view, there are good locations at the front, middle, and stern, and it’s usually the least crowded.

On occasion, a family is selected to ride in the wheelhouse. If you’re the first to arrive in the waiting area, ask a cast member if you can join the captain.

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Liberty Belle Wheelhouse

Just outside the wheelhouse is the captain’s quarters. It’s fun to take a moment and browse this “luxurious” room.

Captain's Quarters

Captain's Quarters

On the middle deck is a lovely sitting room. However, I can’t really recommend using this compartment. You can’t see any of the sights from here. The third picture is of me holding a recording device to a speaker. For thirteen minutes I stood there, arm extended, so I could get a good copy of the narration for my video. Several people walked by during the voyage and gave me strange looks.

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

Jack Making a Recording

On the lower deck you’ll find the boiler (mid-deck) and pistons (stern) that drive the paddlewheel.

Boiler Room

Piston

A relatively new addition to the front of the ship is this raised platform. Standing here provides a great view off the bow of the ship in all directions.

Observation Platform

As I always tell you, pay attention to the details. Look at the intricate woodwork, the riggings, the lanterns. The Liberty Belle is a beautiful vessel, worthy of your attention.

Woodwork

Rigging and Lantern

Rigging

Lantern

Paddlewheel

As our journey begins, our captain, Horace Bixby introduces Sam Clemmons (Mark Twain) to us over the PA. Knowing that Disney never misses a trick, I knew that name Horace Bixby was selected for a reason so I looked him up and discovered he was a real person, perhaps one of the greatest steamboat pilots of his day. He met Clemens in 1857 aboard the steamer PAUL JONES and later agreed to take him on as an apprentice.

Horace Bixby

One of the first points of interests is the wilderness town that grew up alongside the river. In the early years, there was no walkway skirting Frontierland. This was added years later to facilitate traffic flow during parades.

Frontierland Before the Walkway

Frontierland After the Walkway

Along the banks of the river, we see cargo stacked on various piers. As with everything, details are important. The number “71” is obvious. This is the year the Magic Kingdom opened. The Tell City Tool Co. is a little more obscure.

Located along the Ohio River in Indiana, this real town began in 1857 and was carefully planned by a group of Swiss people looking for a better life. In many respects, this was one of the United State’s first planned communities. Three square miles of land was purchased and streets were laid out in a north-south, east-west grid. Settlers could buy tracts of land, but were required to build a two room home to be worth not less than $125.00 within one year of purchase. Factories, schools, and churches were all planned in advance and locations determined. In the early years, riverboats were the only means of transportation in and out of Tell City – which is why the Imagineers selected this town to be represented on the Rivers of America.

71 and Tell City

Another name seen on multiple crates along the river is Russel’s Falls. This is in reference to Davy Crockett’s sidekick, George E. Russel played by Buddy Ebsen.

Russel's Falls Crate

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To the right we see Harper’s Mill on Tom Sawyer Island. After years of operation, the mill required a major rehab and the water wheel needed to be replaced. The new wheel was constructed using modern bearings and spindles and when reattached, spun unrealistically fast. Imagineers needed to come up with a dampening system to slow the wheel down and make it appear as if it were built using period materials.

Harper's Mill

As we travel further, Splash Mountain comes into view. This attraction opened in 1992 and is based on characters created by Joel Chandler Harris. Logs drop 52 ½ feet down Chickapin Hill at a speed of 40 miles per hour – faster than Space Mountain.

Splash Mountain

The next sight is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Modeled after Monument Valley in Utah, this attraction debuted in 1980. The story of BTMR goes something like this. During the late 1800’s, gold was discovered deep within Big Thunder Mountain. Overnight, prospectors started mining the ore and soon the town of Tumbleweed sprang up on the mountain’s slope. Everything was going well until a flash flood ravaged the mountain and town, ruining any future mining operations. The Liberty Belle offers some wonderful picture opportunities for this attraction that cannot be taken elsewhere.

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Big Thunder Mountain Railway

Over on Tom Sawyer Island we see Tom’s Landing, Potter’s Windmill (named after Muff Potter, a friend of Injun Joe), Superstition Bridge, and Fort Langhorn. From 1973 to 1997 this outpost was named Fort Sam Clemens – both in reference to Mark Twain whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. It’s interesting to note, the Imagineers misspelled his middle name on the fort, dropping the “E.”

Tom's Landing

Potter's Windmill

Superstition Bridge

Fort Langhorn

Fort Langhorn Entrance

Just beyond Fort Langhorn is an abandoned cabin. For many years, real flames could be seen lapping at the logs and a settler was lying on his back out front with an arrow piercing his chest. Guests were told he was the victim of an unfriendly Indian attack. As sensibilities began to change toward Native Americans, the story was rewritten and we were told that the settler had passed out from his moonshine and his cabin was ablaze due to his still exploding.

Today, the cabin sits deserted and the fire extinguished. Neither Captain Bixby nor Sam Clemmons even mention its existence as you pass by. I’ve read that the flames were turned off during the Liberty Belle’s extensive rehab in 2005. By the time the ship was back in service, the gas pipes, originally installed in the early 70’s, had deteriorated badly and it was decided not to replace them. Too bad. However, if you visit Tokyo Disneyland, their cabin still excites guests with real flames as they pass by on the Mark Twain.

Settler's Cabin

The next sight along the ride is an old gentleman sitting on the dock of his riverside shanty. This is Beacon Joe and he keeps track of the river’s occasional course changes and marks the river accordingly. Pay attention to Beacon’s dog. His head turns from left to right as a fish jumps out of the water.

Beacon Joe

Beacon Joe's Dog

The river also has a number of buoys marking various locations along the journey.

River Bouy

Shortly after passing Beacon Joe’s bait shop, we come to a Powhatan Indian settlement. When the movie Pocahontas was released, Disney wanted to add a “tie-in” for the Liberty Belle and the WDW Railroad. However, the Powhatans were primarily found in Virginia, not as far west as the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers. Captain Bixby explains this incongruity by mentioning that they must be following the abundance of wildlife found in this vicinity.

Powhatan Camp

Wildlife

Wildlife

I have to admit, the “wildlife” along the Rivers of America does not represent some of Disney’s better effects. Yet somehow these statuesque animals always bring a smile to my face.

Further down the river we find another tribe of Native Americans. However, this time, the tribe is not identified as belonging to any particular group. Next time you ride the Liberty Belle, rather than taking in the entire scene at once, pay attention to the various activities being performed by this close-knit group. You’ll be amazed at how many daily chores are taking place here.

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Indian Village

Just past the Indian Village are their sacred burial grounds. Those who fall in battle are placed upon the traditional “bed of death” and after nightfall, the tribesmen will return to mourn the great warriors who brought honor to their families.

Sacred Burial Grounds

A rather peaceful section of the river lies ahead until we come to Cut-Throat Corner and Wilson’s Cave Inn. Here, river pirates hide away, waiting to attack a passing riverboat. But during our journey, it’s apparent that the scoundrels are celebrating and in no condition to ambush the Liberty Belle.

Wilson's Cave Inn

Knowing Disney as I do, I knew there had to be a reason the name “Wilson” was selected, so I did a little research. I found that on the Ohio River in Illinois, a real location called Cave-In-Rock exists. After the Revolutionary War, this hideout became a lair for river pirates who attacked passing vessels. During the 1790’s, Jim Wilson became synonymous with the cave, calling it home and stocking it with provisions and opening a business called Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment. He would entice unsuspecting river travelers to his establishment, then rob them of their goods and usually kill them. This true story inspired an episode of the TV show Disneyland titled “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.”

As we return to civilization, our boat once again passes Fort Langhorn and Superstition Bridge. Further on, it’s fun to watch guests crossing Barrel Bridge on Tom Sawyer Island.

Barrel Bridge

The last major sight we see along our passage is the Haunted Mansion. Sam Clemens tells us that this house was built on sacred Indian burial grounds and is filled with spirits. But he doubts this story and thinks the folks that told him the tale might be filled with 100-proof spirits.

Haunted Mansion

This brings us back to Liberty Square and the end of our journey. I have created a six-minute video of the experience. I know that some of you skip these videos because you’re used to seeing some of the schlock presented on YouTube. May I ask that you give my video a chance? I do not just shoot some footage then slap it onto YouTube. I have filmed the Liberty Belle from multiple angles and edited it accordingly. I have removed all the original sound and added clean copies without any background noises. I have also added appropriate sound effects when needed. I think my video gives a good feel of what the attraction is all about.

As I said at the beginning of my blog, there are no surprises to be had on the Liberty Belle. This is a quiet, relaxing journey that transports you to another era. It is definitely low-tech, but I think it’s worth every minute of your time.

If you plan to be at Walt Disney World on March 9th, join Allears team members Deb Wills, Deb Koma, Mike Bachand and me at the Liberty Belle at 9:45. After some conversation about this attraction, we’re heading over to the Haunted Mansion for a ride. (The Libery Belle doesn’t open until 11am.)

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35 Replies to “Liberty Belle Riverboat – Part 2”

  1. A couple Cast Member costume details are “hidden” in this attraction.

    Outside of Wilson’s Cave, a set of pirate clothes are hanging on a line. This is the actual costume worn by the male cast members over at Pirates of the Caribbean.

    And inside the sitting room on the middle deck of the Liberty Belle, the curtains are made of the exact same fabric as the female cast members’ dresses at the Hall of Presidents and American Adventure.

  2. It’s been 32 years since I last visited Disney World, but your blog helped me recall my ride on the steamboat.

    I stumbled across your blog while doing research on Cave-in-Rock, which I have visited numerous times over the years. I must point out that Jim Wilson wasn’t alive in the 1890’s, nor was Davy Crockett. I think you meant to type 1790’s, as that would be accurate for Wilson, Crockett being a child at the time.

  3. Hey Jack,

    I’m a little late commenting, too, but thought I would express my appreciation as well! Another wonderful blog!

    I enjoy how with more complex attractions, you divide the blog into two parts: history and ride. It really adds depth. Not to mention your great video! I could feel my arm aching after I saw the picture of you holding the recorder. Now, that’s dedication!

    In all my years visiting WDW, I’ve never been a passenger on the Liberty Belle, but I plan to on my next trip.

    -Kirstin

  4. Hats off to you Jack for an extraordinary video. This is better than many professional marketing videos! What incredible talent! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Trish

  5. Hello Jack!

    Thanks for another awesome blog and video.
    I thought I would mention that a fun thing to
    do is ride the riverboat after dark. It is
    kind of a win some/lose some situation with
    regard to the ride details. For sure you should
    ride in daytime first to “see” the storyline.
    Then the night version lets the lantern lights,
    the shadows in the pirate roost, etc. come through. Even the sounds from along the ride and the boat itself seem different. I find it amazing how dark the river is after you pass Thunder Mountain.
    Many thanks for your continued insistance on
    looking for the details.

    Matt

  6. That looks totally cool. In all my years of visiting TMK, this is one of the very few attractions I have never set foot on.

    It’s a year away, but we’re heading down in 2011 to celebrate my son’s 10th birthday…this is on the list for sure!

  7. Great blog! And yes, I watched the whole video. You did do a great job! Super professional! I haven’t been on the riverboat since 98′, and my three boys and husband have never been on. We will definatly make it a must see for our trip this summer. Thanks for reminding me how great a little ride it is!
    Kate

  8. I always loved the ‘sing out’ part of the narration as you get to hear where Sam Clemens must have gotten the idea for his pseudonym. But it also always reminded me of Paul Robeson’s singing ‘Old Man River’ there’s no chance that it’s in any way related, is it?

    Jack’s Answer:

    I have no idea who the voice actors are who provide the narration on the Liberty Belle. But I suspect it’s no coincidence that a deep baritone was selected to sing out the depth on the riverboat. I’m sure it was to rekindle memories of “Show Boat” and this great, show-stopping number.

  9. Hi Jack, Great video! You spent some time making that… well done. Here is a question I had while looking at your photos and then the video. The Indian village looks to be in wonderful shape: the clothing, the hair, the surroundings. I know the climate in Florida can be harsh with heat, humidity and thunderstorms. Do you know how often Disney “grooms” the areas like this to keep them looking so fresh?
    Jennifer

    Jack’s Answer:

    I do not know how often the characters in the Indian Village are given a costume change, but I’m sure there is a regular maintenance scheduled. The sun and rain would ruin their clothes in no time at all. I do know that all of the presidents in Hall of Presidents have a second set of clothes. That way they can dry-clean one set while the other is in use.

  10. I enjoyed this video so much. I remember riding the Liberty Belle once with my family and there was hardly no one aboard. It was so strange, but the ride on the boat was so relaxing. It is always a must do for every one of our trips to Disney. I also enjoy your blogs so much. I always get so much information from each entry. Thanks for sharing this video and all your wonderful information about WDW.

  11. hey jack
    first off loved the video. the liberty boat is not an attraction i vist that often but i will make time for it on my next trip in august. can’t wait for your next blog and as always, keep up the great work!

  12. Thank you for another great blog, Jack. The video was fantastic. You know, I think I have been to WDW at least 40 times, and I have NEVER ridden on this boat. I’ll be down again in April, and I will make it a point to take a spin. I was wondering, is the little restaurant Aunt Polly’s still operating?

    Jack’s Answer:

    Unfortunately, Aunt Polly’s closed a number of years ago. This used to be a wonderful spot to get some cold fried chicken or a ham sandwich and “get away from it all.” We can only hope that someday it will reopen.

  13. Your blogs are always wonderful. With my dozen or so visits to Disney, I don’t think I’ve ever been on the Liberty Belle, although my dad did take us once on the Mike Fink Keelboats. I’ll have to try this ride out on my next visit. Thanks for all of your research and the “next best thing to being there” video.

  14. Hi Jack- Wonderful blog! (Like always.)

    I have a rather unusual question regarding working as a Cast Member at WDW. I’m going to be applying for the College Program for next year. I was wondering about guidelines for “hair” as a CM. I have read on the “Disney Look” for how CM’s must be presented, but I’m rather confused. I keep my hair rather short for a woman. Would this be appropriate while working there, or would they want me to grow it to a natural shoulder length? What have you you observed from your time there?
    (Sorry for the off-topicness of this question!)

    Jack’s Answer:

    Many years ago, when I worked at Disneyland, I was a University Leader. I would conduct the two-day class that introduced new cast members to the Disney way. At that time, I was very familiar with the grooming policies. Unfortunately, I’m not anymore and things have changed a lot since then. But I can tell you this. Disney wants a natural look. They don’t want their CMs to look extreme in any way or stand out in a crowd. For instance, no green hair. In my day, streaking or tinting of the hair was forbidden, but now it’s okay as long as it looks natural. The Disney look is not about fashion, it’s about blending in.

    You say you keep your hair short for a woman. Obviously, a bald woman would “stand out in a crowd.” The shorter your hair, the more you’re going to draw attention to yourself. VERY short hair might land you in a “backstage only” job where the public never sees you.

    Should you grow your hair shoulder length? I don’t think that’s necessary. But you might want it long enough that it requires a brush in the morning to look good.

    Take a look at any of the Disney ads you see on TV. The people hired for these commercials represent the average look Disney is looking for.

    Once last thing, talk to one of the college recruiters at your school. They’ve already worked at Disney and they can see you in person and let you know if your hairstyle is okay.

  15. Jack,
    Your videos are the next best thing to actually being there. This is the epitome of what I love about Disney; the old time charm and remembrances of days gone by being told like a story. Thanks again and I so look forward to your future blogs and videos!

    Carrie

  16. Thanks so much for this! Unfortunately, my family didn’t get the chance to experience this on our last trip, although my dad and I really wanted too. Oh well- it leaves something else to be excited about next time!

    One thing, though: I think I heard on Mongello’s WDW Radio that the Frontierland wooden walkway was added during Splash Mountain’s construction to allow guests to access Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Do you know when the walkway was added? The Splash Mountain construction purpose would make sense if it was ’87 or ’88, as it does let out right past Splash and right in front of BTM. Either way, it does provide good traffic flow during parades.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I have pictures of Splash Mountain AFTER it was completed and the walkway was NOT there. However, the second bridge (the one where you can watch people “splash down”) was added to facilitate access to Thunder Mountain while Splash Mountain was under construction.

    I do not know the date this bypass was added.

  17. Jack,

    Gosh, you make these posts informative! I have only been on this attraction once, and now I HAVE to go again, based on all your information. I just love how exhaustively you research each of these, and you’re right: your videos are leagues above most of the chaff out there.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful post!

  18. Jack — loved, Loved, LOVED the video!!! So well edited and loved the sound with it. Thanks for putting that together — your blogs always make me excited about my next trip! I can’t wait to ride the Liberty Belle, check out benches and light posts and eat at Kouzzina!!!!

  19. Another excellent video, Jack! A relaxing ride on the Liberty Belle was what I needed. My day has been beyond hectic! Wish I could be there on March 9th. Have fun!

  20. Yet another great post – and not a spelling error in sight. 🙂

    Thanks so much for all the work you did – the video is outstanding.

  21. Hello Jack!! Here I´m in Buenos Aires, back from WDW (and very sad about it). But reading your blogs I can feel I am at Disney World living again all the fantastic moments I had while being there. I must say again that your researchs are memorable, interesting, and very funny to read, not matter what you are talking about, they are always awesome, so your videos, I see them and later show them to my family. In our trip I could tell a lot of amazing and funny tips to my husband and children, learned from your blogs, so please go on!!

  22. Hey Jack,

    I rode the Liberty Belle in February for the first time in years. It was really excellent. I especially enjoyed the views of Big Thunder and the Haunted Mansion, particularily when I noticed that the Haunted Mansion has a “front door” in the building facade, which is not the ride entrance! You can’t really see it from the front or the queue.

    When I got back, I looked at some old photos I had from visiting MK as a kid, and realized I have a photo of that burning cabin! I had completely forgotten about it.

  23. Jack-

    What a well-produced video! I have not taken the time to watch any of your videos before, and now I find myself having to go back to see the previous ones. Can’t wait to show this to my kids before our next trip to Disney World! Thanks for another great article (and video)!

  24. Jack:

    I love your blogs! I always get excited when a new one is posted. My wife and I wish we could meet up at the AllEars meet, but we won’t be at WDW until later in March.

    I have always wondered whether the Liberty Belle is guided by an underwater track, or whether the captain steers the ship. Based on your blog, I am assuming the captain is in control.

    Keep up the great work. I hope to catch up the AllEars team sometime soon.

    Scott

    Jack’s Answer:

    The Liberty Belle is on a track. However, when it is taken to drydock, I believe it is towed as I don’t think it has a rudder.

  25. I LOVE your videos Jack! You do an amazing job with them… you can tell that many hours and much care is taken with each one. I only wish you did them for ALL the rides! With each blog entry and video I go back and change my trips plans as I add new things to do!

  26. Your video is wonderfully done!! Great, great job!! Really enjoyed watching it, and reading all about the Liberty belle, lots of interesting tibits! Thanks for trip down memory lane!!

  27. Jack, what a great, informative post and truly excellent video. Thanks for the exhortation to watch it, as I probably would have bypassed it (not thinking it was drivel, but in the interest of saving time). Enjoy your weekend in the parks!

  28. Thank you Jack for a wonderful trip on the Liberty Belle, as always you’ve given us a great blog. I loved the history and the tidbits of information. My husband and I are avid fans of Davey Crockett and Georgie Russell. We were just on this lovely boat in January and had a great time walking about the island, and traversing the barrell bridge (my teenaged kids made us go over it a couple times)
    Your video was superb, great job and Thank you for adding it to the blog.

  29. Great Job Jack! Love the video, especially since I haven’t had the opportunity to ride the boat the past couple times I was there (between the 2005 rehab and the Frog and Princess show this fall). I’d love to be there when you were – no one was around!

  30. Another great blog Jack. I love the research and detail that goes into your posts, it really brings the subject to life and gives a great insite into the thought process and ideas behind the subject. Many thanks for keeping the magic alive!

  31. Great video! The park seems uncrowded. When did you make the video? What time of day?

    Thanks for a great reminder of our own trip on the Liberty Belle.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I shot the video in late February. I don’t know the exact date. Most of it was shot between 10am and noon.

  32. More interesting information. I particularly enjoyed learning about the birth of Tell City. We live a little down river from there in Newburgh, IN. I enjoyed the video as well, especially after reading your description of the sights along the way. Thank you.

    Sue