A working title for the attraction was "The Three Cultures of Mexico", to reflect the attraction's progression from native Aztec culture to the Colonial period and finally the present day.
Guests board a small boat very much like the ones found at It's a Small World and pass in front of an Aztec pyramid with an active volcano (which erupts at random times) in the background.
Entering a tunnel on the far side of the ruins, the spirit of an Aztec priest appears to take us on a journey through the history of Mexico. Live-action scenes depict vignettes from Aztec mythology and culture, including spirits of the four elements creating the world, the clash of good and evil between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, and assorted dances and rituals.
Mexico's Colonial years are represented in a large show scene reminiscent of It's a Small World, with a festival taking place during Dias de los Muertos. In this scene, the attraction's theme song begins to play.
Leaving the festival takes us into the present day. This section begins with recreational activities such as waterskiing, cliff-diving and scuba-diving. As we come into town, three screens feature peddlers in a market following our boat trying to sell us souvenirs. The finale takes place in Mexico City at night with a grand fiesta of fireworks and life size marionettes dancing in a kazeebo. Before arriving at the unload area, we pass a large map of Mexico and the Aztec priest's voice returns to offer us a farewell.
El Rio del Tiempo closed on January 2nd, 2007 to undergo its transformation into Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. Not much of the ride changed other than the projections, the dioramas were kept the same and the Aztec Priest and marionette finale figures were covered up or removed.
As of 2020, the Aztec Priest figure was placed into the collection of the temporary exhibit Inside the Walt Disney Archives in the Parks and Resorts section next to the Xenomorph and Captain Rex figures, being displayed at their 50th Anniversary exhibit held at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.
Behind the scenes