Mark Twain Riverboat is an attraction, located at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, on which passengers embark on a scenic, 12-minute journey around the Rivers of America. Originally named Mark Twain Steamboat when the park opened in 1955, the stately, 5/8-scale Mississippi stern-wheeler was the first functional riverboat to be built in the United States for fifty years. Other Disney riverboat attractions now appear at Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.
Passengers wait for the 150-ton, high, long riverboat, which departs every 25 minutes, inside a sheltered area located in the Frontierland section of the park. The waiting area is made to resemble a real riverboat loading area, with cargo deliveries sharing space on the dock. Historic United States flags are displayed at the attraction's entrance.
Upon boarding Mark Twain, passengers are free to move about her three levels. The lower deck's bow has chairs. The upper deck provides a vantage point for viewing landmarks throughout the voyage, there are also a couple bench seats on this level, some indoors and some outside.
The wheelhouse, where Mark Twain's pilot is stationed, is also located on the upper deck. The lower level of the wheelhouse features a sleeping area and a sink to maintain the illusion of this being the captain's living quarters. At the pilot's discretion, a small number of passengers may be given permission to ride in the wheelhouse for the voyage, after which they are presented with souvenir Pilot Certificates.
The pilot signals the departure and arrival of Mark Twain using a horn and bell system, along with various signals to other river craft attractions. Because the riverboat travels along an I-beam guide rail throughout the ride, the pilot does not maneuver the ship. Instead, the pilot serves as lookout for other river traffic, such as Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes and the Rafts to Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, and communicates his observations with the boiler engineer. The boiler engineer is stationed on the bottom deck towards the stern. This is where the throttle and reverser are located. From here, the boiler engineer controls the speed and direction of the riverboat. Steam from the boiler is used to power the paddle wheels and thus pushes the craft along its guide-way.
The voyage on the Rivers of America around Tom Sawyer Island features pre-recorded narration by a riverboat guide voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft, Mark Twain (Peter Renaday), who speaks of his days piloting a riverboat, and by the (not present) "captain" of the ship, voiced by Disney voice actor Stephen Stanton. The narration playback, operated by the pilot via a control panel in the pilot house, points out the following sights:
- Haunted Mansion
- Splash Mountain
- Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes landing
- Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
- Mike Fink's Cabin
- Lakota Chief, raising hand in welcome
- Lakota Village
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Sacred indigenous burial ground
- Animals and abandoned mine cars
- Big Thunder Falls
On most days, Mark Twain begins operation as soon the park opens. On days when Fantasmic! is being performed, the riverboat, which plays a role in the show, will close a couple of hours before showtime. On other nights, Mark Twain will run through the evening, using a high intensity rooftop spotlight to point out sights, with the final trip beginning about thirty minutes before park closing. A sign at the loading area will list the day's last trip.
There are a few former sights that the boat passed along the river. The Burning Settler's Cabin which used propane to simulate burning was one. The pipe that fed propane to the burner failed in the early 2000s and has not been relit. There were plans in 2007 to replace the failed feed and again have the cabin burn. However, the Pirate's Lair at Tom Sawyer Island modifications affected these plans. As of now, the burn marks have been removed, the holes patched and the area cleaned up. The front lawn area now has a table, picnic-like decorations and clothes on a clothes line. What makes this odd is while the rest of Tom Sawyer Island appears as if it has been invaded by pirates, this part of the island is the only thing not pirate themed.
Along with the Cabin, the Gullywhumper, one of Disneyland's extinct Keel Boats is now scenery along the river's bank. A mine train from the old Nature's Wonderland attraction was also used as scenery. The Mine Train is on its original track and used to border Cascade Peak, a man-made fiberglass hill complete with waterfall which was bulldozed in 1998. The train was removed in June 2010 for restoration. Also, one of the rafts to Tom Sawyer's Island was marooned just in front of the no longer burning cabin and is now scenery.
A Mississippi steamboat was included in the plans for the first Disney amusement park that was to be built across the street from his Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Although this park was abandoned in favor of the much larger Disneyland, the plan for having a riverboat attraction was retained.
Because Mark Twain was the first functional paddlewheeler built in the United States in fifty years, the WED designers conducted extensive research to build it like riverboats were built in the heyday of steam powered ships. The decks were assembled at the Disney Studios at Burbank, while the 105-foot hull was constructed at Todd Shipyards, Los Angeles Division, San Pedro, California (where portions of Columbia were built years later).
Joe Fowler, Disneyland's construction supervisor and a former navy admiral, insisted on creating a drydock for the ship along what was to be the Rivers of America. Walt Disney, dismayed at how much land was taken up by the massive excavation, referred to the drydock first as "Joe's Ditch", and then later, "Fowler's Harbor", the name by which it goes by today. However, Disney remained a supporter of the riverboat itself, funding its construction out of his own pocket when corporate funds fell short. On the first "fill-the-river" day, the water that was pumped into the Rivers of America soaked through the riverbed. Fowler quickly found a supply of clay to replace the soil stabilizer used to line the river, and the second "fill-the-river" day was successful.
Mark Twain had her maiden voyage on July 13, 1955, four days before the park officially opened, for a private party celebrating Walt and Lillian Disney's 30th wedding anniversary. Before the party, as Fowler was checking to make sure everything would be ready for the 300 invited guests, he found Lillian sweeping the decks of debris and joined in to help her.
Disneyland's opening day brought further problems for Mark Twain. Actress Irene Dunne, star of the movie Showboat, had trouble breaking a bottle of water (from many major American rivers) across the vessel's bow for her christening on Dateline Disney. During the riverboat's first official voyage, when the crowd moved to one side of the boat to view a passing scene of an Indian encampment or other sight, the boat would list from the side and water poured over the deck, as no one had determined Mark Twain's maximum safe passenger capacity.
This oversight caused Mark Twain to almost capsize on a voyage a few days later when ride operators continued to wave more than 500 guests on board until the deck neared the water line. As the ship traversed the sparsely vegetated river route, it came loose from its track and got stuck in the muddy banks. Immediately, the park established a maximum capacity of 300 passengers, which remains in effect today.
After a rough start, Mark Twain has had a successful 65-year-career as a theme park attraction. During its first few years of operation, passengers could buy a non-alcoholic mint julep aboard or listen to card and checker players re-enact dialogue of that era. Occasionally the Disneyland band would play music on the lower deck bow to entertain both the passengers and the theme park visitors on the river banks.
Mark Twain underwent a major refurbishment during the Spring of 1995, during which all the decks and the boiler were replaced. September 24, 1995 saw the first and only Disney Fantasyland Wedding, to this day, to be held on an attraction, in theme clothing. A local Orange County couple, Kevin and Patricia Sullivan exchanged vows on the bow of the boat as she circled the Rivers of America. The groom's father Ed Sullivan, a 50-year Disney veteran, donned the classic Mark Twain costume for the once in a lifetime ceremony. The couple sealed their vows by pulling the ships steam whistle together. From atop the upper most deck, the couple let loose ropes, unfurling a ship sized JUST MARRIED banner across the stern.
When the Rivers of America was drained in 2002, the boat was noted to have considerable hull damage. It underwent a refurbishment in 2004 to repair the hull, which included replacing the keel. For the park's 50th Anniversary celebration in 2005, a new, more colorful paint job was applied to the durable riverboat.
On January 11, 2016, the Mark Twain Riverboat, along with the other attractions and shows along the Rivers of America, would close temporarily for the construction of a Star Wars-themed land. These attractions reopened on July 29, 2017.
Other Disney theme park riverboats
Walt Disney World
The Magic Kingdom theme park in Bay Lake, Florida at one time featured two riverboats: Admiral Joe Fowler, a sternwheeler named for Disneyland's construction supervisor, and Richard F. Irvine, a sternwheeler named for a WED executive. There is now one riverboat: the Liberty Belle.
Admiral Joe Fowler served from October 2, 1971, one day after park opening, until the Fall of 1980, when it was retired after less than ten years of operation and it got accidentally destroyed after falling from a crane onto its drydock.
Richard F. Irvine came into service on May 20, 1973 but was renamed The Liberty Belle in 1996 after everything except for the hull, boiler, and engines was stripped off, and an all-new superstructure was constructed from aluminum and vinyl.
Thunder Mesa riverboats (Disneyland Paris)
The Frontierland area of Disneyland Park has the unique distinction of featuring two riverboats, Mark Twain and Molly Brown. Each riverboat features a recorded conversation between the Captain and Mark Twain or Molly Brown. Since the storyline takes place in the fictional town of Thunder Mesa, most of the spiel deals with the sights of Big Thunder Mountain, Phantom Manor, Wilderness Island, Smuggler's Cove, an old snoring fisherman, and a geyser field containing dinosaur remains.
- Mark Twain is based on the Anaheim Park's original riverboat, a sternwheeler.
- Molly Brown, named for Titanic-survivor Molly Brown, is the only sidewheeler in a Disney Park.
On May 16, 2005, Molly Brown's engine overheated as the boat rounded the corner at the back of the Rivers of the Far West. Although there was no visible fire, smoke damaged the ship and her engines, rendering her immobile. Guests were ferried ashore by the River Rogue Keelboats. The engine system was badly damaged and Molly Brown remained out of operation for many months, while Mark Twains ongoing refurbishment at the dry dock was finished. In September 2005, Molly Brown was moved to the dry dock, and in March 2006, Mark Twain finally resumed operation from Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing. However, it was not until September that Molly Brown's long refurbishment finally began, and was completed in late April 2007.
Yet, in 2010, Molly Brown had to be rebuilt from scratch. On March 25, 2011, she was back in business, with a new recording of Molly Brown's speech in English, which used to be in French. The Mark Twain hasn’t operated since 2011, and has spent most of that time sitting in dry dock. In 2014, MiceAge reported that the Mark Twain was falling apart due to lack of maintenance, and is in danger of scrapping.
Tokyo Disneyland's Mark Twain riverboat is so large that it is required by law to be registered. Its home port is listed as Urayasu. From the time of its opening until September 2006 its sponsor was Nippon Suisan Kaisha.
Mark Twain riverboat burns biodiesel fuel to heat its boiler, continuously heating water into steam, which is then routed to two pistons that turn the paddlewheel. Spent exhaust is then routed back to the boiler.
The riverboat is guided through the Rivers of America via an I-beam track, which is hidden under the green and brown dyed river water.
The boat draws only in of water, for the river is relatively shallow. At its deepest point it is no more than 8 feet near the switch at Fowler's Harbor, where it resides when not in operation.
The boat uses clean, fresh water from a tank on board to prevent contaminants from the water in the Rivers of America from fouling the boiler.
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