The island that would eventually be known as Tom Sawyer Island, was a man made construction that was completed before the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 . Although the island was present in the Rivers of America on opening day, it would not be until May 20, 1973 that the attraction opened to the public . Following its opening, no major changes came to Tom Sawyer Island until 1996 when Fort Sam Clemens (which was located on the island) was renamed Fort Langhorn. The name of the fort was changed in order to tie in with Disney’s newest movie, “Tom and Huck” . The next change to the island did not occur until 2005, when the “burning cabin” scene was turned off. The special effect (which made the cabin appear as if it was on fire) had to be suspended due to pipe corrosion, although the cabin and the settler located nearby are still on the island .
Perhaps the biggest change to come to Tom Sawyer Island has been the closure of Aunt Polly's Dockside Inn. The restaurant opened with the rest of the island in 1973 and remained so until 2001 when the restaurant's sign was removed . Despite this, the location sold cold snacks and beverages sporadically until 2007 . Following this time, a few vending machines were added to the area, although these were eventually turned off. From the end of March 2015 until April 11, Aunt Polly's Dockside Inn reopened . Since that time however the dining location has remained closed.
In order to get to Tom Sawyer Island, guests must board rafts from a dock in Frontierland. The rafts take guests slowly across the Rivers Of America to Tom's Landing (on the side of the island). Here guests can explore various scenes from the book "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain. When guests first get to the island they can read a sign that Tom himself wrote. The sign reads:
Aunt Polly's Cottage on Tom Sawyer Island.
If guests travel counterclockwise around the island, the first major sight they will come across is Harper's Mill. The mill is a working grain mill, similar to the those that once ran on the Mississippi River. There are two different stories which tell how Harper's Mill got its name. One theory states that the mill is named after Imagineer Harper Goff who helped design both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Another story states the mill is named after Joe Harper, who joined Tom and Huck when they ran away in Mark Twain's novel It is probable that in the backstory of the attraction, the mill is named after Joe Harper, while its inclusion may have been a nod to Harper Goff.
Inside Harper’s Mill, a reference to the 1937 Disney Short, "The Old Mill" can be found. In the cartoon, a strong thunderstorm begins to rage outside of a run down mill, which causes the gears inside the mill to begin to turn. Resting in the gear is a mother bluebird and her eggs, which it seems will surely get crushed. Luckily one the gears is missing one of its teeth, thus saving the bird. Like her cartoon counterpart, the bird inside Harper's Mill is never crushed
Around the corner from Harper's Mill, guests will come upon Aunt Polly's cottage. Here guests can sit and relax on a large, waterfront porch. A restaurant named Aunt Polly's Dockside Inn was once open here, but the restaurant closed for good in 2007 (although it briefly reopened in 2015). On the outskirts of the cottage, guests can see a fence that Tom convinced his friends Ben Rogers, Johnny Miller, and Billy Fisher to whitewash. Continuing on past Aunt Polly's cottage, guests will come upon the Scavenger’s Fort. Here, Tom and Huck have seemingly made a makeshift playground out of ship parts, lumber wood, and barrels (the roof of the fort is even made out of an old life boat).
Another point of interest on the island is Old Scratch's Mine. Here, guests can explore the old bumpy mine. After traveling through the dark passage and hearing bats chirp overhead, guests will come upon a large deposit of glowing gems. Old Scratch was a pre-civil war name for the devil, giving the mine a very ominous name. A sign outside of the mine reads:
Near the entrance to Old Scratch's Mine, is Injun Joe's Cave. In the story “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, Tom witnessed Injun Joe murder Doc Robinson, and was later trapped in the cave with him. As guests explore the cave, they will come upon an eerie face in the rocks. Further down, they cross a wooden bridge which seems to be suspended over a bottomless pit. Both Injun Joe's Cave and Old Scratch's Mine have one way walkways, which deposit guests on the other side of the island. Outside of Injun Joe's Cave, guests can read a warning sign that says:
A rock formation that looks eerily like a face can be found in Injun Joe's Cave.
Another place guests can explore is Potters Mill. Located near Injun Joe’s Cave, Potters Mill is a small green mill that guests can actually go inside. After traveling up a winding staircase and reaching the top of the mill, guests can look out and see beautiful views of the Magic Kingdom. Just outside of the mill is Huck's Landing, where rafts may deposit guests during busier times (when two rafts are being used).
On the other side of the island guests can attempt to cross the barrel bridge. Getting across the bridge is no easy task, however many guests consider the challenge one of the highlights of the attraction. The barrel bridge leads guests over to Smugglers Cove, which gives guests more great views of the park.
Another bridge that is unique to the Disney World version of Tom Sawyer Island, is the suspension bridge. Although many guests may not realize it from afar, Tom Sawyer Island is actually made up of two islands. To get from one island to the other, guests must cross the suspension bridge. Across the bridge is Pappy’s Fishing Pier, where guests can take a break and relax. From the pier, guests can also watch the runaway trains on Big Thunder Mountain. Settler's Cabin is another interesting site on the island. This scene depicts a sleeping settler outside his cabin. The cabin used to be referenced on the Liberty Belle, and the cabin would actually look like it's on fire. Due to the deterioration of the pipes however, the cabin is no longer on fire and the scene is no longer mentioned on the boat.
The focal point of Tom Sawyer Island is Fort Langhorn. Located in the fort is a blacksmith's shop where guests can see an Audio Animatronic blacksmith. Above the shop, guests will find cannons, which are pointed out towards the Rivers of America (the canons do not actually fire). If guests want to find something that does shoot, they can climb up the watchtowers located in the fort where they can take up rifles and shoot (blanks) at passing boats. For a more relaxing time, a checker board can also be found within Fort Langhorn.
Spaceship Earth was a part of Disney’s plans for EPCOT Center since the theme park’s inception. Unlike other pavilions which went through a series of redesigns and changes, Spaceship Earth remained essentially the same throughout its development. One of the few changes that did occur between the time that the pavilion was conceived and constructed involved the shape that Spaceship Earth would take. Originally, Imagineers had planned on Spaceship Earth being a dome, with the attraction’s show building located south of the pavilion. This version of Spaceship Earth can be seen in the 1978 EPCOT Center model .
Due to the fact that plans for the Spaceship Earth attraction called for a finale that simulated a trip through space, Disney Imagineers felt that they would need to move guests "up" in the pavilion. Furthermore, Disney felt that simply entering the domed pavilion and boarding the ride was not a dramatic enough reference . In order to solve these issues, Imagineers eventually decided that instead of taking the shape of a geodesic dome, Spaceship Earth would be constructed as a geodesic sphere, something never done before .
Although the pavilion was designed to look like a seamless sphere, Spaceship Earth was actually constructed in two parts. The top half of the dome sits on a steel square ring, which sits atop the pavilion's "legs”. The bottom half of the dome was then attached to the bottom of the ring, giving the illusion that Spaceship earth is a monolithic structure.
Early Spaceship Earth concept art
Besides being constructed out of two separate halves, Spaceship Earth was also made of two separate spherical layers. The inside sphere of the pavilion was made of steel pyramid-shaped pipes. This sphere was then covered by an outside sphere that was made of Alucobond pyramids (a polyester plastic) which was then covered in two sheets of aluminum. This design was chosen so that the inner sphere (which houses the attraction) would be protected from the elements. The final issue that this design solved was the issue of runoff water. As Disney did not want water pouring off the sides of the 18 story pavilion, gaps were left in-between the Alucobond pyramids so that the water could run through them, and into a gutter system (which would eventually deposit the water into the World Showcase Lagoon) .
Much like the pavilion, the storyline for the Spaceship Earth attraction remained fairly consistent throughout the attraction’s development. In the 1980 booklet titled Walt Disney World EPCOT Center, Spaceship Earth is described:
"Spaceship Earth," planned for presentation by AT&T, will be Future World's introductory theme show. Here guests will board "time machine" vehicles and journey into the past to trace the evolution of human communication.
Visitors will travel into dimensional scenes depicting milestones in communication, "brought to life" through the Audio-Animatronics process and Disney special effects. 
The above description correlates very closely to the attraction that would eventually open to guests. In fact, the 1982 book also titled Walt Disney World EPCOT Center describes basically the same attraction, albeit now inside the geodesic sphere:
The architecturally unique Spaceship Earth globe forms a breathtaking entrance to Epcot Center. Entering Future World, visitors pass directly beneath this glistening geosphere which reaches a height surpassing that of the Walt Disney World Contemporary Resort Hotel. Within this theme structure, a swirling time journey retraces the increasingly important role of communications in mankind's survival.
Spaceship Earth’s storyline and original script were written by author Ray Bradbury , who came up with an elaborate version of “Man and his Spaceship Earth” (as the attraction was then called) in 1977 . Other consultants and advisors from: Los Angeles' Huntington Library, University of Southern California, University of Chicago, and the Smithsonian Institute  also contributed to the creation of Spaceship Earth.
It took construction workers 26 months and almost 40,800 labor hours to build Spaceship Earth . When it was completed, in Spaceship Earth Disney not only an icon for EPCOT Center, but also the world’s first geodesic dome. Both the pavilion and the attraction housed within were ready for EPCOT Center's opening day on October 1, 1982 .
The structure of the pavilion itself remained unchanged until 1999, when a large Mickey hand holding a wand was added to the top of Spaceship Earth . The wand was dedicated "2000" in celebration of the new millennium, before the dedication was changed to "Epcot" in 2001 . The Mickey hand and wand remained atop Spaceship Earth until it was removed in 2007, just in time for Epcot's 25th anniversary.
The mural at the entrance to Spaceship Earth depicts the evolution of communication. Photo by Sam Howitz
Throughout its history, Spaceship Earth has always featured a dark ride attraction that takes guests through the history of communication. The pavilion was first refurbished in 1986, with subsequent refurbishments taking place in 1994 and 2007. Following each refurbishment, the attraction has been given a new script, a new narrator, and a new finale. When Spaceship Earth opened in 1982, it was sponsored by Bell Systems, before the company was broken up, and AT&T (Bell's parent company) assumed sponsorship of the pavilion. AT&T continued to sponsor the pavilion until 2004, when the company decided not to renew their contract. Subsequently, in 2005, Siemens assumed sponsorship of the pavilion. Listed below is a more detailed description of the differences between the four versions of Spaceship Earth.
Original Incarnation: Vic Perrin or Larry Dobkins (1982-1986)
NOTE: In 2008 Imagineer Mary Sklar disagreed with the long held notion that Vic Perrin was the narrator of the 1982 version of Spaceship Earth. Marty instead claims that Larry Dobkins was the narrator. With no official credit given, it is currently impossible to know for sure who narrated the attraction.
The queue for the original Spaceship Earth attraction began with guests entering the pavilion, and walking up a short ramp. On the walls on either side of guests, large two posters showed Spaceship Earth at night and read "Ride the Time Machine from the Dawn of Civilization to the Beginning of Our Tomorrow. SPACESHIP EARTH.". Nearby, a large mural showed astronauts working on a satellite, with Earth in the background. The mural was framed with small pictures depicting cavemen, Romans, Egyptians, the printing press and finally modern humans. After passing through the queue guests would board small blue ride vehicles, beginning the attraction itself.
After guests boarded, the vehicles guests entered a dark tunnel. Inside, the vehicles would begin to ascend, allowing guests to see a purple cloud with stars all around it. A flash of lightning would periodically strike from the cloud, and the narrator would begin:
Where have we come from, where are we going? In the dust from which we were formed, answers recorded on the walls of time. So let us journey into that past, to seek those walls, to know ourselves and to probe the destiny of our Spaceship Earth.
When the vehicles reached the top of the tunnel, guests could see images of cavemen fighting Woolly Mammoths. The narrator informed guests that they were entering the ancient caves, where humans first interacted. A scene showing an ancient medicine man talking to other humans could be seen here, with cave paintings showing the first humans “writing” their thoughts down.The narrator then acknowledged the Woolly Mammoth scene, informing guests that humans used communication in order to survive. The narration in this scene said:
The Egyptian Pharaoh dictating his decree
Where are we now? It is the waiting dawn, where vast things stir and breathe. And with our first words and first steps, we draw together to conquer the mammoth beast. It is the dawn of a new beginning, the dawn of recorded time
On cave walls we inscribe our greatest triumphs, a growing record of our deeds, to share with others so they too may greet tomorrow’s sun.
As the ride vehicles moved forward, guests could see an Egyptian making papyrus (sometime between 1567 - 1085 B.C.). Across the way, an elaborate Egyptian building could be seen, with Hieroglyphs decorating the archways. Further down the way, a Pharaoh was shown dictating to a scribe. His wife sat next to him, as servants fanned the royal couple. The narrator then spoke, saying:
Ages pass and more walls rise in the valley of the Nile. Man-made walls of hieroglyphics. Then with new symbols, we unlock our thoughts from chiseled walls and send them forth on papyrus scrolls
At this point, the scene then shifted to a seaport in the ninth century B.C. Here, two sailors could be seen trading goods, with two connected boats behind them. On the right, guests could see the ocean with stars shining on the horizon. The narrator then told guests:
On fine Phoenician ships, we take our scrolls to sea. Real scrolls simplified by an alphabet, eagerly shared at distant ports of call.
The ride vehicles then moved forward in time, to Greece in 428 B.C. A scene depicting a Greek theater could be seen, with two men acting out Oedipus. The narrator then spoke once again:
Deep in the shadows of Mount Olympus, our alphabet takes route ... flowering with new expression. Hail the proud Greeks: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. The theater is born.
As guests continued their journey through time, they came upon a Roman solider riding in a chariot. The man was exchanging information with another man (who was wearing a toga). In the background, a painted wall depicted Rome, as another chariot passed by. The narrator then said:
North, South, East, and West, all roads lead from Rome, a mighty network reaching across the land, welding far-flung garrisons into a growing empire.
Michelangelo painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel
As the ride vehicles carried on, guests could see ruins of a smoldering building. The narrator informed guests that the excess of Rome had led to its destruction. A scene showing the Islamic wise men sitting in a circle discussing books was then shown. To their left, was a library with unfilled shelves, inside of which two men could be seen reading. Here the narrator informed guests:
Glorious Rome, until consumed by the flames of excess. Imperial Rome, lost in the ashes of darkness.
Far from the dying embers, Islamic wise men preserve ancient wisdom and weave a rich network of new knowledge linking east and west.
Continuing forward, on guest’s right an astronomer could be seen standing on a balcony and investigating the stars. Further down the path, two Benedictine Monks were shown copying text by hand, with the monk on the right having fallen asleep on the job. The narrator once again spoke, saying:
In Western abbeys, Monks toil endlessly transcribing ancient wisdom into hand-penned books of revelation.
At last! A new dawn emerges. The dawn of the Renaissance. And a wondrous machine performs as a thousand scribes. Now for all: the printed word.
As guests entered the Renaissance scene, Johann Gutenberg and his associate could be seen working on the printing press. Guests then moved forward to Italy in the 16th century. To the right, a man was shown reading a book to two others, while just beyond them, two musicians played music in front of a small Italian town. On guests’ left various artists were work. One was mixing paint, one painting fruit, and one sculpting. Further ahead on the left, guests could see Michelangelo lying on scaffolding, painting the Sistine Chapel. A conveyance system brought buckets of paint up to the artist as he painted. The narration for the Renaissance continued:
Our books fuel the fires of the Renaissance. It is a time to discover anew the worlds of poetry and philosophy, science and music. As our minds soar, our hands find new expression in the flourishing world of art. Behold, the majesty of the Sistine ceiling.
Following the Renaissance, guests moved forward in time to the 18th and 19th century. The narrator spoke of this transition saying:
The Renaissance: a beacon through the mists of time, guiding us to a new era. A time of invention and exploding communication.
The first thing that guests would see in the modern era was the steam powered printing press, which was invented by William Bullock in 1863. A man inspected the newspaper that came out of the press. Further on, a young newsboy stood on a street corner selling a stack of New York Daily newspapers. As the vehicles continued on, guests could see a man dictating a telegram to another man who sent it out, while a train passed by on a railroad. On their left, guests could then see telephone wires stretching all across the