The Liberty Belle Riverboat is an attraction located in Liberty Square.
The Liberty Square Riverboat is one of the few attractions that can trace its history back to before Walt Disney even created Disneyland. In fact, Walt Disney initially came up with an idea for a "Mississippi Steamboat" attraction to be housed at the Disney Studio in Burbank, California. Although it was soon apparent that the Burbank Studio did not have the land necessarily to build the attraction, the idea was carried over to Disneyland. In order to create the riverboat attraction (which was soon called the Mark Twain Riverboat) Disney had to construct the first American made, working steamboat in 50 years. With funds coming directly from Walt himself, Admiral Joe Fowler oversaw the construction of both the attraction's riverboat and dry dock (located in the Rivers of America). The Mark Twain itself was built in two separate pieces, with the hull being constructed in San Pedro, California and deck being built at the Disney Studios in Burbank. Finally, the ship was put together in Disneyland (with the pieces fitting together perfectly) and The Mark Twin Riverboat was up and running on July 17, 1955 (the opening day of Disneyland).
Like many other Disneyland attractions, the Mark Twain Riverboat was selected to be duplicated for Walt Disney World. The East Coast version of the attraction was renamed the Admiral Joe Fowler in tribute to the man who had helped to create Disneyland and Walt Disney World (as well as the Riverboat attractions). Although not quite ready for opening day, the Joe Fowler Riverboat opened one day after the park, on October 2, 1971. After the Joe Fowler Riverboat opened, live entertainment could often be found on the ship’s deck (due to the fact that there were not that many sights for guests to see on the Rivers of America).
Since Walt Disney World did not yet have enough attractions to meet demand, in 1973 a second steamboat was built. Known as the Richard F. Irvine, the new steamboat was named after Richard Irvine who oversaw the planning and construction of Walt Disney World. Besides their names, the only difference between the two steamboats was that Admiral Joe Fowler had two smokestacks, while the Richard F. Irvine only had one. When they ran together, Liberty Square’s riverboats were staggered in their departure times, so that when one boat was circling Tom Sawyer's Island the other boat would be unloading and loading new guests.
The first major change to the Liberty Square riverboat’s came in 1980. Disaster struck the attraction when the hull of the Admiral Joe Fowler was badly damaged while entering a backlot, dry dock. Although the circumstances of the accident are unclear, one source says that the hull was damaged while being lifted by a crane. Another source states however, that it was split while water was being drained from the dry dock. Either way, Disney decided that they would not repair the broken shop, and although the exact location of the ship’s hull and decks are unknown, we do know that the boats machinery was sent to Tokyo and used in their steamship. Furthermore, the bell from the Admiral Joe Fowler was added to the #4 engine (the Roy O. Disney) on the Walt Disney World Railroad.
In 1996 (following a refurbishment) the Richard F. Irvine was renamed the Liberty Belle, and the attraction itself was renamed the Liberty Square Riverboat. The name change was done to both make the attraction's name easier to remember, and to tie the boat in with Liberty Square. In order to keep the names of Joe Fowler and Richard Irvine alive in Walt Disney World, in 1999 two ferries that run from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom were renamed in their honor.
The Liberty Belle Riverboat is a three deck working steamship that has a maximum capacity of 450 people. Guests enter the ship on the middle deck, which features a sitting room, and outside wheelhouse and the captains quarters. Sometimes one lucky family is selected to ride the boat in the captains quarters.
The bottom deck of the boat, is where guests scan see the ships boiler and pistons. The lower deck is also the location of a recently added "viewing platform". Located at the front of the ship, the platform allows guests to get great views of all the attractions scenes. Finally, on the top deck, guests get the best view of the various sights. There is also limited seating available here.
The Liberty Square Riverboat begins with the boats captain, Horace Bixby making sure that everyone is aboard, before telling the crew to put the boat in motion. His leadsman then sounds off (to get a depth reading), before the engine room puts the boat in motion. Horace then addresses guests, saying:
"Welcome aboard the Liberty Belle, I'm your captain Horace Bixby and my pilot with me here on the Texas Deck is a young cub that goes by the name of Samuel Clemens."
It turns out that this trip aboard the Liberty Belle is the 100th journey for young Sam Clemens, who claims to know the Rivers of America like the back of his hand. Before the Belle leaves port, Sam warns guests to stay behind the railings, as river pirates are known to lurk around these waters.
The first sight that guests can see from the Liberty Belle is Frontierland. Sam comments that Frontierland was once just a boom town, and although there are still a few trappers, prospectors and Indians, the town is well on its way to becoming a big city. Sam also mentions that the large peak in the town is known as Chick-A-Pin Hill. It seems that the dam atop the hill has burst, and people have begun to ride carved out logs over the ledge. Continuing on, the boat passes Sam's "old stomping ground", Tom Sawyer's Island. Sam says that the only way to get to the island is by raft, before pointing out parts of the island including: Muff Potters Pond, Harper's Mill, Tom's Landing, and Huck's Landing (it seems that Tom, Huck and Sam used to explore the island quite a bit while looking for adventure).
Turning guests attention port side, Sam next points out Big Thunder Mountain, before giving guests a little bit of history behind the attraction. Sam explains that hat the water gets so hot over by the attraction that geysers erupt. Indians used to the think that the geysers were spirits and they named the mountain “Big Thunder Mountain” because of the rain that would come from it. Later, when prospectors and settlers came to the area, the name stuck. Sam goes on to warn guests however, that there has not been blasting in the mountain in some time. Instead, all he hears now are ghost stories about spirits and runaway mine trains.
As the boat continues its journey, the next sight that guests can see is Beacon Joe and his bait shop. Sam informs guests that Beacon Joe has been marking the river for as long as he can remember. Further down the bank, Powhatan Indians are gathering, and Captain Bixby explains that although he has seen various Indian tribes, (including the Seminole, Black Feet, and Crow tribes) Powhatan Indians are not usually found this far west. Sam suggests that since there are so many animals in the area, they are simply following the food.
Continuing on, the boat passes an unidentified Indian village. The captain informs guest that the Indians were not sure what to make of the steamboat originally, and the called the ship a "fire canoe" and “comet of sun”. Scenes in the village include Indians cooking, trading, washing, and also two kids working on canoes. Past the village, guests see the Indian burial ground where the captain explains that the Indians lay their dead warriors on a "Bed of Death" and mourn them after nightfall.
Further down the river, the Liberty Belle reaches Cutthroat Corner. Sam tells riders that Cutthroat Corner, is the most likely place to find river pirates. Sure enough, pirates can be heard coming from Wilson's Cave; however Sam tells gusts that based on the sounds coming out of the cave, "their interests lie elsewhere". Looking back towards Tom Sawyer Island, guests can see Fort Laghorn, which Sam explains began as a trading post before becoming a port.
Before returning to port in Liberty Square, the leadsman calls out one more time, and the Liberty Belle passes the Haunted Mansion. Sam informs guests that rumor has it that the mansion was built on Indian burial ground, and now 999 ghosts haunt it. He says however, that he does not believe in these stories (insinuating that the people who say they've seen ghosts, have been drinking). Finally, the Liberty Belle reaches port and Sam and Captain Bixby say goodbye as the boat docks.
If you want to hear the Liberty Square Riverboat narration, click below:
Changes in the Script
The narration aboard the Liberty Belle has grown and changed with the expansion of Frontierland. Tom Sawyer Island, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad have all been added to the script since the attraction opened.
In 1992, the Powhatan Indians were added to the attraction in order to tie the ride in with both the new Disney movie Pocahontas, as well as with the Walt Disney World Railroad.
Before 2005, a burning cabin was seen beyond Fort Langhorn. Here guests would see the cabin on fire, and a settler lying on the ground with an arrow through him. The narration would comment on how the settler was a victim of an Indian attack. Later, the scene was changed so that the arrow was removed, and the narration commented that the settler had drunk too much moonshine. Finally, in 2005 the effect was removed altogether, due to corrosion in the pipes that created the effect. Now when the Liberty Belle passes by, the cabin is deserted and no mention of it is made
Historical References On The Attraction
- Sam Clemens the pilot on the Liberty Belle, is better known as American writer Mark Twain. Twain was known as a lover of steamships (specifically those on the Mississippi River) and did actually captain some steamships himself. In Disneyland, the attraction is known as the Mark Twain Riverboat.
- Captain Horace Bixby, the Liberty Belle's captain was a real steamboat captain on the Mississippi. Horace Bixby and Sam Clemens met aboard the Paul Jones (a steamboat), and Bixby agreed to take Sam on as his apprentice. Some 21 years after this meeting, the now famous Mark Twain reunited with the captain in St. Louis. Twain talks about Captain Bixby in his book, "Life on the Mississippi".
- Crates located on the banks of Frontierland have the name "Tell City Tool Co." on them. Tell City is real town located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Indiana. Tell City was one of the United States’ first "planned cities", and attracted many settlers with free land. The only stipulation for the land was that settlers had to build a house worth at least $125.000. In the early days of the town, steamship was the only mode of transportation available, so the town was an obvious choice for addition to the attraction.
- Wilson's Cave is a reference to the real river pirate Jim Wilson. In the 1790's Jim Wilson opened Wilson's Liqueur Vault on the Ohio River in Illinois. Wilson would lure guests into what is now known as the "Cave-In-Rock" cave, and rob or even kill them.
- The Leadsman was a crew member who would call out the depth of the water, when the water got shallow. One fathom equals six feet, two fathoms equal Mark Twain (on the attraction at least).
Sam Clemens' Sayings
Throughout the narration on the Liberty Belle, Sam Clemens gives various philosophical sayings. Although these phrases were not actually spoken by Mark Twain, they are written to give the character a similar personality. Sayings Sam Clemens says on the attraction include:
- "Well now I always figure it is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, then to open it and remove all doubt."
- "It seems to me that when I was younger, I could remember everything whether it happened or not. But as I grow older I seem to remember only the things that never happened at all."
- All my life it seems I could never tell a lie that anybody could doubt, nor a truth that anybody could believe."
- "Believe me when I tell you, truth is the most valuable thing we have, so I make sure I only use it with economy."
- "I was born humble captain, but mostly it's worn off."
- "I believe we ought never to do wrong captain, especially when others are looking."
- "My feeling is these days there's a lot less frontier and a lot more civilization than is truly necessarily."
- One of the crates on the Frontierland bank says "71" in honor of the year the Magic Kingdom opened.
- Another crate says Russel’s Falls, this crate is named after Davy Crockett's sidekick George E. Russel.
- An Audio Animatronic dog outside of Beaker Joe's will turn its head as a fish jumps by.
Watch the Attraction!
If you want to see the sights that the Liberty Belle has to offer, click below. The narration is not included in the video.