By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Frontierland, Continued

By Dave Shute

(This material first appeared as a guest post on‘s Patriotic Disney series. Thanks, Steve, for letting me republish it here.)

This is the second page of this review; for the first page, click here.


The structures of Frontierland–rides, shops, and dining establishments–are all on your left as you walk from Liberty Square to Big Thunder Mountain.

The water–representing the great rivers that tied together the frontier, and especially the Mississippi and the Ohio–are on your right.

If you focus on the left, Frontierland begins at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, as the boundary between east and west.

However, if you focus on the right…Frontierland begins in Liberty Square.

The Liberty Belle riverboat boards and docks in Liberty Square. While such vessels could be found in the east, they were key elements of the west. The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom calls the Liberty Belle an example of a “staple of early frontier life,” and calls it a “transitional element linking [the] two lands.”( 72.)

The role of the Liberty Square waterfront in beginning the theme of Frontierland was even clearer back in the day when the long-gone Mike Fink Keelboats still loaded from this waterfront. Keelboats, while found on any navigable river, were essential features of the Ohio, the Mississippi and their sources.

The water itself–“Rivers of America”–is also meant to represent the Ohio, Mississippi, and the other great rivers of the western frontier, even in Liberty Square.

This too was even clearer in the past when the “Indian Canoes” still ran from Frontierland, so that the waterway at any given moment could show canoes, keelboats, a riverboat, and the rafts used to access Tom Sawyer Island.

So Frontierland begins on the left at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, but on the right at the waterfront of Liberty Square.


Frontierland has two major “E” Ticket ridesSplash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain–and a number of minor attractions of limited appeal.

None of the rides in Frontierland refer directly to any of the ideals discussed earlier.

The only ideals even glanced at are in Splash Mountain’s references to Br’er Rabbit’s “trickster” schemes–whose roots, while from African (and Native American) oral traditions, also resonate with populist resistance to elites.

Rather, Frontierland pays homage to pioneer ideals with its architecture and details. The right side has not just the “rivers,” island, and watercraft of Tom Sawyer and Mike Fink, but also is lined with a boardwalk. This boardwalk is meant to have a “dockside” feel, and reinforce the roles of the buildings as riverfront settlements.

The buildings on the left side approximate (until Splash Mountain) different building styles from different times.

They come closer in to today the more distant from Liberty Square, taking you from the old west to the southwest.

Note the street numbers on these buildings, which “roughly indicate the year in which the building is set.” (The Imagineering Field Guide, 52.)

Splash Mountain wrecks this progression.

Its exterior is themed to itself, rather than to Frontierland, and the ride’s pre-Civil War, southern setting reverses both the geographic and the temporal progression of Frontierland so far.

Big Thunder Mountain, with its Monument Valley, Utah, post-gold rush setting, flips geography yet again.

As these last two are among the most popular rides in the park, no one really cares!

From Liberty Square to the end of Frontierland, you’ll find the following attractions in order (the “ratings” are from The Comprehensive Guide to Rides)

The Liberty Belle steamboat. Literally part of Liberty Square, but as noted above spiritually part of Frontierland. A slow and gentle journey around Tom Sawyer Island, with some moderately fun views that you can otherwise only see from the island itself, or from the WDW Railroad. Rating: Pre-schoolers: best-loved. Third-graders through adults: other.

The Frontierland Shooting Gallery. One of only two attractions in the Magic Kingdom not paid for as part of your admission ticket. For a buck, you get to use a light-powered rifle to shoot at targets; the targets, if hit, create various fun actions. Rating: Pre-schoolers: best-loved. Third-graders through adults: skippable.

The Country Bear Jamboree. First time visitors more into country, roots or backwoods music will be delighted; those less interested may find it dull. Rating: Pre-schoolers: other. Third-graders through adults: skippable

(Rafts to) Tom Sawyer Island. Tom Sawyer Island is best viewed as interesting terrain where your kids can fairly freely run around, not have much externally-imposed structure to their experience, and not wait in lines. For some families, this makes it a godsend; others won’t find it sufficiently interesting to be worth the wait for the rafts and the walking around. Rating: Pre-schoolers: best-loved. Third-graders through adults: skippable

Splash Mountain. To me, the best example in all of Disney World of fully-realized imagineering possibility. Much more of a fun, charming, detailed, interesting ride than the water-slide makes it appear from outside. You may get wet. Rating: Pre-schoolers: avoid. Third-graders through adults: favorite. Height requirement: 40″.  FASTPASS: available.

The Walt Disney World Railroad. The Frontierland station of the WDW Railroad is between Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. A slow, slightly interesting railroad ride, with a few minor displays that can’t be seen from anywhere else, that can be taken either as a round trip or to another station. Rating: Pre-schoolers: best-loved. Third-graders through adults: skippable.

Big Thunder Mountain. A mild roller coaster that can be jerky and bouncy. Not for those with extreme motion sickness. Theming very well done, and while great anytime, particularly fun to do after dark. Rating: Pre-schoolers: other. Third-graders through adults: favorite. Height requirement: 40″.  FASTPASS: available.


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1 donald baker { 09.29.12 at 9:47 am }

My family and I will be making our third visit to WDW in November 2013. While I enjoy the Country Bear Jamboree, my wife does not. I was just curious if they change the show for the christmas holiday… we will be there until December 8th. Any information will be greatly appreciated.

Donald Baker

2 Dave { 09.29.12 at 1:46 pm }

Hey Donald, they stopped the Christmas change of the Bears show a couple of years back. Country Bears is closed through mid-October for a redo–no one is certain what is happening, but the rumor is that the show will be shortened and tightened…

3 Donald Baker { 12.29.12 at 7:58 pm }

thanks for answering so quickly.. hopefully i can still talk at least my daughter into seeing it with me!

4 Dave { 12.30.12 at 7:56 am }

Hey Donald–I saw the new version of the show earlier this month. It’s a little shorter and tighter, without really losing any of its charms….tell her “It’s been re-done, we have to see it!”

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