A peek at Disneyland’s refurbished Tom Sawyer Island – David Koenig

The refurbishment of Tom Sawyer Island is nearly complete and the attraction appears ready to reopen any day now, according to cast members who recently toured the island. Workmen are down to touching up the public areas, performing Fantasmic!-related electrical work off stage, and adding more landscaping island-wide.

Most of the perceptible changes are on the north end of the island. The Settler’s Cabin—Walt’s 60-year-old, once-burning showpiece—was demolished and a fancy new cabin was constructed in roughly the same place.

“The cabin is pretty nice,” said one eyewitness. “It’s much taller than the old one, and it’s a real cabin, not like the old one, which was a building with a facade. It was built for some purpose other than being part of the show. You could actually live in it.”

Surrounding it, don’t expect any arrow-riddled corpses or passed-out moonshiners. In fact, the majority of the original plants on the north end are gone and replanting has not been finished. When you take your first tour around the new island, it will be immediately apparent how bare it looks compared to pre-rehab. New plants have been and will be planted, so it should be lush again—it’ll just take a couple of years for the greenery grow back.

The border cordoning off the off-limits portion of the island has not changed. However, the paths backstage have been made much more well-defined, which lessens the wilderness feeling, but is almost certainly a concession to Cal-OSHA.

Construction has also eliminated any hope of Fort Wilderness ever again opening to guests. In the open courtyard of the fort, a permanent roof has been built to cover a giant breakroom, complete with vending machines, new cast member restrooms, chairs, tables and couches. Although the makeover was primarily for Fantasmic!, the remodeled breakroom will be open to all cast members working on the island.

Behind the fort, the cemetery is gone. The fort was extended over it. One employee mentioned the possibility of bringing back a smaller graveyard elsewhere on the island.

The old cemetery

The rest of the island, south of the fort, has not dramatically changed. But I suspect most early visitors will be heading to the opposite end to see if they can spot the new train tracks and rocky partition in front of Star Wars Land. The rockwork itself appears to be completed, though plants still need to be added.

One employee who’s had a peek shared: “The rockwork that blocks the view of Star Wars Land looks okay. But I noticed how small everything looks. WDI has a habit of making things look really big in their concept artwork. The area of the new train trestle and the landscaping does not look as majestic as the art.”

This is how the rock work looked a couple weeks ago.

Some of the animals will be returned to the shoreline and the Indian Village will also be returning, not too far away from where it was originally, about 25 feet south. The animals could be a tight fit, judging by how close the train trestle was placed to the rocks.

The Columbia on the move

Earlier this week, testing of the Mark Twain and Sailing Ship Columbia began on the Rivers of America. With a shortened river, the trip around should be briefer. (In fact, I attempted to time the trial runs, only to discover the boats would disappear behind the island and not complete a full circuit, something reportedly they do before park hours.)

The Big Thunder Trail returns.

As well, days ago, Big Thunder Trail reopened after being blocked off for more than a year. The much-needed shortcut to Fantasyland revealed some new faux rockwork, a better idea of where two of the four entrances to Star Wars Land will be, and, most jarringly, heavy construction just on the other side of a green-tarp-draped chainlink fence. A massive “Mr. Crane” couldn’t have been more than 30 feet away from the path.

The Big Thunder Trail’s new rock work.

According to cast members, it’s so close, guests are already asking, “How can I get to that big yellow ride?”

Bug Out
This past Thursday evening I had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy the Main Street Electrical Parade with dear friends and family, from curbside seats across from Coke Corner. The highlight, though, was halfway through when, as one of the “twirly bug” floats was spinning by, its back door flung open. The float stopped and a hand nervously stretched out from the hatchway, alas far short of reaching the open door. After two quick attempts, the hand meekly signaled for help to come. But, there didn’t seem to be any cast members in the area, so after a beat, I bounded into the middle of Main Street, swung the door shut, and returned to my seat. The audience cheered, the bug sped on his way, and I felt I was truly a part of the Summer of Heroes.

Cars 3 Zooms Into DCA

Cars Land is closing to guests at 5 p.m. on Saturday to prepare for the premiere party for the movie. Can you think of a better place to celebrate the film than the actual Radiator Springs? Minor changes have been made to the land to incorporate the new characters into the environment. In particular, the billboard in front of the land will feature Cars 3. If you are visiting DCA this Saturday, prepare for early closings of Cars Land and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!.

Have a great weekend everyone!