Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary had everything, or so it would seem. There was a vivid logo and a boatload of merchandise covered with it. There was a brand new parade with a theme song that stayed stubbornly lodged in your memory for days. There were stage shows and promotions (they gave away a free car EVERY DAY) and special events. There was even a Mardi Gras krewe of fraternal armadillos. But one thing was missing. In all of 1990 Disneyland did not open a single new attraction. But after the one that had opened in 1989 it’s frankly no wonder.
Splash Mountain officially opened on July 17, 1989, a full year before Disneyland’s 35th birthday. It had been scheduled to open (along with all of the newly christened “Critter Country”) on November 23, 1988. That’s eight months late, for anyone who’s counting. So… what happened there?
The origin of Splash Mountain has been covered pretty thoroughly by other sources. In short, the Imagineers had been tasked to create a log flume ride, but were reluctant to make it anything less than spectacular. It was Tony Baxter who came up with the plan to repurpose animatronics from the aging America Sings attraction, and place them in a watery adventure themed around Song of the South. Michael Eisner’s contribution was the name Splash Mountain, as he wanted it (in a particularly tortured example of corporate synergy) to promote the Tom Hanks/Daryl Hannah movie Splash.
What is seldom mentioned in these recountings is that the attraction had a tortuous development (the movie Splash came out in 1984, the attraction opened in 1989), and was delayed and delayed from its opening day. The rest of the newly christened Critter Country did open on schedule on November 23, 1988. (The name was derived from the cast member’s in-house joke name for Bear Country.)
The 1988 souvenir Guide Maps still had the “old” name Bear Country in place, and after it became clear that the attraction would not be ready for guests, text reading. “Splash Mountain opens early 1989” was added next to the illustration.
The 1989 Guide Map did reflect the land’s new name, but the front cover promoting the attraction now read, “Splash Mountain Open Spring, 1989.” As spring turned to summer, the flumes were still not ready for guests, so the Guide Map was simply updated to say, “Splash Mountain Opening During The Summer of 1989.” It must have been a great relief after the July 17 opening to finally release a 1989 Guide Map reading, “Splash Mountain Open Now.”
Since we have already jumped back a year from the blog title, I thought you would enjoy a few photos from an earlier visit, when Splash Mountain was under full construction. Even on my rare visits prior to my move to California, I couldn’t resist taking these kind of photos.
First up is a shot of iconic Chickapin Hill in framework. You can see that it has been “topped out,” as there is an American flag mounted to the highest point. The roof of the main lift can be seen dominating this photo. A closely matching shot of the same area shortly after the attraction opened is included for comparison.
The next photo is the first lift guests encounter after leaving the loading platform and taking a right hand turn. This photo was taken from the Disneyland Railroad, whose trestle runs right through Splash Mountain. Who knew there was so much steel and mechanics hidden under all that rustic woodwork!
The third photo on the set is a bit harder to identify. You can see that the platform built to support the water flume was far heftier than the rest of the mountain. According to my notes, these photos were taken on August 7, 1988. Considering that is less than four months from the scheduled opening date, it is no wonder they missed it.
The final shot is of the area beyond the rustic barn that conceals the exit to Splash Mountain. This “far corner” of Critter Country is also seen in a matching shot, taken shortly after the attraction opened to the public.
As mentioned above, the original opening day for Splash Mountain was announced for November 23, 1988 (Thanksgiving weekend). The actual opening day was July 17, 1989. During those nearly eight months guests could experience the rest of Critter Country (the Country Bear Playhouse was still up and running), but had to be content with merely gazing on the meticulously crafted structure of Splash Mountain, and be tantalized by the empty logs drifting by during the endless testing and adjusting. But there was one major dividend from the delay.
For the opening day’s festivities a comic troupe of countrified musicians had been brought in to entertain the crowds. The ragtag band had been performing in various locations around Bear Country, and in the Spring of 1988 had been seen as the Barley Boys during the Disneyland State Fair. They played second fiddle (so to speak) to the Pig Races at the Big Thunder Ranch.
After the pigs headed home that October, the Barleys (Charley, Marley, Harley and Farley) were to spend that single opening day performing in front of the soon-to-be-opened Splash Mountain. A day turned to a week, the weeks into months, and when they finally ended their “temporary” gig eight months later, they had developed something of a following. They would go on performing at the park for years to come, eventually landing a permanent spot on stage at the Golden Horseshoe. They also gained a new name: Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. So, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.