Mark Twain: July 1955 – present
Columbia: June 1958 – present
Frontierland – Both ships occupy the waters of the Rivers of America, and share a dock at the edge of the waterfront. The dock sits at the end of Frontierland’s main pathway, across from the Golden Horseshoe.
Walt envisioned a Mississippi steamboat on the Rivers of America from the first stages of park development. Imagineers built the decks at the studios in Burbank, and the hull at a San Pedro shipyard, before bringing the steamboat to its permanent home in Anaheim. Disneyland’s construction supervisor, Joe Fowler, was a navy veteran and insisted on building a large dry dock for the ship. Walt, initially resistant to the idea, nicknamed the dock area “Joe’s Pit”, before adopting its current name, Fowler’s Harbor.
The Riverboat had its maiden voyage four days before Disneyland’s official opening, to celebrate Walt and Lillian’s 30th wedding anniversary. The voyage was a tremendous success, and the Riverboat was poised to be a fan favorite in Disneyland. But the Riverboat’s first few days of operation were hugely problematic. Imagineers hadn’t determined the ship’s capacity, leading to several near capsizes, the hull bottoming out in the mud, and minor flooding on the lower decks. But after about a week, the park established a 300-passenger capacity, and the Riverboat has been smooth sailing ever since.
With the Riverboat exploring the Rivers of America, Walt decided the ship needed company on the water. Imagineers drew inspiration from the Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to travel around the world. Construction began in 1957, at the same shipyard where the hull of the Riverboat had been built a few years earlier. Joe Fowler told Walt it was customary to place a silver dollar under each mast of the ship, and Walt placed the silver dollars on the Columbia himself. The Columbia set sail in 1958, and the two ships have been sharing the Rivers of America ever since.
- Single Rider Line – no
- Fast Pass – no
- Height Requirement – none
- Duration – 12:00
Both ships take off every 30 minutes or so, and take a complete trip around Tom Sawyer Island. The Mark Twain Riverboat plays music from The Princess and the Frog, and includes narration about life on the Bayou, Davy Crockett’s country cabin, and an American Indian settlement on the riverbank. The Sailing Ship Columbia is a slightly more animated trip, with the chatty captain calling orders to his crew, cracking jokes about the scenery, and firing a few shots at the fortress on the island. Both ships provide a full circle tour of the Rivers of America, with views of New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Frontierland from a unique vantage point.
MY RATING: ★★★★★
Most park guests can immediately recognize the ships, but you’d be surprised how few have actually been on them. While they’re not the most exciting, fast-paced, or dramatic rides in the park, these ships have so much to offer. Aside from the amazing views and photo ops, these ships give you the chance to explore a very hidden section of the park: the rear of Tom Sawyer Island. This area is amazingly quiet, and has a few animatronics not visible from anywhere else in Frontierland. And though both ships take the same tour around the island, each experience is quite different. If you get the chance, take some time to sail on the Rivers of America; you’ll get to see the park from a whole new perspective.
The Mark Twain Riverboat is the easiest ship to travel on; it runs almost every day, casting off every 30 minutes, and generally has minimal lines. But the Sailing Ship Columbia is much more challenging. The Columbia only operates on busy park days, typically weekends, during the summer or throughout the winter holidays. And when the Columbia is on the water, the Riverboat docks. If you’re visiting the park on a less crowded day, you’ll have no problem riding the Mark Twain Riverboat. If you’re visiting on a busier day, ask a cast member at the dock what the best times are to catch whichever boat you want to ride.
During Fantasmic!, the Columbia transforms into Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger.
Each ship had its own christening. Showboat star Irene Dunne christened the Mark Twain in July 1955, and Gretchen Campbell Richmond, the wife of the Commandant of the US Coast Guard, christened the Columbia in June 1958.
At the time of its construction, the Sailing Ship Columbia was the first three-masted ship built in the US in over 100 years.
The Mark Twain Riverboat follows a hidden track, disguised by the murky waters of the Rivers of America.
The lower level of the Columbia has a mini nautical museum, showcasing life at sea for an 18th century crew.