A touch of Americana nostalgia can be found at the heart of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for those that take the time to board the Liberty Belle Riverboat. Found circling Tom Sawyer Island, the riverboat is boarded in Liberty Square and provides a beautiful view of some of the best nearby attractions including Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The Liberty Belle is a real working steamboat in almost all regards. It contains a boiler which produces steam that is used the drive the paddle wheel propelling the boat through the shallow waters of the Rivers of America. However, in keeping with simplicity for operations sake, the riverboat follows an underwater rail rather than actually being driven through the narrow channel.
Riders are treated to some period music as the boat slowly makes it way around the circle, which takes approximately 17 minutes. Throughout the journey, narration is provided by a voice reminiscent of Mark Twain who provides some classic humor as he informs listeners of sights they are seeing along the way.
Recent visitors to the Magic Kingdom may recall that the Liberty Belle also hosted Princess Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee, a musical tie-in to Disney’s animated movie release, The Princess and the Frog. Unfortunately, the show has moved on.
The Rivers of America in Disney World have seen steamboats almost since its opening in the early 1970’s. At that time, two were actually found navigating the waters. The Liberty Belle premiered in 1973, known then as the Richard F. Irvine, named after a former Disney executive. When it was refurbished in 1996, it was renamed the Liberty Belle.
An interesting note to trivia lovers, the other boat on the Rivers of America was the Admiral Joe Fowler, named after another famous Disney executive. However, when it was being refurbished in 1980, it was damaged and the company decided it did not need two riverboats, so it was scrapped. As a tribute to the former boat and also the executive, one of the ferries transporting guests for the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom was renamed the Fowler in 1999.
Thanks to crwabama for the video shown above.