Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
When I start to miss Walt Disney World—and that essentially starts from the moment I leave—I start to think about all of the special places I’m leaving behind. We all have our favorite places we can’t wait to return to. For many of you, it’s walking along Disney’s Boardwalk, or that favorite spot in World Showcase to watch Illuminations. For others, it’s the Polynesian beach at night, or the walk back from the boat dock, past the geyser, to the Wilderness Lodge. Personally, I have a whole bunch of these favorite places. I’ve written about plenty of them in the past including my favorite magical spots in the Magic Kingdom, in Epcot’s World Showcase, and in the greatest resort in the World, the Polynesian. It’s a frequent topic of mine and I guess it’s because there are so many special places to choose from in the most magical place on Earth.
Today I’m talking about a place within a place. One of the things that I’ve always loved about Tom Sawyer Island in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is that it has its own sense of isolation. That’s a pretty hard thing to come by in the heart of one of the most visited places on the planet. But Tom Sawyer Island succeeds in taking you out of the chaos and crowds, and after a short raft ride, you feel transported to a tranquil, shady place that seems to be a throwback to a simpler time. Disney is a place where amazing feats of technology are responsible for transporting you anywhere that imagination can conjure, but sometimes—actually frequently—it’s the low-tech things that are most successful in that transportation. Tom Sawyer Island is a fantastic example of nature and simplicity working its magic. Let’s take a look at my Top 5 Favorite Things About Tom Sawyer Island.
This is my favorite of the three caves on the island. Technically, one is a mine, but I like to call them all caves. I was never in them as a little boy and I can’t imagine how much fun it must be for my little guys to explore all of the caves, but especially Injun Joe's Cave. I love the creepy skull carved into the rocks and the bridge over the “bottomless pit.” It’s dark. It’s a little clammy. It’s pretty tight and a little confined, but it’s very cool.
Originally called Fort Sam Clemens, (which is, of course, Mark Twain’s actual name) and renamed Langhorn after Sam Clemens’ middle name, this fort is a Disney classic and always a lot of fun to explore. Technically, Fort Langhorn is its own island connected to the main island by the wonderful Superstition Bridge. There are Audio Animatronic people and animals in the blacksmith shop:
There are rifles that “fire” up in the Rifle Roost with this great old warning scrawled on the wood:
There are perfect spots to peek through the fort and watch the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad trains screaming by:
After you spend spend some time running around the whole fort, make sure you leave through the secret escape tunnel, which dumps you out along the shores of the Rivers of America.
If one of the true purposes of escaping to Walt Disney World is to feel like a kid again…then the Barrel Bridge on Tom Sawyer Island is certainly a place to put that purpose to the test. It’s impossible not to have fun on this thing. It’s shaky. It’s silly. There’s a distinct feeling that you’re going to fall into the water with every step you take. It’s good old-fashioned fun. The kids always love it. And by kids, I, of course, mean me as well.
After crossing Superstition Bridge—heading towards Fort Langhorn, and just off to the left is one of my all-time favorite spots in Walt Disney World. It has become sort of a “go-to” spot for me whenever we visit. I’ve got pictures of all three of my children sitting on Pappy’s Pier. Here are Casey and Alex occupying their old man’s favorite spot this past summer:
If you’re lucky enough to score one of the rocking chairs on Pappy’s Fishing Pier, you may never want to get up and leave. You can while away some time in these rockers, watching the Big Thunder trains across the river or waving to the guests on the passing Liberty Belle. Or…better yet…in between boats and trains, just rock in your chair and look out at the river and the ducks and experience one of Walt Disney World’s true hidden gems.
The thing that I love most about this little escape-within-an-escape is that no matter where you are on the island, there are wonderful views to be had. Whether it’s the aforementioned views of Big Thunder Mountain from Fort Langhorn…
…or this view across to Liberty Square with Cinderella Castle towering over the trees…
…or the view of the hustle and bustle of Frontierland across the river…
…or the Haunted Mansion…
…or the quieter, more natural spots along the river…
…there’s always something beautiful to see from the island. The incredible views are the main reason I find Tom Sawyer Island to be a fantastic place to escape to, not to mention one that is often overlooked by guests.
Next time you’re wandering around the Magic Kingdom and looking for a little respite from the frenzy, head to the back of Frontierland and hop aboard a raft. Once you’re there, play some chess at Tom’s Landing:
Check out Harper’s Mill. Relax at Aunt Polly's. There are plenty of other things to do on the island that I still haven’t mentioned. It’s rarely crowded, there’s plenty of shade to be found and plenty of places to rest while the kids run around and explore—and by kids, I, once again, mean me as well.
Tom Sawyer Island has become one of those special places I find myself longing for when I’m in the midst of missing Walt Disney World, which is pretty much all the time that I’m not there.
How about you? Are you as fond of Tom Sawyer Island as I am? Do you have a favorite spot or site on the island that I left out? Click on the link below and let me hear your thoughts.
(Send an email to Chris Barry)
Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.