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Five Things to Know About the Liberty Square Riverboat

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The Liberty Square Riverboat attraction docks at – you guessed it – Liberty Square. The boat itself is named the Liberty Belle. It’s an old-timey (read: historic) steam-powered paddle-wheel riverboat that travels around the Rivers of America. As you ride, you’ll hear a recorded narrator share memories of Mark Twain’s time on the Mississippi. If you want to paddle along with us, keep reading. Oar (dad pun) to skip to the whys, wheres, and hows, here’s your shortcut.

1. You’ll take a step back in time.

The Liberty Belle Riverboat is a large (47-foot tall) working reproduction of the boats that ran up and down the Mississippi River in the 19th century. It’s loaded with amazing details, as you might expect. The wood craftsmanship throughout is absolutely meticulous! The large paddle is powered by an actual steam engine that functions by converting water from the Rivers of America into steam, turning the paddle to propel the boat.

2. It’s full steam ahead!

The ride begins as its captain, Horace Bixby, welcomes guests aboard. He introduces his pilot, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and lets you know you’re in good hands, since this is Clemens’ 100th trip piloting the Liberty Belle. You depart from the dock and navigate the winding “river”.  Along the way, you’ll get views of the Magic Kingdom you just can’t get anywhere else. You’ll see Tom Sawyer Island, Harper’s Mill, and Fort Langhorn from a new vantage point. Other sights from the American frontier include settler’s cabins, old mining paraphernalia, a Native American village, animatronic wildlife, and even Wilson’s Cave Inn from Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. The riverboat also offers unique perspectives of the Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. From the top deck especially, you’ll see Frontierland and Liberty Square in a whole new way.

View of Big Thunder Mountain from Liberty Belle Riverboat

As you ride, Sam Clemens offers his recollections of riding up and down the Mighty Mississippi. He points out various landmarks and shares a little about what he learned during his time on the river. Periodically, the horn and bell system are used, so you have to be prepared for the occasional and unpredictable ear-blasting loud outbursts. (I found that being toward the stern, rather than the bow, made the horn a bit more bearable.)

3. This Belle has quite a back story.

The first boat to sail the Rivers of America in the Magic Kingdom was the Admiral Joe Fowler. Named after Disneyland’s construction supervisor, it debuted on October 2, 1971, the day after the park’s official opening. In 1973, a second boat, the Richard F. Irvine, debuted. It was named after the Disney executive who oversaw the planning of Walt Disney World. Both boats ran on the river until 1980. The Richard F. Irvine was overhauled and received an all-new superstructure of aluminum and vinyl. The boat was renamed the Liberty Belle, and the attraction itself was renamed the Liberty Square Riverboat to make it easier to remember and to tie the boat in with Liberty Square. (Side note: two of the three ferry boats running from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom are now named the Admiral Joe Fowler and Richard F. Irvine, so their memory lives on!)

Liberty Square Riverboat. Liberty Belle. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The scenery along the Rivers of America has been updated over the years. Tom Sawyer Island was added in 1973 and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1980. Similar versions of this attraction have also been added to other Disney Parks. At Disneyland Paris, it’s called the Rivers of the Far West. At Hong Kong Disneyland, there is no Frontierland, so the Imagineers merged the Rivers of America with the classic Adventureland Jungle Cruise attraction.

4. The Liberty Belle has her secrets, too.

Captain Horace Bixby, the Liberty Belle’s captain, was a real steamboat captain on the Mississippi. Horace Bixby and Sam Clemens met aboard a steamboat called The Paul Jones. Bixby agreed to take Sam on as his apprentice. About 21 years later, the now-famous Mark Twain reunited with Captain Bixby in St. Louis. The captain even makes an appearance in Twain’s book, Life on the Mississippi.

Inside The Liberty Belle’s Salon, there is a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

Liberty Belle Riverboat

The riverboat actually travels along an I-beam guide rail, so the pilot doesn’t really steer the ship. But that doesn’t mean he’s doing nothing. Rather, the pilot watches for other river traffic, like the Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island, and communicates to the boiler engineer who is on the bottom deck towards the stern. This is where the throttle and reverser are located, so the boiler engineer controls the speed and direction of the riverboat.

5. The Nuts and Bolts.

You can catch a ride on the Liberty Belle at the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square. There are no health or safety advisories and no height restrictions. Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV to ride the Liberty Belle. Sign language interpreters may be available, depending on when you visit. It’s truly a ride that everyone can enjoy.

The Liberty Belle has a maximum capacity of 450 people. You board the boat at mid-level; disembarking guests exit from the lower deck. There are 4 decks with limited seating available on each (some inside, some outside) but with plenty of space to stand and move around.

The Liberty Belle provides a stable, gentle ride. I’m vulnerable to motion sickness/sea sickness but have no trouble whatsoever riding the Liberty Belle. It’s a great idea to move around on the deck during this 17-minute trip to be sure to see all the different views.

Bad weather can affect the operation of the Liberty Belle Riverboat. Genie+ is not available, but there’s no need for it. There’s no bad time of day to ride the Liberty Belle. It departs roughly every half-hour and usually the only waiting is waiting for the boat to leave or return. A good time of day to enjoy your ride is when you want a break from the crowds! But it’s worth noting that it closes earlier than the park and other park attractions; there is also no Early Theme Park Entry and no Extended Evening Theme Park hours.

The Bottom Line.

We ride the Liberty Belle nearly every time we visit Walt Disney World. But it’s not for thrill-seekers, to be sure. It’s perfectly peaceful – unless of course you’re right underneath the horn which is jarringly loud. It’s a great way to get out of the crowds, rest a bit, and enjoy a fun ride for every member of the family.

Have you ridden the Liberty Belle Riverboat? What was your favorite view? Let us know in the comments below!

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Bob Jacobs

Bob Jacobs lives in Wisconsin where he retired as Editorial Director for a well-known catalog company. He and his wife Cristie have four children, seven grandchildren and a cocker spaniel named Penny the Dog. They’ve visited Walt Disney World regularly since 1992.

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