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Five Things to Know About Tom Sawyer Island

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Do you need a bit of a getaway inside the Magic Kingdom? Tom Sawyer Island has paths to follow; a cave, windmill, and a fort to explore; places to play checkers, and even a tipsy barrel bridge to cross. You can watch riverboats chug past. It’s a delight for adults and a godsend for children who want to cut loose after being closely supervised all day. To learn more, read on; or to skip straight to the nuts and bolts, here’s your shortcut.

1. You’ll need to ride on a raft.

The queue for Tom Sawyer Island isn’t on the island. You line up in a queue on a dock in Frontierland, across from Big Thunder Mountain. Then, you board a “log raft” to ride across the rivers of America to Tom’s Landing. They aren’t really log rafts, since they’re motorized, but still, you get the feeling of riding a log raft.

It’s often the case that you need to wait at the dock for a raft to arrive; as Disney says, “In keeping with the laidback lifestyle that Tom is known to enjoy, you may experience a wait going to and returning from Tom Sawyer Island.” Once you board, the ride across the river takes only a few minutes. There are no seats on the rafts, so they’re standing room only. Depending on the number of people riding with you, they can get a little crowded, so claim your spot as soon as you board!

2. The island is an adventure in imagination.

How you tour Tom Sawyer Island is completely up to you. And don’t worry about losing your way; there are maps posted along the paths, so you’ll always know right where you are. The island is actually two man-made islands connected by a suspension bridge. The island you dock at holds places to explore, all created to bring to life settings from Mark Twain’s book, Tom Sawyer.

There’s Harper’s Mill, Old Scratch’s Mystery Mine, Injun Joe’s Cave, and Potter’s Mill, among others. You can enter and explore each of these, but my favorite is the mine. (Old Scratch was a pseudonym for the devil in pre-Civil War days.) If you’re at all claustrophobic, you may want to skip the mines; it’s not uncommon to wait in a dark, narrow spot while the folks ahead of you pause to look around. You’ll hear bats overhead and find glowing gems along the way.

Cross the suspension bridge to get to one of the island’s real highlights, Fort Langhorn. In the fort, there’s a blacksmith shop with an Audio-Animatronic blacksmith at work. You can climb up to the top of the walls, sit and play checkers, and when it’s time to leave, you can duck out via the escape tunnel. There are spots that provide awesome views of Big Thunder Mountain, or the Liberty Belle steamboat as she passes by. And the barrel bridge is a favorite with the littles.

3. How to build an island out of a book? Ask Walt.

Tom Sawyer Island is unique among attractions for two reasons. First, it’s the only attraction designed by Walt Disney himself. Just before construction began on the original Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland Resort, Walt decided he didn’t like the plans. It was Walt who laid out the island’s landscape and created the secret coves and inlets. That Disneyland version of the attraction opened in 1956. The Magic Kingdom version opened on May 20, 1973, about a year and a half after the park itself.

The second reason it’s unique is that it’s based on characters Disney doesn’t own. While it’s true that Disney Studios released the movie “Tom and Huck,” the books and characters have entered the public domain. This has caused much speculation about the future of the attraction as the Magic Kingdom seeks to expand. After all, it’s a large amount of real estate to devote to non-Disney characters. Time will tell what the future holds.

4. The Island’s been through some changes.

Nothing stays the same, they say, and that’s true even on Tom Sawyer Island. The island’s logistics, easter eggs, and even its name have changed over the years.

⭐ Originally, the main attractions on the island were named Magnetic Mystery Mine and old Fort Sam Clemens (Mark Twain’s real name.) The fort’s name was changed in 1996 after the release of Disney’s movie “Tom and Huck,” which featured a Fort Langhorn. (Langhorn was Samuel Clemens’ middle name.) The Island’s name was also briefly changed to Tom and Huck Island to tie in with the movie’s release.

⭐ When the island first opened, visitors would receive a paper copy of the map to carry around as they toured. Today, these have been replaced by permanent maps posted throughout the island.

⭐ Remember the famous episode where Tom Sawyer used reverse psychology to get his friends to whitewash the fence for him? Cast members used to hide 6 paintbrushes around the island. If you found one and gave it to a cast member, you’d receive a FastPass for any attraction you wanted.

⭐ The Settlers Cabin used to appear to be on fire, but it seems that (as is the case with other Disney attractions that once included real fire) this effect was discontinued in 2005.

⭐ Perhaps the most widely regretted change has to do with Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn, the building where you land on the island. It debuted in 1973 with the island’s opening as a quick serve stop. It closed in 2001 but was occasionally open to serve cold snacks and refreshing beverages until 2007. It briefly reopened in spring of 2015, then again for a few days in December 2018. Today, a couple of vending machines have been placed in the sitting area.

5. The Nuts and Bolts.

Tom Sawyer Island is located in Frontierland on its own island, you’ll board the raft access across from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. As an outdoor attraction, Tom Sawyer Island will be closed during inclement weather. You should allow at least 30 minutes or more for the raft ride over, touring, and the raft ride back. But how long you spend on the island is totally up to you – and it can provide a nice break from hectic touring in the Magic Kingdom.

To get to Tom Sawyer Island, you must ride across the Rivers of America on a motorized raft. In order to fully experience Tom Sawyer Island, you must be ambulatory. The rafts over to the island are wheelchair accessible, but the activities on the island are not. There is no height requirement, but strollers are not allowed on the raft or the island.

The island usually opens just a bit later than the rest of the park and closes at dusk. It’s not open for Early Theme Park Entry or Extended Evening Theme Park Hours. It doesn’t participate in Genie+.

The Bottom Line.

Tom Sawyer Island is underrated—we think it’s one of the Magic Kingdom’s better-conceived attractions. Kids love the frontier atmosphere, and we believe it’s an absolute must for families with children ages 5–15. If your group is made up of adults, visit on your second day or on your first day after you’ve seen the attractions you most wanted to see.

Have you been to Tom Sawyer Island? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Five Things to Know About Tom Sawyer Island

  • I like Tom Sawyer island, but visiting comes with the risk of getting stuck on it longer than you planned. More than once, I’ve arrived at the boarding area to leave and fount it was overcrowded due to weather or mechanical issues with the rafts. If you have a boarding group or timed ILL coming up, you might want to pass.

    • I agree with this assessment. A pedestrian bridge would serve the area better than the rafts. Bu then you are left with how to allow the steamboat to navigate the island. In an era of high prices and maximizing activities, this attraction easily eats up an hour of time, just like The original Studios Backlot Tour. I enjoy this area especially with littles who need imaginative play to get the wiggles out, but this is barely an A ticket attraction.

  • Tom Sawyer’s Island is my second favorite attraction after It’s a Small World. The island is open for imagination and not restricted like most of the rides which are good in their own right but not open ended. Tom Sawyer’s Island is the perfect place for those with imagination, i.e. kids and silly old farts me.


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