Tiana's Bayou Adventure: A Celebration of Food, Jazz, and Community

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure: A Celebration of Food, Jazz, and Community

I wish I could experience a new Disney attraction without social media spoilers. I know, I’m as guilty as anyone. As soon as I rode Tiana’s Bayou Adventure last week, I was posting clips, pics, and my instant reactions to Disney’s newest ride. But before that, I avoided all spoilers, which was no easy task. Disney released a complete ride video one month before Tiana’s was set to open. Dozens more followed on YouTube.

Tiana's Bayou Adventure sign

But I did it! I was ignorantly blissful as I pulled down the lap bar in my bayou boat on our preview ride. A few minutes later, Tiana asked us to help find musicians for her Mardi Gras party. We were well on our way to doing that, having discovered Zydeco and Rara bands. Then we were evacuated.

That was not what I was hoping for, although it did allow me to hang with Mondo before Cast Members led us backstage. My mind was swimming as I walked down the stairwell to the exit. I was being evacuated from a Disney ride. Yay! I was being evacuated from my first Tiana’s ride. Boo! I just saw the most amazing animatronics ever created. Yay!

One thing was clear in my brain, however. Imagineers nailed the assignment. Two more (full) rides confirmed my initial thoughts. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is an absolute treat, filled with cutting-edge Audio-Animatronics, vibrant jazz music, and log-flume-ride thrills.

I should pause here to discuss the elephant in the room. Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction replaces Splash Mountain, a ride beloved by many but one born from problematic source material. The reimagining has had its share of controversy, but that won’t be the focus of this review. Instead, I’m going to treat Tiana’s as if it’s an entirely new attraction.

What is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure?

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure takes place a year after the events of The Princess and the Frog. Tiana has opened her restaurant and is growing her business with Tiana’s Foods, a co-op she started with members of her community. That co-op is the setting for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Imagineers transformed Splash’s mountain into a salt mine and covered it with Louisana foliage and Mama Odie’s iconic bottles. They also erected a water tower, capped with a princess tiara.

Tiana's Foods water tower

The ride’s queue conveys the backstory. Guests thinking this is a “book report” attraction (one that simply retells a story we already know) will quickly realize they’re in for a new Tiana tale. With Disney’s love of IP attractions, I’m happy with this compromise. I don’t want to go to Disney parks to rehash familiar stories. Well, unless that means I can blow up the second Death Star on Smugglers Run. I’d definitely rehash that one over and over again. But if I can’t blow up the Death Star, I want new experiences.

Back to the queue. Be sure to take your time smelling the beignets. Imagineers pipe in the aroma of that fried dough greatness.

Fresh beignets in Tiana's kitchen

Where the queue tells the backstory, Tiana herself relates the ride’s main theme to riders. She needs our help finding musicians for a Mardi Gras party she’s throwing:

“Hey, y’all. Thanks for helping me look for musicians for our party tonight. Louis, they’re on their way!”

Princess Tiana
The first Tiana audio-animatronic riders encounter

While the story is fun, it can be abrupt in its implementation. After Tiana asks for help, we see a non-animatronic Louis looking for musicians under a wheelbarrow. And before a drop, Mama Odie tells us, “If you’re looking for musicians, you don’t have far to go. Tell the people Mama told you so!” But that’s the extent of our search. We quickly find the first band once we fully enter the ride’s interior.

We’re discovering — not searching — but this is nothing new. Most theme park attractions are enjoyed passively. Can you imagine a ride ending abruptly because guests didn’t complete a task? No matter how badly I pilot the Falcon, my Smugglers Run mission always lands safely on Batuu. (Who are we kidding? I’m a great pilot.)

Interior ride scene from Tiana's Bayou Adventure

But Tiana’s could have involved guests more. There are stretches of the ride that — while beautifully decorated with bayou plants and screen backdrops — are also devoid of characters. Placing partially hidden critter musicians in these areas would’ve strengthened the story by making it more interactive. Imagine a boat filled with children screaming out whenever they found a band member. That would’ve been a blast for everyone.

It’s possible that this type of storytelling was intended but cut due to financial constraints. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure features dozens of animatronics. Adding more would have increased costs. Maybe we can look forward to more storytelling with Tiana’s 2.0.

All that being said, none of the above criticism affected my enjoyment of the ride. On the contrary, I was hooked the moment we spied our first musical group.

Tiana’s bands

Louis animatronic
Zydeco band animatronics

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure soars with its character reveals. We catch our first glimpse of an animatronic Louis as he introduces the Zydeco musicians. “Tiana wasn’t kiddin’, y’all. This Zydeco band she found can play! Hallelujah!” The densely packed group performs a French / Caribbean fusion rendition of Going Down the Bayou.

Tiana appears next, the second time we see her character. It’s my favorite scene of the entire ride. I mean, look at her!

Tiana animatronic

Next, we meet the Rara band. This group performs on both sides of the river. During our first ride, I was so focused on Pawpaw and Octavia that I almost missed the rest of the band on the left side of the boat.

Tiana, Louis, Pawpaw and Octavia animatronics
Rara band animatronics

After another stretch of dense bayou foliage and fireflies, we find a resting Tiana. She provides a hint as to where we’ll find the Afro-Cuban band: “We gotta keep searching high and low.”

Tiana's audio-animatronic is sitting down

In an homage to Br’er Bear’s iconic Splash Mountain scene, we see Louis’ tail as he searches for the frog musicians. “How low can I go?” he yells.

Louis' animatronic tail

Surrounded by her signature bottles and accompanied by Juju, Mama Odie appears on a screen in the trees. “Our little friends below are doing big things!” she says, just before we enjoy a rollercoaster-like dip. A bright light and tinkling bells alert us to the the fact that Mama Odie has cast a spell. We’ve shrunk.

Mama Odie and Juju on a screen

The scenery changes drastically as dense vegetation has been swapped for larger-than-life mushrooms, bottles, and gnarled vines. And we catch our first glimpse of a cult favorite, Mondo, as he plays his bottlecap congas to the tune of “Dig a Little Deeper.”

Large bottle, leaves, and vines on Tiana's
Mondo animatronic

We enjoy another drop, this time into Felipe’s club where he and the rest of the Afro-Cuban band continue with the song. The space is bright and energetic, filled with dancing water and giant, dazzling mushrooms. Screens showing illustrated fireflies conjure memories of Ray. Another screen shows Tiana and Louis as they peer into the room, reinforcing the fact that we’ve been minified.

Isabel animatronic
Animated fireflies on a screen on Tiana's
Tiana and Louis shown on screens

And we’ve done it! We’ve found all three bands. Nicely done, everyone!

Now we need to get to the party, but not before returning to our actual size. Mama Odie appears on another screen to do just that.

“Let’s get you big again ’cause the bigger you are, the bigger the splash you’ll make at the party!”

Mama Odie

We haven’t seen her as an animatronic yet, but that’s about to change. At the top of the final lift, her reveal is something special.

Mama Odie animatronic

Then comes the iconic 50+ foot plunge. It’s as great as ever, despite some social media posts to the contrary. Nothing has changed with the ride itself. Tiana’s log flume thrills are fantastic, but you’ll have to take my word for it. I didn’t take a pic of the final drop. Instead, I was shielding my camera from the mist and spray. I still needed to take many more photos on this ride.

Mardi Gras Party

Tiana’s has already been a visual tour-de-force, but Disney Imagineers are just getting started. Remember, we still need to go to the Mardi Gras party. I especially like the banner that greets guests: “Welcome, to all who come to this happy place.” It’s a great tribute to Walt Disney and his famous Disneyland dedication.

Charlotte and Eudora animatronics
Tiana's Bayou Adventure party scene
Tiana's Bayou Adventure party scene
The Afro Cuban band
Floating away from Tiana's party

The party is jam-packed with characters. Some are projected on screens, but most are animatronics. All are incredible. In addition to Tiana and Prince Naveen, we find Louis, Charlotte, Eudora, Prince Ralphie, Lari, and the bayou bands. Tiana and her backing group entertain us with “Special Spice,” a new jazz tune written for the attraction by PJ Morton. Sung by Anika Noni Rose (the voice of Tiana in the movie), the song has a beautiful, upbeat vibe:

It’s a joyful celebration,
You don’t need an invitation,
It’s joyful, now everyone can see,
Your very special spice makes us complete.

The Mardi Gras party is stunning and filled with heart. Imagineers wrote a love letter to New Orleans and jazz music and positivity with this scene.

But we’re not done. Madam Odie makes one final appearance to thank us for our help. Giggling, she says, “Remember, this party wouldn’t be what it is without you!” She’s right about that. My boat did find all the bands.

Mama Odie animatronic standing near a table of beignets

Unfortunately, Tiana’s operations have been unreliable during Cast Member and Annual Passholder previews. Breakdowns have been all too common, as my family experienced. I’ve been informed that syncing Tiana’s animatronics with the ride vehicles has been problematic. Disney canceled some Cast Member previews so Imagineers could address the issues. Hopefully, those are all sorted before Friday’s official opening.

Conclusion

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is a joyous affair. Its themes of community, food, and music might seem an odd choice for a Disney thrill ride, but the juxtaposition works. It’s an attraction with soul, and that soul is the perfect antidote to Tiana’s predecessor. Splash Mountain was never going to shake its association with Song of the South. Sunsetting that ride was inevitable, no matter how beloved it was. Luckily for us, Disney Imagineers have created something truly beautiful in its place.