If there was ever an undiscovered treasure in Walt Disney World, it’s Tom Sawyer Island and Ft. Langhorn, located in the Magic Kingdom. Really, I should know: I’ve been going to the parks for over 20 years and I never visited this attraction until my trip last December. The day I finally visited was basically by default. Frontierland was so crowded we could barely get around when my husband and I noticed that the raft over to the island was empty, so we grabbed the kids and decided to give it a try. It only took a few minutes to realize that we’d been overlooking a truly amazing experience. Based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the island is Walt Disney’s favorite boyhood book come to life. Featuring caves, a fort, winding trails, a playground, windmill, barrel and suspension bridges, and a refreshment area, the tree-filled island seems cooler and is certainly quieter than anywhere else in the park. It’s a great place to spend an hour or even an afternoon.
To get to Tom Sawyer island, you’ll take one of four small rafts from Tom’s Landing located across from Big Thunder Rail Road. The rafts are all named for characters in the book: Injun Joe, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer. Each raft carries about 55 people and contrary to popular belief, they do not run on rails or tracks but are free floating vessels.
Here’s the thing about Tom Sawyer Island: It’s what you used to imagine playing in when you were a kid, regardless of where you’re from or who you are. Remember running around your imaginary fort, hiding in the trees and chasing bad guys? Or maybe you pretended to be a princess dancing around your castle? Well that’s the essence of Tom Sawyer Island, the old-fashioned yet timeless kid fantasy, a place that can be anything, really. Space Mountain may be fast. Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin may loud and bright. But Tom Sawyer lets a kid engage in the entire experience and use his imagination in a way that few other attractions do.
Early in the morning, cast members hide several paintbrushes for guests to find. If you find one, let a cast member know and you’ll be rewarded with a small prize, such as a soft drink or a pass to get to the front of the line of an attraction, for your entire group. The island is a great place for kids to stretch their legs and for parents to relax and since it’s Disney, it’s all very safe. Kids will love climbing up and down the stairs at Fort Langhorn and exploring all the rooms. From the lookout towers, they can fire popguns at imaginary targets.
One interesting aspect of Tom Sawyer Island is the perspective you get of other attractions on the “mainland.” I really enjoyed seeing the Haunted Mansion from the island, as well as the riverboat going past with Princess Tiana and the cast from Princess and the Frog.
Tom Sawyer Island usually opens at 10:00 a.m. and closes at Dusk. If you want to get a snack, Aunt Polly’s Place sells sandwiches and refreshments. It’s open seasonally. Even when it’s closed, Aunt Polly’s makes a great place to sit and relax; consider bringing a sack lunch and eating it there.
Finally, Tom Sawyer Island is a great place for kids (or adults) with sensory issues who need a little bit of time away from all the excitement and noise of the Magic Kingdom, however, make sure they’re okay with the ride over. It’s very smooth, relatively quiet, and only takes a few minutes once everyone is loaded, but you’ll want to explain to your child what she should expect. Try watching from the docks if you’re worried about how your child will react. Unfortunately, the island is not accessible by wheelchair or scooter. You’ll need to take children out of strollers before you board the raft.
Chris is on a quest for the ever-elusive pin code from Disney. When she’s not indiscriminately pool-hopping or blogging here, you can find her at Everything Walt Disney World.