The new Walt Disney World attraction celebrates the spirit of New Orleans and pays tribute to one of our favorite restaurants, which is the real-life inspiration for Princess Tiana.

Dreams do come true in New Orleans. And also Central Florida. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the brand-new attraction based on Disney’sThe Princess and the Frog set in New Orleans, officially opens June 28 at Walt Disney World.

The reimagined ride replaces Splash Mountain and makes park history as the first attraction to feature Disney’s first Black princess. And to bring Tiana to life in the park is to bring New Orleans to life.

“This attraction is truly a love letter to New Orleans,” said Charita Carter, Executive Creative Producer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “And we think those that are from the city are going to really recognize that.”

The new ride is a sensory experience celebrating everything that makes The Big Easy special, from the smell of fresh beignets to the sound of Zydeco. But it’s not a caricature of New Orleans. Disney is telling a story by passing the mic to musicians, artists, chefs, and makers who know NOLA best. Here's how Walt Disney Imagineers and New Orleans artists created an immersive "city way down on the river” right in the middle of Magic Kingdom.

In function, the log flume hasn’t changed. There’s still a five-story drop, and you will get wet. But the overlay makes it feel different. Even the queue railings have new finial tips: a pineapple, the symbol of Southern hospitality.

And the story is new. The ride takes place a year after The Princess and the Frog ends. Tiana’s now a successful restaurant owner, and she’s launched Tiana's Foods, a co-op and community garden. The enterprise is a portfolio of Louisiana staples, from pecan oil to king cake mix.

And speaking of Mardi Gras, Tiana’s throwing a party for the whole town and you’re invited, but she needs your help booking a band for the party. You’ll go down the bayou looking for the party’s missing ingredient (music) and from the sleepy cypress trees to the barrels of red beans, the whole adventure is distinctly Disney and authentically NOLA.

The Sights

Carolina jessamine. Wisteria. Gardenias. Spanish moss. The foliage of this attraction sets the scene before you even hear a single lyric.

“Our team spent a lot of time studying the natural ecosystems of Louisiana and the bayou of the Mississippi River,” said Ess Fortunato, digital producer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “So, as you float along you have that feeling of place.”

Of course, so much of NOLA’s aesthetic is human-made, from the steep pitch on a Creole cottage to the ever-present wrought iron. And instead of replicating metalwork, Disney commissioned a bespoke weathervane from third-generation master blacksmith Darryl Reeves and his apprentice, Karina Roca, at Reeves’ historic Seventh Ward workshop.

Disney Imagineering also collaborated with New Orleans artists Sharika Mahdi and Varion Laurent for concept artwork and inspiration. And award-winning poet and artist Malaika Favorite created two giant murals that flank the entrance to the ride, which is set inside Tiana’s Foods headquarters.

One mural is about Tiana’s community garden, which the ride queue weaves through. “Tiana’s vision is to have a garden and have spices,” said Favorite. “So, in the garden, she has peppers, pecans, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Course, that’s Louisiana right there. You got to have sweet potatoes. Can’t leave without sweet potatoes. I was incorporating all of the different things that would be in her garden and then what she would turn into her spices.”

Favorite also incorporated two songs from The Princess and the Frog into the murals, making art within art. The musical notes woven into the murals are actual bars from two different songs. “If anyone’s a musician, they’ll read that and say, ‘Oh, I think I see that, and I hear that,’” she said.

The Sounds

“Music is always in the background,” said PJ Morton. “It’s always been there. [Music] is like the air in New Orleans.”

The award-winning musician and producer wrote and composed a brand-new song for the ride, “Special Spice,” which is sung by Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. It’s a grand finale moment after hearing a concert of musical critters play samples of Zydeco, Rara, and Afro-Cuban music. “I had Jon Batiste play on things. I had Trombone Shorty play on things. We’re all in there,” said Morton.

But the best homage to New Orleans happens in the queue. Eighteen songs play from a fictional radio station WNO, and they’re true Easter eggs for NOLA’s music scene. Jazz musician and producer (and the real trumpet for Louis the alligator in The Princess and the Frog) Terence Blanchard produced the collection and said he had so much fun playing them that he worried people wouldn’t get on the ride because they’d have too much fun in the queue.

“One of the things that I’ve always loved about New Orleans,” said Blanchard, “is that we go to Mardi Gras, the parade, and you see people of all walks and different communities coming together and having a good time. And I think that’s what you’re going to feel [in the queue]. That’s the way the culture has been. We’ve always lived our lives like open books, and we’ve always invited people in because that’s just how we grew up."

Famous groups such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Lil' Rascals Brass Band can be heard in the queue. But Blanchard is very clear: The WNO broadcast isn’t a stale copy. “We’re not caricatures of our past,” he said. “The thing that we are trying to do is be who we are and allow our DNA to guide us in creating the music. All too often we’ve seen people try to mimic our history, and it doesn’t bring that authentic, communal nature to the music. There’s an energy to it. One of the reasons we used the brass bands in the queue line—they’re not trying to play like the old brass bands in the past. They found a way to bring a modern flavor to that tradition. And that’s what New Orleans music has always been from its inception. It’s about trying to convey a feeling and emotion beyond words.”

The Sweets

There’s a wealth of new tech in this ride, from digital mapping to 48 new animatronic figures. But the most immersive element is the simple use of scent. You’ll catch a waft of Tiana’s Famous Beignets twice, once in her kitchen in the queue and again on the ride as you pass by a plate of beignets.

And if you’re left craving some after the ride, Golden Oak Outpost will sell those honey-drizzled and sugar-powdered treats from June 28 through September 6. You can also snag the recipe card if you purchase a commemorative Memory Maker ride photo print.

And The Spirit

Beyond beignets, The Princess and the Frog is all about Tiana’s gumbo and her drive to start her own restaurant. That plot and Tiana’s character comes from the very real story of Leah Chase and the gumbo at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.

“Tiana would not be possible if not for Leah Chase,” said Carmen Smith, Senior Vice President of Creative Development, Product Content & Inclusive Strategies.

The Chase legacy is everywhere in this attraction, from Easter egg nods to family names on certain okra crates to Tiana’s kitchen in the queue.

“The kitchen represents my grandmother’s kitchen,” said Myla Reese Poree, Leah Chase’s granddaughter who oversees business operations and innovation at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. “All the colorful vegetables. The pots that she would have. Her hand-written recipes. And there’s a picture of my grandmother and our parents as kids celebrating a big birthday. So there’s different little pieces throughout the ride that reminisce of my grandmother and her kitchen and her life’s story.”

“This attraction is really a celebration of what Tiana—what my grandmother—is all about,” said Edgar “Dook” Chase, Leah Chase’s grandson and executive chef of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. “Uniting people. Bringing people together. Food does that. Food is one of the few things that can do that in this world. So when you go up and you enjoy the ride and see the community garden and the [water] tower that says ‘Never ever forget what’s really important,’ that is the key message. That spirit, that work ethic, that confidence that my grandmother showcased her entire life and through the movie and through Tiana—it’s been humbling for my family to see it.”

While there are Disney-branded treats to buy in the gift shop (because there’s always a gift shop) such as bananas foster chocolate bars, there will also be four spice blends from Dooky Chase’s Restaurant as well as their official cookbook for sale. 

“We have our gumbo base,” said Chase. “We have our fried chicken seasoning. We have meat seasoning. Seafood seasoning. This is all the stuff that we use at Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans. My chefs use these seasonings when we’re frying chicken or when we’re cooking a red fish. This is what we do.”

There’s another tribute to the Chase family in the attraction. “If you listen closely to the radio broadcast in the queue,” said Smith, “You’ll hear [Chase’s daughter] Leah Chase-Kamata singing ‘Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.’”

“Probably the most emotional was working with Leah [Chase-Kamata],” said Blanchard. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the studio. When you hear it in the queue line, there’s so much history and so much emotion and so much experience in her vocals.”

Disney and New Orleans go way back. Walt Disney himself was a big fan of Antoine’s Restaurant (we are, too) and a mechanical singing toy bird that he picked up from an antique shop in New Orleans inspired what we now know as audio animatronics.

Disney went on to create New Orleans Square at Disneyland, but it wasn’t built for Disney World. That may be for the best because that land is kitschy. Here at Disney World, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure feels both historic and reverent yet fiercely modern, creative, and proudly unique. The message from the many, many signs and lyrics throughout the attraction remind you that everyone is welcome. And isn’t that the true experience of New Orleans?

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2024-06-13T03:15:12Z dg43tfdfdgfd