All aboard! Here we go, after the perfect opening ceremony, on-board the Molly Brown riverboat for a special first-look at the rebuilt vessel. We rushed up through the stairs to the top deck for a complete overview of the new boat as the Hill Billy Trio played on the bow below and Buffalo Bill fired off his guns as we departed on this exciting, inaugural Western river expedition.
No less than 57 photos, an HD video and countless fun details await! There’s a lot to point out and a lot to see — as promised to us at the earlier presentation: new colours, new spiels, new story. This isn’t just the Molly Brown given a fresh coat of paint, this is a whole new chapter in Thunder Mesa.
Under the new 1885 Naval Jack of the United States flag, the Hill Billy Trio played as Molly Brown sounded her steam whistle and we began to ply the waters…
In the cargo hold in the middle of the top deck, the sacks are now stamped with the Molly Brown name in red. Meanwhile, the lighter wood of the deck really helped to brighten up the whole ship. If you notice the deck doesn’t appear to be quite finished around the edges, don’t worry — as we mentioned previously, the ship returned immediately to the dock for finishing touches after this inaugural journey so it’s likely there’s work still to do there. The black sealant appeared to have only just been applied, and throughout the vessel there was the satisfying smell of fresh paint.
It’s here that we begin to see some of the new colours on-board the boat. The funnels for example are a much darker, more dramatic green, almost black in colour. And below, you see the rocking piston mechanism atop the ship. Previously turquoise, it now takes the same warm maroon red as the accents around the sides of each deck. Curiously, the gold decorative plate bearing the initials “MB” was missing at this time, although the fixtures clearly remained in the place — the two rods sticking out at the top, with the one on the right missing.
The ship’s two lifeboats have also been completely refreshed, one on the top deck and the other hanging from the stern, now bearing improved “Molly Brown” lettering in a warm golden ochre with maroon shadow. The fabric covering each is now maroon; previously both the cover and the lettering was turquoise. The whole palette of colours — maroon, yellow, orange — along with the freshly-sanded deck gives the boat a dramatically warmer look.
Explaining the new story, Peggie Fariss (pictured on deck to the right of Buffalo Bill, below) told us that the Imagineers wanted to firmly establish that the Molly Brown is a Western, not a mid-Western, liner. Apparently, guests often confused or assumed the boat to be a mid-Western or Mississippi liner, and along with the Flag of California flying from the centre flagpole, the colours of cream, browns and gold help to position the Molly Brown as a Californian liner, part of the gold rush of Thunder Mesa — something quite unique out of all the Disney park riverboats.
Replacing the boat’s former “Queen of the River” title across each of the huge side paddle wheels with “Western River Line” was a brave move. At first glance it almost appears to be too obvious, telling guests what they should be able to work out for themselves, but in reality it doesn’t particularly gall and again only helps to distance this very special ship from the other Mark Twain boats worldwide. Peggie even used the precise words that they wanted to “establish the boat as part of the Western River Expedition“, a fun nod to the never-built 1968 Walt Disney World attraction which lent Thunder Mesa its name in the first place.
Below the deck you get a sense of what a huge undertaking this project was, especially having seen the ship stripped back to nothing but a shell last Summer. Not just wood panelling, painting and mechanical features but wiring, lighting and sound…
Yes, sound! Now this was a real surprise. The Imagineers haven’t just re-wired a new sound system, they’ve recorded whole new spiels, a brand new narration to accompany our voyage! And even more of a surprise, for us English speakers accustomed to almost 20 years of circling the Rivers of the Far West with an entirely French narration — Molly Brown now speaks English! I managed to catch some of the brand new spiel on video along with various other clips from the maiden voyage, take a look:
You can hear Molly at 3:55 and 4:43 minutes in, whilst at 3:23 the boat gets into a steam-whistle match with the passing Disneyland Railroad train as Buffalo Bill shouts “quiet!!” from the top deck!
Walt Disney Imagineering completed the casting and recording for this new spiel at their home in Glendale, California, searching for a Molly Brown with a “quirky personality”, a real “character”, just as she was always described. Peggie told how the recording had been completed in Glendale “just this week”, so it was even more of a surprise to be on-board the ship and hear it playing out already. The captain of the ship continues to speak in French, pointing out points of interest along the river to both us and Molly Brown.
Molly has a vivacious, quirky personality indeed, the “unsinkable” dame speaking with a delightful heavy accent to declare, for example: “Mercy me! Life can be mighty hard out here on the Front-ier. The sacrifices are great, but so are the re-wards. Why just look around you — have y’ever seen anything quite so grand? There’s a natural arch bridge coming up on the port bow that’s a sight to behold!”
Having equal narration in English is a boon for those 49% of visitors to Disneyland Paris who aren’t French, most having at least a basic knowledge of English. But this new spiel does more than just include English-speakers in the tour. It’s that wonderful, rich accent, that could never be conveyed in French, which brings the whole landscape to life and makes it all that much more authentic.
Continuing our tour, the indoor lounges, on the lower and middle decks, have also been meticulously rebuilt with an absolute attention to detail and quality. Rich brown wooden doors and dark window frames against the white and cream wood panelling give the boat a delicious, warm chocolate box look, whilst the gleaming brass lanterns, handles and signage plates give a shimmer of the gold rush…
One of the best changes to the colour scheme is that gorgeous, rich orange which now bathes the underneath of each deck. We were lucky with some warm, sunny weather on Friday, but you can imagine even on a colder Parisian day the decks of Molly Brown will now be more inviting than ever. The orange again gives that feel of the West, of California, reflecting the landscape around it.
Old-fashioned incandescent filament light bulbs still line the ship…
Scattered here and there with dust from the freshly-sanded deck…
The Molly Brown lifebuoy has been returned to the head of the ship.
As we reached the halfway point, we caught sight of the Mark Twain resting temporarily in the dock, waiting to follow us out to resume regular service from Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing. It was impressive just how quickly the two boats were switched over, without a single hitch.
Back at the front of the boat, the Rainbow Arch (confirmed as part of the earlier presentation to be repainted this year) and Phantom Manor with its seasonal blossom came into view as the Hill Billy Trio played on. Another picture perfect moment!
Buffalo Bill even joined the trio for photos as we rounded the corner between Big Thunder Mountain and Phantom Manor. With blue skies like those, we could be in the real old West, not 35 km from Paris…
The saloon on the lower deck is a really beautiful space. The curved benches have been reupholstered with opulent red dotted fabric, whilst the maroon accent from outside continues above the windows and the red and yellow curtains give a golden warmth in the light. In the middle of the space is a wood-burning stove, although it contains only a few red lights for show — no fire here!
Money was of course never spoken of during our presentation and tour — that’s never something Imagineering talks openly about — but you can imagine this was a pretty significant investment indeed. Practically a whole new attraction for the park.
Looking back into the corner, more decorative lighting fixtures, a beautiful period chair and a glass display cabinet…
Inside, a model of a stern-wheel riverboat to dissimilar to the Mark Twain…
Before we knew it, we were back at the Riverboat Landing. We could have taken five or twenty more tours aboard the Molly Brown, but that was our lot for now.
It’ll be a few weeks before she finally returns to regular daily service for good. The team working on the project have done an outstanding job, but there were still clearly corners to be finished here and there…
Peggie told a fun story of where this Imagineering perfectionism stems from, comparing the fact that Molly Brown was whisked back into the dock for “final touch-ups” to when the Tahitian Terrace opened at Disneyland in California. A 35-foot tall artificial tree with 4,075 artificial leaves at in the middle of the area, and upon arriving for an inspection Walt Disney simply said “the leaves aren’t quite right” …and every single one had to be repainted!
And there we were, back on dry land. One last chance for photos of this stunning ship before Molly steamed away around the rivers and onto new Frontiers — at least, for now…
Did we mention she looks stunning?
The Hill Billy Trio played a final ditty and our group lined up for a photo all together on the landing (other guests waiting in line again probably bemused by such a commotion!).
And then, she was off…! We all clamoured for a final photo of her rounding the corner — blue skies, flags flying, new colours.
It’s a good chance to compare the “old” and the “new” Molly Brown, using a photo from our Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing guide (which has plenty more photos for comparison) taken in 2008…
No longer dirty nor a haven for plantlife… The new colours may take some getting used to (particularly the coffee/cream paddlewheel cover, which is such a contrast to the old design), but they’re definitely an improvement.
In remarkably quick succession, the Mark Twain then steamed in to continue regular service for waiting guests. It was immediately clear, up close, that this old boy could really use the same treatment soon…
Finally, members of our group were invited to share their impressions on the Molly Brown and all the refurbishment news on camera, for a video which we’re promised will be published later this week and — from the amount that was filmed (who needs celebrities when you have Disneyland Paris blog authors) — should give a very good impression of how the day happened.
New colours, new spiels, new story… new beginning. 25th March 2011 — the day the Molly Brown returned home! Better, brighter and more unsinkable than ever!
Coming next: We begin our reports from the 9am refurbishments presentation by Peggie Fariss and Thomas Bardenat at Walt’s – An American Restaurant with the full scoop on the restoration of Sleeping Beauty Castle! Direct from the drawing board we’ll describe the new colours of the castle along with plenty of new photos from the current state of works.