Characters keep sneaking more and more into Epcot. This park started out as a permanent World’s Fair, but it doesn’t come across that way anymore. Nemo has taken the Sea, Lion King has been to the Land, Ratatouille and Beauty and the Beast are in France, and Frozen is in Norway. To celebrate Epcot’s 40th anniversary, let’s take a look at the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Cabelleros, the first attraction at World Show Case to be transformed to a character ride.
Rio del Tiempo
Rio del Tiempo was conceived as an attraction to celebrate the history and culture of Mexico. Like the other original attractions at World Showcase, you can see a country’s influence on the pavilion. The Aztec temple facade drew people for shopping, dining, and the ride entrance.
Once you boarded this gentle boat ride, you’d float by a volcano and another Aztec temple. After that, you’d take a trip through time that would show you snippets of Mexico’s ancient, recent, and modern history. The physical components were largely static. Most show scenes featured screens playing videos of performers, merchants, cliff divers, or landscapes. These screens were made to look like windows through physical sets, like caves or Aztec architecture.
Two rooms featured physical scenes. The first showed some Mexican culture, with “it’s a small world” style children playing in the streets. The second featured a carrousel with animatronic figures dancing under a firework show.
This version of the show operated from Epcot’s opening day on October 1, 1982 until January 2, 2007. It was just shy of 25 years when it closed for it’s remodel.
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros opened April 6, 2007. Surprisingly, this conversion took only 3 months to complete. The The ride received an updated audio track. The videos were updated to include Donald, José, and Panchito. Rather than a trip through Mexican History, the new story was that the Caballeros were chasing Donald around a Mexican town, trying to get him to the show they were performing at. Nearly all of the physical sets remained intact. The children had a star-burst piñata before, but it was replaced with a Donald one. The major change was that the carousel of dancers had been taken out, and replaced with a screen showing the Three Caballeros’ performance.
In 2009, the Mickey Mouse Revue closed at Tokyo Disneyland. The show was a musical revue featuring audio-animatronics. The show had included figures of Donald, José, and Panchito. These three figures were allocated to Epcot, with the intent that they’d be installed for the show’s finale. They sat in storage at Epcot until 2015 when they were finally installed during a refurbishment. Now the audio-animatronic figures provide the performance under the fireworks for the show’s finale.
Character overlays like this are typically installed to try to boost a ride’s popularity. But they can also be a sign that there are fundamental flaws with the attractions structure. While there are some good elements, the story isn’t very compelling. It’s enough to draw some crowds, but even on the busiest days, the line doesn’t reach more than about 30 minutes. Most times on most days, it will only be a 5 to 15 minute wait.
While this is partially due to its placement (a poorly marked entrance at the back of the Mexico Pavilion), it has spurred discussion about redoing the attraction again. Pixar’s Coco (2017) was initially considered for a replacement ride. This film takes place in the Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. However, with the D23 expo’s “Blue Sky” discussion about the potential for a Coco in the Magic Kingdom, this is probably off the table. It looks like the Three Caballeros will be around for the foreseeable future.