A trip to Walt Disney World is one of the ultimate American family vacations.
That said, a day at Disney can be an exercise in sensory overload that can leave you – especially as parents – more than a bit frazzled. One of our favorite ways to relax when visiting the Magic Kingdom, is some time spent exploring Tom Sawyer Island.
Tom Sawyer Island is often considered a somewhat minor attraction at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. But, when researching for this post, I discovered that it has a unique claim to fame. From Walt Disney World’s official website:
The original Tom Sawyer Island opened to the public at Disneyland Resort in 1956. The attraction has the distinction of being the only one designed by Walt Disney.
Sharing a strong affinity for the world Mark Twain created in his novels, Walt found himself unsatisfied with the island’s original design. Days before construction was set to begin, he took the plans home and re-imagined the landscape design, creating the inlets, coves and overall shape that the island is known for today.
Today, in addition to Walt Disney World Resort, a version of this beloved attraction exists at Disneyland Resort and Tokyo Disneyland.
Walt Disney himself envisioned Tom Sawyer Island, and my guess is that he saw it as a place for parents to relax and recharge, and a place for the kids to explore a little without the watchful eye of parents as a necessity.
As both the official map of the Magic Kingdom and the Google satellite view show, Tom Sawyer Island is Magic Kingdom’s largest expanse of space dedicated to a single theme.
Tom Sawyer Island is essentially a collection of trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, and benches, all on a shaded island accessible only by boat from Frontierland.
You can catch the boat over to the Island just across from Splash Mountain.
On the Island, shade is plentiful so you can take a momentary break from worry about sunscreen and the kids. Better still, the Island is self-contained and secure, and you can let the kids roam a little without constantly worrying that they’ll get lost in the crowd.
Wander dusty dirt roads lined with sycamore and oak trees and amble across creaky suspension bridges. Navigate narrow passages amid secret mined caves and uncover an age-old fort. Along the way, follow in the pioneering footsteps of the frontier’s early settlers, during an era when Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer reflected an America coming into its own.
Pick Your Path
You’ll find adventure aplenty around every corner of Tom Sawyer Island. During your tour, be on the lookout for some of these legendary sites:
Behold a giant waterwheel on the outside, and an homage to one of Disney’s earliest animated films,The Old Mill, inside.
Injun Joe’s Cave
Trek through the tight rocky passageways of this forgotten cavern, where strange fossils and jetting stalagmites mingle with a haunted pit.
Explore this early frontier settlement, which includes a blacksmith shop, a watch tower, stables and an escape tunnel.
Cross a crooked bridge to this wooden mill that offers a picturesque view of the Rivers of America and Frontierland.
Tom Sawyer Scavage Fort
March over a small bridge, slide through a tube and enjoy the view from this fort designed for children under 12 years of age.
Along the way, easy-to-read maps ensure you always know where you are during your island adventure.
We think Tom Sawyer Island is a great place to relax. We enjoyed an hour there last fall while waiting on a fast pass for Splash Mountain (definitely a not-to-miss Magic Kingdom attraction). The kids had a ball, we parents got to enjoy a little stillness, and everybody laughed on the Island’s barrel bridge:
When you need a little break during those days at Magic Kingdom, don’t hesitate to try out Tom Sawyer Island.
More importantly, never forget to:
Relax…you CAN get there from here!