Passengers wait for the 84-foot-tall (26 m) ship, which departs every 25 minutes, inside a sheltered area called Frontier Landing, located in the Frontierland section of the park. The waiting area, which the 110-foot-long (34 m) Columbia shares with the Mark Twain Riverboat, is made to resemble a real dock, with cargo deliveries sharing space on the dock. Historic United States flags are displayed at the attraction's entrance.
Passengers board the full-scale replica of the original Sailing Ship Columbia by climbing steps, also known as the "brow", up onto the main deck. Once on board, they can visit a nautical museum below deck, which shows what life was like for the 1787 crew. In addition to the galley, pantry, dry stores, and sick bay, there are quarters for the crew, bosun and bosun's mate, first mate, captain, and surgeon.
Once the ship casts off, it begins its voyage around the Rivers of America. The ship, which has three masts and rigging but does not unfurl its sails, is powered by a compressed natural gas engine. It runs along the same track, hidden by the green dye in the water, as the Mark Twain.
The captain provides a tongue-in-cheek running commentary as he calls orders to his crew, while recorded background music plays a selection of nautical songs, such as "Blow the Man Down". As the ship passes Fort Wilderness on Tom Sawyer Island, a Columbia cast member fires two 12-gauge blanks from one of the ship's ten cannons.
The Sailing Ship Columbia operates only on the park's busiest days, or when the Mark Twain is not operating. You can always tell when the number of guests in the park reaches 40,000 by the fact the Sailing Ship Columbia comes into service. The attraction usually opens at 11am and closes at dusk. On evenings when Fantasmic! is being performed, the ship, which plays the role of Captain Hook’s pirate ship in the show, will also close at dusk. When the ship is not operating, it is docked at Fowler's Harbor, near the Haunted Mansion attraction.
When Walt Disney decided that the Rivers of America needed more river traffic and wanted another large ship to join the Mark Twain, he asked Joe Fowler, who was Disneyland's construction supervisor and a former naval admiral, to pick a historic sailing ship for inspiration. After examining every maritime museum in the country, Fowler recommended the first American sailing ship to go around the world: the Columbia Rediviva. However, there is only one known picture in existence of the original windjammer. WED researchers used it, along with research materials from the Library of Congress, to design the Columbia.
Architect Ray Wallace was commissioned in 1957 to work with Fowler in creating the construction plans. The ship was constructed at Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California, where the Mark Twain 's hull was built a few years earlier. After Fowler told Disney that it was customary to put a silver dollar under each mast before it was set, Disney personally put a silver dollar under each of the Columbia's three masts.
For the ship’s christening on June 4, 1958, Fowler was dressed as a sailing captain of the 18th century, while the Mousketeers appeared as his crew. Since then, the Sailing Ship Columbia has had many extensive refurbishments, but the only major change has been the addition of the crew quarters exhibit in 1964.
Yesterland on the river
There are a few things from Yesterland that the boat passes along the river. The Burning Settler's Cabin, which used to use propane to burn, is passed along the way. The Disneyland Cabin was recently doused, and the one at Walt Disney World is no longer burning.
The Mine Train passed is actually one of the original Mine Trains from the Old Nature's Wonderland Attraction. The critters popping out are Animatronics also from the same attraction. They stopped popping out recently. The Mine Train is on the original track of the attraction and used to border the Cascade Peak, also left over from the attraction but was demolished in 1998 due to structural failure. The train was removed in June 2010 for restoration.
There is an hour long movie, "Columbia", made by cast members in 1988. It was "filmed" in the early morning hours before the park would open and featured the keelboats for "mail delivery" and both the old Fowler's Harbor as the crew's shore cabins and the Golden Horseshoe Landing as the Admiral's residence. The script was based on a M.A.S.H. episode, but the "home-made" commercials are the real gems of the ocean voyage.
On December 24, 1998, a cleat used to secure the ship to the dock tore loose, striking park visitors Luan Phi Dawson, 33, of Duvall, Washington and his wife in the head, as their son and grandchild and other horrified park visitors looked on. Dawson was declared brain dead two days later and died when his life support system was disconnected. A park employee was also injured.
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