Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort/Christian Thompson
A Love Letter to New Orleans: Disney Taps Into Local Artists for Tiana's Bayou Adventure
The work Walt Disney Imagineers are putting into its latest attraction, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, is nothing new. But the intricate details and research are something riders will immediately notice and appreciate when the nine-minute musical adventure dedicated to Disney’s first African American and first American princess opens in 2024.
While Princess Tiana is a fictional character, she’s based on a real-life legend in New Orleans, Chef Leah Chase. The late chef was the genius behind Dooky Chase — New Orleans’ premier restaurant for authentic Creole Cuisine.
Since the restaurant opened its doors in 1941, it’s been revered worldwide as a place of comfort and refuge, feeding legends such as President Barack Obama, James Baldwin, Thurgood Marshall, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, the Freedom Fighters, and more.
Chase passed down to her family the motto “Pray, work hard, and do for others.” It’s a saying Chase’s family wears on a button on their uniforms as they continue to serve people when they step foot into the restaurant. It honors a saying from the person who inspired the creation of Princess Tiana and the vibrant community she comes from.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is a love letter to New Orleans and an attraction that is expected to transcend past Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim.
The attraction is a portal to New Orleans: a bucket list destination people worldwide dream of traveling to for the music, culture, and traditions unlike anywhere else in the world. When people finally embark on this new adventure, Walt Disney Imagineers suspect it will trigger a desire to explore the musical and foodie city further.
The team isn’t taking the attraction’s influence lightly. That’s why they’ve tapped into critical resources for the attraction—New Orleans’ local arts scene and businesses—to perfect it.
What Riders Can Expect on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure
In an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience with Walt Disney Imagineers, Travel Noire traveled to New Orleans to learn more about what riders can expect.
For starters, guests will have to approach the attraction the same way they do when visiting The Crescent City. Riders will have to come with open hearts, ears, noses, and an appetite. After all, the smell of beignets—Princess Tiana’s signature dish—begins in the queue line of the attraction.
As Travel Noire previously reported, Disney plans to begin the adventure where the movie left off. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is telling the next chapter of her story, as it celebrates the princess’s entrepreneurial success, her new business venture, and the community that helped her reach her goals.
The musical attraction starts at the culmination of New Orleans’ iconic Carnival season—riders are going to Mardi Gras. The adventure takes place in an old salt mine Princess Tiana purchased and transformed into Tiana’s Foods.
“In our next chapter story, Tiana has opened up Tiana’s Foods. It’s a co-op that’s employee-owned,” said Charita Carter, executive creative producer for Walt Disney Imagineering. “What they do there is they make the spices, the sauces, and food items that go into the restaurants.”
Because it’s Mardi Gras season, Princess Tiana is throwing a party to celebrate not only Fat Tuesday but also the success of her new business and those who have worked hard to make it successful.
“But in the planning of this party, there’s a mixup, and they discover at the last minute there’s a missing ingredient,” Carter teases about the ride. “But let me tell you, the missing ingredient isn’t always food.”
Guests will encounter some familiar faces and voices at the attraction. Anika Noni Rose has reprised her role as Princess Tiana for the ride. The same goes for Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen, Michael Leon Wooley as the Jazz-loving alligator Louis, and Jennifer Lewis as Mama Odie. This means riders can expect to hear original music from the film.
But Walt Disney Imagineers are also introducing 17 new characters on the attraction with distinct names and personalities. Walt Disney Imagineers found these characters on several Bayou Tours and research opportunities throughout Southern Louisiana.
These new characters are native to Louisiana and include an otter playing a fiddle, beavers, rabbits, raccoons, turtles, more frogs, and an opossum.
“In this attraction, we want to give guests a little bit of a taste of all the different flavors of music in New Orleans,” said Ted Robledo, executive creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering. “New Orleans has a culture that predates the United States. It has always been a melting pot being a colony of Spain and France. [It’s a place where] indigenous people were already here, and enslaved people were brought to. Traditions like food and music have come together here from Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. In this attraction, we want to give guests a little taste of all the different flavors of music from these influences.”
For people who know all about Disney’s “Easter Eggs” you hunt for in attractions, here’s a spoiler alert: Prince Ralphie, Prince Naveen’s younger brother, will also show up at some point during the adventure.
PJ Morton Is Writing Original Music for the Attraction
Grammy-award-winning musician PJ Morton is writing, arranging, and producing an original song for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
“It was exciting for me, the idea of creating something original for this, but that was also a challenge,” says Morton. “All the songs are so well done. People are very familiar with them now. The challenge was to try to fit in with what already existed but also bring something fresh and move the story along.”
Morton, who is a New Orleans native, is teaming up with Oscar-nominated musician Terence Blanchard who is also a New Orleans native. Blanchard plays all of Louis’s trumpet numbers in the animated film. He is also the arranger, producer, and performer for the attraction’s queue music. Both Morton and Blanchard are serving as cultural ambassadors to advise the Walt Disney Imagineers on the music of New Orleans.
Riders can expect to hear various music styles and instruments that either originate or take up permanent residence in New Orleans, such as Zydeco. Zydeco is a special blend of rhythm and blues born in Louisiana.
Ride Mechanics and Designs
Many of the stage and prop designs are inspired by local archives and artists. Several attraction scenes draw elements from a series Walt Disney Imagineering commissioned local artist Sharika Mahdi, a Young Aspirations Young Artists (YAYA) Alumni, to create.
Princess Tiana will introduce a new look for the ride as she sports an adventure outfit with knickers, booters, and a jacket inspired by1920s fashion, the time period the ride is based on.
In the queue line, a radio program from this era will play music but will be interrupted by an important message from the radio host, Princess Tiana herself. The princess needs help for the night’s Mardi Gras party. She’s asking anyone who can help to head over to her new business, Tiana’s Foods.
Riders are going to get down and dirty (and wet) as they venture down the Bayou. There’s a 52-foot drop along the log flume water ride as guests assist Princess Tiana with finding the missing ingredient during the busiest time in New Orleans.