I don’t know about you, but the Jungle Cruise is one of my favorite Disneyland rides because the silly spiels from the skippers ensure it is different every time you ride. But what else do you know about the ride that takes you through four of the best known exotic rivers in the world? Get to know the ride behind the scenes with another edition of Disneyland related Neatorama Facts.
Creating A Classic
Walt originally envisioned the attraction as an educational adventure where boats would travel by live animals from around the world. He soon realized live animals would be too much of a challenge because they would frequently be sleeping and hiding in the back of enclosures like zoo animals tend to do. Even worse, they’d have to go poo at some point, which would look gross and could be pretty stinky given the small area of space the animals would have to live in.
So instead he opted to use animatronic animals, but he worked to have the creatures look as lifelike as possible and participating in realistic behavior, like the lions eating the zebra. Silly scenes like the rhino attacking the men on the pole and the gorillas ransacking the camp weren’t added until later. The Imagineers based much of the ride on the movie The African Queen and the vessels used to ferry guests through the attraction are even based on the steamer seen in the film. Another inspiration for the ride was the footage used for the fifties Disney documentary series called True Life Stories. One of the most difficult challenges of building the attraction was finding plants that looked exotic and getting them to grow.
Imagineer Bill Evans chose to use both native and exotic plants in order to save money, but he ensured the local flora still looked in character by performing little landscaping tricks. For example, he grew orange trees in a way where their roots were exposed and then he grew vines on the roots, creating a very junglesque feel to the plants. The Jungle Cruise was one of the first rides still around that were actually in operation when the park was first opened to the public. In fact, it was one of the first rides built because Walt wanted to give the foliage time to grow before the park opened, even so, it was still pretty sparse on opening day. Because this specific ride was covered by the press so much during the construction process, it was always a popular attraction and was an E ticket ride.
Tracing Your Voyage
The Jungle Cruise starts out with a simulation of the Irrawaddy and Mekong Rivers, taking visitors through the South East Asian forest. The boat passes a Cambodian temple adorned with crocodiles, giant spiders, king cobras and a Bengal tiger. Next they enter a sacred Indian elephant bathing pool where Indian elephants play in the fountains and spray water at the guests. The boat then travels through the rivers of Africa, specifically the Nile and passes by two African bull elephants before approaching an African Veldt where giraffes, zebras, wildebeest all watch a group of lions munching on a zebra. A little past this area, there is an angry rhino trying to attack a group of safariers who are hiding up a tree. Next, the boat is surrounded by angry hippos who are only chased away by a gun shot fired by the skipper. Interestingly, the gun is real; it’s a nickel plated Smith and Wesson .38 Special that has been altered so it can’t shoot live ammo. The skippers carry two types of ammo, the regular blanks used to scare the hippos and extra loud ones in case of emergency.
Interestingly, the operators at the Magic Kingdom only carry inoperable prop guns these days, so I wonder what they do when there is an emergency. Guests then pass under the backside of Schweitzer Falls, named after Doctor Albert Schweitzer, and then enter the South America and traverse the Amazon River. Drums and chanting signal that the boat is now in headhunter country. Soon enough the headhunters are wielding spears at the visitors, who are suddenly attacked by piranhas in the water. Just before the boat returns to the dock, it passes Trader Sam, the shrunken head dealer, who offers visitors a two for one special –two of his heads for one of theirs.
Sillying Things Up
When the ride first opened, it was supposed to be serious, but within a few years, Walt realized that it would be greatly improved with a little humor to liven it up. So he decided to have animator Marc David write a script that incorporated some humorous gags. The funny bits started to be incorporated into the action in 1962. These days, the skippers are always hired with their sense of comedic timing in mind. In fact, there has been a long-running comedy show in Fullerton, California since 2006 that features only Jungle Cruise skippers.
Disney believed in constantly updating rides to ensure they were always interesting for guests. While most people don’t notice the changes, the attraction has gone through quite a few stages to be at its current state. If you have visited the park in the last few decades, you may notice a few differences from the modern version and the one seen in the video. The first change happened in 1962, when the elephant bathing pool was added. Two years later the safari camp was installed. When the Indiana Jones Adventure was built in 1994, the Jungle Cruise queue area was redesigned and the river was slightly rerouted.
The new attraction fit in well with the setting, but the throngs of tourists that could be seen from the ride itself were a little distracting. Fortunately, the skipper script was adapted to make fun of the tourists. Another refurbishment took place in 2004, when the piranhas were added along with an explosion effect where the gorillas have taken over the camp. Even the boats on the ride were changed, as they were originally clean and beautiful replicas of the African Queen, but the 1994 refurbishments allowed the imagineers to give the boats a grungy look so they better fit in with their surroundings and the Indiana Jones Adventure next door.
Differences Between The Parks
Like most classic Disneyland rides, the attraction is also featured at other Disney parks, but each has their own tiny variations. Disneyland Paris is actually the only one to not feature the ride. This is because Imagineers worried about trying to find appropriate jungle plants that could handle the cold temperature of the area and because other theme parks in France have already adapted the ride, so it would not be a unique experience to European visitors. At the Magic Kingdom, the biggest differences are the order of the scenes and the inclusion of a downed airplane near the hippo pool. This is the back half of a Lockheed Model 12 Electrica Junior that was purchased for the Casablanca scene in the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The other scene only required the front half of the plane, so the back half was added in the jungle setting.
Other than the plane, the Tokyo version of the ride is pretty much identical to the Magic Kingdom version, except the narration is in Japanese and the ride runs clockwise instead of counterclockwise. The biggest changes can be seen at Hong Kong Disneyland though. At this park, the river goes around Tarzan’s Treehouse and the ending has been completely redone to include a grand finale with a battle between the gods of fire and water. This park has handled language problems by having three separate lines, one of English, one for Cantonese and one for Mandarin.
Steering The Streams
The skippers on the boat do control the speed and direction you are going, but the underwater railing prevents them from having to steer. They generally use the steering wheel prop throughout the journey, but only for fun. On the other hand, this does mean they can put you in the line of fire for the elephant sprays by adjusting their speed appropriately –as my sister learned the hard way when she was throwing a tantrum on the ride when we were kids. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen in case of a breakdown, you can relax even if you are a bad swimmer. While the canal reaches depths of up to eight feet, it is is no more than three feet deep in most areas. The water is died brown to help prevent guests from being able to see the “river” bottom. Do you guys like the ride? What’s your favorite terrible Jungle Cruise pun, or do you prefer to leave the jokes to professionals and avoid the ride?
Disneyland fans! See more Neatorama Facts: Neatorama Facts: Haunted Mansion Neatorama Facts: Sleeping Beauty Castle Neatorama Facts: Pirates of the Caribbean Neatorama Facts: Space Mountain Neatorama Facts: The Enchanted Tiki Room