Neatorama Facts: The Enchanted Tiki Room

The Enchanted Tiki Room is kind of like It’s A Small World –people either love it or hate it and no matter how you actually feel about it, you’re guaranteed to have the songs stuck in your head after you leave. Personally, I’m one of those people who loves the show–not least of all because it means getting to sit in a nice air conditioned room while eating pineapple soft serve while the temperature outside exceeds 90 degrees.

Image via CarterHawk [Wikipedia]

Dinner Theater Is For The Birds

When Walt originally started work on the Tiki Room, he envisioned it as a restaurant where guests would be entertained by animatronic birds performing for the diners. It was intended to share a kitchen with the Plaza Pavilion and Tahitian Terrace. Interestingly, now none of these locations operates as a restaurant, the Plaza Pavilion is now used as an Annual Passport processing center and the Tahitian Terrace is now Aladdin’s Oasis, which mostly serves as a meet and greet area for those looking to take pictures with Aladdin and Jasmine.

Image via Loren Javier [Flickr]

There are still aspects of the building that give away its original nature. For one, it is the only attraction to include its own restrooms. Another mark of the planned restaurant, the magic fountain in the center of the room was originally planned to be a coffee station –which is why there is a storage compartment build into the base.

Of course, Walt and his crew soon realized the property would be too popular and was too small to seat all of the people who would want to see the show. Rather than scrapping the idea, the design was altered to accommodate rows of benches for guests to sit and watch the show.

Entertaining Through Animatronics

The Tiki Room was the first Disney attraction to feature Audio-Animatronics and since it required the use of computers (the operations room is located under the attraction), this also meant that it was the first ride to offer air conditioning –a factor that has continued to add to its popularity during hot Southern California summers.

Image via Loren Javier [Wikipedia]

In order to make the birds look as realistic as possible, designers opted to use real feathers on their bodies. They didn’t think the feathers looked quite right on the bird’s chests through, so they continued to brainstorm on what to use until imaginer Harriet Burns had lunch with Walt one day. He was wearing a cashmere sweater and Harriet noticed that the fabric moved on his elbows the exact way the team had envisioned the bird’s chests to move.

When the attraction opened, the four host birds all had the same colored feathers, white, green, yellow and blue. But as time progressed, the designers decided that each bird’s coloring should represent his country of origin. Jose is red, white and green. Michael is white and green. Pierre is blue, white and red. And Fritz is black, red and white.

If you’ve ever wondered about the breakdown of birds to flowers to tiki carvings, there are over 150 animatronic “actors” in the show, including:

  • 54 singing orchids

  • 12 toucans

  • 12 tiki drummers

  • 8 macaws (including the four hosts)

  • 7 bird of paradise flowers

  • 6 cockatoos

Opening A Classic

Strangely, Walt decided to put ownership of the attraction under his own company, WED Enterprises, rather than the Walt Disney Company, which owned the rest of the park. This meant guests had to pay a small admission fee of $.75 when the ride opened in June of 1963.

When the attraction opened, Hawaii had only recently become a state and America was obsessed with anything featuring a tropical island theme. Unsurprisingly, the Tiki Room was an instant success. In fact, the show was so popular that crowds would block up the entire entrance of Adventureland just to catch  glimpse of the talking bird outside the attraction –he was soon removed.

Inside The Show

Image via Loren Javier [Flickr]

Before entering, guests are entertained by talking tiki statutes that each represent Polynesian gods. There is also a Dole-sponsored video about pineapples. Eventually, the doors open and you are invited inside. Once everyone is seated, the cast member taps on Jose’s perch with a bamboo cane and the show begins. While it is not common knowledge, the show doesn’t have to be started by a cast member, so if you ask if you can wake up Jose as the audience filters in, you just might get to kick off the festivities.

The show kicks off with a little banter and then the birds and flowers start to sing “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,” which was written by the Sherman Brothers, who also wrote a number of other Disney classics including “It’s A Small World,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The fountain then opens up, revealing a chorus line of beautiful cockatoos, the birds then perform “Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing.”

Image via Loren Javier [Flickr]

The next song is the “Hawaiian War Chant,” stars the tiki carvings who sing and play drums. Interestingly, the song wasn’t actually written as a war chant, but as a love song.

The chant suddenly results in thunder, lightning and rain appearing on the windows. The host birds promise to show guests a magic trick by making the audience “disappear.” While everyone leaves, they sing a modified version of Heigh-Ho, that exclaims, “Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's out the door you go.”

Behind The Birds

If certain voices from the Tiki Room sound familiar, there’s a reason for that. Fritz and the Hawaiian god Tangaroa are both voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft –the same man who voiced Tony The Tiger, sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and performed the lead vocals for “Grim Grinning Ghosts” in the Haunted Mansion.

As for some of the lesser known voice talents in the attraction, Jose is voiced by Wally Boag, who was the star actor in the Golden Horseshoe Revue all the way up until 1986. Boag also helped write a lot of the script for the Haunted Mansion. Wally was honored as a Disney Legend in 1995 and was even given his own window on Main Street that reads, “Theatrical Agency - Golden Vaudeville Routines - Wally Boag, Prop.”

Image via Loren Javier [Flickr]

Michael is voiced by Fulton Burley who also worked on the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Pierre was performed by Ernie Newton who also did the singing vocals for Boo-Boo Bear in “Hey There It’s Yogi Bear.” Most of the other bird’s vocals were done by Purvis Pullen, aka Dr. Horatio Q. Birdbath, who was best known for his work with the satirical band Spike Jones and his City Slickers.

The Benefits of Sponsorship

If you don’t like the idea of Disney attractions being sponsored, you may want to reconsider your position when it comes to The Tiki Room. While the original sponsor, United Airlines, didn’t do anything to particularly hurt or help the attraction, Dole did when it took over as a sponsor in 1976. Not only did Dole enhance the show by offering delicious pineapple treats like the Dole Whip (I personally consider these an important aspect of the entire experience), they also put a stipulation in their contract that the attraction remain unchanged. When you consider what happened to the other park’s Tiki Rooms, this can certainly be interpreted as a major victory for the attraction’s fans.

Changes At Other Parks

When the Magic Kingdom opened, they offered a show that was pretty much the exact same, only called the “Tropical Serenade.” This attraction was replaced in 1998 by The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management). This new show started out similar to the original, but was soon interrupted by Iago from Aladdin –voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. Iago yells at the birds and insists they update their act when Zazu from the Lion King enters and tells him to leave the other birds alone and warns him against upsetting the tiki gods. Iago continues and then directly insults the gods, resulting in the tiki goddess Uh-Oa waking up and zapping him with her powers.

When a small fire broke out in the attraction on January 12 of this year, a number of Disney fans expressed the hope that the ride will be “under old management” when it reopens.

The Japanese version also started out like the original, but it was changed to have a Vegas-styled theme with Lounge-styled songs in 1999. Then in 2008 it was changed again, returning to a Hawaiian theme, but this time incorporating Stitch from Lilo and Stitch into the mix. I have to admit that as much as I hate the idea of changing these classic attractions, I’m a huge sucker for Stitch and really want to see this show.

Do you like the Tiki Room or do you find it a little too dull? Also, if you’ve been to the other versions of the attraction, what do you think about the modifications?

Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, Little Known Facts About Well Known Places: Disneyland


Disneyland fans! See more Neatorama Facts:

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Neatorama Facts: Sleeping Beauty Castle

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I'm not a huge fan of the "under new management" version at WDW. I liked the other version better. I never knew how far they got with the place being a restaurant, at Disneyland, before they changed it to just being a show. Thanks for all the great history. I hadn't seen the Tokyo version before. I think I like that better than the "under new mangement" version. At least Stitch is from Hawaii. It seems to be a better fit. Great article!
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Fun article but there are some errors…

Yes it is true the attraction was originally conceived as a restaurant but it was scrapped *BEFORE* construction began. The restaurant was supposed to be a much bigger building than the attraction turned out to be. You can see some prints of the original concept art for this large eatery on display inside of Team Disney Anaheim.

The building was not deemed to be too small for dining and thus became an attraction but rather they scrapped the food concept altogether and scaled down the entire affair before construction to suit the needs of the show.

Also the Tahitian Terrace concept came after the food concept for the tiki room was abandoned - so all three were not supposed to be restaurants from the beginning. One was added after the other was changed.

Overall, as I stated at the beginning, this was a fun article!

PS: Some of your Dole information is incorrect too but I will let that one slide… ?
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I do love the AC and the snappy chorus, but it is impossible to actually understand the words to the takeover scheme afoot that the birds carry on about. I saw this a dozen times as a kid and just liked the overall experience, but as an adult (we went Nov 2010), I still had to strain to understand the plot. It's an irreplaceable attraction, but might be more marketable (read: tie-ins and merchandise) if anyone could get a handle on the characters and their stories. The screechy voices and accents do double-duty to quash any chance of understanding the lyrics.
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I LOVE this ride, I love the feeling of walking into a genre and when I was a kid, the illusion of a Hawaiian rainstorm was 100% believable. Thanks for this article full of details!
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