Altered Magic Kingdom land with extinct and unbuilt components
Opened: October 1, 1971
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Maybe there was never a time in the history of theme parks when “adventure” was not the most overused term in their collective lexicon, but in the 1971 the word conveyed something in the way of mental imagery – something other than the imagery associated with “an adventure in every bowl of Alpha Bits or the 2009 film Adventureland. When WDW opened, “adventure” still signified a departure from the familiar. And in the realm of Disney, the only thing less familiar than far-off lands of half-naked people (with darker skin than Marlin Perkins) was outer space. Given Disney’s studio beginnings, their basis for this approach to non-European cultures seems inextricably linked to the a 1940s-era Hollywood theorem that distant races of the world might not easy to identify with as neighbors, but they were nonetheless interesting and very often entertaining. Their countries of origin were regarded with equally topsy-turvy curiosity.
With WDW’s Adventureland, WED Enterprises took that dodgy premise and transposed it into a beautiful world of African, Polynesian, Asian and Caribbean settings where the native populations tended to remain just out of sight. It was a more romanticized combination of elements than what Disneyland opened with in 1955 (fewer skulls on spears overall), but nonetheless a blend of cultures with fantasy as the glue. And because the peoples of the regions depicted were alike in the key respect of being largely foreign to Disney’s target audience of middle-class America, the melding together was perhaps noticeable to some but more or less accepted. By calling it Adventureland instead of Asianland or Africaland, they were able to do things that they couldn’t get away with when designing EPCOT Center’s World Showcase pavilions a few years later.*
Therefore it’s hard for many WDW visitors to pinpoint the exact origins of Adventureland’s architecture, and difficult by design. Only a few key structures, such as the Jungle Cruise’s Cambodian ruins, can be easily traced to their inspiration. But you know you’re not in Kansas anymore the second you glimpse the first buildings. As with most of the Magic Kingdom, not a great deal changed in terms of Adventureland’s core “look” for many years after the park’s opening. But the aura of the land drifted as a result of key alterations that began in the 1980s. And after a series of further developments between 1996 and 2001, the look of Adventureland had begun to shift as well. Those changes will be covered to some extent below.
Guests in the park who approach Adventureland from the Hub, or the Crystal Palace restaurant, pass by the tikis in their palm tree planter (the original carved identification sign went missing sometime in 2009) and cross over the wooden bridge – which is much the same now as in year one. This structure is a scaled-back variation of the covered bridge concept (above rendering) planned for the entrance as early as 1967- the most prominent item originally planned for Adventureland that didn’t happen.
Upon reaching the other side of the Hub Canal, guests are greeted by a goodly amount of tropical foliage and inconsequential architecture, since the Adventureland Veranda building that used to spew intrigue and invite exploration is boarded shut in a manner that suggests quarantine procedures. The restaurant has been closed since 1994.** Its abandoned state makes the surrounding area feel empty, with only the background music hinting of more to come, until one reaches the Swiss Family Treehouse several steps away. During this trip, guests pass a series of planters and benches that, initially rendered in smooth concrete, were rebuilt to resemble volcanic rock in 1991. Halfway to the Treehouse is the Aloha Isle juice bar (which was called the Veranda Juice Bar until c. 1981 and adjoins the ex-restaurant’s southern exterior) where Dole Whip is served.
The Swiss Family Treehouse itself has been remarkably well left in its original state – having undergone far less renovation, thematically, than nearly any other attraction on WDW property. The sound of Buddy Baker’s Swisskapolka still rains down upon the street from the pipe organ in the treehouse’s well-appointed lofty “parlour.” Anyone who has been to the Magic Kingdom and hasn’t made time to walk up and through this tree is missing out on one of the park’s absolute best experiences.
Further along the path, the differences from Adventureland c. 1971 begin to multiply. One outstanding change that is immediately evident with any review of first-year photographs is the voluminous growth of the foliage since that time. The plants and trees across the entire park seemed to have shot out of the ground with a vengeance and quickly filled in many spots that, in retrospect, look positively barren to the discerning eye. And given that Adventureland relies more heavily on horticulture to carry its theme than any other part of the park, the comparison between today’s greenery and that of the first several years is absolutely stark.
Just past the western border of the Veranda, the throughways, plazas and shops have taken on an air of chaos. The patios opposite the Swiss Family Treehouse were once the furthest flung seating option for Veranda patrons, with shade and a view of both the street and the Treehouse. Since 1994 those alcoves were often used for character greetings and Disney Vacation Club kiosks.
The adjacent portico connecting Frontierland and Adventureland is much the same as ever, as are the restrooms, and the west side still opens into the space now occupied by Island Supply Co. There were, however, two earlier “tenants” making use of that property. The first was the Safari Club Arcade, which disappeared in early 1972 and thereby became the Magic Kingdom’s first extinction. The second was Colonel Hathi’s Safari Club, a shop that lasted much longer, until 1990, when it was replaced by Island Supply Co. At that time the merchandise went from a tropical clothing and sundries selection to one of anything vaguely outdoor or nature-related…the same types of things you can find in a mall’s “Discovery/Museum” store. The store was shortly thereafter amended with a covered patio to the south, replete with topiaries-to-go, little fountains and other bits of nonsense that gave the shop a Kmart Garden Center feel. The selection has since reverted to clothing sales.
|A similar set of changes was enacted upon many of the shops in the nearby Adventureland Bazaar area. Tropic Toppers, where you could browse a variety of hats (just none replicating exactly those worn by nearby Jungle Cruise skippers – this was once a common guest inquiry), became the Zanzibar Shell Company in 1988. Only a year prior, The Magic Carpet and Oriental Imports, Ltd. had merged under the banner of The Elephant’s Trunk and in doing so were the first Adventureland shops to be reinvented. All of these shops lined a small courtyard that was also bordered by Traders of Timbuktu, the Tiki Tropic Shop and an octagonal covered patio that joined the two latter establishments.
This patio was the original performance space for Adventureland’s long-livedJ.P. and the Silver Stars steel drum band. The group helped reinforce the atmosphere area and even contributed a performance, “Adventureland Delight,” to the 1973 album A Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. They moved down into Caribbean Plaza later on, opening up the octagon for live bird exhibitions and, finally, merchandise sales. The lady with the maracas did not endure into the 1980s, ultimately leaving the men to beat out island sounds on their own. Before she departed, however, the band cut a 1976 album, Walt Disney World’s Adventureland Steel Band, which is now an extremely rare park souvenir.
The large plaza between that cluster of shops, the Jungle Cruise and the Tropical Serenade was at one point the central point of Adventureland. With the tremendous “Sunshine Pavilion” (the original name for the whole of the thatched-roof facility comprised by Tropical Serenade and the Sunshine Tree Terrace) looming in the background, this area served as its own hub. It was filled with planters, bench and table seating and abutted by the slow-moving terraced waterfalls on the eastern side of the Tropical Serenade (Enchanted Tiki Room) building. As with those at the land’s entrance, the concrete planters in this plaza were sculpted to look like volcanic rock in 1991. The planter closest to the Tropical Serenade’s entrance was also endowed with a monstrous carved head, which has since been removed.
To the south, an original Magic Kingdom ticket booth operated until 1980. It later became a merchandise outlet called the Adventureland Kiosk until 1985, when it was renamed Bwana Bob’s – a reference to Bob Hope, the hilariously unfunny man who made a safari-themed film entitled “Call Me Bwana” in 1963 and also presided over some of the WDW opening ceremonies in 1971.
Nearby, six large wooden tikis sat in a semi-circle formation and shot drumbeats out into the plaza. This mixed with the incessant chatter of the Tropical Serenade’s barker bird, who sang, shouted and squawked from his perch over the attraction’s entrance. With the sound of cannon fire flowing in from Caribbean Plaza and the strains of the Swiss Family Treehouse organ just a little off to the east, these were the signature sounds of “downtown” Adventureland for many years, eliminating the need for a formal background music track like those found in most other parts of the park.
The tikis carvings were originally positioned directly in front of the Jungle Cruise landing, where they faced each other in a full circle. This made it appear that they were drumming to each other in a sort of tribal gathering. By 1974, however, they had been relocated to their current home. Why the move? A lingering Magic Kingdom mystery.
Perhaps it was simply to make room for the Oasis snack bar, which opened circa 1973, and its adjacent riverside deck that for years allowed guests returning from a Jungle Cruise expedition to grab a soft drink and chips, then relax at a shady table whileSwan Boats drifted by in the waters between the dock and the Swiss Family Treehouse. For years after the Swan Boats disappeared in 1983, the deck area remained a quiet lounging spot until early 1997, when Shrunken Ned’s Junior Jungle Boats were introduced to the canal. Three years later the Oasis snack bar became a merchandise kiosk in the wake of Bwana Bob’s disappearance (more details of year 2000 renovations below).
|The Jungle Cruise has undergone enough changes since 1971 to warrant a full separate accounting, which I’ve attempted on its own page. From the standpoint of the casual Adventureland bystander, it may appear to be largely the same as ever. The truth is that more changes have taken place in the queue area than in the ride itself, which has undergone a dozen rehabs with only a few significant changes in scenery – and a couple in attitude.
From October 1971 until late 1973, Adventureland came to a dead-end at the Tropical Serenade building, because there was no Caribbean Plaza or Pirates of the Caribbean attraction for the streets to lead into. So the only way for guests to move on to Frontierland without backtracking toward the Treehouse portal was right next to the Sunshine Tree Terrace. In those early years there was no barricade between the Terrace and the Tiki Tropic Shop, but rather a completely open and uncovered walkway that flowed right into Frontierland between the Country Bear Jamboree and Frontier Trading Post structures. Unfortunately this made it very easy to stand in the center of Adventureland and watch a Liberty Square riverboat sail by in the distance. Still, the gulf was not filled in until c. 1976, three years after Caribbean Plaza opened and provided a more continuous link into Frontierland along the border of the Walt Disney World Railroad line. That’s when the planter wall and roof structure went in next to the Sunshine Tree Terrace and formed the divider between the two lands that still exists today. This closure also allowed the Country Bear Jamboree’s considerable queue to completely fill the space on the other side of the division. The only change is that in late 1991, a small ramped walkway was built through the easternmost portion of that divider – adding one additional means for guests to conveniently reach Splash Mountain when it debuted the following summer.
The Sunshine Tree Terrace itself is a quiet and happy place, mostly because it is thankful to not have been torn down yet! This is where the Florida Citrus Growers (original sponsors of the Sunshine Pavilion complex) offered orange juice and other citrus concoctions, plus a chance to meet their Disney-created mascot, the Orange Bird. He is one of the many walkaround characters from the Magic Kingdom’s early years that have long since been out of sight. A smaller likeness of the Orange Bird sat in the branches of the actual Sunshine Tree … a beautiful sculpted work that formed a faux foliage canopy behind and above the serving counter. Orange Birds both large and small were gone by 1986, when FCG’s sponsorship expired. The Terrace is still in operation, but its namesake backdrop tree was removed from the back wall in 2000, leaving just a couple lonely tikis and a bare bamboo wall to mark the spot of former orange-y glory. The torch bearers were still in place as of September 2009 but their once-perpetual flames were snuffed a year or two prior.
The Tropical Serenade building has weathered a little better than the terrace. In fact, despite the loss of the original “Tropical Serenade show” in 1997, the structure appeared to be maintaining much of its original character until the changes of 2000 came to pass.
Its early history was closely intertwined with its sponsor (The Florida Citrus Growers), and mainly encompassed changes with the attraction’s exterior signs. In the early 1980s, the thatched roof of the show building was stripped in favor of a rusted metal look that persisted until a 1992 rehab. The other big difference affected by that specific rehab was the departure of the 21-year old original “barker bird,” whose sublimely ludicrous Spanish accent was provided by Disneyland’s Wally Boag. This toucan spat out ridiculous noises and sang for passing guests to their amusement, beckoning them to “come to the Tiki Room.” 1992 brought the introduction of a new bird, ‘with a Caribbean accent, named Artemus, who lasted until 1997. At that time Tropical Serenade closed for an extensive makeover, coming back in April 1998 as The Enchanted Tiki Room … Under New Management. When that new version opened, there was no longer a barker bird outside (strange, really, given how much barking was added to the rest of the attraction). The toucans flew away just as the barker parrot would abandon his outdoor platform at Pirates of the Caribbean nine years later.
When Pirates of the Caribbean opened in December of 1973, many surrounding portions of its host area, Caribbean Plaza, were not themselves ready to open. This left the plaza as a mere entry portal to the ride that opening day guests to the Kingdom had longed to see for over two years. By the summer of 1974, though, the shops and snack bar (respectively, the House of Treasure, Plaza del sol Caribe, La Princesa de Cristal, The Golden Galleon and El Pirata y el Perico) had joined the roster and fleshed out the Caribbean Plaza community into something thematically unified and distinct both from the other Magic Kingdom “lands” and Adventureland itself. They were joined within a year by the Caribbean Arcade. This area was, by virtue of its size, anchoring attraction and the criteria that later applied to another section of the park, the true “seventh land.” Officially this title went to Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988, but surely you don’t mind having that illusion shattered? Either way, Caribbean Plaza is deserving of full sovereignty from its neighbors and its own coverage on other pages.
As discussed above, many adjustments, name changes and other overhauls occurred in Adventureland between 1971 and 1999. But nothing caused the atmosphere nearly as much disruption as the modifications of 2000 and 2001, when carefully crafted considerations of theme were set aside to accommodate growth and character tie-ins. Specifically, in the main Adventureland plaza, many long-standing components did not fare so well as those veteran drumming tikis (even though they have been disgraced by their conversion to water-squirt elements). Directly in front of these gems in 2000, the company proceeded with rumored plans for a Dumbo-esque magic carpet ride based on its 1992 animated release, Aladdin.
Prior to this ride’s construction, references to the Middle East in Adventureland were so oblique as to be non-existent. There were a couple hints of the region in the Bazaar’s melting-pot rooftops and a few items of imported merchandise that linked to North Africa and the fertile crescent (in a shop called, yes, The Magic Carpet), but it was not a source of any measurable influence and was in fact relegated to a back alleyway where it had to be actively sought out. The lack of groundwork was not enough to dissuade the company from dramatically reconfiguring the plaza for the new ride and merchandise sales area, both of which sported strong Moroccan, Egyptian and Persian accents.
Among the changes:
– The scenic terraced pools that fed out of the Tiki Room’s eastern outside wall were cut back to within just a few feet of the main building.
– Long-standing planters and palms that had lent shade to the area, including the one with the large rock head, were removed.
– Open seating adjacent to the Sunshine Tree Terrace was eliminated.
– The architecture of several Adventureland Bazaar buildings underwent a transformation that left them in the form of the Agrabah Bazaar. An original Magic Kingdom shop, Traders of Timbuktu, was replaced by this new development.
With the opening of The Magic Carpets of Aladdin – which was built around an oversized genie’s bottle – in May, 2001, “downtown” Adventureland became a hodgepodge of visual elements that were clearly the products of different planners with different aesthetic agendas at different times. It’s not that the relative proximity of a Genie’s bottle to a Balinese-themed temple is inherently un-Disney or inconsistent with the park’s earliest arrangements of similar/dissimilar motifs. If anything, one could argue the combination is less odd than the juxtaposition of the Mad Tea Party’s Medieval tent in Fantasyland with the stark concrete and glass forms of the Tomorrowland Terrace. What is problematic in central Adventureland, however, is the absence of subtlety, open space and presentational strategy that was worked into earlier park transition zones. Everything from complementary color schemes to consideration of multiple vantage points was a large part of the original Adventureland plan. Between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, the segueway of conflicting themes ultimately fails, but is eased by sculpted hedge forms and wide open spaces. Adventureland had so much going right back in the day, however, and as late as 1991 was still enjoying quality embellishments such as its smooth concrete planters and benches redone in volcanic rock textures as part of a short-lived parkwide effort to enhance existing themes even further. The introduction of the Aladdin ride took back that progress and made a once-majestic landscape feel more like a claustrophobic carnival midway.
Regardless of those alterations, there is still that fantastic treehouse looming on as it has since 1971. A massive concrete, steel and vinyl beacon of immeasurable charm, it calls out to explorers with that simple pipe organ melody churning out eternally from its upper chambers. It might be ridiculous to expect anything greater than that.
* Representatives from Japan and China provided plenty of input that kept the architecture in their respective pavilions from leaning too far in the direction of their neighbors. The fact that there are two African boys playing jazz trumpet on the tusks of an elephant in It’s A Small World is a good indicator that no one from Kenya or Uganda had to sign off on that ride.
** The Adventureland Veranda did reopen briefly in early 1998, but only long enough to serve guests who were not able to obtain meals at the Pecos Bill Cafe, at that time under renovation.
|Additional Adventureland Images, Audio & Video
IMAGES – click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|more to follow…
|AUDIO – click on any of the LP icons or track names below to hear or download audio files
Adventureland Steel Band – Tourist Takeover
1976, mp3 file, 3mb, 2:06, vinyl rip by Mousebits user DisneyFanatic001
|VIDEO – the selections below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)