Extinct WDW Restaurant
Opened: October 1, 1971
All images copyright The Walt Disney Company.
I would like to acknowledge the
|Last Update to this page: February 5, 2011 (additional text, images, audio and video embeds)
Although the Columbia Harbour House always had the most enviable combination of possible factors (including location, theming and second story fascinescence) working to make it the most enigmatic Magic Kingdom restaurant, it spent the first 22 years of its lifespan with the Adventureland Veranda nipping at its heels. This patchwork cathedral of tropical tile patterns, hardwood latticework and French-colonial lighting fixtures was a wonderful place where guests could relax amidst the romanticized sounds of Hawaii and the acclimatized flavors of Asia – just a stone’s throw from the Hub’s canal in one direction and the Swiss Family Treehouse in the other.
Whereas Disneyland’s Adventureland began abruptly beneath a thatched-roof portal just steps away from that park’s hub, with the Enchanted Tiki Room entrance actually positioned before its host land’s borders, in Florida there was such a conscious implementation of pacing that the Adventureland entry bridge deposited visitors at the perimeter of this pleasant eatery (whose architecture spoke passively to the experience ahead), while the branches and boughs of the first attraction still lie many yards ahead down a winding path. With this structure to the right and the edges of a dense jungle to the left, it made for a gradual, enticing setup.
The Veranda building, which has sat relatively untouched since the restaurant closed in July 1994, manages to look Caribbean, Chinese, African and Polynesian all at the same time – depending on one’s vantage point and level of interest. It is perhaps as great an example as any other in the Magic Kingdom of Disney’s ability to interpret popular conceptions of distant locales and, in turn, reinvent those same conceptions. Inside, the furnishings were also melded, with dark wooden paneling, earth-colored tile floors, high ceilings braced by ornate rafters and flowery brass chandeliers. It was a setting of oblique, half-tamed elegance that borrowed from a wider range of influences than I am probably aware even decades after first wondering on the topic.
To the east of the restaurant was an outdoor dining area, the real veranda, that was largely built up on piers that adjoined the canal. In days of yore, a child dining on this side of the building could have easily chucked an egg roll smack into the middle of a passing Swan Boat with little chance of recrimination. To the west of the restaurant was another open-air dining area ensconced within the alcoves opposite the Swiss Family Treehouse, a space which by recent accounts had by late 2010 disappeared due to an expansion of the men’s restroom adjoining the Adventureland/Frontierland breezeway. About midway between the Veranda’s latitudinal boundaries was another patio, a high, glass-ceilinged decagonal space with a brick floor. Nearby, the Aloha Isle juice bar operated (and as of this writing still does) from an enclosed portion of the Veranda’s facade.
|The Adventureland Veranda opened with the park, at which time its menu was described simply as “Polynesian” in most print references. A first-year offering, as detailed in WDW News , was Chicken Fiji. A 1972 entry in that same publication listed the Veranda as serving chicken, ribs and shrimp. In 1976, the park’s guide book read “Polynesian entrees, hot sandwiches and soft drinks in a South Seas setting.”
In October 1977, Japanese soy sauce giant Kikkoman stepped in to fill what seemed like a custom-built sponsorship void. The guide books, however, do not reflect the menu veering off toward anything overtly Asian until 1986, at which time a mention of “oriental sandwiches” hints at the magnetic presence of what we already believe to have been there in 1980, if not sooner … the Teriyaki Burger! This was a piece of probably-not-beef sharing its bun with a slice of pineapple and corn-syrup-sticky teriyaki sauce, a concoction which Kikkoman had perfected in 1961. The Shrimp Fried Rice with Egg Roll or South Seas Fruit Salad were among the other choices for a discerning explorer’s palate. Years before the park ever experimented with waffle fries, the Veranda served the thinnest, soggiest french fries in the world which, when that Teriyaki sauce got all over them, were just amazing. Also worth mentioning is a highly suspect staple of many a childhood Magic Kingdom visit – the Sweet and Sour Hot Dog. That delicacy, unfortunately, did not survive menu changes during the restaurant’s later years.
Below is a representational overview of the Veranda menu from its last year of operation, 1994:
Cast members at the Veranda were bestowed with the double blessing of a relatively tranquil work environment and some of the best costumes in the park. From the mid-70s until April 1994, they wore the outrageous turquoise, green and black outfits that screamed “groovy” with a voice rooted firmly in 1969. It was virtually impossible to look bad in these getups, and for this and other reasons I lament never having worn one during my time as a Kingdom cast member. The costumes were enough to make one overlook the polyester reality, although former cast member Don Gillinger said the mens’ version were not uncomfortable if compared to those just down the street at the Pecos Bill Cafe. The ladies’ version, as shown in photos on this page, was almost as wild as the old Tropical Serenade dresses. Later Veranda costumes, such as those worn at Aloha Isle in the 2000s, did not exude the same wiggy flair.
|Adding to the incomparable atmosphere of the Veranda was its criminally soothing loop of background music. Foremost in my childhood memories are the gentle strains of steel guitar, in songs like “Hawaiian Paradise” and “Blue Hawaii,” that rolled through the dining areas and out onto the Adventureland streets like waves of enchantment. Those tracks and others, which were part of what I’m calling the “Kikkoman Loop” and are detailed further below, were the ones that played for the longest stretch of the Veranda’s operating years.
Research conducted by Foxxfur of Passports to Dreams Old and New, however, revealed in 2008 that there was an earlier loop compiled by the late Jack Wagner (the highly revered “voice of Disneyland/WDW” for decades and the genius who prescribed for the parks so many esoteric compositions) in July 1973. This discovery suggests that the Veranda may have gone without a dedicated BGM track for its first 21 months of operation, but nobody can say for sure. It’s also unlikely that more conclusive information on this point will surface*. Those earliest known tracks had a decidedly more oriental flair to them and included Percy Faith’s “Shrangri-La.”
As for the Kikkoman Loop, I was able to identify some of the tracks as being from conductor and longtime Disney musical collaborator George Bruns’ kind-of-rare Moonlight Time In Old Hawaii LP. Michael Sweeney, a dedicated WDW music researcher and (thankfully) WYW supporter, identified all of the other tracks, and below is a listing of the eleven tracks:
If you want to hear the live version, a link is posted below under audio. These songs were not only easing to the senses, they also made the Veranda safer for diners (generally causing them to chew their food more slowly and thoroughly). The Kikkoman Loop was retired in early 1993. It was replaced by the then-current background track for the majority of Adventureland, a marimba-heavy selection of songs that were more upbeat and less romantic.
Here’s a fun fact about the Veranda: One 1977 version of the Magic Kingdom guide book had, on its Adventureland page, only two pictures of Adventureland and BOTH of them were of the Veranda, which somehow managed to beat out hippos, pirates, tikis and all other manner of exotic imagery. Wow to that!
The Adventureland Veranda entered into a cyclical operating schedule in late 1993, which kept it closed two days out of the week except in peak seasons. Less than a year later, its doors were permanently closed. A similar approach was taken with Liberty Square’s Columbia Harbour House the following year, but that decision was reversed due to apparent guest demands. In early 1998 the Veranda “reopened” in only the most base sense while Frontierland’s Pecos Bill Cafe underwent a major rehab. The menu items were entirely generic renditions of once-exotic plates, meaning hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries – all free of the questionable embellishments this restaurant used to foist upon them. Beyond that, the Veranda has been used on occasion as a staging area for special events such as children’s birthday party packages. One WYW facebook subscriber said the restaurant reopened briefly during the Christmas 2010 season, but I haven’t managed any extra information to that end.
The Veranda presents one of the earlier Magic Kingdom case studies in wtf / are you serious? By closing up shop a few months ahead of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and proceeding to sit empty (save for those occasional special events and a couple peak season stints) for the next sixteen years and counting, this one-time oasis of South Seas languor served as a nice poke in the eye to park visitors who missed both its atmospheric charm and its great menu items. Everyone working in the park at that time knew that the Veranda was closed as means of reducing labor costs – other high-capacity restaurants in the park could take up the slack for a fraction of the staffing demands necessary to keep a completely separate location running on a full schedule. But at what price to the park’s environment? It’s a constant reminder of how a WDW that once infused every possible corner with places to relax and discover unexpected details had set out in the mid-1990s to unceremoniously dismantle as many of those wonderful hideaways as possible**.
That wouldn’t be so obvious if all the Veranda ever consisted of was quiet interior spaces, but the building’s exterior constitutes a quarter of Adventureland’s exterior elevations. And for guests entering from the Hub, it’s the first quarter. So whereas the average building on Main Street USA still houses some ground-level approachability for those wanting to see what lies within, the ex-Veranda building has managed to offer nothing more than closed doors and shuttered windows for a seeming eternity … babies born when the Veranda closed are now driving cars and the average dog born at that time has gone on to meet its maker. People have been walking past a closed Adventureland Veranda for more years than they’ve been riding past that weird “hair salon” scene on the Peoplemover.
It’s surprising that 2005’s Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom, which in many instances serves up great accounts of how WDI “plussed” Adventureland with a flood of theming debacles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, resisted the urge to assign a backstory to the Veranda’s closure. Surely there’s some legend-worthy reason behind a fake proprietors’ decision to shut the place down or some show writer who drafted an account of how having the restaurant boarded up serves a useful purpose in Adventureland’s “big picture?” Okay, that isn’t completely fair, since 20K proved a major point about how WDW as its own entity had by 1994 ceased to care about how WDI would run the Kingdom. So even though much of what Imagineering did to the park past that point was indefensible, there’s no evidence that they wanted the Veranda itself closed. The silver lining here is that by ceasing to staff the restaurant when it did, WDW made it less likely that the operation would be renamed Jafar’s and serve Agrabah Burgers and Iago Dogs.
* There are plenty of archaeologists out there looking for dinosaur bones and mummies, yet so few trying to shake far more important park BGM information out of old WED recording engineers who might be able to clear this shit up.
** Someone realized around 1995 that a lot of the park’s interior spaces previously marked for merchandise or food sales would make great stockrooms, which they then became.
|Adventureland Veranda Images, Audio & Video
ADDITIONAL IMAGES – click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|AUDIO – click on the LP icons or track names below to hear or download audio files|
Adventureland Veranda Background Music (live recording)
|VIDEO – the selections below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
I wish I’d shot more video inside the Veranda when it was still operational, especially of the counter area. But the problem with that would be the same today as it was in 1991 – it’s hard to point a tripod and camera in the direction of that many employees without attracting unwanted attention. And it doesn’t take long before one of them will wander over and ask if they can help you, and there goes the usefulness of your recording. Try explaining to a Foods Lead that you’re trying to capture the gestalt of the establishment vs. stalking one of the hostesses.