Last Update to this page: November 28, 2016
NOTE: Most of this page deals with the first 25 years of the Jungle Cruise. References to the ride’s post-1996 state may not accurately reflect its current appearance or details. This page also doesn’t factor in “The Jingle Cruise” version of the ride since I haven’t seen it yet.
Walt Disney World’s Jungle Cruise, the best version of the ride ever built, has seen ZERO new scenes added between 1971 and 2015 and is STILL better than the California, Tokyo and Hong Kong versions. Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise has seen so much new and switched-up content since 1955 that, even knowing pretty much what the changes were, the thought of tracking them chronologically is exhausting to me. But in Florida we’ve only seen queue upgrades, new boats and spiel changes. Not a single new animated figure has been introduced to the ride in over 40 years and some were actually removed. So for it to still be the best version means that it must have opened in a nearly perfect state of existence, which was pretty much the case. And before you say that it’s a matter of opinion, allow me to remind you that I’m right. Aside from appearing to be more spread out over a larger area, not very much about Walt Disney World’s Jungle Cruise would have tipped 1971 guests off to any big differences between itself and the Disneyland original. The queue building and dock area looked similar to California’s, just wider. As for the ride, a series of scene variations between DL and WDW appeared as the Florida boats drifted into the Amazon and the Congo rivers, but point-for-point there was a fairly balanced set of disparate vignettes. WDW had several new scenes designed specifically for its ride, but California’s version still started off with a trip past gorgeous Asian ruins that were conspicuously absent in Florida until the final third of the journey. That’s when WDW played its ace with the flooded Cambodian temple and made DL’s crumbling columns and ancient statuary seem understated in comparison. WDW took its Jungle Cruise riders right INTO the the ruins’ inky black heart with no assurances as to what lie ahead and claimed the prize for mystique and drama with a Haunted Mansion-y, dark ride twist. Bravo, Marc Davis, bravo.
That temple comes out of this long-winded “tribute” covered in laurels since this site is all about seminal aspects of WDW that are (or at least once were) unique to Florida. Below you can also find a rundown of other WDW Jungle Cruise scenes that had not yet been discussed much, or at all, online prior to the first version of this page. Some appeared in the ride upon its opening in 1971 and remain, some were only ever realized in California during a 1976 rehab, one was adapted for use elsewhere in the Magic Kingdom and one only existed for a few months in Florida before being dismantled … and never appeared elsewhere. And since JC was one of the WDW attractions I worked as an MK West ‘Operations host’ in the 1980s, there is also some sentimentality buried in the neverending paragraphs.
The first Jungle Cruise was an original component of Disneyland, which opened in July 1955. Culling thematic material from Disney’s True-Life Adventures series (specifically The African Lion, which would be released in theaters that same year) and 1951’s The African Queen, artist Harper Goff, landscaper Bill Evans and engineer Bob Mattey were key members of the team crafting a “Tropical Rivers of the World” ride. Goff was instrumental in persuading Walt Disney to abandon early plans to populate the river and its banks with live animals and turn to robotic substitutes.* While the ride’s name changed, the basic concept – intrepid skippers chartering boats full of guests down the Mekong, Amazon, Congo and Nile for encounters with creatures both exotic and threatening – was in place at the offset and prevails to the present day.
Early WDW publicity materials and models show that the Jungle Cruise was part of the WDW Phase One Master Plan from the project’s first iteration. The Magic Kingdom was intended to be an upgraded version of Disneyland that would also handle a larger number of visitors. The Florida Jungle Cruise added roughly one minute’s worth of additional trip time over DL’s nine-minute expedition and also included two more boats, in its fleet of sixteen, than the original. A more significant difference in WDW’s version was that Marc Davis was the primary designer of the overall experience, while at Disneyland his influence did not set in on the ride until 1964, when figures fleshing out his comical touch were added in the form of the Indian elephant bathing pool, the rhinoceros and trapped safari and an expanded African Veldt. Those same scenes appeared in Florida but they were mixed in with a number of other all-new elements that included Inspiration Falls, giant butterflies, pygmy war canoes, gorillas ransacking a safari camp, a huge (really huge) python, a Bengal tiger, cobras guarding ancient treasure and a family of monkeys fooling around with the same loot. So it’s a VERY Davis ride that Florida guests enjoyed from the start, along with a spiel that contained more levity than the DL original.
* This made Goff one of the first theme park geniuses to champion mechanical wildlife over the tedious real thing, which would often be sleeping out of guests’ view and costing a fortune in food and veterinary care.
Marc Davis – Tiger in Cambodian temple c. 1969
Here’s an early description of the attraction from the April 1971 edition of a WDW pre-opening newsletter called Walt Disney World News:
JUNGLE CRUISE – Exciting Voyage On Twisting “Danger-Filled” Rivers
“Take a last look at civilization … you may never see it again,” smiles the youthful skipper of the Adventureland jungle launch, a slight ominous hint in his jocular words of caution. With that warning, passengers aboard the unique river launch will take their “final” look at the two-story riverfront building that hugs the shore in Adventureland, serving as the boarding station, and their boat will chug quietly away from the wharf. They are embarking on a high adventure in an exciting voyage along twisting and “danger-filled” rivers that wind through impenetrable and exotic jungles, the African veldt and ancient Cambodian ruins. Along the way they will be threatened by fearsome natives and charging hippos, watch members of a lion family gorge themselves on a fresh kill and delight to the antics of a talking parrot that takes disparaging issue with the crocodiles that surround his tenuous and tiny tree-top sanctuary. This is the “Jungle Cruise” in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park, and, like its namesake at Disneyland in California, the attraction is expected to be one of the most popular in the Magic Kingdom. The cruise will feature many new and different scenes and situations, however, including the ruins. The Magic Kingdom, a park similar in design and concept to Disneyland, is the focal point of the 2,500 first phase of the Walt Disney World “Vacation Kingdom,” due to open in central Florida in October. Guests aboard any of of sixteen 30-passenger jungle river launches will travel through jungles reminiscent of the tropical regions of Africa, South America and Asia, and through the grasslands of southern Africa’s veldt. They will come face-to-face with a gigantic python, be menaced by trumpeting African elephants – their ears billowing as they prepare to charge the boat – and they will pass under the plunging, thundering waters of Albert Schweitzer Falls, so close – in fact – that passengers can reach out and feel the mist from the churning falls. In an exotic rain forest, guests will be treated to the croaking antics of giant frogs, as big as Boston bulldogs, and the fragile beauty of butterflies as large as seagulls, as their launches glide quietly past numerous waterfalls and through a foreboding fog that undulates across the river. But the “Jungle Cruise” will have its moments of humor, too. Moments after their boat passes close to a hissing 25-foot python draped in the branches of a tree, guests will be treated to a scene of madcap merriment as a band of exuberant gorillas takes over a deserted safari camp. Farther along the river, as hosts of lifelike jungle animals watch from the terraced veldt, set among multi-hued rock formations, a frenzied rhinoceros keeps tenacious watch at the base of the tree where he has forced an entire safari party to seek refuge. As the boat passes through the center of a huge elephant pool, passengers will be entertained by the “shower singing” of an Indian elephant as he sits and soaks in the waterfalls of his jungle spa. Nearby, a baby pachyderm is playfully squirting water into the opening mouth of a docile crocodile. Amid all the excitement, there are the sounds of the jungle animals, including the noisy but unseen claw and fang combat of two ferocious jungle cats. Nearby, natives rise from the undergrowth, threatening with spears poised, while back around the last bend painted warriors continue the ritual of their ceremonial dances near burning skulls, swaying to the mysterious throbbing of tribal drums. A highlight of the “Jungle Cruise” will be a trip through the ancient Cambodian ruins, inhabited by giant spiders, a menacing tiger, prankster monkeys and larger-than-life king cobras that sway hypnotically in front of the treasure they guard. And waiting around the final bend to welcome guests back to civilization is “Salesman Sam,” the South American headhunter, dangling his copious supply of shrunken heads, attempting to entice guests to either become a purchaser or a “purchase.” “Sam,” as well as most of the natives and animals in the “Jungle Cruise,” are products of “Audio-Animatronics,” a sophisticated Disney-patented system that gives lifelike actions to three-dimensional figures. “Audio-Animatronics” is a unique application of space-age electronics, combining and synchronizing voices, music and sound effects with the movement of animated objects.
The Jungle Cruise will be one of approximately 40 attractions awaiting guests in the Magic Kingdom when it opens in October.
That WDW News description suggested that the Jungle Cruise would be equal parts fierceness and silliness, which is more or less how it turned out. But some of the terminology was off (“Salesman Sam” turned out to be “Trader Sam” in the first 20 years’ worth of spiels and the falls’ Christian name would be dropped) and those African elephants ended up more demure in their behavior. And if you caught mention of a few elements that are completely unfamiliar to you, like the flaming skulls, parrot and the bullfrogs, explanations will follow below.
Construction of the ride began, as it did in most other sections of the park, in Spring of 1969. An aerial photo below shows the state of the ride in April 1971. The Cambodian ruins were basically completed, Schweitzer Falls’ rockwork was finished and about half of the ride’s vegetation had been planted. At that time 135 animated figures were still being tooled at Glendale, California’s WED Enterprises and its MAPO division. Some others were being crafted at Bud Washo’s Staff Shop in Dr. Phillips, Florida – about a ten minute drive from the park. In place of some beasts were wooden flats, seen below lining the shores of the veldt, serving as placeholders for the animatronics. This made the flats “fake fakes,” which would be of interest to Vinyl Leaves author Stephen Fjellman or disciples of Philip K. Dick but probably less captivating to normal people… even though you, as a WYW reader, do not likely fit the description of normal. Also visible is the concrete riverbed, which averages three to four feet deep and is divided down the middle by a narrow, six-foot-deep trough. Guide poles from the underside of the boats are attached to rubber tires that rest in the trough, which is what prevents the boats from slamming into the shoreline or spinning in circles, as was known to occasionally happen with the
Plaza Swan Boats or the Mike Fink Keelboats.
Above: 1) Bill Justice and Marc Davis with a model of WDW’s Jungle Cruise c. 1970, 2) Jungle Cruise blueprint of Cambodian Temple, 1970, 3) Jungle Cruise construction April 1971, 4) Detail of African Veldt scene from same photo, 5) WED sculptor with monkey figures for temple and gorilla camp scenes and 6) this other guy painting the tiger bound for the temple scene
The Jungle Cruise opened with the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. The attraction was approachable from the same two points as it is today, via a ramped passage from the north and another ramp (by 1973 replaced with steps) from the northeast that lead to an airy plaza which abuts the queue building and a canal-side deck that originally served as a seating area for the adjacent Oasis snack bar. The sloped pathways brought guests down roughly fifteen feet from the main Adventureland street level. Although the Oasis structure remains, in 1997 the seating area was given over to Shrunken Ned’s Junior Jungle Boats, a remote control boat game that occupies a portion of the Plaza Swan Boats canal between the Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse. The plaza was also the original home of Adventureland drumming tikis that later became water elements on the upper Adventureland pathway facing the Enchanted Tiki Room; in their downhill configuration they formed a circle into which guests could venture and get drummed at from all sides. The entrance is still in the same basic place as when first built but the immediate surroundings have changed. The original I.D. sign was a completely rectangular piece mounted to the queue building’s second story north-facing exterior wall, replaced a few years in by a mostly green, vaguely art nouveau version, shown below directly over the entrance. That sign lasted from until a major October 1991 rehab. Then a larger sign came in, consisting of a weathered board with spears sticking out of it. The current sign, tiny compared to its predecessors, arrived in 2000 with the Fastpass changes that shook up the queue structure’s facade and functionality.** The nice “Jungle Navigation Co. LTD” mural (also shown below) disappeared when Fastpass came in, as did a cargo truck that had also arrived in 1994. Fastpass didn’t even last very long at WDW’s Jungle Cruise, but once everything was moved around for it, the changes stuck.
Along with the Country Bear Jamboree, the Hall of Presidents, The Haunted Mansion and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, the Jungle Cruise was one of the first-year E-ticket attractions with a queue that routinely spilled out beyond the formal entry area during the park’s first few years. The two-story entrance building originally sported a split-level queue area, with two separate stairwells that would take guests to and from a covered second floor space from which they could take in a fantastic view of the jungle, looking down onto the little riverside hut on stilts that faces the loading dock, and boats heading into the dense forest canopy of the Amazon. Unfortunately I have not yet seen photographic proof of the upstairs being used by guests, although I did spend time up there as a cast member and saw how it easily COULD have served the purpose, so there’s a matter that may never be resolved. Either way, the original waiting space wasn’t enough to absorb the excessive first-year crowds and soon an additional first-floor queue space was built due west of the main queue structure. That annex was built at the same time as the adjacent Caribbean Plaza area (and from the main Adventureland street looks like Caribbean Plaza as well), being completed c. December 1973. The stairwells were removed and the second floor outlook became a storage space for extra seat cushions from the boats. The drumming tikis moved up the hill at the same time (but didn’t suffer the indignity of being made to squirt water until 1998).
The Jungle Cruise entrance c. 1977, when strollers were only used for babies, not for anyone
under the age of 16 who didn’t feel like walking or for personal luggage transport
The original (1971) downhill location of the drumming tikis that once formed a circle and later (1973) moved up to Adventureland street level, low-res photo taken from a WDW
View Master reel projected on a wall
Original (1971) Jungle Cruise queue building mural that disappeared when FastPass kiosk
were installed in 2000
The queue annex that was added in 1973, photographed c. 1995
Standing in the Jungle Cruise queue was a pretty boring affair prior to that 1991 rehab. O
nce guests crossed the threshold they were faced with a series of switchbacks, twists and turns that led past bare walls, other guests and occasional glimpses of the river. There was no background music at that time either, so if the queue was full it promised a lot of nothing. DL’s Jungle Cruise queue is now closer to the full embodiment of how cool a ride’s waiting space can be, but Florida’s 1991 upgrade did include queue music interspersed with radio commentary by Albert AWOL, “the voice of the jungle.” A bunch of visual enhancements were also made at that same time, from a series of new destination-based wall murals to the artifact-laden “office” in the center of the queue. All good stuff, most of which is still there. By the way, the MK Imagineering Field Guide book was wrong about several things regarding this and other rides. Among the errors was the statement that the big queue area rehab took place in 1994. The Jungle Cruise did have a 1994 rehab but that wasn’t when the queue area effects popped up – all of the upgrades reference on page 41 of that guide were present as of November 16, 1991.
Across the river from the dock is one of two man-made, tree-smothered islands that form the jungle interior and separate various segments of the river from others. Sounds of jungle birds and crickets stream constantly from the greenery. Prefacing all that foliage, a thatched-roof shack rests on a wooden pier. For 20 years it was a subtly-themed structure – some fishing nets, a hammock and hanging fruit. In 1991 its exterior was blanketed with supplies and equipment: barrels, nets, a gun rack, pith helmet, jacket, rope, a crutch, lanterns and a fishing pole among them (in the 1970s, if WED wanted to “plus” this scene they would have added an animated parrot or something else of relative substance, whereas in the 1990s WDW just threw props and junk onto stuff to the point of overkill and seemed pretty happy with the results). A small outrigger canoe with a hand-painted sail is moored off the pier’s western exposure, at the entrance to a shady inlet that leads to a picturesque little waterfall. A curtain is partially drawn in the shack’s doorway, revealing the edge of a bed but little else. Later (1994) additions to the once-serene habitat include a chair on the roof and a sign reading “KEEP OUT!” These suggest that something is amiss, as do a couple wooden grave markers on the adjacent shoreline. Whatever its story, the shack remains a cool, ever-present curiosity since the Jungle Cruise’s first days. Its details hint at mystery lying downriver. Between the shack and the load dock is the spur line dock that divides the main boat track from the spur line track where up to two boats could be positioned prior to the ride’s opening (on the spur line vs. in the backstage boat maintenance area), thereby making it faster to increase the number of “live” boats when attendance so dictates. A similar setup was used at 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Fantasyland, which shared many operational features with the Jungle Cruise. Guests in the queue eventually find their attention drawn to the boats cycling through the water in front of them. Facing the river, at their far left is the Unload area where boats returning from the jungle dock and dismiss their riders. Closer in is the jog area, where skippers rest their voices or switch out duty with other skippers. It’s also where they reloaded their revolvers back in the day. Right in front of guests at the end of their wait is the Load area, where they are greeted by their pilot.
Except for a period between 1975 and 1976 when female employees were introduced to the ride as hostesses, the Jungle Cruise was exclusively male-staffed from 1971 to 1995. On May 21 1995, the ride reopened from a large rehab with its first female lead (an individual who supervises a work group on-site and a title that has since been retired at WDW and maybe even by now brought back). By that September she and four other women were training to pilot the boats. In less than a year the ride was often staffed by as many (or more) females than males. It seemed like it would make for an interesting shift in the ride’s character, because – as was the case with Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, WDW’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes and Mike Fink Keelboats – the maleness of the operation had once been a distinguishing feature. It wasn’t a vital feature but was in keeping with cinematic and televised stereotypes of the time as far as jungle explorers went. Only a fraction of the ride’s male cast members ever really fit that “explorer” persona and that’s the case with the female skippers as well. Some seem to be a great fit for their jobs and others simply DO their jobs. Having both sexes work the ride, therefore, was a sensible decision that made no measurable changes to the overall nature of the attraction.
Every skipper welcomes waiting guests onto their boats in groups of (in the original boats) up to 32. Riders are helped aboard by two employees on the dock who will channel them through one of two entry points in a boat’s starboard side. The original Florida ride vehicles closely resembled the DL originals – each was covered with a brightly striped canopy (red and white, blue and white or green and white). Along the interior perimeter of each vessel was a row of vinyl cushioned seating. There was also a short center row that directly abutted the engine compartment (hidden beneath a steamer engine facade). The boats ran on natural gas and when I started working at the attraction in 1986, they were equipped with four-cylinder, 60 horsepower Chevette engines. At the bow end was the wheel and a basic console with the throttle, microphone, lighting controls, a wooden ammo box, a Smith and Wesson .38 special, its holster and a lanyard that kept the guns from tumbling into the water or being appropriated by mischievous guests. In October 2000 the boats were replaced with near-clones that replicate the modern-day Disneyland version, which themselves had appeared in 1997. The most obvious change was the conversion to an earth-tone color scheme and the addition of multiple props, spread across the boats, underscoring the notion that the boats transported cargo and supplies to various points on the river. The real guns were replaced with fakes. Gone were the brightly colored canopies, vinyl seat cushions and rudders. The original names of the sixteen boats in the WDW Jungle Cruise fleet: Amazon Annie, Bomokandi Bertha, Congo Connie, Ganges Gertie, Irrawaddy Irma, Kwango Kate, Mongola Millie, Nile Nellie, Orinoco Ida, Rutshuru Ruby, Sankuru Sadie, Senegal Sal, Ucyali Lolly, Volta Val, Wamba Wanda and Zambesi Zelda. If any of those have changed in the new century, I’m unaware of it.
UNIMPORTANT NOTE: Anyone seated on the outer edge of the boats can take in at least half of the ride’s scenery from a nice vantage point. Then there are those guests who are seated on the center cushion. It’s the worst place ever to sit. Sorry.
The boat’s skipper will typically by this point have begun talking with the passengers. The spiel that skippers have laid out for them when they are trained to work the ride has varied several times over the years. There is the original 1971 version that adhered closely to the 1960s Disneyland model, then some minor modifications that led to the 1991 version, which has itself seen some minor adjustments leading to the current version, give or take the truth. The tone has remained just slightly offbeat on paper even though the focus veered toward environmentalism in the later edits. Its effect is governed almost exclusively by your skipper’s delivery. There are detailed accounts of the spiel itself to be found elsewhere online, so it isn’t covered here except in passing. Suffice it to say that a skipper with an aptitude for using the ‘script’ as clay for their own creation can make for a very entertaining trip. An opportunity for gauging how well things will go comes as the boats depart civilization and venture into the heart of the Amazonian rain forest. Then skippers – free from an audience of co-workers – set the tone for the rest of the ride with something of relative substance around them on which to discourse. They can stick to the script and comment on the fact that everything in the Amazon, such as the butterflies, grows larger than life, or they could elaborate with a warning that the butterflies are capable of flapping a human to death in ten seconds. Or they may abandon all predictability and ad-lib the whole thing in a minimalist fashion … uttering a few barely audible lines when it suits them and then staring at you silently for a short eternity. If your skipper can make you a little uneasy, respect that.
The first minute’s worth of ride time in WDW’s version of the Jungle Cruise is a triumph of staging that takes guests seamlessly from the promise of the half-civilized dock area to untamed realms of nature. The Amazon environment was unique to Florida prior to Tokyo Disneyland’s 1983 opening, and Tokyo Disneyland’s Amazon leg is abbreviated by half. WDW’s Amazon was originally covered by a man-made armature that allowed the live plant material – as well as synthetic supplements – to form a dense green canopy over the winding river. Mist fell gently from the overhead growth, combining with some of Disney’s typically phenomenal audio augmentation (in this instance an instrumental loop of Debussy-esque flute warbles) to create a beautiful and subdued sense of the unknown. Massive butterflies populate logs and rocks on both sides of the river … wings gently waving to showcase their majestic coloring. The butterflies remain, and sometimes their wings still move, but the overhead canopy that added so much to the atmosphere in this area was removed during a rehab in 2000. You know the planet is doomed when even Disney’s Amazon gets deforested.
Midway down the Amazon, the canopy parted at the base of Inspiration Falls. Anyone can tell you that the falls, consisting of multiple cascades spread across a blue-grey outcropping of moss-covered rock rising some twelve feet above the river, were so named because they inspire explorers to venture deeper into the jungle. Skippers usually slowed the boat down here (and often still do), trying to elicit some reverent “oohs and “aahs” from their crew before proceeding beneath the second and final canopy which, like the first, is now gone.
This span of river between Inspiration Falls and the headwaters of the Congo is littered with a few safari props (a later addition) and accompanied by the sound of unseen frogs. While this area was originally going to feature a Marc Davis gag way more zany than frogs, the frogs actually did exist – hence the reference to bullfrogs in the above pre-opening ride description. I had reason to suspect this was true since 1986, but it took 20 years to get the matter resolved. Back when I was trained to work the ride, I saw several attraction maps that were labeled, “Key Plan – Animated Figure Location.” Below is one that I scanned and cleaned up a little (click the image for a larger version). There are notations for figures F21, F21A through F21D, F22 and F22A through F22E. But there were no figures in those locations and the maps didn’t indicate what they were supposed to be. The Jungle Cruise maintenance manual proved the the frogs had been built via black and white images, but by all indications they were never actually installed. Countless inquiries later, a firsthand confirmation that the frogs were once in the ride finally materialized in 2007 via a co-founder of WDW’s Artist Prep department named Lee Nesler. Nesler related, through former WDW cast member Dave Ensign, that those frogs were an original (1971) Jungle Cruise component. He said, however, that then-WDW Operations chief Dick Nunis believed the frogs looked “hokey,” so they were removed just a few months into the ride’s tenure. They were never used again. All that remains now is the sound of their croaking (see audio link at the bottom of this page) and one cousin who hopped away to another corner of the park. His story will continue later.
Even though no one expects WDW will ever put frogs back into the ride, it is now possible for the world to see some of them in perpetuity. The third image below is a documentation photo from Imagineering. It shows a mother frog and two juveniles perched with toadstools atop a fake rock. The fourth image is a detail from the ride’s maintenance manual. Click on the images for closer looks; these frogs were not only cuter than cute, they moved! The adults opened their mouths and actually distended their vocal sacs, while the small ones rocked backward and forward on their legs. If that’s hokey, so be it. Also included is an equally rare bit of Davis concept art that was generously contributed by an anonymous supporter. Even weirder than the frogs, actually, was a concept Marc Davis came up with for some carnivorous vegetation, but that’s a story for another day.
You can (and should) read and see a lot more relating to the frogs on my associate Foxxfur’s fantastic Passport to Dreams Old & New blog post, which also includes a link to some so-rare-it-hurts film footage of the frogs from Todd McCartney’s excellent Retro WDW site:
One might infer from all of this that the Amazon guests see now is a fraction of its former self. It remains, nonetheless, a well-orchestrated prelude to the larger animals and action ahead. In a way, the enveloping canopy once foreshadowed the boats’ upcoming foray into the Cambodian temple just as Inspiration Falls is still a rippling forecast of Schweitzer Falls.
The Amazon bleeds into the Congo with the sight of pygmy war canoes sitting empty on a white sandy beach. The skipper typically mentions that each canoe is capable of holding 300 pygmies, intimating that 900 could be nearby and possibly lying in wait. Guests try to pass unnoticed but soon hear the sounds of tribal drums breaking from the undergrowth. The first sound, it turns out, is a call, and a response comes from another side of the beach. As this plays out back and forth, it seems certain that the boat’s presence has been detected. The spiel once had skippers try to interpret the drumming (it translated as an invitation to dinner) but in the end this vacated vignette turns out to be nothing more than a distraction. With their attention drawn back into the shadows of the trees around the canoes, it is that much easier for the massive python just ahead to scare the baby jesus out of the skipper and her/his passengers.
The yellow and brown constrictor, which is twisted poetically around the trunk and branches of a dead tree in the shallows, descends (as an idea) from a less-imposing snake that appeared in DL’s Jungle Cruise for many years as part of the Cambodian ruins scene. Although it barely moves, the size and convincing profile of the Florida serpent are sufficient to raise hairs on the neck of someone seated on that side of the boat; their faces will come within a few scant feet of the python’s probing tongue. Its skin tone has varied since 1971, arguably becoming more realistic. All these years later, it has yet to apply the “Congo Squeeze” to a single passenger. The snake was, however, added to DL’s ride in 1976, where it became the source of some contemplation for water buffalo. The river turns again to the right, and the skipper prepares to make a quick stop at camp for supplies. This sets up the first of Marc Davis’ new-for-Florida, full-blown sight gags, the gorillas in the camp. The first thing you can see off the starboard bow is a flipped blue jeep with its front wheels still spinning, its tracks fresh in the sand. Cans and boxes are scattered along the shoreline and inside the square-framed yellow tent … a group of great apes making themselves at home. A huge male stands upright at a wall-hung mirror, trying on a pith helmet. A mother sits atop a pile of crates in the back corner, a baby swinging from her outstretched arms. Two juveniles have appropriated firearms; one is a half-step short of taking a stray shot toward the boat, the other about to blow its own face off. You can barely hear them from the boat, especially if you have a loud engine or chatty skipper, but the gorillas are most assuredly grunting happily over their newfound toys.
Immediately following the camp scene, on the same side of the river, there is a hollowed-out rock at the water’s edge. If you ever rode the Walt Disney World Railroad and saw a door in the back of a rock as you looked toward the perimeter of the Jungle Cruise, you were looking at the back side of this same structure. The last time I saw this it was covered in vines. Skippers periodically reference this as the world’s largest pet rock. The reason there is a big useless stone mass in that spot, or more pointedly the reason why it was conceived and built but perpetually puzzling, is that an extension of the gorilla scene had been designed by Marc Davis and marked for a home in that rock. It was going to be another big gorilla swinging out over the water, pummeling a crocodile that was stupid enough to swim within reach.
By 1968, when Florida’s Jungle Cruise was being master-planned, Davis knew that the medium of three-dimensional animation could be pushed further than it had been even in recent attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean. He intended to explore wider ranges of motion in the Pirates-like Western River Expedition (where can-can girls would throw their legs skyward for the entertainment of cowboys) and, to a slightly lesser extent, in WDW’s Jungle Cruise. Any Disney maintenance person could tell you that a mechanical gorilla clobbering a mechanical crocodile every 30 seconds for eight to sixteen hours a day would generate some serious wear on the parts, so certainly there was no intention of having the figures make real contact. The gag, however, would have approximated that effect and remained part of the WDW plan as one of several elements that the ride’s original animated figure location plan marked as “in at Year 2.”
Unless “Year 2” actually meant 2072, plans for dropping the ape into the rock dissipated before the ride’s first big rehab in 1975. The infrastructure remained, however, and included the first dip in the riverbed (as shown in the photo below) that would have provided space for the crocodile’s support framework. As with the python, the gorilla camp scene – including the gorilla vs. crocodile vignette – made its way to Disneyland in 1976. But the California crocodile didn’t get brained by the monkey, he just came in close like he wanted to grab a banana. The scene was reworked in 2005 and the croc was purged from the setting, leaving the gorilla to contemplate a bunch of bananas atop a floating crate … ugh … so sad. Tokyo still has both the ape and the crocodile the last time I checked. At WDW, a battered croc’s flailing tail would have signaled the end of the Congo and a transition to the north-flowing currents of the Nile. To some extent the Nile is the least ambitious river in the Florida version’s arsenal, as it largely mimics scenes that were already to be found at DL in 1971. It may have amped up the aesthetics, specifically in the form of designer Fred Joerger’s fantastic rockwork for the African Veldt scenery and Schweitzer Falls, but almost all of the WDW Nile concepts had been test-driven before.
First is a pair of African bull elephants, which are arguably boring even though they shouldn’t be. If, like it was suggested by the pre-opening teaser above and by the upper-crust toucan Claude in the nearby Tropical Serenade’s pre-show, the elephants “bellowed forth,” then maybe they’d feel more special. But all they do is blow their noses loudly and stay put. Even when they had red eyes, in the earliest years, there was no threat of them entering the water and causing panic. The scene works better in California because you can see more of the animals than in Florida, where sometimes – as the unintended end result of foliage left unchecked – it has looked like the elephants are just sticking their heads through the leaves to be silly. This perception is only furthered by the fact that – although they are positioned on opposite sides of the river – the elephants don’t face each other. They are the only Jungle Cruise animals that might actually be appreciated more wholly, in their live form, at Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris.
The elephants are followed by another fine rock formation off the starboard bow. At DL this became the roost of a baboon family, and the Florida version was indeed at some point prepared for the insertion of those same animals even though the animation diagram does not attest to the physical proof. Alas, here the rock is just a bookend that momentarily hides gnus and giraffes from guests’ sight. They are revealed as part of an agreeable panorama that is also home to zebras, impala, vultures and, comprising the opposite bookend, the craggy hangout of a lion pride. This African Veldt yields a pleasant vista even though the scene conveys no real levity (outside of playful lion cubs) or tension. Depending on which skipper you listen to, the lions are either “protecting a sleeping zebra” or feasting bloodlessly on the same striped prey. What guests witness here is a rare entry in Disney attractions: an afterward scene without a visual punchline. All of the key action has already occurred on the Veldt and everything has come to a standstill; the lions have made their kill and are clustered around it quietly, the hoofed animals have determined that it’s safe to go back to eating greenery and the vultures are simply waiting for their turn. With no momentum, this is the Magic Kingdom equivalent of a Smithsonian diorama and, as the skippers will often relate, illustrates “the basic law of the jungle … survival of the fittest.”
The boats make a hard turn around the lions’ cave and swing up on the trapped safari scene. Before you even see what’s happening here you can hear a clan of hyenas yelping. Then you find out that they’re spectators, along with some more zebras and gazelle, to a massive rhinoceros who has run five members of a safari up the trunk of a dead tree. At its apex is a ‘great white hunter’ in a pith helmet, whose jockeying for the top spot appears a likely commentary on his bravery or lack theroef. Below him, four associates crowd in looking for extra room. For the ride’s first 25 years, these were four black porters in khaki uniforms and red hats. When the rhino lunged forward and raised its horn, the porters would rise upward in succession, in past tense here only because in later times there was not always discernible motion. This scene is Marc Davis at the top of his form, and it provides a perfect counterpoint to how “serious” the Veldt scene was.
In 1996 the porters were changed from blacks to caucasians and each was given a different outfit (one fez remained). The foreground was toyed with to make it look a little more like a camp site, and the top of the tree was saddled with an aerial platform … not the perch of a hunting party, apparently, but of a film crew. At first I wasn’t exactly sure what to infer from this revisionism other than that it was a misguided stab at political correctness. The sight of a white man trekking through the African jungle with a host of dark-skinned bearers may smack of colonialism, but the music in the ride’s queue area – added just a couple years before the rhino scene was updated – suggests that the visual was consistent with the thematic era. If your skipper tells a joke about Tyrion Lannister and Nikki Haley, then you know it’s not the 1930s. We don’t, however, want to see a group of explorers – skin color aside – wearing ball caps, Etnies or A$AP Rocky shirts on the Jungle Cruise. Khaki uniforms are timeless in their own way, and the ones employed in the original scene were maybe more 1960s Uganda than 1936 Kenya, so the real issue here must be the white man’s pith helmet, the only element that was decidedly dated when the ride opened. The 1996 change was clearly an effort, maybe well-intentioned, to keep the porters’ skin color from seeming to be an integral part of the scene’s comic relief. Nonetheless, something tells me they should have left this scene alone, and that something may be no more than the realization that it just looked better before. It was more Africa and less a thematic crime scene left by people who substitute props for ideas and use heads that weren’t sculpted for the Jumgle Cruise on the bodies of figures that belong there in the first place. Plus I used to feel sorry for those guys when I thought their “leader” led them into trouble only to scramble up the tree before them. Now I wouldn’t care if they all fell and got trampled.
Next up: waterborne perils! They start with a pair of extra-large crocodiles, flashing their pearly whites on a beach flanked by ivory-colored native totems. The larger of the crocs, on the left, was nicknamed Old Smiley and measures about fifteen feet in length. His companion was often Gertrude in the 1970s and 1980s, more likely now to be Ginger (she snaps). The twosome hiss harmoniously at passing boats and, unlike those African elephants, appear to be potential threats. They are in fact jointly responsible for a surfeit of shorthand teachers across the globe.
Straight ahead lies majestic Schweitzer Falls, a beautifully realized scenic device that doubles as a huge pump to keep the river’s 1,750,000 gallons of water circulating. Skippers feign panic as the boats momentarily appear to be headed right into the deluge, then they pull off a hard starboard turn that only exposes guests on the port side to a minor spray. This is typically the only point in the Jungle Cruise where guests will see another boat (outside of the dock area), as the track bends back beneath Schweitzer Falls – providing everyone with a glimpse of the legendary back side of water – after completing a loop around the smaller of the ride’s two aforementioned islands. This configuration makes the river one of the Magic Kingdom’s three lopsided “figure eight” bodies of water, along with the Rivers of America and the Hub canal. It has been written on other websites that JC employees refer to the two islands as Manhattan and Catalina. That may be true. I can state without hesitation, however, that if a skipper was overheard calling either of the islands by either of those nicknames when I worked there, they would have been laughed at.
The passage into the hippo pool was originally attended by nothing but the recorded sound of crickets. The back half of an airplane was placed among the trees in 1994 (thereby making it safe for future scenic crews to scatter garbage in other parts of the jungle and call it “art direction”). The front half of the plane is positioned 4.4 miles to the southeast, where it repeatedly interrupts Humphrey Bogart as he sets Ingrid Bergman straight on matters of love and Paris.***
Skippers belie their misgivings about hippopotami just before the creatures surface, ears twitching, on both sides of the boat. There are eleven in total, adults and juveniles, and although they are cute it appears from the aggression of two full-size versions (mouths agape) that they wouldn’t mind taking some guests down for the count. At this point skippers draw their pistols and pump the charging hippos full of hot lead. Actually just one imaginary slug per beast, but even that was for some time deemed too questionable. In 1999 the guns were removed, then they came back but the skippers weren’t allowed to shoot directly at the hippos. They became warning shots fired into the heavens which, as anyone who has been to Africa can tell you, is at best the third-most effective way to calm down a herd of river horses. The first and most direct method, which to my knowledge was only attempted once during the ride’s history, is for the skipper to dive into the water with a rubber knife between his teeth and stab the hippos into submission. The second is to shoot them right in the *ing face, as it was done back in the day. This was not anti-environmental grandstanding or impudent trophy hunting, it was the theatrical assertion of self-preserving dominion over an imminent fiberglass threat. Unless you’re a hippo, get over it.
Back-to-back trouble is in store for guests as they sail past the bullet-ridden hippos, right into a headhunter’s village. While the pulsating rhythm of native drums flows from the bushes ahead, skippers gesture casually starboard toward a canoe full of skulls resting along the beach. Just past this, beneath the shelter of a thatched, a-frame hut, a group of painted warriors hops around in a close-knit circle, spears in hand. An adjacent, smaller, shelter provides cover for the three drummers. When the ride first opened, there were as foretold skulls on fire atop spears placed around the front yard of the main shelter, making this the most ‘Live and Let Die’ scene in a Disney ride so far. The flames didn’t last for more than a couple years. The remaining abundance of bones and stern faces still speak to danger, but for a moment it appears that boats will make it through unscathed as they had with the unseen pygmies. As the river twists back from the celebrators, that possibility dims … from behind the bushes on the shoreline of bamboo-laden tiny island (Catalina), a Zulu ambush unfolds. There are seven agitators who rise stealthily from crouched positions and begin shouting**** at riders with their spears raised. The skipper drops hurriedly – most of the time – and urges everyone else to follow suit. You can hear the sound of spears whistling through the air, but miraculously none find their target and the boat manages to coast forward toward the comparatively safe haven of roaring Schweitzer Falls.
*** This is one of the Jungle Cruise’s more oblique ties to The African Queen. The other is Katharine Hepburn’s shrunken head, which dangles from Trader Sam’s right hand. Just kidding, it’s his left hand. Just kidding, it’s his right hand but it’s not really her head. It’s her arm. Just kidding. **** One of the attackers does indeed yell “I love disco” from the undergrowth, as has been the subject of rumors. The ride itself predates the rise of disco by three years, so our DACS joker messed with the audio sometime between 1974 and 1986.
***** The temple was duplicated for Tokyo Disneyland, opening in 1983, but as a mirror image of the Florida incarnation
After passing underneath the back side of water, the path leads into the Irrawaddy River (since the 1990s it has been called the Mekong). This is the last of the ride’s four “named” destinations and it begins with a turn in the direction of the flooded Cambodian temple. The approach is augmented by the sound, mentioned in the earlier pre-opening desciption, of two animals having it out in the dense undergrowth. This scene, including the audio and glimpse of the temple, was intended to serve as a backdrop for the Swiss Family Treehouse, at least if you believe what you read in pop-up books … a 1972 publication shows the temple hiding beneath some branches. Whether you could ever see the temple itself clearly from the treehouse, I don’t know, but the plaque adjoining the treehouse’s master suite does reference the jungle overlook.
Skippers have made a variety of references to the foreboding ruins over the years, with later editions of the spiel actually identifying them as remnants of the Khmer empire in Cambodia. This structure is a masterful composite of architectural and ornamental features found in that nation’s Angkor Wat and Bayon sites, as well as Thailand’s Ayutthaya temple. Its theme park genesis is 2,200 miles to the east in Anaheim, but Florida’s completely eclipses the original Disneyland form where you merely ride past bits of temple elements as originally conceived in artwork by Marc Davis. On either side of the river are crocodiles submerging and surfacing, yet they hardly compete for attention in this setting – the fiberglass and concrete recreations of carved stone wonders are too compelling. The river ahead leads clearly right up to the temple’s entrance and guests can legitimately question why skippers would willingly pilot the boat directly below the crumbling stone beams. It’s reckless in theory, but who cares once they see that their path extends deep into the dark gaping mouth of the building? Not even King Louie’s Jungle Book crib had a shiver-inducing interior. What could be in there? How deep does it go? It’s so dark and uninviting that not plowing ahead starts to seem like the wrong idea.
There’s no worry, of course, because for over 40 years every boat has stayed the course and penetrated the abyss. On their way in, boats pass the vine-wrapped face of the Hindu God Vishnu, often “misidentified” by skippers as Shirley. The sides of the passageway indicate antiquity in their crumbling bas reliefs of scenes from Hindu mythology, incursions of roots from overhead growth and elements of elaborate statuary. The roof of the temple, which can hardly be discerned by riders, is a terraced area supporting three spires that lend the building a sense of perspective and added grandeur.
Back inside, with skippers suspending their narration to focus on the business of piloting, boats follow the river path that curves to the right. A growl can be heard just around the corner – soon attributable to a large Bengal tiger that has paused in the center of a hole in the stone wall, standing among displaced stones and more jungle foliage that has reclaimed part of the structure. Inch for inch, this is the most artfully staged depiction of nature triumphing over man that you’re going to find in any theme park. You may be inclined to count the entire Magic Kingdom in this category, but just because the park is full of overgrowth and smudged surfaces doesn’t mean it was planned that way. The temple was deliberate. The tiger itself is striking and handsome, its bright green eyes glowing fiercely in the darkness. Guests on the starboard side get a nice close-up look… here and just beyond it actually seems, for the first time since the Congo’s python, that the wildlife might really lunge right into the boat if it so chose.
Just past this cat, the growling gives way to musical tones. If not the real thing, they are at least evocative of roneat (xylophones) used in that Cambodian court music. The impression is that in the darkness of the ruins there is the echo of something lost to time, which is just plain wonderful and more effective in its minimalism to me than anything else at WDW outside of the Haunted Mansion. As if captivated by the sound, two large king cobras sway back and forth on pedestals situated near the boats’ path. More snakes lie just ahead in a wide alcove, where they stand between guests and a vast spread of glowing treasure. In the center of the scene is a stone reproduction of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, crouched in a blissful position among gold artifacts and crystals. Huge spiders flank this scene, identical cousins to some that used to hang out in the Haunted Mansion from 1971 to around 2007.
In a recess on the opposite side of the channel, a group of monkeys is meddling with more treasure, sticking their heads and hands into urns or climbing into them. A little monkey yelp is heard for a moment. It’s a fun scene that some riders never see very well because of how and where it’s staged and how quickly boats pass it. A couple other monkeys are out closer to the boats, which then approach a series of damaged sculptures in alcoves. These might be male cousins of apsaras, or heavenly Hindu nymphs, but maybe only Marc Davis knew for sure. Like everything else in the temple, they’re cool and only viewable for a moment as the boats glide out of the tunnel and right into an Indian Elephant bathing pool. The Indian elephants make up the ride’s ‘finale’ scene. Stuff is going on all around the boats… the elephants are having a great time blasting water from their trunks while a huge one sits in the downpour of a waterfall on rocks that form the back side of Inspiration Falls. A baby elephant squirts at the open mouth of a crocodile on the shore. Your skipper barely has time to point out what’s happening before her or his attention is drawn to a big elephant just ahead whose head is sticking out of the water while it shoots a stream of water across the path of the boat. The skipper slows down and tries to time a dry escape once the elephant submerges, but as soon as the boat moves ahead to avoid getting soaked, a second elephant pops up pulling the same trick behind some rocks on the opposite side of the canal. Guests are now caught in the “Indian Elephant squeeze play” as the first elephant comes back up to squirt everyone. And, miraculously, the elephant doesn’t shoot water from its trunk because it forgot to reload. It has absolutely happened in the past that guests WERE shot in the face by these elephants due to boat backups and bad timing, but it’s rare. During my time as a skipper this kind of accident could be avoided by keeping boats away from the underwater trip switch (which activated the elephants) until the path ahead was verifiably clear, but not every skipper was thinking ahead like that. In fact some would pull an opposite trick if their boat was fast enough and cruise through the trip switch at full speed and cross the elephants’ stream on the first pass. Doused guests. Oops. The next scene along the river WOULD have been, as described in that pre-opening passage, crocodiles having cornered a (for some reason) flightless parrot on top of a twiggy tree on the island side of the river where a concrete beach did, in fact, get built in anticipation of the scene’s eventual installation. As with the gorilla vs. crocodile scene bound for the Congo, this was going to have been an “In at Year 2” element.
1970 Marc Davis sketch of crocodiles and parrot as printed in the E Ticket magazine
A latter-day (2000s) picture of the alligator / frog scene until I find one of my older photos to
scan When Ross Plesset and I interviewed Marc Davis in 1999, we asked him if any actual parrot dialogue had been written or recorded and he said it wasn’t likely and he didn’t recall any particular script ideas. My guess is that if WED had gone that far, they’d probably have brought in Wally Boag and he’d have ad-libbed some stuff similar to his Tiki Room barker bird “squawking” under the direction of X Atencio or something like that. But there’s no indication that it happened. Lee Nesler said that the scene was once mocked up on the shoreline for management’s review, but they decided not to go with the full installation.
The apparent main reason for this was that the Magic Kingdom was hit so hard with first year attendance that, by mid-1972, the company was looking for all possible ways to increase the park’s capacity. One small outcome of this was that they added some enhancements along the WDW Railroad line between Frontierland and Tomorrowland. This “Railroad Embellishment,” as it was referred to by WED, included deer on the opposite side of the canal on the park’s north border, and – on the park side – additional animation in the Indian Village plus a family of rattlesnakes and, finally, some alligators coming out of the water to have a look at a really big frog on a tree stump. So one of the by-then-removed Amazon frogs being paired up with the crocodiles meant for the Jungle Cruise and together they formed a new scene for the railroad with the crocs posing as alligators (from the train who can tell the difference?) And they did that simply because they wanted guests to have more things to look at during that long back stretch of the train ride and then, maybe, choose to ride around one more time thereby resulting in a capacity gain for the park. It’s tempting to say that’s how WED thought “back in the day,” but many Imagineers STILL think that way… they’re just hard-pressed to add relatively small but cool items when project budgets are too tight. The concepts exist, but often they get postponed or eliminated in favor of the larger / wow factor stuff. And these “Year 2” Jungle Cruise scenes are just proof that it happened in the 1960s and 1970s also. People like Marc Davis were pushing to get as much animation and detail into the parks as possible, people like Card Walker were ultimately deciding how much money will get committed to a project and people like Dick Irvine and Dick Nunis in the middle trying to make the tough calls about what gets done and what doesn’t. Even Walt Disney had to make those types of decisions back when nearly every park element was reviewed by him personally. There were Davis scenes for Disneyland’s 1967 Pirates of the Caribbean that Walt wanted to see built but that ultimately had to be deferred. The extent to which Card Walker wanted to see Florida’s 1973 Pirates abbreviated (as a matter of cost management) meant that WDW had a lot fewer cool pirate cave scenes (and one less waterfall), but it also created an opportunity for Davis to come up with some Pirates elements for the Magic Kingdom that didn’t appear in Anaheim.
Marc Davis rendering of Trader Sam c.1970 Since the crocs didn’t quite make it, the final Jungle Cruise scene has always been Trader Sam, standing alone on his pile of rocks at the extreme northeastern tip of the ride’s main island under an umbrella, wearing a top hat and not much else. Sometime in the 1990s the skippers started calling him Chief Namee and the last I heard he’s Trader Sam again. At first it seems like he should be of Indian descent based on geography, but the shrunken heads he’s selling suggest that, as that early ride description from WDW News said, he’s South American. If that’s the case then this part of the ride is a return to the Amazon and is that the setting for the dock area? Should anyone even be spending time thinking about this? Anyway, for someone who chops off heads for a living, Sam seems really serene… a professional who loves his work. A few more words will end up here eventually, I guess, to finish the page up. I abhor finality.
* There were other scenes intended for WDW’s Jungle Cruise that I hope to include on this page at some future date but about which I’m currently not at liberty to divulge any details. None of them included animals playing soccer.
More Jungle Cruise Images & Video Links
click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
Live recording of WDW Jungle Cruise ride-through from 1983
mp3 file, 8.3mb, 10:07
Live recording of the bullfrog sound effects from 1992
mp3 file, 361kb, 0:18
The video below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
The Jungle Cruise – Altered WDW Attraction
Location: Adventureland, Magic Kingdom
Opened: October 1, 1971
Ticket Required: E (1971 – 1980)
Contributing Disney Personnel: Marc Davis, Bill Evans, Blaine Gibson, Harper Goff, Fred Joerger, Bill Justice
Descendant of: Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise (1955 – present)
Bibliography: WDW Pre-Opening Publications, The “E” Ticket magazine Spring 2003
This page incorporates information and images provided to WYW by Robert Boyd, Marc Davis, Dave Ensign, Chris Foxx, King Coco, Jerry Klatt, Christopher Merritt, Ken Nabbe, Lee Nesler, Tom Preston and anonymous sources. Special thanks to Ross Plesset for scoring that Marc Davis interview way back when!
All images copyright The Walt Disney Company. Text copyright 2017 Mike Lee.
First version of WYW Jungle Cruise page posted 15 May 2009 Updated 22 May 2009 (expanded text, additional images, corrected links) Updated October 1, 2009 (more new and revised text, additional images)
Page rebuilt February 20, 2016 and updated again November 23, 2016