Widen Your World – Sunshine Tree Terrace and the Florida Orange Bird

Sunshine Tree Terrace
    and the Florida Orange Bird
    1971 – present

“Florida Citrus Specialties and Juices”
Your Complete Guide to Walt Disney World, 1978 



Throughout the Magic Kingdom’s first twenty years, you could strut into Adventureland and find yourself directly in front* of the structure shown above – the Sunshine Pavilion sponsored by the Florida Citrus Growers.  To the left is the Balinese pagoda entrance and holding area for the Tropical Serenade show.  The attraction’s outdoor pre-show, hosted by animated toucans Clyde and Claude, resided in a courtyard between the entrance and the show building (the central feature above) based on Melanesian ceremonial house structures.  Inside was a replica of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, featuring dozens of animated birds, tikis and flowers (the current show uses the same mechanics) and outdoors there was a tiered reflecting pool that has since been abbreviated.  To the right is one of the world’s best snack bars ever, the Sunshine Tree Terrace.  Though now bereft of its namesake component, the STT is possibly still the home of the famous Citrus Swirl (less likely with every passing year) and, from a more arcane stance, the former dwelling of the cutest-ever avian species made of fruit: the Florida Orange Bird.   

Walt Disney Productions entered into negotiations with the Florida Citrus Commission (represented as Florida Citrus Growers in the park) for an FCC-sponsored Walt Disney World attraction in 1967.  A contract was signed on October 22, 1969, formalizing the FCC’s underwriting of a “tropical bird show” at a cost of $3 million.  The following year WED Enterprises created the Orange Bird character to serve as the FCC’s official mascot in promotional campaigns.  Into the early 1980s he was an ubiquitous citrus icon, particularly throughout the Sunshine State where he appeared in television advertisements, print media and scores of souvenir outlets.  But excepting a very few staged events, the only place in the world where anyone could actually meet the Orange Bird was at the doorstep of the Sunshine Tree Terrace.

Whether or not this is significant depends on your point of view.  The ability to meet a “live” incarnation of a corporate mascot dates back to at least 1893, when the R.T. Davis Company hired actress Nancy Green to play the role of Aunt Jemima at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (she cooked and served thousands of pancakes to visitors while spinning yarns about the Old South.)  When Disneyland opened in 1955 you could meet Aunt Jemima (in the form of another actress, Aylene Lewis) in front of her self-named restaurant for about ten years.  By then she was a highly trusted name and brand that carried with it a clear sense of who the character was in the public’s collective consciousness.  The Orange Bird, on the other hand, was unknown to most Magic Kingdom guests when WDW opened in 1971.  As Florida natives, kids like my brother and me had a rough sense of who the Orange Bird was by the time we were as old (and dressed as cutely) as the girls in the picture below.  We knew, that is, that he was not Donald Duck and that he had something to do with oranges – a clever deduction, no doubt, given that he had a big orange head with leaves sticking out of it.  It’s also the one leap of faith that any WDW visitor could have made upon first encountering this otherwise unfamiliar character – only his significance proved elusive.

This was not for lack of trying on the part of either Disney or the Florida Citrus Growers, however, to give the Orange Bird his due.  For one thing, they had crafted a nice back story for him that was laid out in song by Anita Bryant.  In 1968 the Florida Citrus Commission had signed with Bryant, a former Miss America contestant, as their official spokesperson.  Three years later she was teamed with the Orange Bird in publicity photos and commercials, most of which she ended with the line, “from the Sunshine Tree.”  A physical byproduct of this pairing was the 45rpm depicted below, which featured Bryant (also shown below with her children at the Sunshine Tree Terrace) singing about how the Orange Bird lived in the Sunshine Tree and thought sunny thoughts that materialized above him in a plume of orange smoke.**  The song was written by the Sherman Brothers, the team responsible for the score to 1964’s Mary Poppinsand many other films as well as several Disney theme park attractions.  While the business about the orange smoke was possibly the Shermans’ answer to Jimi Hendrix’s purple haze, no further links to drug culture could be discerned.  Indeed, the composition anachronistically smacked of the summer-bright tone the Shermans had employed to success for Annette Funicello in the late 1950s and early 1960s with songs like “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess.”  Their ode to oranges continued with the disc’s b-side, a more somnambulant piece called “Orange Tree,” in which Bryant pondered the possibility that there was something mystical about the song’s produce-bearing namesake i.e., could there be a princess trapped within the tree by a spell?  Whatever the hidden meaning, this strange little record was distributed free of charge to WDW visitors in the simple hope that they would buy more Florida Orange Juice upon returning home.  Before leaving the park, though, they could enjoy some really wild citrus concoctions right there at the Sunshine Tree Terrace.   


lpiconHear Anita Bryant sing ridiculous things about the Orange Bird
mp3 file, 4.2mb, 3:32


filmstripiconAnita Bryant & Orange Bird Commercial
wmv file, 3mb, 1:00
video from the collection of Mike Hiscano.  Thanks Mike!







As a semi-circular outcropping from the larger Sunshine Pavilion’s north end, the STT echoed the prominent South Seas architecture right down its torch-bearing tiki sentries (with ever-lit flames) along the roofline.  The overlay of a citrus theme on a hardscape of tikis and thatched roofs was not altogether a mismatch, as a variety of citrus crops, including oranges, grow in the Polynesian Islands.  But the Sunshine Tree found behind the Terrace’s orange-tiled counter was a 100% Floridian perennial.  It grew from the rear counter and rose to the ceiling where it formed a leafy canopy over the serving area.  Naturally, it was rife with false oranges and orange blossoms.  The leaves were made of translucent green plastic.  Tottering on a perch near the base of the tree was the Orange Bird himself – an appropriately sized version of himself, that is, as opposed to the aforementioned human-size character who sometimes wandered the courtyard.  We have ONE image of this little bird (below right) that was taken in 1973.  The photo came to us courtesy of Ed Barlow and, while it is distant and rough (the print was on that crazy textured paper that film processors must have thought was cool all those years ago), it shows exactly where the Orange Bird and his perch were positioned.  As explained in the song, the Orange Bird was mute and therefore did not warble.  Above his head was a small screen upon which his sunny thoughts materialized via a projector nosing through the back wall.  To complement the scene, guests heard a fifteen minute loop of tropical music*** that also played as the Tropical Serenade’s pre-show background track (between appearances by the toucans).


lpiconHear a portion of the STT background music
mp3 file, 2mb, 2:49

sttobird   stttorches2   sttobirdtreecu

Things rolled along harmoniously for the holy citrus trinity of the Orange Bird, Anita Bryant and the Sunshine Tree until 1977, when Bryant gained a whole new type of notoriety by campaigning against anti-discrimination legislation in Miami, where she lived at the time.  She took a public stance against homosexuality that garnered national attention and led to a boycott of Florida citrus products.  From that point forward Bryant was irrevocably linked to the controversy and the Florida Citrus Commission opted not to continue their relationship with the singer.  The Orange Bird, having never expressed so much as one sunny thought about gay rights, emerged from this turbulence untarnished but without a vocal proponent of his stature.****   Disney and the FCC signed a new, five-year sponsorship agreement in 1981, maintaining their formal connection to the STT and Tropical Serenade (also landing them another juice bar in the form of Fantasyland’s Enchanted Grove).  By that time the Orange Bird had ceased to appear in television commercials and was primarily a licensed character whose likeness continued to appear on merchandise sold at souvenir shops and orange juice stands throughout the state.  In 1986 the Florida Citrus Commission and Walt Disney World parted ways.  As had happened with other original Magic Kingdom sponsors (including Eastern Airlines, Monsanto and Elgin), the cost associated with the professional relationship was deemed high for the tangible value that it brought to the host corporation.  The separation’s immediate impact on the STT was no greater than the removal of the little Orange Bird figure.  The orange and yellow stools and umbrellas at the adjacent patio space were replaced by brown and beige versions in 1994.  The Sunshine Tree itself remained for fourteen more years.  During a 2000 rehab, management decided to remove the aging prop rather than rebuild it.  Today you can see only the tikis that sat at the base of the tree and, if you lean in far enough, the effects projectors above the serving counter that used to make the tree appear subject to a gentle breeze.

sttcounter   stttikis   sttboughs

The Orange Bird had something of a life away from the STT into the early 21st century.  After the FCC/Disney split in 1986 his identity became increasingly less tied to the citrus industry itself and more closely linked to the state of Florida at large as an iconic character; a majority of the merchandise released with his image (or made in his image) was accompanied by the name Florida in capital letters.  Although Orange Bird merchandise remained a staple of citrus grove stands and tourist area t-shirt shops well into the 1990s, his star was clearly fading.  

Two later developments, however, prompted new or extended interest in the Orange Bird.  The first was that Delta’s low-cost Song Airlines, launched in April 2003, offered passengers the opportunity to hear “The Orange Bird Song” as part of their in-flight Disney musical menu.  Although Song folded back into Delta in 2005, enough people had heard the tune in two years to spur a sizeable round of online discussions as to the character’s genesis and relevance.  The second is that Tokyo Disneyland began to produce its own, unique Orange Bird merchandise line c. 2004, some thirty years after the nation’s kawaii (“cute,” as embodied by characters such as Sanrio’s Hello Kitty or Pokemon’s Pikachu) movement took root.  In 1996, April 14 was christened “Orange Day” in Japan, a holiday where people exchange citrus fruits with the objects of their affection.  The extent to which the Orange Bird’s newfound success in the country is linked to that event is sketchy, but by the summer of 2006 more varieties of Orange Bird merchandise had debuted in Japan than were created over the full span of the character’s U.S. career.  Some examples of the new products are depicted below.  They are nothing if not kawaii.


sttobirdplw   sttobirdjm1   sttobirdnote

Given the changes that have been visited upon other West Magic Kingdom food outlets such as the Adventureland Veranda, the Oasis and El Pirata y el Perico, the STT’s future is anything but certain.  But by making it to the present day it has outpaced so many other deceased shops, restaurants and attractions that it surely warrants a full-scale rehab that returns the tree, the original music and the little Orange Bird to their old haunt.  Since Disney still owns the rights to the character, the merchandising opportunity alone could justify the restoration.     

( No ratings yet )