About the Column

For years, Jeff Heimbuch has been writing about Disney. Many of his articles have appeared in Celebrations Magazine. But Jeff has always had a little '626' inside him anxious to come out. Unlike his column's namesake, Stitch, he might not paint the Castle blue, but he will paint the park red with entertaining stories, fascinating insights, and daring ... experiments.

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FROM: The 626 Published Fridays

Jungle Cruise History

Skipper Jeff is taking passengers on his very own Jungle Cruise (sometimes he brings them back, too). What his spiel lacks in bad jokes and terrible puns it makes up for with observations about key events in the long history of the Jungle Cruise.

I hope everyone survived the second half of the History of the Haunted Mansion in last week's column.

Any residual spirits should be fading away by now, and won't bother us any longer.

It was a mistake to run my interview with Skipper John in last week's From The Mouth Of The Mouse column. It would have made more sense to run it this week as the lead-in for today's topic: a short history of the Jungle Cruise!

But you can always go back and read it before we set sail.

Walt Wanted Wildlife

The Jungle Cruise is one of the classic Disney attractions beloved (or, if you don't like the jokes, bemoaned!) by people everywhere. Its combination of exotic travel and zany humor makes it memorable for those who dare to embark.

Unlike most of the other attractions that opened with Disneyland back in 1955, the Jungle Cruise was one of the few NOT based on an animated Disney film. In fact, on a suggestion from Harper Goff, the ride took its inspiration from Disney's True-Life Adventure films, along with the 1951 film The African Queen, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

Because of the success of his True-Life Adventure films, Walt originally wanted to use real animals on the ride. He thought that a 'cruise' through wild and exotic lands featuring animals in their natural habitat would be the ideal way to present them. People could see these animals in a zoo, but having them featured on his boat ride would allow guests to get up close and personal!

After many consultations with animal care specialists, it was decided that the animals never would provide the consistent show that Walt wanted. It was feared that the animals wouldn't stay in their designated areas, they'd sleep most of the day, and they'd be riled up by the steady boatloads of guests trying to catch a glimpse of them.

Of course, we all know by now that Walt Disney World overcame all these obstacles when they opened Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1998, but that's a story for another time. Back in 1955, these were legitimate concerns, so it was decided to go with the most exotic animals of all: the audio-animatronic kind!

Plants and Queues and Gags - Oh, My!

Using audio-animatronics gave the Imagineers greater freedom to develop their gags. No longer constricted by the use of stubborn, live animals, they were now free to expand upon their ideas and pretty much go wild (no pun intended!).

Imagineer Marc Davis perfected the art of the sight gag with this ride. His work for Disney Animation helped him hone an impeccable sense of timing. This allowed his sight gags to be recognized and understood instantly, an extremely important feature, since guests move through scenes quickly. His concept sketches for Jungle Cruise were often translated exactly as they appeared on paper.

Imagineer Bill Evans carefully selected plants that would look tropical but which would also be able to survive in the Californian climate. The lessons learned from Evans's 'art of landscaping' were later put to use in Disney parks around the world.

The queue of the Jungle Cruise is heavily themed with period artifacts, tools, gear, photos, and much more.

Disneyland's version is meant to resemble an outpost where guests can book passage to explore jungle rivers. Disney World's version looks like an abandoned British outpost taken over by a touring company.

Both are divided into a few main sections which can be opened or closed to accommodate crowds. Albert Awol provides radio entertainment for both attractions, though his spiel differs in each park.

Changes Over the Years

When the ride first opened, it was a much different experience then it is today.

First, the carefully selected foliage that Bill Evans placed in the attraction hadn't really grown in yet. This gave the ride a bit of a sparse and empty feeling. It would take a few years for it to become 'tropical'.

The Skippers were more of a tour guide, pointing out facts about the tropical settings, than they were the humorous folks we all love and loathe today.

Also, several of its classic scenes were not quite ready. The elephant bathing pool was added in 1962, the safari camp in 1964, and in 1976 Disney added seven entirely new scenes.

Needless to say, it took some time for the ride to really hit its groove! The ride continues to be a popular attraction, a classic in the annals of theme park history.

So, if you'd like to see the rivers of the world, but can't afford to do it for real, the world famous Jungle Cruise is the next best thing!

Jungle Cruise Quick Facts

  • When The Jungle Cruise opened in 1955, only two boats were running: Ganges Gal and Congo Queen.
  • There are several hidden tributes to Imagineers throughout the ride and the queue. The wooden planter boxes with large trees inside are marked for delivery to the fictitious 'Evans Exotic Plant Exporters.' Bill Evans likely imported more exotic plants into the U.S.A. than anyone else, hence this tribute to him.
  • Check out the crew mess menu posted near the departure point. Hopefully everybody likes chicken!
  • Recognize the name of the Employee of the Month? No? That's a good thing, but if you do, make sure E.L. O'Fevre doesn't get a hold of you!
  • Near the Hippo Pool, a piece of a downed airplane is visible along the shoreline. This is the back half of the Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior that can be seen in Casablanca scene on The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
  • The boats at the Magic Kingdom are Amazon Annie, Bomokandi Bertha, Congo Connie, Ganges Gertie, Irrawaddy Irma, Mongala Millie, Nile Nellie, Orinoco Ida, Rutshuru Ruby, Sankuru Sadie, Senegal Sal, Ucyali Lolly, Volta Val, Wamba Wanda, and Zambesi Zelda. Sankuru Sadie is the only boat in the Magic Kingdom's fleet ever to have sunk, and Kwango Kate was retired in 2000.

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