The Jungle Cruise
1971 - present

"Board an explorer's launch for a 'danger-filled' cruise down tropical rivers of the world"
Your Complete Guide to Walt Disney World, 1978
  Let's ride the Jungle Cruise!
The Cambodian temple postcard   African Veldt vultures  Hippo Pool postcard  

Jungle Cruise

Altered WDW Attraction

Magic Kingdom

Opened: October 1, 1971

Ticket Required:
E (1971 - 1980)

Disney Personnel:
Marc Davis, Bill Evans, Harper Goff

Descendant of:
Disneyland's Jungle Cruise (1955 - present)

WDW Pre-Opening
Usenet contributor
Ken Nabbe,
The "E" Ticket magazine Spring 2003

All images copyright
The Walt Disney Company.
 Text 2009 by Mike Lee

This page benefits from
the assistance of
Dave Ensign
and a
significant anonymous source
with their
pictures, memories &
general researching


Last Update to this page: October 1, 2009 (expanded text, additional images, corrected links)


PART I - Introduction
PART II - Pre-Opening
PART III - A Jungle Cruise Overview (Queue to African Veldt)
PART IV - A Jungle Cruise Overview (Trapped Safari to Unload)
PART V - Jungle Cruise Images, Audio & Video

Part I - Introduction

The utterly purposeless business of comparing WDW attractions to their Disneyland counterparts is a little older than WDW itself, dating back to 1969 when WED Enterprises got down to brass tacks in ascribing the final details of East Coast shows and rides.  At that time DL guests were enjoying their first forays through the Haunted Mansion, which came on the heels of their radically expanded Tomorrowland and the still-fresh Pirates of the Caribbean in 1967.  Then a period of disquieting observation began, as WED's focus turned to Florida for what seemed - at least to fans of the original park - an eternity.  Both Walt Disney Productions employees and the public were seeing, hearing and reading more and more about the company's plans for both entirely new attractions and modified takes on some from DL.  When WDW finally opened, it had a clear edge in its versions of the Haunted Mansion, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Adventures, Submarine Voyage (in Florida as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and Peter Pan's Flight; each of those expanded on the DL originals in significant and obvious respects.  But there was one Florida attraction that exceeded its West Coast forebear in a more sneaky manner on opening day: the Jungle Cruise.

Nothing would have indicated as much as street level, with WDW's docking area looking a lot like California's - albeit wider.  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 quaint by comparison.  WDW took its Jungle Cruise riders INTO the the ruins' inky black heart with no assurances as to what lie ahead and claimed the prize for mystique and drama.  Bravo, Marc Davis, bravo.

That temple should exit this analysis with a tremendous ego boost, as this site obviously adores aspects of WDW that are (or were) unique to Florida.  I also hope to provide a rundown of other isolated Jungle Cruise scenes that have not yet been discussed at length on other sites.  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 this was one of the WDW attractions I worked as an MK West 'Operations host', space is allotted for sentimentality.  Or whatever.

Gorillas Enjoy The Camping Facilities by Marc Davis   Pygmy War Canoes by Marc Davis   Monkeys In The Flooded Ruins by Marc Davis
Part II - Pre-Opening                                                                                                     RETURN TO CONTENTS
The 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 Irrawaddy (or the Mekong), the Amazon, the Congo and the Nile for encounters with creatures both exotic and threatening - was in place at the offset and prevails to the present day in Disney's Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo and Hong Kong operations.  The ride was omitted in 1992's Euro Disney project because pre-existing amusement parks in the region (among them Tungaland) had basically emulated the North American versions of the ride; Disney found itself in the odd position of not wanting to build a ride too similar to rides that others had copied from them.

A survey of early WDW publicity materials and models shows that the Jungle Cruise was part of the WDW Phase One Master Plan from the project's inception.  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 designer Marc Davis had a hand in crafting the entire experience; 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 (no, really huge) python, a Bengal tiger, cobras guarding ancient treasure and a family of monkeys fooling around with that same stash.  So it's really a Davis ride that Florida guests enjoyed from the start, along with a spiel that contained more levity than the DL original (albeit still more tame on paper than delivered "live").
The Tiger in a Hole in the Temple by Marc Davis  Bill Justice and Marc Davis Review JC Concept Art and Model c1970  Indian Elephant Bathing Pool by Marc Davis  Detail of Cambodian temple blueprint


Here's an early description of the attraction from the April 1971 edition of a WDW pre-opening newsletter called Walt Disney World News:


"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 description suggested that the ride 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" and the falls' Christian name would be dropped) and those African elephants ended up more demure in their behavior.  As fun as it sounds, I'm not sure that any of the skulls were ever actually on fire.  And if you caught mention of a few elements that are completely unfamiliar to you, like the 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 no doubt be of interest to Stephen Fjellman, Umberto Eco and disciples of Philip K. Dick (and probably less captivating to normal people, although it's unlikely that you, as a WYW reader, 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. 

Jungle Cruise construction April 1971 
Animal flats on the Veldt during construction  Sculpting all the apes  Adding color to a tiger

Part III - A Jungle Cruise Overview (Queue to African Veldt)                                   RETURN TO CONTENTS

The Jungle Cruise opened with the park on October 1, 1971.  The attraction was approachable from the same two points as it is today, via a ramp from the north and a ramp (later 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.  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 are now water elements on the upper Adventureland pathway facing the Enchanted Tiki Room; in their initial configuration that 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 entrance sign was orginally a green piece of vaguely art nouveau work, shown below, that lasted from opening day 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.

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 shack facing the loading dock, and boats heading into the dense forest canopy of the Amazon.  But this space was not enough to absorb the excessive lines, and soon the company decided to build an additional first-floor queue space due west of the main 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).

Standing in the Jungle Cruise queue was a somber affair prior to the afore-mentioned 1991 rehab; once guests crossed the threshold they were faced with a series of twists and turns that led past bare walls, their fellow 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 fair amount of shuffling drudgery.  Of course 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 considerable array 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.  Incidentally, the MK Imagineering Field Guide 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 it was not the one where the queue area effects popped up; all of the upgrades reference on page 41 of that guide were present as of November 16, 1991.

Original Entrance Sign - photo from internet source   Original configuration of drumming tikis   An original (1971) Jungle Cruise queue building mural that was destroyed when the FastPass kiosks were installed in 2000   Queue annex building - empty

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 the looming foliage, the aforementioned thatched-roof shack rests on a rough-hewn 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.  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 resting on the roof and a sign reading "KEEP OUT!"  These suggest that something is possibly amiss, as do a couple wooden grave markers on the adjacent shoreline.  Have the remaining occupants fled?  Does one fevered inhabitant still dwell within?  Whatever its story, the shack has remained an ever-present curiosity since the Jungle Cruise's first days.  Its details hint at the mystery that lies just 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 reload their weapons, rest their voices or switch out duty with other skippers.  Right in front of guests at the end of their wait is the Load area, where they are greeted by the skipper who will pilot their boat.

Save for a moment between 1975 and 1976 when female employees were experimentally stationed on the dock and in the boats, the Jungle Cruise was exclusively a man's domain from 1971 to 1995.  On May 21 of the latter year, which coincided with the ride's reopening from a large rehab, the Jungle Cruise had its first female lead (a lead being the individual who supervises a work group on-site - I understand that the title has since been retired).  By that September she and four other ladies were training to pilot the boats.  In less than a year the ride was often staffed by more females than males.  It made 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 been a distinguishing feature.  It wasn't necessarily a vital feature, but when something exists in a certain manner for decades it can take on its own seeming sense of correctness.  A factor in "casting" people for the "role" of a Jungle Cruise skipper was originally to find men who guests might buy as explorers in a Hollywood mold: amiable, sharp-witted guys who were keen to have total strangers sign on their vessels for perilous expeditions into the unknown.  Only a fraction of the ride's male cast members really fit that bill, and not surprisingly that's the case with the females as well.  Some are great at their job while others are merely adequate ... gender is no form of delineator.  Still, for a long time I unfairly expected more from a lady skipper because, as an ex-skipper myself, I wanted to see it demonstrated that the co-ed move not only made sense operationally, but was inspired.   

Dock area from back of departing boat c. 1996   A rare image of an original female skipper from 1976  Where I hope to retire 

All matters of sex aside, every skipper welcomes waiting guests onto their boats in groups of 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 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.  Gone were the brightly colored canopies, vinyl seat cushions and rudders.  The names of the sixteen boats in the WDW Jungle Cruise fleet have not changed since 1971:  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.

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, usually numbering no more than four, who are seated on the center cushion.  Unless you actually think the ride poses some kind of danger to riders whose arms stick out of the boat, getting the middle row is drawing the short straw.  In order to avoid this, the best tactic is asking to wait for the next boat because you're claustrophobic.  Unfortunately this brings you halfway to being the same kind of tedious person who will wait an extra twenty minutes for a ride in the nose of the monorail.  To be fair, those people are looking for better seats than everyone else, whereas you're only trying not to be put in the 9% of the boat with a poor view.  Just don't follow up by asking the employees about their day or how long they've worked at Disney; by now it's pretty clear that you only care about yourself.

The boat's skipper will by this point have begun some type of banter with the passengers (possibly including you ... if you aren't still standing on the dock trying to dodge that middle row - come on!!!).  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 by how it is delivered.  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 semblance of 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 actually make you a little nervous, you need to respect that.

Into the unknown   Inspiration Falls   Amazon River 
Butterflies in the mist

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 flapping to showcase their majestic coloring.  It is possible that Marc Davis contemplated the inclusion of man-eating vines in this area, something I vaguely recall hearing about beyond the occasional spiel references.  If so, the carnivorous clematis never left paper.  The butterflies remain today, and sometimes their wings still move, but the framework 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.  People actually saw the frogs many years ago, 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 to the left 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 that 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 via Dave Ensign.  Courtesy of the same "Mr. E" who co-founded WDW's Artist Prep department and cleared up some facts about the Safari Club arcade, news came that the frogs were an original (1971) Jungle Cruise component.  E 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 and one cousin who hopped away to another corner of the park.  His story will continue later.

Jungle Cruise Animated Figure Locator Map   Another Marc Davis gem   Artist prep frogs photo courtesy Dave Ensign  How A Frog Croaks by WED Enterprises

Even though no one expects WDW to 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 Artist Prep.  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 you, 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, paint me fake.  Also included is an equally rare bit of Davis concept art that was generously contributed by an anonymous WYW supporter.

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.

300 pygmies per canoe  Congo Squeeze Served Here  Upended Base Camp  Dapper Ape

The yellow and brown constrictor, which is twisted poetically around the trunk and branches of a dead tree in the shallows, descends 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 capitalize on this 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, was explored 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."

Another brilliant Marc Davis scene originally planned for Florida   Site for Gorilla vs. Croc scene in Florida
  Gorilla vs. Croc as it appeared in California in 1995

Unless "Year 2" actually meant 2022, 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 ... urgh.  Tokyo still has both figures.

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 just plain boring.  If, as intimated by the pre-opening teaser and also for many years by the upper-crust toucan Claude in the nearby Tropical Serenade's original pre-show, the elephants "bellowed forth in protest of" the boats' intrusions, then maybe you've got yourself a stew.  Nay, they sway ... they blow their noses loudly, and stay put.  No one believes for a moment that one of the creatures might actually enter the water and cause panic.  As synthetic manifestations of curious animal specimens they are expertly achieved.  And early on, when they had red eyes, they possessed an ounce of potential danger.  The inescapable truth, however, is that the largest of the ride's animated figures feel like filler and/or an impractically expensive setup for a mother-in-law joke.  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 the Animal Kingdom park.  But probably not.

African Bull Elephant   African Veldt scene   Lions' Den

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."


*  This made Goff one of the first theme park geniuses to champion mechanical wildlife over the tedious real thing, which would constantly be sleeping out of guests' view, defecating and costing a fortune in food and veterinary care.  Call me juvenile, but if you took all of the live animals out of Disney's Animal Kingdom and replaced them with animatronics goofing off (like cheetahs riding ostriches), everyone would be much happier.

** The Fastpass distribution and queuing system spoiled a variety of sightlines all over the Magic Kingdom, but its configuration at the Jungle Cruise was one of the more benign arrangements. 

Part IV - A Jungle Cruise Overview (Trapped Safari to Unload)                             RETURN TO CONTENTS

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 there is not always discernible motion these days.  This scene is Marc Davis at the top of his form, and it provides a perfect counterpoint to the preceding solemnity of the Veldt.


In 1996 the porters were changed 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 Diablo Cody getting a Wii for Christmas, then you know it must not be the 1930s.  We don't, however, want to see a group of explorers - skin color aside - wearing ball caps, Etnies and Lil' Flip t-shirts on the Jungle Cruise.  Khaki uniforms are timeless in their own way, and the ones employed in the original scene were 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, no doubt well-intentioned, to not run the risk of the porters' skin color appearing to be part and parcel 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 crime scene left by people who substitute props for ideas.  Plus I used to feel sorry for those guys before they were all white; now I wouldn't care if they fell and got trampled. 

Waterborne perils constitute the next few segments of the ride, starting 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, is irrevocably 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 quickly found themselves six feet closer to one of them and wet. 

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 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 knife between his teeth and stab the hippos into submission.  The second is to shoot them in the face, Compton-style, 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.

   Dance Fever   Percussion   Schweitzer Falls - Front Side of Water  

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.  The abundance of bones and stern faces speaks to danger, but for a moment it appears that the boat will make it through unscathed as it had with the pygmies.  As the river twists back from the celebrators, that possibility dims ... from behind the bushes on the shady shoreline of bamboo-laden 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.

After passing underneath, 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.

1972 Pop-Up Book showing Jungle Cruise Temple      "Just three drops and six years will transform Apaches into a crummy Paul McCartney / Michael Jackson video."    

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 may lie 2,200 miles to the east in Anaheim, but Florida's so completely eclipses the original Disneyland form - in California you merely ride past bits of temple elements as originally conceived in artwork by Marc Davis - that it may as well be regarded as the alpha and omega.*****  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 (notable in that many archaeologists believe these ancient cities were abandoned due to loss, or mismanagement, of water resources) and guests can legitimately question why skippers would willingly pilot the boat directly below the crumbling stone beams.  It is 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 instantly the notion of not plowing ahead becomes distasteful.

Not to worry, of course, because for 37 years every boat has stayed the course, surrendered all caution and penetrated the gloomy abyss.  On their way in, boats pass the vine-wrapped face of the Hindu God Vishnu, consistently 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.

The roof of the Cambodian temple, photographed c. 1988 one on of my breaks   One of the most well-done animated figures to be found in any theme park   Cobra in front of temple bas-relief  

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, although sometimes after a rehab it takes a while to find its way back into the temple.  Guests on the starboard side get a nice close-up look at the beast ... 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 Cambodian roneat, or xylophones, used in that nation's court music.  The impression is that in the darkness of the ruins there is the echo of something lost to time.  And while the loop is short, its minimalism is potent.  As if captivated by the sound, two large king cobras sway back and forth on pedestals situated near the boats' path.  More 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 former Haunted Mansion arachnids.




*** 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.

**** One of the attackers does indeed yell "I love disco" from the undergrowth.  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

Part V - Jungle Cruise Additional Images, Audio & Video                                RETURN TO CONTENTS

click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images

Trapped Safari scene by Marc Davis  Worker puts finishing touches on temple bas-relief  Detail of Lion's Rock blueprint  "Okay, maybe this wasn't the best place to hide a sandwich."  Hooking up "Indy"  And from the front of an arriving boat  Shady inlet leading back to small waterfall  Canopies of foliage on either side of Inspiration Falls  Another butterfly

No-Diaper Ape Gun Monkey  Intended home of gorilla vs. croc scene enshrouded in vines  Jungle Cruise construction April 1971  A boat passes the lion's den, which I photographed on one of my breaks c. 1988  Jungle Cruise construction April 1971  Remains of the last crew

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)



First draft of page posted 15 May 2009
Updated 22 May 2009 (expanded text, additional images, corrected links) and October 1, 2009 (more new and revised text, additional images)