Despite all the magic that can be found in virtually every inch of space at the Magic Kingdom today, when Disneyland opened in 1955, there actually wasn’t a lot to do. Sure, you could still stroll down Main Street and peruse the one-of-a-kind shops like the working pharmacy, souvenir stand and honest to goodness lingerie shop, but once you hit the Hub your choices became pretty slim when it came to actual rides and attractions. We’ve already talked in this space about the less than stellar state of Tomorrowland on opening day, but what about the rest of the park? Sure, Fantasyland had a few dark rides for the kiddies, most notably Peter Pan’s Flight and Snow White’s Scary Adventures, both of which have undergone substantial changes to make them more appealing to modern audiences. But other than the spinning Mad Tea Party and King Arthur Carousel, there wasn’t much else to keep kids entertained.
Would you believe the most popular attraction at Disneyland on opening day, and indeed for years to come after that, was The Jungle Cruise?
Yes, The Jungle Cruise!
In fact, Adventureland was the busiest part of the park back in the day. And not busy like today when it’s clogged with strollers and Cast Members have to put up ropes to keep the traffic flowing. No, busy in that folks flocked into the land to see the most immersive ride around – a water borne journey deep into the mysterious Amazon Rainforest.
Coming down Main Street and just to the left of the Hub is the exotic entrance to Adventureland. This was also once the home of a pre-Tiki Room Bird dubbed The Barker Bird that would entertain guests as they walked under his perch and into the land itself. Cast Members quickly found that the bird himself was the star attraction and the traffic would bottleneck as people stayed to watch what he’d say next.
The Barker Bird was quickly retired. But for those happy guests who made it into that early iteration of Adventureland, they found an exotic bizarre where trinkets from far off places could be purchased and the entrance to The Jungle Cruise itself.
The opening day version of The Jungle Cruise was much sparser than the one you know today. There weren’t nearly as many animals and the park was still trying to find its bearings. The Skippers were serious adventurers, not the lighthearted jokesters that populate the ride today. No, it would take several years before The Jungle Cruise would morph into the joke-laden journey populated with animals from all over the African Veldt. In the early days they even flew in exotic live flowers that were placed along the trip – guests could actually reach out and grab one to take home if they wanted. This practice was ended very quickly when Walt Disney himself found out how much it was costing the park. Soon, the ride would add the elephant bathing pool and other signature creatures, all the while retaining the iconic red and white boat canopies. Lines to board the cruise would sometimes stretch to 2 hours and beyond. No one complained, though, as the ride quickly gained a reputation as a can’t miss attraction at Disneyland.
Adventureland finally started to grow in 1962 with the construction of both the Tahitian Terrance and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. The Tahitian Terrace was a high-end restaurant with a show that would last all the way until 1993 before it became Aladdin’s Oasis, an interactive show for children based on the popular movie. Aladdin’s Oasis would be the temporary home of Indiana Jones during the summer of Hidden Mysteries in 2008, a promotion that added our favorite adventurer to the land. The show “Secrets of the Stone Tiger” wasn’t very well received as Indy only showed up at the finale to beat up the female narrator and toss her to her death into the Cave of Wonders, now referred to as the titular Stone Tiger. Indiana Jones artifacts were strewn along the Jungle Cruise attraction and Indy himself appeared above the walkways of Adventureland in a constant battle with unnamed thugs in a storyline that continues to baffle both park guests and management alike.
The other addition to Adventureland, The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse was a delightful attraction that gave the area a real sense of kinetic energy as buckets and pulleys moved to and fro to show how the Robinsons created a new home in their island paradise. Guests would enter at the bottom, climb to the top and then make their way back down in a loving recreation of the tree seen in the film. When I was a kid we would burn off extra amounts of “B” tickets going in and out of this attraction. When park management decided to remove the Treehouse in the late ’90s, it was legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter who suggested the current Tarzan overlay. This decision saved the attraction where it can still be enjoyed by children of all ages.
The next major addition to Adventureland arrived in 1963 in the form of birds. Yes, The Enchanted Tiki Room finally opened its doors, unveiling to the world Walt Disney’s new form of entertainment, Audio-Animatronics.
Having seen the innovation on television via Walt himself, guests mobbed the new attraction to see these new lifelike creatures for themselves. And the birds did not disappoint! Led by the international hosts Jose’, Michael, Pierre and Fritz, The Enchanted Tiki Room was and remains very popular with guests the world over. The birds sing, the tikis drum and the flowers croon in a sensational show that wowed guests when it debuted. As a young child I would marvel at the idea that it was only raining when you were inside the Tiki Room, so convincing was the illusion. Originally conceived as a dinner show, the Tiki Room never welcomed any diners. The original concept was altered when Walt Disney discovered how popular the birds were.
Today, you can grab a Dole Pineapple Whip and peruse the patio before you enjoy the same exact show that guests have been experiencing since 1963. (The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyworld awakened the wrath of the fans when it added Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion Knig in an all new show dubbed “Under New Management” that never really clicked with guests.)
Adventureland was also the home of a shooting gallery that didn’t last very long. Honestly, it seems as if these quick plug-in attractions were popular at the time and must have been an inexpensive way to boost the attractions list and make a few dollars. These early shooting galleries actually shot pellets at the targets and were quite noisy. The attendants would not only have to wear earplugs but dodge wayward shots as youngsters were constantly aiming for them! Now that’s an adventurous day at work!
Sunkist, I Presume, a juice bar hosted by the popular company, arrived in the mid-60’s and lasted all the way until 1990, when it was replaced by the still popular Bengal Barbecue. Featuring some of the most delicious beef and chicken skewers anywhere, Bengal Barbecue is a must every time I visit Disneyland. You know the food is good when you find yourself paying nearly $60 for your family to have a “snack” and you consistently agree that it’s a good value!
Adventureland was catapulted into the limelight in 1995 with the addition of the mega-budgeted E-Ticket attraction, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.
With Indy gone from theaters in 1989 and no hope on the horizon for a new movie, fans eagerly waited for what promised to be the greatest attraction at Disneyland. I remember attending an Annual Passholder Preview party that allowed everyone to get their first glimpse at the ride queue. The QUEUE! Yes, they had us line up and venture through the longest queue ever created and up to the loading dock only to be shown the ride vehicle and then the exit door…an equally epic trek back through the jungle! Indiana Jones and The Temple of the Forbidden Eye one-upped the massive queue from Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin with a variety of interactive features, including a spiked room complete with collapsing ceiling – tug on the bamboo pole and look out! You could also pull on a rope and hear the pre-recorded sound of an archaeologist falling off of his ladder. On your way in you were given a decoder card that allowed you to decipher the strange and exotic symbols written on the walls.
This was a novel way to keep guests entertained in the queue before the invention of smart phone and tablets, but the constantly moving line never allowed you time to figure out just what the heck the walls were trying to say! Original sponsor, AT&T, who provided not only the cards but the tie-in slogan for both their long distance service and Indy’s brush with the Holy Grail, “You Have Chosen Wisely” wouldn’t last very long and the cards are now novelty items available on ebay. The slogan remains to this day on the way out. The queue itself was massive by necessity as the show building for the Indiana Jones attraction is located outside the actual park itself and guests need to traverse the distance somehow! You can tell how far out of the park you are by craning your neck in the safety film room. There, tucked behind the prop projector, is the original Eeyore Parking Lot Sign still in virtually the same place it has always been! Another fun fact: the voice of Sallah in the safety film is not actually John Rhys-Davies, though he appears on the screen. The attraction itself came out of the discovery of a new form of ride vehicle – where the track is smooth and the car itself creates all of the motion. Each ride vehicle in the Indiana Jones attraction is programmed to veer wildly left and right, pull up and stop suddenly, react to danger and appear to have a mind of its own, all the while actually coasting smoothly along the ride track. The ride is a massive show that puts you on the trail of Indiana Jones himself, who went missing in the Temple of Mara sometime ago. Once aboard the ride vehicle, you are led into the entrance corridor and warned not to look into the eyes of Mara herself.
Using a clever sideways sliding door mechanism, one corridor can appear to be three in the guise of Wealth, Future Knowledge and Eternal Youth. In the original attraction, the likeness of Harrison Ford was unavailable and Indy had a rough generic appearance. Since the release of Crystal Skull the various Indiana Jones in the ride have now been changed to more closely resemble the iconic actor who portrayed him in the films. Featuring rats, snakes, bugs, deadly blow darts and the legendary rolling ball, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye is a world class attraction that entertains and thrills millions of guests each year. Timed to coincide with the park’s 40thanniversary, the ride was the crown jewel in that celebration and remains a one-of-a-kind attraction that people travel from all over the world to see.
The Jungle Cruise, the signature attraction from opening day, was given a makeover to fold it seamlessly into the world of Indiana Jones. The red and white canopies were traded for more period-specific colors and the queue was updated to not only give it a real world feel, but also a second floor to accommodate twice as many guests, thus relieving the crowds on the midway a bit. FastPass dispensers were installed next to the queue to allow guests to get a return time to experience the Indiana Jones Ride and Cast Members were stationed at the front to measure youngsters and hand out Future Adventurers Stickers to those who don’t quite measure up. Another fun fact: The Indiana Jones queue is so long that there’s a secret bathroom located just before you board the ride vehicle. If you can’t hold it until after the trip, ask a Cast Member and they’ll unlock it for you!
Just about everything in Adventureland has gone through some change or other since opening day. From rides to walk-through attractions, restaurants and shops, Disneyland has changed with the times, updated and renovated to keep things fresh.
But there’s one item in Adventureland that has never changed.
Just about everyone knows that Disneyland was built on land originally used to grow oranges. The land was also home to actual….homes. People lived and thrived on the land that would one day house a castle and a mountain from space. One family was the Dominguez family and son Ron grew up on the farm that eventually became central to the creation of Disneyland. The Dominguez family house became the construction offices during the parks’ build! When Walt and his team were looking at what trees to keep and which ones to cut down, one tree in particular caught his attention. A tall standing palm that was planted in 1896 as a gift to Ron Dominguez’s grandparents was spared and became a symbol of both honoring the past while building the future. The tree is a magnificent sight spanning high into the sky and it’s still there today right next to the entrance of The Jungle Cruise! You can see it towering above just behind the Indiana Jones FastPass machines. What a fitting tribute to the heritage of the land and the brave folks who persevered back when Anaheim was a dusty stop on the way to the beach and beyond. Ron Dominguez eventually got a job as a ticket taker on opening day and worked his way up the ladder until he retired in 1994. There’s a window on Main Street with his name on it as a permanent tribute to him and his family who sold their home so that millions could experience the magic of Disneyland.
Adventureland continues to change and evolve as the years go on. The Tiki Room got a major renovation for the park’s 50th birthday in 2005 and just recently Mara in the Indiana Jones ride was upgraded with digital projections to make her seem more alive than ever before. The ever popular Jungle Cruise now features a school of hungry piranha and was just overlaid with a festive “Jingle Cruise” theme for the holidays. From dusty treasure-filled catacombs to delicious beef skewers, from talking birds to hungry, hungry hippos and even the backside of water, Adventureland continues to inspire children of all ages with the promise of daring treks and mysterious expeditions. With the announcement that a Jungle Cruise movie starring Tim Allen is on the horizon, maybe it’s time to don your pith helmet and follow Dr. Schweitzer into the jungle…
Jeff Tucker works in the theme park industry. His magical book series, “The Sixth Key,” is available on Amazon.com. He also hosts his own Podcast, “91 Reasons,” available on iTunes.