The term “hard freeze” sends shivers up and down the spines of anyone in Florida associated with plant life. When the temperature dips below 32 degrees and stays that way for several hours, the affects can be devastating to vegetation.
In 1989, central Florida experienced a particularly tough hard freeze which lasted for several days. And Walt Disney World wasn’t immune.
At Epcot, “the vegetation was virtually wiped out in that freeze,” said Dennis Higbie, who went on to become Animal Kingdom’s general curator of botanical programs. “We learned a lot in how to replace [plants] in record time.”
At the Magic Kingdom, the Jungle Cruise was hit particular hard, especially when you consider the fact that there is so much natural vegetation growing all along the shorelines of the attraction.
According to Ted Kellogg, who was the supervisor of watercraft when Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and who was working in a more behind-the-scenes capacity during the time of the freeze, the water was drained from the Jungle Cruise to protect the submerged Audio-Animatronics figures.
“But without water in the waterways,” Ted added, “every tropical plant in the attraction literally froze to death.”
Since it wasn’t growing season, “there were no tropical plants available to replace them,” Ted said. “So we bought every artificial plant we could find within 3,000 miles and brought them in by the truckload.
“We had an army of people getting rid of the dead plants and replacing them with all the artificial plants.” It took about a week, but when the Jungle Cruise finally reopened, faux plants were the order of the day until the real things eventually returned with warmer weather. The thing is, nobody could tell the difference between the real and the fake plants.
But the Jungle Cruise’s problems were the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
On the first morning following the hard freeze, “I got to work at 7 in the morning before the park was open and was walking through Cinderella Castle,” Ted said. “When I got to the other side of the castle, I noticed that the water in the fountain in Fantasyland was frozen solid. At about 10 o’clock, sprinkler heads that were frozen began to thaw and crack.”
It set off a chain reaction as water started leaking throughout the park.
“We had to bring in the Reedy Creek Fire Department to shut down every sprinkler system in the park. Eventually, we had to order tons of valves, repaint them and have them installed.”
Ted Kellogg is a man of many stories, from Walt Disney World, to Disneyland, to his days as a fishing boat captain, to his once-in-a-lifetime trip with two buddies from southern California to South America by car, bus and dugout canoe.
He started by working part-time at Disneyland, often piloting either the Mark Twain riverboat or the top-heavy keel boats.
He came down to Florida with his new bride as part of the first wave of Disney cast members tasked with setting up opening the Magic Kingdom. After several years supervising the boats, Ted transferred to construction, supervising the rehabilitation of a variety of park attractions and on-property hotels.
He was the guy in charge when the California Grill was refurbished in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s at the Polynesian Village, his creative plan helped rehab the main lobby without having to close it, which would have been a major inconvenience for Poly guests.
Ted has written a book about all of his experiences, which I had the honor of contributing to. It will be available soon.