Adventureland: Then and Now

by Brian Martsolf, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 15, 2006, Issue #360 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

One of the things that appeals to a lot of us in our visits to Walt Disney World is the sense of being transported to another place and time. Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom is one of the first places that comes to mind when I think of that kind of transition.

One example of this is the way the sounds of Main Street fade out behind you as you step onto the bridge into Adventureland and the sounds of those Adventureland drumbeats come into focus. No longer are you in an American town at the turn of the century. In fact, if you turn back now to take another look at the Crystal Palace it may strike you not as an American seaboard town, but perhaps as being more from the end of the era of British Colonialism, a sort of last outpost of civilization before heading out on safari.

Adventureland itself has gone through a number of transitions through the years. It was the first land to get a major attraction (Pirates of the Caribbean) that wasn't already under construction when the park opened. (A few attractions debuted shortly after the park itself opened, but these were basically just a bit late in opening.) In fact, even the shape of the land was altered by these early changes. In those early days Adventureland came to a dead end right there at the Jungle Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room (known at that time as the Tropical Serenade).

There were no plans to add the Pirates attraction to Adventureland when the Magic Kingdom first opened. What there were plans for was a major multi-attraction addition to Frontierland known as Thunder Mesa. One of the attractions planned for the Mesa was the Western River Expedition, an Audio-Animatronic extravaganza that you would enjoy from the comfort of a boat, much like those found at It's a Small World or Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. This Thunder Mesa complex would have covered the area that is today occupied by the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain attractions.

Since it was already in the plans for Frontierland to get an Audio-Animatronic extravaganza on the scale of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, there were no plans to add that attraction to the Magic Kingdom. However, shortly after the park opened, guests began to ask, "Where's the Pirates of the Caribbean?" After all, that attraction had been heavily promoted on the Wonderful World of Disney television show -- millions of people all over the country had seen it and wanted to experience it. Faced with the choice between recreating an already popular attraction and putting together a much larger and more expensive attraction yet unknown, the choice was made to put a version of Pirates of the Caribbean into the Florida park. It was rapidly put into production and opened on December 15, 1973, seven years to the day after Walt Disney's death.

This attraction is sometimes jokingly referred to as the "cliff notes" version of the Pirates of the Caribbean by Disneyland regulars who get to visit the Florida park, but in actuality the most important scenes from the California original are repeated here. As someone who grew up near Disneyland it is still hard for me to imagine going to the Magic Kingdom and not taking in this wonderful attraction.

With the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, several stores opened in the Caribbean Plaza. Many of them are still there to this day. An arcade offered many of the same unique-to-Disney offerings that the Pirates Arcade at Disneyland offered, including a fortune teller machine and a pieces of eight machine where you engraved your own message into a pirate coin. There was even a vending machine where you could purchase one of two sets of Pirates of the Caribbean postcards -- sets that featured concept art of the attraction drawn by Marc Davis.

Even the more common shooting gallery-type games that were specifically made for the arcade by Disney's Imagineers had pirate themes, but this arcade closed in 1980. Through much of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s it was Lafitte's Portrait Deck, a place where you could get dressed up like a pirate and get your picture taken. For a while it was then a merchandise location simply called Lafitte's, and then it closed entirely. The Safari Club, an arcade in the location that by mid-1972 became a shop known as Colonel Hathi's Safari Club, is now called Island Supply Co.

Some other lands' changes have affected Adventureland as well. Main Street U.S.A.'s Swan Boats used to "venture" into this land in the canal that runs along the southern side of the Adventureland entrance up to the Swiss Family Treehouse. They actually traveled all the way around the base of the tree before returning to Main Street along the same canal. The closing of that attraction made another addition to this land possible, Shrunken Ned's Junior Jungle Boats. These radio-controlled, miniature Jungle Cruise-style boats operate in a portion of the former Swan Boats' canal, between the entrance to the Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse.

Another change in Adventureland over the years is one that strikes me every time I look at early pictures of this land. It's in just how much the vegetation has grown since this land first opened. The foliage has grown both much taller and denser, and some areas look very different just from that growth. Although the Jungle Cruise itself has not changed much, if at all, over the years it has operated here, it may be one of the best places to see just how much the early plantings have matured.

As I mentioned earlier, for many years Tropical Serenade was the title of the Enchanted Tiki Room show at the Magic Kingdom. The building was known as the Sunshine Pavilion, a reference to its sponsor, the Florida Citrus Growers, whose slogan at the time mentioned sunshine. In addition to the normal perks of sponsorship, the Florida Orange Growers got the additional bonus of having their own Disney mascot (an orange bird) and there was even Orange Bird merchandise. In the early 1990s, the Citrus Growers' sponsorship of the attraction ended and in 1997 the attraction closed for a major rehab into a new show. The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management now runs about half of the length of the previous show, and even though I enjoyed the original show more, I must admit I visit the newer version as well. My favorite bits of the current show are probably the smart-alecky comments by Iago as the guests are leaving at the end of the show.

In 2001 another new attraction debuted -- the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. This Adventureland version of Dumbo's ride sits right in the center of a plaza in the center of the land. It does make for a sort of odd juxtaposition of styles, surrounded as it is by so many South Seas themed buildings, shops and attractions. It's a fun attraction, and adds a few twists on the typical "Dumbo" type spinning ride, but if they could find a better way to blend the attraction into the land's theme or find a better location, that would be a future change I'd welcome.

At the same time, I realize that the Magic Kingdom is the busiest park at Walt Disney World and one of the smallest parks as well, so there is constant pressure to increase capacity of attractions in the park. The more attractions there are, the more guests can be served in a day and the shorter the lines will be. This strive to increase capacity makes me think it may be time for the Magic Kingdom to consider other ways they can change Adventureland.

One change I didn't mention yet was the closing of the Adventureland Veranda, a counter service restaurant. With the continued yearly growth in Magic Kingdom's crowds, perhaps this location, which is now only used sporadically for special events, can be repurposed into either a new dining location (it actually strikes me that this might have been a good location for the "noodle station" menu) or an attraction. Perhaps this front section of Adventureland could be rehabbed into a new setting more fitting to those magic carpets and a smoother transition into the tropical world around the bend could be constructed.

The year 2006 is yet another time of change in Adventureland, timed to coincide with the release of the new movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Of course, I'm speaking about the additions to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. The exterior of the attraction has been altered. No longer does Pegleg Pete the pirate parrot greet you at the entrance. As you now approach you will see the tattered Pirates of the Caribbean flag and ship mast, as well as a skeleton pirate in the crow's nest looking out with his telescope.

Inside are more special effects and new audio-animatronics. Not to spoil the surprises, but shortly after your boat sets sail, you encounter Davy Jones. There is new music in the battle scene and the original pirate captain has been replaced with Barbossa, from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Captain Jack Sparrow even makes his appearance in several places along your voyage, so be sure to look for him. Overall the changes have been met with great enthusiasm. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the new changes for myself!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Martsolf is a lifelong Disney theme park fan whose first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1996. He lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife, Carlene, and works at a Tyco Plastics manufacturing facility. He also has his own Disney website, http://www.bigbrian-nc.com, which features trip reports (with lots of photos), a section on the history of Walt Disney World illustrated with its postcards, and articles on the Disney Internet community and Disney theme park souvenirs.

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RELATED LINKS:

Other articles by Brian Martsolf: http://allears.net/btp/brianm.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.