Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise

The Jungle Cruise has been a perennial favorite ever since it opened at Disneyland in 1955. Even though many of us have ridden this attraction so many times that we could probably skipper the boat ourselves, we still laugh at the corny jokes we’ve heard dozens of times. Why? Because sometimes it’s fun to be silly rather than sophisticated — and the Jungle Cruise excels at being silly. But it wasn’t always that way. In the early years at Disneyland, this was a serious attraction with little or no humor. What is to follow is a brief story of how this wonderful ride came into being and evolved into what it is today.

Between the years of 1948 and 1960, the Disney Company produced a series of short subject documentaries called the True-Life Adventures. These films dealt with nature and animals in an educational yet entertaining way. Over the run of the series, Disney won numerous Academy Awards for these films. One show in particular, “The African Lion,” would serve as an inspiration for the Jungle Cruise.

The African Lion

Storyman Harper Goff had been instrumental in the designs used for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). So when production completed, Walt recruited him to design the Jungle Cruise for his new park. Being a big fan of the movie “The African Queen,” Goff expanded on the film’s storyline and had the tramp steamer plying not only a river in Africa, but other continents as well. In fact, the Jungle Cruise boats were patterned after the vessel used in this picture and were made of fiberglass — the first time this material was used for non-military purposes

The African Queen

Walt originally wanted live animals to line the banks of his rivers, but this just wasn’t feasible. First, many of the creatures that he wanted to include were nocturnal and would be sleeping as the boats passed by. In addition, real animals require a tremendous amount of upkeep and space, something that just wasn’t practical for a fledgling theme park. So it was decided that mechanical animals could tell a better story. However, for a short time, Disneyland featured live alligators for guests to view in the waiting area. It wouldn’t be until the Animal Kingdom and Kilimanjaro Safaris opened in 1998 that Walt’s dream would be completely realized.

The Jungle Cruise was to be an opening day attraction at Disneyland, and in fact, the only attraction in Adventureland to begin with. One of the first tasks was to landscape this small patch of arid Southern California to look tropical — and to do this on a tight budget. In the early 1950’s, Bill Evans had landscaped Walt’s Holmby Hills home. Walt was so impressed with his work that he hired him to design the gardens of Disneyland.

The Santa Ana Freeway began construction in 1947 and was completed in 1956. In its path were enormous amounts of foliage that were being bulldozed under. In order to save money, Evans made arrangements to rescue many of these plants and palm trees and they eventually found their way to Disneyland and the Jungle Cruise. This allowed the new park to have some established growth come opening day.

The picture below shows Disneyland and the Santa Ana Freeway under construction.

Disneyland and Freeway Under Construction

Another inexpensive trick used to make the jungle look lush on opening day was to take some of the orange and walnut trees that had been removed during Disneyland’s construction and plant them upside down. This allowed their gnarly roots to look like dead jungle branches.

But even with these free plants, Evans still needed a tremendous amount of greenery to populate not only Adventureland, but Frontierland, Main Street, and Fantasyland. Fortunately, Tomorrowland didn’t require as much growth. Hedda Hopper complained in her column, “Walt Disney has depleted our nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego.”

Most of the animals for the Jungle Cruise were built at the Studio in Burbank, but some of the larger creatures were constructed onsite to facilitate easy transportation. One 900 pound elephant was delivered to the Jungle Cruise the night before the park opened and was installed in the dark as a night-watchman had unwittingly turned off the work lights.

Jungle Cruise Attraction Poster

For much of Disneyland’s first decade, the Jungle Cruise was a serious ride. Guests boarded the attraction from a dock located next to a small trader’s village. Nearby shops sold shrunken heads, rubber snakes, and pith helmets. The trip through Africa, Asia, and South America was reminiscent of watching a “True Life Adventure” with facts and dangers brought to the guest’s attention by the ever-watchful boat captain.

Jungle Cruise Loading Dock 1950's

One day, Walt overheard a guest say in reference to the Jungle Cruise, “We don’t need to go on that ride, we’ve already seen it.” Taken aback by this comment, Walt knew he needed to keep Disneyland fresh so the customers would return again and again. To that end, he asked Marc Davis, a longtime animator, to rethink the attraction. After much thought, Marc decided the attraction needed to evolve from a danger-filled adventure to a humorous journey and new scenes needed to be added. So in 1962 the Indian Elephant pool opened and in 1964 the African Veldt and Lost Safari scenes joined the tour. In addition, a bevy of corny jokes and puns replaced the once serious spiel.

Lost Safari

As is always the case, change never comes easy and there were those who complained loudly that the ride had been compromised. But in the end, the Jungle Cruise continued to be a crowd pleaser and is still one of the most beloved attractions at Disneyland.

Some of you might remember that the attacking hippopotamus was once shot at by the boat captain. But as times and sensibilities changed, this practice was retired. Now the skippers use less extreme, and more humorous methods of discouraging the beast.

Shooting a Hippopotamus

The popularity of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise prompted the Imagineers to slate this attraction to be an opening day ride at Walt Disney World. And from day one, the Florida version has been just as popular as it’s California counterpart.

Magic Kingdom Jungle Cruise Sign

Jungle Cruise Entrance

Like so many attractions that were to be recreated in the Magic Kingdom, the Jungle Cruise would be improved upon. Although many of the scenes are direct copies of Disneyland’s, the addition of the indoor Cambodian Temple gives the Magic Kingdom’s version an edge.

Building the Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise presented some unique challenges. Much of Adventureland sits upon an extensive clay landfill. In order for the plants and trees to receive proper nutrients and drainage, large holes needed to be bored into unforgiving soil and filled with sand and potting mix. It took more than a year to landscape this attraction with more than 500 varieties of tropical foliage. The river(s) of the Jungle Cruise contains over 1,750,000 gallons of water, which has been died brown to hide the tracks and other mechanisms.

Like Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise required an “E” ticket up until the time these coupons were retired.

E Ticket

Here is a list of names for the sixteen boats that ply the waters at the Jungle Cruise. Notice the alliteration.

Amazon Annie
Bomokandi Bertha
Congo Connie
Ganges Gertie
Irrawaddy Irma
Kwango Kate
Mongala Millie
Nile Nelly
Orinoco Ida
Rutshuru Ruby
Sankuru Sadie
Senegal Sal
Ucyali Lolly
Volta Val
Wamba Wanda
Zambesi Zelda

Located on the loading platform is one of my all time favorite Disney Worlds signs.

Jungle Cruise Sign

The airplane fuselage you pass by on the Jungle Cruise is actually the back half of the Lockheed Electra 12A airplane seen in the Casablanca sequence of the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Airplane Fuselage

When exiting the Jungle Cruise, pay attention to some of the details. For instance, you better keep a watchful eye out for the escaped orangutan.

Orangutan Cage

Check out the names of some of the Missing Persons and Missing Boats on a nearby chalkboard.


And I pity the poor animal that was shipped in this crate, now a drinking fountain. If you look closely, the small prints says “FEEDING HOLE.”

Animal Crate

Near the drinking fountain are several crated trees. If you look at the stenciled writing on the boxes you’ll see “EVANS EXOTIC PLANT EXPORTERS LTD.” This pays homage to Bill Evans who landscaped the original Jungle Cruise and went on to landscape the Magic Kingdom.

Bill Evans Crate

Tokyo Disneyland also was given a Jungle Cruise on its opening day (April 15, 1983). This attraction borrows elements from both U.S. parks, however, the entire attraction runs backwards to its stateside cousins.

Jungle Cruise at Tokyo Disneyland

It was decided to omit the Jungle Cruise from Disneyland Paris. Other European parks, having seen the success of the ride at Disneyland, had already built similar attractions. Disney felt that their version of the ride really wouldn’t offer anything new to entice visitors to their park.

At Hong Kong Disneyland, the Imagineers completely reinvented the ride. Picture Tom Sawyer Island in the Magic Kingdom. Now picture the Jungle Cruise boats circling this island, except with a tropical theme. There you have it – a new Jungle Cruise ride.

Hong Kong Jungle Cruise

Language also plays a part in the Hong Kong attraction. There are three lines for boarding, one for speakers of Mandarin, one for Cantonese, and one for English. A sign states that one line may look longer than another, but they all move at the same speed. For the most part, this is true. If the queue for a particular language (say English) starts to get longer than the others, they simply assign an English speaking skipper to the next couple of boats until the lines even out.

The Hong Kong Jungle River Cruise has many of the same props and scenes as its American counterparts. The notable exception are the missing Switzer Falls and the indoor temple. But this attraction does have a finale that the other Jungle Cruises do not.

The boat navigates down a narrow passageway, when all of a sudden the route is blocked by an erupting geyser. Just in the nick of time, the vessel makes a sudden turn to the right and is confronted with another geyser blocking its path and an evil-looking, monster-like rock formation. Smoke and steam start to spew from the crevices and then flames explode from the rock’s mouth. Just when it seems all is lost, the boat escapes in the nick of time. Whew.

Erupting Geyser

Rock Formation and Flames

Another difference with this Jungle Cruise is that you get wet. Those elephants that just miss you in the American versions are a little more devilish here and seem to hit their mark. Don’t worry, it’s only a sprinkle.

In closing, I give you a video of the Jungle Cruise and a few of the corny jokes.

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15 Replies to “Jungle Cruise”

  1. I don’t know if people realize that during the last year or so the Jungle Cruise has been open and running at night. There is never a line and we have walked right on. The darkeness makes the cruise seem more EXOTIC and the jokes even seem funnier. Thanks Jack for your wonderful in-depth writing!

  2. As usual Jack, great stuff. It’s content like this that keeps me coming back to your blog. I love the details – Jungle Cruise is one of our favorites. 🙂

  3. I can also confirm the “I Love Disco” chant. Last year I took the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour at MK and they pointed that out. I heard it with my own ears.

  4. Thanks, Jack, for another interesting blog and video. The Jungle Cruise is always one of my favorites…and usually has one of the longest lines! But we always wait patiently because we know we’ll enjoy it…in the end.

    I also have a question about the taping of the Disney Christmas Parade this year. Since Regis and Kelly usually host the parade, and with the announcement that Regis will be undergoing hip surgery on December 1st, have you heard who will be hosting it this year? I figure if anyone knows, you will! Thanks for any info you may have.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t know who will be filling in for Regis. I checked several on-line sources, but couldn’t find anything. Since Regis just made the announcement, it’s possible a replacement hasn’t been found yet.

  5. Hi Jack,
    On my very first trip to DW this was the first ride I went on because I can remember how Walt smiled as he told the tv audience about this attraction. You could tell this was a favorite. Sadly when I was out in DL in April I didn’t get to this attraction but maybe the next time.
    I bet Walt would love the AK!
    Take care and keep blogging because your blogs are always so interesting!

  6. In response to Kirsten Stark’s comment, we did learn about the discoing native on the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Disney World.

    When you pass by there are 3 chants that are heard, and one of them actually says “I love disco”. It’s one of those great little inside jokes that the imagineers threw in there.

    Usually the skipper is telling a joke at that point so it’s difficult to hear unless you’re really trying. I do not know if they say the same thing at the Disneyland version, I should have listened when I was there a few weeks ago. Oh well next time 🙂

    Hope this helps.

  7. I do love those corny jokes. “The backside of water!” “Looks like they got the point … in the end.” I remember laughing hysterically as a kid, and I grin and laugh like a fool as an adult. My family always gets right into it: “lean in, lean in, lean in!” My favourite memory of the ride was a night ride last February, when the boat was all adults and the skipper made a joke as the boat pulled away about Magic Kingdom being a “dry” park.

    I knew it was an opening day attraction, but didn’t know that it didn’t have jokes at the beginning. Very cool. Thanks Jack!

  8. Hey Jack, thanks for a wonderful blog as usual! I always enjoy learning the historical background of the rides. My question is concerning the dancing natives. I have heard that at least one of them loves disco, but I don’t remember whether it was one at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom. Do you know anything about this?

    Jack’s Answer:

    I’m not aware of the discoing native. But that doesn’t mean he’s not dancing at both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. There is a long list of approved jokes and the skippers all seem to use different ones. Maybe someone else will read this post and will have an answer for you.

  9. Love, love, love the Jungle Cruise. It is a must do for our family. It is interesting that the cruise was not always “joke filled”. I always learn something new when I read your columns. Thanks again Jack!

  10. Hi Jack!

    What a great job you did! Love this blog!

    I actually had a question for you based on the mention above about the taping of the Christmas Parade…can you tell us anything at all about that? We want to avoid as much of it as possible and concentrate on just enjoying Magic Kingdom…do you have any pointers??? We have no idea what to expect…

    And then that thought reminded me about our plan to just try to savor each precious moment of this trip…at all the parks…and I wondered if the “Central” FastPass Kiosk was still up and running at Animal Kingdom. Do you know any current info about that???

    And that led me to ask you about the current crowd levels…how are things looking out there???

    I guess that I had more questions for you than I relaized!!! Jack, our family always looks forward to taking these little trips around the World with you!!! Thank you for all you do!!! You are the expert!!!

    We can hardly wait to come back to Disney…one week away!!!

    Many blessings,

    Jack’s Answer:

    The Magic Kingdom can get hectic on the days that Disney films the parade. Many people want to be a part of this event. Also, if you’re planning on watching the parade, you may encounter numerous starts and stops so the cameraman can get a good shot. The same can be said for the shows. If it’s important to you to be a part of this event, all I can tell you is to arrive early. Also, if memory serves, it’s the people on Main Street who get interviewed and spotted by the camera. The “curb-side” seats will be staked out hours in advance.

    To my knowledge, the Central FastPass kiosk is not currently in operation. I was at the Animal Kingdom just yesterday and I did not see it and I was picking up FastPasses at their usual location.

  11. Hi Jack, My teenagers and I still love Jungle Cruise. Yes the jokes are corny and you can see real animals at AK but it still is a fun ride. When my daughter was 10 she was made an honorary captain and took the helm to steer us into the dock and every time we go on this ride she still comments on the jokes that were hurled her way. Thats a memory that she will always have and will pass down to her kids. Our favourite time to ride it is at night when there are no lines and it takes on a whole new feel and its even better if it is raining. Thanks again for the happy memories Jack.

  12. Hi Jack,

    I have not been on The Jungle Cruise for years. Your pictures and words make we want to visit it again. It reminds me of my youth going to Disneyland.

    Where do you get the cool old pictures?

    My wife and I will be there the first weekend of December for the Taping of the Christmas Parade. We will reminisce and ride the Jungle Cruise during the taping when the ride is not as crowded.

  13. I had a teacher in jr. high, who all through college was a jungle cruise skipper. He used to tell great stories, one of them being that the other skippers and he often had a competition to see how far they could drift from the script without getting caught or getting in trouble. He was pretty good at it, and 15 yrs after leaving that job, he could still recite the script word for word!

    Jack’s Comments: Even today, Disney supervision keeps a watchful eye on the Jungle Cruise skippers to make sure they stick to the approved jokes. Sometimes when they stray, it can be amusing.