Walt Disney World Chronicles: Jungle Jingle Cruise

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the December 17, 2013 Issue #743 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

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.

Jingle CruiseDuring the last decade, Walt Disney World has been reluctant to have holiday overlays of its popular attractions.

In 2003, the Disney Company announced that Walt Disney World would install the popular "Haunted Mansion Holiday" overlay for its Haunted Mansion along with some special updates from the Disneyland version.

In 2002, Creative Director Steve Davison, who was working with Disney Worldwide Entertainment (and was responsible for both the Disneyland holiday overlays of "it's a small world" and Haunted Mansion), told a large group of us attending a National Fantasy Fan Club convention, "Florida will get the next generation Haunted Mansion Holiday in 2003 and Disneyland will benefit from that (the following year) and we'll get these strange, kinda cool ideas happening so that each time you ride the ride we keep the same tradition but we keep growing on it."

Among those changes were the original spooky soundtrack by Gordon Goodwin replaced with a new score using music cues by Danny Elfman from the actual film. Film composer John Debney created the new soundtrack.

That overlay never happened and the changes were incorporated into Disneyland's 2003 version with the new effects and set pieces designed for Walt Disney World going to Tokyo Disneyland, which introduced their holiday overlay version in 2004. The official announcement stated that it was determined that the Walt Disney World audience was markedly different from the Disneyland audience. While Disneyland's primary attendance came from local residents who often had annual passes so they visited frequently, Walt Disney World's audience was more international with guests often saving up to three years to come and visit. According to the announcement, it was felt that WDW guests would be greatly disappointed if they arrived and their favorite attractions had been altered for the holiday season.

By 2005, Walt Disney World stopped the Country Bear Christmas Special overlay, citing that the downtime to transform the attraction seriously impacted the guest experience.

However, this year both Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer a brand-new holiday overlay. The iconic Jungle Cruise attraction in Adventureland has become the Jingle Cruise attraction for a limited time.

The premise, according to the Disney Company announcement, is that "the Skippers have grown homesick for the holidays, so they've added holiday cheer to the Jungle Cruise queue and boathouse with decorations that have been mailed to them from home (plus a few they've created themselves). The Skippers have also added a slew of new jokes to their tours that are the perfect way to get guests in the holiday spirit. Additionally, Jungle Cruise boats have been renamed with the holidays in mind, and if guests listen carefully, they may hear a holiday-themed radio broadcast playing in the background."

The addition of a few decorations in the boat house, the temporary renaming of the ride vehicle boats and Skippers wearing Santa hats and equipped with quips filled with holiday cheer did not necessitate the closing of the attraction, which is one of the reasons Walt Disney World leadership decided to incorporate the changes.

Of course, the Walt Disney World Jingle Cruise will be similar but different to the Disneyland version because both attractions have significant differences.

It was the philosophy of Roy O. Disney during the building of Magic Kingdom that it should have a balance of familiar attractions from Disneyland that East Coast guests had been longing to experience as well as uniquely new attractions like Country Bear Jamboree, Mickey Mouse Revue and more. However, even the familiar attractions would have differences thanks to a mixture of more space, more money and more experience. At Walt Disney World, Tom Sawyer Island would have two islands connected by a bridge. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would be two separate attraction tracks that occasionally intersected. Peter Pan's Flight would have a longer track.

The same was true for the Walt Disney World Jungle Cruise. Certain elements do not exist in its California cousin so that will influence the new holiday Skipper spiel.

In 1967, one of the boats for the Disneyland Jungle Cruise attraction was rechristened "Kissimmee Kate" after the Kissimmee River in Florida that flowed past the area that was to become Walt Disney World. Curiously, no boat named for Kissimmee ever appeared in the Florida version of the attraction.

In Spring 1969, construction work began on the Florida version of the Jungle Cruise. The majority of the animals were built in Glendale, California while others were finished at a warehouse in the Dr. Phillips area in Orlando, Florida.

In 1971, Florida's version of the Jungle Cruise opened as an E-ticket attraction with a different geographic order and the addition of a finale to the ride inside a dark and foreboding flooded Cambodian temple. The ride lasted a minute longer than the adventure in Disneyland and there were two additional boats. "Sankuru Sadie" was the only jungle launch at Magic Kingdom to actually sink (in 2004), but it was soon returned to service.

The original description to the press about the WDW version included descriptions that "around the last bend painted warriors continue the ritual of their ceremonial dances near burning skulls", "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" and "in an exotic rain forest, guests will be treated to the croaking antics of giant frogs, as big as Boston bulldogs."

No burning skulls or singing elephant were in the final attraction, but these items reveal how Walt Disney Imagineers wanted the WDW ride to be significantly different. Actually, the frogs did appear briefly for the first few months (until sometime at the very beginning of 1972), but were removed by WDW leader Dick Nunis who declared them "hokey."

Jingle Cruise"The 'Jungle Cruise' in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom theme park, like its namesake at Disneyland in California, 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," stated that same 1970 press material.

Imagineer Marc Davis was completely in charge of the Florida version of the ride, unlike his role in the Anaheim attraction, where he had merely added significant elements to an already existing template.

In Florida, most of the classic elements from the Disneyland attraction remained but a number of Florida exclusive (at that time) items were included — Inspiration Falls, giant butterflies, pygmy war canoes, gorillas ransacking a safari camp, a huge python, a Bengal tiger, cobras guarding ancient treasure and a family of prankster monkeys fooling around with it to the delight of guests.

In 1991, there was a huge rehab to the attraction, especially in the queue area, with the addition of music and radio commentary.

In 1993 during another rehab, the famous red and white candy-striped canopies disappeared and hulls were "aged" to give the impression that these boats had voyaged through the jungle and had suffered as a result. A variety of props were added to each boat to give it an individual personality.

The original Jungle Cruise Explorer Launches were designed by Imagineer Harper Goff to be reminiscent of the one used in the film "The African Queen" (1951). They were some of the largest crafts ever built out of the new material called fiberglass when they were first introduced in 1955.

The popular Jungle Cruise attraction was the idea of Walt Disney himself.

"At first (for Adventureland), we just talked about doing an outdoor garden attraction with exotic live plants and real birds perched in the branches, but when Walt would get an idea like that, he'd go pour right into it, full steam ahead," stated Dick Irvine, the former President of WED (Disney Imagineering).

In addition, Walt Disney's feature length True Life Adventure documentary, "The African Lion," had begun shooting in 1952. Walt had recently been sitting in a screening room at the Disney Studio watching hours of rough footage of real lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros and more in lush foliage and realized this would be an entertaining and exciting experience for park guests.

"In the very early days," recalled Imagineer Herb Ryman, "we thought the Jungle River ride was going to have live animals until they told Walt that every guest would see something different each time."

Animal experts had also convinced Walt that using real animals was impractical since most of them would be sleeping or hiding during the operating hours of the park. In addition, there would be the added expense for caring and feeding of the animals at a time when the project was already going wildly over budget each day.

"Walt wanted every person who came through there to get a full show," Imagineer John Hench explained. "The only answer was mechanical animals. Walt's idea for the animals was really a form of his basic honesty — he wanted the audience to get a full performance every time."

In fact, a 1955 Disneyland postcard talks about animals lurking in the Adventureland bushes but the word "animals" is surrounded by quotation marks to hint that they are not real.

"Walt and I had both seen the film 'The African Queen' and the animals were never completely visible," remembered Goff. "They were partially hidden in the underbrush on shore or just under the water. So we began to think of hippos and other animals whose mechanics and tracks could be hidden and still have animated elements. We brought in Bob Mattey who later created the shark for (the feature film) Jaws (1975) to engineer the original animals."

One of the original gags, often unnoticed by WDW guests, in the Florida version was that actress Katherine Hepburn's shrunken head was dangling from the right hand of Trader Sam, the shrunken head dealer who will trade you two of his for one of yours, near the end of the ride. Hepburn was the star of "The African Queen," along with actor Humphrey Bogart.

While there have been many changes to the attraction over the years, like changing the four black porters on the pole in the "Lost Safari" segment with the pointy rhino into Caucasians around 1996, this year will be the first time that Christmas has been officially celebrated around the Rivers of the World since the attraction opened at the Magic Kingdom more than 40 years ago.

If it is successful, perhaps Walt Disney World will include other holiday overlays in the future.



Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives:

Jim also writes for the AllEars® Guest Blog every other week, contributing entries under the heading of "Jim's Attic." Find his latest entry, on forgotten Disney history, here:




Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of several books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.

— The recently released, "The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse," is more than 300 hundred pages covering the life and career of Mickey Mouse, with thousands of facts, quotes and stories about Walt Disney's famous alter-ego.

"The Vault of Walt, Volume 2: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told"


"Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?"

"The REVISED Vault of Walt": Paperback Version / Kindle version


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.