15 Facts to Celebrate the Jungle Cruise's 60th Birthday
We’re visiting Disney's Jungle Cruise today to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Everyone turn around and wave goodbye to the folks back on the dock … They may never see you again. But then again, you probably never saw them before, either.
1. When it debuted, the Jungle Cruise was a serious trip through exotic locations.
For the first few years, it was more of a documentary-style attraction. All of the funny scenes and jokes were added years later—and thank goodness. The ridiculously bad jokes delivered with perfect apathy (“And now, we’re approaching beautiful Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls.”) are the best part of the ride for many people.
2. When Walt was first planning the attraction, he wanted to use live animals.
A zoologist convinced him that many of the animals were nocturnal, leaving daytime guests to exciting views of catnapping creatures. That’s when Walt opted for creatures he could control. For a time, however, the ride queue did feature live alligators.
3. Walt drove a car through the dry “riverbeds” to promote the ride.
As Disneyland was being constructed, Walt often gave TV viewers a preview of what was being built. Before the Jungle Cruise had water, he drove a Nash Rambler (one of the show’s sponsors) through the “riverbeds” to show off Schweitzer Falls and the crude mechanics of the animals.
4. This is the ride that inspired Walt Disney to view his parks as never complete.
It may be apocryphal, but the story goes like this: Walt was strolling through Disneyland when he heard a young boy asking his mom to take the eight-minute trip through the jungle. Not even slowing her stride, the mother replied something to the effect of, “No, we did that last time we were here.” Hearing that, Walt decided he had to keep changing and improving things in order to keep guests coming back.
5. Jungle Cruise skippers often go on to bigger and better things.
Famous wisecracking skippers include Kevin Costner, John Lasseter, and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler. Lasseter has declared that it’s the best ride in the whole park. Want to know his favorite Jungle Cruise joke?
6. Most of the “exotic” jungle plants aren’t exotic at all.
How do you get the tropical aesthetic provided by exotic plants without shelling out the big bucks for shipping and maintaining them? Just use Disney’s tactic: “plant” an orange tree upside down and let vines grow and twine around the exposed roots.
7. The water is cleaner than it looks.
That murky water passengers sail through is dyed brown, dark green, or muddy blue. The coloring serves two purposes: It provides a more realistic portrayal of swampy waters, of course, but it also conceals the fact that the cruise ships are on a track in a pool that’s less than four feet deep in most areas.
8. Disney was thrifty when it came to the airplane used in the ride.
If you pony up the cash for a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane, you might as well get your money’s worth, right? Disney used the back half for the scene near the Jungle Cruise's hippo pool at the Magic Kingdom, and the front half for the Casablanca scene in "The Great Movie Ride" at Hollywood Studios.
9. Some of the special effects are pretty low-tech.
You might think that getting the animals’ eyes to glow as you make your way through the Asian temple is a high-tech trick, but it’s really just the opposite. Their eyes are really just marbles painted with a reflective coating.
10. Look for inside jokes hidden in the queue.
At the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, a pair of crates sits bundled with some barrels as if they’re cargo ready to be shipped. A close look at the addresses reveals that one is going to “Thomas Kirk, Esq., M. Jones, Cartographers Ltd. Field Office, Island of Bora Danno.” The other is addressed to “Kenneth Annakin, Director of Imports, Wyss Supply Company, Colony of New Guinea.”
This is a reference to the Disney movie Swiss Family Robinson. Tommy Kirk played Ernst Robinson in the 1960 film, then went on to play the title character in the 1964 movie The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. James MacArthur, the actor who played Fritz Robinson, later played Danny Williams—you know, “Book ‘em, Danno” on Hawaii Five-O. So that’s the first crate explained. The second crate refers to Ken Annakin, the director of Swiss Family Robinson, and “Wyss Supply” is a little wink to the author of the original book, Johann Wyss.
11. A Jungle Cruise movie starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen was once planned.
Buzz and Woody meet Jumanji? Maybe. Entertainment Weekly reported the movie back in 2011, so it’s safe to say that it’s either been scrapped or is stuck somewhere in development hell.
12. One of the boats actually sank.
Perhaps its name was prophetic, because “Sankuru Sadie” at the Magic Kingdom did, in fact, sink. In 2004, the boat took on more water than it could hold and went under—though, given how shallow most of the water is, it probably didn’t go far. The boat was refurbished and still runs today.
13. There used to be a Katharine Hepburn cameo.
The ride was largely inspired by the movie The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. As a somewhat macabre homage to the film, the Florida Jungle Cruise once featured a little nod to Hepburn — literally. Near the end of the ride, Trader Sam the headhunter cheerily holds up a couple of shrunken heads. “Trader Sam has a deal for you. Two of his heads for one of yours,” is how the joke typically goes. Riders who looked closely would have noticed that one of Sam’s shrunken heads looked an awful lot like Hepburn.
14. Ed Sullivan rode the Jungle Cruise in a 1959 Kodak commercial.
If you want to see what the Jungle Cruise looked like just a few years after Disneyland’s opening day, check out this commercial for Kodak’s innovative new Brownie camera, available for just $74.50!
15. Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise features a palm tree that pre-dates the park.
Located just outside the entrance of the Jungle Cruise in California is a large palm tree. Referred to as “the Dominguez Palm,” this bit of vegetation has been around way longer than Mickey has been—it dates back to 1896, to be exact. It’s named after the family who lived there before the land became a theme park. The rancher who sold the land to Disney requested that this particular tree be spared, and Disney obliged, moving all 15 tons of tree from the parking lot area to Adventureland.