We've all heard the saying that goes something like this: There is nothing like seeing the world through the eyes of a child. Greeting cards, poems, Christmas songs, books, and films echo this familiar theme. It's cliché. It's trite. It's over-used.
It also happens to be true.
For the frequent Walt Disney World guest—an increasingly expanding group thanks to the success and popularity of the Disney Vacation Club—there is a tendency to overlook the details or skip attractions all together. It's easy to take the "magic" of Disney for granted. There are some Magic Kingdom classics that—for one reason or another—I have not experienced for years. As the father of 3-and-a-half-year-old boys, however, I've learned to slow down and appreciate, once again, the details and unique attractions that make the Magic Kingdom such a special place. This is particularly true of Adventureland.
Truth be told, I have not spent much time in this land for quite some time. With the exception of that wonder of wonders—the Swiss Family Treehouse—Adventureland is more often than not, a very long, very picturesque corridor that we rush through on our way to "bigger and better" attractions. After one visit to the bastardized Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, I issued a self-imposed boycott of this one-time favorite attraction. The Jungle Cruise is classic, but the queue is usually hot, humid, and slow-moving. Pirates of the Caribean is fun, but the "where is Jack Sparrow?" storyline gets old fast. And Aladdin's Flying Carpets—incongruously plopped down in the middle of the Sunshine Pavilion—well, they offend my sense of thematic unity so I vowed never to ride them.
After breakfast in the Crystal Palace—lovely as ever, by the way—we walked over the Adventureland bridge. This transition, from Victorian Main Street to the wild jungles of the world, is one of Imagineering's most artful. The Victorian gingerbread of the Crystal Palace is echoed in the charming facades of the Adventureland Terrace; the dignified whites of the Crystal Palace give way to a pastiche of tropical pastels; the landscaping gradually becomes less and less groomed as the expansive lawns and balanced use of palms and flowers in front of the Crystal Palace gives way to the tangled denseness along the rivers of Adventureland and the jungle that surrounds the treehouse.
We saved a visit to the Swiss Family Treehouse for later in the day, making our way towards to Sunshine Pavilion and the Tiki birds. It was then that I broke the first of many "never" vows. The boys spotted Aladdin and Jasmine boarding the flying carpets. "Can we fly with Aladdin?" they asked. I acquiesced.
I was impressed with the detail on this modest attraction. The "sand" that formed the queue, the colorful carpets themselves, the Genie's lamp at the center, and the "spitting camels" (which I recognized from a fanciful parade that once plied the streets of the Disney-MGM Studios in the early 1990s). The views were wonderful—Adventureland still has lush foliage and never has it looked as green and appealing. I still oppose the out-of-place location of this attraction, but thanks to my children, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Next up: Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. We arrived in time for the pre-show. Gone are the offensive stereotyped "bird agents" with their hip, rude jokes. It was surprisingly reassuring to once again see and hear the original hosts. After choosing a seat and moving all the way down to the end of the row, the show began.
It was a thrill.
Not the kind of Expedition-Everest-Test-Track-Tower-of-Terror thrill, but an emotional thrill. There, in all their audio-animatronic splendor, were Jose, Fritz, Michael, and Pierre, singing that wonderfully catchy Sherman Brothers tune. Never have the birds' feathers seemed so colorful, the sound so sharp and clear. The flowers crooned, the tikis beat their drums, the totems chanted, and the gods were angered. It was glorious.
Once again, Walt Disney's ability to create and design experiences that work on so many levels was evident. It was a joy watching the expression on the faces of children looking up in wonder, but it was also a joy to feel a bit of that long-forgotten wonder as an adult.
The Jungle Cruise was next. I'd loved this attraction as a child and even as a young adult with dreams of working at Walt Disney World. With the arrival of Disney's Animal Kingdom and its real-life safari, this attraction seemed severely dated. Why keep plastic animals and silly puns when a "real" honest-to-goodness safari was just a bus ride away? In the administrative hallways of Team Disney where synergy was the mantra in the late 1990s, there was talk at one time of making the venerable cruise more cartoony by adding either Tarzan characters or (heaven forbid) George of the Jungle characters. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed at Imagineering, and the world famous Jungle Cruise has remained unscathed and just as enjoyable as ever.
We boarded our vessel and were greeted by our skipper, on older gentleman named George. The boys loved him; in their own words, he was "brave" and "said funny jokes." In my humble opinion, this version of the classic Jungle Cruise is far superior to its Disneyland counterpart. It feels more remote, far longer, and more "authentic." Luckily, time has not marred its many charms. Entering the ruined temple is still exciting, discovering the elephant bathing pool still charming, and viewing the backside of water still funny.
Even casual Walt Disney World visitors admit that the plethora of minute details set Disney parks and resorts apart from all others. Recently, a very small, seemingly inconsequential detail returned to the Sunshine Pavilion. By name, the Orange Bird. I have vague memories of this little guy, so I have to admit that I was initially a bit baffled by the online hoopla greeting his return. Sites such as Progress City U.S.A. and Passport To Dreams Old and New devoted pages of well-written prose to the Orange Bird's return. Why was this such a big deal? Granted, the Orange Bird has his own theme song—penned by the Sherman Brothers—but at the end of the day, wasn't the charming little bird simply an expedient invention of the marketing department for a corporate sponsorship in the park's early years?
Reading about his return inspired me to unearth my original Orange Bird sippy cup from our first visit to Walt Disney World. I also found three charming PVC figurines of the Orange Bird in my box of old Walt Disney World treasures. He was cuter than I remembered. I was intrigued.
At the Sunshine Tree Terrace, I dutifully snapped a few photos of the new signage and the original Orange Bird statue sitting behind the counter. I bought several of those awkwardly shaped, over-priced, hard plastic Orange Bird sippy cups (kudos to Disney, by the way—the Orange Bird sippy cups are made in America!). We found a shaded table and sat. We looked around. We visited. Sipping cool drinks from those Orange Bird heads was a strangely sublime respite from a busy morning at the Magic Kingdom. It triggered happy memories of past visits with family and friends, and it provided an opportunity to create a new memory with by own children.
On their way to Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain, all too often guests rush past one of Imagineering's most endearing creations: the Swiss Family Treehouse. I suppose it makes sense of some level; after all, not everyone grew up reading the novel or watching the film that inspired this attraction. And besides, who wants to walk through an attraction based on 1960s film which, in turn, was adapted from a novel published in 1812?
But attractions like this—ones that require some imaginative participation on the part of the guest—are vital to keeping the Magic Kingdom fresh and meaningful. And this particular attraction never looked better. After a lengthy recent refurbishment, the treehouse shines like never before. The colors, woods, ropes, lanterns—the textures—of this wonder seem more authentic than ever. The landscaping and the actual smells of the area add to the feeling of romantic remoteness and beckoning adventure.
It may seem quaint in our fast and furious, technology-focused, action-orientated society to suggest that slowing down, reflecting on past memories, and spending time with loved ones to create new memories is, in fact, an important part of vacationing. But after a happy morning in Adventureland, I learned an important lesson: slowing down is its own kind of adventure.
(Send an email to Tom Richards)
Tom Richards is a life-long admirer of Walt Disney, something of a Disney historian, and a free-lance writer. His Disney interests include but are not limited to: Walt Disney World, classic Disney animation, live-action films made during Walt's lifetime, and Disney-related music and art.