My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love about the Magic Kingdom's Jungle Cruiseby Chris Barry, contributing writer
I am just about in the single digits of my countdown to our next Walt Disney World trip. Everything is all set. So many things are going to be happening on this upcoming visit: Food and Wine, Halloween Party, the final Illuminations one night, the premiere of Epcot Forever the next night, and, oh yeah, a little something called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge—an entire new massive land to explore. I am going to be one happy Disney camper in about a week.
Continuing on in my series counting down everything I love about the various Walt Disney World attractions, we find ourselves back in Adventureland, one of the best places in the Magic Kingdom to wander around and take in the sights. Adventureland is beautiful for sure and it's got some true Disney classics to behold. What I love most about this corner of the kingdom is that it's got Walt Disney written all over it. Think about it; Pirates of the Caribbean, Swiss Family Treehouse, the Enchanted Tiki Room and the ride I'm going to be talking about today, Jungle Cruise, are all attractions that Walt himself had a hand in designing. They speak to his passion for storytelling and his goal of capturing his guests imaginations and transporting them to the most exotic destinations he could dream up. There's no other land in the Magic Kingdom that currently has so many "Walt-centric" attractions, not even Fantasyland.
The Jungle Cruise has its roots in Walt's original magic kingdom, Disneyland, where it was a featured attraction on opening day in 1955. Originally Walt wanted the attraction to feature live animals until he realized that real live creatures would probably sleep most of the day and could not be relied upon to be "on stage" when the guests wanted them to be. Animatronics took over the show as did an astounding amount of real life tropical flora. Jungle Cruise was an opening day attraction in Orlando's Magic Kingdom as well and has remained pretty much unchanged since its debut in 1971. That fact, however, doesn't mean that modern day guests aren't still enthralled with the ride. Quite the contrary, Jungle Cruise frequently posts wait times of at least 40 minutes or more on any given day. What's so great about this venerable Disney classic? Let's dive in and take a look with my Top 5 things to love about the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom.
5 – The Boats
The Jungle Cruise ride vehicles are actual boats modeled after the steamer from the 1951 classic film The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, about as legit Hollywood royalty as you can get. The African Queen was always a big favorite of mine. Perhaps that's why I've always loved these boats.
They're definitely one of the coolest ride vehicles you will see in any theme park anywhere. Despite the fact that they are, in fact, attached to an underwater guidance system, they have always seemed pretty darned lifelike to me. There are 15 Jungle Cruise boats in all and they're all named after well known exotic rivers of the world like Ganges Gertie, Amazon Annie, and more lesser known bodies of water like Irrawaddy Irma and Ucyali Lolly.
4 – The Mekong River Temple
This is one of my favorite parts of the whole ride. It's dark and creepy and filled with snakes, baboons, and giant spiders. You're greeted by a pretty ominous looking tiger with glowing eyes shortly after entering the temple.
There's a great assortment of props and carvings all over the walls to look for, and let's face it, the Jungle Cruise is about 11 minutes long and the cool shady temple offers a brief respite from the Florida sun. One of my favorite Jungle Cruise skipper moments was when a girl who was training to be a skipper in the soon to be opened Hong Kong Disneyland began singing the words to "it's a small world" as we enterred the temple. I've been waiting for another skipper to crack that joke, but lo and behold it's never happened since.
3 – Riding at Night
I'm not sure if I can describe why the Jungle Cruise is a much cooler experience at night, but it truly is. There's nothing wrong with experiencing it during the day, but if at all possible, make sure to check it out after the sun goes down.
The "jungle" takes on a whole different look. It's a little creepier. there's typically less people on line. I guess there's a perception that this is a daytime only ride, but it's definitely not. There aren't too many outdoor attractions at Disney to begin with, so the opportunity to ride during the day and then have a whole other experience at night is pretty unique and well worth it.
2 – The Indian Elephant Bathing Pool
This part of the attraction has always had a special place for us as a family. My daughter, Samantha, was particularly crazy about elephants when she was a little girl. Suffice it to say, if you wanted to see little Sammy absolutely light up, just wait until you hit the elephant bathing pool. I guess the ample selection of adorable baby elephants frolicking in the water and attempting to spray water out of their little trunks at guests as they pass by makes this part of the ride a true crowd pleaser.
Regardless of the what the rest of the crowd feels, I can never travel through this section of he attraction without remembering that one particular trip when the skipper chose Sam to pilot the boat through this section. She was one happy little explorer that day! The Indian Elephant bathing pool is one of those iconic Disney attraction moments. It's beautifully designed and a highlight of the whole experience.
1 – The Skippers
Sure the captivating waterfalls, lush foliage, classic Disney animatronic animals and jungle folk are featured players of the Jungle Cruise attraction. But as everyone who's ventured up river knows, it's the Jungle Cruise skippers that are the real stars of this show. It's really all about the skipper's performance isn't it? We've all heard the corny jokes a million times. They don't get any funnier the more you go do they? Of course they don't. The big difference is the superb job the cast members do at delivering the corny jokes over and over again. The best of them follow the tried and true scripted jokes all the while adding their unique inflections and ad-libs here and there. It's hard to think of another attraction that so depends on the performance of the person steering the ride vehicle. In the early days at Disneyland, the skippers apparently sounded a lot like they were hosting one of Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures nature documentaries.
I'm not sure whose call it was to go corny, but it was a wise decision and is one of the main reasons the attraction is so repeatable; you just have no idea going into it what type of skipper you're going to get. Our best one ever, hands down, was the young girl from Hong Kong who was at Walt Disney World training to be a skipper for the soon to be opened Hong Kong Disneyland. She was just the greatest! Her enthusiasm was contagious. She made the worst, corniest jokes absolutely hysterical just because of her delivery. i hope she's still piloting the rivers over in Hong Kong and making guests smile. She was born to be a Jungle Cruise Skipper.
When it comes to Disney attractions, I speak a lot about simplicity in these countdowns. Sure, I'm a huge fan of cutting edge attraction technology the likes of which can be found in rides like Test Track and Avatar Flight of Passage. But I'm a huge believer in the simpler attractions that are enduring Disney classics. Jungle Cruise is one of those attractions. There are no thrills. The boat goes slow. The animatronics aren't all that advanced compared to newer attractions. Still, the stunning and beautiful details that surround you once you board your steamer and head off into the jungle are enough to keep guests, especially this guest, coming back for more year after year. Jungle Cruise is as original a Disney attraction as you're going to find. It's one of the building blocks and founding fathers of the entire Disney theme park experience. Walt was pushing boundaries and thinking way out of the box when he thought up attractions like this and it's almost incomprehensible to think that it's still entertaining guests more than 60 years after it debuted. People just don't get tired of it and that's a testament to Walt and his Imagineers that this attraction has such staying power.
I can't wait to blast off on the Millennium Falcon in about a week when I head back to Walt Disney World. i have a much coveted FastPass waiting for me for Flight of Passage in Pandora. My boys and I can't wait to hop into our cars and experience the high speed thrills of Test Track. But I guarantee you, I will have a big old grin on this weathered face of mine when our skipper cracks the first cringe inducing pun on the Jungle Cruise. It's a classic Disney moment that I just can't wait for.
That's all for this Top 5. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below and share your thoughts on my list and on the Jungle Cruise and i'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.