Flashback: the Opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eyeby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
It is hard to believe that it was 25 years ago that my old friend Tom Ferguson (whom I shall refer to as The Dude henceforth) and I attended opening day of the popular attraction Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The Dude would later refer to this attraction as "Indy" and for brevity and in honor of my good buddy I will use his term throughout this article.
The Dude and I lived in San Francisco and we would plan our Disney tours, as he liked to call our trips, by strategically buying annual passports. Back in the last millennium they were not quite as expensive and of course coming from San Francisco we would stay across the street at a motel so a parking pass was not needed. That year we planned a Christmas trip and then of course decided to brave the new attraction's opening day. Generally speaking an hour wait was our limit and there was not such a thing as FastPass back then, however we were determined to be able to say "I rode it on opening day." Technically speaking we were not able to actually make that claim.
I do not remember the particulars of how we purchased this opening day special event ticket but I am still in possession of "Commemorative Passport" with gold embossing, raised scales on the snake at the bottom and limited-edition numbering. It had a perforated stub at the bottom to be torn off upon gate entry but we also received a standard paper ticket. This kept your souvenir ticket in mint condition and therefore suitable for framing; ergo the frame.
Even 25 years ago without social media and all of these sites people seemed to be very aware of this new attraction. The Disney advertising team must have done such a great job that the rumored crowds for opening day were promising to be vast. Our touring plan consisted of arriving early on Thursday and dropping off our luggage at the motel as our rooms would not be ready yet and then enter the park. Travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles can be iffy sometimes with the fog delaying your take-off from the onset. It was a rainy day as per usual but luckily no fog. Travel went as scheduled. Our strategy was to literally ride all of the attractions on Thursday and Friday and save Saturday for Indy and the shows and musical groups (except the Dapper Dans who we would listen to every day of course) as we knew we may be waiting over two hours. Could the queues go to four hours? We didn't even want to think of such a thing.
The chilly rain followed us down south, which always keeps the locals away. We were hoping for light crowds. Upon entering Disneyland we were greeted with a ghost town on Main Street U.S.A. We figured that everyone must be off in a land of Fantasy or Tomorrow or perhaps enjoying an Adventure. This didn't seem odd at all especially on a rainy day. It turned out that the park was just as empty everywhere. Could our plan of hitting all major attractions be reached within our first partial day? I think Space Mountain was always at a steady 30-minute wait and other than that most queues were 15 minutes. The Dude's absolute favorite attraction was Peter Pan's Flight which he simply called "Pan". I suppose back in those days that would still be the longest wait time and we probably got on it in 15 to 20 minutes.
Memory is a funny thing. We tend to form cloudy memories based on what we remember most. The veracity of my memories are probably unfounded but since the brand new attraction was in Adventureland I seem to recall talking to an Adventureland cast member in food or retail. They emphatically told us that this was the slowest day of attendance in the history of Disneyland. Cast Members are not always a reliable source but this particular CM had worked there for many, many years and we weren't about to argue. What I can say is the complete truth was that that Thursday and Friday right before "Indy" opening were the slowest two days I have ever experienced at a Disney park property.
I recall that we had ridden Haunted Mansion and The Pirates of the Caribbean (The Dude's second favorite attraction) in the late afternoon when we walked by the "Open in 2 Days" sign in front of Indy. Out front there were Cast Members dressed in safari outfits with Indian Jones style hats. We complimented them on their outfits and wanted to find out if they had been on the attraction yet. They answered in the affirmative and asked us if we wanted to give it a try. With the small attendance that day walking into the attraction we were the only ones present until we got much further along the queue. The Dude and I worked in a fancy San Francisco restaurant and both of us had opened many restaurants and were quite familiar with the term "soft opening." We couldn't believe our luck. We were blown away by the lengthy queue.
We knew the ins and outs of the park pretty intimately and were aware that the attraction itself was on the other side of the train tracks and that it would be a bit of a hike. We were blown away by the theming. We had ample to time to check out the details. To play with the bamboo pole that is barely holding the ceiling up. We did notice that the diamonds Indiana was warning us to "Not Step On" didn't seem to do anything. We were sure they would fix that soon (as far as we know they never did), we were blown away by the news reel and the detailing in the production of that. We didn't care for that horribly loud feed-back sound effect. The feedback was accurate for the time period but we hoped they would cut that (they did do that). We got to ride it one more time before the evening ended. A half of a day in Disneyland and we already got on Indy twice before official opening. We were blown away by the new technology. Before you scoff, remember that this was 25 years ago and all of the effects upon opening were all practical. Very limited projections in the attraction that has been enhanced over the years.
My research states that Indy officially opened on a Saturday March 4th to the public and that there was a grand opening ceremony on March 3rd but I do not recall that all. Perhaps it was for invited media only and Adventureland was closed? I know The Dude and I were not privy to that ceremony and do not recall seeing any celebrities. I know we rode it that day and it may have been busier on Friday but I don't recall that feeling at all. We did ride it two more times for a total of four times. I do recall sitting in the News Reel room for 30 minutes as the attraction "broke down" and we still rode it because otherwise they wouldn't have let us sit and wait. Keep in mind that the only way for people to notify their pals that the attraction was up and running would be by going to a pay telephone in Disneyland and ringing their friends up at work or at home. With a media event that day there was no assurance that Indy would open up to the public so that may have kept crowds away also.
Saturday was an entirely different story. Having accomplished our goals for the trip before Friday we were not about to show up at the gates at five in the morning to be the first to ride Indy. I seem to recall that we showed up before park opening but our goal was to wait in line later in the afternoon when it would go down to about an hour. That never happened of course. Upon entering the park we saw that the queue to the attraction was backed up to Town Square in Main St. U.S.A.. There was a helicopter flying above. This was not like the past two days and Adventureland was madness. The report was that the line in the morning was indeed four hours to get onto your transport. We took advantage of the rest of the park relatively short lines. I don't think that the line for Indy went down to much less than three hours.
Cast members passed out business sized cards upon entering the attraction. Since the ride was originally sponsored by AT&T it of course had advertising on the reverse side. The Dude and I kept these in our wallets for future visits when the lines were quite long and we translated a lot of the temple. I seem to recall that one of the sayings was simply an advertising slogan. Since AT&T no longer sponsors the attraction we can only wonder whether that is still up there or if Disney Imagineers have changed it?
I am not sure when it happened but you used to go through three different chambers randomly right at the beginning. It was a sort of an illusion I am told but that effect doesn't seem to work and the chamber is always the same... at least in my perception. We couldn't look around enough. A lot of the special effects would get better over the years but at the time we thought it was amazing and perfect.
The Jungle Cruise was impacted by the addition of Indiana Jones. The attraction is one of the first things that is visible on the starboard bow and to make room for the queue and the temple façade the winding river was converted into a straight shot canal. Adventureland was one of the tightest lands that Walt built with little room for growth. Every time I take the Jungle Cruise I recall how windy the river started and fondly remember the pre-Indy days.
While at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge I recently ran into a cast member who was on the opening team of Indiana Jones. She reminisced about a ceiling that crashes in on guests in their transports before entering the room full of skeletons. The effect was achieved with very thin ice that dropped off of the ceiling giving guests a tactile feeling that seemed to work beautifully the first few weeks. The problem she said was that the clean-up never worked properly. There were grates that were supposed to melt the ice but the capacity of the ride was too great and the drains could not keep up with the ice and water so it was cut very early on. She told us that folks say this never happened and she says that the grates are still there if you are on the outside of the transport and look down you can see them. Again, memory is a funny thing and I myself do not recall at all this particular effect.
This Indy opening day effect reminds us of the lore of the Hat Box Ghost in the Haunted Mansion during the opening of that attraction in 1969. That ghost never worked quite right and was finally taken out of the Haunted Mansion early on. We think the confusion lies in the fact that it was there one day and gone the next so that everyone that said that it was or wasn't there was correct. Arguments ensued. The Hat Box ghost has finally returned and is certainly a fan favorite. Will the ceiling effect be worked on during the major refurbishment that Indiana Jones will have this year in 2020? Will there be new effects? Will the impact of the new technologies that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge uses make the Imagineers rethink guests' perception of this Adventureland favorite?
Happy 25th Anniversary Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye! If Tom were here today he would say "Happy Anniversary Indy." Miss you, man.