The Two Tales of Scales at Port Orleansby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort first opened to the public at the Walt Disney World Resort in May 1991. It was themed to the French Quarter of New Orleans around the mid-1800s and was situated by the Sassagoula River, a man-made Disney waterway named after the Native American word for the Mississippi.
The streets that radiate from the courtyard area are designed in a similar arrangement to historic Jackson Square located in the actual French Quarter of New Orleans.
The architecture showcases balconies, wrought-iron railings, cobblestone streets, and courtyards reminiscent of New Orleans in the 19th century. The lush landscaping consisting of pear trees, oaks, crepe, myrtles and magnolias reinforce this theme.
The jester figure located near Doubloon Lagoon pool is closely based on the figure found next to the Canal Street / Algiers Ferry terminal in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras legends, Blaine Kern Artists Inc., collected and created special prop items such as the jesters. Some of the Mardi Gras decorations were purchased directly from warehouses in New Orleans.
When guests checked in to the Port Orleans Resort during the first few years of operation, they received a copy of the “Sassagoula Sentinel,” a faux newspaper that included guest information including where the ice machines were located, whether a guest would be charged for making a collect call, when the boat would leave for the Village Marketplace, restaurant information, and other similar helpful directions.
This wonderful eight-page tabloid format (11-by-17) newspaper was also filled with historical news stories that recounted the fictional backstory of the resort. The story was a mixture of authentic history mixed with fanciful but logical additions from Walt Disney Imagineering.
According to the Imagineering backstory in the newspaper:
“Elizabeth Cuenta D’Arnet, was the founder of the Sassagoula Sentinel. Known to locals as Ruby Rivers, D’Arnet was firmly established as “The Poet Of The Delta,” for her popular verses that highlighted the virtues of living in the Sassagoula delta. The Sassagoula Sentinel was an instant success when the first edition hit the streets in 1835. Using her knowledge of the people and their customs, D’Arnet produced a daily that highlighted the cultural, financial and culinary news of the bustling little city. But more than anything else, the Sassagoula Sentinel linked the people of Port Orleans together.”
In the “Sassagoula Times” there was also a tale of Scales, the sea serpent at Port Orleans.
Ever since I was a kid, I have had a great affection for Disney sea serpents. The comedic one that appeared at the very end of the original Submarine Voyage at Disneyland Park never failed to make me smile, especially the explanation that it was probably just a hallucination from being submerged too long.
Over the years, there have been sea serpent topiaries at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. A 30-foot tall Lego sea serpent thrusts out of the water at Downtown Disney in Florida. There was a sea serpent in the World of Motion attraction at Epcot. Of course, the Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon features one of the oldest Disney sea serpents and utilizes four separate floats.
I also have a fondness for a Disney live action and animated 26-minute featurette released December 1973 called Man, Monsters and Mysteries with an animated version of the Loch Ness sea serpent voiced by Sterling Holloway. Of course, that may just be because I have always had a fascination for the Loch Ness monster.
It was a pleasant surprise for me, almost 15 years ago, to discover a sea serpent taking up residence at Disney’s Port Orleans.
The text on the back of the very first postcard released for the resort stated:
“Evoking a bygone era of romance and charm, the hidden courtyards, splashing fountains and lush gardens of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort create a welcome retreat. At the heart of it all is Doubloon Lagoon, where ‘Scales’ the sea serpent invites visitors to make a splash!”
Right in the middle of the illustrated card was this massive sea serpent, who didn’t look quite as dangerous as most sea serpents. Guests could join the parade of life-size costumed alligator band member figures playing jazz instruments to find the pool area of Doubloon Lagoon, named for the doubloon coins (along with strings of beads) that are tossed to folks celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
King Neptune, holding his iconic trident high in the air, rides majestically on top of the head of a highly unique and popular pool slide, a sea serpent named Scales. Guests emerge from the jaws of the serpent to slide down Scales’ long twisting 51-foot pink tongue into the 225,000 gallon pool.
Is there a story behind this delightful creature? Is his name just a reference to the fact that a sea serpent would have scales like a fish? Since it was built at the time where everything at the Walt Disney World Resort had to have some type of backstory, there are actually two different versions about how this monster from the sea ended up in a New Orleans swimming pool.
Here is the story of Scales from the “Sassagoula Sentinel”:
THE STORY OF SCALES, SEA SERPENT OF THE SASSAGOULA
A Mardi Gras Legend, 1882
“Folklore in the Sassagoula delta is a mix of various cultural traditions. The Indians that inhabited the area had many stories about the origins of the Sassagoula. One story they told explained how the river feared that the sea would consume all its water if the sea could find the source of the river. So in order to confuse the sea, the Sassagoula split into a thousand small rivers just before it reached the sea. This was how the delta was formed.
“The French and Spanish settlers brought many of their own cultural folklores with them and over time these traditions melded together. Most of the stories the children learned dealt with religious observances and holidays. However, one story emerged that was totally unique to Port Orleans.
“It seems that parents have always had a difficult time keeping their children away from the bayou that surrounds the city. These swampy marshes have inherent dangers such as alligators and snakes. So in order to frighten their children away from playing in the bayou, a story emerged of a large serpentine creature that lurks beneath the surface of the dark and still waters, waiting to eat unsuspecting children. Many people, it was said, met their demise while wandering in the misty depths of the murky swamp.
“Some of the older children were not frightened by the myth. So a group of fathers decided to do something to scare them. In a cabin near the bayou, the men constructed a large dragon-like serpent made of fence wire and bedsheets.
“They painted it with whatever they could find, so the finished product was a horrendous looking, multicolored contraption that took 16 men to operate. When the unsuspecting children arrived at the bayou, the serpent emerged, howling, screaming and chasing the ashen children all the way back to town.
“Each year the serpent reappeared at the end of the Mardis Gras parade, reminding the children to stay away from the bayou. Eventually ‘Scales’ became a permanent fixture at Doubloon Lagoon and can been seen there today.”
As with every Disney story, there is always more to the tale of Scales.
I believe that the credit for the name “Scales” should be given to one of the hidden treasures at Walt Disney World, talented writer Greg Ehrbar. An erudite and humorous author, he is a long time friend who is the co-author of a book that should be in every Disney historian’s library, “Mouse Tracks”. (Make sure you visit his website)
Over the decades, Ehrbar has contributed his writing skills to many Walt Disney World projects from providing accurate and entertaining fun facts for Regis Philbin’s narration of the annual Christmas parade to the creation of the hilarious “Timmy” videos to the charming children’s menu given out at Tony’s Town Square restaurant on Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom.
Speaking of children’s menus, Port Orleans once had a full-service restaurant called Bonfamille’s Cafe and next to it was Scat Cat’s Club. Disney animation fans will instantly remember that retired opera singer Madame Bonfamille was the owner of the talented French cats in the animated feature The Aristocats. Those famous felines were assisted in their adventures by a jazz band of cats led by the outrageous Scat Cat.
Back in the days when the Disney Company exceeded expectations by adding special touches, not only was a special children’s menu created for Bonfamille’s Café, it was done in the form of a booklet with line art drawings that could be colored at the table by energetic kids waiting for their meal.
This coloring book was written by Greg Ehrbar and illustrated by the very talented Peter Emslie. Emslie illustrated several Walt Disney World children’s menu, including ones themed to The Jungle Book and The Rescuers.
He enjoyed this work during his time at Disney because he got to draw characters that he wouldn’t normally be asked to do for his work in advertising or merchandise. Later, with Don “Ducky” Williams, Emslie got to illustrate a Little Golden Book story of The Aristocats.
To Emslie’s delight, Ehrbar created a sort of sequel to The Aristocats in a few short pages.
In the form of a photo album journal by Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, the booklet described how the good Madame, Duchess, the kittens, Thomas O'Malley and the Alley Cat Band took a musical cruise to Port Orleans, where they were "tailed" by a jazz-loving sea serpent.
The sea creature fell in love with the jazz that Scat Cat and his band played on the voyage. He was named "Scales" (a nod to musical scales and the Sherman Brothers tune, "Scales and Arpeggios" that appears in the film). The story closes with him staying at the resort to enjoy the music played by the resident “jazz gators." Of course, that menu stopped being produced for young guests years ago and the resort doesn’t even have a copy in its reference files.
Ehrbar received help from his wife, Suzanne, who grew up in New Orleans. He was among those people under the direction of Dale Stafford (who was in charge of the resort) who came up with the names for the new resort from boats to the laundry to the sea serpent in the pool. Ehrbar was responsible for naming “Doubloon Lagoon” and “Scales”. He was just told there would be a sea serpent slide in the then unnamed pool but given no further information.
However, with his vast knowledge and love of Disney animation, he was able to create a backstory for a new Disney character that has delighted guests for more than two decades.
I am sure there is even more to the story of this aquatic superstar. After all, what is King Neptune doing riding on top of Scales as if he was a bucking bronco? Did Neptune tame the creature to be his mighty steed? Is Neptune pulling up on the reins to force Scales’ mouth to open so that Scales tongue is outstretched because he is gagging?
Even in both stories, it seems quite a stretch that a sea serpent has taken up residence in New Orleans where there were no legends of sea creatures. Actually, there were plenty of sea serpent legends in the New England area so maybe Scales should have been at the Yacht Club instead.
So for future researchers, here is the forgotten background on this Disney resort hotel hidden treasure. In any case, Scales brings the same smile to my face when, as a kid, I saw the Submarine Voyage sea serpent—and that is definitely a true treasure in these difficult times.