|Opening date||July 17, 1955|
The attraction was on the opening day roster of the park and has remained open and largely unchanged in theme and story since then. Aside from alterations and maintenance changes, four completely new show scenes have been added to date. In 1995 the river channel was rerouted to make way for the queue buildings and entrance courtyard of the Indiana Jones Adventure.
While the current version and most previous instances have made use of a comedic spiel, filled with intentionally bad puns, the original intent of the ride was to provide a realistic, believable voyage through the world's jungles. The original spiel had no jokes and sounded much like the narration of a nature documentary.
Inspiration and design
Sources of inspiration for the attraction include a 1955 True-Life Adventure about a pride of lions, and the movie The African Queen. Imagineer Harper Goff referenced the African Queen frequently in his ideas; even his designs of the ride vehicles were modeled after the steamer used in the film. The project was placed on the schedule to open on July 17, 1955, debut of Disneyland.
When plans began to develop, Bill Evans, the Imagineer responsible for landscaping Disneyland and most of Walt Disney World, faced the daunting task of foresting an entire jungle on a limited budget. Aside from importing many actual tropical plants, he made wide use of "character plants" which, while not necessarily exotic, could give the appearance of exoticism in context. In a particularly well-known trick, he uprooted local orange trees and "replanted" them upside-down, growing vines on the exposed roots. The clean water was dyed brown to prevent visitors from seeing the bottom of the "river," which varies between three and eight feet deep.
Although Goff and Evans can be credited with the creation and initial design of the ride, Marc Davis, recognized for his work on venerable attractions such as The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, added his own style to the ride in later versions and Disneyland updates. The "Indian Elephant Bathing Pool" and "Rhinoceros Chasing Explorers up a Pole" were among his contributions.
Effect on Walt Disney
In a popular story recounted by Jeff Lange, a writer for weblogging site Jim Hill Media, an experience at the Jungle Cruise helped bolster Walt Disney's obsession with the concept of 'plussing', or continuous improvement. The story claims that Walt overheard a mother visiting Disneyland telling her child that since they had been on the ride the last time they visited the park, they didn't need to ride it again. In horror, he put his Imagineers to work designing upgrades to the ride. Many similar variations of this story exist.
The queue and station are themed as the headquarters and boathouse of a River Expedition Company, located in a (presumably British) colony of the 1930s. The queuing area is cluttered with appropriate props, such as pinned insects, an old radio on top of a bookshelf, and a chessboard with miniature animals and decorated shotgun shells replacing the pieces. The extended queue winds upstairs, underneath an Audio-Animatronic hornbill, and then downstairs again. Big band music from the 1930s plays overhead, punctuated by jungle-related news bulletins, helping to reinforce the setting and threading together the show scenes and boat.
Once aboard the boats, guests are introduced to their skipper and they head into the jungle, allegedly never to return. The first rivers simulated are the Irrawaddy and Mekong rivers, representing tropical Southeast Asia. The boats sail through a dense rainforest, and ancient Cambodian temple ruins where passengers see a Bengal Tiger, giant spiders, king cobras, and crocodiles. Passing a shrine to the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha, the boats enter the Sacred Indian Elephant Bathing Pool where dozens of Indian elephants prance in the water and squirt water at the passing vessels.
The theme transitions to the rivers of Africa and riders see a family of baboons and a safari camp that has been overrun by gorillas. The boats careen past the dramatic waterfall, Schweitzer Falls, between two African Elephants, and large termite mounds. A tableau of the African Veldt follows, showing zebras, wildebeest, and giraffes watching a pride of lions feasting on a zebra beneath a rocky outcropping. Beyond the lion's den, an angry rhinoceros has chased a safari party up a tree. Antelope and hyenas watch from nearby. The skipper then pilots the boat into a large pool, disturbing a pod of hippos that signal their intent to attack the boat. Armed with a gun filled with blanks, the skipper fires into the air to frighten them away.
Drums and chanting are heard as the boats come to headhunter country. The vehicles pass a native village before sailing into an ambush by natives wielding spears, the sound effects for which are usually provided by the skipper.
The boats pass behind Schweitzer Falls (referred to as "the Backside of Water") to enter the Amazon River. Skeletal animal remains and warning signs featuring pictures of dagger-toothed fish forewarn the next show scene, where the boats encounter a swarm of leaping piranha. The guests then pass a pool of water buffalo and meet shrunken head dealer Trader Sam before returning to the dock.
- 1962 - Addition of Indian Elephant pool
- 1964 - Addition of African Veldt and Lost Safari scenes
- 1993 - Various minor additions
- 1994 - Addition of boathouse queue
- 1995 – Rerouting of river to accommodate the Indiana Jones Adventure
- 1997 - Replacement of the original ride vehicles
- 2005 - Various replacements and reconstructions, addition of piranhas, and updates to Gorilla Camp scene
Description of specific changes
The baboons at the safari camp previously sat on the African termite mounds. A total of six lions have been removed since opening day: one that growled when the African Veldt was added, two lionesses from the Veldt that were fighting over a bloody strand of zebra meat, a lion and a lioness that each had a zebra leg in their mouth, and a dead lion hanging on a spit over a fire in the native village. Also removed from the Veldt were African wild dogs barking at the pride. The native village was originally a dense jungle filled with tikis, masks, and several more natives. Trader Sam previously wore a mask and a gorilla across the channel tried to grab his merchandise.
There are 12 vehicles, with a maximum of 9 in operation at any given time. The boats in 1955 were painted as clean, idealized replicas, but have since been given a more realistic theming reflecting the grunge and wear of actual watercraft due to the addition of Indiana Jones Adventure and its ruggedness.
Names in use
- Amazon Belle
- Congo Queen (gold-painted for 50th anniversary)
- Ganges Gal
- Hondo Hattie
- Irrawaddy Woman
- Kissimmee Kate
- Nile Princess
- Orinoco Adventuress
- Suwannee Lady
- Ucayali Una (Wheelchair equipped)
- Yangtze Lotus
- Zambezi Miss
Names decommissioned in 1997
- Magdalena Maiden
- Mekong Maiden
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