Throughout Walt Disney World, heritage is a big focus for many guests and Cast Members. The Jungle Cruise is one of those rare attractions that carries both a rich history and a certain level of prestige for the lucky Cast Members who work here.
Back in 1955, the Jungle Cruise was an opening day attraction at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. Loosely based on the Real Life Adventures film series, the Jungle Cruise was designed to be an informative trip across many lands, meandering down exotic rivers and highlighting live animals. Piloting a boat himself was none other than Walt Disney. Adventureland, where the Jungle Cruise was located, was Walt’s favorite land and, thus, the Jungle Cruise one of his favorite attractions.
Despite Walt’s best efforts the ride was… boring. Before the park even opened the idea of live animals was nixed, as Walt was told that many of the animals would only sleep during the day. So pneumatic audio-animatronic animals were installed so the Skippers (the pilots of the boats) had something to talk about. Though the Real Life Adventure films were a great success in theaters, the Jungle Cruise was not popular amongst thrill seeking guests. It took seven years for change to take hold, but in 1962 the original, documentary-style spiel was changed to a more lighthearted one, featuring bad puns and jokes. Also added were scenes that featured both animals and unlucky explorers in humorous situations.
In October 1971, the Jungle Cruise opened with Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. While the attractions have remained mostly unchanged since their opening days, a few things here and there were added or subtracted to help improve both the quality of the attractions and expand possible capacity. In Disneyland, a pool full of ravenous piranha were added in an area that was previously uninhabited in the early 1990’s. Also changed during this attraction update was the length of the river; it was shortened by several feet and shifted due to the construction of the nearby Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Both attractions have had their respective scripts altered and adjusted over time, but many of the classic jokes created in the 1960’s remain, giving the entire experience a campy feel.
During the holiday season of 2013, both Disneyland’s and Walt Disney World’s Jungle Cruises took on a new overlay known as the Jingle Cruise. The attractions received a brand new Christmas theme featuring renamed boats, special costumes for the cast, decorations around the jungle, and a special holiday themed spiel with jokes that are both full of puns and festively enjoyable. Other attractions, including it’s a small world, Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion, have enjoyed holiday overlays for years that are hugely popular amongst fans around the globe. The Skippers of the Jungle Navigation Company hope that the Jingle Cruise is welcomed into the club with open arms.
Being a Jungle Cruise Skipper is more difficult than some would like to believe. To some, it appears as though all the Skipper does is stand in front of people and read off jokes written by others. It appears as though it’s nothing but nonstop laughter. The reality is that being a Skipper has a certain amount of stress. Depending on the weather and the crowds, the guests on your particular boat could either be very receptive and laugh at everything, or completely detached and not care less what you have to say. After a few boats of the latter, A Skipper can find himself in a very bad mood for the rest of the day.
The trick to getting through a long day at the Jungle Cruise is to accept the fact that not every guest is going to listen, or laugh or appreciate anything you have to say in the slightest. It’s not that the skipper shouldn’t care or try, but they should just accept that every boat brings a new challenge and not take the silence personal.
The other main stress for Skippers is staying on script. The official Jungle Cruise spiel was designed and written to entertain every possible type of guest with absolutely no chance of offending anyone. There are plenty of Skippers that deliver the spiel exactly as it is written. If presented correctly with the right pacing, timing, and tone the official script can be riotously funny. However, if the Skipper is indifferent to those things regardless of what he is saying, the trip won’t be funny no matter what jokes he tells. Those Skippers who venture off script do so at their own risk. There are people who work at the theme parks whose entire job consists of experiencing attractions in street clothes and watching the Cast Members only to report what they see and hear to upper management. A Skipper never knows if one of these people are on their boat, so doing an offensive joke is not recommended.
Like the Haunted Mansion Cast, the Skippers of the Jungle Cruise have a certain personality to play into. While many attractions require only a friendly face and certain level of competency with the buttons, the Jungle Cruise takes a bit more. The best Skippers are outgoing, lively, funny, and a bit Goofy. If you’re looking for creative and witty antics, this is the place to find them. Despite its challenges, the life of a Skipper is a lighthearted one, sprinkled through with ample humor and kitschy charm.
If you’re looking for a taste of original Disney, the Jungle Cruise is a must-see on your Walt Disney World vacation. Though this particular ride opened after Walt’s death, the concept is one of the few to still have his fingerprints on it. Nestled amid the lush foliage of Adventureland, this attraction truly promises an adventure. To fully appreciate the experience, keep your eyes and ears open from the time you enter the queue until the moment you disembark. From the radio programming in the queue to the carefully delivered scripts of the Skippers, this is an unforgettable journey from first to last.