TPT logo

Your guide to theme parks in Orlando and beyond

 

Main menu

This Attraction Was So Bad Disney Fans Cheered When it Closed Forever

If you've been around here for a while, you know that for years, Theme Park Tourist has been building up a library of Lost Legends – in-depth features where we’ve told the complete stories behind beloved-and-lost classics like Journey Into Imagination, Horizons, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Maelstrom, Alien Encounter, and dozens more. If it's a closed fan favorite, chances are it's gotten its own standalone entry with everything you'd ever hope to know!

And while those lost masterpieces have a special place in our hearts, they really only tell half the story. Now it’s time to face the facts: not all attractions go on to be legends. That brings us here, to our Disaster Files series, where we dissect the before, during, and after of some truly unfortunate missteps. While it may be the legends that are remembered, our favorite parks have also hosted rides like SeaWorld's Journey to Atlantis, Cedar Point's aptly-named Disaster Transport, Disney's embarassing Superstar Limo, and the abysmal misfire of Rocket Rods – failures, flops, and outright disasters. Embarrassing overlays, broken technologies, and tone-deaf “upgrades” can lead to some seriously regrettable rides. And today, we'll deal with a doozy.

An attraction with crude jokes, regrettable humor, and dated 90s style already spells disaster. Now imagine that these unfortunate ingredients were forced into a beloved classic dating back to Walt himself – one of the few Walt Disney World attractions he sincerely oversaw. It may sound unlikely, but just ask those who experienced The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, the too-long-lived overlay of a timeless classic. Why did this happen? How? Today, we’ll find out.

The beginning

Image: Disney

Whenever we take an in-depth look at a legendary tale, we always try to start at the beginning. And the story of one of Disney’s most fine-feathered disasters really begins a continent away in a tropical paradise. Though, truthfully, it’s more semi-arid than tropical. It begins with Disneyland’s opening in 1955. As we know well by now, Disneyland was downright groundbreaking for audiences of the era. No other park had a single entrance blocked by gates. No other park had been master-planned with a maddeningly simple hub-and-spokes format. No other park had been built by filmmakers, adorned with thoughtful details and cinematic styling.

Within its five themed lands, Walt and his Imagineers had crafted almost-literary worlds of starring genres: a land of tomorrow, fantasy, frontier, adventure, and nostalgia all wrapped in idealized Americana, romantic wonder, and the optimistic perspective of the time. Put simply, Disneyland’s themed lands represented the perfected, imagined realms that fascinated audiences of 1955.

Take Frontierland. At the time of Disneyland’s opening, Americans were practically obsessed with the Old West, as kids spent summer days playing Cowboys and Indians outside, returning home to watch The Lone Ranger and Davy Crockett on living room televisions. (Sure, years later Disney would recognize that the Old West was no longer compelling or interesting to modern audiences. To counter the West's decline, Imagineers designed seaside steampunk San Francisco expansion for Frontierland would’ve fixed that once and for all, making Frontierland again attractive to contemporary audiences. But that’s a tale you can catch up on in our Possibilityland: Discovery Bay feature).

Image: Disney

Frontierland was a response to the wants of a 1950s audience. Adventureland was the same. Of all the "adventures" out there, why was Disneyland's Adventureland set in a distant remote jungle? In the 1950s, audiences were enamored with the “mysterious” wonders that might’ve been hiding in the misty jungles of Africa. Films like The African Queen, Congo Crossing, Disney’s own True-Life Adventure series, and never-ending Tarzan films had shaped pop culture. To Disneyland’s earliest visitors, those jungles represented adventure brought to life.

That changed just a few years after Disneyland’s opening when, in 1959, Hawaii was added as the country's 50th state. Suddenly, the “exotic” wonders of the South Pacific became all the rage as entertainment, architecture, art, and food on the mainland went Polynesian. The ensuing Tiki Craze spread across the country as Polynesian gods, floral leis, tropical patterns, rattan furniture, rum cocktails, surfing, tiki torches, and hula skirts swept the mainland. People wanted a piece of paradise, and exotic Hawaii made it feel attainable.

Just like that, the definition of “adventure” changed, and Adventureland needed to change with it. Disneyland’s Polynesian coup would be the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Tiki takeover

Image: Disney

First, Walt had envisioned the attraction as a full-service restaurant with guests dining beneath perched tropical birds and exotic tropical plants to the sounds of the South Pacific. His Imagineers finally approached him to express their dissatisfaction, noting that the birds would “poop in the food!” Walt explained that he never intended for the birds to be real, and instead hoped to craft mechanical macaws using the same technology as the land’s headlining Jungle Cruise.

And indeed, the Tiki Room was poised for meal service. Today, it still has an attached kitchen (used for adjacent Tahitian Terrance restaurant, now called Aladdin’s Oasis), its own restrooms (unadvertised, but available to guests), and (in a bit of well-publicized trivia), the enchanted fountain at the room’s center is apparently equipped with storage lending itself to its original intent: a coffee station.

Whatever the case, Walt ultimately must’ve agreed that there was something inherently unappetizing about dining beneath birds in bamboo perches (even mechanical ones) and the restaurant idea was scrapped.

Image: Disney

Luckily, The Enchanted Tiki Room that opened was perhaps even more impressive. That’s because the attraction served as a first-ever use of an emerging technology that Imagineers patented: Audio-Animatronics. While Disney’s animatronic creations (and their predecessors, “electro-mechanicals”) were impressive and lifelike in their way, Audio-Animatronics would be different.

As their name implies, these new figures didn’t just look alive, they sounded it. Every one of the birds, plants, and tiki totems in the theatre independently breathes, flaps, clicks, shuffles, and dances to rhythmic serenades fit for the Big Island. Each figure moves in tandem with audio to give the impression that the birds are sincerely singing along. How could the technology of the 1963 produce such sophisticated figures? We took an in-depth look into the story behind animatronics technology that's worth a read, but suffice it to say that these figures were controlled by a massive computer room buried under the attraction where reels of magnetic tape acted as "brains," triggering sounds and moving pneumatic pistons that powered wings, beaks, eyes, and chests. 

So advanced and unthinkable was this Audio-Animatronic technology to audiences of the 1960s that a single “barker bird” positioned outside the Tiki Room at the entrance to Adventureland stopped guests in their tracks. Indeed, so many guests crowded around the seemingly “brilliant” bird, massive groups blocked Adventureland’s entrance day and night, entranced by the impossible figure. It wasn't long before the barker bird was removed simply to unclog the path at Adventureland's entrance!

Even today, more than fifty years later, the groundbreaking choir of creatures in the Enchanted Tiki Room is wild enough to make our must-read countdown of the Best Animatronics on Earth. The feathered figures perform in perfect harmony, leaving young-at-heart guests with the distinct and unshakable impression that they’ve seen truly magical (or at least very well-trained) living birds.

Flying south

The Enchanted Tiki Room was a bona fide hit and, like so many of the original ideas imagined by Walt and his cast in the early years, it’s timeless. Like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, or Carousel of Progress, the Enchanted Tiki Room would stand the test of time and remain an invaluable piece of Disneyland; the kind of storied, unshakable, good-hearted family aside that sets Disney Parks apart.

Image: Disney

While its sing-along-friendly songs (like “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing”) were a blast, there’s no forgetting the show’s headlining hit: “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.” Written by the venerated Sherman Brothers (the duo responsible for… well… just about every Disney Parks hit you can imagine from “it’s a small world” and "World of Color" to “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and the "One Little Spark" headliner that featured in another Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination. The two even wrote Mary Poppins’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”!), the infectious and joyful "Tiki Room" song is easily one of the strongest in the Disney Parks songbook and a sing-along masterpiece.

Of course, when Imagineers set to work designing Disneyland’s younger sister to be built in Florida, it was obvious that the enchanted chorus of the Tiki Room would have a place of honor in a ready-made, grand theatre. Opening alongside Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971, the transplanted copy of the attraction was called Tropical Serenade – a fitting way to describe the leisurely, relaxing, and magical show that awaited within.

Attraction posters for the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland (left) and Tropical Serenade at Magic Kingdom (right). Images: Disney

Like most attractions duplicated from Disneyland to the larger, grander, master-planned Magic Kingdom, the transplanted Tiki Birds in their new Tropical Serenade would take on a larger-than-life presence. The towering Sunshine Pavilion would rise above the jungles of this larger Adventureland as the land's "weenie" - the visual landmark to draw guests in from Magic Kingdom's hub. Disneyland's version had guests queue in an enchanted volcanic grotto where magical tiki totems of Polynesian gods told their tales. Magic Kingdom's was a bit different, featuring two comical birds revealed from behind a waterfall, explaining how they'd found the Sunshine Pavilion while escaping from some hungry Jungle Cruise predators. Then, guests would be ushered inward where an exact copy of the Disneyland original would delight young and old in simple, sing-along wonder.

A beautiful work of Imagineering and a living testament to Walt Disney’s imagination, both Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Magic Kingdom’s identical Tropical Serenade stood among Disney's best ever attractions. So how and why would Disney do something to turn a revered Walt original into a disaster? What happens next may be too painful for Disney Parks fans to relive… Read on…

Image: Disney

Go to page:

Pages


There are 11 comments.

I was part of the generation that never saw the original Tiki Room, but was in love with the Under New Managememt version. Every time we would go, I also made my parents go watch it because I loved it. Removing it was like taking away part of my childhood. Iago and Zazu were very much involved as well, it wasn't going to be outdated for me and my generation due to those characters being involved in some of the first movies we ever saw/remembered.

I liked Under New Management. The first time I saw the show it was UNM and it was a joy. I remember coming back with my fiancé and wanting him to experience it, enticing him with his favorite birds, only for him to be extremely disappointed and bored. He's not even willing to watch the show anymore because he considered it repetitive and obnoxious.

I saw this back in 2003. As someone who grew up with and loved both Aladdin and the Lion King, I didn't find the show that bad back then. Looking back on it now as an adult and not a teenager, I can see how dated and cynical it is. Went to the original in Disneyland last summer and it is head and shoulders over this "improvement."

I honestly found the Under New Management version to be way more entertaining than the current version. Granted I grew up with Iago and Zazu, but when I took my kids last year to see the current version for the first time, we all found it to be a bore. under New Management always had a decent crowd, but the current version is lightly attended just as it was in the early 90's.

As Iago's #1 fan, I must say I loved Under New--Aahh, can it! I was so nostalgic for a childhood fave like the original Tiki Room that not even Iago could save the remake for me. I only saw UNM maybe 3 times. On vacations to Disneyland, I made sure to see the "original". In fact, one time, I got to wake up Jose! That was the highlight of my trip. I couldn't believe it when WDW went back to the original. That almost never happens, and was a dream come true. Oh, and Iago retired and lives in my room with his mate Thundra and a host of tropical (and stuffed) birds!

I don't think the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management was as bad as you say. If the Iago animatronic had not been destroyed in a fire, it still may be running today. It was humorous, fun and modern. I do love the original, but Under New Management was not that bad.

I love the "Lost Legends" series, and I look forward to seeing what lost disasters you chronicle!

I saw "Under New Management" exactly once, in 2001. I was befuddled - and, I admit, amused - by what I saw. I suspect, though, that it was the novelty aspect more than anything. (My next WDW visit wasn't until 2013, when the Tiki Room was back to it's rightful place.)

As someone who grew up with the original AND the two popular movies (I'm only 37 so I'm an 80s/90s kid) I positively HATED the New Management version. It was tasteless. After having gone about four or five years without a trip to WDW I was finally back for my honeymoon. Of course I had to go to the Tiki Room as I'd always loved it. I was horrified at what awaited me. I did a dance when I heard it was gone and the original was back. My kids (8 and 5) love it as well and talked about the birds and the tiki totems for days after our latest trip in June. Of course, they also enjoy the countries in Epcot WITHOUT characters. Known stuff is not necessary for enjoyment. I hope Disney never tries that again. Can't wait for my girls' trip in January so my two friends and I can sing with the birdies!

If it was changed in 1997, I would have been nine the first time I saw Under New Management. We lived a few hours away and went every Fall, so even by that age I knew what to expect; I'm a huge fan of 90s Disney movies, but the remix of the ride and having the original 'cast' of birds get criticized just seemed mean to me, especially compared to the sweet musical from before. We were befuddled, as a prior commentor said, and rather disappointed.

We may have visited the ride once more after that, but when we realized it wasn't going to get changed back, it was stricken from our list of go-to rides. I'm glad it's back to it's original splendor, although I definitely feel for the kids who were just a few years younger than me for whom the new version is the original and are now super confused.

I don't begrudge Disney, though; Walt said the parks would always be growing and changing, and trying new ideas with mixed results is better than being too scared to ever improve anything.

I grew up with the original. We saw the under new management and thought it was awful!!! So glad when the original came back. It should never be changed...my grandchildren loved it earlier this year when we took them.

Pages

Connect with Theme Park Tourist: