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The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room: The Full-Feathered Story Behind Walt Disney's Tropical Serenade

Enchantment

Image: Disney

The Enchanted Tiki Room opened June 23, 1963 in a prominent position alongside Adventureland’s main entry. It was United Airlines who would end up sponsoring the Enchanted Tiki Room for its first dozen years, capitalizing on and advertising their new flight paths to Hawaii.

A single Audio-Animatronics figure – known as a “barker bird” – was placed outside of the attraction’s entry and programmed to spiel like a carnival barker to usher guests in. So unthinkable and unimaginable was the technology that guests gathered around to stare in wonder and awe at the inexplicably intelligent bird.

Image: Disney

In fact, “Juan” (cousin of the attraction’s M.C., José) became an attraction in his own right, drawing gawking crowds who clogged Adventureland’s entrance, necessitating his removal. (A replica exists today at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, programmable by guests.)

Even for his short time on display, Juan did his job: giving some point of reference for the unthinkable promise of “singing birds and flowers” inside the attraction. So when guests did step over its threshold, what did they find? Well that’s the fun part.

The Enchanted Tiki Room

Image: Disney

Nestled into a volcanic grotto alongside Adventureland's entry, the Enchanted Tiki Room is indeed a sight to behold, with its thatch-roofed South Seas architecture, burning Tiki torches, and expansive lanai courtyard. At least since 1976 when Dole took over sponsorship from United Airlines, this relaxing tropical grotto is also the place to secure your Dole Whip – the pineapple soft serve treat that's become an icon of the Tiki Room... and maybe, for all of Disneyland.

As you wait for the doors of the Tiki Room to open, a most wonderful and storied "pre-show" of sorts awaits in the Enchanted Tiki Garden. Here, Māori and Hawaiian gods scattered around the courtyard come to life one-by-one to explain their gifts to the people of Hawaii.

The pounding of drums reverberating from each draws guests' eyes as the god speaks its story and animates with simple special effects. It's easy to see why audiences back in the attraction's opening era would've found this exploration into pan-Pacific mythology so fascinating, and it remains so today. In fact, one might argue that this tropical tempo-setting display is among the most wonderful "hidden gems" in Disneyland. 

Once the doors open, we're ushered into a dimly-lit interior of the ornate hut. Even in the darkness, it's easy to see a few birds roosting in and around the tropical plants that surround the room, with ornately-carved totem poles on each corner, tikis lofted high around the room's outskirts, and a central pedestal. 

What comes next must be seen to be believed... We invite you to sit back, relax, and take in the South Seas simplicity and ease of the Enchanted Tiki Room:

Classic in every day, the Enchanted Tiki Room stars José, Fritz, Michael, and Pierre – four macaw "emcees" – who lead their feathered glee club in a tropical singalong. Filled with island ease, superb songs, and technology that remains surprising and mostly-invisible even to modern audiences, the attraction is classic through-and-through; an icon of Disneyland's early years, and a true marvel.

Naturally, that meant that the story of the Tiki Room wouldn't end in California...

MAGIC KINGDOM: Tropical Serenade (1971 – 1997)

When work began in earnest on the new “Disney World” to be built in Central Florida, the mission was clear: this new “Disneyland East” would need to feature all of the best parts of Disneyland, scaled up and ready for the “Vacation Kingdom of the World” and the international draw it would provide.

That’s why Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage was reformatted to become the Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; why Disneyland’s Adventure Thru Inner Space evolved eastward to become its spiritual sequel and Magic Kingdom Lost Legend: If You Had Wings; why Disneyland’s spectacular Pirates of the Caribbean was meant to be swapped for the Florida-exclusive Possibilityland: Western River Expedition.

Image: Disney

In the decade since its debut at Disneyland, the Enchanted Tiki Room had certainly earned a place in the new Magic Kingdom in Florida, and it was naturally reproduced for the park. Sponsored by the Florida Citrus Growers, the renamed Tropical Serenade opened with the park on October 1, 1971. Despite the name change, a new pre-show, the more elaborate and iconic Sunshine Pavilion housing it, and the auxiliary inclusion of the Florida Citrus Growers’ custom-made Orange Bird mascot, the actual show itself was a carbon copy of Disneyland’s 1963 original.

Images: Disney

Now, Disneyland fans will be quick to tell you that Walt himself never stepped foot in Magic Kingdom, nor any other square foot of the Orlando resort that shares his name… At least, not since it was nothing more than undeveloped land. Whether that’s relevant to the resort’s culture and nostalgic reverence or not is an argument for another time, but the presence of a genuine, unaltered, Walt Disney original in Magic Kingdom is something that many celebrated. And of course, such a timeless, reverent, and storied celebration of mid-century pop culture stamped by Walt’s own fingerprints would remain a beloved fan-favorite forever...

... Right?

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