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

Image: Disney

The Enchanted Tiki Room opened in 1963 at Disneyland. When Magic Kingdom followed in 1971, the attraction was included there as well, renamed Tropical Serenade but otherwise mostly indistinguishable from the original, Walt-approved show from a decade earlier. But now, the two would diverge.

MAGIC KINGDOM: "Under New Management" (1998 - 2011)

Tropical Serenade closed on September 1, 1997 at Magic Kingdom in Florida.

The closure was an early entry in a new way of doing things under the supervision of then-CEO Michael Eisner. We've long-studied Eisner and how his arrival at Disney in the mid-80s was the shot of cinematic excitement that the stagnant Walt Disney Productions needed. Even Eisner's unprecedented decision to quickly modernize Disney Parks by bringing in outside intellectual properties (like Indiana Jones and Star Wars) now feel like obvious second-nature additions. In retrospect, Eisner was doing for the '80s and '90s exactly as Walt had in the '50s: stocking the park with the stories and settings that mattered to modern audiences.

Image: Disney

The pivot point in Eisner's story is his biggest financial bet yet – Disneyland Paris – and how the infamously overbuilt resort crashed and burned financially. After its 1992 opening, Eisner lost his nerve for costly Parks projects, surrounded himself in penny-pinching executives, and infamously stalled, stopped, or downgraded every project planned for Disney Parks across the globe for decades. That’s when Eisner’s character initiative went on overdrive, killing bicoastal Lost Legends: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, Country Bear JamboreeIf You Had Wings, and The Timekeeper in favor of Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, Lilo & Stitch, Winnie the PoohToy Story 2, and Monsters Inc., respectively. This late-90s strategy is what eventually lead to Tomorrowlands across the globe becoming creative catch-alls for Pixar properties, shuttered classics, and overlaid characters across Epcot's Future World and World Showcase.

But before any of that would happen, to kick off this "new management" strategy Magic Kingdom’s Tropical Serenade was purchased outright by two birds much more familiar for ‘90s kids: Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King. The two new managers had big plans for updating the Tiki Room, and their much more “hip and edgy” attraction opened April 5, 1998.

Image: Disney

The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management was a slapstick show more fit for a ‘90s family entertainment center than a Disney Park, more or less silencing the Tiki Birds in favor of Iago’s grating commentary on how old-fashioned, out-of-date, and unwanted they were. The attraction introduced an imposing goddess named Uh-Oa who frightened children and ultimately blasted Iago to a crisp. Lambasting the Walt Disney original and born of Disney’s “straight-to-DVD” era, the ill-conceived attraction (to our thinking, unfortunately) became the attraction for a generation.

We dove into exactly what this instantly outdated overlay had in store in its own in-depth feature – Declassified Disasters: The Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management ­– but suffice it to say that most Disney Parks fans felt a great deal of schadenfreude when it literally caught on fire, ending its thirteen year run on January 11, 2011. That could've spelled the end for the Tiki Room entirely... 

Image: Disney

While many fans suspected Disney would cut their losses and close the classic, imagine their surprise when the least likely of all options was announced: the attraction would re-open at Magic Kingdom... as Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room! Just as the Disney World opener had been a duplicate of Disneyland's, the restored classic that opened August 15, 2011 simply cloned Disneyland's most recent revision of the original, reflecting the fine-tuning it had recieved in the decades since.

Speaking of which...

DISNEYLAND: Like the birdies sing (1963 - Today)

Image: Disney

Throughout its 55 year life at Disneyland, the Enchanted Tiki Room has indeed weathered its ups and downs. The "ups" taking place via incremental upgrades that kept the show's audio systems up-to-date, replaced and re-colored feathers, celebrations of the show's anniversaries, etc.; the "downs" mostly occuring during that low-budget late '90s era, during which bird feathers were known to fall from the Audio-Animatronics and rain down on the crowd below.)

Luckily, even in its lowest moments, the Disneyland version of the attraction was never put "under new management..." Not that Disneyland's intensely-loyal and overwhelmingly local guests would've allowed it anyway without burning the whole place down.

Image: Disney

Once Eisner and his team vacated Disney, another round of new management (this time, via Disneyland President Matt Ouimet) set out to reverse the cost-cutting of his Pressler predecessor. To prepare for the park's 50th Anniversary celebration in 2005, the attraction underwent a seven month intensive refurbishment including all-new Audio-Animatronics, entirely new sound systems, and a fine-tuning that cut five minutes from the show's runtime (from 17 minutes to 12, ostensibly to make the show more enjoyable to modern audiences and their infamously short attention spans). Today, the attraction – formally named Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room – continues to play with no signs of stopping.

TOKYO: Tikis (1983), nightclubs (1999), and aliens (2008 - Today)

Aside from Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, a third Enchanted Tiki Room opened alongside Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1983. In 1999, it was converted to The Enchanted Tiki Room: Now Playing "Get the Fever!" essentially recasting the birds as stars in a madcap Las Vegas style nightclub revue show in the middle of a jungle. In this version, the four hosts were reprogrammed and renamed, becoming lounge birds Danno, Scats, Buddy, and Lava culminating in singing the 1956 Little Willie John hit song, "Fever."

After less than a decade, the unusual attraction closed and became The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai! It would be difficult to overstate the popularity of the alien character from 2002's Lilo and Stitch in Japan. The mischievious blue dog-like Experiment 626 features widely across the Tokyo Disney Resort, and is present in the Tiki Room in much the same advanced Audio-Animatronic theater-in-the-round form as in the Magic Kingdom Declassified Disaster: Stitch's Great Escape.

Image: Disney

So the Japanese Tiki Room now trades José, Fritz, Michael, and Pierre for the four "Birds of Paradise:" Hanoli, Manu, Mahina, and Waha Nui and features sing-along style performances of "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride," "Hawaiian War Chant" (from the original attraction) and "Aloha e Komo Mai." While it may sound downright awful to describe Tokyo's version of the Tiki Room is a mix of the Disneyland original, Magic Kingdom's "Under New Management," and Stitch's Great Escape, the results are spectactacularly beloved at Tokyo Disneyland... and isn't that what counts?

Cockatoos and cocktails

Perhaps one of the most spectacular things about the Enchanted Tiki Room for fans of Disney Imagineering isn't its history, but the world that's been built around it. And no, we're not just talking about the Dole Whip that's been an attraction staple since Dole took over sponsorship from United Airlines in 1976.

Image: Disney

In 2011, Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar opened at the Disneyland Hotel, instantly becoming a fan favorite and reviving the "Tiki Craze" in Disney Parks. Part dive bar, part show, the out-of-the-way establishment is renowned for its tropical-inspired drinks which –upon being ordered – literally bring the bar to life with spectacular special effects. Meanwhile, the walls are lined with adventurous letters, newspaper clippings, and momentos of far-flung adventures seemingly uniting the Tiki Bar (and thus, the Tiki Room) to the nautical exploits of S.E.A.: The Society of Explorers and Adventurers.

And, for example, if the newspaper clippings announcing the discovery of the so-called "Temple of the Forbidden Eye" are "canon" with the "Tiki Room universe," then the enchanted aviary would have to exist in the same massive, cross-continental continuity that includes not only Adventureland neighbors Indiana Jones Adventure and the Jungle Cruise, but also Modern Marvels: Mystic Manor, Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror, and Downtown Disney's long-gone Lost Legend: The Adventurers Club! Alright, so it's a lot of baked-in speculation and fan service... but by planting evidence, Imagineers got what they wanted, which is to energize Disney Parks enthusiasts like you and I. 

Image: Disney

In 2015, Trader Sam's Grog Grotto opened at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World as well, featuring a cocktail named after (and reawakening when ordered) the goddess Uh-Oa from "Under New Management."

The latest announcement returns to where it all began. The Tahitian Terrace restaurant at Disneyland (the one Stouffer's swapped to when food was cut from the Tiki Room) closed in 1993 to be made over into Aladdin's Oasis, carving away a bit of the park's Polynesian flair in favor of an out-of-place Agrabah corner. By the early 2000s, Aladdin's Oasis was a mostly-vacant, underutilized character meet-and-greet wasting the once-treasured real estate in the Tiki Room's shadow.

Click and expand for a larger and more detailed view. Image: Disney

But in 2018, Disney made a surprise announcement: that the often-empty Oasis would beome closer to its origins, re-opening as the Tropical Hideaway (as in, "Welcome to our tropical hidaway, you lucky people, you!") – an exotic trader's market and restaurant almost certainly meant to evoke the original Tahitian Terrace atmosphere… and offering its own Barker Bird – the much-talked-about but never-seen Rosita, who "flew the coop!"

Image: Disney

Most exciting for many Imagineering fans, the Tropical Hideaway is really an intersection, bringing together the three “eras” and crossroads of Adventureland: the African origins, the Polynesian Tiki wave, and the 1940s Indiana Jones overlay. Mix it all with S.E.A.: The Society of Explorers and Adventurers, a new home for the Dole Whip, and a place to watch Jungle Cruise boats return to civilization and you've got a winning combination that extends the Tiki Room's reach and story even further.

A Walt Disney Classic

Image: Disney

For a generation of Walt Disney World guests who grew up with Iago and Zazu leading the show, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room may be a tropical bore; a naive, slow-paced and yawn-inducing exercise in half-baked ‘nostalgia’ for a time that the Florida park wasn’t even alive for.

But for most Disney Parks fans, that’s exactly the point! The Enchanted Tiki Room is a reminder of another time; an era when the Tiki Craze swept across the United States and inspired Americans to seek adventure in the newly-accessible world of Oceania. It’s a carefree and casual moment in the fast-paced world of FastPass+ and dining reservations; a reminder of what Imagineering can do; an icon of technology and innovation; a masterpiece of artists, musicians, songwriters, engineers, and storytellers; a fusion of the best work of Disney Legends; a living memorial to Walt Disney.

Image: Disney

That’s why, even 55 years after its opening, we all “sing like the birdies sing” when we step into Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room; why children go years simply assuming that in this magical place, the birds sing words and the flowers croon, and that's just how it is; and why we argue that it stands proud among our library of Modern Marvels as one of the greatest attractions on Earth.

If you enjoyed this look at the Enchanted Tiki Room, be sure to make the jump to our LEGEND LIBRARY to set course for another in-depth feature. Dig deep into Modern Marvels, relive closed, classic Lost Legends, or explore Disney's Declassified Disasters inside out. Then, use the comments below to share your moments about The Enchanted Tiki Room and its role at Disney Parks.

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