14 Surprising Stories You Never Heard About Disney's Adventureland
Credit: ©2012 Disney Enterprises

Imagine being in the room with Disney’s Imagineers, hearing the creative legends’ stories and seeing their snapshots from well before Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s modern times. It’s not a throwback to the ‘50s or an upcoming documentary — in fact, it happens semi-regularly...

In November of last year, D23 Destination D: Amazing Adventures brought back Imagineers’ decades-old details, vintage video clips, and first-hand accounts into how epic attractions like the Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Pirates of the Caribbean even came to be. The two-day event, hosted by Disney’s official fan club D23, honed in on Adventureland as the theme for the conference, which occurs on opposite years of the massive D23 Expo. While major news announcements, celebrity panels, and wide-reaching events go down at the Comic-Con-like Expo, this members-only retreat serves as a deep-dive into the stories, sketches, and early ride designs for attractions Disney fans know and love.

If you thought being Disney woke was knowing the Jungle Cruise skippers are the ones controlling those water-spraying elephants, these in-the-know tidbits are rich with never-before-heard secrets, and serve as just a taste of the insider status granted to those who join D23. Get ready for a deep dive into the rich history and uncovered tales from Disney parks around the world:

The Tiki Room was supposed to be a restaurant.

The first Enchanted Tiki Room wasn’t intended to be an attraction at all. Originally slated to be a restaurant sponsored by Stouffer’s, it wasn’t until a colleague mentioned to Walt that diners may worry of the audio-animatronic birds doing their business below and find it unappetizing that the idea was re-developed into the stand-alone show that exists today.

Tarzan’s Treehouse was actually a bargaining chip.

The Swiss Family Treehouse was rethemed as Tarzan’s Treehouse at Disneyland in 1999, but it wasn’t a promotional ploy. In fact, it’s the only thing that saved the 80-foot creation from being removed. Imagineer Tony Baxter offered then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner a deal: give him the budget they’d normally use to promote a film in the park, and he’d fix up the treehouse, busted branches and all, in time for Tarzan’s opening. By partnering with Disneyland’s maintenance staff, Imagineering just barely pulled it off, opening one day before the movie’s release.

The Jungle Cruise wasn’t originally so funny.

The Jungle Cruise has changed extensively since it first opened at Disneyland in California in 1955, but the most significant shift stemmed from it never intending to be a humorous ride at all. The first Jungle Cruise narrations felt more like a nature documentary, and while they added groan-worthy jokes in its first few years of operation, the so-called “spiel” eventually grew to include punny comments on weather, its passengers or anything to the preference of its boat guides, otherwise known as skippers.

The Jungle Cruise at Hong Kong Disneyland Is Trilingual.

There isn’t a Jungle Cruise at Disneyland parks in Shanghai or Paris, but Hong Kong Disneyland more than makes up for it. Skippers there tell the famed “shpiel” in three different languages — English, Mandarin and Cantonese — with guests lining up in separate queues for each.

There was supposed to be a full-fledged Indiana Jones roller coaster.

Disneyland originally planned for two Indy-themed rides—the beloved Indiana Jones Adventure that stands today, as well as a roller coaster themed to the mine car sequence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Due to budget constraints, only the first came to fruition, but the plans were never wasted. An Indy mine car coaster, which at one time ran completely backwards, was erected inside Disneyland Paris’ Adventureland.

In the early days, the Jungle Cruise animals were often spotted on the highway.

The oversized animals featured on the Jungle Cruise weren’t always spotted in outer continental waters. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see elephants and other famed audio-animatronic animals on the back of trucks on California’s freeways, making their way from the studios, where they were built, to Disneyland Park.

There are two parts to Shanghai Disneyland’s Adventureland.

Instead of one Adventureland, Shanghai Disneyland has two, split into separate lands called Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove, with rides and entertainment in each. The former is exceptionally grand, containing the tallest artificial waterfall in the world, but because boat culture isn’t as popular in China, guests are just as fascinated by the Explorer Canoe rides between the two.

There’s a secret entrance at a restaurant in Magic Kingdom.

The Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant, Skipper Canteen Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd., is chock full of nods to the famed rides and its skippers. The entryway to one of the dining rooms requires passageway through a bookshelf, but more impressive are the hundreds of book titles created for the restaurant in canon with the ride’s beloved stories and characters.

Disneyland Paris has a ride that was built backwards—on purpose.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Paris was built backwards as an homage to Walt. By reversing the track, the ride would have two drops — something he had showed in an original television broadcast of the Disneyland ride.

The plants on the Jungle Cruise are the real deal.

The plants replicating the waterways and lush greenery of Asia, Africa and South America on the Jungle Cruise aren’t just decor—they’re as close as you can get to those regions without a plane ticket. Morgan “Bill” Evans, Disneyland’s establishing horticulturist, turned the orange groves of Anaheim into a lush, low-key arboretum that includes a $100,000 palm tree, species of ficus he himself brought into California and even Queen palms native to Brazil that were rescued from the Santa Ana Freeway. The trees have reached up to 70 feet tall, creating a canopy—and plant life that thrives in the shade below—that’s truly reminiscent of its territories.

The Jingle Cruise décor is mostly repurposed from items around the world.

When Disney Imagineers created the seasonal Christmas-themed Jingle Cruise four years ago, the intent was to show skippers replicating their hometown holiday from afar, making do with what they had. The makeshift, pulled-together decor is truly that, repurposing skipper costumes as flags, bean cans for signs and found objects from other Disney parks. The sign for the Magic Kingdom Jungle Cruise’s “Mistletoe Millie” boat, for example, came from an old Kilimanjaro Safari tire from Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Adventureland’s Indiana Jones’ Adventure was inspired by two rides.

The origin for Indiana Jones’ Adventure at Disneyland came from looking at two of the park’s most successful rides. Imagineer Tony Baxter wondered what would happen if Star Tours’ award-winning vehicle could be placed on a ride track through something like Pirates of the Caribbean. The combination not only wound up being successful, but historic; by doing so, they created the first-ever motion enhanced vehicle ride.

The Jungle Cruise almost featured an old squid.

The Jungle Cruise as we know it could have been a lot more fantastical. Imagineers actually uncovered a memo about preserving the squid from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and placing it inside the Adventureland ride.

There’s something different about Hong Kong Andventureland’s foliage.

The foliage in Hong Kong Disneyland’s Adventureland looks different, but it’s not particularly intentional. Imagineers consider the plant life there to be extraordinary due to the location’s close proximity to the equator.