Happy Birthday on the Jungle Cruise

In honor of my fake birthday today, I thought I’d share a Disney story about something that happened on my real birthday long ago…

I believe there has only been one time when I made a Disney trip on my birthday, and that was to Disneyland in 1997.

Some say getting to go to Disneyland is more like Christmas that a birthday, but this year, I guess both were true. The end of Main Street was decorated for the holidays! They were filming a television commercial for Mervyn’s California (a store that no longer exists).

Christmas in August on August 20, 1997.

So, in a way, I guess I celebrated both my summer birthday and Christmas that trip. You can this article for more on this Christmas in August commercial.

But I digress.

While I have no memory of going into City Hall to get a free birthday button to wear (the only place you could get them back then), but I must have, because it seems there are photos of me wearing one that day. Looking at the photos today, though, I guess it may have just been a sticker back then.

I looked so happy! Birthdays must make me happy. (Not so much, these days! #OldFart) Also note my trendy “Al’s Place” website T-Shirt I often wore during park visits back then, and my special Disney name badge. Classy.

Most likely because of the button/sticker, something kinda special happened that day — a Jungle Cruise skipper and his crew sing Happy Birthday to me on the boat.

It was very surreal, so say the least.

I don’t have a picture of it from that day, but it probably looked something like this…

Not an actual picture of me getting Happy Birthday sang to me on a Jungle Cruise boat.

So thank you, 1997 Disneyland Jungle Cruise skipper, for giving me a very special birthday at The Happiest Place on Earth. I think about this moment every year on my fake birthday.

Until next time…

Indiana Jones Adventure in 1996.

According to the always accurate Wikipedia, the Indiana Jones Adventure opened in Disneyland on March 4, 1995. This ride is the reason I wanted to return to Disneyland after not visiting there since the 1970s. I had been reading about its construction in the Disneyland section of the Destination Florida RoundTable on GEnie. (That was the General Electric text-based dial-up service I was on, years before there was such a thing as the “world wide web.”)

When my new job scheduled me to be in Irvine, California in December 1995, the first thing I did was call my hotel and ask how far they were from Disneyland. (Remember, this was before online maps — even before the things that were before Google Maps, like MapQuest.) They told me it was about 15 miles away. I was ecstatic, though I would soon learn that 15 minutes could mean an hour or more in Southern California traffic.

May 26, 1996. Indy line starting on Main Street U.S.A.

In the early days of this attraction, the line would often start on Main Street U.S.A. and wind through Adventureland. They’d have cast members hold the line to let traffic cross from time to time. In 2017,  the same thing was being done for Disney California Adventure’s Guardians of the Galaxy when the line would extend into A Bug’s Land.

After going in to Adventureland, the line would use the second level of the Jungle Cruise building and then finally enter the actual Indiana Jones queue. At the time, the GEnie rumors were that the queue was built to hold a three hour line. Today, that massive indoor queue is just a walkway since they hold everyone outside and merge in FastPass/MaxPass visitors at the entrance. It dawns on me that, since FastPass, there are folks who have never really experience this amazing queue the way it was intended.

AT&T sponsor sign on May 22, 1996.

Do you remember the original ride sponsor? Here’s a photo of the sign at the exit, taken during my first trip with a digital camera. Ah, the glory of low resolution 320×240 digital pictures!

Yep, it was AT&T. They also sponsored Spaceship Earth at EPCOT Center. The EPCOT sponsorship made sense to me since their logo already looked like Spaceship Earth. But Indy? The only link was this sign at the end. 

According to the story of the ride, tourists were going in to choose one of those three doors to give them either youth, riches, or visions of the future. The ride used to have an elaborate mechanism that made it appear like each car was “randomly” going through one of three entrance doors. A wall of haphazardly arranged mirrors would tilt so you could watch the car in front of you as it turned the corner and went through a door. Then, the mirror would move back, and your car would go and you would see that you got a different door. Very cool!

Choose wisely!

And what is the connection to the sponsor? At the time, AT&T was running a similar “choose wisely” ad campaign about selecting them for your long distance* service.

  • Old Guy Note: In olden days, “long distance” was a term used to mean calling someone who wasn’t in your local town. You paid extra for each minute of the long distance call. During the 1980s, a large telephone monopoly was disrupted and a bunch of competing phone services started up. You could then choose another company to provide you long distance service at lower rates.

You also got a bit of AT&T ad material every time you rode. Throughout the temple, there  were writings that you could decode with an AT&T-sponsored translation card they gave you. I suppose the idea was that you would have something to kill the time during your three hour+ wait 😉 I have a bunch of these cards. The writing was just a special font. I had a friend who could just read them (it’s easy once you realize that the symbols look quite a bit like the letters they represent). Years later, a special font was used in Guardians of the Galaxy with similar things for you to translate. It seems we have another connection to Guardians! (And, maybe as an indication of the changing times, many of the Guardians signs also have English translations already on them — no need to make you think while on vacation, I guess.)

In the early years, everything in the temple queue was shiny and new, yet it looked like it had been there for hundreds of years. The only thing that looked fresh was the bat guano in the bat cave. The in-queue effects (the first time Disney had ever done that, I believe?) all worked. In the last several trips I made, none seemed to be working. Do they ever work?

In case you haven’t even seen them, in the “spike room” you could push on the bamboo pole to trigger an effect that would make the ceiling (slowly… very slowly…) move down with a thunderous rumble.

There was also the rope you could pull on to annoy the archeologist that was hanging on to it below. Keep pulling and he’d drop something. Pull more, and he’d plummet to his … nap. (I mean, no one would die in a Disney queue, would they?) Good times.

A few years later, a similar rope was added at Disney/MGM Studios near the Indiana Jones Stunt show, though their sign makes it much more obvious you can pull the rope. Here’s their version from 1999:

Disney/MGM Studios Indiana Jones “rope” on November 13, 1999.

But I digress. Back to Disneyland’s Indy…

The ride itself was amazing, and still is, but today’s version pales compared to the original 1995-1996 version. Here’s a few highlights:

  • The ride used to be so “rough” there was no way to ride it without holding on for dear life. Someone managed to shoot video of it in 1995 (you can see how bumpy it is) and I commend them on that accomplishment. I guess I can see why they tamed it down, but it was far more of a thrill ride in the early years.
  • There was also a windy cavern that was REALLY windy. It, supposedly, blew off too many caps and caused issues from having to stop the ride to clear the track that they toned that down.
  • There was also the debris that would fall from the ceiling. Just as you’d turn a corner and be facing the main ride chamber, the music would swell, and a green light blast would shine and there’d be a fire burst nearby. Debris would fall from the ceiling. It was ice that would drop, where it could just melt away at the bottom. (Someone finally posted a clip of this effect happening ,so even if you’ve never seen it yourself, now you have “proof” it existed.)
  • But my all-time favorite part was the different “random” profiles for the vehicles. They would stall in different places, speed through a scene or drive slowly through it, and do so differently each time you rode them. I’m sure there was a finite set of “random” variations, but it was so nicely done it never felt repetitive. My favorite was the one where the car kept grinding the shift gears, and you could feel the gears grind under the floor board! Impressive!

Here’s a YouTube video summarizing some of the missing effects from the original Indy ride (though it is incorrect about one, and doesn’t comment on the random ride profiles that were bragged about during the early promotional material):

There were also a few secrets that users of GEnie and the newsgroups (there were no fan websites yet, really) had discovered.

  • There was a LIFE magazine with Mickey on the cover.
  • There was a reference to Star Wars’ Obi Wan Kenobe (which was also in the Indiana Jones movie).
  • And Disney had told us about the ID numbers of the vehicles being Imagineer birthdates.

Another detail that changed was the sign just before going up the stairs. The original version looked much more authentic, but it was replaced with a warning-heavy version that looked far more modern and out-of-place.

Speaking of signs, have you ever noticed the “nails” used throughout? They are historically-correct representations of what was used before we had modern nails. Nice details.

And speaking of details, in the original days, all the light bulbs were unlabeled and looked like old bulbs. Today, you will find modern bulbs scattered around (with modern writing on them showing the wattage, etc.). 

Also, the “generator” in the outdoor queue is supposed to be powering all the lights in the temple. You can trace the wiring running from it all the way into the load area. As the generator spits and sputters, the lights will flicker and dim. It was a very cool effect that I don’t know if many notice these days.

Indiana Jones Adventure was one of the greatest things Imagineering has ever done.  What we have today is still a great ride, but it’s just a shadow of the ride as originally intended back in 1995. I’m glad I got to see it during those early years.

Until next time…

Adventureland in 1996.

Remember video games and arcades? Maybe, if you are old like me. In the 1970s and 1980s, Disney supposedly had a policy of not allowing outside cartoon/artwork in their parks. The arcades may have had Pac-Man, but the outside of the cabinet was stripped of the familiar Pac-artwork. “Only Disney characters inside a Disney park!” (Today, I guess that extends to any character that Disney purchased from someone else.)

The Indiana Jones Adventure had just opened the previous year, and Disneyland put one of the 1993 Williams Indiana Jones pinball games in a shop in Adventureland. But, instead of it having the traditional arcade artwork, it was retrofitted to look like it was a wooden box with bamboo legs:

1996 photo of Disneyland’s custom Indiana Jones pinball game.

It would be twenty years later before I would finally play this game and see it in its original format (at a local Des Moines arcade/bar called Up-Down). It’s a fun pin, and I kind of wish I had played this custom version. Does anyone know where it ended up after it left this location? Also, notice the boxes on the ground. Those were so kids could step up and play the game — common in arcades.

Also, do you remember when live birds were on display outside the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse?

A live bird in front of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse on August 18, 1996.

For that matter, do you even remember that Tarzan’s Treehouse used to have another owner?

Aladdin’s Oasis on May 20, 1996.

And, if I had realized it was going away the next year, I might have eaten at Aladdin’s Oasis. Notice the menus posted to the left and right of the entrance of this tiny photo.

This location had been home to the Tahitian Terrace until 1993. I guess Disney Synergy(tm) was alive and well in the early 1990s and they rethemed it to tie into the successful Aladdin movie. By the time I finally visited, this location had been changed from a restaurant to a character show. Somewhere I have video of that show that I need to dig up and post.

So many photos, so much video, and so little time. Speaking of time…

Until next time…