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First Look: What’s ‘gnu’ on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland

by Samantha Davis-Friedman

The Jungle Cruise is one of the original “opening day attractions” at the Disneyland Resort — and also one of the most loved — so it’s understandable that guests were worried when Walt Disney Imagineering announced that the iconic ride would be getting a makeover, both in Anaheim and at Walt Disney World.

Jungle Cruise
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Thankfully, Jungle Cruise fans from coast-to-coast can breathe a sigh of relief. When it opens at Disneyland on July 16, 2021 (and is fully completed at Walt Disney World later the summer), the reimagined attraction not only preserved everyone’s favorite elements (like the backside of water) but added a new layer of storytelling that further enhances the already entertaining jungle adventure.

“This is such an important attraction to us,” says Disneyland Resort President Kent Potrock. “The enhanced Jungle Cruise attraction has all the heart, all the humor — even some new humor — that it is noted for, so we are very excited about all of the memories (and new memories) that it will bring to our guests.”

explorers on totem pole
Photo by Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

The most significant change is the introduction of new characters, which according to Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Director Susana Tubert, is based on the backstory of Alberta Falls, the new proprietor of the Jungle Navigation Company.

“Alberta has traveled all over the world, and she’s made a lot of friends during her travels,” Tubert explains. “These friends have come to visit her and have this immersive experience as explorers, so you meet some of these people on the ride — a renowned artist from Mexico, a botanist from Nova Scotia, a Japanese entomologist (who’s also a member of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers), and Alberta’s cousin who’s a bird watcher.”

Jungle Cruise - Felix
Photo by Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

We also meet Felix, a Navigation Company skipper with terrible luck who, unfortunately for everyone involved, was the only skipper available to take the VIP guests on their jungle cruise.

According to Kim Irvine, Walt Disney Imagineering executive creative director, the original Jungle Cruise was very realistic because Walt wanted to transport guests to the jungles of Africa, Asia, and South America, similar to his true life adventure TV shows and films. But Irvine notes, after a few years, Walt realized that people wanted something more entertaining, so Imagineer (and Disney Legend) Marc Davis added the funny scenes that guests have come to know and love.

“Next to all of the scenes Marc added in the ’60s, this is probably the biggest addition that we’ve made because it involved adding a story thread that we didn’t have before,” Irvine says. “We took advantage of the same stories that were there, the same threads, the same scenes and enhanced them with some new things. For example, Marc put the lost safari up the tree, but they were people we didn’t really relate to, and now we know who these people are […] so when you come to that tree, you see that somehow they’ve been kicked out of their boat and are being trapped by the rhino — with Felix getting ‘the point in the end.’”

Jungle Cruise sunken boat
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

The new storyline continues from there, Irvine explains, as guests round the corner and see that the hippos that have been threatening them with their wiggling ears for years have finally been able to knock over a boat.

Jungle Cruise Monkey with paint
Photo by Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

“If you wonder what happened to the rest of their boat, come around the corner, and there it is,” Irvine says. “It’s been taken over by chimpanzees who’ve gotten into the luggage and packages on board — whether it’s eating the man-eating plant that the botanist collected or painting with [the artist’s] paints all over the boat — and then, of course, the ‘butterfly chimps’ have gotten into the entomologist’s bug collection.”

Jungle Cruise Butterfly Chimps
Photo by Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

Fun Fact: According to Irvine, she and Chris Beatty — her Walt Disney World counterpart — decided to do a few things a little differently on the two rides, so Irvine has the chimps trying to catch the butterflies in California, but Beatty has them eating them in Florida.

“We also added the gag with the magnifying glass that magnifies [the chimp’s mouth],” she says. “That’s a play off the pirate in the captain’s quarters in the [Pirates of the Caribbean] ride because he, too, is holding the magnifying glass in front of his teeth, so that’s a fun tie back to that.”

Jungle Cruise Monkey with map
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Another wink to the collaboration between the two parks has to do with the monkey on the explorer’s commandeered boat who’s holding an upside-down map that he’s torn in half. Irvine reveals that in Disneyland, that’s Florida’s Jungle Cruise map, and in Magic Kingdom, the Chimp has the California attraction’s map.

“That’s why Felix got lost,” she jokes.

Jungle Cruise Trader Sam's
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

Last but not least, Trader Sam is continuing his entrepreneurial tradition by taking over the Navigation Company’s lost and found. Intended as a place where guests can reclaim hats and glasses that they’ve dropped overboard, Trader Sam has put up his gift shop sign and is going to sell them back to them instead. Unfortunately for him, while he was out looking for more things, Spider Monkeys have taken over the shop and are wreaking havoc on all the things he’s collected.

“When we began to explore our creative approach to refreshing the Jungle Cruise, [we wanted to] sustain the lighthearted comedic tone of the attraction,” Tubert says. “Guests will see that at the heart of the attraction is still the humorous banter of the skippers. However, we found ways to ‘plus that up’ and increase that by putting the characters — and putting our guests — in these unexpected scenarios that they have to overcome, and then what’s fun is that by the end of the ride, the guests and the skippers realize that in reality, it’s the animals that get the last laugh, so that’s a twist to our ride story.”

The Jungle Cruise Queue

The queue experience sets up the story and introduces the characters, but also includes Easter eggs from the upcoming live-action “Jungle Cruise” film as well as some that will be familiar to those who know about the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.)

“There are so many fun changes that we’ve made,” Irvine says. “We have new music and some new voices on the radio. And if you look into each of the offices, you’ll see some fun things.”

For example, hanging in Alberta Falls’ office (located above the entrance to the ride) are Dwayne Johnson’s jacket and Emily Blunt’s blouse, plus a map from the scene in the movie when they’re trying to piece together jungle maps. Plus, Alberta displays gifts from people guests might recognize and photographs of her grandfather with some familiar faces.

Dwayne Johnson’s jacket and Emily Blunt’s blouse from the Jungle Cruise movie.
Photo by Seth Kubersky.

Check out our full ride video here:

New Jungle Cruise Full Ride POV at Disneyland Park With Extended Ending Jokes

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