It’s a little out of season to talk about Christmas Holiday decorations at Walt Disney World, but with the summer temps here getting into the “Super Hot” range, I felt we needed an article about “Cooler” times. Case in point is the Jungle Cruise. This classic attraction, which was the idea of Walt Disney himself, has stood the test of time as a “Must See” on almost every guest’ list.

So what does Christmas decorations have to do with the attraction? Well, over the years the Walt Disney Company usually did not promote any holiday additions to its attractions. However during the Christmas Holiday season starting in November of 2013, both Jungle Cruise attractions in Disneyland and Walt Disney World sported holiday decorations, including new spiels and jokes from the skippers and, sharp-eared guests can hear Christmas music playing in the background. The famous boats have also been renamed with festive holiday names, all to get the guests in the holiday mood.

So before we go any further, a quick history of the Jungle Cruise is in order…During the planning stages of Disneyland, according to Dick Irvine the former President of WED, the precursor of Disney Imagineering, the attraction for Adventureland was discussed as an outdoor garden, with live birds, plants etc. This got Walt to thinking of Plussing the attracting. Walt had seen the movie “African Queen” starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. And Walt’s True Life Adventure documentary called “The African Lion” started shooting in 1952. After screening hours of raw footage of real African animals admit native foliage, he came to the conclusion the seeing this would be a much more entertaining and exhilarating experience than just a garden.

Walt of course wanted the best show for his guests and wanted to have live animals along the route. But Walt changed his mind chiefly from advice from animal experts who explained to Walt that the expense of feeding and caring of the animals would be hugely expensive. In addition, there was no way to keep the attraction the same for all guests. You couldn’t control when the animals would be sleeping or hiding during the day. Of course, according the Imagineer John Hench, who developed everything from the hydraulic giant squid in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, he also helped design Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress and it’s a Small World, the answer was to use mechanical animals. The use of these mechanical animals contributed to the success of the attraction we all love today. In 1955 a Disneyland postcard tells about animals lurking in the bushes in Adventureland, however the word animals was in quotation marks to signify that the animals were not real.

In Florida, the construction of the Jungle Cruise began in the spring of 1969. The fabrication of the mechanical animals was done in Glendale California, and the rest were completed in the Dr. Phillips section of Orlando. But when Walt Disney World was being constructed, it was decided by Roy O. Disney that although there should be many of the classic attractions in both parks, there had to be differences also, to keep a schism, so to speak to give guests on both coasts a slightly difference experience. Also, attractions in both parks would be a bit different here in Walt Disney World, because of the larger space; Mr. Toad’s Wild ride would have two tracks, Tom Sawyer Island would be two separate islands and even the Peter Pan attraction would have a longer track.

The Florida attraction would have the addition of a group of gorillas tearing apart a campsite, Pygmy war canoes, Bengal tigers, giant butterflies and Inspiration Falls. The attraction in WDW is also a minute longer due to the addition of section inside a Cambodian temple and it also had two more boats. Imagineer Harper Goff designed the boat launches, which aped the boat used in the 1951 movie (The movie the attraction was modeled after) “The African Queen. At the time, the boats were built out of fiberglass, a new material at the time.

The attraction had a major refurbishment in 1991, with added music and background radio announcements. In 1993, during another rehab, the launches were artificially ages to give them a weathered, “traveled” look and the white and red canopies were gone. Each launch was also given several additional props to give each a different character.

It was announced in 2003 to the joy of Walt Disney World guests that the Haunted Mansion Holiday with additional updates would be installed in the Haunted Mansion here. Some changes were the original soundtrack by Gordon Goodwin would be replaced by a brand new piece by composer Danny Elfman from the original movie. But this never came to fruition; instead the overlay ended up in Disneyland’s new version and to Tokyo Disneyland, who introduced it in 2004. The reason given was the difference in the guests attending both parks. Disneyland’s principal attendance was local, where Walt Disney World’s guests contained more international guests. They were afraid that the classic attractions they knew where changed during the Christmas season.

It was announced early in 2013 that a Christmas Holiday overlay would be added to the Jungle Cruise, to be renamed the “Jingle Cruise” in both in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And much like the attractions themselves, there would be similar, but differences in the overlays. Since elements are different in both rides, even the spiel by the Skippers for the overlay would be different.

The backstory is this…”The Skippers have grown homesick for the holidays, so they’ve added holiday cheer to the Jungle Cruise queue and boathouse with decorations that have been mailed to them from home (plus a few they’ve created themselves). The Skippers have also added a slew of new jokes to their tours that are the perfect way to get guests in the holiday spirit. Additionally, Jungle Cruise boats have been renamed with the holidays in mind, and if you listen carefully, they may hear a holiday-themed radio broadcast playing in the background”.

This is a really nice addition for the Christmas Holidays. The Jungle Cruise itself is a classic attraction, and this overlay in no way distracts from the original concept. It really does get you in the Christmas mood! Here is some interesting information…There are 15 launches, 10 which operate at any given time. Here are their names…Amazon Annie (Renamed “Eggnog Annie” during Christmas), Bomokandi Bertha (Wheelchair equipped) (Renamed “Brrrrr Bertha” during Christmas), Congo Connie (Renamed “Candy Cane Connie” during Christmas), Ganges Gertie (Renamed “Garland Gertie” during Christmas), Irrawaddy Irma (Renamed “Icicle Irma” during Christmas), Mongala Millie (Renamed “Mistletoe Millie” during Christmas), Nile Nellie (Renamed “Noel Nellie” during Christmas), Orinoco Ida (Renamed “Orino-cocoa Ida” during Christmas) Rutshuru Ruby (Renamed “Reindeer Ruby” during Christmas), Sankuru Sadie (Renamed “Sleigh Ride Sadie” during Christmas),Senegal Sal (Renamed “Poinsettia Sal” during Christmas), Ucyali Lolly (Renamed “Yule Log Lolly” during Christmas), Volta Val (Renamed “Vixen Val” during Christmas), Wamba Wanda (Wheelchair lift equipped) (Renamed “Wassail Wanda” during Christmas) and Zambezi Zelda (Renamed “Fruitcake Zelda” during Christmas).

There was one launch that actually sunk! “Sankuru Sadie” went down in 2004, but was quickly put back into service. Kwango Kate was retired in 2000. One gag that was often missed by guests was a shrunken head held by Trader Sam, you know, the dealer that “gives you two heads for one of yours” at the end of the ride. That head was that of Katherine Hepburn’s the actress in the movie the African Queen.

Many changes were made to the attraction over time. If you remember the scene where the rhino is threatening four safari members climbing the pole while the hyenas are laughing, well they were originally black members, now Caucasians. That was in 1996. Maybe the popularity of the Holiday overlays will prod the Walt Disney Company into additional overlays, it would really add more Christmas “Magic” to the mix.