One of the things that I love most about vacationing at Walt Disney World is their ability to immerse guests in story.
Yeah, the special effects, technology, ride mechanisms, and animatronics are cool, but it is the story that can make or break an attraction or land. These stories touch (pun intended!) all of the senses to create the illusion that guests have literally stepped into the time period, place, or plot of whatever Imagineers wanted conveyed when they developed the attraction. Take, for example, Pirates of the Caribbean. Imagineers didn't just create cardboard cutouts of buildings with some fake palm trees and call it a day: layers of dimensional and sensory detail was created to give the illusion that guests were really in a seventeenth century Caribbean town being looted by ruthless pirates. The musty smell of water fills the nostrils of guests, letting you know that you are being transported geographically. Clouds are painted on the ceiling of the ride building to place the attraction at night time. Spanish and pirate lingo is used to place guests in a specific location, while the well-known song, "Yo Ho! A Pirates's Life for Me" gives the attraction, which could otherwise be sinister, a playful undertone. Imagineers also used accurate historical layering of details to place guests in a specific era of history (I explain specifically how accurate the architecture of the attraction is in another post, which you can find here).
My absolute favorite attractions don't just immerse guests in the story while riding through show scenes, however. Instead, many of these attractions start telling their story and placing guests into a specific time and place before they've even boarded the ride vehicles, while waiting in the attraction's queue. These queues not only help to establish the story of the attraction, but also help to pass the time away through the layers of detail, oftentimes engaging more than one of the five senses in the process.
One of my all-time favorite attraction queues is that of the Jungle Cruise in the Magic Kingdom's Adventureland. The attraction (which I detail in more depth in my book, A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol. 1), takes guests on an adventure down the rivers of the world through Asia, Africa, and South America. Along the way, guests pass by exotic plants and animals, coming face to face with lions, tigers, and...the backside of water (HA! You thought I was going to say bears! Oh, my...). The attraction is meant to take place during the early 1900s during the age of western imperialism, shortly after the Berlin Conference when Germany facilitated the breakup of Africa to avert war between European nations. This resulted in European nations colonizing land in Africa and Asia for access to raw materials, often at the expense of the native peoples. However, this attraction does not touch on the brutal treatment of the native peoples, but rather takes on a more humorous tone, acting as an expedition providing tours for guests to explore the flora and fauna of the world's rivers.
The story of the Jungle Cruise begins before guests even reach the queue. As guests enter Adventureland from the hub, they now pass the new Skipper Canteen restaurant, which serves as the mess hall and headquarters of the Jungle Navigation Co., which provides the exotic tours of the world's jungle rivers. As guests wander deeper into the jungles of Adventureland, a ship's mast holds a sign made from a boat rudder and paddle, encouraging guests to wander down a path and away from the land where the boat dock is located at which guests will board their boats for their jungle river expedition.
Guests travel down a ramp or stairs to the courtyard in front of the attraction's queue building, where a large sign advertises to guests the Exotic Jungle Cruise Expedition, explaining that the tours of the world's jungles would provide guests with "comfortable accommodations" provided by "expertly trained tour guides."
|"Expertly trained," eh?|
Other broadsides are pasted along the exterior wall of the queue building and along the walls along the switchbacks, advertising various tours and expeditions provided by the Jungle Navigation Company's affiliates. These broadside posters allude to some of the sights guests aboard the Jungle Cruise will see, such as a Nile crocodile and Asian and African elephants.
|Excursions to the land that time forgot. And so will you.|
|Join the Elephant Safari Company as they search for lions, tigers, and bears. Oh, my.|
As guests enter the queue building and pass through the attraction's turnstiles, an excellent example of syncretism on the part of the Imagineers can be found on the right: an archeological dig site featuring implements like shovels and picks, surrounded by crates addressed to Doctor Henry Jones, making reference to the Indiana Jones films.
The walls are lined with various artifacts that would be used on a jungle expedition, such as mosquito netting, canteens, and rifles, as well as various things tour guides have picked up along their journeys, like African masks.
|Not sure having life jackets handing on the wall is a good omen for a jungle river expedition company...|
As guests continued to wind through the queue's switchbacks, they pass by the booking office for the Jungle Navigation Company. The office appears as though the owner of the office has recently stepped out: a ceiling fan spins while a desk lamp illuminates papers strewn across the desk. Books and artifacts from jungle expeditions decorate the office, including framed insects, pith helmets, and tea kettles, adding to the story that a western imperial bureaucrat operates the tourist organization. The level of detail in this office is incredible, really helping to contribute to the place and time of the attraction's setting. Mosquito netting hangs around the open air office's windows to prevent disease-carrying insects from reaching the office's occupant. This is a detail that Imagineers put in to simply enhance the story presented in the queue; it serves no purpose except to further the plot and create a deeper theming.
The queue also features signs and props that utilize the sense of humor that permeates throughout the script of the skipper. Let's face it: as a teacher, my sense of humor is very cheesy. I make bad puns on a regular basis. As a result, I get a pretty big kick out of the jokes in the script of the attraction and the queue. One of my favorite examples hangs from a rafter of the queue building, just prior to the dock where guests board the jungle cruise boats. A tee-shirt, mauled by claws, advertises "free kittens to a good home." Another sign hanging in the queue is attached to a large cage, encouraging those standing in line from not putting their hands inside the cages where "live cargo" is kept (if they want to keep their hands, that is).
|Someone seems a little too enthusiastic to give away these "striped" kittens...|
A little detail I always love about the queue of the Jungle Cruise (and one that only seems to be turned on occasionally), is located just prior to loading onto the ride vehicles. Sitting atop a barrel is a small cage holding a large tarantula. When the effect is working, this tarantula jumps, startling guests standing nearby. Upon closer examination, it is obvious that the tarantula is fake, but when that thing jumps (caused by a simple effect of a small piston from below), it can certainly startle those around into thinking a real spider is enclosed within the cage.
Another of my favorite parts of the queue sits across the river from where guests load onto the Jungle Cruise boats. As I explain in my chapter on the Jungle Cruise in Volume 1 of my book,
"As guests approach the loading dock, a small shack is spotted across the river, situated along the bank. The shack has a wrap-around porch with a roof supported by bamboo poles. The roof is made of thatched straw and is angled at a steep grade, representative of the imperial architecture of the 1930s European jungle colonies. Mosquito netting hangs from the railings of the porch, and a gun rack holding numerous rifles is mounted to the wall of the hut. Other props lie about the porch, including a cane chair, a pith helmet, and a long red crutch, leading the observer to assume that the owner of the hut may have contracted some sort of exotic disease that has left a crippling effect. A curtain hangs in the doorway of the cabin, behind which can be seen the foot of a bed. A sign with red letters spelling “Keep Out!” hangs from the porch, which may reinforce the assumption that a person with a dangerous, contagious disease lies inside, but also warning passengers of the “dangers” that lurk ahead on their jungle voyage."
I love this detail for the same reason I love the office explained above: it would have been cheaper and easier for Imagineers to simply leave this area as part of the dense jungle waiting to be explored, and guests would not have known any better. However, in an effort to further set up the story of the attraction, as well as allude to the mysteries and dangers of the adventure lying ahead (Who lives in this cabin? Where is the occupant? Why should people keep out of it? Is it infested by dangerous bugs? Is the occupant sick with malaria?), the ride's designers took the time and effort to build this set piece, whose only purpose is to add to the story of the attraction and build anticipation.
|Maybe this is Uncle Orville's vacation home and he just wants his privacy...|
The Jungle Cruise queue takes on new life during the last few months of the year when the attraction receives the "Jingle Cruise" Christmas overlay. Christmas lights hang stringed throughout the queue, while reindeer antlers adorn the masks on the wall. However, my favorite part of the new Christmas-y queue is the booking office. Once again, the booking agent has stepped out of the office (he seems to never be around when I visit the attraction...so much for booking a tour!), but this time has left behind seasonal decorations. A silver tinsel Christmas tree stands on his desk, illuminated by a rotating tree light. Poinsettias, garlands, and Christmas lights hang around the office, adding a festive layer to an already detailed scene.
|Talk about a fire hazard...if they're not careful, they could burn down the entire rain forest with that tree light!|
However, the part of the Jungle Cruise queue that ties the whole waiting-in-line-story-telling experience together for me is the queue audio loop, which, unfortunately, many guests don't even notice. As guests enter the jungle outpost building, they are greeted by period music being played over a radio station hosted by Skipper Albert Awol, known as “the voice of the jungle, broadcasting to all points unknown.” Awol plays various instrumental and crooner songs in the style of 1920s and 1930s swing music, performed by artists like Dick Powell and Coon Sanders, interspersed with news and jokes relating to the attraction. Those familiar with the attraction would appreciate Awol’s jokes that those who are not would not necessarily understand. For example, Awol announces to skippers that “a blue jeep that has previously been reported missing has turned up at a nearby base camp,” referencing the scene where the gorillas have destroyed a camp. Another humorous piece of advice Awol gives to skippers is that “failure to respect the animals may result in pointed confrontation,” which corresponds to a Marc Davis-inspired scene of explorers climbing up a tree while an angry rhino tries to impale them with his horn. As a history teacher (I actually use this music loop in my classroom to teach the music of the 1920s) and amateur historian, I love this music, because it truly places you as the guest in a specific time period. For a few minutes, at least, the illusion is created that you truly are in a station awaiting a jungle river safari sometime during the first decades of the twentieth century in a remote outpost.
While many feel that Main Street USA gets them into the Walt Disney World mood, preparing them for the rest of their magical stay at the resort, I believe that, for me at least, it is the Jungle Cruise and the immersion of story within it that prepare me for the adventures I will experience throughout my stay. The levels of detail that the queue holds can create something truly magical, transporting you back in time and across thousands of miles to somewhere new. However, this only works if you follow this suggestion: the next time you are waiting in line for a Disney attraction, try to recognize that you are not just "waiting in line" to experience the ride or show, but rather that the queue is meant to be the introduction to the story. By having this attitude, your experience of the attraction as a whole, queue included, will be that much richer.
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Green | Best Disney Queues Loop: