Once you’ve made your way up Main Street, U.S.A., hang a left at the photo-ready sculpture of Walt and Mickey and head toward Adventureland. As with all the other “Lands” of the Magic Kingdom, this area of the park is “themed” down to the smallest detail; the overriding concept is a reflection of the daydreams of a boy who can’t get enough of matinee heroes and literary tales of adventure.
The Swiss Family Treehouse is based on the 1960 Disney film The Swiss Family Robinson, and much like the movie itself, this attraction’s charms are…subtle. Simply put, you’ll be walking up and back down a 90-foot-high manmade tree, gawking at the stranded family’s survivalist inventions (a rope-and-pulley system used for hauling buckets of water, for example) and wondering what exactly the fuss is about.
Most guests skip it, which is understandable, but not every attraction need be a cavalcade of lights and animatronics, and personally I think the Treehouse is sort of neat. My kids (and my wife, and everyone I’ve ever gone to Magic Kingdom with) vehemently disagree. If you’re with someone who insists on ascending the tree but you’d rather not, or if you’re physically disabled and unable to join him or her (this is the only nonaccessible attraction in the park), enjoy one of the best snacks in the entire Magic Kingdom: a Dole Whip soft-serve pineapple ice cream from the Aloha Isle snack bar.
Little ones will flock to the Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride, which is essentially a repainted version of the Dumbo ride in Fantasyland; four people get into a “carpet” and the carpets rotate around the big lamp in the center. Riders can control both the up-and-down motion of their “carpet” as well as the pitch. Not exactly inventive, this ride seems more appropriate for a local carnival than for the place where dreams are supposed to come true; the fact that it’s a note-for-note copy of another ride in the same park makes it doubly disappointing.
The Enchanted Tiki Room was the first Disney attraction to fully incorporate animatronic technology, and it has been a nostalgic favorite for years. Copied over from Disneyland for Walt Disney World’s opening in 1971, the Tiki Room was more of a show than an attraction, as animatronic tropical animals cracked awful jokes and sang songs in an environment thick with ’60s exotica shtick.
The 20-minute program was thoroughly overhauled in the last few years, and now elements from The Lion King and Aladdin have made their way into the show. The original four bird hosts are still on hand, though, and they still have the best zingers. Adults will enjoy the campiness of the entire routine, while somehow the jokes evoke massive belly laughs from the preteen set; those who fall in between those two categories will likely only be tempted by the lure of seats and ice-cold air-conditioning.
Like the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Jungle Cruise is an Adventureland attraction that seems like little more than a leftover from a long-ago time. In this age of Discovery Channel documentaries, ecotourism, and, well, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the thrill of seeing fake zebras, snakes, rhinos, and tigers is limited. Still, this slow-moving boat ride makes up for its lack of live animals with a stream of well-rehearsed and ultracorny jokes that issue forth from the mouth of your “tour guide.” Still, in true Disney fashion the animatronic beasts are fairly realistic, and the well-choreographed river adventure is a sight to behold. Danger is around every corner as you make your way through four continents in 10 minutes, but you’ll be laughing (or groaning) so much you’ll hardly notice.
Oddly, before Johnny Depp smeared his eye makeup and boarded the Black Pearl, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was often mentioned in the same breath as attractions like the Jungle Cruise or the Tiki Room. It was seen as little more than a fusty animatronic-heavy leftover from the park’s opening, offering little more than nostalgia and a temporary air-conditioned reprieve from the Florida heat. Today, the ride has been lightly renovated to reflect its theatrical success, and several elements from the movie have been somewhat clumsily incorporated into it.
But if you spend your time on the ride bemoaning the changes and playing “Spot Jack Sparrow” with your boatmates, you’ll miss out on the essential reason for the attraction’s enduring popularity: It’s fun, it’s a little thrilling, and it’s even a little naughty. From the moment you board your boat and ride through the pirate battles and raids, the immersive genius of Disney’s Imagineering team is evident; even the most seasoned park-hopper will get a thrill as their boat ascends a rapid and emerges onto a ship-to-ship battle, complete with cannon fire.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition