Walt Disney is famously quoted as saying, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it all started with a mouse.” I think Walt could have said just as truthfully, “It all started with the birds!” From Snow White to Mary Poppins to Moana, birds have played important roles in Disney mythology – and in Disney Parks as well.
You might not know it, but many of the attractions we enjoy today exist thanks to the birds in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Here are five things to know about this classic show, but if you want to fly ahead to the nuts and bolts, here’s your shortcut.
1. When you drop in for a performance, you’ll have no egrets!
The four-minute preshow in the queue is hosted by Claude and Clyde, two toucans perched on a tiki. Prior to the pre-show you’ll have a view of “Polynesian” scenery with a waterfall. Although the queue is not highly decorated, the railings are sturdy enough to lean against (but not sit on) and give your tired feet a little break.
Four wisecracking macaws named José (Mexico), Michael (Ireland), Pierre (France), and Fritz (Germany) act as your hosts. This classic show also features toucans, tropical birds, tikis, flowers, and a theater that comes to life. During the 10-minute, mostly musical show, you’ll be serenaded with songs from the 1940s through the 1960s. Though most of the action occurs in the center of this theater-in-the-round, the whole room comes to life as the tikis and flowers surrounding the seating area join in the fun. There’s even a tropical thunderstorm!
It’s not for everybody, we admit, but singing along makes the experience a whole lot of fun – and my observation is that kids love it.
2. Walt Disney himself hatched the idea
Walt originally had a totally different vision. He pictured a café where patrons could eat surrounded by birds. But the impracticality of that idea soon became apparent! Rethinking, Walt remembered the tiny mechanical bird he had purchased on a trip. He was fascinated by the mechanism and asked his Imagineers to figure it out and then adapt that sort of automation for use on a much larger scale in the Tiki Room.
This led to the birth of Audio-Animatronics technology. When the Disneyland version of the Tiki Room attraction opened in 1963, this was something never seen before! The “animators” could synchronize movement, audio, and visual effects. This eventually gave birth to many of the attractions we enjoy today, from the Hall of Presidents to the Haunted Mansion, from Pirates of the Caribbean to the Carousel of Progress.
Eight years after its Disneyland predecessor, the Disney World version was an opening day attraction at the Magic Kingdom.
3. There are voices you might know.
The theme song, “In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room” is another earworm written by Richard and Robert Sherman, the duo who composed “it’s a small world (after all)”. The refrain will get stuck in your head: In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room; In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room; All the birds sing words and the flowers croon; In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room!
Disney utilized top-level talent to voice the starring macaws, all of whom have sadly passed. Perhaps most well-known is Jerry Orbach, the voice of Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast, who provides Pierre’s French. Thurl Ravenscroft who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and exclaimed, “They’re Grrrrrreat!” as Tony the Tiger, is Fritz. Also featured are two who famously appeared at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Saloon, Wally Boag, and Fulton Burley, who voice José and Michael, respectively.
4. Here’s a whole flock of bonus facts!
Bonus fact 3A: Military tech made it poultry in motion!
Back in the 1950’s, the arms race led to the development of a magnetic tape system to control missiles. The very same system turned out to be just what Disney’s Imagineers needed to sync the movements of the birds, the lights, and the audio in the show.
The drawback was that the computers running the program were bigger than the theatre itself and generated so much heat, they required air conditioning! So, when it opened at Disneyland, The Enchanted Tiki Room was the first air-conditioned attraction. Today, a computer about the size of a MacBook does the job.
Bonus fact 3B. Toucan play at this game. Or three or more!
Let me be totally transparent here: the exact number of performing animatronics seems to be hard to nail down. Different sources state different numbers ranging from 150 to 225 to 314. There does seem to be agreement that there are eight macaws, six cockatoos, twelve toucans, nine forktail birds, and almost 20 other tropical birds joined by 54 singing orchids, seven bird-of-paradise flowers, twelve tiki drummers and four singing tikis. No partridge in a pear tree.
So, do me a favor and make a game of it next time you visit! Have your family and friends count them. Send me the information and I’ll post an update.
Bonus fact 3C: What’s in a name?
Sources disagree as to whether the attraction has had two or three name changes over the years. When Walt Disney World’s version of the Enchanted Tiki Room debuted in 1971, it was titled “Tropical Serenade.” Based on a couple of hours looking at old guide maps of the Magic Kingdom, it seems that the name changed from “Tropical Serenade” to “The Enchanted Tiki Room ” sometime between February 3 and February 18, 1996. By December of that same year, it was changed to “Enchanted Tiki Birds.”
In 1998, the attraction was re-imagined as “The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management)” starring Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King. The new script and new characters were not well received. Most agreed it was one of the worst “updates” to an attraction Disney had ever attempted. After a small fire broke out in the attraction’s attic, the show thankfully reverted to its classic script and was renamed Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 2011.
5. The nuts and bolts
The Enchanted Tiki Room is in Adventureland, across from the Jungle Cruise and near The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. If you need an incentive to visit, it happens to be next to Aloha Isle, home of the unparalleled Dole Whip! Since this show is an indoor attraction, inclement weather will not affect the show’s operation. The open-air pre-show area is under cover but can be exposed to wind-blown rain during severe storms.
The theater for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is unique in that it’s smaller than other show theaters. The theater seats are hard-backed benches, set all the way around the room and facing the center.
Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV to watch the show. There are no height restrictions, no health or safety advisories for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. But note: some young guests may be frightened by the simulated storm effects. Handheld Captioning, Assistive Listening and Audio Description Devices are available.
The Enchanted Tiki Room rarely has a long wait. It may be best to check it out during the hottest and busiest times of day to escape the heat and crowds. It’s open during Extended Evening Theme Park Hours, but not during Early Entry.
The bottom line
As a “heritage” attraction, it may seem dated to some. But it’s a sentimental favorite of our family, and we make sure to visit every time we’re there. I know we aren’t the only ones: a friend of mine told me, “When you write about the Tiki Room, feel free to mention that my family is well aware they are not allowed to visit the Magic Kingdom without a trip to the Tiki Room – EVER!”
Do you enjoy the Enchanted Tiki Room? Or do you think it lays an egg? Let us know in the comments.
Originally published February 16, 2023. Last updated February 8, 2024.