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Indiana Jones Adventure Refurb: 5 Things Disneyland Hopefully Refurbished (and 5 They Hopefully Didn’t)

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Image copyright Disney

In the wake of recent refurbishments such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Storybook Land, we’ve largely grown accustomed to detailed information on adjustments being made to attractions long before they reopen. But one of Disneyland’s signature E-Tickets has been under wraps for a quarter of a year, and we have little solid evidence of what’s been going on inside in advance of its imminent return.

The Indiana Jones Adventure has been one of the most popular and critically-praised thrills at Disneyland Park since its debut in 1995. But even its most die-hard fans will admit that it has almost always been in need of major repairs. I rank it among my top 5 favorite attractions anywhere, but I’ve never experienced it with every effect working as intended.

Since the ride was shuttered for refurbishment on September 4, Disney has been reticent to delve into what changes will be revealed when the Temple of the Forbidden Eye reopens this Saturday, December 8, outside of this vaguely worded interview in the Orange County Register. Online speculation has centered on the likely addition of OSHA-approved safety features, such as railing on the central bridge, much like Casey Jr.’s Circus Train recently received. Also probable is behind-the-scenes infrastructure upgrades that would hopefully make the breakdown-prone ride more reliable.

But as of the last time I rode, there were dozens of effects both large and small throughout the attraction in dire need of TLC. Without straying into the absurd (no, they aren’t adding a loop) here is my wish list of 5 elements I most want to see improved — or at least operating — the next time I go searching for Dr. Jones:

5. The Spike Chamber

Long before you board Indy’s troop transports, guests get to experience one of the most detailed queue lines Disney’s ever designed. Borne of the necessity to move patrons beyond the park’s berm to a show building built in an ex-parking lot, Indy’s simulated archeological excavation is almost intricate enough to be a walk-through attraction in of itself.

One of the queue’s highlights is a chamber with a suspicious pole standing from floor to ceiling. When guests disregard the warnings and touch the wobbly support, spikes emerge from overhead as the roof begins to descend; thankfully, it retracts before anyone is skewered. Anyone who has seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will recognize this trap room’s inspiration (though thankfully there are no giant centipedes around here).

It’s a wonderful gag that delights first-time viewers, but has been inoperable more often than not for many years. Maybe a more sturdy mechanism could be installed, to insure future adventurers may continue to enjoy this ingenious example of “last gen” interactivity.

4. Decoder Cards

When Indy originally opened in 1995, the iPhone-less crowds waiting multiple hours in line were given decoder cards to help amuse them. Sponsored by AT&T, the cards provided a translation key to the cuneiform-style runes found through the temple. The secret messages don’t contain the mysteries of the universe (closer to A Christmas Story’s “drink your ovaltine”) but they made for a pleasant distraction.

The cards vanished, along with AT&T’s sponsorship, by the turn of the millennium. It would be great to see them return, updated for the 21st century. How about an iOS & Android apps that lets guests translate glyphs with the help of their smartphone camera? There could be a social game component with achievements for documenting different inscriptions. Free Fastpasses for completists! (I wish…)

3. Rat Attack

One of the dangers that you face in Mara’s deadly lair is a pack of rats, as featured in The Last Crusade. Your troop transport drives under vines, across which the rodents are crawling, and some of the vermin tumble into your lap.

At least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening. But this moment has always featured one of the ride’s least successful effects. The rats are a video projected onto a smoke screen, but the atmosphere never seems sufficiently thick to make the image legible. Many first-time riders are left confused but this segment, and some never recognize the rats at all.

As a solution, Disney could start by replacing the current fog screen with a newer mist model (like in Pirates of the Caribbean) and upgrading the projector to HD. Better still, leg ticklers could be installed under the vehicles’ seats (see Universal Studios Hollywood’s Mummy coaster) to viscerally convey the close encounter. And while they’re at it, It’s Tough to Be a Bug-style underseat rollers would plus the lackluster insect area.

2. Harrison Ford

It’s interesting to note that, while Disneyland’s Indiana Jones attraction was created with George Lucas’ authorization and input, series star Harrison Ford was not involved. As a result, a sound-alike voices the three Indy animatronics found inside the ride, which originally bore only a vague facial resemblance to the iconic actor.

Image copyright Disney

In the last few years, however, two of the ride’s animatronics were replaced with new models that much more accurately recreate Ford’s visage, albeit closer to the way he appears in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than in the vintage films. (The third animatronic is dangling from the ceiling, and his face is virtually invisible.)

That unheralded upgrade gave rise to rumors that perhaps Ford would finally be recruited to record dialogue for Disney, finally adding the missing element of authenticity. Here’s hoping the next time I survive the giant rolling ball, it will be Harrison’s unmistakable voice growling, “Tourists. Why’d it have to be tourists?”

1. Crumbling Ceiling

Speaking of the rolling ball, that finale effect was only the most crucial of many moments that were malfunctioning before Indy’s rehab. Other must-fixes range from the stuck shifting doors at the start to the dodgy air dart corridor. I’ll give Imagineering the benefit of the doubt and assume all those essential effects will be back to working 100%… at least for a few weeks.

But there is one effect that has been disabled so long, it would be nothing short of a holiday miracle if it returned. The illusion I speak of is Indy’s equivalent of Haunted Mansion’s hatbox ghost; something so elusive most fans have only heard of it in whispered legends.

Image copyright Seth Kubersky

Originally, as your vehicle first approached the large central chamber, the massive Mara skull on the opposite side of the chasm fired a laser beam towards you from its all-seeing eye. The blast impacted the roof above the lava pit, causing a chunk of rock to fall from the ceiling.

This startling effect was achieved with a high-capacity ice machine positioned above. The frozen chunks it churned out were colored with dye, and their fall was accompanied by dramatic sound effects that sold the illusion. Unfortunately, the mechanism proved too difficult to maintain, and has been disabled for over a decade.

Rumor holds that the ice-maker is in an inaccessible location for replacement, so I have zero expectations that this request will be fulfilled. But an Indy fan can dream, can’t he?

Whatever ultimately emerges from the Adventureland jungle this weekend, my fervent plea is that they don’t screw it up while trying to improve it. This is (or rather was until recently) a George “Greedo shot first” Lucas product we’re discussing. So here is my anti-wish list of things nobody wants to see added to the Indiana Jones Adventure:

5. Shia LaBeouf.
4. CGI monkeys.
3. Karen Allen, grinning beatifically like she’s had a head injury.
2. Shia LaBeouf. Seriously.
1. A nuked fridge.


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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

11 thoughts on “Indiana Jones Adventure Refurb: 5 Things Disneyland Hopefully Refurbished (and 5 They Hopefully Didn’t)

  • Mukta

    The spike chamber has been working for me lately, but the room after it hasn’t worked in years. It would be interesting to see the ‘stepping on the diamonds’ leading to those rocks lowering from the ceiling.

    The ghost/phantom also has worked in a long time. I hope it lights up once again.

    I am leaving SoCal to visit WDW this week, so I won’t be riding Indy until the 12th or so. I look forward to seeing it in its full glory.

  • The queue for this attraction is so nice. I’d sort of prefer they get rid of FastPass so that people would explore and experience the line (the decoder card idea is fantastic).

  • I remember those decoder cards fondly (hours in line, not so fondly). After the work of putting hieroglyphs on the walls of the line, it would be awesome to make them “work” again. After the advent of 3D movie effects and the focus on interactive elements in rides, this ride really represents the amazing creativity of the “last gen” and an immersive environment, and I would love to see more of it in working order.

  • HelenB

    I always liked the rope that said ‘do not pull’ which hasn’t worked the last few times I’ve been through the queue.

    I think the hieroglyphs could work well with a smartphone app. Download the app, take a picture of the inscriptions, solve it no matter where you are in line.

    Is it just me, or do other people feel that railings on the bridge would take away some of the excitement of the ride?

  • Spencer

    Can’t wait coming in on Saturday and I have it set up in my TP!!!

  • Marc Ricketts

    I’d lose the decoder wish since that can be found online; fix the doors! Maybe this is so obvious you felt it goes without saying, but when the very 1st thing on the ride doesn’t work……..

    FP goes through the entire indoor queue. The tiny portion outside portion wouldn’t justify losing FP.

    • Totally agree Marc! I did mention the doors (“Other must-fixes range from the stuck shifting doors at the start…”) but thought that is so obviously a “must-fix” that I focused on more obscure items. Thanks!

  • Short Round

    The Spike Chamber “Do not Touch” Bamboo pole activator is made of a special combination of plastic,resin and polymer built to last some wear and tear from the guests. Unfortunately its not built to withstand the battering it receives from half-wit jackenapes who have either trying to activate the effect by attacking the pole with brute-force or folks who are generally inconsiderate of theme park inter actives and the how little strength is needed to activate it.
    At any rate the pole, its mounting, or the connection is usually severed in less than a year and while the pole may sometimes remain intact and appear connected it can in fact be broken and the effect deactivated, also sometimes the booming and stone scraping sound effects are played over burnt out/muffled speakers. At any rate the Interactive is 101’d (broken or out of commission) for 8 months out of the year because it apparently takes the better part of 6 months to order, manufacture, and install a new post every time one breaks (or so I’ve read according a former employee).

    The Hall of Descending blocks was deactivated after (as usual) Litigation concerns and Insurance rates were brought up. They didn’t think tourists who entered an uncovered Ancient temple with themed lethal booby-traps and Skull motifs everywhere would catch on that they should watch their step when walking in the dark over rugged temple floor. This same bulls**t is what stopped them from running the original (and now infamous) “Program 15” in the transports.

    They Fixed/Upgraded the Rat Attack, not sure if it reverts to spiderweb during Halloween season or not.

    The “Spirit of Mara” aka the phantom-ghost that appears above the left side of the track when you pass into the “Skull” Portion of the Stone Effigy is only supposed to appear about 30% or less of the time. I read somewhere it was more common on combinations with the Chamber of Earthly Riches (Gold Room). This Scrim-Ghost used to more rare with reports saying that it only showed once out of every 16 passes or so. I can’t verify those numbers.

    The Non-Shifting doors in the Chamber of Destiny are Ruining some of the Effect for quick minded riders who recall that the Fountain of youth was never behind the middle door.
    I recently had a year pass and on the occasions I used it I would ride repeatedly on Temple only to discover that the choice was set to one chamber for a week or more and cycled only maybe once a month.
    Not only are visitors being marched past the rich environment, lore, and themeing they are missing out on one of the rides greatest features, The Ride was Imagineered to be somewhat different each time you rode it, from the 16 Transports (each with their own ‘personality’ programmed to move differently) to the phrases Indy shouts at you, the Chamber you enter, The Cobra strikes, the Fire Blasts and the Crumbling Ceiling (last I heard it was rusted shut a year after opening due to cheap construction and non-stainless steel parts in what amounts to a giant ice machine). The ride has so much unused potential that’s being squandered on attempts to placate the Instant-Gratification Attention Deficit crowd.

    That being said, I love the ride and will probably chain myself to it if they try to tear it down.

    -Crumbling Ceiling
    -Maras LAZER death eye-shooting (not this stupid bright white light)
    -Program 15 (Good ol’ Aneurysm inducing motion)
    -Observatory of the Futures Circlet and Vehicle tilt
    -Hall of Descending Blocks
    -Dr. Dunfor Pullits speaker volume and Fog effect.
    -“Caution Archaeologists working overhead” Cast members dressed as Archaeologists decifering and exploring Rotunda Room and Artifacts who spoke to guests about the lore and tales told of missing tour Transports.
    -Rolling Boulder Speaker Volume and Vehicle shake
    – “The Pit” aka Bridge Stall and again MARAS LAZOR DEATH RAY
    – Temple Steps Line Que Entry
    – Snake Temple Stone Effigy’s: Green Mouth lights and Fog

    – Harrison Ford Audio
    – Decoder Cards/ Smartphone Decoder App with Unlock-able Temple Lore, Map Explorer, Artifact Guide, Letters from Indy’s Office (View-able on the other side of the wall from the projector room in the glass case where everyone passes it)
    – High Def Bug Room Projector: Still looks out of focus
    – Frequent Trash Patrol for Areas like Behind the Skull or in the Rat Cave/Dart Room

  • So Mr. Selga wrote a little about the refurb results, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Were any of your wishes granted?

  • Well, I’ve found ONE thing they did during the refurb: there are now crazy projections on Mara’s face in the Chamber of Riches/Future/Youth/whatever. Each one has a different reaction to you “looking in it’s eyes” (Riches: starts bleeding from it’s supposed pores, Youth: the face cracks, haven’t seen the Future (hah) yet) I personally don’t like it, it just doesn’t feel right with the rest of the ride.


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