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“We Might Need Racing Boats” – Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise

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The Disneyland Story

From the publisher of The Unofficial Guide books comes The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey, the story of how Walt Disney’s greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Here is a brief excerpt:

According to Disney historian David Mumford, one of Walt’s early ride concepts was the River of Romance, “a tribute to Americana and the original had guests gliding through the Everglades and down the Suwannee. By 1953, the boat ride design had become a jungle excursion.” The initial site plan had a big lake with an island in the middle filled with tropical trees and foliage. Motorboats would leave a dock and circumnavigate the island. Harper Goff decided that the concept would not work. He told Walt, “What you’ve got is everybody on that boat, if you go counterclockwise around the island, having to look to the left. The boat isn’t going to go sideways, so half the people will have to look over the shoulders of people beside them.”

Goff’s next suggestion was to have the boats enter a river on the island, with sights for people to look at from both sides. Walt agreed. As the plan continued to evolve, Goff also learned that Walt wanted the attraction to last a certain length of time. So Goff drafted a plan with a lake with an island at the center. The boats would cross the lake and then could enter the river on the island. Walt looked at the plan and asked how long it would take to get across the lake and how fast would the boats get back to pick up another load. Goff had no idea. He did not know how fast the boats could go. Walt was becoming increasingly frustrated and kept asking about the time estimates. Goff then suggested that they could build a smaller ride but Walt would have none of that. This was going to be a marquee attraction.

Goff suggested they purchase racing boats so the boats could speed back to the dock Walt said no. He wanted them out there a certain length of time and he did not want them to go fast. Goff brought in architects to help but they could not get it to work either. They made cutouts of the boats and then began to argue with one another. Finally, Goff decided the lake and island concept did not work. Stymied, Goff took out a fresh piece of paper and started over. Goff proposed a compromise. He began with a river ride where the boats would return to the same place they started. The ride would evolve into the Tropical Rivers of the World; by the time Disneyland opened in 1955, it had become the Jungle Cruise.

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Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennaway is an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip.

One thought on ““We Might Need Racing Boats” – Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise

  • No matter how many Disney history books I read do I ever get bored hearing these stories of how things were created. Thanks for sharing this one. I look forward to getting the book. 🙂


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