Tales from the Jungle Cruise

The Day O.J. Simpson Visited the Jungle Cruise

The following is a true story that happened at Disney’s Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom in 1998 to Skipper Andrew.

To set the story up, there are a few things you must know. First of all, it is forbidden for any Disney cast member to approach a celebrity, ask for an autograph, or treat them in any way other than any other park guest. ‘Everyone is a VIP at Disney,’ as the mantra goes. So for a Cast Member to accidentally recognize or acknowledge a celebrity is a potential point of embarrassment and possible dismissal. Every cast member knows not to do it.

The second thing you must know is that the Jungle Cruise has a sixteen page script that each Jungle Cruise Skipper must memorize. The ride is composed of 10-11 show scenes, and for each show scene there are two or three variations of script that a skipper may choose from. Quite often a skipper invents his own material on purpose, or sometimes by mistake.

Day after day, week after week, the Jungle Cruise spiel becomes second nature to a Jungle Cruise Skipper. As each scene happens, visual cues trigger a particular part of the script. At a certain point the spiel and jokes just flow off the tongue without even thinking. So comfortable did Skipper Andrew become with his spiel that the thought never even crossed his mind about the potential disaster that awaited him the day O.J. Simpson got on his boat.

The official script calls for the following spiel when departing from the dock, “Say goodbye to those nice people on the dock, because you may never see them again!” Other variations say, “We’re off on a cruise that will last for six exotic days and five romantic nights.”

Inevitably, as the monotony of the working on the Jungle Cruise wears on day after day, some Skippers vary the joke for their own entertainments’ sake. “We’re off on a cruise that will last for six exotic days and five romantic nights” became, “We’re off like a thundering herd of jelly donuts on the run from the law!” Or sometimes, a tired skipper might simply say, “We’re off!” and hit the throttle.

If Skipper Andrew had used any of those variations of the spiel he would have been fine. But Skipper Andrew picked the other one… the version of the spiel that applied very much to the Jungle theme, and to headhunting, which was another theme prevalent in the Disney Jungle Cruise. It was a joke that caught on like wildfire with the other Jungle Cruise Skippers for sheer boredom and the need to say something different while departing from the dock. But it was a joke that spelled disaster for Skipper Andrew.

That day when Skipper Andrew departed the dock, with O.J. Simpson in the front seat with his kids and 30 other park guests on board, he said the same words he had no doubt said hundreds of times before to other cruises. Those innocent words would have been fine had any other person on the planet been on board. But in this case, it was O.J. Simpson. Those words would go down in the history of the Jungle Cruise as one of the funniest jokes ever spieled by accident: That day, as they departed the dock, Skipper Andrew said very innocently, “We’re off, like a severed head!!”



Tales from the Disneyworld Jungle Cruise

Candid stories from a former Disneyworld Jungle Cruise skipper By R.C. Loveland

When I was being trained on the Jungle Cruise I learned about a trick the trainers liked to play on their trainees. I was taking a “dead” (empty) trip with my trainer to practice my spiel. He was sitting in the back of the boat and I was, of course, up front. We entered the temple so I sat down and watched the scenery. As I got to the end of the temple I stood up and turned around to get ready to spiel again. When I did I saw me trainer had disappeared from the boat. I assumed he jumped out at the exit point located inside the temple (Midway through, look in the water and you will see large stone blocks laying there. This is the walkway to the doorway just beyond). I shrugged and decided to keep spieling. I turned around to face the elephant pool and my trainer was hanging from the front of the roof of the boat. He scared me to death. Of course, I played this trick with one of my trainees a few years later.

One morning, I was the first boat with guests to leave the dock. As I rounded the corner and entered the “African Veldt” there was horticulture CM using the weed whacker on the Veldt. A new species of wildlife, I guess. At the end of the Veldt is the “Native Uprising” where the explorer and natives are on the pole trying to avoid the Rhino’s horn. One day, as I finished my spiel about that, a passenger next to me said, “With friends like that, who needs enemas?” (Implying about how close the Rhino’s horn is to the bottom man’s behind). And one trip I had a lady in the back of the boat start giggling at that point in the ride. And then for the rest of the trip she just kept laughing hysterically at everything. All I can say was that it made my day. I wish more crews were like that. And the interesting thing was how the guests would rather watch the ducks in the river mating, then watch the millions of dollars worth of animation we had. It is true, at the native ambush one of the natives yells “I Love Disco.” Listen closely right after the first ambush sounds are made.

And an acquaintance of mine was fired from Disney one day while working the Jungle Cruise. He was at the entrance/exit plaza in front of the attraction. Now, at the Magic Kingdom, the Swiss Family Tree House overlooks the J.C. plaza. “J.” was out front doing something when a guest walked up and asked: “Could you tell me what the Swiss Family Tree House is?” I guess J. had had it with guests that day and said: “Look lady,” pointing at it, “It’s a god-damn tree!” Needless to say, he no longer works at Disney.

The college program guys (I worked in MK when only males worked the J.C.) would throw the lead into the river on their last day. But if you went totally underwater you had to go to first aid to get your ears washed out. There was a possibility of getting something nasty from that water.

One of the most stupid acts I ever saw at J.C. was from some new hire. I was at the unload position and he was to bring a boat from the storage area and get ready to bring it onto the ride. Well, he forgot to switch the track switch from one side to the side he was bringing his boat from. He drove the boat through the track switch and the front guide wheel got caught in it. No big problem, just yell for someone on the dock to change the switch. But he didn’t, instead he threw the boat in reverse, climbed out, and turned the switch himself believing he could jump into the boat as it backed-up. Unfortunately, the transmission on the boat screwed up and the boat was actually still in full-throttle forward. As the track switch changed positions the boat shot forward right into the boat I had just finished unloading. Luckily all the guests had exited so no injuries. But the doofus had lunged for the boat and got dragged through the water as held onto the back railing. It was like watching some bad silent-era slap stick film.

There was another guy, “J.” who somehow “lost” his gun from his boat. Now when a gun is lost or stolen it’s a BIG deal. They are real .38 Specials but the barrels are altered so a real bullet can’t be fired. It would explode in your face if you tried (that didn’t stop skippers from sticking ammo in the end of it and shooting the spent shells as they fired them). Well, J. said he went to get his gun at the Hippo Pool and it was gone. He had a boatload of Brazilians at the time but can’t say if they were smart enough to take it. I think one of them did as a souvenir. Well, the ride was closed for the rest of the day as divers searched the river for it. It was never found. I always enjoyed the bunnies and Patagonian Cavy’s that would appear on the veldt or at the Pygmy Canoe beach. On the beach I’d tell them they were killer rabbits and to watch out.

Supposedly there was the shape of Mickey’s head on the backside of Inspiration Falls (at the beginning where the butterflies are) but not on the guests side. You had to walk through the jungle to the backside to see it. I never did get a chance.

At the Elephant Squeeze Play, where it seems like you are going to get soaked by the elephant, I had a lady lunge at the controls to stop the boat because she through we were going to run into the elephant ahead shooting water in front of us. I also had a lady lunge at the wheel when she thought we were leaving the dock. She thought the boat was going to go straight ahead and run into the shore. She was sure embarrassed as the crew and I stared at her when the boat turned itself (yes, it is on a track).

During heavy rain periods (they happen often in Florida) we are told to drive slow around corners because it is possible to drive the boat out of the guide-trough because of high water level. It never happened while I was there, though I always hoped it would.

It was really cool, too, when maintenance put the dye into the water system. There were a few colors they used: several greens and a Tidy-Bowl blue color. The entry point is Schweitzer Falls. Do you know how attractive the falls are when it looks like the blue water from somebody’s toilet is pouring over it? Then you could actually watch the stuff slowly spread through the ride as you went around. They used some industrial strength dye. Everyone told me never to get the dye directly on your clothes because it would never come out. I believed them.

One trick skippers in dead boats like to do is pretend they are dead as they go under the falls and a loaded boat comes the other way headed for the Hippo Pool. Usually we just slumped over the wheel and lay motionless. But I heard one skipper like to take the lanyard from the gun, attach it to the roof beam and put the noose-like end around his neck. He then kneeled on the stool and made it look like he hung himself. Pretty cool.

An old friend of mine worked the J.C. one year. He was spieling when a huge black snake dropped from a tree and landed on the front of the boat. Totally disposing of his manly demeanor, he ran screaming to the back of the boat like a girl. There were always snakes around. It’s Florida and snakes are a fact of life. You especially saw them around the Temple where the rodents like to live. I saw some really huge rat snakes around that area.

One day at unload this skipper was helping guests out of the boat by taking by the arm as he was supposed to do. Some snotty little kid yanked his arm away and said he could get out himself. He promptly tripped and fell on his face. There is a God.

This lead who most CM’s didn’t like decided to jump on the front of a boat and reload the gun for a skipper. Don’t know exactly why he didn’t let the skipper do this himself. Well, as he was doing this, the boat behind them, full of passengers, rammed into the boat with the lead. The lead promptly lost his balance and fell into the river. I also remember the same guy trying to jump a rope in the Haunted Mansion queue for the heck of it and catching his foot so he ate the pavement. If you just wait long enough, the ones you don’t like get it. Chalk another one up for our side.

And one final memory for now of the J.C.: The worst day I worked there (besides when I was sick or allergies prevented me from spieling) was the time it literally rained for 3 days solid. That was the most miserable time there because there is no way to stay completely dry.

-R.C. Loveland, July 29th, 1997


Working on the Jungle Cruise in the 1970’s

Terry Speicher: Theme park designer with ITEC Productions and a former Walt Disney World Jungle Cruise Skipper from the opening days of Walt Disney World.

Interviewer: Tell us about how you got started at Jungle, and how long you were there.

TS: OK. It was a very cold winter in Indiana, around December, 1972. Eastern Airlines was advertising on the Larry Lujack Show out of Chicago, with the slogan, “If You Had Wings,” and all kinds of hype about Disney, ending with clips about Disney World, Mickey Mouse, and warm Florida. I couldn’t resist. I’d had enough of gray skies and wet snow. I took $500 and my old Corvair, kissed my folks goodbye, and drove down: I was going to work for Disney. What I didn’t know was how many other people had the same idea. There were 30,000 applicants for 7,000 jobs when the park opened, and this was only a year later. I was lucky enough to be hired and assigned to Main Street Adventureland, where Ed Beaver took one look at the three guys with me and said, “Trains.” Then he took one look at me and said “Jungle Cruise.” I still have no idea why, but I was given a script and told to go home and memorize it by the following Monday (this was Friday). I’d never memorized any script before, and I was nervous, but I learned how to give the spiel, and then the fraternity experience began. I found the Jungle to be more than an ordinary job and the people who worked there more than ordinary people. Most of them were overqualified for these positions, and they provided a certain camaraderie and humor akin to what you see on M*A*S*H. You’d get on the boat, where the previous captain would tell you he’d loaded the gun (a real Smith and Wesson .38) for you as a courtesy. You’d get to the hippo pool and fire, and the first two shots would go click, click. On the third shot, an unbelievable ka-boom would resound–he would have double loaded one of the blanks for you. In those days, each captain would work out his own interpretation of the script, including me. There was an ongoing war (and probably still is) between the official script and the one that was actually delivered once the boat was ten feet away from the dock.I stayed at Disney for 4 1/2 years, of which I probably spent a year and a half on the Jungle. I wound up as lead on the Jungle at several different times, worked as opening lead at “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and was also a lead on Main Street. During rehab, I had the pleasure of replacing the hair on the animals in the veldt.

Interviewer: Do you have any favorite Jungle Stories or memories?

TS: We used to go into the rock rooms to cool off. We had “borrowed” a special key, but that became a slightly risky enterprise. One day the landscaping crew obligingly left a set of pruning shears behind when they went to lunch. Jerry Starcher (“Stump,” for short) and I decided it was high time the Jungle Cruise had more than a dock box for comfort, especially for the leads. We went into the room in the queuing area and used the nippers to cut through the AC ductwork, added a leftover grille, and voila! the Jungle Cruise office was born. (I tended to make offices wherever I went. Eventually I created a lunch area on the catwalk above the lagoon at Pirates. They never could prove I’d relocated the WDW bandroom’s water-cooler/refrigerator to the Pirates tower, as all identifying  markings had somehow disappeared.) The very best early Jungle Cruise exploit I remember (though I wasn’t involved myself) was about a captain who intentionally disabled his gun so it wouldn’t fire. After he pointed it at a hippo and it went “click” several times, he put a rubber knife between his teeth, jumped overboard, stabbed the hippo, swam to shore, jumped back on the boat in the shrine, changed shirts (he’d stashed one under the bow), received a standing ovation at the end of the cruise, and would have gotten away with it except for the congratulatory cards and letters that poured into Operations two weeks later, including photographs. Unfortunately, he was fired. (He had set the whole thing up so that a plain-clothes Jungle Cruise captain was on board, so the safety of the guests was never in question.) But my favorite memory of the Jungle Cruise involves a father with a little kid on a very hot, extremely hot July afternoon. This guy was shuffling along in the queue with the kid on his shoulders, and whenever he got really hot he’d lift the kid up in the air. Each time he did this, he’d hear a “thwacketa-thwacketa-thwacketa” sound and look around to see where it was coming from. It took about three times for him to realize that he was sticking the kid’s head into one of the ceiling fans. The kid was too surprised even to cry.

Interviewer: What are you doing now?

TS: That, of course, was all many years ago. In the intervening time, I’ve raised a family, opened and run my own electronics company, gotten a pilot’s license, traveled, and recently come full circle working for the entertainment industry, as an engineer for a company that builds ride and electronics systems for Disney and Universal. Strange how once it gets into your blood, it seems to stay there. My experiences on the Jungle made an extrovert out of an introvert and provided me with an extremely pleasant memory. On subsequent visits to the park with my family, I’ve noticed that things on the Jungle Cruise seem to be somewhat subdued by comparison.

Interviewer: You submitted a photo featuring you and Julie Nixon – tell us about that experience.

TS: As I turned the corner after Trader Sam, I saw every Disney dignitary who was anybody was standing on the dock, along with half a dozen secret service men and a gaggle of tongue-tied Girl Scouts who were there to provide a PR photo op. Somewhere in the middle of this mass of people was Julie Nixon Eisenhower. At the time, Nixon was still the president, and I’d voted for him, I regret to say, so this was a pretty big deal. It isn’t often that you get to give a “command performance.” Julie, the secret service guys, the girl scouts, and the “ambassador” tour guide were our only guests on that voyage–the people who’d been waiting on the dock were shuffled into permanent wait mode until the hubbub died down. The secret service were on the back of the boat and all over the dock, and, although I didn’t think about it until afterwards, I suppose there was a dangerous moment when I brandished the gun and shot the hippo (in those days we used real Smith and Wesson 38s, just blanks, of course.) You can bet their guns didn’t have blanks in them.

It wasn’t all that exciting because we got lots of celebrities, as you probably did as well, working on the Jungle. I was actually more impressed with the armed guards than with the president’s daughter (I was also more interested in the tour guide.) Just as a side note, on another occasion, when I was working at Pirates, Cliff Robertson damned near got me fired–he called to tell my supervisor what a great job I’d done the previous day of giving him a “behind-the-scenes” (very abbreviated, but he didn’t know that) tour of Pirates, which of course I wasn’t supposed to do. All my time at Disney, both on the Cruise and in Main Street/Adventureland, convinced me that even “important” people were just people, and to this day I use the skills I learned there every day.

Working on the Jungle Cruise in the 1990’s

JGR: Nathan, welcome! Thanks for being with us!

NN: Thanks.

JGR: The first thing I have to ask is how did you become one of the few skippers to work two Jungles?

NN: Well, the hardest part was getting hired into the college program at Disneyland, where only about 10% of applicants made it in. Actually, I didn’t even make it at first. I got a rejection letter. But I started a letter writing campaign to my recruiter. They offered me the job the day after I gave up hope. And lo and behold, the offer was for what I consider the best job at all of Disney. . . the Jungle Cruise.

JGR: Wow! That’s great.

NN: Then after college I decided that I wanted to design theme parks for a living. Sort of a dream of mine. So I moved to Orlando, where a lot of the design companies are located. I figured since I was in town, why not do the Jungle Cruise again? Getting hired on at WDW was easier. I basically walked in the door and begged (and flirted) to get them to send me to Jungle Cruise…. and they did! I was ecstatic! My friends at all WDW roll their eyes every time I start to talk about Disneyland Jungle. But I have a lot of great memories from the place, so it’s really still a part of me. It was like living in a parallel universe. Everything was the same, yet everything was different.

JGR: Cool. Now, we all know about the WDW Temple/Shrine – what are some of the other major differences, from your point of view as an operator?

NN: Well, the spiel is more or less the same, but the jungle is all backwards. At DL the elephant pool and “temple” area is more or less first. At WDW, it’s last. Besides that, they don’t use spotlights at night, which makes a big difference. WDW has much better “stick” microphones, which allows you to do a lot more things with your voice.

JGR: That’s funny, because when I was at WDW, we had the old CB mics and Spotlights (showing my age, I guess).

NN: I tried to get out the spotlights one night, but no one else would use them. They take a bit of coordination. I still like the CB mikes. They are perfect for pulling off a good, dry spiel. Oh, and of course… the ride at WDW is 10 minutes, as opposed to 7 at DL.

JGR: I know you’re probably asked this a lot, and I don’t want any sissy-I-like-them-both-equally- momma-with-two-sons crap: Which is the better jungle?

NN: Okay, I’ll give ya a clear answer, but you’ve gotta bear with me. First of all, I think that both have some great advantages over the other… I like WDW because I’ve had time to make a lot of great friends, whereas in College Program at DL, as soon as I got there it seemed like it was time to go home. But if I had to pick one… it would have to be Disneyland for several reasons: 1. It was the original. 2. Being from Oregon, I grew up on the west coast, and Disneyland was what I grew up with. 3. They actually have more animals to talk about (no toucans at WDW, or water buffalo at the python, no monkeys right near the veldt, etc). The Disneyland show scenes are spaced out a whole lot better. It’s much easier to spiel to, and there seems to be a nice flow to it. A lot of times WDW show scenes are close together, and then there are large gaps. For some reason at the end of the WDW ride, there is a big blank spot where we are supposed to point out the plant life. Talk about anti-climatic! The longer WDW ride is nice, in many ways too though. But most of all, and I know you are gonna think I am crazy for saying this: when I worked at DL Jungle, there were only guys. It was sort of like a fraternity… a boys club. Everyone looked up to the “Jungle cruise” guys for some reason. And not being around girls for a while wasn’t too bad. After all, there was plenty of good flirting potential at Fantasmic guest control.

JGR: Actually, I don’t find that crazy at all – I worked with an all male Jungle at WDW. Nathan, tell us a little about your theme park designing job – have you worked on anything we’d recognize?

NN: Well, I am just Mr. “almost good enough to scrub floors” designer. So I am just getting started. But my company did some of the major show sets for the new Twister Ride at Universal Studios Florida. They also designed the look and feel for the Batman roller coasters at the Six Flags parks. Besides that, they designed the sculptural characters above the “World of Disney” store.

JGR: Cool! How did you get involved with that (besides working at Jungle, obviously)? NN: Well, when I was at Disneyland I kept trying to get into Imagineering, with little luck. But I fell in love with the idea, so I changed my major to the closest thing I could find to it (and still graduate reasonably on time): architectural engineering… and about that time, I made contact with a CEO of a company that designs such attractions. He basically laid it all out, in terms of what I needed to do to get started. I followed it to the letter, and started networking and learning the things I thought I needed to know.

JGR: Any plans for the future to try again to get into Imagineering?

NN: The first thing I learned about this business is that it is very turbulent. When I got to Orlando, I was almost immediately hired by a company that designs sets and exhibits. Shortly thereafter, I was fired (It’s kind of fun to say you’ve been fired, actually). Then I got my “Dream job” with a company much like the one I am with now. We were designing theme parks in China and Korea. But with their financial crisis, they couldn’t afford to pay their bills, and our company went under. Generally, in this business (including with Imagineering) you work on one job (say, a ride like Splash Mountain). When it is complete, you lose your job. With luck, there is always a project right behind it that you can get signed into, but that’s not always the case. After EPCOT was finished in the 1980’s, about 2000 Imagineers lost their jobs.

JGR: Wow!

NN: In answer to your question, though, yes I would definitely like to work at WDI at some point down the road, given the right fit. But for now, I love where I am in work and in life. My friend Carley and I both want to stay at Jungle until we are 70! No joke! That’s the plan.

JGR: Great plan!

NN: We will be CT (seasonal) by then, I’m sure…

JGR: Do you ever get back to the DL Jungle for a visit?

NN: No, I’ve never been back. And I do miss it a whole lot. But then again, Disney is never too far away from me.

JGR: Any advice for Present Skippers, or Future hopefuls?

NN: Well, I think for new skippers, it’s best not to try to be too much of a crowd pleaser. I mean, it is very easy to get carried away and start throwing offensive one liners into a spiel to try to get a reaction. But the bottom line is that some boats don’t react to anything you do. I have had back to back to back boats. The first one where they are rolling on the floor, and the second one you give the exact same spiel, and all you get are blank looks. The third time, they are crying because they are laughing so hard. So after 18 months at DL and WDW jungle, I came to the conclusion that it’s up to the guests to have fun. I’ll always have fun, whether they do or not!

JGR: Last question (fodder for the message board – like it needs it): If ten WDW skippers and ten DL skippers had a rumble in a dark alley, who would win?

NN: Hmm… let’s see… Ya got those tofu-eatin’ Californian blondies on one side… and those rough and rugged southern boys on the other side (and me)… I think I’m gonna have to go with the Floridians on this one (and all those New Yorkers who seem to find their way to Jungle).

JGR: I was gonna say WDW cause they’re used to the dark from the shrine!

NN: Maybe that too. . .

JGR: Well, thanks a ton, Nathan, for joining us this month.

NN: Oh, no problem. Hope you got some stuff you can use. Remember, “If loving the Jungle is wrong… I don’t want to be right!”

JGR: Great tag line!

Much luck to you


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