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Exploring the wilds of Adventureland with SAMLAND

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 10-18-2011 at 08:17 PM

Over the next couple of weeks I will be exploring one of my favorite spots within Disneyland – Adventureland.

Once you pass over the bridge and walk through the gateway of Adventureland, you will be transported to an exotic, fully immersive environment. This cramped corridor at the edge of civilization is loaded with texture and layers of history. So join me for a journey into the deepest darkest corners of this mysterious port of call. Let’s explore the world of Adventureland.

Adventureland is unique amongst the themed areas in Disneyland in many ways. It has a different layout than the other lands, is the smallest “non-ride” public area at Disneyland, and it has a very special history which has influenced what we see today.

I cannot quite pinpoint why Adventureland is one of my favorite spaces. Maybe it is the land’s diminutive size, which makes the details all the more interesting. It could be the influence of collecting Hawaiian shirts as a hobby. More likely it is the architecture and landscape treatment that blends African, Asian, and Polynesian influences without representing a specific place. Adventureland is the Hollywood ideal of an exotic place through the lens of the early 1950s.

The art direction for the environmental design recalls exotic ports of call that don’t really exist except in the movies. The movie African Queen and the True-Life Adventure The African Lion are frequently cite as major influences in the design of the space. The extensive plantings obscure the edges and make the land seem larger than it really is and adds an infinite horizon that is necessary for the illusion of adventure.

Let’s start our trip from the Partners statue of Walt and Mickey in the center of the Plaza Hub. Look around at the entrances of each land. In filmmaking, a common technique used to establish the scene and provide context for the remaining feature is the long shot. The long shot works because your eye captures a glimpse of color and motion and soon organizes them into shapes. Those shapes should evolve into simple storytelling icons that set the stage for what is to come later.

To the east is Tomorrowland with the Astro Orbiter rockets spinning around and rising from a hole right out front. If you look north, toward Fantasyland, you can see the King Arthur Carrousel horses prancing through the gateway of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Beyond the stockade of Frontierland are the Mark Twain and the Columbia pulling into port. When you look into Adventureland, what do you see? Nothing.

There is a bridge, a gateway, and the entrance to Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room with its iconic Dole Whip stand but no spinning or moving object beyond the boundary. Why? Why is Adventureland different and does not have a beckoning hand to lure you. Pretty simple? It is Adventureland. After all, if you could see what lies ahead it would not be much of an Adventure, right?

Adventureland is different by design. The Imagineers used landscaping, typological architectural details, and an entry path that winds its way into the space. The obstructed views only heighten the suspense. Only once you turn the corner around the Adventureland Bazaar do you get a full view of the land. The use of a deflected view adds a sense of mystery and the path narrows so you get up close to the side of the Bazaar and makes the experience intimate and almost claustrophobic. The land is dense and the scale of the landscaping overpowers the buildings.

A “handmade” bamboo gate that integrates elephant tusks into the structure defines the entrance to Adventureland. To the left is the sweet smell of the Dole Whip pineapple stand. Let’s take a moment, pass through the turnstile, and you enter the quiet, peaceful Tiki Room lanai. It is a perfect spot for a break.

A Lanai is a Hawaiian term that means an open roofed porch or veranda. In urban planning, the front porch represents a sort of semi-public/private space where there is some interaction with others but that interaction can be limited.

There is a short wall that separates the lanai from the main pathway. Once inside the turnstile you feel distant yet connected to the thousands passing by. The sitting walls invite you to sit and relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the constricted entrance into Adventureland.

Take advantage of the Dole Whip stand. Who among us can resist? Often the lanai side has a shorter line. I hear some of you asking, “What is a Dole Whip?” It is a legendary non-dairy dessert that comes on its own or with pineapple juice. It has a soft ice cream texture. It must be healthy because it is made with fruit, right? I am sure there are more places where one can get this delicious, cold treat but in my universe it is here, in Adventureland, or in Walt Disney World at a stand at the Magic Kingdom or at Captain Cook’s food court in the Polynesian Resort.

Settle down in a shady spot and enjoy the short film on the big screen TV built in to the Dole Whip stand. The film has not really changed over the years and it teaches us everything we need to know about pineapple production back in the day when they actually grew pineapples in Hawaii.

My favorite spot is the sitting wall along the Tiki Room show building and is shaded by Tangaroa (the big tree with flowers at the end of the branches). Even if you are not going into the show, the lanai is a treat all by yourself.

Once the film ends the show really begins. Magic comes over the lanai and the Tikis spring to life. Well, spring might be overstating things a bit. Let’s just say that they talk story and have a few special effects?

Our introductions begin with Maui who roped the sun and created the concept of time. Toward the lanai entrance is Koro. Seems Koro tends to party a bit too much. On the other side is Tangaroa-ru, the Goddess of the East Wind. She hangs out with Kina Kuluua, the Goddess of Rain. Pele spouts fire out of her head and gets Ngendei, The Earth Balancer, so shaken up he does a handstand and rocks back and forth. Rongo just plays around with a kite all day. Finally, there is Tangaroa, Father of all Gods and Goddesses (and voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft) who provides the appropriate climax featuring multiple births.

Walt first envisioned the Tiki Room as a dinner theater. The building was designed with a kitchen nearby and for many years the seats were those bought for the dining room. They tried to test the show and had it mocked up at the studios. What they found was nobody wanted to leave. They just sat there in awe. So they gave up. This is the reason why you can find one of the best bathrooms in all of Disneyland here. Just do not tell anybody.

In the original plans for Disneyland, Adventureland was going to be located on the east side of the park, just south of where Tomorrowland is today. The land was going to be based on the popular True-Life Adventureland film series. Disneyland’s landscape artist extraordinaire, Bill Evans, decided that he could take advantage of a mature windrow of eucalyptus trees to create a natural backdrop for the Jungle Cruise. The trees still stand behind City Hall. To increase the density of exotic landscaping for the Jungle Cruise he improvised by taking orange trees and flipped them so that the roots were pointed toward the sky and buried the rest. Many of the oldest trees in the park were rescued from the construction path of the Santa Ana Freeway.

Imagineer and Disney Legend Marty Sklar said that “Bill Evans defined Disney theme park landscaping, and trained just about everyone who has created theme park stories in living environments.” In The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Melody Malmberg explains Evans’ approach. She said, “The first consideration was guest comfort—shade and shelter. The second was screening visual intrusions—creating a berm, a ring of earth and vegetation surrounding the park to hide the real world; or using strategic planting that camouflaged a building or electronics or lighting. The third principle was telling a story through landscaping—creating the right look for the setting, from the mixed broadleaf forest of Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River banks to the serene gardens of Japan.”

Another change from the original plans was Walt’s desire to have real live animals along the banks of the Jungle Cruise. He was talked out of it when he learned that they would probably be asleep most of the time.

In Disneyland’s very first guidebook, Walt said that Adventureland is “the wonderland of Nature’s own design.” He went on to say, “Here you can stroll through a Tahitian village lush in its exotic beauty, marvel at the unusual exhibit of South Seas products displayed at the Bazaar, or take an explorer’s boat on a journey through tropical rivers where life-like wild animals add thrills and excitement to your trip to the far ends of the world.”

Adding to the illusion were the shops. A 1955 souvenir book boasted, “The savage beauty of the tropics and the exotic wares of South Sea Island Shops are seen in superlative degree in this Tahitian village at Disneyland.” You could “buy items from India, carvings from a Kenyan tribe in Africa, and tropical ceramics are among the rarities, displayed in the Adventureland bazaar.”

The Adventureland Bazaar has been there since day one. To entice you to shop, the 1955 Picture Book of Disneyland in Natural Color promised that the store would be filled with “items from India, carvings from a Kenyan tribe in Africa, and tropical ceramics are among the rarities, displayed in the Adventureland bazaar.” The exterior has remained relatively consistent but the interior has gone through some major changes. At opening it truly was a bazaar with little merchandise stands competing for your attention. Over time, the room was opened up into large room.

The Adventureland Bazaar received a major revamp in 1962. A young Imagineer named Rolly Crump was put in charge, his first big assignment. Roland “Rolly” Crump is one of Disney’s Renaissance men and a Disney Legend. Crump said, “I was trained by Walt to try anything that he asked me to do.”

Rolly started in the animation department but his real passion was in kinetic sculptures. This hobby would be the thing that changed his life forever. Ward Kimball saw some of Rolly’s little propeller sculptures and encouraged Walt to take a look. That got Rolly and invitation to join WED in 1959.

His credits over the 40 years he worked for Disney is endless. Some of his most notable contributions include The Enchanted Tiki Room, the facade for its a small world, elements that were incorporated into the Haunted Mansion, the Land and Wonders of Life pavilions in Epcot and, of course, the Adventureland Bazaar.

As a side note, one of the best observations about why Disneyland works came from Crump in the documentary Disneyland Secrets, Stories, & Magic. To understand why Disneyland is so magical Crump compared Disneyland to a really great salad. In an ordinary salad you may have lettuce, a tomato, and some dressing. A great salad has so much more. Maybe there are cucumbers, croutons, onions, and other goodies. Disneyland is a like a glorious, well-prepared, robust salad. There is certainly something in there that everybody can find to love. That is what makes Disneyland so special.

Back to the rehab. Today, it takes years of planning to do a project at Disneyland. According to E-Ticket magazine, in 1962, Rolly had 6 weeks, 5 painters, 5 carpenters, and a budget of $38,000. Most of the design was done on site and on the fly. He did have access to the “Boneyard”, which was the backstage area where excess and cast-off materials are stored. It is still there and a lot of the items get recycled back into the park. Wouldn’t you like to visit that area?

Next week, I will continue the tour, both in space and time. Until then, “Wake up Jose!”

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Updated 10-22-2011 at 03:18 PM by SAMLAND



  1. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Fantastic article Sam, really looking forward to part 2. And great photos by Andy Castro.

    Thank you guys!

  2. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    I agree. Great photos (naturally) Andy.

  3. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    Any article that talks about Rolly is automatically a favorite of mine

    Great beginning to the tour, Sam!
  4. jpg391's Avatar
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    Great article. Yes I would like to see the "Bone Yard" and find out whats there.
  5. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    I really miss the Swiss Family Robinson organ soundtrack playing in Adventureland and all the kinetic energy the tree house had. Especially the water wheel made of bamboo. Can't wait to read your part 2. PD
  6. bamato's Avatar
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    Can't wait for part two! Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Adventureland the only major land never to receive a big make-over?
  7. JiminyCricketFan's Avatar
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    Adventureland it is very cool. It really is effective at making me feel like I am in a different place and time. The old Adventureland was cool, but for a brief time in the 90's they had a steel drum band. For me, that really added a lot to the feeling of an exotic locale.
  8. BassBone's Avatar
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    You can get Dole Whips in multiple flavors at the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Hawaii, too. I believe they have a chocolate one.
  9. Swisskapolka's Avatar
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    I LOVE Adventureland! Thanks for the article. Can't wait for Part 2!
  10. Tinkd's Avatar
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    Great review, love your articles, what year is the documentary Disneyland, secrets stories and magic, I'd like to get it. thanx!
  11. DisneyResort's Avatar
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    Nooooo!!! You revealed the secret bathroom at The Enchanted Tiki Room. No one even knows it 's there, so it never gets used, i.e., it's always clean. There's one other secret bathroom at Disneyland, but I'll keep it...a secret.
  12. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyResort
    Nooooo!!! You revealed the secret bathroom at The Enchanted Tiki Room. No one even knows it 's there, so it never gets used, i.e., it's always clean. There's one other secret bathroom at Disneyland, but I'll keep it...a secret.
    I am so sorry. I know I know. If people visit my other site SamLand's Disney Adventures they will find that I have secret favorite at Epcot as well. Let's just say it is a time machine.

    Thanks for reading.

  13. Backside of Water's Avatar
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    Absolutely beautiful! I admit, I am slightly biased, but I think this is the best Samland series I've ever read! Hope to hear more, and keep on adventuring!!!