The Jungle Cruise is one of my favorite attractions at Disneyland Park. My trips to the park wouldn’t be complete without passing through the “backside of water”, and after quite a few trips, I started wondering about the whole process that is working the Jungle Cruise. Namely, being a world-famous, very funny Jungle Cruise skipper. Keyword: funny.
To be a skipper, you had to be funny as much as knowing how to pilot your boat in the dense jungle. So, was there an official “joke book”? Could they create their own jokes? Was there an approval process for new, witty jokes? All the questions and no answers. Until now.
A good friend of the site happened to be a former skipper! So we reached out to Allen Salamanca to take a closer look at what kind of person it takes to be one.
How long were you a Jungle Cruise skipper?
I was a Jungle Cruise skipper for about two years starting in October 1996 through about 1998.
When I started working at the park, it was during the last season of the Main Street Electrical Parade. They also had the Lion King Parade happening and the Pocahontas show playing at the Fantasyland Theater. The Hunchback of Notre Dame show was also going on at the Festival of Fools area behind Thunder Mountain. There was a lot of exciting things happening in the park during those years. I also remember being at the cast member announcement/presentation for the new theme park that they were building which became Disney California Adventure Park.
What was your experience like as a skipper?
Being a Jungle Cruise skipper was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. I was an annual passholder for a few years before working at the park and my group of AP friends would ride the Jungle Cruise all the time. We knew all the jokes and had the script memorized so what we really looked forward to was seeing what skipper we’d get and what kind of delivery they’d give. Eventually, one of my friends decided to apply for a job and got hired at Jungle. After he did it, my other friend and I decided to apply and we got hired as well.
It was great how it all worked out. I remember during the group interview I had when getting hired when they asked where I wanted to work, and I told them Jungle Cruise without hesitation. So I was surprised when I actually got it. And then the cast member who took us through orientation for attractions was a Jungle Cruise skipper. Jungle Cruise destiny, I suppose.
What did you have to offer/what was offered to you when casted into that role?
When I was a skipper, I’d really try to entertain the group that would come on my boat. I wanted to give them the kind of experience I’d enjoy and try to make them laugh as much as I could. Sometimes it was a challenge…especially when you’d get a group of tourists that didn’t speak any English. Or if you’ve been in the boat for a few hours and it’s like your 50th time going around the river, or it’s raining and wet and the weather conditions aren’t too great. But you press on and what really helps you is when you see the response and impact you’re making with the guests on your boat and they’re laughing and having a blast.
The camaraderie between skippers was something that was great too. It was like being in a fraternity. There’d be things like “going on safari” where you’d hike into the jungle and visit the different spots like the dancing natives or the animals on African Belt. You’d have to dodge being seen by guests in passing boats though. But sometimes skippers would play prank on each other and you’d drive by on your boat and see a skipper dancing with the natives or doing something else wacky in another part of the attraction.
Also, during the time a lot of skippers and cast members would meet up at Denny’s across the way on Katella or T.G.I.Friday’s in Orange after their shifts. I know a lot of skippers still keep in touch through Facebook and set up reunions and meet-ups at Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland Hotel.
As a skipper did you get to make up your own jokes and if so what was the process of approving them?
During the time I worked on Jungle Cruise, you were definitely encouraged to be creative and offer your own spin on things. When I worked there, we had a prop box that you could access that contained hats and various other trinkets/props to embellish whatever character or look you wanted to portray.
There were jokes that I did make up and incorporate into my boat rides. They’d be stuff that would reference pop culture or something happening during the time. When I rode the Jungle Cruise as a guest I remember at the end of the ride a skipper doing the line “Or as Charlie Brown’s teacher would say…” and do that “WAAAH WAAAH…WAAAH WAAAHHH WAAAAH” so when I became a skipper I did my own spin and created the “Or as Chewbacca would say…” and do my impression of Wookiee talk. Before I did that, no one had ever done a Chewbacca reference or impression on a Jungle Cruise boat. After I did that, I know a few other skippers started using that joke/impression. Occasionally, I still hear that come up, so it’s kind of cool knowing that something I kind of spun or created still has resonance.
There was a narrations department that oversaw attractions where talking was a part of the show experience that included Jungle Cruise, Storybook, the Enchanted Tiki Room. As far as a joke approval process, there was nothing formal at the initial time that I worked there. Just a common sense approach of don’t say anything offensive to the guests. And the other skippers were also a barometer to what was funny and what did or didn’t work.
That eventually changed, however, and management started cracking down on people for not following “standard operating procedure”. They wanted everyone to stick with the 1938 period theme-ing of the attraction and only do the “approved” puns and jokes. A few people were let go as a result of telling non-approved/non-sop jokes, which I remember actually making headlines in the OC Register and on local news. It was an interesting and intense time. By that point though, I had gotten trained on Big Thunder Mountain so I was working mainly on that attraction when all that was going down.
Is there a Jungle Cruise official joke book?
There is an official “joke book”/script that I was given during my Jungle Cruise training. All the approved puns and jokes are in there. The “backside of water” and “hokey-pokey” interpretation with the dancing natives are examples of jokes in the approved script. I’m sure it’s probably gone through revisions and more theme-ing references through the years, but there’s definitely a script for Jungle Cruise.Of course, if your ride it enough times it’s pretty easy to commit the jokes and spiel to memory.
I do have to say though, that when I was getting trained, there was another trainee who had never ridden the attraction and didn’t know any of the jokes. So I remember him stressing out and asking if I had learned all the jokes in the script. I didn’t have a problem since I had ridden Jungle Cruise so many times, but that kind of blew my mind that he was a complete rookie to the whole attraction.
What’s your favorite joke to say and a joke you heard from another skipper?
Not sure I have a stand-out favorite joke to say, but I do like the ones that call attention to the fact that it’s a ride and make fun of the attraction.
Like before there were the piranha’s that jumped out at you in the rapids, there was nothing really going on in that section of the cruise so you’d say something like “Everyone brace yourselves! We are now entering the treacherous rapids of Kilimanjaro!” and then seconds later follow up with “We are now leaving the treacherous rapids of Kilimanjaro.” Or saying something like “We’ve turned onto the Nile River, the longest river in Anaheim”.
Another one I enjoyed was calling attention to the Bengal Tiger and saying, “little known fact about the Bengal Tiger; they can weigh 500 pounds and can jump over 20 feet.” And then repeat that same exact fact using the other jungle animals, like the Gorillas, African Bull Elephant, the Hippos” Eventually, the boat catches on so by the time you reach the Anaconda and give the same fact the boat repeats the line on cue. And you go “Oh! You’ve all been on this cruise before.”
As far as a joke from another skipper, again, it wasn’t so much a joke as it was the style or delivery that another skipper would have. One skipper I liked had such a lethargic deadpan delivery that I found pretty hysterical. I remember some guests leaving the boat kind of confused not sure if he was joking, but the majority got it and found it pretty funny.
Was there a transition of jokes from “G” to somewhat “PG” at night?
When I worked Jungle, I never really toned down the jokes just because of the time of day. The jokes pretty much stayed consistent, but you kind of can get a feel of what kind of audience you’re going to get as the guests are coming aboard your boat. If I’d get a rowdy boat of teens and young adults I’d kind of get a little more “stand-up”-ish and go for the hard laughs and work the boat more.
If it’s a family filled boat with little kids and grandparents, you kind of stick with the bad puns and “standard” jokes of the attraction. When they used to close the park exclusively for grad-nights, there was an unofficial grad-night spiel that was kind of racy that went beyond PG.
I honestly, don’t remember any of the jokes since it was so long ago, but it was a different experience working those late night/early mornings of grad night and those jokes did push the envelope.
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My special thanks to Allen for sharing his skipper experiences with us! All of Allen’s experiences have shed a new light on Jungle Cruise for me. To think they do have an an actual official “joke book” is awesome, and to see skippers “going on safari” would have been so cool.
Do you have a favorite Jungle Cruise joke? Did you know that there was an official Jungle Cruise “joke book”? What else do you love about the attraction (or the skippers)? Let us know in the comments!