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Jungle Cruise Guns

When Walt Disney first imagined the Jungle Cruise as an attraction populated with real animals, he gave orders that skippers be issued handguns with live ammunition in case of emergency (e.g. lion attack, uppity guest, extended marooning necessitating cannibalism). The animals were eventually recast with animatronics, but nobody bothered to take away the skippers' guns and they remained part of the show for decades.

Traditionally, the gun would be fired to "scare off" a "rampaging" "hippo" that was "attacking" the "boat." The gun would be fired over a hippo's head (observant guests would notice that a giraffe in the distance would simultaneously duck). Occasionally skippers would take liberties with the weapons, using them to knock cocoanuts from the trees, "pop a cap in the backside of water," or shake down guests.

Officially, the guns served multiple purposes. A skipper could communicate with the dock by firing a specific number of shots. For example:

  • Two shots = "All clear" (no guests in the water)
  • Three shots = "Mechanical difficulty" (an animtronic animal is doing something screwy, e.g. vomiting sparks, spinning like a top, burning)
  • Four shots: Medical emergency, nauseous child
  • Five shots: Monkey attack!
  • Six shots: Lost, need help finding dock
  • Seven shots: Additional ammunition located
  • Three short shots, followed by three long shots, followed by three short shots: Struck iceberg

The "breakdown" ammunition, used for signaling, was significantly louder than "show" ammunition used to frighten robots. In addition to show and breakdown ammunition, skippers were also supplied with armor-piercing and so-called "cop-killer" rounds, two flares, and a single rifle grenade, to be used in case of emergency only.

In 1998, the .357 magnums disappeared from the Jungle Cruise. Disneyland retired the weapons with its usual fanfare -- heavily promoting the final bullet-flying cruises and selling commemorative "real life bullets from the final armed Jungle Cruise" in special display cases at $25 a pop to the hoards of priorities-impaired Disney memorabilia collectors. And then the guns were gone.

The reason for the weapons' removal has been the source of much speculation over the years. Rumors abound. For instance, it is said that the guns were removed because:

  • Although they were shot into the air, they often killed birds in the trees or shattered car windshields on the other side of the berm.
  • Freudians might consider the weapons sexually symbolic
  • Skippers were taking too much disability leave due to trigger-finger calluses
  • The heavily armed skippers were annoyed at always being called to foil robberies at the Bank of Main Street
  • Neighbors in Toontown was complaining about the noise
  • Nobody had ever complained about them and management was worried that there was a lot of unexpressed anger at the weapons being built up

Simultaneous with the removal of the Jungle Cruise's guns, weapons disappeared from other areas of the park. For example, the rifles were taken from Fort Wilderness (leaving it vulnerable to attack from peaceful Indians just across the water), the Frontierland Shootin' Exposition became the Frontierland Rock Throwin' Exposition, toy guns were removed from sale around the park, real guns were removed from sale around the park, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was rewritten to say that the President had been smothered to death with a pillow, the Tribute to American Military Might parade was canceled, Star Tours was altered so that it ended with the Death Star being soundly scolded by the United Nations, and the cannons and rifles in Pirates of the Caribbean were replaced with rude signs and naughty gestures.

In subsequent years, a number of proposals were made that would allow the return of weapons to the Jungle Cruise. These include:

  • Arming skippers with knives so they can dive into the water and fend off crocodiles
  • Purchasing gimmicks that allow cast members to appear to produce sparks from their fingertips so they can chase away hippos with "Disney magic"
  • Going over the top with elephant-stopping bazookas
  • Using something called "blanks" which apparently makes guns safer

But for many years the ride remained weaponless. Nostalgic guests who wished to see guns return to the Jungle Cruise could do nothing but file a suggestion at City Hall or, if that didn't seem to help, bring their own.

Then a seeming miracle happened. In October of 2004, mere months after this very Web page appeared on the Internet, the guns were returned to the Jungle Cruise. There was no ceremony, no fanfare. Disney simply added guns back into the show and began sending agents around the country to confiscate all of those now-spurious "final armed Jungle Cruise" commemorative bullets.

Did Disney management finally succumb to the ocean of guest complaints? Or -- much, much more likely -- were they embarrassed by this Web page to the point that they could no longer stand the shame and had to put things back as God intended? We may never know with absolute certainty what the truth is (although we're pretty sure), but what is important is that the guns are back where they belong. Now if they can just do something about the food scene in Pirates.

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Jungle Cruise Spiel


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