Working on the Jungle Cruise in the 1990’s
JGR: Nathan, welcome! Thanks for being with us!
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. In reality it was a terrible place to work. But that led to 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.
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