Disney scrapped a brand-new park attraction after Walt Disney Imagineers were unable to solve a problem it presented for Guests.
Since Disney Parks reopened following closures around the globe that resulted from the growing coronavirus pandemic, the parks have seen growth in attendance numbers, and that’s despite the changes brought about by the cursed Park Pass Reservation System, as well as the cessation of the sale of annual passes.
And while fans are thrilled that the parks are once again open and operational, save for the closures due to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, they have been extremely vocal about their frustrations related to the massive crowds in the parks, to say nothing of the “insane” long wait times in the queues for attractions and dining venues.
And despite what Disney execs want them to think, many Guests feel that the introduction of Genie+ and Lightning Lane in the parks has been fruitless in diffusing those long lines.
But heavy crowds at Disney Parks aren’t a new problem. In fact, one Disney Park had such a problem with crowds that Walt Disney himself ultimately decided to scrap a new attraction that was near and dear to his heart.
In Glendale, California, the home of the Walt Disney Imagineering offices, magic takes place every day. Artists, graphic designers, animators, engineers, artists, and other talented professionals work together to design and develop the next exciting attractions and rides for Guests.
Every single Guest-favorite attraction at a Disney Park was first born in the minds of Walt Disney’s Imagineers and then grown, cultivated, expounded upon, added to, and detracted from. But not everything dreamed up by Imagineers finds its way inside the gates of a Disney Park.
Such was the experience of Imagineers years ago when Walt Disney shared with them an exceptional idea for a beautiful new restaurant at Disneyland–one that he wanted to build in honor of his wife Lillian.
Imagineer Rolly Crump was one of the younger Imagineers, but his talents caught Walt Disney’s eye early on. Crump was called on to lend his creativity and artistic skill to a number of Disney attractions. He worked alongside Walt Disney to create the “it’s a small world” attraction at Disneyland and assisted Walt on his projects for the GE Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
Working toward what would ultimately become the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland, Crump also designed the Museum of the Weird. So it makes sense that Crump was Walt’s first choice when he needed an Imagineer to head up his project for Lillian.
Walt wanted to design a restaurant for his wife–one that would be located along Main Street, U.S.A., at Disneyland. Walt Disney wanted to create a restaurant for his wife, Lillian, and originally, his plans for the eatery included being located on Main Street, U.S.A. Walt also wanted the restaurant to feature a show.
“Eventually, it evolved beyond that,” Crump explains in his memoir, It’s Kind of a Cute Story, “and it was decided that it would be moved over to Adventureland since they were redesigning it.”
By Crump’s own account, it was at this point that Walt’s beloved tea room for Lillian became, instead, a tiki room, one in which Guests could enjoy dinner and a show with music. But Crump says in his memoir that beyond that, none of the Imagineers really knew much more about the new attraction.
Imagineer John Hench was responsible for creating the original sketches of the dining room. His drawings depicted a room with tables scattered throughout a large open dining space with cages of live birds suspended overhead. Hench, like Crump, had been instrumental in the development of a number of attractions at Disneyland.
But Disney had a huge problem with that. “We can’t have birds in there,” Walt said to Hench and Crump, “They’ll poop on the food.”
And with that, Crump, Hench, Disney, and other Imagineers began the business of creating and re-creating–something Imagineers today refer to as “reimagining.” Ideas were cast into the proverbial arena and included stuffed birds and mechanical, robotic birds, a show with a cast of audio-animatronic birds, and everything in between.
In his book, It’s Kind of a Cute Story, Rolly Crump writes, “That was part of the beauty of these sessions: ideas would come out and just flow and evolve into these wonderful things that would eventually make their way into Disneyland.”
When all was finally decided, it was Rolly Crump who was assigned the part of developing a pre-show area in which Guests would wait for their tables when they first arrived at the restaurant. And Walt gave specific instructions that the pre-show area was to be entertaining for Guests who waited there.
“I remember Walt turning to me and saying, ‘Rolly, you better do your homework and find out all about tiki,’ because it was around that,” Rolly explained in his memoir. “So I did.”
“We’re going to have this preshow area for people who are waiting to get into the restaurant,” Crump recounted Walt telling him during their conversations. “I want to have some Tikis out there, and I want them to tell stories. I want you to design them.”
So Crump got to work, doing that “homework,” as Walt had told him, and he ultimately used the Hawaiian gods Pele and Maui as the inspiration for the tiki statues he designed. But the talented Imagineer not only designed the statues; he also carved them by hand, using clay so firm and so hard that it had to be heated up to become malleable.
And he did all of the work without any modern conveniences like special tools or machinery. Instead, he worked in the Walt Disney Studios parking lot in Burbank, California, allowing the sun to warm the clay and carving the tikis with nothing more than a plastic fork.
“You may think that people [who] are sculpting for Disney have got these gorgeous temperature-controlled rooms, filled with north light, to better aid their work,” Crump writes in his book, “But no, they have a parking lot! I always thought that was kind of funny.”
After months of planning and creating, and imagining–all in the name of bringing Walt’s dream of a restaurant for his beloved wife to fruition–the potential problem of birds pooping in Guests’ food was solved. But as soon as the resolution for one problem was found, yet another problem was found with Lillian’s restaurant, and this time, the problem was an unsolvable one—one that would ultimately kill the idea altogether, or so it seemed.
Walt noticed a huge problem with the new space that had been designed inside Adventureland (instead of on Main Street) at Disneyland Park. But if Disney and his Imagineers had to have a problem, they had a good one–one that was awful for Lillian’s restaurant but great for business.
Walt could foresee the new tiki room restaurant presenting significant challenges for Cast Members and Guests alike, all because the attraction would be far too popular with visitors to Walt’s park.
Sadly, it became apparent to the Disney visionary that he and his team simply couldn’t move forward with a restaurant in Adventureland at which Guests could enjoy dinner and a show hosted by animatronic aviary characters. But he wasn’t about to let all that creativity and hard work go down the proverbial drain. So, Mr. Disney proposed a brilliant switcheroo.
In fact, Walt took the very problem with which he and his team were faced and used it as motivation to create something even better.
“There are going to be too many people for a restaurant,” Rolly Crump remembers Walt saying, “so we’ll make it an attraction.”
Walt realized that the space in which the tiki room restaurant would be located was simply too small for “that many people.” The location was landlocked, so to speak, and there simply was no room to expand it.
Tables were removed from the room inspired by an enchanted tiki bar, and Lillian’s restaurant instead became the Enchanted Tiki Room that Guests enjoy today at Disneyland, just after (or before) enjoying a Dole Whip. For many Guests, no Disney Park pilgrimage is complete without a visit to the spot “where the birds sing words and the flowers croon.”
“It is an attraction that really deserves a lot of credit because it was the first all-animatronic show that was ever designed and built anywhere in the world,” Crump notes in his memoir. “It was a first for Disneyland and a first for the rest of the world, so that is a pretty big deal.”
And incidentally, in all the decades in which the tiki-tiki-tiki-room has been open to visitors, not a single Guest has ever had to worry about finding bird poop in his or her food.