Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is one of the world’s most famous musical revues. Even if you have never seen the band live you can probably still sing along with the chorus. The quartet of macaws: José, Michael, Fritz, and Pierre are the faces of this large assemble. While the band has been delighting audiences for over 50 years, like all big musicians, their story is one of highs and lows. Today we will take a look back at how this group got their start, their successes, their challenges, and the new resurgence of the show. Come along with me now as we look at Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
All bands need that Big Break, and the Tiki birds got theirs at a very unusual venue. They weren’t discovered in a dark jazz club, or seen by millions on the Ed Sullivan Show. No, this band was the brainchild of none other than Walt Disney. Of course, you can’t just find talking birds with great musical range, you have to make them. Mr. Disney literally created this group with the help of his Imagineers. While they first set out to create a human animatronic, they found the task too tall to handle. However, while searching for talent down in New Orleans, Mr. Disney found a little toy bird that moved. He brought that bird home and with some reverse engineering, Walt and his boys figured out how to create the world’s first animatronics. Soon after, the Tiki birds were created and ready for their music to take flight.
Mr. Disney was the band’s manager and very excited about debuting the bright colorful flock of singing birds to the public in his new theme park Disneyland. At first he had them scheduled to be the headliners at a dinner show in the park. However, after more thought, he decided this group was so talented he needed to make them available to as many guests as possible. The long dinner show was cancelled and the original 17 minute serenade was ready to take stage.
The year was 1963 when the Tiki birds got their big break and they were an immediate smash hit! The international quartet leading the way had mass appeal to visitors from around the globe. Each of the lead 4 proudly displayed their native countries colors in their feathers. Audiences were delighted by the band’s music, jokes, and state- of- the-art technology. The big musical hits that would stand the test of time were “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room”, “Let’s all Sing like the Birdies Sing”, “Hawaiian War Chant”, “Farewell and Aloha”, and a cover of “Heigh-Ho”.
The group’s next big move came in 1971 when they were invited to Walt Disney World to help open the new theme park. They were given a permanent gig in Adventureland and the Florida version of the show was named “Tropical Serenade”. Soon audiences were enjoying the same great music and theatrics made famous back in California. The group was still so popular they were sponsored by the Florida Citrus Growers until 1986.
Like many great musical acts, the “Tropical Serenade” got comfortable in their nice new home. However, this comfort came at a price. With no new music since 1963, the act began to feel tired and outdated. Visitors to Walt Disney World were now more interested in big thrills and newer technology. The animatronics which had made the Tiki birds famous had grown and advanced to a point that the birds looked a little wooden in their performance. The new generation of visitors had come to expect more from their entertainment and the Tiki birds were in trouble.
Sadly, the band’s manager, Walt Disney, passed away in 1966 and never saw them perform the “Tropical Serenade”. Some have speculated the Tiki birds would have remained fresh and relevant if Mr. Disney had still been around to guide them during the challenging years. Unfortunately, we will never know. Desperate to reclaim their former fame with a new generation, the Tiki birds turned to New Management. The “Tropical Serenade” gave its last performance in 1997 and the show was shut down to begin work on their new act.
“The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management)” was the new show which opened to audiences on April 5, 1998. The famous quartet began this new show like every other, opening with their most beloved song “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room”. However, in this new version the song was abruptly interrupted and the music halted. It turns out the New Management was Iago, the villainous sidekick of Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin, and Zazu, the loyal advisor from Disney’s The Lion King. Those calling the shots for the Tiki birds thought some recognizable faces from film would be a good way to bring in a more modern audience. They didn’t just add these two larger than life characters into the flock though, they had them fly in the face of all the band’s success.
The new strategy did not pay off and audiences were bewildered by this new direction. All of the classic songs had been removed from the show and been replaced by a mash up of more modern hits. While the Tiki birds had always been great performers, they never wrote their own music. It was now clear that the groups original success had hinged on the talent of the Sherman Brothers. Their music and lyrics gave the show life. With that element now removed, the birds seemed to squawk more than sing.
The other real mistake was Iago. While the cantankerous character served as comic relief in the movies, he didn’t fit well in the Tiki room. He voiced all the criticism heaped on the show in recent years, but was too brash in doing so. His counterpart Zazu spoke up defending the birds classic hits, but it wasn’t enough. What was intended as a light hearted roast of the former show came across as insulting. It seems it was o.k. for audiences to voice their own concerns about the show, but it wasn’t o.k. for someone else to do so. The Tiki birds had really become family to audiences over the years and no one likes an outsider insulting their family.
The show continued to play to smaller audiences until a fateful day in 2011 when a mysterious fire broke out in the venue’s attic. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the show had to be closed due to water damage from the sprinkler system. As it turns out, the one bird caught up in the smoke was Iago. Was this the Tiki gods expressing their displeasure with the New Management? We may never know. In any case, Iago could no longer perform and Zazu was politely shown the door as well. The “The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management)” had made its last appearance.
At this point, the band’s managers had to decide what direction to take the group. With a more modern act proving unsuccessful, it was decided a return to the classics was the best bet. The Tiki birds’ home was renovated after the fire and the group brushed up on its original routine. The birds were updated with the latest animatronic technology and their voices digitally remastered. The show reopened on August 15, 2011 under the name Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Paying tribute to the man that gave them life, the 150 animatronics of the Tiki room sang their original songs once more. The new show had one of the original songs and some dialogue removed to appeal to the shorter attention spans of the current audience. The result was an upbeat 11 minute performance that takes guests on a tropical island adventure.
Today, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is flourishing again. Those that missed the “Tropical Serenade” are happy to have their cherished childhood memories brought back to life. Others are discovering the show for the first time and experiencing the joy of a classic Walt Disney creation. How long will the group’s renewed success last? It is hard to say. The same issues that plagued them in the past may resurface again when the same jokes and songs become too familiar. Until then, they will take the stage over and over hoping to delight audiences with their infamous tune.
So, that is the fascinating history of the Tiki room! I must admit that I don’t have many childhood memories of the “Tropical Serenade” and I was not a fan of the show during the “New Management” phase. Aladdin was my favorite Disney movie as a boy growing up, so I did love Iago. However, I did not love him in the Tiki room. After seeing that version once, I avoided the Tiki room the next few trips to the Magic Kingdom. On my last trip I decided it was time to revisit the newly restored classic, and I’m glad I did. I enjoyed hearing the classic songs and taking in the visual feast as the entire room comes to life. Also, the air conditioned building provided a nice rest among my busy day at the Magic Kingdom.
This may not be a ride you want to experience every time you visit Walt Disney World, but it is certainly one you need to do if you haven’t before. Kids and grandparents will probably enjoy this the most. There is a brief scene when the room gets pretty dark and there is some loud thunder when the Tiki gods make their presence known. This may frighten very young children which is why the ride gets a fright factor of 2. If you have anyone in the group less than enthusiastic about the show, just bribe them with a Dole Whip. The famous tropical treat has just relocated to the Sunshine Terrace which is right next the ride. Its now easier than ever to cool down with this cold cup of deliciousness right before or after you see Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t take a few minutes out of their day to enjoy a Dole Whip. Mmmm, Dole Whip. Well, I’m ready for a visit to Adventureland, how about you?
If you are new to the WDW Ride Guide we hope today has been fun and informative. If you check in weekly I hope this has helped expand your audio library of Disney rides as you prepare for your next Disney visit!