Skipper Stories

True Tales from Disneyland's Jungle Cruise

by David John Marley | Release Date: November 25, 2016 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Real Skippers of Disneyland

In this unique oral history of Disneyland's iconic attraction, the World Famous Jungle Cruise, dozens of skippers, from the 1950s to the present, share harrowing, humorous, sometimes even horrific tales of their pun-fraught voyages and their behind-the-scenes hellraising.

The Jungle Cruise is that most unusual of Disney attractions where the ride itself is secondary to the cast member. Once the boat leaves the dock, Disney no longer controls the experience; your skipper does.

Former skipper and now history professor David John Marley presents the uncensored stories of six decades of Jungle Cruise skippers. Their never-before-spieled tales include:

  • Skipper selection, skipper training, how the ride works, and no-holds-barred confessions of what life is like in the jungle
  • Celebrity guests: the good, the bad, and the entitled, and one very public embarrassment, skipper style
  • The rite of passage for new Jungle Cruise skippers: peeing in the river
  • Drunken orgies, stand-up comedy, and a heist that led to one skipper's permanent expulsion from Disneyland
  • Pranks and more pranks, from the comic to the cruel, with dickish skippers and unruly guests learning the law of the jungle

Welcome to the Jungle...

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Bad Reputation

Skipper Stories Glossary

Chapter 1: Jungle Dreams

Chapter 2: What Makes the Jungle Cruise Special

Chapter 3: What Makes a Skipper

Chapter 4: Training Days

Chapter 5: Tales of the Script

Chapter 6: Fun on the Dock

Chapter 7: Jungle After Dark

Chapter 8: Skippers Prank Skippers

Chapter 9: Skippers Prank Guests

Chapter 10: Bad Neighbors

Chapter 11: Women on the Dock

Chapter 12: Running The Madhouse

Chapter 13: Fun With Management

Chapter 14: Guests

Chapter 15: Celebrities

Chapter 16: It's a Jungle Out There

Chapter 17: Accidents Will Happen

Chapter 18: Holiday Hijinx

Chapter 19: Grad Nites

Chapter 20: Safari So Goodie

Chapter 21: The Love Boat or Cruise

Chapter 22: Skippers Off the Clock

Chapter 23: Life After Jungle Cruise


Years ago when I was a skipper, I was at a meeting backstage at Disneyland with about thirty random cast members and six managers. While everyone else was serious, I sat in the back of the room with the only other skipper there and we cracked each other up. After one particular burst of laughter, I saw one of the managers lean over to our manager, point toward us, and ask a question. We couldn’t hear her entire reply, but we did hear her say “Jungle Cruise.” He then nodded his head as if that explained everything.

That one moment tells you everything you need to know about how Jungle Cruise skippers are viewed by the rest of the people at Disneyland.

Skippers are generally seen as loud, overly energetic, and self-amusing trouble makers. If this book does nothing else, it should prove that reputation correct.

Why does the Jungle Cruise produce the wildest cast members at Disneyland? The Jungle Cruise is much more than the sum of its audio-animatoric parts. Every attraction at Disneyland is designed to give guests the same consistent experience, but the Jungle Cruise changes from boat to boat and skipper to skipper. In fact, it is the wise-cracking skipper that is the heart of the Jungle Cruise. They are the crucial element, the show editor, entertainer, narrator, and guide. Not only is the skipper the heart of the attraction, the 10 minutes they’re with guests is usually the most time a guest will spend with a cast member during their entire stay at the park.

What I like the best about skippers is all of them have a story to tell. I haven’t met a single one yet who hasn’t. I have interviewed skippers from just about every era of the history at Disneyland. This book features the skippers in their own words. Historians call this oral history, people speaking about their experiences without any filters. The words in this book are their own; I have only edited them to remove repetition, grammar, and the occasional swear word (this is a book about Disneyland, after all). As far as I know, this is the first time a Disneyland attraction has been covered in this way. The book only scratches the surface of the many amazing stories about both the Jungle Cruise and Disneyland itself.

Normally, in this kind of work the historian doesn’t interject very often. I have tried to make sure that the events described actually happened. A few of the cast members that I interviewed, including some that left the park more than 15 years ago, wanted their stories kept anonymous. A few of the current skippers in this book had their interviews approved by Disney Media Relations, and I appreciate the company’s cooperation with the project.

I’ve taken the liberty of sharing stories from my years working at the Jungle Cruise because my girls always want to hear them. I have mixed my own stories among those of my fellow skippers. I’m pretty sure that this book is the closest thing I’ll ever have to an autobiography.

David John Marley

David John Marley, a former Disneyland Jungle Cruise skipper has a Ph.D. in modern American History from George Washington University. Marley is the creator of the first-ever class specifically on the history of Disneyland. He is also a member of the Hyperion Historical Alliance, a group of scholars who work with The Walt Disney Company. Marley has appeared on the History Channel, published articles in scholarly journals, a chapter for an anthology on the civil rights movement, over a dozen book reviews, and editorials for the History News Network. He has worked as a performer and comedy writer for Disneyland and is the producer of the popular Jungle Cruise based comedy show The Skipper Show (

Skipper Mike Pucher finds himself abandoned one night in the jungle, just before park closing, with the animatronics suddenly turned off, the lights out, and a boatful of guests starting to ask questions.

For the most part, it seemed like I didn’t fit in right away. It seemed like after I had been there four or five months that I began to fit in with everyone. That is the magic of the Jungle Cruise; once you are accepted into the crew, you can get along with everyone and you didn’t need to be best friends with them to have a good time with them.

I remember when I was really new, it was like my fourth or fifth shift and everyone was going to Denny’s and I didn’t get invited. There was always this skepticism and caution toward new people. So everyone was standing around as the park closed and everyone was asking each other, “Are you going to Denny’s?” and no one was asking me. I remember being bummed that I didn’t get asked, But I understood that I wasn’t yet in that circle. I wasn’t worried that I’d never be allowed in, I just knew that it would take some time for the rest of the skippers to get to know me.

I remember one night I had a closing shift and I took my last boat and there was no line when I left. When I get back to the dock there are no boats waiting and a huge line. I hadn’t been at the Jungle Cruise that long, but I knew that this was weird. I had gotten back to the dock about five minutes after the park closed so this line of guests made no sense. So I pulled up to load up the boat and the guests seemed so excited to be getting one last ride before the park closed.

It was a good trip and then I get to the attacking natives and they don’t attack and the jungle goes quiet. No backside of water, no lights on Trader Sam. And I was beginning to panic because I was the new guy. I know at the end of the night everybody wants to get out of there. And the Jungle Cruise can shut down really quickly, so I thought they had forgotten about me, shut everything down, and went home. Skippers did not mess around when it was time to leave for the night. I crept around the corner from Trader Sam and I can see that all the lights are out on the dock and in the boathouse. Two boats are tied up at the dock and shut off. And I remember thinking, “I know that I’m new and nobody knows who I am, but I can’t believe they would forget that I was out there in the jungle. How could the other skippers not have noticed there were only two boats at the dock? Could they have been in that big of a hurry?”

I stopped spieling. I was just staring at the dock when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I saw someone hunched over in the shadows, then I realized I’m getting pranked. So I decide to play along with it and I slowly approach the dock. And as I do that all the lights come back on and everybody jumps out. That was the first night that I got invited to Denny’s. Everybody had a good laugh over pranking the new guy. Apparently, they had already closed the ride when they decided to pull the prank on me. So they reopened the attraction and a few skippers went out into Adventureland and told people they were going to pull a prank on the rookie skipper and they needed some help. All the guests on my boat knew that I was going to get pranked. That was the moment when I felt like I was part of the crew. That was the turning point in my Jungle Cruise experience.

Continued in "Skipper Stories"!

Skipper Kipp Hart relished the freedom to improv on the boat and come up with new jokes on the fly, except those having to do with (real-life) cannibalism.

My spiel changed dramatically during the first three weeks. I quickly learned what wasn’t working and if it didn’t work I would drop it. I would drop it and move on, and try to find something else that would work. I don’t remember what my spiel was like when I first started; all I remember is I don’t like doing jokes that all the other skippers are doing. I wanted to be more of an individual. Some guests frequent Jungle Cruise often, and they knew the spiel as well as some of the skippers so they would steal the punchlines. That always frustrated me. It would drive me crazy. I didn’t know how to write comedy at that time. So what I first tried to do was create a spiel that was more rhetorical so they wouldn’t have the opportunity to heckle. Many of the jokes on the script are written as questions which just encourages people to yell out things. The joke used to be, “Do you know why tigers have stripes? Because they don’t want to be spotted.” And I changed it to, “The reason tigers have stripes is because they don’t want to be spotted.”

When I started out I was like a machine gun, trying to do every joke I possibly could at every scene. Dead time to me was just terrifying. So I would fill it with jokes. I began to realize that by doing that I was walking over the laughs. I realized the reason they weren’t laughing at this joke is because they were still trying to process the last joke. That’s when I began to cut out a lot of material. Now I do maybe one joke or two jokes per scene, at the most. That really helped me with both my writing and my timing.

I did a Donner Party joke once that isn’t on the script [during the holiday Jingle Cruise]. At the veldt they had these roof decorations, Santa and his sleigh, and they were scattered everywhere. One of the reindeer is up with the lions, so I’d say, “Look, there is Dasher, and Dancer, and oh look, the lions are having a Donner party.” It gets a great laugh. And the next year it was put in the OG (Operation Guidelines): “No Donner Party jokes.”

Continued in "Skipper Stories"!

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