As you can probably guess, I am a big fan of detailed maps/schematics, concept illustration and Indiana Jones. So when Chuck Ballew combined all of these into one grand Map (sitting in the attraction queue itself and published in a couple WDI books) it became one of my favorite pieces of theme park art. I love the schematic element of the illustration: caves and temple halls follow the physical layout of the queue, but make it look like a mythical Indian temple. The piece I’ve put together below is a bit of a homage to that (an illustration overlaying a schematic), with 'Sallah' providing notes and sketches detailing a bit of what lies ahead for adventurers.
This attraction combines elements of the Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure into a new concept. It is an E-ticket ride based on atmosphere, with loads of AAs and special effects. The PG-level thrills are provided by effects and the vehicle rather than any drops or super speeds. It is an EMV in the water (themed as modified WWII DUKW vehicles) that can suddenly accelerate or slow down, jarringly heave to one side or the other, slowly sink, etc..
As with all great attractions, the story begins with the exterior and develops throughout the queue/pre-show. Here the queue building is a grand-but-abandoned British Colonial Office, set in the subtrobical forest of Rhodesia, near the Zambezi River. The outdoor queue passes through the overgrown gardens, with lazy crocs (AA) lying in a pond and various artifacts strewn about. The backstory continues in the interior rooms of the Consulate building. Long ago a great civilization was located in this region. After it disappeared, animals reclaimed the forest and some hunter-gatherer tribes moved in. They worshiped the Golden Rhino of their forbearers as protector of the forest.
Fastforward to 1946. The British are gone from this area, and a nefarious gang of Ivory Poachers and Grave Robbers has arrived to plunder the riches of the forest. Indiana Jones has also arrived to stop them, but has not been heard from in some time. So we are going into the jungle to provide what aid we can.
The old, battle-worn DUKs seat 20 in five rows of four. They have full audio for radio narration and soundtrack, but no live guides. Departing from the dock and passing Indy’s seaplane, we enter the jungle. It seems peaceful and full of life hidden in the foliage – okapi, a rhino and its baby, hoofed animals, colorful birds. This is a place worth protecting.
To me, the best theme park attractions offer not just fun, escapism and thrills, but teach you something without your realizing it. If they are mind-expanding, they stick with you. For example, in passing well-researched, authentically-replicated Mayan artwork, architecture and artifacts in Tokyo’s Temple of the Crystal Skull or pedaling the Flying Machine atop Fortress Explorations, you are being enriched in the long term while having fun in the short. In the case of this River Adventure, visitors could learn about the history of this part of Africa, the ancient civilization of Great Zimbabwe, as well as something about the biota that once inhabited this part of the world. There is also plenty of fictitious fun described to us in the queue/pre-show, as befitting an Indiana Jones story, setting up things we will later experience in the ride: e.g., a group of mysterious Albino Gorillas and the horrifying Caverns of Death.
To maximize re-ridability, the attraction is hyper-detailed, with randomized radio-transmissions, SFX & vehicle movement. Things begin to get hairy when passing some dangerous-looking leopards eying us from ancient ruins. No poachers are home when the DUKs pass their riverside camp, but the stockpile of weapons, ivory and animal carcasses indicate that trouble is in the making. While I didn’t want to over-draw on this map, there are things to see and stuff happening all along the way.
The Ruins of Great Zimbabwe showbuilding allows for all sorts of indoor effects, including fog, projection mapping, Poachers pierced by booby traps, Mandrills jumping out of the shadows, and stumbling upon Grave Robbers who open fire on us with machine guns. Dr. Jones should also make an appearance (or two or three) during the ride.
Escaping the temple the bad guys have the Golden Rhino and we need to stop them! Native Headhunters are also pursuing them (and us!). There is a breath of peace, as vehicles pass beneath rockwork into a waterfall grotto filled with bathing Forest Elephants. Then it’s down a section of river where angry hippos violently ram our vehicles from the side.
The adventure’s grand finale begins as the club-wielding Albino Gorillas drive the Robbers into the Caverns of Death (we were warned about). The DUKs stall and we also drift into the darkness where big SFX set pieces await. It all ends with the Robbers defeated for the moment (though some escape to retry) and Indy standing next to the recovered Golden Rhino, promising to return it to Zimbabwe. Passing a waterfall grotto filled with animals, our amphibs glide back to the Consulate dock.
I feel it is good to leave attractions somewhat open-ended, so they are not plot-dependent, one-time events. Visitors need to feel the adventure is ongoing and being continued rather than repeated.