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Credit: Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort 

Theme Park News: Jungle Cruise reopens as mask requirements return

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Jul 20, 2021, 11:24 AM EDT

Hello, and welcome to Theme Park News. There's a lot happening this week — some of it good, some of it COVID-related, so let's get right to it. 

A NEWLY REVAMPED JUNGLE CRUISE DEBUTS AT DISNEYLAND

The Adventureland mainstay is making headlines, but not because of The Rock. Unlike Disney’s standard IP-to-ride pipeline, Jungle Cruise’s new retheming is separate from the eponymous Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt-helmed film out next week — and much more significant.

Disneyland debuted new changes to the theme park ride last week as part of Disney's larger moves to update its parks to be more inclusive, removing outdated cultural references within the ride that were a growing point of both discomfort and contention among park-goers. The L.A. Times’ Todd Martens, a  veritable “skipper” on the rivers of understanding and growth, tackled the issue in detail, highlighting Disney’s moves to embrace other cultures and discussing the ways in which Disneyland itself is reflective of American society. 

There is, as always, a contingency of theme park fans who are against these inclusivity-focused changes, selfishly favoring easy jokes over empathy for and comfort of fellow guests and Martens’ piece touches on all of it, including how Disney recognizes the general difficulty in amending anything within the park, as every detail of it is claimed within someone’s memory.

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Keep in mind, theme park fans, that it’s not even the first time Jungle Cruise has been reimagined. The opening day attraction at Disneyland Park was created to honor Walt’s interest in nature itself, but Imagineer Marc Davis was later brought in to infuse some comedy, updating the scenes and “spiel” to allow for the tongue-in-cheek humor it’s known for today. (Martens’ piece also rather horrifyingly sheds light on the fact that women weren’t allowed to be "Skippers" aboard the attraction until 1995, a big bowl of yikes that further emphasizes the need for Disney’s increased emphasis on these kinds of initiatives.)

Still, when it comes to the newly updated version of Jungle Cruise, you won’t find any complaints here. These parks are always evolving, and the importance of having them be reflective of the society we live in is paramount, but the ride also appears to benefit from more of a central storyline. Gone are “tribal headhunters, shrunken head salesman and negative depictions of native people”, according to the OC Register, as scenes replaced by monkeys clawing through crates and chimpanzees overtaking a shipwrecked vessel appear alongside new (and diverse) characters that tie the ride's scenes together.

Even the final moment, which previously saw a depiction of the character Trader Sam selling shrunken heads, has been retooled as a thematic gift shop repurposing items from Jungle Cruise’s lost and found. 

Credit: Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort 

These changes extend to Disney’s Jungle Cruise-inspired Tiki Bar locations as well. Laughing Place reported that The Family Tree, a collection of shrunken heads referencing the former finale of the attraction, was absent from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Walt Disney World when it reopened yesterday. (Ride changes on Magic Kingdom's Jungle Cruise will be completed later this summer.)

An updated Jungle Cruise is only one of the many adjustments coming to Disney Parks as part of their focus on inclusivity. Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park will see dual Princess and the Frog rethemes as it rids itself of Song of the South ties, while newly adjusted company guidelines put individuality at the forefront of daily operations. Back in April, Disney’s own cast members were formally granted flexibility in their appearance, allowing gender-neutral costumes and hairstyle options, the ability to wear colorful makeup and nail polish, and the ability to show one's tattoos for the first time in the parks' history.

MASKS RETURN TO UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD

A new mask mandate went into effect in Los Angeles this past Sunday, affecting gyms, restaurants, movie theatres, and yes, the city's sole theme park.

In line with Los Angeles County guidance, Universal Studios Hollywood will now require all guests and employees to wear face coverings while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. 

This policy shift makes Universal Studios Hollywood the first theme park to re-up mask guidelines in the face of the COVID-19 Delta Variant’s proliferation. Positive cases in Los Angeles County have hit “an alarming level”, according to the L.A. TImes, with over 10,000 new cases a week

Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort, which is located in Orange County, California, has not yet seen an update in regards to mask requirements. Currently, unvaccinated guests are asked to wear masks indoors, an honor system with questionable results considering there is no enforcement of the guidelines resort-wide. While regional numbers are low compared to spikes earlier in the pandemic, cases are up across California, with daily averages in Orange County more than tripling over the past two weeks, according to KTLA. 

As the Delta Variant results in surges of new Covid cases across the country, we yet again turn to Florida. Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, both of which are located in Orange County, Florida — yes, it’s immensely confusing — share the same situation as Disneyland Resort: No mask guidance update from the city, no change at the parks themselves, and the honor system in use for the many unmasked guests indoors, young children included. (Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if policies about employees wearing masks indoors are changed in the coming weeks.)

Remember that tiki bar I mentioned? BlogMickey reports that smaller parties of strangers were encouraged to sit together, a practice I'm told is happening at Oga's Cantina at Walt Disney World and Disneyland as well, where multiple separate parties will be seated together, while dining, regardless of respective vaccination statuses. This, as a nearby California county adds an indoor mask mandate and Florida leads the county in what is being called a “2020-like surge", as per the Tampa Bay Times. (The paper is also reporting nearly one in five new cases is coming from Florida.) 

Yesterday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings once again urged people to wear masks within crowded places as cases rise, but that request, for the time being, remains voluntary.

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