Come in, grab a seat. Just make sure that seat is your own.
That’s the first joke that Skipper Jeff would tell a new set of explorers as they boarded a Jungle Cruise at Walt Disney World. Working at Disney was one of Jeff’s first jobs, and he stills remembers the entire spiel many years later. I suspect you would too if you had to say the same thing over and over every ten minutes for several hours. Although it was a college job at the time, he looks back on the experience now with delight, especially since he and Amber, his wife, have their own personal jungle cruise called the Shark Bait Lounge in Denver.
The Shark Bait Lounge was built around a vintage barkcloth fabric Skipper Jeff and Amber found at one their first Tiki Oasis gatherings. Inspired by the colors and shapes, they began to add bamboo and lauhala to their existing collection of mid-modern lamps and decor. Next, Jeff had the idea of organizing the Lounge into sections that reflected all of the essential elements of tiki design. Inspired by their visits to the Mai Kai’s Molokai Bar, a small apartment kitchen was transformed into a captain’s galley complete with beautiful nautical details including a ship’s portal, metal rivets, ropes, water lights, and a shark that is busting through the hull of the galley. Moving from the galley, the bar becomes a beachcomber’s paradise with a thatched roof, sand-colored tiles, and a wooden dock that includes a step up with a blue underlight to create the impression of stepping off into the ocean. The main seating area is a tiki hut with bamboo and lauhala that then transitions into a jungle area. Jeff and Amber have hiked around Hawaii and were fascinated by the lava tunnels that are hidden in the lush jungle. The last transition in the room includes a volcano area where they have recreated a Hawaiian legend of the Ohi’a tree with Lehua blossoms.
What’s the legend of Ohi’a and Lehua? One day, Pele, the volcano goddess of fire, took on the visage of being a human and met a handsome warrior named Ohi’a. Pele was enamored and asked him to marry her. Ohi’a, however, had already pledged himself to his true love – Lehua. Pele, known for her fiery temperament, was furious when Ohia turned down her marriage proposal. Dropping her human disguise, the goddess transformed into a raging column of fire and struck Ohi’a down, transforming him into a twisted ugly tree in revenge for spurning her advances. Lehua was heartbroken and lay at the base of the tree weeping. The gods took pity on Lehua and decided it was an injustice for Ohi’a and Lehua to be separated. To connect the lovers, they turned Lehua into a beautiful flower, the color of a blushing red to match her loving face, and placed her on the Ohi’a tree so that the two lovers would be forever joined together. Hawaiian legend warns that if you pluck this flower you are separating lovers, and that day it will rain.
When I asked Amber about one of her favorite tiki legends, she told me the story of the piñata and the camel bladder. It might just rival Hawaiian lore. The setting was Tiki Oasis. The theme was South of the Border. Amber and Jeff created a portable donkey punch by inserting a camel bladder inside a piñata to hold a tiki beverage. Yes, you can let your mind fill in the details, and you’ll likely be right on how that bladder was used. When Amber and Jeff offered those standing in line at Tiki Oasis a chance to drink from the donkey hose, they were understandably met with a full range of looks. Although MeduSirena politely declined, there were plenty of tiki folks that made an ass of themselves that day.
As I ended my visit at the Shark Bait Lounge, Skipper Jeff provided me with one more auditory tidbit from his days as a Jungle Cruise skipper:
Be sure to gather up your personal belongings, especially your children. if you leave them here, we will ship them over to It’s A Small World, bolt their feet to the floor, and teach them to sing that song in ten different languages.
I wonder how many parents had just a brief, fleeting moment of pause at the thought, especially after a long day at Disney World with kids.