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Little Orange Memories

The longer one is a fan of anything, the more likely they are to pine for past glories, and those of us interested in the history of the ever-fluid theme park industry are no different. Wonders big and small have been lost over the years, and the Disney parks are no exception to this wistful truth. In fact, of all eleven Disney parks I would personally only say that three are currently at their historical peak; one is Tokyo DisneySea, which has only added to its roster in its short ten years; another is Hong Kong Disneyland, only six years old; and, ironically, the last is California Adventure, which really had nowhere to go but up (Some might argue for the inclusion of Walt Disney Studios park in Paris, but I believe its historical peak came when it was still a vacant lot of grass). The point is, for those of us who are long-time followers, there is a lot in the scrapheap of history to sift through and explore.

Some of these are obvious – the “big ticket” cornerstones of nostalgia, if you will. They’re the first things that spring to mind when thinking retrospectively – Horizons, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – the big ones that got away. But the deeper you dig – or if you were there back in the day – the more obscure the objects of ones affection become. You get into the territory of Disney Handwiches(TM) and frapping and the Get Jet Set game. And somewhere, at the intersection of these realms, sits the Little Orange Bird.

The Orange Bird used to belong squarely in the realm of the super-obscure. Designed by Disney as a mascot for their sponsorship deal with the Florida Citrus Growers, Orange Bird dominated Adventureland with his citrusy presence in the 1970s but had mostly disappeared in the parks by the time EPCOT Center opened. He was completely unknown to me until the internet arrived and his history began to be chronicled. He remained nearly forgotten, though, until he began to appear on merchandise at Tokyo Disneyland – a park where he had never been featured during his glory days – about five years ago. As the Disney online community grew, his existence became known to more recent fans, and the company finally began to exploit Orange Bird’s cult status with a line of merchandise leading up to Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary.

He’s even made appearances online in a series of increasingly zany sketches posted to Twitter by various artists including a handful of Disney Imagineers. Orange Bird is in the air.

All this naturally begs the question, why hasn’t our orange feathered friend made an actual return to the Magic Kingdom? After all, a core component of nostalgia is the desire to see the return of lost wonders. This is typically easier said than done; not all potential revivals are created equal. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, the return of something as lavish and expensive as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But it seems to me that the little things, like, say, our friend the Orange Bird, are low-hanging (delicious citrus) fruit that could make a marked impact on a minimal budget.

Nostalgia for and the push to revive these little things goes to one of the core reasons typically cited as a secret for Disney’s success – a focus on detail. Anyone who grew up going to the parks knows how easily one can become fixated on some bizarre, out-of-the-way detail. With so many fascinating design elements populating the parks and resorts, it’s not hard to find something that enthralls you and becomes “your” personal, private touchstone. It can be something as remarkably mundane as a staircase or a hexagonal bathroom tile, but it’s something you look for every time you visit; it draws your eye, and it almost becomes ritual. And this is why, when things like his are lost, it detracts from the overall experience and the reaction from fans can be highly personal.

The most stinging wound comes when things disappear without any replacement whatsoever. This attrition has hit the Magic Kingdom hard over the years; rides were shuttered without replacement, restaurants like the Adventureland Veranda sit disused, and even fan-favorite snacks disappeared in the endless waves of menu downsizing. Yet again, this comes back around to our friend the Orange Bird. Although he flew from Adventureland in the 1980s, his perch, the fabled Sunshine Tree, continued to loom over the Sunshine Tree Terrace until it was removed in 2000. The tree had been in need of a rehab, and rather than go to the trouble of sprucing it up, they relegated it to the dumpster. Now the snack bar seems bare and bereft of its original atmosphere; even its signature item, that golden burst of flavorsome sunshine the Citrus Swirl, has disappeared in recent years. Once the site of a slate of incredible tropical treats, the Terrace now serves sodas and chocolate and vanilla soft serve – hardly worthy of the legacy of the Orange Bird.

These are things that would be easy to fix. If park management could be convinced to cough up the cash, I’m sure a scenic Sunshine Tree could be whipped up in no time. All it would take is a call to the juice distributor to get the Citrus Swirls flowing once more, and Disney would once more get my $5 every time I passed the terrace.

Those are the little things. The things that we miss that could be easily revived for a minimal expenditure. But there’s one more category of things we find ourselves nostalgic for, and it is perhaps the category that proves the most consistently amusing. There are things we miss that are high-dollar and hard to imagine returning, like Horizons. There are things we miss that are small and atmospheric which could (and should) return, like the Orange Bird and the Citrus Swirl. But then there are the things that we miss that we know probably should never return. And some of these things are extraordinary.

It really cannot be understated how different the Walt Disney World of the 1970s was from the resort today. Early Disney World seems to have had this bizarre schism in its personality; on one hand, it tried really hard to be a fancy, grown-up place with adult entertainment and restaurants with dress codes and shrimp prepared in fascinating modern ways. On the other hand, the way in which it went about this often comes off as kids dressing up in their dad’s suit and playing grown-up. Part of this was simply a function of the times; Card Walker and his executive buddies might have spent all day on the golf course, but I doubt they demanded anything fancier afterwards besides a ribeye and a pitcher of martinis. This was the era when the height of exoticism was Chow Mein noodles. In the parks you could literally order franks n’ beans and other delicacies that seem cribbed from a middle school cafeteria menu. Why, I’ll have a sliced peach on a leaf with cottage cheese, please!

The sum effect of all of this is an atmosphere that seems incredible today but I’m not totally sure would be wise to revive in toto. Sure I want my Bob-A-Round boats and the Eastern Winds, but people also ate aspic back then. Aspic!

Most of the more insane elements of vintage Walt Disney World come from the realm of dining and entertainment. Many classic attractions could be easily revived; Journey into Imagination, for instance, would be wonderfully received with minimal revisions. But the crazed menu items of 70s Walt Disney World are sort of the equivalent of If You Had Wings – awesome, beloved, fondly remembered… but if you brought them back people would look at you very strangely.

At the nexus of everything I’m talking about is this article from 1972. It’s a lengthy discussion from the Los Angeles Times of Florida Orange Growers’ sponsorship of Walt Disney World; to see how much times have changed, one need look no further than the fact that a newspaper ran such a large story about menu offerings in a theme park 3,000 miles away.

The article contains some interesting history on how the Orange Bird came to be, and Disney’s plans for him at the time, but where it really shines is in its description of how Disney incorporated citrus into its menus throughout the Magic Kingdom. Every land used citrus in a different manner! I won’t spoil it for you, because some of the items are truly insane, but you can get a glimpse of this incredible world that once existed and – perhaps – is safer staying in the past.

Some of it, that is. Other elements rather intensely demand revival, starting with the Sunshine Tree Terrace. A look at the descriptions from the article show how far things have fallen, and vanilla soft-serve starts to look pretty intensely shabby in comparison.

From the Los Angeles Times, March 30th, 1972:

Disney World Dreams Become Florida Reality

Representatives of the Florida Department of Citrus and Walt Disney Productions sat down July 3, 1967 to talk about a dream and how that dream could involve the Florida citrus industry.

The dream, of course, was Walt Disney World in central Florida and was the brainchild of Walt Disney, who wanted to blend an amusement center and a convention complex into the world’s largest family entertainment park.

There were many hours of negotiations following the initial contact and eventually, on Oct. 1, 1969, the Florida citrus industry became the first entity to sign an agreement to participate in Walt Disney World. Object of the long hours of conference, plus innumerable trips to California, was to determine what sort of exhibit the citrus industry of the state would sponsor. Appearance of outstanding shows, dally attendance charts and cost analyses were considered in a thorough research of the popular Disneyland complex.

Family Oriented

Based on the desire of the citrus industry for a completely family-oriented, high-volume traffic entertainment exhibit, the final choice was the Enchanted Tiki Room. This exotic attraction, with an amazing drawing power, was selected and returned to the drawing boards to emerge as the Sunshine Pavilion, complete with an audio-animatronic floor show of birds, flowers, drummers and gods borrowed from the islands.

One of the important features of the Sunshine Pavilion is the Sunshine Tree Terrace, through which audiences exit from the show. This is the area where citrus juices and products are served and where the Orange Bird is host to visitors. Focal proluct of the Terrace is the Sunshine Tree, a large replica of a citrus tree with fruit, blossoms and leaves. Disney technicians studied Florida citrus trees a long time in putting the Sunshine Tree together limb for limb.

The Orange Bird, created by Walt Disney Productions for exclusive use of the Florida citrus industry, hopped out of a meeting with Disney marketing people after Department of Citrus advertising materials were placed on a table with a request for recommendations on how to blend the advertising with the promotional promise of Walt Disney World.

Working Plans

Once the bird was suggested, a story line was developed by Vince Jefferds and plans were made for Anita Bryant to record an album about the little animated character that neither talks, sings or whistles. His only expression is through orange-colored thoughts that appear in balloons over his head. Today, Orange Bird has been featured in television commercials with Anita and is the subject of some colorful point-of-purchase materials.

Florida citrus products and dishes are being served in most of the six major attractions areas in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park.

Citrus is on the menus of at least three food serving spots in Main Street USA, the turn-of-century creation that serves as entrance to the park. Two food establishments in Adventureland also have citrus dishes, as does one spot each in Liberty Square, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

The biggest citrus menu is available in the Sunshine Tree Terrace of the Sunshine Pavilion sponsored by the Florida citrus industry. This exotic exhibit and show area is located in Adventureland.

As could be expected, orange juice and grapefruit juice are featured on the Terrace menu, but other specialties include tangerine soft freeze, a sherbet-like mixture of orange juice, tangerine concentrate, tangerine oil and sweetener; an orange juice bar on a stick and a jellied citrus salad composed of broken orange and grapefruit segments, grapefruit juice, sugar and gel.

Also offered is tangerine cheesecake, comprising cake topped with tangerine and orange glaze sauce; citrus tarts of heavy cream in an open shell, topped with orange sections and glazed orange sauce, and crepes ambrosia, a delightful mixture of oranges, tangerines, marshmallows and coconut dipped in heavy cream and rolled in a French pancake.

In the same area, Adventure Veranda is serving Fiji chicken orange chunk, made up of fried chicken breast, cantonese rice, polynesian vegetables, egg roll, grated orange rind and parsley, topped with orange or tangerine segments.

Tomorrowland Terrace has citrus on the menu in the form of a specialty hamburger plate with Florida citrus jello and french fries, citrus tarts and a special citrus salad containing orange and grapefruit segments topped with orange sherbet.

The Pinocchio Village Haus located in Fantasyland also offers the hamburger plate, citrus tarts and jellied citrus salad.

A feature of the Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square is Shrimp Florida, utilizing pink Florida shrimp with diced oranges in sauce louis. Another dish is Pate Maison Florida, composed of thin slices of homemade pate, with orange rounds molded into each slice.

Cottage cheese jubilee salad, consisting of cottage cheese mixed with tiny bits of oranges and pineapple is scheduled for the menu of the Crystal Palace in Main Street USA. Other menu items are orange waldorf salad, a mixture of oranges, apples and nuts.

Yes, my friends, “Pate Maison Florida.” No amount of nostalgia can justify the resurrection of that. But citrus tarts and tangerine cheesecake? Yeah, I’m down with that. It would certainly be a much more appealing fit than what’s there now.

I really appreciate how the insanity slowly escalates in this article. The first time I read it, I thought, “Hey, this is valuable background information.” Then it starts talking food and all bets are off. Suddenly you’re in the land of “Fiji chicken orange chunk” and “jellied citrus salad” and “pink Florida shrimp with diced oranges in sauce louis”. Since it’s the 70s, cottage cheese makes an appearance. So does the appetizing inclusion of “gel” as an ingredient in the citrus salad. Gel?? That is almost unnervingly vague.

I’m not sure what “tangerine oil and sweetener” is but I’m pretty sure I’m for it, and I’m glad that they clarified that a crepe was a “French pancake”. Also I approve of the frequent inclusion of “heavy cream” in things.

This is the texture that many of us miss in our Walt Disney World experience, and even if a to-the-letter revival is unwarranted, a return to the sheer feeling of runaway insanity and experimental weirdness would be interesting. The other night on Twitter, Foxxy from Passport to Dreams was reading old Disney drink recipes. One alcoholic concoction was served on a frozen apricot. How would that even work?!

I guess what I’m saying is this. Fix the Sunshine Tree Terrace. And bring back our friend the Orange Bird.

And the Citrus Swirl.

But not the Pate Maison Florida.

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8 comments to Little Orange Memories

  • Tomorrowlad

    Love this article. I am fortunate to have visited the Magic Kingdom many times during the era of the Orange Bird (and Mickey Mouse Revue for that matter). My parents ALWAYS seemed to make a point of taking us to the Orange Bird’s “hang out” to get that orange juice in the little plastic “orange” with the green straw. Good times. It was such a fun atmosphere in that area… so… FLORIDA. I sure miss that little bird.

    One memory I have (but have been unable find any pictures), is of an audio animatronic orange bird that hung from a tiki bird perch inside the terrace at the exit of the Tiki Room. He was silent, obviously, but quite funny. Another great imagineering touch.

  • Well, I looked up Aspic. I wish I hadn’t. I’m not even sure if I’d subject the little woodpeckers at my suet feeder to that.

    And while the pate is pretty weird, I’m more thrown off by the hamburger with fruit gelatin as a garnish. Just… what? (And this is coming from someone who enjoys her dad’s pineapple/soy sauce burgers.)

    I only have the vaguest of vague memories of the Orange Bird and his fruit-shaped sippie cups, but I loved your musing on nostalgia (misaimed and otherwise).

  • Jeanine

    The seventies, she did like her jellied food.

    I often (that may be an overstatement) wonder if anyone’s bought a box of Knox Gelatin since the seventies, or if we’re all just still using the remains.

  • BetaMike

    Hey, if it’s any consolation, the Sunshine Tree Terrace is finally going under some sort of renovation. I’m sure it will not be a harbinger of the Orange Bird’s return, but possibly it will marry the newly revived Enchanted Tiki Room’s appreciation of early 1970’s nostalgia?

    And even better, the Orange Swirl (my personal favorite) is not completely gone. It has just moved to the Aloha Aisle.

  • […] City, U.S.A. reminisces about the adorable Little Orange Bird. His citrus-y presence is missed in […]

  • Loved the piece and the newspaper article was fantastic. I love all those old recipes from the 60s/70s – I’m surprised that serving things on toothpicks was not mentioned. I’d love to see a bit of Citrus Bird in the parks – esp. now that I know he is a WDW character.

  • […] of the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom. We’ve talked about the large slate of citrus-based offerings once presented in this beloved location, but over the years all were lost […]

  • Hayley

    He’s Back, and so is the Citrus Swirl!

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