Two decades ago, when Dave Sparks purchased his home on Rivo Alto Canal in Naples, the sellers sweetened the deal with something magical.
Sparks explained, “When we bought our house it came with a boat named the Magic Carpet. She was built in 1928 in Pakistan and was brought to the United States by a man who worked for Walt Disney and was there (in Pakistan) researching for the ride, ‘It’s a Small World'.”
Naples resident Jeff Hoffman, former vice president of Disney Worldwide Outreach, said, “It sounds logical. Walt encouraged authentic research regarding every detail of attractions."
In fact, architect Ray Wallace, who lived on Bay Shore Avenue, was commissioned in 1957 by Walt Disney to create the plans for Disneyland’s majestic square-rigger Columbia. The ship's masts, rigging, spars and sails were constructed at Todd Shipyard locally, where the paddle-wheeler Mark Twain's hull had been built a few years earlier. Wallace was a Sea Scout in his teens, and raced in many transpacific and transatlantic sailing races.
Disney aficionado and maritime historian buff Hunter Landau from Bala Cynwyd, Penn., validated the vessel’s resemblance to the original small world boats — and cited the 2015 sci-fi movie “Tomorrowland” starring George Cooney that shows the teak- and holly-decked small world tenders as they were first introduced during the 1964 World’s Fair.
Former Disney tour guide and Belmont Shore resident Julie Snow shared that her mom attended and rode the boats as the catchy, ear-worm music played, while pregnant with Julie during the 1964 World’s Fair. “The iconic attraction was part of every regular tour I guided and I spent lots of quality time on later generations of those boats,” Snow added.
Disney fans noted that the Anaheim attraction was closed almost all of 2008 because the boats were “bottoming out.” When the original boats were designed, the average rider weighted less than today’s super-sized riders. It's A Small World's waterway and boats were replaced, with deeper water and more buoyant boats.
Dr. Starks gave move background on Magic Carpet, “It is all teak and was originally a row boat. It was converted to a power boat by the engineers that built the Jungle Cruise boats and has a velvet drive.”
Steve French, who from 1969-72 was a Queen Mary Tour guide during the day and served as a Disneyland Jungle Cruise cast member at night, often presented his jungle boat spiel to alarmingly confused tourists on the Queen Mary’s bow. When I asked him about it this week he jokingly replied with, “They are only dangerous when they wiggle their ears and blow bubbles. That would be the hippos, not the tour guides.”
“Jungle Cruise in those days were cast with men, Storybook Land canal boats cast were all women. Scripts were initially memorized and later customized. I recall one cast member opted to ad lib a Michael Jackson World Tour comment at a poorly timed moment during the Jungle Cruise and was relieved of his duties immediately," Julie Snow reminisced.
In late February this year, CNN reported that a Jungle Cruise boat at Disney World took on water and nearly sank with passengers on board. Many Disney fans theorized it was a publicity stunt to promote the upcoming "Jungle Cruise" movie featuring Dwayne Johnson. The adventure film is scheduled to be released on July 30, 2021.
Sparks offered more background on the boat, “Roughly 16 years ago, Magic Carpet had a very thorough restoration bringing it back to its original beauty. She again had a minor restoration roughly seven years ago with new varnish.”
He added sadly, “Six years ago, we moved out of our house as we had it torn down and built a new home. During this time we didn’t come around much and the Magic Carpet was not kept up.”
Today the Carpet is in need of another major restoration project and the Sparks are offering her free to a good home. The boat promises to deliver plenty of Disney Magic.
Special thanks to the Sparks’ neighbor and my friend, “Queen” Collette Anderson who suggested this story. If you know of an interesting boat with local roots or an intriguing mariner, please email me at Jo@JoVenture.com.