Sunshine Trees and Birds

When I started this blog, I said I would take a look into the history of all sorts of things, and so far I’ve delved mostly into major theme park attractions, but today, I’d like to take a step back on the grand scale of things and look at a much smaller, yet very important part of the Magic Kingdom’s history. When Walt Disney World’s first theme park opened to the public in 1971, much of the park was just a replica of Disneyland, including Adventureland. You could find yourself on a Jungle Cruise or watching birds sing in the Tropical Serenade (a replica of the Enchanted Tiki Room) or climbing a Swiss Family Tree House. In many ways, the experiences you could find here were not new, even down to getting yourself a Dole Whip snack. However, something unique opened in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland that you couldn’t find at any other park due to a partnership between Disney and the Florida Citrus Commision. The partnership between the Florida Citrus Commision (also known as the Florida Citrus Growers or FCC) and the Walt Disney Company found the FCC sponsoring a pavillion at the new Magic Kingdom while Disney created a cartoon mascot for the group.

Disney created The Orange Bird for the Citrus Growers, a small bird that couldn’t talk but instead communicated through thought bubbles above his head. He lived in the Sunshine Tree and had a head that looked like an orange. The Orange Bird became a smash hit for the FCC, being put into advertisements for print as well as television starting in 1970. The Sherman Brothers, who had written the songs for Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and many other Disney films and theme park attractions, also wrote a song for the bird which was sung by Anita Bryant, a relatively familiar pop singer and beauty pageant star. Bryant was past her prime, but still had appeal as a wholesome singer doing commercials for various companys, however, her main employer became the Citrus Growers during the 1970s.

With the success of the Orange Bird in advertising, the Disney Company added a small restaurant to the side of the Tropical Serenade (the pavillion sponsored by the FCC) which served several Citrus snacks. The Sunshine Tree Terrace opened right next door to the Tropical Serenade on opening day of the Magic Kingdom and was a unique establishment because it served as the only home to the Orange Bird in any Disney park. Just outside of the small walk up snack shop, you could find the Orange Bird walking around greeting guests, giving hugs, and signing autographs. Just inside the shop, you could see the Sunshine Tree with an animatronic Orange Bird perched within.

(Despite the poor video quality, this commercial is still a great ad for Florida orange juice)

The Sunshine Tree Terrace became popular for its Citrus flavored treats, including the still popular, Citrus Swirl ice cream. The Terrace still serves many of the classics it first served in 1971 including Orange slushes and rasberry lemonade slushes. The snack shop has also offered other ice cream flavors, coffee, cookies, and potato chips over the years and still holds as a popular spot to grab a snack in the summer time.

The Terrace, along with the Orange Bird, flourished during the 1970s, but unfortunately due to Anita Bryant’s very public and outlandish comments towards the gay community stating in 1977, the FCC backed away from their star and the Orange Bird suffered along with that. No longer was the FCC an advertising machine, but a quiet organization that just sold orange juice. The FCC agreed to a five year sponsorship in 1981 which allowed them another building in Fantasyland’s Enchanted Grove, however, with the high cost of sponsorship, the lack of advertising going out due to the FCC cutting ties with Anita Bryant, and the Orange Bird losing popularity, theFlorida Citrus Commision opted to not sign another deal in 1986. 

The Sunshine Tree Terrace continued without the Orange Bird, but stayed mostly in its original form. In 1994, the orange and yellow stools were replace with brown and beige stools to fit more closely with the architecture of the Tropical Serenade show. During a refurbishment of the Tropical Serenade pavillion in 2000, The Sunshine Tree Terrace suffered its greatest loss when the removal of the Sunshine Tree happened. The Terrace opened again with the new Enchanted Tiki Room-Under New Management Show, but any indication that the snack shop had once been associated with the Florida Citrus Commision was gone. The snacks were still served up but the unique aspect of thise specific spot was gone and with that, it just became another food stop at the Magic Kingdom.

Today, the Sunshine Tree Terrace opens seasonally during peak periods. However, there may be hope for the Terrace to once again be unique and busy. Tokyo Disney has released several products that include the Orange Bird and these souveniers have become increasingly popular. It is possible with the 40th Anniversary of Walt Disney World happening this year, we might see some of those products or souveniers coming to Florida. Several Disney “Geeks” including myself are hoping for the return of the Orange Bird to the Terrace with the popular products floating around, but thats only hope. So here I sit with my glass of Florida orange juice saying, “Cheers to you Orange Bird and Sunshine Tree, may you return to your origins soon.”

Until next Wednesday
Josh Taylor

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Posted on October 20, 2011, in Articles and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. david fairfield

    Great aricle. Do you happen to know the date in 1970 when the park opened the Orange Bird themed restaurant?…or the date that the Sunshine Tree Terrace opened?

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