One of the opening day attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was the Jungle Cruise, and the ride has remained popular with guests ever since. But back in January it was announced that the ride would be undergoing a significant update and redesign at both parks that will change the story of the ride in a major way. There was an expectation then that the ride would announce a closure date in the near future so that these changes could take effect, but surprisingly, it seems that's not happening. The Jungle Cruise update will still happen, but it apparently won't require the ride to actually shutdown. And the work has already begun.
Over the weekend Walt Disney Imagineer Zach Riddley, announced that changes to Jungle Cruise would be beginning soon and would be taking place over the next several months. But instead of shutting everything down and doing all the work at once, the changes will take place a piece at a time-- and without needing to close down the Jungle Cruise. This morning, it has been reported that Trader Sam the "head salesman" of the Jungle Cruse, and a problematic caricature, is gone, showing that the work is already under way.
This doesn't mean that the Jungle Cruise won't need to shutdown at all. But if the plan is simply to redesign the story, and no work is specifically planned on the ride vehicles or track, then there's no reason that Jungle Cruise would need to shutdown. The ride itself doesn't really have a set story, that's exactly what's changing. But that means that each skipper only needs to change or eliminate the specific jokes they might use when part of ride is down, which should be easy enough.
The fact that Trader Sam is the first thing to go in this redesign is far from shocking. The "headhunter" character, along with the African natives that preceded him, have been an issue for sometime and when the Jungle Cruise changes were first announced it was clear their time was limited.
Having said that, I fully expect Trader Sam to return to the attraction, simply in some new form. Attractions Magazine recently confirmed that there are no plans to make changes to Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel or Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Assuming that means the names or the bars will also remain the same, then it seems likely that there will still be a Trader Sam in the Jungle Cruise, but that the character will be a vastly different character than he is now.
The new Jungle Cruise story will take the loose collection of animatronic sequences and combine them together into a new cohesive story. Disney Parks have revealed some details about the new characters that will be part of the ride, which will include the most significant addition of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers in the North American Parks.