by Erin Blackwell
AllEars® Team Member
Hulk! You hear the name and you immediately get a mental image: big, fierce, muscles out to everywhere, green --
Ooo, we were doing so good until that last word. The big guy we’re talking about this time is Hulk Hogan, a professional wrestler and actor, including being the lead for the short-lived show, Thunder in Paradise. And that is what this is about, because Thunder filmed in Walt Disney World.
I don’t just mean in the then-Disney-MGM Studios’ soundstages, far from the public eye. No, the show filmed at numerous spots right out in the open, such as the Grand Floridian beach and the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot. Disney even built a water tank in the Studios for close-up scenes and undersea shots; they pointed it out to you during The Studio Backlot Tour.
Let’s back up.
My husband and I were going through television channels on a lazy day when we saw the Grand Floridian on the screen. We stopped (of course we stopped), thinking we had found a Walt Disney World special. Then Hulk Hogan walked up the beach and we got really confused. That’s too good to change the channel: we had to find out why Hulk Hogan was at the Grand Floridian. And so, we discovered the Thunder in Paradise reruns on TNT.
Here’s a summary if you’ve never seen the show: Ex-Navy Seal Randolph J. "Hurricane" Spencer (Hulk Hogan) and Martin "Bru" Brubaker (Chris Lemmon, son of the late, great actor Jack Lemmon) work as mercenaries. They travel around the world on their futuristic boat "Thunder". Spencer is also a widower and raising his daughter Jessica (Ashley Gorrell). Add Kelly LaRue (Carol Alt), who owns and manages the beach bar, "Scuttlebutt Bar N' Grill", and Jessica’s uncle, Edward Whitaker (the late, wonderful Patrick Macnee), who owns the beach resort (played by The Grand Floridian) where Spencer and Brubaker live. (Patrick Macnee passed away the day before I wrote this. Oh, Mr. Steed, we will miss you. One person reading this will realize I started with naming one Avengers character and now spoke of another, whole different Avengers character. If I wasn’t happily married, I would wed the person who got this reference. As it is, I tip my bowler to you.)
Hogan described the show as "Baywatch" with action/adventure.
If you’re a Thunder in Paradise fan for Hulk Hogan and for the show itself, then this article probably isn’t for you because I’m focusing on the Walt Disney World angle. But please contact us and give us your input for your fellow fans. We’d love to hear from you!
As I just said, I’m looking at why others became viewers. My husband and I watched it because our inner Disney Geeks loved picking out what Walt Disney World location they were using.
AllEars.Net has a weekly game under the Photo Blog called “Where in the World Photo Fun”. Created by former team member Barrie Brewer, it’s a photo trivia game where players guess where a picture thumbnail is in Walt Disney World.
For us, Thunder in Paradise was a TV version of “Where in the World”. Here’s an imagined sample conversation between such fans, once they discovered they are both Walt Disney World lovers.
Person 1: Hey, have you ever seen that Hulk Hogan show?
Person 2: The one in Disney World? Yeah!
Person 1: Did you see the one where they ran through Morocco and then turned into the fez store --
Person 2: And they were inside the Treasure Room in the Adventurers Club! And the one inside the Indiana Jones stunt show!
Person 1: You know what else I like?
Both: The boat!
Besides the above locations, other Disney World spots were: Fort Wilderness, Old Key West, Epcot’s Future World, as well as other World Showcase locations. I saw an episode that looked like they used the aquarium at the then-Living Seas, but after checking photos of the attraction during the production year, it’s clearly not and must be the water tank at the Disney-MGM Studios. They also used a few non-Disney locations, but that was rare. And as I already mentioned, you saw the Grand Floridian every week, since its beach served as the Thunder family home as well as LaRue’s beach bar, with the Polynesian in the background.
When I researched this article (that’s right, I actually did research!), I found the scene shown in the graphic above. My heart froze seeing what looked like the Grand 1 yacht exploding. Think about it: The GRAND 1! Clearly they wouldn’t do it; the effects would be safely behind it or it was a whole different boat. In fact, the one pictured doesn’t look like the yacht used in the past 10 years, but when I checked the 52’ Sea Ray yachts of that time, it could be it. Probably not though.
Still freaked me out when I saw it. Imagine if it had been the Grand 1: you have the specialty cruise booked and Disney has to call you to offer you a different one because, “Hulk Hogan is blowing up the boat that day.”
Thunder also gave different views of well-known attractions. For example, when they filmed at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, they used the back alleys you can’t see from the audience, plus unique angles on the truck, plane, and the Cairo buildings. It even gave you close-ups of the stuntmen who play the villains. You still knew where you were, but you got a “backlot tour” view of the attraction. The same episode used the roofs at the Morocco Pavilion; when have you ever thought about the upper levels of those buildings?
By the way, I would have done ‘pay per view’ for the episode in the Adventurers Club Treasure Room if they had let some of its actors play their roles in that scene. Come on: Samantha and Hathaway discussing the place? Hodges discussing the treasures in the room? How about sneaking in a “We climb the highest mountains, just to get a better view. We plumb the deepest oceans, 'cause we're daring through and through!" The Adventurers were (and are) professional actors with impressive resumes and they have done other Disney spots, such as “Top 7 Must See” features. I would buy that episode on DVD too for them. I might be the only one who would, but my statement still stands.
My husband and I never saw them film the show while we were in Walt Disney World; I’m surprised that we didn’t even know about it.
Maybe some of you did see it in production; you saw them bring in camels, parrots, and other touches to Morocco, or you were on Pleasure Island when they were setting up the Adventurers Club scene. (I heard a rumor that you can hear the Friendship boats sounding their horns when Thunder filmed in Morocco once.) It had to be tough at times for guests though, because attractions and shows couldn’t run while they were being used for filming. For example, the monorail couldn’t go through while they used the Polynesian and the Floridian. So thank you to everyone who had a piece of their vacation delayed while Thunder in Paradise filmed, because your sacrifice brought magic to me at home in such a different, fun way. Hopefully you enjoyed seeing a television show in production to make up for not seeing what you intended to that day.
We didn’t sit down to watch Thunder each week, but if we were home and channel flipping, we’d remember and put it on. It lasted one season (plus its initial straight-to-DVD movie before it moved to TV and Disney). It also got an interactive movie (video game) from Phillips CD in 2007.
I wish I could have ridden in the Thunder boat. Imagine them adding it to the watercraft rentals once the show was cancelled. A few people think the Sea Raycers are too fast for some to handle; this one would come with a rider in the rental agreement: “Please don’t kill yourself or other guests.”
If the show had been a hit, maybe they would have had a specialty cruise like the pontoon boats or the Grand 1. Maybe we’d have a Thunder in Paradise Experience. You would ride in the boat with the provided captain dressed like a mercenary (for extra, you could drive the boat), you would dock at the old Discovery Island, run around finding clues and fighting bad guys. When you finished, back you went on the Thunder to land at the Grand Floridian where you celebrated an adventure well done at the Scuttlebutt Bar N' Grill.
Just kidding. But I might have finally seen it being filmed or at least come out of whatever cave I was living in and heard about the show.
So, to Thunder in Paradise, Walt Disney World fans thank you. We’re so glad Orlando beat out Tampa as a location or playing “Ha! That’s the Polynesian!” would never have happened. Plus, credit where credit is due. The show brought millions of dollars to Orlando since they used local people for the work (and spent money for housing for the small percentage of non-Orlando workers) and used local vendors for all they needed.
Thunder in Paradise still has a fanbase online. Google it to hear what they have to say and to learn more about the show. I already asked that fans of the show please write in with your thoughts. Now I’m asking that if you ever saw an episode being filmed or if you watched it the way I did, let’s hear from you too!
If you haven’t seen the show and would like to, for itself or to play “I know where they are in Disney World," a select few episodes were released on DVD by Lionsgate. The “Thunder in Paradise Collection” can be found online and in some stores. Netflix and Hulu don’t carry it, but I have seen it on a free video site, although it’s not the clarity of a DVD.
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