TPI trip report: Recent attractions boost Disney's Animal Kingdom

July 22, 2007, 5:19 PM · Disney built its most beautiful and intricately themed park with Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. But what's there to do? A shortage of good answers to that question plagued this park for the first years after its 1998 opening. But the recent addition of two world-class attractions, Expedition Everest (winner of the 2006 Theme Park Insider Award for World's Best New Attraction) and Finding Nemo - The Musical have elevated this park's attraction line-up to stand with its impressive decor.

Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom

I last visited Animal Kingdom five years ago. So it was time for me to see for myself these two new rides about which many TPI readers have raved. So that's what I did today. (I am in town for a business trip... coupled with a requisite family visit.)

Well, you were right. Everest might be the most impressively themed outdoor coaster ever built. And the Finding Nemo musical further demonstrates that Disney's commitment to live Broadway theater has paid off with captivating theme park shows, as well.

Yet I'm left with the frustrating suspicion that 90-plus percent of the folks who ride Expedition Everest either do not notice, or do not care about, the well-detailed back story that Disney's Imagineers have created for this fanciful trip up the world's tallest mountain. An in-queue 'museum' details the "mystery of the lost expedition" as well as 'evidence' of the elusive Yeti, which has terrorized visitors to (Disney's) Himalayas.

But we're on our way to an Everest expedition! Why should we worry about such superstition? After all, nothing ever *goes horribly wrong* on a theme park ride....

So, we board and we're off. Where, of course, something *goes horribly wrong.* The Yeti's attacked the expedition. We're thrown backward into a crevasse and we never summit the famed peak. Instead, we barely escape the grasping hand of the Yeti and we slide back to base camp.

It's a thrilling ride, made more rewarding through careful detail. A tapestry on the initial lift foreshadows the Yeti's attack. The exterior of the lift hill models Lhasa's Potala Palace. Disney fixes its "Thunder Mountain" problem by placing the locomotives at the *rear* of the ride trains, instead of up front where they block riders' views on Thunder Mountain. There's even a handy leather strap on the side of each lap bar, so ride attendants don't have to reach for your crotch to check that the lap bar's locked.

Finding Nemo - The Musical offers a 35-minute recap of the Pixar Academy Award winner, with the addition of original scores by the composer of the Tony Award-winning "Avenue Q." There's an "Avenue Q" vibe to this show, too, though it remains always kid-friendly, as puppeteers manipulate and sing for their charges while in full view of the audience. The score strikes a far different tone that the Randy Newman ballads that typically accompany Pixar tales, but these songs also engage the audience while effectively advancing the story.

Finding Nemo - The Musical at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The cast impresses as well, with strong singing and physical performances. Live instruments, instead of a tape, would elevate the show to near-perfect, but with four or five shows a day, as part of a $50-60 theme park ticket, I guess that's just not in Disney's budget.

My only other complaint about this otherwise don't-miss show? The theater's painful benches. Arriving 45 minutes early, as the guidebook requested, I sat on that awful narrow-slatted upright bench for nearly an hour, never finding a comfortable pose the entire time. So the highest compliment I can pay this show is that for its 35 minutes, I completely forgot about how awful that bench felt.

Replies (4)

July 23, 2007 at 12:12 AM · It is a shame that many people seem to ignore the back story and theming of Expedition Everest but I think the same holds true for most rides. It seems to me that unless the pre-show is very regimented and controlled (like the Terminator 3-D movie with a person giving a speech) then people just walk by oblivious as they try to keep their kids under control, talk to people in their party, etc. I try to soak up as much of it as possible myself as it really adds to the experience but I guess it isn't a priority for a lot of people.
July 23, 2007 at 8:12 AM · I was in Animal Kingdom yesterday and saw the Nemo musical for the first time. I agree with Robert about the benches...ouch. I too got there 45 minutes early and i was sitting on the ground in the line outside in the sun with 2 young kids. The whole time i was thinking in my head that the show had better be worth it. Believe me, when i sat down on those benches i was LIVID. But, i quickly got over it becuase the show just blew me away! It was awesome. Oh, but i'll never sit close to the stage again. Apparently the best seats are above the center aisle due to actors and performers going into that aisle. I had to turn around to see the action behind me on several occasions. But overall a two thumbs up for this show.

Warning for the guests with young children! I was NOT aware that there would be a brief yet LOUD pyrotechnic display at this show. Nor were we told by park staff there would be one. So when this display occured( i'm not saying specifics becuase i dont want to spoil the show) my 18 month old daughter FREAKED out and my 2 year old wasnt thrilled either and i got the scratches on my arms to prove it. I just wish i knew before hand a little bit of pyro was going to be used. Dont get me wrong, it was a great affect and needed. But i would've liked to prepare my daughters for it. OVERALL, great show and its a must see.

Now, for the Everest comment...When i first got on it i did take my time in line to see the intricate details disney imagineers put into the line queue. I was impressed and amused. I really didnt mind waiting in line because there was a lot of cool stuff to see and read. But now of course that I already saw everything in line and i wanted to make my wait as short as possible. Little did I know( for yesterday at least) that the single riders line actually took longer than the regular line, which had a 30 minute wait. But, i got over it, had fun and went home. It is a real pitty a lot people dont notice the great details of the ride, i'm just glad that did.

July 23, 2007 at 1:23 PM · Looking at the back story was something I enjoyed doing the first several dozen times I rode it, but now I'm much more focused on the ride itself. Remember, a great many of the people visiting the park on any given day are Florida residents who have been there many many times. My family and I maintain Florida Resident Seasonal Passes and we rode this ride back when it was only open to Annual Passholders. I normally never go through the regular line. There's no way I'm waiting over 20 minutes for any ride, not when there are fast passes and single rider lines (and Everest has both).
That said, Everest has to be one of the best rides in all of Disney World. It definitely lifts Animal Kindgom above the rest in terms of the experiences offered.
July 23, 2007 at 4:09 PM · I forgot to note, but I wanted to give Disney credit for providing backstory materials in both the FastPass and regular queues for Everest. (In fact, the stuff's easier to grasp in the abbreviated FastPass version.) There's nothing for the single rider queue, but I skipped it both times, even though I was by myself, 'cause I moved through the other queues at a fine pace.

As much as I love the museum-style exhibition, I think attractions would be better served by judicious use of video and audio to help tell the backstory. I hate the forests of overhead TV screens as much as anyone else, but top museums are using more multimedia in their exhibitions. I'd love to see the ride queue "museums" try the same.

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