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For a Summer Scare: Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom: $100 million plus a Yeti.

Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: $100 million plus a Yeti.

In honor of students on summer vacation, we decided to run our review of Expedition Everest printed prior to its debut in the spring of 2006. It cost $100 million to build the ride through The Himalayas.

BY DONNA BALANCIA

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — April 5, 2006 — What does $100 million buy? For Disney, it buys a mountain with enough rail to carry guests on a four-minute series of twists, turns and dives based on a runaway train adventure while looking for the Yeti of the Himalayas. Walt Disney Co.

The $100 million Expedition Everest sends riders on a 4-minute adventure through the Himalayan Mountains in search of the Abominable Snowman. It will open to annual and season pass holders late this weekend and to other guests next month.

To visitors, Expedition Everest is a ride that will catapult them through the labyrinths of a man-made mountain. To Disney, the attraction is a $100 million bet that more people will visit Animal Kingdom if there is a chance for a 50-mph thrill.

The roller coaster takes visitors through the Himalayas in search of the Abominable Snowman. Theme park experts say the ride will lend a new level of excitement to the experience.

The ride will open to Disney annual and season pass holders late this weekend, and to other guests next month.

“Of course, they’re spending the money to get more people in the gate, but, more importantly, they want to keep them in the gate longer,” said Jerry Aldrich, president of Amusement Industry Consulting of Orlando. “If you lengthen the experience, you extend the chance for an extra meal or a sweatshirt.”

It is the blend of experiences that is expected to boost attendance at the park, Aldrich said.

“I think Animal Kingdom is strong, and it has a different purpose,” he said. “Each of the parks has a primary demographic different from the other three, although they’re trying to blend them.

“Epcot was supposed to be for more mature visitors, but they’ve ended up putting in things to attract the younger people,” he said.

“The Disney-MGM Studio put in Tower of Terror and, now, they have a little more excitement,” he said.

The impact of the ride on Brevard County tourism is unknown, said Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.

“I don’t know how strong it’s going to be,” Varley said. “First of all, I haven’t seen the promotions going on, so we’re not exactly sure when it’s opening, and that’s unusual. I’m sure, once they get a head of steam rolling, they’ll promote it. I don’t think their promotion has been real heavy.”

Varley said, while the impact may not be clear to Brevard County, results will be seen at the park.

“Obviously, it will improve the numbers at Animal Kingdom,” Varley said. “When a park introduces a new ride, they’ll see an uptick in attendance. How it plays out as to additional visitors to Florida and overflow to us, it remains to be seen.”

Expedition Everest is the type of addition typically used when a park wants to add a little something extra, said James Zoltak, editor of Amusement Business, a Los Angeles-based trade magazine that covers the theme-park industry.

In 2003, for example, the Disney Epcot ride Mission: Space helped boost that park’s attendance.

“What they might do is open the ride a little earlier, and let that serve as a bit of a shakedown,” Zoltak said. “Some of these things are real high-tech, and you don’t know until the guests are on there how they’ll interact with ride, including the queue and everything. It’s a good idea to have some previews.”

Animal Kingdom had attendance of 8.2 million in 2005, up 5 percent from 2004, according to Amusement Business magazine, and is North America’s fifth-most-popular theme parks.

Zoltak said the idea is to keep all the parks at an even keel for attendance figures.

“For one thing, when you have a destination resort with multiple gates, you don’t want to have a real weak link in the chain,” Zoltak said. “You want to have each of the parks be compelling and spread out visitation and not have everyone flocking to one favorite park.

“The Animal Kingdom’s appeal is to younger kids,” he said. “Animal Kingdom is very ambitious. It is looked to in the industry as having taken the zoo experience to a new theatrical level.”

“Disney’s challenged the zoo world to up the ante,” Zoltak said. “The trend is to be more theatrical, put storytelling in there. But they shouldn’t try to go to the level of ‘faux authenticity’ that Disney can achieve.”

But Animal Kingdom spokesman Richard Gregorie told FLORIDA TODAY television news partner WKMG-Local 6 that Disney went a long way to capture authenticity, faux or not.

“Imagineers actually went over to Nepal and the Himalayan Mountains, and did a lot of back-story research,” Gregorie said. “They went and spent months and months there, understanding the culture and the people and the legend of the Yeti. They just learned everything they could, and brought it here to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.”

“This is going to be that final piece that takes us to the next level,” Gregorie said. “Again, we have a lot of great attractions here already, but with this with as kind of our signature attraction, it will do Disney’s Animal Kingdom almost what Tower of Terror did for MGM Studios.” –– Donna Balancia, Staff Writer, Florida Today.

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