Within Disney’s Animal Kingdom lies a mysterious mountain. While daily many take up the challenge, some are wary of what the legends forewarn. Do you want to explore Expedition Everest? The Himalayan Escapes Tour & Expeditions Company promises “There and Back with the Flying Yak” Scenic, beautiful, thrilling, and scary, Expedition Everest is an attraction like no other.
A part of the 18 month-long “Happiest Celebration on Earth” for Disneyland’s 50th, Expedition Everest opened on April 7, 2006. Contained within 6.2 acres of land, the 199.5 foot tall structure is the tallest mountain in the state of Florida and tallest attraction in Walt Disney World. The second tallest attraction, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, reaches 199 feet. They are both under 200 feet because if one foot taller, FAA regulations would require a red light beacon added to the top.
Everest contains 1,800 tons of steel and 2,000 gallons of paint and stain to create the illusions for the mountain. Forced Perspective makes it look much bigger than reality. Costing approximately $100 million dollars, Everest is to date, the most expensive roller coaster in the world. It was even featured in the 2011 edition of Guinness World Records.
Entering the village of Serka Zong, you immediately notice something just isn’t quite right. As I’ve said time and time again, it’s all about the story. Head of the creative team behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Imagineer Joe Rohde explains simply, “Expedition Everest adds a new dimension to our storytelling in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s a thrilling adventure themed to the tradition of the mysterious yeti … There are details within details within details to anchor you in the fact that we are talking about the real world, not an illustrated children’s book fantasy world.”
In a collaboration with the Discovery Network, a team of Imagineers did extensive research on trips to Asia. “Even if books are available for research into the places we depict, if books are all we work from, we’ll only know what other people tell us. It forces us to tell somebody else’s story, guided and limited by the choices they’ve made in deciding what to include in their books. As authors, we want to tell our own stories” –The Imagineering Field Guide to Animal Kingdom by Alex Wright and the Imagineers
The queue of Expedition Everest begins with walking through the offices of Himalayan Escapes. Outside this section of the queue, there’s an open courtyard. Now normally, I would want to yell at people throwing stuff, but here it’s okay to throw money. It is collected every so often and donated to the Disney’s Conservation Fund for animals.
After wandering through a tea garden, and picking up some supplies at the Serka Zong Bazaar, guests enter the Yeti Museum. If you haven’t noticed it before, all the details tell a story. The land around the mountain was once a tea plantation and trains were used for transport of goods. That is until recently when a group of entrepreneurs converted everything for tourists. Everywhere you can find references to tea and the mysterious yeti. In the bazaar the cabinets now holding supplies, were once used for tea drying. There are tea cutting tables in the museum. Nepalese always reuse and repurpose everything.
Surprisingly, the museum and the rest of the queue, contain many pieces from Nepal. Imagineers spent lots of time in Tebet meeting people and buying over 8,000 handcrafted props. Everyday items from everyday people.
Did you know that the character Prof. Pema Dorje is actually Imagineer Daniel Jue? He was a props designer on Expedition Everest. When entering the queue you can find a picture of him as the “professor”
The first man to reach the summit of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, met with Imagineer Joe Rohde about the project when still in development. A piece from his personal collection resides in the museum. Make sure you spend time to look at the things in the cases. Many amazing things are in there. Starting with legends and art, it continues on with science and research. But the yeti isn’t real… right? That’s what Himalayan Escapes want you to think. I love the disclaimer they have after Prof. Dorje’s museum.
Joe Rohde explained that the attraction is, “… about the yeti, and our story is about our interaction with that yeti. When we get on this train and we go up into the forbidden mountain domain of the yeti, he destroys the track ,and the thrill part of our ride is escaping the wrath of the yeti as we return to civilization.”
Every 60 seconds 34 passengers are sent up to forbidden mountain on vehicles called “steam donkeys”. Paint, design, and sound transport you to the domain of the yeti. There are 200 speakers hidden mostly in rocks or under track. Ambient music, creaking of track, and the faint cry of a yeti – the story comes to life through the little details.
On all the buildings you might notice the odd coloring. Red is a very significant color in Nepalese culture. They put it around the windows, doors, and corners for protection. In the Discovery Channel special, Rohde said, “All of the architecture of the Tibetan Himalayas is symbolic. Every color has meaning.” “The Himalayan culture is full of ritualized architecture encouraging great harmony and structure. The colors of the village, the carved animal heads on the doors, the totems – it’s all very symbolic and authentic.”
The biggest challenge of Expedition Everest was figuring out how to switch the track. The train pulls up to broken track, stops, and reverses in six seconds. It works similarly to a railroad. The train stops, computer gives a command, the track piece unlocks, flips, and locks back again just in time for the train to continue backward into a dark cavern.
The anticipation grows as you sit in the dark watching the yeti shadow. After a plummet of 80 feet (smile for the camera!), the train spirals around outside reaching speeds of 50 mph. Everything about this attraction is unique. Unlike the usual spiraling down, Everest has trains spiraling up into the mountain.
Entering the final area of the mountain we find the yeti. unfortunately the version today is different from what was during its first year of operation. A force like nothing else, the Yeti audio animatronic has a potential thrust of over 259,000 pounds. While the original ride through had the Yeti sweep his arm over the train, due to technical issues, he is now stationary. Hopefully after Avatar land opens in 2017, they will be able to have the attraction down long enough to fix our furry friend. Today, flashing and dimmer lighting create an illusion of motion. Next time you experience the attraction, make sure and yell hello to my buddy “Disco Yeti” 🙂
What’s your favorite part about Everest? Did you learn something new about it? Let me know down in the comment below!