Animal Kingdom Archives

September 15, 2014

Landscaping the World - Disney's Animal Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead

Disney's Animal Kingdom is the largest of all the Disney parks around the world. And since the theme of this park is animals and nature, it also contains the most growth. A staggering amount of growth. On opening day, over four million plants, big and small, had been added to the landscaping here. Africa alone included 70,000 trees and 770,000 bushes.

Planting Trees

Since the Imagineers wanted the park to look fully established on opening day (April 22, 1998), the landscapers began planting the land over two years in advance. To help in the process, they imported fully grown trees from around the world and used accelerators in their on-property tree farm to vastly speed up a sapling's growth.

Just like at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, a berm was constructed around portions of the park to hide the real world from the one they were creating for guests. And not only would these berms act as a barrier, they would also be a place where additional plants and trees could be grown and "stored" if needed to replace a dying species somewhere in the park at a later date.

This next picture shows the berm as seen from the parking lot. Behind this pile of dirt and dense growth lies Dinoland U.S.A. But you'd never know it from this angle.


When exiting the parking lot tram, guests pass between four planters filled with bushes and palm trees. Not only are these planters attractive, they also serve to direct passengers away from the walkway Disney bus guests are using. This creates a more uniform traffic flow.

Tram Planters

Tram Planters

When viewed from above, the pavement coloration found in the entrance plaza creates a large tree.

Pavement Tree

Pavement Tree

The Rain Forest CafΓ© marquee was designed not only to display the restaurant's name, but at the same time act as a fountain and planter. Although not obvious in this picture, water is flowing from the letters.

Rain Forest CafΓ©

I've mentioned in past articles that once the Rainforest CafΓ© had vast waterfalls cascading from its roof. Unfortunately, the landscaping grew and grew until this view was completely obscured. Today, scaled backed falls have been created on the side of the building.

Rain Forest Waterfall

Near the back entrance to this restaurant is a miniature rainforest complete with playful animal recreations and some giant toadstools.

Rain Forest Garden

Rain Forest Garden

The Oasis is that area located between the Animal Kingdom turnstiles and the bridge that spans Discovery River on the way to Discovery Island. The Oasis is equivalent to Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. It was the Imagineers intention that this area be used as a decompression spot - an area where guests could transition between the real world and the world of nature and animals.

The Oasis recreates a lush tropical jungle. The only open spaces you'll find here are the pathways that lead guests deeper into the park. Greenery surrounds you at every turn. Yet, there is nothing here that stands out and grabs your attention with the exception of epiphytes.

And epiphyte is a plant that requires no soil to grow. Instead, it attaches itself to other plants but is non-parasitical. It derives its nutrients from the air, rain, and accumulating debris near its base. If you look up into the trees and rocks of the Oasis, you'll see a number of these unique plants. (In some cases, Disney has helped the process along.)

Hanging Plants

Hanging Plants

Hanging Plants

Hanging Plants

Discovery Island at the Animal Kingdom acts like The Hub at the Magic Kingdom. It ties all of the outlying lands together in a harmonious manor. But rather than depict a real geographic location, Discovery Island uses humorous, almost cartoon-like representations of animals to create a whimsical locale that does not conflict with the other areas of the park. One example of this can be seen on the clay pots that act as planters.

Clay Pots

Clay Pots

Clay Pots

Flame Tree Barbeque offers a good example of how the Imagineers don't always get things right the first time around. In the first picture below, you can see a large area of growth surrounding the restaurants marquee. In the second picture you can see this has been scaled back greatly to offer better pedestrian traffic flow.

Flame Tree Barbeque

Flame Tree Barbeque

One of the most beautiful gardens in all of Walt Disney World can be found in the dining area of Flame Tree Barbeque. Here, water, trees, sculpture, and plants combine to create a peaceful atmosphere that has the capacity to calm the most ruffled guests.

Flame Tree Barbeque Reflecting Pool

Flame Tree Barbeque Reflecting Pool

But what I found interesting about this garden is that it uses several potted plants to complete the picture. If I had been designing this park-like setting, I would have made everything look as if it was naturally growing from the earth. Yet these terracotta pots fit right in. In fact, they add a new layer of detail.

Flame Tree Barbeque Reflecting Pool

On several occasions, I have overheard young children ask their parents if the Tree of Life is real. In each case, the parents held back their amusement and patiently explain to their child that the tree was created by Disney. But the question does speak volumes. It shows that the Imagineers created something that looks real when viewed with emotion and without logic.

Notice in this next picture how the landscapers have framed the Tree of Life with real growth. This helps add to the illusion that this is a real tree.

Tree of Life

Around the Tree of Life are the Discovery Island Trails. These take guests on journeys past animals and through dense growth. When walking through some of these overgrown areas, a person's imagination can run wild.

Tree of Life

You might think that the landscaping over at Dinoland U.S.A. would try to recreate the humid tropics in which dinosaurs lived. But for the most part, that's not the case. The backstory for this land tells us that dinosaur bones were discovered near a hunting lodge that was nestled in a forest. To help with this story, a number of deciduous trees can be found around this building.

Dinoland U.S.A.

Dinoland U.S.A.

Years later when time travel was invented and the Dino Institute was established, the developers of this endeavor supplemented the adjacent forest with tropical plants. They wanted to create a primeval world that would appear suitable for dinosaurs. Then they placed recreations of these prehistoric beasts around the property to help promote the Institute and attract tourists.

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Take a look at the Dino Institute's entrance. Sago Palms have been placed atop the monoliths.

Sago Palms

Sago Palms

It's interesting to note, the Sago Palm is not a palm but a cycad. Fossils of this plant have been found around the world and have evolved little since the days of the dinosaurs.

Over at Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, license plates have been used to create containers for shrubs and spell out the amusement park's name.

Dino-Rama, license plates

Dino-Rama, license plates

At the old gas station, an abundance of discarded tires have been put to good horticultural use.

Tire Planters

Tire Planters

And shrubs and trees help us believe we're actually on Diggs County Road 498.

Diggs County Road 498

Diggs County Road 498

The Theater in the Wild building is big and ugly. Once again, the landscapers have used plants to help hide this structure. In addition, they added a plant motif to the walls.

Theater in the Wild

Theater in the Wild

Theater in the Wild

Asia represents two distinct areas. The first of these is the wet and tropical village of Anandapur. The backstory tells of the Chakranadi (CHAWK-rah-nah-dee) River that is born from the snowmelts in the Himalayas. Its nurturing waters soon reach warmer regions where it feeds the dense jungle. Unrestrained growth is everywhere in Anandapur. What civilization there is in this area needed to be carved out of this jungle growth. Even now, it is a constant battle for the townsfolk to restrain this constant intrusion.

The first example of the ever-infringing jungle can be seen at this ancient idol. Here, a seed found a crack in the stone and began to set down roots. Then another and another. In no time at all, trees sprang forth and the structure began to crumble.

Crumbling Shrine

Over at the Flights of Wonder show we see how the jungle is reclaiming this stone structure.

Flights of Wonder

And in the floodwaters of the Chakranadi River, another tree is wreaking havoc on a temple.

Crumbling Shrine

Along the Maharaja Jungle Trek, the thick growth continues. Take a look at this tree trunk located near the Komodo Dragon. It looks centuries old.

Maharaja Jungle Trek Tree

From this tree, we walk along a thickly forested walkway. It takes no imagination at all to believe you are deep in the heartland of tropical Asia. Even the rocks are being consumed by encroaching greenery.

Maharaja Jungle Trek Walkway

Maharaja Jungle Trek Walkway

As this area was once the private hunting preserve of King Bhima Disampati, it was designed in a fashion befitting of royalty. This even included the landscaping. Take a look at how these once manicured gardens have fallen into disarray. Notice how the stone borders have begun to misalign and shift over the years.

Asian Garden

The blackbuck antelope grazes on a grassy knoll. Here, the Imagineers have tried to trick us into believing that this meadowland goes on forever. But in reality, just beyond the crest of this hill are barriers that keep these animals carefully cordoned off from their nearby tiger predators.

Asian Grassland

Expedition Everest provides tours through the Himalaya Mountains. Guests wishing to explore these mighty peaks charter excursions near the base of this massive chain. In this area, the climate is much dryer than that found at Anandapur. Although trees are present, most of the plants grow low to the ground in an effort to conserve what precious water they receive each year.

Dry Landscaping

Dry Landscaping

Dry Landscaping

Dry Landscaping

Tea is the primary beverage consumed by the people of Asia. So it is no wonder that it can be seen growing in a number of areas around Expedition Everest.




Bamboo is another plant that grows in abundance in Asia. Here at the Animal Kingdom, the landscapers plant this member of the grass family in sturdy containers. If they didn't, it would take over and grow unchecked. Notice in this next picture how the bamboo is growing in clumps. This would not happen in nature.


The walkway that connects Asia with Africa traverses a lush jungle. Along the way you just might run into Devine, the four-legged walking plant.

Asia Africa Walkway


Harambe is a port town located somewhere on the east coast of Africa. For the most part, the climate is hot with seasonal rains. Although plant life is abundant here, it isn't so thick that the town is fighting continual encroachment as the citizens of Anandapur must endure. If fact, the people of Harambe have used shrubs and trees in planters and gardens to help spruce up their town.

Harambe Landscaping

Harambe Landscaping

Harambe Landscaping

In Harambe we find a Kigelia (or sausage) tree. Today, the tree is primarily grown for ornamental purposes, but the fruit does have its uses. Although the fruit's liquid is poisonous, the flesh can be turned into an alcoholic beverage similar to beer. The gourds are also used by the locals to make herbal medicines that are believed to cure snakebites, syphilis, and rheumatism, among other things.

Kigelia (or sausage) tree

Kigelia (or sausage) tree

Kilimanjaro Safaris first travels through a lush jungle. Here, the plant life creates a canopy of growth that shades much of the roadway. After viewing black rhinos, crocodiles, bongos, and hippopotamuses, we burst out into the savanna where vast grasslands sustain wildebeests, antelope, giraffes, and ankole cattle.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

When designing Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Imagineers knew that they could never grow enough plants, trees, and bushes to sustain the animals. Yet, they wanted the area to look natural. To that end, they hid many food troughs behind fake rocks so guests couldn't see these feeding areas. In addition, plants in containers are deposited each night in pre-dug holes. During the day, the animals can munch to their heart's delight, then at night, these spent plants are simply picked up, container and all, and replaced with a new container. This procedure is invisible to the guests and greatly simplifies the landscaper's job.

Several baobab trees can be seen in Harambe and out on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. These trees only bear leaves three months out of the year and the trunks contain vast amounts of water to sustain them during dry periods and droughts. A baobab tree can easily live to be over a thousand years old.

baobab tree

baobab tree

The baobab tree has many uses. The fruit contains three times the vitamin C of an orange, fifty percent more calcium than spinach, and is high in antioxidants. The leaves can be used to make a relish and a sauce or powdered to create a spice. And cooking oil can be extracted from the seeds.

Spoiler alert next two paragraphs:

For those of you who visit often, have you ever noticed that you never seem to call during the three months of the year when baobab trees are sprouting leaves? Well, there is a reason for this. None of the baobab trees you see in the Animal Kingdom are real. As I mentioned earlier, this species can easily live to be over a thousand years old. The trees depicted in Harambe are huge and would be hundreds of years old if real. And since the baobab tree is not native to Florida, Disney had to create reproductions out of concrete and wire. If you look closely at the upper branches, you can see they are actually rebar. Note: There a few real sapling baobab trees in Harambe, but the big ones are fake.

baobab tree

By the way, the termite mounds seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris are not real either. However, the ostrich eggs are authentic. They're just not going to hatch anytime soon as they have been filled with a non-organic material to give them longevity.

Termite Mound

Ostrich Egg

Ostrich Egg

At the end of the safari, we are returned to the jungles of Africa where we can survey the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Once again, the landscaping in this part of the park is lush and verdant.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

When it comes to Rafiki's Planet Watch, the landscaping is unremarkable. For the most part, it is just a continuation of the growth found at Pangani Forest. However, I bet most of you didn't realize that you cross over a canal on the way to Conservation Station. The landscaping is so thick along the trail that it almost completely hides the waterway that runs on both sides of the walkway.

Rafiki's Planet Watch Canal

At Conservation Station, be sure to visit the Song of the Rainforest attraction. Here, Grandmother Willow discusses the importance rainforests play in the earth's ecology and how vital it is to preserve them.

Song of the Rainforest

This concludes my look at the landscaping found at the four Walt Disney World theme parks. I hope you've enjoyed this series and have a new appreciation for the hard work and serious thought that goes into every plant that is grown at Walt Disney World. Except for the rare weed, every plant was placed where it was for a purpose.

August 5, 2013

Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest Temple

Jack Spence is on a leave of absence until 2014. This is a reprint of a blog he wrote several years ago. This blog was accurate at the time of original publication.

This is a blog that almost didn't happen. I made an assumption (I know, a dumb thing to do), that what was obvious to me was obvious to everyone else. But when I would mention this upcoming fact to others, they had no idea what I was talking about. So I finally realized that I should share this interesting bit of Disney trivia with the world.

In the Animal Kingdom we find Expedition Everest sitting majestically on the shores of Discovery River. Across the river is a shrine built to pay homage to the mountains and the Yeti.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

If you examine the shrine carefully, you can see all sorts of details. Offerings such and fruits and carved animals, incense burners, and chalices are all on hand.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

But the real magic of this shrine is in its shape. (Okay, here comes the good part.) If you stand back and position your line-of-sight so that the shrine is situated directly in front of the Himalayans, the temple exactly silhouettes the peaks in the distance.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

Cool, huh?

By the way"¦ Did you know that the tallest peak in this recreation of the Himalayans is not actually Everest? Everest is the mountain on the right.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

It was the Imagineers desire to create a mountain "range" and decided to put Everest further back to add to the illusion of distance and majesty. And in reality, there is another range of mountains in front of Everest. So it would be correct to see other peaks in the foreground.

October 1, 2012

A History of Dinoland U.S.A. and Restaurantosaurus - Part One

Jack Spence Header

When I started writing this article, my intent was to review and describe Restaurantosaurus, the counter service eatery located in Dinoland U.S.A at the Animal Kingdom. However, the more I got into the piece, the more I realized you can't write about the restaurant without discussing the backstory of Dinoland. You see, the two are united in a pseudo-history that Disney created to add realism to the area. It would be difficult to tell the story of one without telling the story of the other. So what you will receive over the next two days is a linear account of both Dinoland and Restaurantosaurus and how they grew together over time. I also might take a side trip or two in order to cover other bits of Disney history semi-related to the area.

In 1946, a rustic fishing lodge could be found along U.S. Highway 498 in Diggs County, somewhere in the heartland of America. Nestled in a grove of trees, this spot provided local and visiting anglers a place to relax and tell tall tales about the one that got away. Nearby, a gas station own by an elderly couple, Chester and Hester, provided the basic necessities of travel.

Highway Sign

Fishing Lodge

Gas Station

In 1947, an amateur fossil-hunter found a few old bones near the lodge. He took them to some of his paleontologist friends who verified their authenticity. Realizing the importance of the find, the group banded together and purchased the lodge and much of the surrounding land. This was the humble beginnings of what would eventually become the Dino Institute.

Professors and grad students soon took up residence here and created a makeshift dormitory. Needing a place to eat, a cafeteria was added within the old lodge. Since research programs are always looking for funding and grants are hard to come by, the students decided to open their cafeteria to the public and make a few additional bucks to help subsidize their various digs. Not being too particular about what to call their eatery, they simply erected a large sign on the roof that said "RESTAURANT."

Restaurant Sign

At the same time, the students also opened up a small, walk-up counter where motorists could purchase an ice-cream cone, cookies, and a refreshing beverage. They called this location Dino-Bite.

Dino Bites

College students being college students, monkeyshines and mischief began to ensue shortly after their arrival. It soon became the fad to add the suffix "osaurus" to signs throughout the lodge.

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

Of course, pranks must be "topped" and one particularly mischievous young man decided to add a huge "osaurus" to the "RESTAURANT" sign to the delight of his classmates - and the name stuck.

Restaurantosaurus Sign

As word of the dinosaur find spread, tourists began to stop by to see what all of the hubbub was about. They would visit the dig site, known as the Boneyard, then head over to the lodge to see what else they could learn.

The Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard

Since money was tight, it was not possible to build a proper tourist information center, so the professors and grad students opened their home and created a makeshift visitor's center within the lodge. Now the travelers could stop by and receive a proper education as to what was going on in Diggs County.

As more and more relics were unearthed, the paleontologists displayed them on the walls and shelves of the lodge. Eventually, the visitor's center was transformed into a mini-museum. Many of these early artifacts can still be seen today.

Lodge Museum

Lodge Museum

Lodge Museum

When the lodge grew too small to house all of the dinosaur bones, a tent was erected on Chester and Hester's land and some of the larger creature's skeletons were displayed fully assembled. This exhibit was called Dinosaur Jubilee. Nearby was the Fossil Preparation Lab where one of the paleontologists could be seen cleaning debris and dirt from recent finds. The map (below) shows the various sites.

Dinosaur Jubilee

Dinosaur Jubilee

Dinoland U.S.A. Map

On the walls of the lodge-museum are numerous pictures of team members, unearthing new discoveries.

Museum Photographs

Museum Photographs

Museum Photographs

Also found on a wall in the lodge's main room is a portrait of Clarence P. Wilkerson. This gentleman believed in the project and was a major benefactor.

Clarence P. Wilkerson

As the needs of the dig site grew, so did the needs of the support facility. First to be added was a Quonset hut. Erected adjacent to the lodge, this structure would serve as the maintenance bay for the various field vehicles.

Quonset hut

Quonset hut

Quonset hut

Inside the Quonset hut you can still see engine parts, tools, hubcaps, and other automobile paraphernalia. Also, take a look at the walls. The imaginative mechanics have used their greasy hands to create some rather creative dinosaurs.

Car Engine

Auto Tools


Grease Dinosaur

Grease Dinosaur

It seems our mechanic is also a sculptor. He created this dinosaur out of wrenches, nuts, bolts, and other metal odds and ends found in the garage.

Metal Dinosaur

Our artistic mechanic also has a sense of humor as can be seen on this wall sketch. In case you can't read the small print the dinosaur says "Hey Harry, Have you got somethin' for my U-joints"¦."

Dinosaur Cartoon

Notice the cans of oil on one of the shelves. The brand is Sinclair. This is the same brand of gasoline that Chester and Hester sell at their service station.

Sinclair Oil

Chester & Hester Gas Station

Sinclair is a real oil and refining company that was established in 1916 by Harry F. Sinclair. Its distinctive green dinosaur silhouette (brontosaurus) logo was a fixture on U.S. highways for many years.

Sinclair Advertisement

Sinclair sponsored a dinosaur exhibit at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. The exhibit pointed out the supposed relationship of petroleum deposits and dinosaurs. The display included a two-ton animated model of a brontosaurus - an early and crude AudioAnimatronics.

At the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, Sinclair sponsored another dinosaur exhibit. "Dinoland" featured life-size reproductions of nine different dinosaurs.

Sinclair at the Fair

Sinclair at the Fair

Of course Walt Disney was also at the New York World's Fair with his own dinosaur attraction. On "Magic Skyway," guests road in Ford convertibles (the humble beginnings of the PeopleMover) and progressed in time from the day of the dinosaur to the modern era. After the fair, the AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs were moved to Disneyland and installed along the route of the Disneyland-Santa Fe Railroad.

Magic Skyway

Magic Skyway

The names "Sinclair" and "Disney" were united in 1991 with a joint venture by Michael Jacobs Productions, Jim Henson Productions, and Walt Disney Television. A TV show titled "Dinosaurs" premiered and ran for four seasons. The comedy revolved around a group of anthropomorphic dinosaurs whose last name just happened to be Sinclair.

Sinclair TV Show

Back at Restaurantosaurus, we find a tribute to Walt and his dinosaurs. First, there are several sketches from "The Rite of Spring" section of his movie Fantasia. Put to the music of Igor Stravinsky, this piece chronicles the rise and fall of dinosaurs. If you'll notice, the title "Concert Feature" can be seen on the two sketches. This was the working title for Fantasia.

Concert Feature

Concert Feature

Nearby, a photograph of Walt, surrounded by his AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs, can be seen.

Photo of Walt Disney

With more and more finds being discovered every day, the research facility continued to grow. However, money was still in short supply. To expand the facility again, semi-permanent tents were constructed next to the Quonset hut. The lower walls of these structures are built of wood while the upper sections are made of canvas.


This latest addition was used for auxiliary storage. Inside you'll find provisions and camping gear as well as bones and other fossils excavated at the nearby Boneyard.

Tent Interior

Tent Interior

Tent Interior

Tent Interior

You will also find another student prank in this room - a classic. Over one of the doors is a bucket of water just waiting to find a target. Some poor, unsuspecting sole is going to get drenched.

Bucket of Water over the Door

As time marched on, the lodge became the first home of the Dino Institute which was formed to help promote this site and encourage a better understanding of paleontologists and dinosaurs. In addition, classroom studies became available to students for the first time. A sign of this can be seen on a flag hanging on one of the walls.

Dino Institute Flag

Hoping to generate cash for the struggling Institute, the trustees hired Dr. Helen Marsh sometime in the early 70's. Dr. Marsh had a reputation of rescuing cash-strapped museums and bringing them back from the brink of disaster. Within days of her arrival at the Dino Institute, she purchased Chrono-Teck Inc which had recently lost its government grant. Six months later, she announced to a stunned scientific community that her company had invented the "Time Rover," a vehicle that could travel back in time.

Dr. Marsh

Dr. Marsh

Things changed dramatically for the Dino Institute after this invention was announced. Now scientists could visit the prehistoric world for themselves. In addition, it brought the Institute prestige and funding to build a state-of-the-art facility to assist in research and house classrooms. The "new" Dino Institute was dedicated on April 22, 1978.

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dr. Marsh, calls the skeletal remains of dinosaurs, "quaint exhibits." She also claims that this "bare bones" approach is about to become extinct. Capitalizing on this ideology, she insists that tours to the Cretaceous period be offered to non-professionals to help subsidize the costs of the new facility.

Tme Travel

However, her announcement did not set well with the World Paleontological Society. Its president, Dr. Vladimur Borontsky, cautioned that thorough testing be conducted before the general public be allowed to ride. Dr. Marsh brushed these comments aside and stated, "Our staff has taken the 'rover' through an extensive 'test-and-adjust' phase and they all say the same thing. 'It's fast, it's a blast, and it's in the past.'"

Dr. Marsh's superior attitude has become contagious and most of the others working in the main building are intent on maintaining a "dignified" decorum. On the other hand, the professors and grad students of the lodge realize that the unearthing of fossils will continue to be a wonderful source of knowledge and they've retained their down-home sense of humor. This is evident by the many pranks and shenanigans perpetrated in the lodge and around town. Their carefree attitude greatly distresses Dr. Marsh and the Institute leaders, but there is little they can do about it.

Meanwhile, Chester and Hester could see others getting rich while their profits had only risen mildly with the influx of tourists. Determined to cash in on the area's new found wealth, they started selling souvenirs as well as gas. It wasn't long before their tacky merchandise was raking in more money than the gas they sold, so they converted the entire service station into a large shop called "Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures."

Dinosaur Treasures

As profits started to grow, Chester and Hester decided to build a small amusement park across the street from their souvenir shop. Since their land bordered the main highway, this would be the perfect spot to attract passing tourist aiming for the Boneyard and the Dino Institute. However, this expansion would also require the removal of the Dinosaur Jubilee and the Fossil Preparation Lab which had been erected to showcase full-sized dinosaurs.

Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama

Fortunately, no hard feelings ensued with the forced removal of the exhibit. In fact, the students even paid homage to this entrepreneurial couple by hanging their photograph in the lodge.

Photo of Chester and Hester

That's it for Part One of my Dinoland/Restaurantosaurus article. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion.

August 20, 2011

Meet-&-Greet with Jack and Lisa

Hey Everyone,

Come by and say "Hi" to me and photo-blogger Lisa K. Berton near the entrance to Dinosaur. We'll then join the expedition to bring back an Iguanadon (aka ride Dinosaur, the attraction). Whoever makes the best face in the attraction photo wins a prize! Lisa and I will also be handing out our personal AllEars.Net trading cards. Hope to see you there.

Date: Saturday, September 3, 2011

Time: 10:30am


November 16, 2010

Letter Perfect - Animal Kingdom - Part Two

Yesterday I discussed the typefaces used in the Magic Kingdom. Today I'll explore the fonts of the Animal Kingdom.

The logo for the Animal Kingdom uses three fonts. "Disney's" is written in a script that resembles Walt's hand writing. "ANIMAL" uses block letters but only the "A's" have serifs. Although it's difficult to make out in this picture "ANIMAL" has rough edges, giving the word a "natural" feel. "Kingdom" uses a relaxed serif text-type font.

Animal Kingdom Logo

A large sign announcing the park graces the entrance. The letters are block with ever so small serifs.

Animal Kingdom Entrance Sign

The Oasis has very few signs so we're going to jump ahead to Discovery Island. This section of the Animal Kingdom is not supposed to represent any particular place on the planet, yet it still celebrates animals. To accomplish this, the buildings use whimsy and bright colors to invite guests inside.

The typefaces used on Discovery Island are interesting and appropriate, but nothing outstanding. It's more about the signs than the fonts. Here are two examples.

Discovery Island Fonts

Discovery Island Fonts

Discovery Island Fonts

However, some imagination was used on these next three signs. The "Pizzafari" marker resembles a pizza. The "Creature Comforts" sign uses snakes to create the "C's". And the "Flame Tree Barbecue" sign uses letters that look like branches and they're painted the color of BBQ sauce.

Pizzafari Sign

Creature Comforts Sign

Flame Tree Barbecue Sign

Along the nature trails, there are a number of signposts describing the various animals. All of these signs use the same font for consistency. Once again, the font is interesting, but doesn't suggest a particular location on the planet.

Nature Trail Sign

As you head toward Africa, a caricature of a giraffe can be seen holding an "AFRICA" sign. The colors and style are keeping with the playfulness of Discovery Island. But as you continue on your journey you come to a set of gates announcing your arrival to the Dark Continent. This time, a serious tone is imparted with carved wood and natural colors.

Africa Sign on Discovery Island

Africa Fonts

Wood is scarce in Harambe. Because of this, many of the signs are painted directly on the walls of the buildings. In most cases, this has been done by the owner and the lettering is crude. Although in one case, the individual tried to be somewhat professional and used a stencil.

Afrcian Wall Sign

Afrcian Wall Sign

Afrcian Wall Sign

Even when a merchant can find wood, he usually still can't afford to pay for a skilled sign painter. Some signs show talent, others do not.

Hand Painted African Sign

Hand Painted African Sign

This next hand-painted sign tells a story in its simplicity. You know exactly what type of transportation lies ahead when looking at this billboard.

Train Station Sign

Professional signs in Harambe still lack the sophistication we're accustomed to in more prosperous regions of the world. A lot of care was taken when creating these signs, but they still have a primitive quality. In all probability, they were created by a talented artist who lacked formal training.

Professionally Painted African Sign

Professionally Painted African Sign

Professionally Painted African Sign

The entrance to Asia is marked with a large arch. Notice how the Imagineers gave the Latin letters an appearance of Asian characters to help set the mood.

Asia Entrance Sign

Even if Coca Cola wasn't written in English in small print, you would know in an instant what this merchant was selling. This logo and font is one of the most famous in the world.

Coca Cola Sign

Like Harambe in Africa, Anandapur in Asia is also a poor community. However, in many respects this village seems closer to prosperity. Much of this is evident by their signage. Although some writing can be found on walls, more of it is on wood and even metal. In addition, the lettering is far more professional.

Asia Sign

Asia Sign

Asia Sign

Notice how the shadowing and colors on the lettering suggest water on the "Kali River Rapids" sign.

Kali River Rapids Sign

Another indication that Anandapur is prospering can be found next to this advertisement. It seems that one gentleman is able to make a living painting signs.

Hotel Sign

Sign Painting Advertisement

The "EXPEDITION EVERST" sign hints at the NΔ"pālΔ« alphabet. Once again, this helps set the mood on a subconscious level.


Dinoland U.S.A. can be divided into three areas, the Dig Site and Lodge, the Dino Institute, and Chester & Hester's Dinorama. Each has its own distinct lettering style. Let's start with the Dig Site and Lodge.

Grants are hard to come by and money is usually tight when unearthing dinosaur bones. Hand-painted signs are common, quick, and cheap.

Hand Painted Sign

This next sign uses neon tubing to form the letters and immediately conveys an era and atmosphere. Signs like these were common along the highways of yesteryear and pointed the way to a greasy spoon.

Eat Here Sign

Before dinosaur bones were discovered in the area, a hunting lodge could be found nearby. In the years that followed, the paleontologist and college students took over the building and converted it to their needs. A generic "restaurant" sign was transformed with the addition of a corrugated metal sheet and hand-painted lettering.

Restaurant-asoarous Sign

The Dino Institute has backers and money. There is nothing cheap or second rate about the signs used at this establishment. Top dollar was spent on advertisements and plaques. The "Dinosaur" poster features a font with ragged edges, befitting of the explosion taking place behind the letters. The Institute plaque and Gift Shop sign use narrow sans-serif fonts that look sleek and modern.

Dinosaur Sign

Dino Institute Plaque

Dino Institute Gift Shop Sign

Chester & Hester's Dinorama is a carnival. Bright, garish colors and blinking lights make up most of the lettering here.

Chester & Hester's Dinorama Sign

Chester & Hester's Dinorama Sign

Chester & Hester's Dinorama Sign

The font used for "Finding Nemo, The Musical" is identical to that used for the movie posters and advertisements. Once again, this adds continuity and allows the guests to easily identify with the show inside.

Finding Nemo, The Musical Sign

The final land at the Animal Kingdom is Camp Minnie-Mickey. Many of the letters here are formed with twigs and branches - as if the kids attending the camp had created them.

Camp Minnie-Mickey Fonts

Camp Minnie-Mickey Fonts

Two different fonts are used for the "Festival of the Lion King" show; neither resembles the typeface used in the movie. This was done intentionally to help guests separate the film from the show. In the movie, we're told the story of Simba. At the Animal Kingdom, we celebrate Simba with music and pageantry. These are two very different presentations. However, there is a similarity between one of the Animal Kingdom fonts and the Broadway poster.

Lion King Signs

Lion King Signs

Lion King Signs

Lion King Signs

Throughout the Animal Kingdom are signs with arrows pointing the way to the various attractions and facilities. However some of these arrows have been given details that make them look like fish.

Fish Arrows

That's it for the Animal Kingdom. Check back tomorrow when I discuss the fonts used at Epcot.

October 8, 2010

Does This Couple Look Familiar?

Does This Couple Look Familiar?

Royal Couple of Anandapur

If you have paid attention while visiting the Asian section of Disney's Animal Kingdom, you should have a vague recollection of seeing this photograph. This couple's likeness turns up time and time again. But who are these people?

As it turns out, they are the Royal Couple of Anandapur, descendants of a long and noble lineage.

Anandapur (meaning "place of delight" in Sanskrit), was founded centuries ago by Ananta. This wise leader learned the importance of living in harmony with the animals and taught this lesson to his subjects. His sarcophagus can be seen on the Maharajah Jungle Trek.

Sarcophagus of Ananta

However, in 1544, King Bhima Disampati decreed the forest a royal preserve and built a hunting lodge for himself and invited guests. In an effort to make his "sport" easier, he had his subjects enclose much of this area, effectively trapping his prey. Soon after, he was attacked and killed by tigers in a turnabout of fate. Subsequent maharajahs, remembering Ananta's teachings, transformed this enclosure into a nature preserve where the animals and the local people could live in harmony once again - a tradition that lives on to this day.

In an effort to show their respect to the current ruling family and their benevolent ways, every shop owner in the village displays a picture of the Royal Couple. The size of the picture will vary depending on the wealth of the shop owner. Some merchants hang large, framed and matted photographs while others merely pin a postcard to the wall. The Royal Family's close association with tigers can be seen on the royal coat-of-arms.

Royal Coat of Arms

So next time you're in Asia, be sure to look for pictures of the Royal Couple. See how many you can find.

Reminder: If you send a comment, you must type "blog" in the appropriate field or your comment will end up in the Junk Folder.

April 14, 2010

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain - Part Two

In Part One, I gave you a brief history as to how Expedition Everest came into being. Today I'm going to discuss the queue and ride.

Our story actually begins on the other side of Discovery River. Just beyond the Yak & Yeti Restaurant is a clearing and temple. Here you'll find an Information sign describing the mountain range in the distance. Each peak is named and elevations given. The middle peak is labeled Forbidden Mountain and is said to be the legendary home of the yeti.

Mountain Range Plaque

Forbidden Mountain Plaque

Next to this sign is a temple. If you study it carefully, you'll notice that its shape matches the mountains in the background. In addition, the center temple (Forbidden Mountain) contains a representation of the yeti which has been adorned by the local inhabitants.

Forbidden Mountain Temple

Forbidden Mountain Temple Yeti

If you approach Expedition Everest from Dinoland U.S.A., you'll discover tea growing on the slopes of the mountains. More tea can be found around the village of Serka Zong. In years past, this area was a thriving tea plantation complete with steam trains to transport the crops to nearby Anandapur. Several of the buildings were once used for the processing of the tea as can be seen by a sign located in what is now the Yeti Museum.

Tea Crop on Mountain Slope

Tea Warehouse

However, for some mysterious reason, the plantation was shuttered and the trains stopped running. Rumors abound that the yeti played a part in the plantation's demise and locals have erected a number of shrines to appease the creature.

Yeti Shrine

Yeti Shrine

Yeti Shrine

Years after the closing of the plantation, Norbu and Bob came along and opened Himalayan Escapes - Tours and Expeditions. They refashioned a number of the plantation buildings to suit their new business and rerouted the train to take adventure seekers to the base of Mount Everest where they would be dropped off to make their final ascent of the mountain by foot.

Himalayan Escapes - Tours and Expeditions Sign

Your adventure begins in the booking office. This building was once the headquarters for the Royal Anandapur Tea Company. Here you'll find secondhand furniture and equipment as supplies are expensive in this remote area. Also pay attention to the board mounted on the back wall. All of the recent tours are listed and their current status and position are noted.

Booking Office Exterior

Booking Office Interior

Expedition Tracking Board

Once outside the booking office, the desolation of the land becomes apparent. Shrubbery is sparse and a dry riverbed can be seen running between the buildings. Also notice the prayer flags waving in the breeze. These pennants are used to promote wisdom, strength, compassion, and peace. As the wind slowly unravels the fabric, the threads are carried to heaven and these benefits rain down and help all.

Outside the Booking Office

Prayer Flags

Signs have been posted from the booking office to the train depot to make sure your tour group stays together and doesn't get lost.

Expedition Group Signs

Next visitors pass by the Yeti Mandir. A Mandir is a Hindu temple that is usually dedicated to one deity -- in this case, the yeti. The ringing of the surrounding bells is one way worshipers show respect to the deity. It's at this point that tourists start to wonder if the legend of this mythical creature just might be true.

Mandir Pogoda

Mandir Sign

Yeti Shrine

Yeti Shrine

Mandir Bells

While admiring the Mandir, be sure to pay attention to the intricate carvings found throughout the structure.

Mandir Carvings

Mandir Carvings

Mandir Carvings

At Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop you can pick up the supplies you'll need for your climb to the top of Everest. As the sign says, "We provide the finest in mountaineer equipments for all needs new and used."

Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop Sign

Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop

Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop

From the supply shop you enter what was once a warehouse that stored the tea waiting to be shipped to Anandapur. With the help of Professor Pema Dorje Phd., Norbu and Bob have converted this space into an elaborate Yeti Museum that features a collection of artifacts that present both legend and purported facts about this creature.

Yeti Museum Sign

Yeti Museum

Yeti Museum

Yeti Museum

Be sure to pay extra attention to the "Mystery of the Lost Expedition" exhibit. These artifacts were retrieved from the slopes of the mountain and leave little doubt as to what happened to these adventurers.

Mystery of the Lost Expedition

Mystery of the Lost Expedition

Mystery of the Lost Expedition

Mystery of the Lost Expedition

Mystery of the Lost Expedition

As you approach the train platform, pictures of your staff line the wall. Under each photo you'll find their title and job function. For example, it's the responsibility of the Expedition Leaders to organize the food, supplies, and gear, select team members, and monitor their health and well-being. The Porter carries equipment and food weighing in excess of 125 pounds.

Train Station

Expediton Leaders


If you would like to ride at the front of the train, just tell the cast member who is directing guests to their seats. You will be asked to step aside and wait in another line. Personally, I don't see the front of the train adding any additional thrill so if this second line is long, I'd just sit where directed.

After boarding the old converted tea train and securing the lap restraint, your journey begins. With a toot of the whistle, the train pulls out of the station and passes a siding before easing down a slight dip in the track. It then begins a small climb as you hear the sounds of birds native to Nepal.

Secure in Your Seat

The Journey Begins

The First Incline

The train glides down another hill as you pass beside a waterfall and underneath an old trestle. The track straightens out for a few moments as you cross the lowlands that surround the mountain chain. Once again, the arid nature of the area is noticeable by the sparse placement of the plant life.

Tracks and Waterfall

Overhead Trestle

Straight Track

After another hairpin turn, the train starts up a steep incline. To the left is a ceremonial stairway leading to an ancient fortress. As the train passes through a tunnel beneath this citadel, ceremonial drums, gongs, and low churning horns can be heard. Overhead on the back wall is a fresco of the Yeti, guardian of the Forbidden Mountain.

Incline to Fortress


Yeti Fresco

As we exit the tunnel the train whistle blows and we discover we're high above the ground on the old trestle seen earlier and remember that Serka Zong means "fortress of the chasm." Off to our right is a stunning view of this charming village and Discovery River. Ahead are the inhospitable mountains beckoning us forward.


Serka Zong and Discovery River

Inhospitable Mountains

Across the 110 foot high trestle we cross a mountain crest and speed downhill along a curve and into an ice cavern.

Ice Valley

Ice Cave

On the other side of the cavern the train speeds up a sharp incline and comes to an abrupt stop. It seems that the track ahead has been ripped up, preventing us from going forward.

Emerging from the Ice Cave

No Track Ahead

Sitting in the front seat of the train affords the rider with a spectacular view of Walt Disney World. However, for me, this breaks the storyline of being high in the Himalayan Mountains and I usually avoid this seat.

View from the top of Everest

The train sits perched for several moments on this precarious slope. Overhead, prayer flags flap in the wind. To the side of the cars, large footprints and claw marks can be seen in the snow. At the same time, gravity is tugging on the train whose brakes are not equipped to handle this sort of stress. Soon the train begins to shake and rumble and eventually, the brakes fail. The cars begin to move backwards, picking up speed as they travel back into the ice cave. But this is not the same route that was used to ascend the peak. We now find ourselves hurtling in reverse deep within the mountain. Eventually, we come to a second stop within a large cavern. On the wall before us we can see the shadow of the Yeti ripping up more track.

Shadow of the Yeti

A few moments later, the train reverses directions again and starts moving forward down an eighty foot hill, reaching a speed of fifty miles per hour. The train passes through a bamboo forest then races up the other side of the mountain and disappears into another cave.

Leaving the Cave

Down the Hill We Go

At the Bottom of the Mountain

Back Inside the Mountain

Emerging on the other side of the mountain, the train spirals upwards through another forest before plunging back into the cave and darkness. As the track straightens out, we see the actual Yeti perched on a ledge above us, reaching out to grab anyone within his reach.

Racing Through the Forest

The Yeti Attacks

Narrowly escaping the Yeti's clutches, the train rumbles forward and out into the open once again. Fortunately, the Serka Zong Station and safety are close at hand.

Back at Serka Zong Station

After exiting the train, you enter Serka Zong Bazaar, a shop set up by the townsfolk to cash in on the tourist trade. Besides the normal souvenir purchases, a number of handicraft items are on display.

Serka Zong Bazaar

Serka Zong Bazaar

Serka Zong Bazaar

Serka Zong Bazaar

Outside the Bazaar is a large courtyard and wonderful spot for taking a few pictures of the mountains. Be sure to look at the scenery on the other side of the wall. You'll see more yeti shrines and a dry riverbed created by the spring runoff.


Dry Riverbed

Yeti Shrine

Expedition Everest is an extremely popular attraction. If you want to ride, I suggest making this one of your first stops of the morning. FastPass and a Single Rider Line are available. Children must be 44" in height to ride. Guests in wheelchairs must transfer to the train. Near the Single Rider Line is a mockup of the Special Needs train seat and transfer instructions.

Special Needs Seat

Special Needs Seat Instructions

I have created a seven minute video of Expedition Everest. However, I've done more than just film the ride. I tried to capture the surrounding area and recreate the "feel" the Imagineers were trying to convey. Enjoy.

April 13, 2010

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain - Part One

Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Expedition Everest Logo

Like so many of my articles, I must start this one in Anaheim, California. You see, the yeti at Expedition Everest isn't the first such creature to inhabit a Disney mountain. In 1959, Disneyland saw a major expansion with the opening of the Disneyland/Alwig Monorail, the Submarine Voyage, and the Matterhorn Bobsleds. This was a big year for Walt and he was proud of how his fledgling park was shaping up.

Monorail, Submarine, and Matterhorn

But there is an interesting side note to one of these new attractions that many are too young to remember. In the early years, the interior of the Matterhorn was one large cavernous opening where girders, chicken-wire, and wooden beams were easily seen during the ascent and ride. It would be an understatement to say that these construction materials broke the illusion of actually bobsledding down a real mountain.

An elaborate interior was always planned from the very beginning, but cash was short and it was decided to hold off and complete the inside in a year or so. Then the New York World's Fair came along and consumed most of the company's time and money. Following soon after that, the acquisition of land for Walt Disney World began. Not to mention, the Matterhorn was one of Disneyland's most popular attractions and management didn't like the idea of closing it for an extended period. So for many years, riders of this "E" ticket attraction had the illusion of a real mountain shattered the moment their bobsled ventured inside the structure.

In the mid '70s, it was finally decided that this eyesore needed to be corrected and the Imagineers dusted off the original plans and added some enhancements. After an extensive rehab, the Matterhorn reopened in 1978. Gone were the girders and chicken-wire to be replaced with a network of ice caves - and the abominable snowman.

Abominable Snowman

Affectionately called Harold by some, I wouldn't actually call the Matterhorn's Abominable Snowman scary, but his presence and the ice caves added a much needed lift to this Disneyland favorite.

When the Animal Kingdom was being designed and promoted, it was billed as having real, prehistoric, and mythological animals. As we know, the real animals live throughout the park and the prehistoric ones can be found in Dinoland U.S.A. But for a number of years, there were no mythological creatures to be found in this park.

A never built land, to be called Beastly Kingdom, was to be home to these mythological creatures. The premier attraction for Beastly Kingdom was to be a dragon-themed coaster. But like the interior of the Matterhorn, budget constraints got in the way and it was decided to make Beastly Kingdom a Phase Two project and open it at a later date. However, without Beastly Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom would feel incomplete so the Imagineers threw together The Festival of the Lion King Show using old floats from Disneyland and created Camp Minnie/Mickey as an inexpensive place holder until finances facilitated replacing it with Beastly Kingdom.

Camp Minnie/Mickey

The Festival of the Lion King Show

Have you ever noticed the unusual rock formation off to the right while crossing the bridge into Camp Minnie/Mickey? If you look closely you'll discover it is in the shape of a dragon's head. That's because this area was to be Beastly Kingdom.

Dragon Waterfall

In the meantime, Islands of Adventure opened at nearby Universal Studios with a Lost Continent area that featured twin coasters called Dueling Dragons. Since Disney likes to be a leader, not a follower, their planned dragon-themed coaster lost some of its appeal. In addition, the "temporary" Festival of the Lion King show had become extremely popular, making it difficult to justify closing Camp Minnie/Mickey to make room for Beastly Kingdom. Yet the park still needed to feature mythological creatures as originally advertised and it also desperately needed to add another "E" ticket attraction for this ride-deficient park.

Remembering the Matterhorn, the Imagineers started to think how the abominable snowman had breathed new life into this already popular attraction. Continuing with this train of thought they wondered if a similar mountain and creature in the Animal Kingdom might be just what the park needed. Of course, the European continent is not represented at the Animal Kingdom so duplicating the Matterhorn was not an option. Instead, the Imagineers decided to introduce the abominable snowman's cousin, the yeti who is fabled to live in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia, a land that already existed in the park. Yeti is a Sherpa word meaning "magical creature."

When people think of the Himalayan Mountains, they automatically think of Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world. But unfortunately, this mountain lacks a distinctive shape like the Matterhorn. In fact, it's rather unremarkable in appearance. So lead Imagineer Joe Rohde decided to create a "range" of mountains and place Everest in the background. By doing this, Everest didn't need to be the "tallest" mountain in the range since it was "far off" in the distance. This also allowed the Imagineers to come up with a more interesting peak to build their story around - Forbidden Mountain.

Everest and Forbidden Mountain

Although most people call this attraction Expedition Everest, its full name is Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. This can be seen on the banner and partially hidden poster near the entrance of the attraction.

Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain Sign

In an effort to make Disney's Himalayan range as authentic as possible, the Imagineers made a number of trips to Nepal, Tibet, and China to study the topography, architecture, and myths of these areas. What they brought back with them was knowledge of a rich culture and heritage that they hoped to recreate in the Animal Kingdom.

When the Animal Kingdom was in its planning stages, Michael Eisner insisted that the park portray an environmental message -- a message that promotes harmony between man, the planet, and the animals that coexist with us. While researching the yeti, the Imagineers learned that this creature was far more than a ferocious beast. It was the protector of the mountains and its surroundings.

Much thought went into the design of the yeti. The Imagineers wanted to create a realistic animal that might actually live in the high altitude and cold environment of the Himalayans, not a sci-fi monster. A number of primates, including the golden monkey and orangutan, were studied and various aspects of each were used, along with other practical adaptations, to create what we see today. When these concepts were transitioned from paper to machinery, the largest, most dynamic, and fastest AudioAnimatronics figure ever created was designed and built. So intense is the yeti's movement that he had to be placed on a separate foundation that did not touch the track or mountain's structure.


Designing the mountain range was another arduous task. The Imagineers created twenty-four models before they settled on a final design. Then, using laser technology, their six-foot model was scanned into a computer. Once digitalized, the Imagineers could fine tune the ride sequence and create detailed drawings that would be needed to construct the attraction. What we see is an accurate depiction of the northwest face of Mount Everest

I mentioned earlier that the yeti stands on his own foundation. In addition to this, the track and mountains also stand on their own, separate foundations and do not touch one another. The designers endeavored to put six inches of space between the track and the mountain. This was necessary to insure that the vibration of the trains rumbling through the mountain and the swaying of the track did not shake, crack, and damage the mountain's structure. Unfortunately, the yeti's intense movement proved to be too much for its foundation and it cracked sometime ago. Because of this, the yeti has been switched from Mode "A" operation (movement) to Mode "B" operation (stationary with strobe lights and fans). It's my understanding that the damage is great enough that repairs will need to wait until the attraction is closed for rehab.

The mountain range sits on six acres of land and was crafted using more than 3,000 prefabricated "chips" created from 25,000 individual computer -molded pieces of steel. The mountains contain 1,800 tons of steel. That is about six times the amount of steel used in a traditional office building of this size. The mountains' surface contains 18.7 million pounds of concrete and 2,000 gallons of paint. The track length is approximately one mile and reaches a top speed of 50 miles per hour at the bottom of the 80 foot drop.

Artist Concept Drawing

At the base of Disney's Himalayan Mountains is the village of Serka Zong. Serka Zong means "fortress of the chasm." This community was based on the styles of several locales but mostly on the Kali Gandaki region of the Annapurna Conservancy in Nepal. Building techniques (or the appearance of which) remained true to the area by using stone and hard packed earth as building blocks.

Stone Construction

Hard Packed Earth Construction

Artists used hammers, chainsaws and blowtorches to "age" wood and buildings in the village to give the appearance of being longstanding parts of the landscape. More than 2,000 handcrafted items from Asia were used in the queue and surrounding area.

Careful attention was also given to the surrounding plant life. More than 900 bamboo plants, 10 species of trees, and 114 species of shrubs were planted around the mountain to simulate the lowlands surrounding the Himalayas.

Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain officially opened April 7, 2006. Before this date, everyone raced to be first in line for Kilimanjaro Safaris. But now the morning crowd splits at the tree of life, half heading off to Africa while the others scramble to get their first adrenaline rush of the day on this great coaster.

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when we will walk the queue and then take a ride on Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain.

March 28, 2010

Discovery Island Shops at Animal Kingdom

Discovery Island at the Animal Kingdom acts like The Hub at the Magic Kingdom. It ties all of the outlying lands together in a harmonious manor. But rather than depict a real geographic location, Discovery Island uses humorous, almost cartoon-like representations of animals to create a whimsical locale that does not conflict with the other areas of the park.

Discovery Island is also home to four shops, Beastly Bazaar, Creature Comforts, Disney Outfitters, and Island Mercantile. Each of these shops has a subtle theme that is easily missed if you don't pay attention. In this blog I'm going to discuss these themes and present a few pictures.

Let's start with Beastly Bazaar.

Beastly Bazaar Sign

Beastly Bazaar is located on the northeast side of Discovery Island, just before you cross the bridge into Asia. The theme here is water animals. But not just fish, also included are amphibians and birds that make water their home or feeding ground. I'm not going to offer any descriptions here as the pictures are self explanatory.

Beastly Bazaar Seahorse

Beastly Bazaar Shrimp and Starfis

Beastly Bazaar Turtle and Eel

Beastly Bazaar Octopus

Beastly Bazaar Fish

Beastly Bazaar Bird

Beastly Bazaar Crab

Beastly Bazaar Fishes

The Creature Comforts shop is located on the northwest side of Discovery Island, before you cross the bridge into Africa. Here, all of the animals either have spots or stripes. Even the overhead light fixture and the lamppost out front carry out this theme.

Creature Comforts Sign

Creature Comforts Giraff

Creature Comforts Zebra

Creature Comforts Tiger

Creature Comforts Antelope

Creature Comforts Light Fixture

Creature Comforts Ladybug

Disney Outfitters is located due south of the Tree of Life. This shop has two themes. First, all of the animal featured here travel in herds. And second, the points of the compass are focal points.

Disney Outfitters Sign

Disney Outfitters North Compass

Disney Outfitters Compass Points

In the four corners of the main building are compass points for north, south, east, and west. These represent the four corners of Africa. Near each compass are beautifully carved posts featuring the animals of that region. Next time you're in this shop, it's worth your time to spend a few minutes admiring their beauty. It's interesting to note, the compass directions do not line up with the "real" world.

Disney Outfitters North Animals

Disney Outfitters East Animals

Disney Outfitters South Animals

Disney Outfitters West Animals

While in this shop, also pay attention to some of the lovely tapestries hanging from the ceiling.

Disney Outfitters Tapestries

Disney Outfitters Tapestries

The last store on Discovery Island is Island Mercantile and it is found to your immediate left after crossing the bridge from The Oasis into this land.

Island Mercantile Sign

Island Mercantile is all about animals that work. The shop's theme begins outdoors with elephants holding light fixtures in their trunks.

Island Mercantile Elephant

Inside we find beavers hard at work. Notice the counter with its gnawed log supports.

Island Mercantile Bevers

Island Mercantile Gnawed Log

Located throughout the rest of the store are beasts of burden and industrious creatures that work in groups.

Island Mercantile Camel

Island Mercantile Bees

Island Mercantile Ants

I know a lot of you think I know everything about Disney. But nothing could be further from the truth. I'm constantly learning new stuff. I only recently discovered that Island Mercantile and Creature Comforts had themes - and I learned this by reading other pages on But after acquiring this knowledge, I knew that if these two shops had themes, then the others on Discovery Island must as well. So I made a trip to the Animal Kingdom to see what I could find out.

I realize that a lot of the details I point out to you seem obvious, but they're not always. Sometimes I have to do research and ask questions. In this case, I couldn't figure out the theme of Disney Outfitters so I asked a cast member. And when that cast member didn't know, I asked another and another. So don't feel bad that you haven't noticed a particular detail, theme, or story. Just remember not to take things at face value and always be on the lookout for the magic the Imagineers have designed into everything.

March 15, 2010

Wildlife Discovery Excursion

Recently, I joined Deb Wills and editor Deb Koma on a special safari adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom called Wildlife Discovery Excursion. This adventure is only available to guests staying in a concierge room (Club Level) at any Disney World resort. I was excited to be part of this very limited adventure.

Our excursion was scheduled to begin at 1pm and we were instructed to meet in front of the Mombasa Marketplace shop in Africa at 12:45. We were met by one of the animal trainers (Susan on the left), and our driver (Suzanne on the right). Susan has twenty years experience working with animals at various zoos and has been caring for many of the creatures here at the Animal Kingdom for the past five. Suzanne normally takes guests on the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction, but occasionally is assigned to host groups on this special tour.

Susan and Suzanne

These tours can accommodate between 14 and 16 guests, but today only one other person was joining our adventure. After introductions were made, we headed backstage and boarded a minibus. With the exception of our vehicle, we were asked not to take any pictures in the backstage area, but once we reached the safari, we were free to snap away to our heart's content. We were also told that we could get up and move around in the minibus, even while the vehicle was in motion.

Safari Vehicle Exterior

Safari Vehicle Interior

As we pulled away, Susan told us that this was a very informal tour. She had plenty of information to share with us, but she preferred tours where the guests ask lots of questions. She also said the tour would last around an hour, but could be longer depending on the animals we encounter and how many questions we asked.

Our vehicle skirted the west side of Kilimanjaro Safaris for a few minutes and Susan pointed out a fence that encircles the entire attraction. This fence is used to keep the native Floridian animals from venturing into this area. After driving along several backstage roads, our minibus eventually turned onto a spur road of the Kilimanjaro Safaris and eventually joined the main thoroughfare and we were now traveling along with the other vehicles on this attraction.

On the Main Road

I have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris over one hundred times. I could probably give the tour myself I'm so familiar with the spiel presented during this twenty minute ride. But today I learned so much more. You see on this tour, you're not given the same information as you receive on the safari. Here, your guide fills your head with all sorts of interesting and new facts. The first thing I learned was that Disney participates in a national breeding program. A governing board keeps track of all the different species around the country and determines an optimal number. Then zoos are requested to encourage or discourage breeding appropriately.

I have noticed that as you enter the hippopotamus enclosure, the first watering hole on the right is always sparsely populated while the second pool on the left seems to have an abundance of these creatures. Well, there's a reason for this. It's been determined that currently there are enough hippos in U.S. zoos so Disney is keeping the males and females separated in accordance with this national directive. The two males live in this first enclosure and the many more females live in the second.


Next we drove over the crocodile paddock. We didn't discuss these creatures in any detail but they always look a little scary to me.


From the crocks we drove over a hill and into the savannah. After a short distance, Suzanne pulled our minibus off onto a side road and we parked for several minutes. However, there were no animals in this immediate area so we talked of other things.

If you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris more than once, you've probably noticed that you saw different animals on different excursions. Or that certain areas might seem void of animals while other spots have an abundance of creatures. That's because Disney does not force the animals to exhibit themselves. They are completely free to roam at will (within the safety of their particular enclosure). However, Disney does employ tricks to entice the animals within view of the tour. In some places, special treats are placed inconspicuously to encourage nibbling close to the road. And for the lions, the rocks are cooled and heated to persuade them to lie within our view.

While parked in the savannah, Susan mentioned the wire netting encircling the trees. She explained that many of the animals gnaw on the bark and the trees would be stripped clean and die in no time if they didn't take this precaution. She also told us that every morning, the horticulturists inspect the entire safari and replant and replenish much of the vegetation.

Tree with Wire Netting

As we continued our tour, we came across a giraffe lying down in the grass. Susan said that this is unusual as they usually spend their days walking and eating. She also brought out a box of giraffe droppings and explained to us that the vets use droppings to gain an abundance of information about the various animals - including if they might be pregnant.


Giraffe Droppings

Since it wasn't a busy day at the Animal Kingdom, the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction was not running at full capacity. This allowed our minibus to travel slower than usual and even come to a complete stop if we were trying to photograph a particular animal. However, as soon as another safari vehicle caught up with us, we had to move along.

Next we came to the elephants. While passing these mighty beasts, Susan showed us a sample of the hair that grows from their tails. We were allowed to touch it and we agreed it was extraordinarily thick and almost felt like wire.



Elephant Hair

For those of you who have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris before, you know that the mandrill is often elusive. But today we were lucky and were able to capture some great pictures. Of course, it helped that Suzanne slowed down our vehicle considerably to afford us some good shots.


As our tour continued, we pulled off the road several more times for additional pictures and informative conversations. Here we're parked near an ostrich nest. At this stop we learned that all of the ostriches at the Animal Kingdom are female and you can tell males and females apart by their color. Females are gray and males are black. However, one of the females here recently molted and when her feathers grew back, they were black. At the moment, they don't have an explanation for this odd behavior.




We were also told that an ostrich can weigh between 140 to 290 pounds. Because of this, the eggs are extremely thick in order to withstand the weight of the mother sitting on them. Susan said she often will have children in the group stand on one of the eggs to demonstrate their strength. The shiny texture you see in this next picture is natural. This egg was not coated with varnish.

Ostrich Egg

We were also told that the ostriches here are continually laying eggs, but since they are not fertile, the animal keepers gather most of them up. The yolks and whites are then blown out and the eggs are used by artisans to be either painted or carved.

Since much of this tour could be a little dry for children, Disney makes sure they are not forgotten. Each child on the tour is provided with a drawing board and crayons and is encourage to circle the animals they spot and draw others in the white space. On the back, more coloring options are provided with a conservation message.

Children's Drawing Board

Coloring Page

As we passed the flamingo enclosure, we're told that their island is a large hidden Mickey.

Flamingos and Hidden Mickey


We pulled off the road again and drove up to a ridge that separates the west savannah from the east. Here we had a wonderful view of the safari not available to regular guests.



While we were up on this ridge, a curious giraffe ambled over to our minibus and checked us out. It's practically impossible to get pictures like this on the regular safari ride.




From this vantage point, I could also see some of the hidden "treat" locations and this salt and mineral lick spot.

Salt and Mineral Lick

Susan explained to us that the animals are encouraged to return to their backstage barns in the evening and each species has a distinct call it has been trained to respond to. At night, the animals are given a health inspection and routine medical procedures are performed.

When discussing the oryx, Susan showed us one of their horns. She pointed out how it had split near the base. If this horn belonged to a living creature, the vets would fill it with an epoxy resin to ensure that dirt and humidity didn't cause this inner tissue to become infected.



Although no rhinos were out while we were touring, Susan showed us a rhino horn and explained how these creatures are being slaughtered for this simple body part.

Rhino Horn

We pulled off the road again across from the cheetahs. This is another animal that is often difficult to see and photograph while on the regular Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Susan explained to us that male cheetahs live in groups while females live alone with their litter.


Lions sleep up to twenty hours a day and do most of their hunting during the night. Because of this, it is often difficult to get a good picture of these majestic cats while on the regular tour. But we were somewhat fortunate and our driver Suzanne was able to stop our minibus for a minute and I was able to snap these pictures.



After passing by the poachers camp, we left the regular trail and headed backstage. We spent a few more minutes with our guide and trainer and posed for this picture. We were also given FastPasses that were good immediately for Kilimanjaro Safaris enabling us to experience everything again, albeit at a faster pace.

Group Picture

I took over three hundred pictures while I was on this tour and I did not post all of the species I photographed. My aim today was to give you an idea of what to expect on the Wildlife Discovery Excursion, not to chronicle every animal we encountered. I also only shared a very small portion of the information I was presented with. And if I can remember 25% of this, I'll be doing good.

Is this tour for everyone? No, it's not. First, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you must be staying in a concierge room at one of the Disney resorts to even be eligible for this experience. And if you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris and have come away satisfied with the information presented, then I wouldn't spend the extra money for this more in-depth tour.

But if you've come away from Kilimanjaro Safaris wanting more, then by all means, sign up for Wildlife Discovery Excursion if you're eligible - especially if your hobby is photography. The driver and guide do their very best to offer guests numerous opportunities to get the best possible shots and you will learn so much more than the average Animal Kingdom guest.

The tour is offered twice daily at 10am and 1pm. The cost is $50 for both children and adults and you sign up at your resort's Concierge Desk.

And because I know someone will ask, I used a Nikon D80 camera with a 18-200mm Nikkor lens. Once back home, I used Paint Shop Pro to crop and enhance a number of my photos on the computer.

Visit the AllEars® Rate and Review Area to see what others have said about the tour and add your own reports!

February 14, 2010

Got A Light? Part Four – Animal Kingdom

This is the last blog in my series about lamp posts. The Animal Kingdom, the newest of the Disney World parks, has a number of custom made fixtures worth your attention. As in previous articles, I'll begin this tour in the parking lot, were we find a utilitarian fixture that is unremarkable at best. The Animal Kingdom usually closes before the sun goes down, but on those occasions when the park is open late, these tall giants help us find our cars by not only illuminating the ground below, but also by marking the section where we parked our car.

Parking Log Lamppost

Near the bus loading and unloading area are these simple fixtures. Banners help spruce up otherwise unremarkable lights.

Bus Station Lampposts

It's not until we arrive at the tram loading area that we get our first taste of the fun lamps that populate the Animal Kingdom. If you look closely at these lights, you can see the park's logo created out of metal and glass.

Tram Lamppost

Tram Lamppost

Animal Kingdom Logo

The Oasis acts as a transition between the outside urban world and the land of nature and animals. In keeping with this natural theme, two bamboo styles of lampposts are used in this area.

Oasis Lamppost

Oasis Lamppost

Discovery Island was designed to tie all of the other lands of the Animal Kingdom together. In this "center" land, you can find a multitude of animals in all shapes and sizes. But the Imagineers didn't want to convey any specific area of the world as this would detract from the other sections of the park. So they created a playful atmosphere - an almost cartoon-land of animals. This design lends itself to some of the most entertaining lampposts at Disney World.

This first lamp is the "basic" fixture of Discovery Island and can be found throughout the area.

Basic Discovery Island Lamppost

In front of the Disney Outfitters store we find this whimsical lamppost. The top is adorned with an owl while the entire pole is supported on the back of a turtle.

Disney Outfitters Lamppost

Turtle Base

The Island Mercantile store was themed with animals that "work." So it's fitting that outside the shop we find elephants holding lanterns in their trunks.

Island Mercantile Lamppost

In front of Pizzafari the lampposts have large butterflies resting on top of the light. This makes sense since moths are drawn to flames. And while you're in the area, be sure to visit the inside of this restaurant for more interesting theming. Each of the four dining rooms displays animals grouped together by their similarities. See if you can figure it out.

Pizzafari Lamppost

Butterfiles on to of Lamppost

In front of the Creature Comforts shop is this amusing ladybug lamppost. Once again, this is appropriate since this store is themed with animals featuring spots and stripes.

Creature Comfort Lamppost

Ladybug Lamppost

Over near Flame Tree BBQ are more fanciful lampposts. The first fixture features a spider and her web while the second displays another owl, but this time, we find bunnies on the lanterns.

Spider Lamppost

Spider Lamppost

Owl and Bunny Lamppost

Owl and Bunny Lamppost

At a first glance, the tower in the next picture looks like nothing more than ornamental decoration. But upon closer inspection, you can see the brightly colored banner actually houses a light. Be sure to take a moment and look at the intricate carvings on this pole. Numerous animals have been meticulously sculpted onto its surface.

Carved Lamppost

Carved Lamppost

Camp Minnie/Mickey only has one light fixture throughout the entire area. To be honest, when I studied it in detail, I wasn't sure it fit with the theme of camping in the Great Outdoors. I would think Coleman lanterns would be more appropriate for this task. Then I got to thinking"¦

As you might already know, Camp Minnie/Mickey was originally built to be a "place holder" until the corporate budget could afford to build Beastly Kingdom, an area featuring mythological animals. At that time, Camp Minnie/Mickey would be razed to make room for a mystical land filled with fabled creatures. I think these existing light fixtures tell this second story far more effectively and perhaps the Imagineers always planned to reuse them in Beastly Kingdom. Hmmm.

Camp Minnie/Mickey Lamppost

Camp Minnie/Mickey Lamppost

On the bridge leading into Africa and Harambe we find this double-fixture leading the way.

Africal Bridge Lamppost

Much of the lighting in the central marketplace of Harambe comes from overhead fixtures strung across the street. It's not until you leave the village and enter the outskirts of town that you find a smattering of lampposts. Most of these are simple and makeshift as much of Africa is poor and expensive fixtures would be out of the question.

African Outskirts Lamppost

One would assume that these next two, more elaborate examples, were brought to Harambe by Europeans during the colonial years.

Colonial Lamppost

Colonial Lamppost

There are no lampposts on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This area is a nature preserve where scientists and students observe animals in their natural habitat. The last thing you would want to do in this environment is draw attention to yourself so the trails were intentionally left dark.

There is a long pathway that leads from Harambe, Africa to Anandapur, Asia. As you would expect, the lighting changes as you leave one area for another. The first picture is on the African side and the second on the Asian.

African Trail Lamppost

Asian Trail Lamppost

On the bridge that leads from Discovery Island into Asia we find this next lamppost. It has a decided Thai design.

Asian Bridge Lamppost

As we enter Anandapur we see a number of rusting electrical towers. Attached to these are neon fixtures. As we venture out of town, the metal towers give way to a more traditional wooden pole to carry the jumble of wires and lighting fixtures.

Anandapur Metal Tower Lamppost

Anandapur Wooden Pole Lamppost

A few ornamental lampposts can be found scattered around the area.

Asian Ornamental Lamppost

Guests enter the Kali River Rapids attraction via an elaborate temple. As no expense was spared when building this opulent structure, it makes sense to find ornate lampposts were incorporated into the design.

Kali Temple Lamppost

There are no lampposts along the Maharaja Jungle Trek. The only lighting here comes from stone lanterns that line portions of the path.

Maharaja Jungle Trek Lantern

Our next stop in Asia is Expedition Everest. As the setting here is in the high plains that surround the Himalayan Mountains, resources are scarce and money is hard to come by. Most of the structures are makeshift and the lampposts are no exception. Near the more populated area surrounding the booking office and temple we see light fixtures hanging from electrical poles.

Electrical Tower Lamppost

As we venture further away from civilization, kerosene lanterns become the main source of lighting - including that Coleman lantern that I think should be found in Camp Minnie/Mickey.

Kerosene Lanterns

Kerosene Lanterns

Kerosene Lanterns

Kerosene Lanterns

Our final stop in the Animal Kingdom is Dinoland USA. One must remember the backstory for this land in order for some of the posts to make sense. Before prehistoric bones were found in the area, there was little here except an old hunting lodge. Because of this, lamps are simple and rustic as can be seen by these next two examples.

Hunting Lodge Lampposts

Hunting Lodge Lamppost

This next fixture adorns the walkway leading to the old lodge.

Hunting Lodge Lamppost

Years later, when fossils were discovered and the Dino Institute was built, the areas around the digs were provided with more up-to-date lamps and the institute was given a fixture appropriate to its stately architecture.

Dig Lamppost

Dino Institute Lamppost

Along the road that separates the Dino Institute from Chester and Hester's Dinorama, lampposts typical of many highways can be found.

Highway Lamppost

There are no lamppost at Chester and Hester's. All of the lighting here is provided by dozens of bare light bulbs strung overhead.

Outside the Theater in the Wild is this modern lamppost. It fits appropriately with the building's contemporary architecture.

Theater in the Wild Lamppost

Well that's it for my lamppost blogs. I hope you've enjoyed my tour of these lighting fixtures around the four parks of Walt Disney World. As I said in my first blog, there are numerous other lighting options that are every bit as interesting and themed appropriately to their surroundings. My main objective in writing this article was to help open your eyes to the many details that surround you when you visit this magical place. Little things we take for granted and don't even notice, play a part in our overall enjoyment of the parks. Who would have thought that lampposts could be interesting?

Next time you visit, pick a topic. Check out doorknobs, or fences, or windows -- anything you like. Then pay attention as you move from land to land and park to park. You'll be amazed at what you discover.

February 2, 2010

Animal Kingdom Opening Show

As some of you early birds might know, Disney presents a short "Welcome to the Animal Kingdom" show each morning. However, there has been a slight change. But before I get to that, let me tell you how it used to be.

Each morning, about fifteen minutes before the park's official opening, a "family of the day" was introduced to all the guests waiting behind the turnstiles. This lucky group helped with the count-down and officially opened the park. Soon after, the gates opened and everyone rushed to a restraining rope near the entrance of Discovery Island (in front of the Tree of Life).

About ten minutes before the park opened, several youngsters were selected to crank open the Tip Board. A big "to-do" was made of this mini-ceremony and the kids seemed to love it.

Tip Board Ceremony

Five minutes before the park opened, a flatbed truck drove up carrying Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto. The group welcomed everyone to the park and reminded us to use our sunscreen, take lots of pictures, and don't forget our guide maps.

Flatbed Truck with Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto

Then a radio dispatch came in from Mickey and the group eventually spotted him rising in front of the Tree of Life. After a few more welcoming words, the restraining ropes were removed, the park opened, and everyone walked (yeah, right) to Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Mickey at the Tree of Life

I was at the Animal Kingdom today and was first in line at the turnstiles. I noticed cast members stringing restraining ropes across the opening of The Oasis (about thirty feet on the other side of the turnstiles). About fifteen minutes before the park opened, everyone was allowed through the gates and up to the ropes. Shortly thereafter, the same, brightly colored flatbed truck appeared, only Goofy was missing and was replaced by Mickey. Once positioned before the crowd, the same basic opening skit was performed. However, there was no "searching for Mickey" since he was already on the truck. When the show was over, the truck drove out of sight, the ropes were removed, and we were free to enter the rest of the Animal Kingdom.

Characters Arrive on Truck

Minnie, Mickey, and Pluto

I asked a cast member when this change took place. She said management tried this new procedure out during the Christmas season and they liked it enough to make it permanent. I then asked her what motivated the change. She didn't know.

I suspect the reason is that more people can see the truck and characters with this new arrangement. When the show took place on Discovery Island, space was limited and only the people near the rope could see the goings-on. This new arrangement plays to a larger audience as the area in front of The Oasis is much broader.

Although I personally couldn't care less about the "family of the day" and the children selected to unveil the tip board, I suspect this was a Magical Moment for those chosen and it's a shame this portion of the show has been eliminated for their sakes. Also, I thought it was cool seeing Mickey appear in front of the Tree of Life. I suppose it's a trade off so more people can see the show and I believe management felt the disadvantages were worth the gains.

January 11, 2010

Have a Seat in Walt Disney World - Part 3

Like everything that Disney does, theming is paramount. In this multi-part blog I'll be touring all four parks and pointing out benches, chairs, and other seating options that have been themed specifically for a land or area. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on non-restaurant seating.

Part 1 covered the Magic Kingdom.
Part 2 covered Epcot.

Let's move on to the Animal Kingdom.

The first benches you come to here are on Discovery Island. These multi-colored, multi-shaped seats are made out of recycled plastic products.

Recycled Milk Carton Bench

Also on Discovery Island is this lovely wall and bench.

Rock Wall and Bench

Africa has several large planters with wrap-around benches. In addition, some seating is incorporated into the actual building.

Africa Planter/Bench

Africa Wall-Bench

Behind Tamu Tamu Refreshments is a secluded courtyard called Fort Harambe. A number of trees and overhangs create a shady spot where you can sit at tables and recharge your body.

Tamu Tamu Table and Chairs

Another shady spot can be found next to the entrance to Tusker House. Numerous tables and cushioned chairs are on hand and live entertainment takes place in this area -- not to mention the Dawa Bar is nearby serving luscious libations.

Dawa Bar Seating

Perhaps the most charming spot to sit in at the Animal Kingdom can be found at the entrance to Asia. Here, a simple wooden bench has been placed between the paws of a crumbling idol. This same bench can be found in other nearby locations, but none are so interestingly placed.

Asia Idol Seating

Asian Basic Bench

Across from the Flights of Wonder bird show is a pleasant spot to take a break. This covered area has a number of tables and chairs to relax in and is seldom busy. Notice that the chairs are mismatched. This would be typical in some of the poorer nations of Asia.

Asia Table and Chairs

Next to the Drinkwallah beverage stand is one of the most unusual seating spots in Asia. This sentry post features several hand-crafted barstools and offers good views of Discovery River.

Asia Sentry Post

Sentry Post Barstools

Although more of a photo op than a place to spend time, this rickshaw is enticing.


Simple, weathered benches like this next example can be found throughout Asia.

Asian Weathered Bench

I complained earlier that some of the benches in Epcot were as hard as a rock. Well a few of the seating choices near Expedition: Everest literally are rocks.

Expediton: Everest Rock Bench

Next stop, Dinoland U.S.A.. As Restaurantosaurus was originally a hunting lodge, the benches in this area are rustic and simple.

Restaurantosaurus Bench

Over at Chester and Hester's we find a variety of seating options. Next to the gift shop is this interesting bench with glass dinosaurs embedded into the surface.

Dinosaur Bench

Dinosaur Bench Close-up

Near the old barn are a number of picnic tables. These are especially useful to those of you who have brought your own food into the park.

Dinoland Picnic Table

Over on the midway the benches are painted in bright colors. This fits in perfectly with the carnival like atmosphere of the area.

Midway Bench

The seating in front of the Finding Nemo show is an example of a fence being used as a bench.

Finding Nemo Fench/Bench

Our last stop in the Animal Kingdom is Camp Minnie-Mickey. The benches here are built out a real branches. Because of this, no two are exactly alike.

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey Bench

The final park on our tour is Disney's Hollywood Studios, so stop by tomorrow!

December 13, 2009

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

I recently wrote a blog about the Maharajah Jungle Trek located in the Asia section of Disney's Animal Kingdom. I called this attraction a "hidden treasure" since it is so often overlooked by guests visiting this park. Today, I'm writing about its sister attraction found in Africa, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is another hidden treasure and should not be skipped. "Pangani" is Swahili for "place of enchantment."

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Sign

Located near the exit of Kilimanjaro Safari, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail offers guests a chance to view a number of East African animals at a more relaxed pace than the "two-week expedition" that they may have just enjoyed. But entrance into this nature preserve is not limited to those who just returned from the safari. Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is open to anyone in the area with the entrance just to the left of the Harambe Railway Station.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail Entrance

The Exploration Trail passes through the Pangani Forest Conservation School and Wildlife Sanctuary. This educational center is a joint effort between the citizens of Harambe and international preservation groups. It is overseen by Dr. Kulunda and is staffed by research students from around the world. These students are stationed throughout the center and are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the animals.

Trail Entrance

Harambe/Pangani Forest Conservation Sign

Research Student

The first exhibit found along the trail is an abandoned termite mound. A side portion of this rock-hard structure built of mud and termite saliva has been cut away. This allows guests to peer into the hidden world of this subterranean insect. Careful observation will reveal food storage areas, underground farming, air conditioning, nurseries, and water reserves.

Termite Mound

Termite Sign

The next stop along the trail is the Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre. This area has been set aside for the care and rehabilitation of wild African species. Endangered animals are provided with shelter, medical care, and relocation to a protected environment once it is considered safe to do so.

Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre

Endangered Animal Rehabilitation Centre

Currently, the Angolan Blank & White Colobus Monkey is being cared for here. These monkeys are from neighboring forests where over-hunting has caused serious declines in their population.

Colobus monkeys live in small groups of ten to fifteen. Births peak during the rainy season and the newborns are completely white. Their coloring doesn't begin to emerge until about three months of age. Their black and white fur is a form of protection as it breaks up their outline and makes it difficult to spot them in the trees.

Colobus Monkeys

Colobus Monkeys

Further down the trail is an Observation Blind. Blinds like this are used to observe animals without disturbing their instinctive behaviors. Careful study of an animal in its natural habitat is the first step to understanding how they survive in the wild. This information can then be shared with others and solutions for insuring their protection can be found. One of the best rules to follow when observing animals in the wild is to be quiet. All of the surrounding creatures can hear better than you.

Observation Blind Sign

Two of the animals currently seen here are the Yellow-backed Duiker and the Okapi.

The duiker (an antelope) eats leaves, buds, herbs, berries and several insects like termites and ants. They weigh between 125 and 175 pounds and they can live from between 10 and 12 years. Their natural enemies are the leopard, crocodile, and python.

Even though you might think the okapi is related to the zebra due to the stripes on its hind quarters, it's actually the only known relative to the giraffe. It is theorized that the giraffe developed a longer neck in response to heavy competition for food in the sparse savannah grasslands. Whereas the okapi didn't face similar struggles in the densely overgrown rainforest. On a nearby table, the skulls of both animals point out the similarities of the two beasts.


Duiker and Okapi

Okapi and Giraffe Skulls

Near the Observation Blind are chalkboards and a bulletin board containing information about recent sightings. Dr. Kulunda and the research students take copious notes which can be studied here at your leisure.

Research Bulletin Board

Next along the trail we come to the Research Center used by Dr. Kulunda and the team of research students. A desk and numerous bookshelves and cabinets store the equipment they use in their studies.

Research Desk

Research Bookshelves

Also in the Research Center are a number of terrariums housing such creatures as the Spiny Tailed Lizard, Pancake Tortoise, Spiny Mice, and African Hedgehog. These are all being studied by Dr. Kulunda.


But the most interesting of all the specimens here are the Naked Mole Rats. These animals were unknown to the modern world until the mid-1970's when researchers brought their unique lifestyle to light.

Naked Mole Rats

Naked Mole Rats

Neither a mole or a rat, these creatures are more closely related to porcupines, chinchillas, and guinea pigs. They are considered "eusocial" which is extremely rare in mammals. Their behavior more closely resembles ants, termites, and bees as they live in a social atmosphere with a queen, several drones, and many workers. Colonies in the wild range from 20 to 300 individuals with the average consisting of around 75. Naked Mole Rats have extremely poor eyesight and for the most part, are hairless. They live their entire life underground and constantly dig tunnels in search of food.

When leaving the Research Center, you enter a large aviary. A wooden walkway crosses over a stream filled with several varieties of colorful fish. A beautiful waterfall is on hand and twenty-three species of birds fly and swim in this area for your enjoyment.




In the 1950's, the Nile Perch was naively introduced into Lake Victoria for commercial fishing purposes. In no time at all, this aggressive fish began to decimate the native aquatic population and continues to drastically change the ecosystem here.

As part of an international conservation effort, Harambe and the Wildlife Sanctuary have been selected to study the "Lake Victoria Cichlid," one of the endangered species. It is hoped that they can learn more about this fish and help rebuild its population.


Lake Victoria Cichlid

In order to get the most out of the aviary, you need to take your time. Many of the birds are well camouflaged and careful observation is required to find them. A Bird Spotting Guide can be picked up as you enter the aviary. Here we see an African Green Pigeon and the African Jacana.

Bird Spotting Guide

African Green Pigeon

African Jacana

Note, guests with service animals should check with a host or hostess before entering the aviary.

The next stop on our journey brings us to the hippopotamus viewing area. Like many of the other animals found in and around Harambe, the Pangani Wildlife Sanctuary is studying these unique animals.

There are an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 hippos living throughout Africa, but habitat loss is a continuing problem. It was once thought that pigs were the closest genetic relative to the hippo, but in the 1980's it was discovered that they are more closely related to whales and porpoises. Despite their short legs and considerable size, a hippopotamus can easily outrun a man and is considered to be the most aggressive animal in the world. To keep their large bodies cool, hippos spend much of the day huddled together in lakes and streams. At dusk, they emerge to graze on nearby grasses.

When looking for hippos at the Sanctuary, be sure to peer deep toward the back area of the wading pool. Often, they can be seen here, sleeping on the lake bottom. If you visit this area between 4:00 to 4:30, the hippos are frequently more active and you can see them walking near the viewing portals.

Hippopotamus Viewing Area

Sleeping Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus Skull

The two big attractions at the next observation point are the gerenuk and meerkat.

Meerkat Viewing Area

The gerenuk is a species of antelope and the name means "giraffe-necked" in the Somali language. The unique construction of the animal's pelvis allows it to stand on its hind legs and reach leaves, shoots, flowers and fruit that are out of reach of other animals. Male gerenuk grow horns and the species mate year round. Their life span is about eight years in the wild, but they can live thirteen years or more in captivity.



Have you ever wondered what animal Timon from The Lion King was patterned after? Well wonder no more. It's the meerkat.

Meerkats are members of the mongoose family and eat a variety of insects along with reptiles, plants, and eggs. They live in "clans" of about twenty and forage for food as a group. However, one meerkat is always designated as "sentry" and stands a protective watch for about an hour before being replaced by another clan member.

Many tribesmen in Zimbabwean believe the meerkat to be a sun angel that protects villages and stray cattle from werewolf attacks. I don't remember Timon mentioning this in the movie.



The last and largest viewing area of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail showcases the Lowland Gorilla. Visitors first enter a research camp where a large window has been constructed for observation. It's important to note, the gorillas can see and hear you so please be respectful of their home and do NOT tap on the glass.

Gorilla Research Center

Researcher spend days at a time monitoring these animals. In the surrounding area you can see a field desk used by Dr. Kulunda and bunk-beds complete with mosquito netting.

Research Desk

Bunk Beds

There are also a number of displays scattered around the observation room. One features the skulls of a male and female gorilla next to a human's. In addition, the researchers have prepared a large chalkboard with interesting facts about this close relative to man. And as always, a student is on hand to answer questions.

Gorilla and Human Skulls

Gorilla Facts and Figures (Chalkboard)

If you examine some of the nearby crates, you'll discover that poaching is still a constant threat to these remarkable animals.


If none of the gorillas are currently in view here, continue moving along the trail where you'll come to a swaying suspension bridge. On the other side is a beautiful valley where the animals spend much of their time. A nearby map describes their daily activity patterns complete with nesting and feeding areas.

Suspension Bridge

Valley Map

Gorillas are the largest of the primates. Adult males achieve a height of almost six feet and weigh from 310 to 440 pounds. Adult females are around 4 1/2 feet in height and weigh around 220 pounds. A gorilla's life expectancy is between 30 and 50 years. Adult males, typically over the age of twelve, develop a distinctive patch of silver hair on their backs.

Gorillas live in groups called a troop with one dominate male making all decisions. A troop consists of between 5 and 30 animals. Gorillas are herbivores, spending most of their day eating fruits, leaves, and shoots.




The valley is a "quiet zone." Please speak in hushed tones to preserve the natural atmosphere found here. Gorillas view excessive noise and waving arms as a threat. This is their home and we are just visitors in this "place of enchantment."

Gorilla Valley

Near the exit of Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a Kids' Discovery Club desk. Here, a cast member will help children with several clues related to animals. For example, Clue 1 challenges children to identify the tracks found in the ground with the appropriate diagram. When they have solve all of the puzzles, the cast member then presents them with a Kids' Discovery Club Membership Card. On the reverse side, the six lands of the Animal Kingdom are listed. The cast member will help the child stamp the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail space, indicating that they have completed this challenge. Check your guide map for a "K", indicating the other "Kid Discovery Club" locations around the park

Animal Clue


Kids' Discovery Club

Kids Discovery Club

As you exit the park, pay attention to the cave you are about to enter. It takes very little imagination to discover that the rocks form a giant turtle.

Turtle Cave

Found earlier along the trail is a rock formation in the form of Jafar from the movie Aladdin. See if you can find him without asking for help.

The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a wonderful part of Disney's Animal Kingdom. It should not be skipped just to race to some "thrilling" attraction. The animals here are magnificent and provide a "natural" thrill if you'll just let them.

October 16, 2009

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Maharajah Jungle Trek Sign

For centuries, the rajahs of Anandapur hunted tigers in this mystical forest. In 1544, King Bhima Disampati decreed the forest a royal preserve and built a hunting lodge for himself and invited guests. In an effort to make his "sport" easier, he had his subjects enclose much of this area, effectively trapping his prey. Befittingly, he was later killed in a hunting accident. Subsequent maharajahs, seeing the error of this endeavor, transformed this enclosure into a nature preserve where the animals and the local people could live in harmony.

For many years, British colonization oversaw much of Southeast Asia. When their rule ended in 1948, the villagers of Anandapur opened this sanctuary to the outside world. They take great pride in their forest and share their love of animals with visitors as they explore this refuge.

History of Maharajah Jungle Trek

The Maharajah Jungle Trek can be found at the north end of Asia in the Animal Kingdom. This walking trail allows guests to see a variety of animals up close and personal. Visitors can spend as little or as much time as they like in this lovely forest. But like so many things in life, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it. Please, don't rush through this wonderful preserve. Slow down and smell the flowers.

Main Entrance

Maharajah Jungle Trek Sign

When you pass through the entrance, look up at the ceiling. Old Anandapur newspapers have been used as insulation.

Newspaper Insulation

On the other side of the entrance, be sure to pick up a guide map and animal description card. A lot of valuable information can be found on these handouts.

Map & Animal Description Cards

Map & Animal Description Cards

Map & Animal Description Cards

The first stop along the way brings us to the Komodo dragon. This largest of all lizards can be found around Anandapur and on the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Montang. Growing to an average length of six and a half to almost ten feet, their large size can be attributed to the fact that there are no larger carnivorous predators on the islands on which they live. For the most part, they eat carrion but they also occasionally hunt for their meals. A Komodo dragon can live as long as 50 years.

Komodo Dragon Enclosure

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon

As I mentioned earlier, the villagers of Anandapur take pride in their preserve and serve as guides along this trail and are full of interesting facts about each species.

Local Villager

Besides the animals, the forest itself is most inviting. Lush, tropical plants abound and the occasional signs are amusing. Be sure to pay attention to the construction of the English sentences. If you've ever traveled to other countries, you know that signs like these can be a great source of amusement.

Jungle Path

Jungle Path

Jungle Path Sign

The next stop along our journey brings us to the Malayan Tapir. Also called the Asian Tapir, this is the only one of four species native to the Asian continent. As conspicuous as we might think the tapir's markings are, this coloration is actually used as camouflage as they look like a large rock to their predators when they sleep.

The Malayan Tapir grows to between six and eight feet and weighs between 550 and 700 pounds. They are vegetarian and forage the forest for tender shoots and leaves. Their eyesight is poor so they rely on their excellent sense of smell and hearing to survive.

Malayan Tapir

Malayan Tapir

Malayan Tapir

The next animal along the trail may give some of you the heebie-jeebies. Bats! But don't worry. If you're uncomfortable with these creatures, the villagers have built an enclosure that allows you to pass through without ever seeing any of these flying mammals. But even if you are squeamish, I strongly urge you to put your fears aside and take a look. The bats are harmless and won't bother you.

Bat Entrance

Bat Bypass

Two types of bats are native to Anandapur - the Giant Flying Fox and the Rodrigues Fruit Bat call the Royal Forest home. Both of these creatures eat fruit and help replenish the forest by spreading seeds in their droppings and carrying pollen from one plant to the next.

The Giant Flying Fox is the largest bat in the world and can have a wingspan of more than six feet. The smaller Rodriques Fruit Bat has a wingspan of around three feet.

Bat Viewing Area

Bat Diagram

Giant Flying Fox

Giant Flying Fox

Also in this room are several terrariums. Here you can view a White-lipped Tree Frog, Blood Python, and an Asian Giant Centipede.


Around the corner from the bat enclosure is a second viewing area for these flying creatures. Ornate windows, beautiful in their own right, look into their habitat. This spot might give those of you suffering from chiroptophobia (fear of bats) a perceived safer vantage point from which to experience these animals.

Bat Viewing Area

For me, the real beauty of the Maharajah Jungle Trek begins at this point. It's here that you enter what were the old hunting grounds of King Bhima Disampati. The decaying ruins are dazzling and it's fun to imagine what this magnificent fortress looked like in its heyday.

Up a flight a stairs we come to a duck-blind. Or should I say tiger-blind. It was on this lookout that the king and his guests would position themselves and wait for the tigers to be coaxed into the fountain to drink and play. From that point on, the animals were easy prey to the hunter's arrows.

Stairs to Tigers

Duck Blind - Tiger Blind


Today, it's thrilling to see these magnificent beasts playing and bathing in the water, safe from hunters. For those of you in a wheelchair or ECV, a ground level vantage point is just around the corner. And don't worry if you don't see any of these large cats enjoying life here. There are more viewing spots along the trail.

Tiger at Fountain

Secondary Tiger Viewing Area

The Anandapur Royal Forest has six Bengal tigers, all female. Since male Bengal tigers fiercely defend their territory from other tigers, it was necessary to omit them from this enclosure. On the other hand, female Bengal tigers will share their terrain with other females.

A fully grown male Bengal tiger weighs between 419-569 pounds and a female weighs between 221-353 pounds. Tigers do not live in prides as lions do. Instead, they live independently and mark their territory by spraying urine on rocks and trees. Tigers live exclusively on meat and hunt a wide variety of animals. Loss of habitat and poaching has put the Bengal tiger on the endangered species list. It's estimated that less than 3,000 Bengal tigers are left in the wild today.

Although none of these beautiful animals are ever forced to perform or exhibit themselves, the villagers used several tricks to coax them into our view. For example, on hot days, the water is cooled in this fountain to encourage the tigers to splash around and play.

After leaving the tiger viewing area, you come to one of my favorite areas along the trail. Here, the walls of the old hunting lodge surround you and the canopy of trees overhead create a peaceful enclosure. Visit this area in the early morning, before the crowds materialize, and you will be transported to nirvana. In this vicinity, you'll also find another charming sign, informing you that you are safe from the tigers as long as you stay on the trail. Pay attention to the details of the structure here. Once again, you can see that King Bhima Disampati spared no expense when he built his lodge in 1544.

Lodge Enclosure

Tiger Fresco

Tiger Sign

In one corner of this enclosure is an ancient coral tree. Here, villagers hang scarves and garland as offerings and bells represent prayers that have been answered.

Ancient Coral Tree

While passing through a large archway, you can see frescos of King Bhima Disampati on the left and more ecologically minded maharajahs on the right and beyond. Notice that the king is holding a bow and arrow whereas the other three maharajahs possess peaceful symbols. It was these three enlightened rulers that helped turn the hunting lodge into an animal preserve after the king's hunting accident.


King Bhima Disampati

Ecologically Minded Maharajah

Ecologically Minded Maharajah

Ecologically Minded Maharajah

On the other side of this arch is the second tiger viewing area. Tigers spend between 16 and 20 hours each day doing very little apart from lying in the shade, sleeping, bathing, and relaxing. If you wish the see the tigers of Anandapur in a more active state, your best bet is to arrive soon after the preserve opens or shortly before it closes.

Tiger Viewing Area




The next stop along the trail brings us to a large courtyard. If you pay close attention to the decaying wall, you can see where a portion of the original structure has been destroyed and removed over time. To plug this gap in the fence, the villagers used rebar to create a new barrier.


Missing Fence

This courtyard offers one of the best spots to view the Blackbuck antelope. Native to India and Anandapur, the Blackbuck is one of the fastest land animals and can outrun most of its predators such as wolves and feral dogs. The Blackbuck eats mostly grass, pods, flowers, and fruit and lives an average of twelve years.

Blackbuck Antelope

Blackbuck Antelope

A short distance from the courtyard is an ancient medicinal garden. The villagers once used this area to grow a multitude of therapeutic herbs and aromatic plants used for healing purposes.

Medicinal Garden

Across from the garden is a watering hole. As any foreign traveler knows, drinking local water can be risky. However, the water here is potable as the overhead sign indicates.

Watering Hole

Watering Hole Sign

Moving on we come to an old bridge. Hanging above it are numerous prayer flags. These square and rectangular shaped pieces of cloth are used to promote wisdom, strength, compassion, and peace. As the wind slowly unravels the fabric, the threads are carried to heaven and these benefits rain down and benefit all.

Prayer Flags

To the left side of the bridge we often find the Banteng. This species of wild cattle is native to tropical Asia including Anandapur. They live in swamp forests and bamboo jungles and feed on grasses, fruit, and the leaves of young branches. The Banteng is active both day and night but nocturnal habits become dominate in places where humans are commonplace.


To the right side of the bridge we come to the final tiger hunting area. This section of the compound is important in that this is the spot that King Bhima Disampati was killed by a tiger while pursuing these beasts. This is depicted in a decaying fresco.

Tiger Hunting Grounds

Death of the King




Traveling on we come to five important murals. These carvings tell the story of how the people of Anandapur became at peace with the animals and land.

In the first carving, we see man and beast living in harmony.


In the second carving, we see the animals taking shelter under a tree. They are frightened and fear the encroachment of man and his destructive ways.


Next we find man at his worst, cutting down the forest and killing the animals.

Man at his Worst

The fourth carving shows the heavens' disapproval of man's destructive ways.

Rath of Heaven

And finally, we see that man has learned from his mistakes and he now once again lives in harmony with his fellow creatures.

Harmony Again

The man depicted in these carvings is Ananta, the founder of the Kingdom of Anandapur. When he died, his remains were placed in a sarcophagus and rest inside a nearby temple.



It's outside this temple that some of you must make a decision. An aviary lies just ahead through the doors. If you have a fear of birds, you might want to take the path to the left that bypasses our feathered friends. Also, guests with service animals should check with a host or hostess before entering the aviary. In addition, your guide map and animal description card can be returned just outside this building.

The aviary is so cleverly built that you would never realize you're inside a giant cage unless you pay close attention. In this enclosure are numerous species of birds native to the areas around Anandapur. Some of these are, Wompoo Fruit Doves, Indian Pygmy Goose, Golden Pheasant, Nicobar Pigeon, and White-throated Kingfisher.






There is also a beautiful collection of ornate birdcages scattered around the area. See how many you can spot.




Far too many people rush through this section of Maharajah Jungle Trek. In order to get the full enjoyment out of this segment of the tour, you need to take the time and look for the birds. Being small, they blend into the surroundings, but it's a lot of fun to spot one and point out your discovery to the rest of your group.

After leaving the aviary, you leave the preserve and head back to the village of Anandapur.

I'm sure many of you are wondering how I know so much about Anandapur and the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Well, I have to admit, I did a little research. But when I was done reading, I walked the trails once again and talked to the local villagers who so proudly man each section of the preserve. They told me everything (and more) that I had learned in my research. And they like nothing better than sharing their knowledge with others. So the next time you find yourself in Asia, be sure to visit this most peaceful section of the Animal Kingdom. And take the time to smell the flowers.

October 7, 2009

Chester & Hester Meet & Greet

Photo Op Sign.jpg

A new, or should I say old, service station has been built at Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama.

Converted Service Station

Once a spot for motorist to fill up their gas tanks and have their cars serviced, this structure now houses a Meet & Greet opportunity in front of a giant "Greetings from Dinoland USA" postcard.

Giant Postcard

Here, guests can have their picture taken with two of Disney's most famous dogs, Goofy and Pluto.

Goofy and Pluto Photo Op

Realizing that this would be a popular attraction, a shaded queue offers some relief from the sun and rain.

Covered Queue

Just like so many other character greetings around property, a Disney photographer is on hand to snap your picture and apply it to your PhotoPass.

I recently wrote a blog about the backstory of Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama. After it was published, several of you wrote to tell me that a photograph of Chester and his wife Hester could be found in the "Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures" shop.

Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures

Photo Location

In these first two pictures, we see a young Chester and Hester proudly opening their new service station and the very first dollar they ever made.

Service Station Opening

First Dollar

This last picture shows them in their golden years.

Chester & Hester Today

And by the way, all of the cast members working at Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama are relatives of this enterprising couple, so don't be surprised if you run into one of their distant cousins. (wink, wink).

August 2, 2009

Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama

When Disney announced and built Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama, I was annoyed. I realized that the Animal Kingdom desperately needed more rides and attractions, but I felt that the bean-counters tried to remedy this situation by the cheapest means possible. They bought "off-the-shelf" rides and had the Imagineers spruce them up the best they could. I also did not like the "carnival" atmosphere they created with the games on the midway. After all, Walt built Disneyland in an effort to get away from this sort of cheap amusement park. So the first time I visited Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, I had a chip on my shoulder and didn't like what I saw.

After some time had passed, it finally sunk into my thick head that Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama wasn't going away. It was here to stay. So I decided to climb down from my high-horse and take another look at this section of Dinoland U.S.A., only this time, I'd try to be objective. Once I did this, and embraced the storyline, I found that the Imagineers actually built a pleasant and engaging area. And like everything else they do, it's full of details.

The story of Dinoland U.S.A. goes something like this. In the early 1940's, Diggs County contained little more than ranch and farmland. This is evident by the barn seen on the property.

Barn and ATM

An elderly married couple, Chester and Hester, owned a rundown gas station and a few acres of land along the highway. This allowed them to eek out a meager living.

Gas Station

They sold Sinclair gasoline. The irony of this would become evident in the years to come.

Sinclair Gas

In 1947, amateur fossil-hunters found some dinosaur bones in the area. Once their authenticity could be verified, scientist and grad students swarmed the area, eager to discover their own finds. An old fishing lodge (Restaurantosaurus) became their gathering place and soon after, the Dino Institute was founded. When time travel was invented in the early 70's, the Institute erected a modern building to facilitate research. To help subsidize costs, tours were offered to non-professionals.

Dino Institute

Meanwhile, Chester and Hester could see others getting rich while their profits had only risen mildly with the influx of tourists. Determined to cash in on the area's new found wealth, they started selling souvenirs as well as gas. It wasn't long before their tacky merchandise was raking in more money than the gas they sold, so they converted the entire service station into a large shop called "Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures."

Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures

Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures

Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures

While in the store, see if you can find a picture of Chester and Hester and the framed "first dollar" they made.


First Dollar

Out back and behind their store they created a photo op where their customers could pose with a whimsical dinosaur.

Whimsical Dinosaur Photo Op

Take a look at some of the corny signs and slogans they erected to attract passing motorists. If you look carefully at the last sign, you can see how they painted over an old GAS sign with a souvenir ad.

Going out of existence sale

Ice Age

Prehistoric Prices

Dirt Cheap

Reused Gas Sign

Another "attention getter" was a dinosaur (if you can call it that) that they created out of plaster, rocks, bottles, and broken glass and mirrors. I've read that there is a Steamboat Willie pin embedded somewhere on this dinosaur, but I have not verified this.

Plaster Dinosaur

Ever frugal, the team used old tires as planters.

Planters made out of Tires

On the roof top you can see a number of homemade dinosaur weathervanes.

Dinosaur Weathervane

As profits started to grow, Chester and Hester decided to build a small amusement park across the street from their souvenir shop. Since their land bordered the main highway, this would be the perfect spot to attract passing tourist aiming for the Dino Institute.

Diggs County Highway

Diggs County Highway

Diggs County Highway

Diggs County Highway

Diggs County Highway

Soon after, Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama was born.

Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama Main Entrance

Like all roadside attractions of the day, numerous signs, advertising the approaching venue, were placed along the highway for miles in both directions.

Roadside Signs

Also found in the vicinity are billboards advertising the Dino Institute and Diggs County.

Dino Institute Billboard

Diggs County Billboard

Near the entrance to Chester & Hester's, the word DINO-RAMA is spelled out with plants. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the ever thrifty couple used old license plates to form the outline of the letters.

DINO-RAMA spelled with Plants

DINO-RAMA spelled with Plants

At one time, there was parking for Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama next to the souvenir shop, but this area has been turned into a picnic area.

Parking Lot

Picnic Area

Typical of the era, "novelty architecture" was brought into play with the creation of a large yellow dinosaur (concreteasaurus) to entice motorists to stop.



The midway, Fossil Fun Games, contains six different challenges.

Dino Whamma!

In this game you use a mallet and lever to try to ring the bell. Some of the "levels of expertise" you can achieve are: Wimposaur, Biceptoraptor, Brawnosaurus, and Triceps-A-Tops

Dino Whamma!

Fossil Fueler

Here you use a water pistol to fill your fuel tank before the other players can achieve the same goal.

Fossil Fueler

Mammoth Marathon

At this game, you roll baseballs into a number of holes with different point designations. With each point, your mammoth advances toward the finish line.

Mammoth Marathon

Comet Crasher

With this contest, you toss comets (balls) into a sea of goblets. The color of the goblet your comet lands in, determines the prize you win.

Comet Crasher


This is a basketball toss game.



As dinosaurs pop up, you whack 'em with your mallet.


The games each cost $2.50 to play; however, the booths do not accept cash. You must purchase coupons at either the nearby souvenir stand, a strolling vendor, or at Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures. The prizes awarded are brightly colored plushes resembling everything from fanciful dinosaurs to snakes. None are Disney characters.

Souvenir Stand

There are other midway attractions besides the games. You can see a "deformed" image of yourself in a wavy mirror.

Wavy Mirror

Have four automatic pictures taken of you and your friends as you cram yourselves into this small picture booth. (Cost, $5).

Photo Booth

Or you can pose for a picture behind a dinosaur cut-out.

Cut-out Picture Op

Chester and Hester took their old vacation trailer and converted it into a concessions stand. Hot dogs, popcorn, and frozen and liquid drinks are for sale at Dino Diner.

Dino Diner

If you look at the pavement, you can tell that Chester and Hester were tight on money when creating their little park. As it expanded, they just built on top of their former parking lot. Also notice the flowerbeds are lined with the old tires that they accumulated over the years running their service station.


Tire Boarder

There are two rides at Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, TriceraTop Spin and Primeval Whirl. Let's start with TriceraTop Spin.

In case you didn't notice, the second "T" in TriceraTop is capitalized. That's because the ride resembles a giant top - the kind you had as a kid and would pump and watch spin.

TriceraTop Spin Sign

The vehicles you ride in are, of course, fanciful triceratops. Each has two seats. The front seat has a lever that controls the pitch and the back seat has a lever that controls the height.

TriceraTop Spin

While spinning, a comet orbits in the opposite direction around the top of the top.

Spinning Comet

The views while riding are also a lot of fun.

View from TriceraTop Spin

View from TriceraTop Spin

If you owned one of these tops as a kid, you might remember that they were cheaply made and usually constructed out of tin. The triceratopses on this ride look like "tin toys" and even have the flaps that were used to fasten them together.

Tin Toy

Another example of the thriftiness of Chester and Hester can be found on a number of signs scattered around the attractions. Once again, they recycled old license plates.

License Plate Exit Sign

The big draw in Diggs County is the time machine over at the Dino Institute. But Chester and Hester didn't want to be left out of the action so they created their own time machine and named it Primeval Whirl. Of course, you don't really go back in time on Primeval Whirl like you do at the Institute. But it is a lot of fun and a little zany.

Rimeval Whirl

There is a height restriction for this ride. Children must be 48" to ride.

Height Restriction Sign

Close observers will notice a striking similarity between these three dinosaurs found near the top of Primeval Whirl and the hitchhiking ghosts of the Haunted Mansion.

Hitchhiking Dinosaurs

Before boarding your time traveling vehicle, you walk past the machinery that makes your journey possible. Trained scientists will notice the sophisticated components Chester and Hester used when creating their time machine like discarded hubcaps and whisks from a Hobart mixer.

Queue and Time Machine

Hub Caps

Whisk from Mixer

You also pass by the technicians, readying your craft.

Technicians and Time Machine

Technicians and Time Machine

Eventually, it's time to board your time machine for a fanciful blast to the past. For those of you who have never ridden, I've created a short video to give you an idea of what it's like to travel through time with Chester and Hester.

My one complaint about this attraction is the seat size. The time machines are designed to hold four people in two seats. However, these seats are extremely small and even two average sized adults would feel cramped squeezing together under one lap bar. If you're a person of size, request a seat to yourself.

My family took many vacations by car during the 1950's and early 1960's, traveling throughout much of the western United States. During our journeys, we encountered a lot of tourist traps. Although none were quite like Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, I think this area is a good compilation of the mom and pop enterprises that once populated the highways, long before the Interstates (and Disneyland) put them out of business. If you're old enough to remember Burma Shave signs, then you should be able to glean a certain amount of nostalgia from this area and appreciate it as a part of our history.

Burma Shave Sign

July 30, 2009

Rafiki’s Planet Watch – The Forgotten Land of the Animal Kingdom

Let's start with a little history. When the Animal Kingdom opened (April 22, 1998 - Earth Day), there was no Rafiki's Planet Watch. Well, there was, but it was called Conservation Station back then and was an outcropping of Africa. Conservation Station failed to spark the guest's imagination so sometime in 2001, this area became its own "land" and was renamed Rafiki's Planet Watch. In reality, not much changed except for the addition of a number of sights to the boring walk from the Conservation Station train to the actual facility. With these new exhibits came a new designation for this walkway, Habitat Habit. In addition, Rafiki, the all knowing mandrill from the Lion King movie, was added to the trail.

These changes helped increase interest, but this area is still under appreciated. I'm going to guess that many of you have experienced Conservation Station/Rafiki's Planet Watch at one time or another. I'll also venture to guess that you came away from the experience saying to yourself, "This was nice, but now let's go do something exciting." If I'm correct, I'm hoping that my blog will convince you to give this "forgotten" land another chance. If you'll just slow down and appreciate that this is not Expedition: Everest, there are many rewards to be found here.

Rafiki's Planet Watch is placed strategically near the exit of Kilimanjaro Safaris and Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The Imagineers' expectation was that you would be so inspired after viewing the animals in the "wild," that you'd want to see how they were cared for backstage and would hop aboard the Wildlife Express to Conservation Station.

Rafiki's Planet Watch Entrance

Wildlife Express Sign

The Harambe Train Station is reminiscent of the European colonial-style structures built in many parts of Africa during the late 19th to early 20th century. Once again, details abound if you take the time to look for them.

Harambe Train Station

When you enter the structure, you'll see a lot of unused queue. It's obvious the Imagineers thought this attraction was going to be more popular than it is. To the far right side of the building are the ticket windows. Posted between them is a sign of interest.

Harambe Station Queue

Ticket Windows


Since the picture's size precludes you reading it, I'll post its contents here.


The Harambe Town Council and Eastern Star Railways are very regretful to announce the cessation of continuous railway service to:


And points beyond.

Service to the above area has been interrupted due to:


Future service to the affected regions will be announced and implemented by the Harambe Town Council and Railway if and when it is deemed to be of public service and of a safely sufficient to appropriate standards.



This sign, and several others in the queue, were intended to be read while waiting in line. It's a shame that these details are passed over as we race to board the train.

Overhead are signs that list the north and southbound stops along the Eastern Star Railway.

Southbound Stops

To each side of the station platform are enclosures containing luggage. These are holding areas used for the loading and unloading of baggage. Also notice the top of the train. This is where possessions are stowed during a trip. If you look closely, you'll notice that the baggage is old and the belongings eclectic. This train caters to a developing area and its passengers are of meager means. All of their worldly goods may be traveling with them. Everything from bicycles, chairs, trunks, crates and safari equipment might be found up here.

Baggage Holding Pins

Top of the Train

The train's engine is modeled after English steam-powered locomotives that traversed Africa in the early 20th century. Close inspection will find that these locomotives have seen better days and have been patched together over the years.

Train Locomotives

The seating on the coaches is side-facing. This allows everyone to have a good view during the five and a half minute ride to Conservation Station. The train can carry 250 passengers. Along the way, the conductor gives a brief overview of what awaits you at Conservation Station and points out some of the sights.

Train Cars

Side Seating

Harambe Station is located at the edge of civilization. As soon as the train pulls out, you are surrounded by lush vegetation as you skirt the east side of Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Lush Vegetation

As your journey continues, the backstage homes of many of the animals come into view. Each night, all of the creatures of the Kilimanjaro Safari are brought to these (and other) enclosures for feeding and care. It's not uncommon to see animals as you pass by this area as they are given occasional "days off" to rest up from their hectic safari duties.

Animal Enclousures

Animal Enclousures

Eventually, the train pulls into Conservation Station where you disembark. There are a few points of interest here, but the real sights lay ahead down the lush trail.

Train Arriving at Conservation Station

Conservation Station

Jungle Walkway

A short distance down the path we encounter Rafiki, pointing the way to Habitat Habit. This is a good photo op for the kids.

Rafiki Pointing the Way

In the early years, there was nothing along this considerable walk to Conservation Station except a thriving jungle. As pleasant as this was, most people found it boring. So when Rafiki's Planet Watch came into existence, this trail was populated with a number of exhibits that promote the environment.

At the first stop along the path we encounter the Cotton Top Tamarin monkey. Here we learn that researchers at the Animal Kingdom are studying these creatures and their habitat. It's hoped that the knowledge gained here can someday help save these endangered animals and their dwindling forest.

Tamarin Monkey Enclousures

Tamarin Monkey

The next encounter along the trail is definitely for the little ones. A simulated backyard has been created and children are taught that the creatures that live near our homes, even the icky ones, are beneficial to our environment.

Habitat Habit

Simulated Backyard

Any child who wishes to participate is loaned a grease pen and board. On the leaf shaped pallet are pictures of all the creatures "hidden" within the backyard. As the children discover a bug or animal, they check it off on their leaf. When they find them all (or most), they return to a cast member who congratulates them on a job well done.

Leaf Grease Board

Hidden Creatures

A Job Well Done

The cast member then presents them with a "Kids' Discovery Club Membership Card.

Kids' Discovery Card

On the reverse side, the six lands of the Animal Kingdom are listed. The cast member then helps the child stamp the Rafiki's Planet Watch space, indicating that they have completed this challenge. Check your guide map for a "K", indicating the other "Kid Discovery Club" locations around the park

Kids' Discovery Care Reverse Side

In the last section of Habitat Habit you'll find a number of signs and simple displays. These encourage us to create "animal friendly" environments in our own backyard.

Environments in your own Backyard

Next stop, Conservation Station. This building's entrance is marked by a large collage of animals. But while taking in this impressive work of art, don't forget to look at the rockwork in the pavement.

Conservation Station Entrance

Conservation Station Rockwork

Once inside, the collage continues. Instead of just walking through this area, take a moment to appreciate this room. It is amazing.

Conservation Station Lobby

For the most part, the public area of Conservation Station is contained in one large room with different areas dedicated to various topics. There are several "cut outs" of animals scattered around this room. On the back side you'll find "Fact"¦ And Fable." The information presented here replaces myths with truths about the creature.

Conservation Station Main Room

Fact... And Fable

To the left of the entrance we find "Song of the Rainforest." Step inside one of these booths for a 3-D sound adventure. Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas narrates this short audio tour. The sound effects are so realistic you'll want to swat the mosquito as it flies in your ear and your skin will crawl when the bird-of-prey snatches its next meal just inches from your head. Also heard is the destructive sound of a chainsaw as it cuts into a tree. The message here is strong - we must save our rainforests.

Song of the Rainforest

Rainforest Sound Booth

Rainforest Sound Booth

To the right of the entrance is a small, stand-up theater. Currently, a short movie about Siberian tigers is shown here.

Movie Theater

For me, the highlight of Conservation Station can be found in the research and care facilities located along the outer wall. A wealth of information is available here for the taking.

The first stop is the Wildlife Tracking Center. One of the many duties performed in this lab is the testing of feces. Samples are continually being gathered from all of the animals throughout the park. Just like with humans, the information garnered from these tests provides invaluable information as to the health of the animal. For instance, by checking the hormone levels in the feces, the technicians can determine if certain animals are pregnant.

Wildlife Tracking Center

And I'm sure the kids will love the poop exhibit. On a table in this room are various stuffed animals. Behind each animal is a sample of its poop.

Poop Exhibit

And if this hasn't satisfied your excrement curiosity, you can actually handle some elephant poop at the next exhibit. Don't worry, it's been incased in some sort of resin so it neither feels yucky or smells. Kids love this.

Conservation Station Exhibit

Also in this area are two knowledgeable cast members. They love nothing better than to answer all of your questions. Here is Suzanne showing me how the researchers at the Animal Kingdom are studying elephant vocalizations. While playing a recording, she showed me a printout of the sounds that they make.

Elephant Vocalizations

Perhaps the biggest draw at Conservation Station is the Veterinarian Treatment room. This is an actual operating room where animals are examined and operated on when necessary. Of course, some of the larger animals are too big to be cared for here, but the general rule is this. If the animal weighs less than 500 pounds and can fit through the door, it is treated here.

Veterinarian Treatment Room

All of the animals are given yearly health check-ups. These are usually scheduled between 10am and 11:30am. The afternoon hours are left open so that the vets can make their rounds out in the field. On the day I visited, an Imperial pigeon from the Maharajah Jungle Trek was being given its yearly exam. If you look closely you can see the anesthesia face mask covering the bird's beak.

Pigeon Health Check-up

Pigeon Health Check-up

Pigeon Health Check-up

I was told that three days earlier a tiger received a root canal in this room. You never know what to expect from day to day. The Animal Kingdom also has its own version of a paramedic vehicle so that the vets can attend to emergencies out in the field.

Continuing along this outer wall we see a number of animal enclosures. These include reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. I know that these slithery creatures might give some of you the heebie-jeebies, but rest assured, they're all safely contained behind glass.

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates

At the final station, we learn about the animal's diet. Actual samples are on display with descriptions of what goes into their daily meals. This is a working facility and cast members can frequently be seen here preparing the food for a given animal group.

Food Station

In the center of Conservation Station, a cast member can often be found with an animal in hand. These animal encounters are scheduled every hour on the hour and will last for about thirty minutes. Here we see Heidi with a Scarlet Snake. After providing us with some background information, she takes questions from the small group gathered around her. She then encourages us to touch the snake.

Heide with Scarlet Snake

Touching the Scarlet Snake

Another cast member is on hand with a disinfectant hand gel. If you touch one of these creatures, it is mandatory that you clean your hands afterwards.

Each hour brings a new animal and more learning opportunities. Here we see a tarantula and an owl. Sorry, I didn't find out the species of either.



Conservation Station also offers good opportunities to meet some Disney characters without huge crowds. Pocahontas, Jiminy Cricket, and Rafiki all make appearances here.

Jiminy Cricket


Before heading outdoors to Affection Section, I needed to use the restroom. When I approached the urinal, I burst out laughing as I read the sign at eye level.

Restroom Sign

By the way, I know the answers to the questions because I DID wash my hands. If you want to know for yourself, you'll have to make a visit to Rafiki's Planet Watch and either visit the men's room or have a male member of your party do so.

Through the doors at the far end of Conservation Station we find Affection Section. This is a petting farm intended for children.

Affection Section

Just inside the enclosure is a basket full of brushes. Feel free to pick one up and give a goat a good combing.

Basket of Brushes

Brushing a Goat

Besides goats, sheep, a donkey, llama, cow, and a pot-bellied pig are on hand.






When you're finished with the animals, a sink is available near the exit for a vigorous hand washing.


Next to the petting farm is a small stage. Several times a day, a thirty minute show is presented here. Usually, two animals not normally seen in other parts of the Animal Kingdom are displayed and discussed. But before the show started, I found Nikki sitting on stage with an opossum. It seems that this little fellow was attacked by a dog and lost its front left leg. After being treated by a vet, it was moved to an animal shelter and eventually adopted by Disney. Nikki was feeding this little cutie, trying to get him used to being on stage, as he'll eventually be one of the animals to star is this casual presentation.


Nikki and Opossum

In the show I saw, one of the sheep from Affection Section was brought onstage. The cast member discussed how this animal, and others, are trained - not to perform, but to assist the vets when it comes time for their check-ups. By using certain commands, an animal can be trained to step onto a scale or present itself for an injection. A child from the audience was selected to help in the demonstration.

Sheep Training

Sheep Training with Child

The second animal displayed was a Ball Constrictor. With this animal, the cast member explained the importance of snakes in general and the characteristics of this animal in particular. At the end of the show, children and adults were given the opportunity to touch the animals and ask more questions.

Cast Member with Ball Constrictor

Ball Constrictor

Each day's show offers two different animals. In addition, the animals presented are constantly changing as new creatures are added to the lineup - like the opossum.

Next to Affection Section is the "Out of the Wild" shop. The usual Animal Kingdom souvenirs are sold here. However, if you're looking for something to eat, you're pretty much out of luck. With the exception of some very light snacks and bottled water, there is nothing here to satisfy those hunger pangs.

Out of the Wild Shop

The train ride back to Harambe Station skirts the edge of Asia. Along the way, a small, authentic village can be seen.

Asian Village

The goal of Rafiki's Planet Watch is to educate people about the importance of our environment and about the animals who inhabit our planet. This is one of a handful of spots in the Animal Kingdom where you can engage knowledgeable cast members in conversations about the creatures that live here.

I spent two and a half hours at Rafiki's Planet Watch and I wasn't bored. But to be honest, I spent a lot of this time taking pictures and asking questions so I could blog about this area. It would not take most of you anywhere near this long to experience the sights and sounds found here. But Rafiki's Planet Watch deserves more than just a cursory glance. This is not a passive place. Like so many things in life, the more effort you put into this area, the more you'll get out of it.

May 4, 2009

Dinoland U.S.A. - Disney's Animal Kingdom

In case you're not aware, McDonalds no longer sponsors Dinoland U.S.A. at the Animal Kingdom. Their 10-year contract expired and as a result, Disney has been busy removing all signs of this corporate giant from the park.

The first place you'll notice a change is Petrifries. This quick-service eatery once sold, you guessed it, McDonalds' fries. Now this spot is called Trilo-Bites and sells smoked turkey legs.


Just past Trilo-Bites is a sign welcoming guests to Dinoland U.S.A. Look closely and you'll see the McDonalds' logo has been removed along with the banner that said "OVER 3 BILLION UNEARTHED."

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

A McDonalds billboard once stood across from the entrance to Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama. It too, is gone.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

The Dinosaur attraction has also seen a slight change. After viewing the preshow with Drs. Marsh and Seeker, you enter a corridor. Up until recently, an announcement could be heard saying something to the effect of, "And now, get ready to go back in time... thanks to a generous grant from the McDonalds Corporation." But no more.

When exiting Dinosaur, many guests strolled past a series of Dinosaur/McDonalds posters.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

Here too, McDonalds has been edited out.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

And finally, Chicken McNuggest and McDonalds' Fries are no longer served at Restaurantosaurus. But don't despair, chicken nuggets and fries are still available, they're just not a name brand anymore.

While I was at Restaurantosaurus, I was checking things out, trying to find something of interest to blog about. And I think I came across another cool detail.

Everyone is aware of the water tower out front of this eatery.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

But have you ever looked at the back side of the tower? Painted on it is a large target.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

Across the way, on the porch roof, we find two patio chairs, a cooler, and other paraphernalia.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

If you look closely, attached to the wall is a rack full of plunger-type arrows and a couple of bows. Also, connected to the eves is a pulley and rope.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

If you follow the rope, it stretches all the way to the water tower and has a bucket full of arrows attached to it.

Dinoland USA Animal Kingdom

It appears our paleontologist have devised a unique game to play in their off hours and have come up with an interesting way to retrieve their arrows.

March 22, 2009

Animal Kingdom - Pwani View Guest House

This next detail isn't earth-shattering or awe-inspiring. It's just an example of how many details abound at Walt Disney World if you take the time to look for them.

Located on the backside of Tusker House (near the new entrance), you can see the "Pwani View Guest House." There are tables in this area and it is a wonderful spot to enjoy a meal alfresco. While dining, you can hear noises coming from the second story balcony. Pots and pans clank as someone is preparing a meal up there.

Pwani View Guest House Animal Kingdom

If you look closely at the hotel name, you can see that there are letters underneath the words Pwani and House. These letters were whitewashed and painted over by the new owners of the establishment when they bought the inn and renamed it. The previous name of this hostelry was "Safari View Guest Lodge." However, the "I" didn't need to be whitewashed as it could be reused at the end of Pwani.

Pwani View Guest House Animal Kingdom

Now this is a nice little bit of detailing, but by itself, isn't worth note. But there is more.

If you check out the seating area for the Dawa Bar, you'll find there is a sign attached to the structure advertising the inn.

Pwani View Guest House Animal Kingdom

If you study it carefully, you can see that the wood had been carved out where it once said Safari and Lodge and replaced with Pwani and House.

Pwani View Guest House Animal Kingdom

It seems the new owners didn't want any confusion when they renamed their establishment.

February 22, 2009

Everest Temple

This is a blog that almost didn't happen. I made an assumption (I know, a dumb thing to do), that what was obvious to me was obvious to everyone else. But when I would mention this upcoming fact to others, they had no idea what I was talking about. So I finally realized that I should share this interesting bit of Disney trivia with the world.

In the Animal Kingdom we find Expedition Everest sitting majestically on the shores of Discovery River. Across the river is a shrine built to pay homage to the mountains and the Yeti.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

If you examine the shrine carefully, you can see all sorts of details. Offerings such and fruits and carved animals, incense burners, and chalices are all on hand.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

But the real magic of this shrine is in its shape. (Okay, here comes the good part.) If you stand back and position your line-of-sight so that the shrine is situated directly in front of the Himalayans, the temple exactly silhouettes the peaks in the distance.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

Cool, huh?

By the way"¦ Did you know that the tallest peak in this recreation of the Himalayans is not actually Everest? Everest is the mountain on the right.

Everest Temple in Animal Kingdom

It was the Imagineers desire to create a mountain "range" and decided to put Everest further back to add to the illusion of distance and majesty. And in reality, there is another range of mountains in front of Everest. So it would be correct to see other peaks in the foreground.


One of my readers, Rob, shared the following information with me:

The tallest visible peak is the "Forbidden Mountain" (hence the "Legend of the Forbidden Mountain" subtitle in the ride's name), which is guarded by the Yeti. Also note that the tallest peak of the shrine (that matches up with Forbidden Mountain) is the one with the Yeti figure inside.

January 27, 2009

Characters in Flight & Trilo-bites

Last week in one of my blogs about Disneyland Paris, I discussed PanoraMagique. This is the helium filled balloon that takes guests aloft over the resort. I mentioned that this attraction was supposed to come to Downtown Disney here in Orlando, but I didn't know the status. My friend Mike wrote to tell me that construction had already begun and Anita Answer's last column also mentions this new ride. So I decided I better check things out for myself.

Located behind the Guest Relations booth between the Westside and Pleasure Island you'll find "Characters in Flight." This balloon ride is scheduled to open in spring of this year and if it's anything like its Paris cousin, will prove to be quite popular with the guests. Here are a few pictures.




For lunch today I decided to enjoy a meal at the Animal Kingdom. While I was making my circle of the park looking for interesting things to share with you, I found the "Petrifries," the fries stand sponsored by McDonald's, has changed names and offerings. The new shop is called Trilo-bites and serves Smoked Turkey Legs for $6.59 along with the usual Coke products.


February 22, 2008

Yak & Yeti Update

Last week, I had lunch at the Yak & Yeti table-service restaurant for the second time. I'm happy to report that every thing is still top notch. The food was tasty and beautifully presented and the service was attentive and friendly. My only comment is that the prices are a little high for lunch. It's difficult for me to spent between $16 - $23 for lunch, especially when no starters or bread is included.

I also had a key learning. I was seated in the very first dining room that you come to after leaving the lobby. In the future, I will request a table somewhere else in the restaurant. This "first" dining room shares its space with the bar and an elevator. Also, all of the people seated in the rest of the restaurant must pass thru this area to get to and from their tables. All of this is much too distracting and detracts from an otherwise quaint atmosphere. The rest of the dining rooms are fine, but skip this first one.

Next door to the Yak & Yeti table-service restaurant is the Yak & Yeti counter-service restaurant (Anandupur Local Food Cafes). I ate here today for the first time and wanted to share my thoughts. The first thing you will notice is the prices. Once again, they are high, especially for a counter-service restaurant. EntrΓ©es run from $8-$11.

Anandupur Local Food Cafes

I ordered the Sweet & Sour Pork for $9.99. After paying, I approached the pick-up window and my order was already waiting. Obviously it had been prepared in advance and was just waiting to be picked up from under the heat-lamp and placed on a tray. I stopped by the condiment station, picked up napkins and a fork, and then found a table.

The entrees are served in cute "Chinese-styled" cartons that are themed appropriately to the venue.

Anandupur Local Food Cafes

However, upon opening up my container, I found that the rice was on the bottom and the pork was on the top. This made it somewhat difficult to eat. I had to do a lot of "stirring" to find everything.

Anyone who reads my restaurant reviews knows that I'm not particularly harsh when critiquing the food served at Disney. Well today will change all that. The Sweet & Sour Pork was bad. First, it was only warm, not hot. Since this is a "counter-service" restaurant I can be somewhat forgiving in this area, but I suspect that it lost a lot of its original warmth sitting under a heat-lamp.

The breading on the pork was mushy. Blah. And the taste was practically non-existent. I don't normally salt my food but I had to make another trip to the condiment station to pick up a packet to try to eek out some flavor.

Since I was alone, I was only able to try one item. I will make subsequent trips in the months to come and try some of their other offerings. I truly hope that what I sampled today was the exception, not the rule.

I also have a comment about the seating area. Although authentically correct to the area, I see a real problem as the summer months approach. Only a handful of tables have umbrellas. The vast majority of the seating area is not protected from the elements. I don't know who will want to sit out here when the hot August sun is beating down on them. And it should be lots of fun to watch several hundred people scurrying for cover when the summer thunderstorms open up. Disney really needs to rethink this area.

Anandupur Local Food Cafes

In the meantime, if you're looking for good counter-service food at the Animal Kingdom, try the Hot Italian Style Sandwich at Pizzafari or the ribs or chicken at Flame Tree BBQ. Pizzafari offers indoor (air conditioned) seating and Flame Tree offers a number of cozy, covered dining areas. Both are superior to Yak & Yeti and the prices are more reasonable.

Yak & Yeti is not operated by Disney, but by the same folks that run Rainforest CafΓ©.

January 11, 2008


I ate at the Pizzafari restaurant in the Animal Kingdom January 10th.

When I got to my table I noticed a small plastic card on the tray along with my order. The card featured Timon and Pumba with the inscription, "Do not feed the animals. Your yummies are not good for our tummies."

Don't Feed the Animals Safety Card

I thought this was a very cute way to remind us not to be tempted to share our meals with the creatures around us. The other side of the card said, "Disney's Wild About Safety. Safety Tip 14. In cooperation with Underwriters Laboratories." I'm guessing that Disney has a new corporate sponsor and additional safety tips will be passed out in other areas.

Disney's Wild About Safety.  Safety Tip 14

Speaking of Pizzafari"¦ Did you know that this restaurant has four dining rooms, each with its own theme? (Not to mention Hidden Mickeys)

One room features animals that use camouflage to hide from one another.

Pizzafari Camaflage Room

Pizzafari Camaflage Room

A different room has animals that carry their home with them in some way.

Pizzafari Animals Carry Their Home Room

Pizzafari Animals Carry Their Home Room

The third dining area displays creatures that prowl the night.

Pizzafari Night  Animals

Pizzafari Night  Animals

And the fourth room exhibits animals that live much of their life upside down.

Pizzafari Room Animals Live Upside Down

Pizzafari Room Animals Live Upside Down

Also, listen to the music that is played here. All of the songs are about animals. Here is the song list.

Baby Elephant Walk
Black Bird
Feed the Birds (from Mary Poppins)
High Hopes
Mr. Ed
Octopus Garden
Ol' McDonald
Puff the Magic Dragon
Rockin' Robin
The Lion Sleep Tonight
Tie Me Kangaroo Down
Tiki Room (from Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room)
Whale of a Tale (from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
Yellow Bird

Pizzafari Menu

November 17, 2007

Tusker House Restaurant

The first change you'll notice about the new Tusker House Restaurant is that Disney has positioned the check-in over near the Dawa Bar and the entrance is now located behind the restaurant.

Tusker House New Entrance

This has its pluses and minuses. The plus, it can get crowded over near the Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery (the old entrance). If Disney had added a check-in booth in this area, it would be a nightmare logistically.

Tusker House Check-in Podium

The negative thing about where they did position the check-in is that it's located adjacent to the stage area where drummers and acrobats perform several times a day. In fact, when I checked-in, I had to yell to be heard. After checking-in, I was asked to stand over near the Dawa Bar. The crowd of people milling about is sure to detract from the bar's atmosphere. When the host called my name, he too had to yell to be heard over the beating drums.

A hostess took me to my table and as she did, she did her best to describe the hotel upstairs (wink, wink), and the African artifacts found throughout.

The restaurant's seating area has not changed at all.

Tusker House Restaurant Seating

The only difference you will find is that the tables are now set with silverware and wine glasses. I noticed that the tables for four only had two wine glasses - assuming that most parties of this size would have children in tow. There are no soft objects in the seating area so there is nothing to absorb the sound. It can get noisy in here.

Tusker House Table

My server Dorothy greeted me promptly and explained that many "venders" had created tempting dishes for sale in the marketplace. This storyline was a nice touch.

The old counter-service area has been beautifully redesigned into a lovely buffet. You'd never know that it had been converted. Happily, Disney did keep the wonderful rotisserie and it can still be seen roasting chickens.

Tusker House Buffet Area

Tusker House Buffet Area

Also, the quaint shops that line the second floor of the buffet/marketplace are still there. Take the time to look up sometime, the detailing is wonderful.

Tusker House Detailed Artwork

Everything I tasted was good. If I had to sum up what I thought of the buffet, I'd say it was a mini-version of the Boma buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The only complaint I had was the plates available at the carving station were cold - thus, when I got back to my table, so was my meat. On subsequent trips to the buffet, I found the plates to be warm.

A quick rundown of the food available: A bread station with non-typical offerings. A cold-cuts table with sliced ham, turkey, and cheese. These offerings were very pedestrian - there to please picky eaters. A number of salads - both leafy and not. A carving station with pork and sirloin. Curried chicken, a seafood casserole, salmon, rotisserie chicken, and an assortment of potatoes and vegetables round out the meal. A children's table is also available.

Tusker House Buffet Arrangements

Lunch costs $19.99 and I thought it was worth the price. Dinner costs $26.99 - the only difference being that prime rib is added to the menu. I'm not so sure prime rib is worth a $7 increase.

Breakfast Menu

Lunch Menu

Bottom line - I would definitely return for lunch. I enjoyed myself and the food.

November 14, 2007

Yak & Yeti Opening Day Review

I had heard that the Yak & Yeti restaurant in the Animal Kingdom was opening today. Since I had just been there a couple of days earlier and the construction walls were still up, I was a little dubious, but decided to check it out.

My friend Donald and I arrived a little before 11am. There were already about thirty people in line ahead of us. We confirmed with a cast member outside that the restaurant would be opening in about 5 minutes for "walk-ups" only.

During the first several minutes after opening, seating went slowly. Management was definitely giving the hosts and hostesses, servers, bartenders, and chefs plenty of time to get acclimated to their new surroundings before bombarding them. Eventually, they started taking names and told us approximately when we could expect to be seated. We were taken to our table around 11:20.

The restaurant is beautiful - just like you'd expect a Disney restaurant to be. Actually, I'm not sure beautiful is the right word. The restaurant is themed beautifully, but it's not beautiful. I'm not exactly sure what region of Asia this eatery is supposed to reflect, but I'd have to say the areas in and around Nepal.

The building looks like it's been here for many, many years and has seen the ravages of time. Floor tiles are broken, chandeliers are missing crystals, and the window pains are made of imperfect glass. Also strewn around the various rooms was Asian bric-a-brac - an assortment of stuff from all over. In other words, it looks authentic.

As our hostess took us to our table, she pointed out some of the details of the restaurant, telling us that the "proprietor" had selected this piece and that while on his travels.

The restaurant has a number of small dining rooms located on two floors. I doubt that any one room has more than ten tables in it. This gives guests a very cozy feel. Also, there are a few tables on each floor situated next to windows that look outside. I'm sure these window tables on the second floor will be in high demand.

The restaurant was promoting the Yak Attack, a concoction of Mango Daiquiri, Bacardi Light Rum, and Wildberry Flavors. Donald and I each ordered one and were happy we did. It certainly had a tropical taste about it, but was like nothing we'd ever tried before.

For appetizers we split the Dim Sum Basket. It arrived at our table in a bamboo steamer basket. Our waiter, Jay, set it down between us, then lifted the lid and positioned it just off to the side of the main bowl - a very attractive touch.

Dim Sum Basket

Later in our meal a manager stopped by. He asked us if Jay had presented the Dim Sum Basket correctly. When we said that he had, the manager was pleased and said that they are striving hard to serve several dishes with a flair. The Dim Sum Basket contained Pork Pot Stickers, Shrimp Siu Mai, Cho Su Bao and Pork Siu Mai. All was good and plenty for two to share.

For entrees I had the Baby Back Ribs .

BBQ Ribs

Donald had the Maple Tararind Chicken. We were both pleased with our selections.

Maple Tamarind Chicken

For dessert I had the Sorbet which consisted of three different flavors, raspberry, lemon, and mango. It was beautifully served and tasted even better.


Donald had the Chocolate Brownie Sundae. There wasn't anything particularly Asian about it, but it was big and delicious.

Chocolate Brownie Sundae

Overall the menu is fairly tame. There is nothing so exotic as to send guests running for a hamburger. Even the pickiest eater would have an easy time finding something to their liking.

While dining, I saw Joe Rhode wandering through the restaurant with some other big-wigs. For those of you who don't know, Joe Rhode pretty much designed the Animal Kingdom and was the primary guy when it came time to design and build Expedition: Everest.

I called his name across the room and he was kind enough to come over to our table. I introduced myself and complimented him on this wonderful restaurant. He then introduced me to another gentleman who was the lead architect on this project - unfortunately, I can't remember his name. Joe was then kind enough to pose for pictures. I was jazzed!

Jack, Donald, and Joe Rhode

At the moment, it hasn't been decided if the Disney Dining Experience card will be accepted here. This restaurant is operated by Landry's, the same company that operates the Rainforest CafΓ©, which does not accept this card.

Ever since the Animal Kingdom opened, I have said that it needs a waiter service restaurant inside the park. The Rainforest CafΓ© is too far away being all the way at the park's entrance. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant is a welcome addition to the Animal Kingdom. The theming is wonderful and the food is good.

At the moment, reservations are not being accepted. They are only taking "walk-ups." Beginning December 3rd guests can make reservations for January 4th and beyond by calling 407-WDW-DINE

Yak & Yeti Restaurant - Animal Kingdom

I visited the new Yak and Yeti Restaurant today in Animal Kingdom. Here are the photos.

Descriptions, menus and a narrative to come later.



























November 8, 2007

Good News for Straw Lovers

When the Animal Kingdom opened, Disney banned plastic straws from the park. They didn't want to take a chance that one of these potential hazards might find its way into an animal enclosure. Last month, Disney modified this policy. It is now possible to get a straw at the Animal Kingdom, but instead of plastic, these straws are made out of cardboard. I'm assuming that the experts have concluded that the cardboard straws pose a lesser threat to the animals.

October 25, 2007

Yak & Yeti Restaurant

Construction continues on the Yak & Yeti Restaurant in the Animal Kingdom. Instead of bricks, mortar, and plywood, Asian themeing is starting to become apparent. Windows on the second floor are clearly visible and I'm hoping this will be seating for either the full service or the counter service restaurants. The building site is starting to have a completed feel about it and looks good!

Yak & Yeti Restaurant Construction

Yak & Yeti Restaurant Construction

Yak & Yeti Restaurant Construction

Yak & Yeti Restaurant Construction

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About Animal Kingdom

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The β€œWorld” According to Jack in the Animal Kingdom category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney's Hollywood Studios is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.