It’s kind of weird to think that when I first went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998 there was no Yak & Yeti Restaurant to dine in, no screams coming from Expedition Everest, Dinosaur was still called Countdown to Extinction, and Theater in the Wild was still an open-air venue.
I’m always jealous of the people who got to visit Magic Kingdom and Epcot during their opening years, and here am I, someone who visited Animal Kingdom during its inaugural season.
(Do you think in 20 years or so someone will feel jealous of me too?)
I’ll be patient until that time comes.
In the meantime, I’ve stolen just about all the family vacation albums from my poor parents. I knew my mom’s reputation for being a photo fiend would come in handy someday! (Or did I?) It’s pretty fun to see all the changes that have occurred in Animal Kingdom in the past 14 years. And for a majority of them, I’ve been able to see them firsthand.
So here are a few gems sharing a little family history and most importantly, AK’s history.
Warning: no laughing please.
The Great Awakening
Like many of the “attractions” in Animal Kingdom, the performance that opens the park has gone through its own metamorphosis. Does anyone remember when you could walk all the way up toward the Tree of Life and see our favorite mouse hanging out over there?
Character Breakfast in Dinoland U.S.A
One of my most vivid memories of Dinoland U.S.A in the early days is how they would play R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” on an endless loop. Anytime I hear this song, I am automatically transported to the early years of Animal Kingdom. Most of the time I remember listening to it while we waited to get into Donald’s Breakfastosaurus at the Restaurantosaurus. (That’s a mouthful.) Discontinued in 2007, it featured Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. (Goofy once had a major crush on me here. Where are you now, Goofy?) I loved Donald’s dinosaur themed t-shirts and Mickey as the “Troop Leader.”
(I apologize to my lovely sister for putting these pictures on the internet.)
Discovery River Boats
I was quite excited by this picture find! It’s not much but you can see the boat name “Otter Nonsense”, part of the Discovery River Boats. These boats shuffled guests around the Tree of Life and dropped them off in either Asia or Safari Village. Apparently, they used to bring some animals on board but I don’t remember that much. I do, though, remember when the renamed the boats for Radio Disney. The docks still exist but there are no longer river boats. They stopped running in 1999.
Before the company wanted to make use of synergy, the main attraction in this land was Countdown to Extinction and not the (boring) Dinosaur. Boo. Here’s a gorgeous photo of my sister and I posing in front of the attraction during AK’s first year, and the fun water pond in front of it. (The water pond isn’t there anymore either… now it is filled with plants. Oh, and the dinosaur is different too. Now it features an Iguanadon named Aladar — star of Dinosaur.)
Here’s another picture from 1998 featuring a sign for Dinoland. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist anymore. Can someone out there let me know?
This picture isn’t a huge deal, but McDonald’s was a major sponsor of Dinoland U.S.A from 1998-2008. They sold the fries in the vicinity and their signs were just about everywhere. Subtly there, of course. I love the advertisements around Countdown to Extinction and still do! With or without the M.
Theater in the Wild
Before the energetic Finding Nemo — the Musical found its way (along with a roof and walls) to this venue in 2007 , it was, first and foremost, home to Journey into the Jungle Book. It ran from April 1998 to April 1999. I remember it being quite a colorful and lovely show.
Afterwards, Tarzan Rocks!, a musical stage show featuring a rock band, acrobats, and audience participation similar to The Festival of the Lion King, went on to play from 1999 to 2006. I cannot find one picture from the performances we saw, which might make sense because my mom NEVER liked this show. But I watched a taping of it tonight and was blown away. I miss it. A lot. (It’s 21 minutes so be prepared a.k.a. totally worth watching.)
I’m all for Finding Nemo — the Musical, but I love the feel of an open-air theater, especially centered in a park all about nature. (I can see how the non-air conditioned detail could be a killer in August though.)
Beary Cute Characters
I saw Brother Bear in the movies during a weekend home from college in 2003. I cried my eyes out. Phil Collins. That guy! Seems Kenai and Koda used to roam Camp Minnie Mickey back in the day.
Colors of the Wind: Friends from the Animal Forest a.k.a. Pocahontas and her Forest Friends
My sister was HUGE fan of Pocahontas. I can still picture her wearing this purple t-shirt with her face on it. (I was more of a Meeko fan; I actually had a shirt with him on it too!) This show featured Grandmother Willow (yes a talking tree), Pocahontas herself, and some woodland creatures. It closed in 2008, and you can still see the stage if you peek around Camp Minnie Mickey. It was a cute one.
Just like I’ve come a long way from the gal in these pictures (let’s not even go there), Animal Kingdom has done the same. And hey, at 14, Animal Kingdom is still a teenager — going through growing pains and working to come into its own. With the expected arrival of Avatarland and the space still left to entertain and educate, it’ll be interesting to see how far it goes in the NEXT 14 years.
Don’t forget to take pictures!