One summer morning when I was 15, I received a FedEx package from Burbank. My parents demanded to know what mischief I’d been up to on the computer and why anyone was sending me a FedEx package. When I opened it up, my credibility was restored and threat of being grounded had dissipated when they saw what was inside.
Back in 1995, I received the full press packet release announcing the latest edition to the Walt Disney World resort: Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom!
When the park opened 15 years ago in 1998, we came to know it with its current name: Disney’s Animal Kingdom. But the logo remained quite similar, and the WAK just turned into the DAK.
You can see, from the original park view, what the layout of the park was intended to look like. The attractions that disappeared (RIP Discovery River Boats) and those that weren’t even imagined yet (hello Everest!!!).
This “live-action” idea for a theme park was so much more than just rides, but instead like every issue of National Geographic thrown into one magical spot.
Dinosaurs and African safaris and Simba. Simba? What’s he doing there? Oh I guess they had to throw some characters on there or else we’d just think that the “Wild Animal Park” in San Diego had added a river and dinosaurs? They also promised unicorns in the press release description of the “mythical world” of the park, and I think I need to send a note to Imagineering to ask about that.
The receipt of this press release also caused my mom to make a promise to me… that when it opened in 1998, we’d finally trek across the country and visit Walt Disney World. And so we did… in September and only two weeks before my college freshman year began.
And even though the park was bare bones at that point, I fell completely in love with it.
The elaborate theming and integration, the animals, and the whole world they had created. I loved it from the get go. But it was much hotter over there in 1998 than it was today. Or maybe I was really just hoping that Asia would open up already and give us some water relief.
The view of the savannah that opening year is pretty straggly in comparison to how it looks now. But to imagine that it was set up that way in only three short years is impressive to say the least.
There’s something very sentimental in my heart for this park. I’ve yet to go back to Disney World since without spending multiple days there, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. In my mind, you really can’t go on safari too many times, ever. Heck, random chance brought us there 2 times in just one day even! And Everest is by far my favorite Disney coaster in North America.
So happiest of birthdays [Wild] Animal Kingdom! I’m so glad our paths have crossed in so many wonderful ways over the years!
[p.s. Now, how I came about receiving this packet when I was not a member of the press, nor anyone other than a 15 year-old Disney fangirl, isn’t too complicated of a story. Let’s just say I was given Michael Eisner’s direct fax line number by a Disney friend around the age of 12 and made frequent use of it via early Internet technology and an ancient version of MS Word. Every now and then, I’d get calls on my answering machine answering my questions/comments, but more frequently I’d receive random packages in the mail and letters as well. But this was the first FedEx package, and being one of the first to see these photos cemented the mystique of the park in my head from the get go!]