Four and a Half Torches (Out of Five)
I first visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, part of the Disney World collection of theme parks in Florida, shortly after it opened in 1998. The landscaping was terrific, and the zoo attraction was impressive.
But $45 was a hell of a lot to pay for a well-landscaped zoo.
Alas, the few existing attractions at Animal Kingdom were even lamer than those in Disney’s California Adventure when it opened in 2001, and that’s really saying something.
Since then, Disney has tried buffing up Animal Kingdom’s premiere attractions. One of their most recent additions, the Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain roller-coaster that opened in 2006, isn’t just the best attraction in the park; it’s one of the best attractions Disney has ever created, on par with their breathtakingly creative Tower of Terror ride that first opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1994.
Expedition Everest is clearly an homage to the Matterhorn Bobsleds coaster at the original Disneyland. That ride, especially its “forced perspective” making it seem much larger than it is, was certainly impressive in its day (it opened in 1959). But despite occasional improvements since then, it’s since become dated.
Expedition Everest, meanwhile, is Disney at its most current, and its very best.
As with the most memorable of Disney’s attractions, Everest tells a story. In the foothills of the Himalayas in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur, the Himalayan Escapes tour company has embarked on a plan to take tourists up to the base camp of Mount Everest using the Darjeeling Ko Rail, an old steam train had once been used to bring tea down from the mountains. Problem is, the train uses a shortcut, passing through a “forbidden mountain” supposedly guarded by the legendary Yeti.
This is not the fastest or most intense roller-coaster you’ll ever ride. To get that, visit Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, or any of Orlando’s other nearby theme parks.
Still, the thrills are impressive given that it’s Disney, a company that makes as many of its attractions as accessible to as many people as possible. And it’s the mark of a good coaster that many of the drops and turns are scarier than they probably deserve to be, if only because they come in unexpected places (and because they tie into the overall story).
But what’s really remarkable about Expedition Everest is the breathtaking level of detail, both in the run-up to the ride and in the coaster itself. When we finally encounter the animatronic Yeti — out of commission for some time, but now apparently back in commission full-time — it absolutely doesn’t disappoint.
Good job, Disney! I think I’m finally ready to forgive you for that nine dollar burger.
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