When the Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, there was no rollercoaster for the opening day enthusiasts to enjoy. Instead, parkgoers were treated to a mix of incredible nature scenes and a detailed world like nothing Disney had done before. The only thrill ride on the early menu was Dinosaur, a ride vehicle synced to action filled scenes about…..you guessed it….dinosaurs.
In addition to being short on thrill rides, Animal Kingdom was short on attractions around the whole park. The first mega attraction to hit the ground was a planned dragon coaster. However, when Imagineers dug a little deeper, they returned to the roots that made the parks resonate with so many. They turned to the concept of the mountain as the attraction. The team project leader, Joe Rohde, obviously felt a strong attachment to the mountain based attraction concept:
The mountain is a very, very potent mythological symbol, a symbol that if you experience this, something will happen to you, you will change.
Two very’s. Now that’s potent! In true Imagineering fashion, Disney went ultra potent with their symbols. Mount Everest and the Yeti combined to create a large, fast thrill ride with a few surprises and a close encounter with a very un-Disney like beast. There is nothing tame about this Yeti.
To create a credible environment, Imagineers, along with scientist and biologists, made several research trips to the Himalayas. They concentrated on places where the Yeti lore was historically focused. They talked to locals, immersed themselves in the local mythology, and ate Himalayan dirt. (Ed. note- I made that last part up. I am sure they ate something on their travels, but I doubt it was dirt.)
When you enter the largest mountain in Florida, you are actually enjoying the harmony of three separate structures. The first structure is a rigid steel frame that supports the outside facade. The second is a flexible ride track that is built to give and sway with the constant force of speeding coasters. The third is the support for the massive Yeti, a complex animatronic that serves as the largest audio-animatronic in the world!