Navigating Our Disney Site
- Our Disney Diary Home Page
- Back to the Main page and intro for this site; family links.
- DAK Updates
- Updates, changes and other Disney links.
- DAK - Entrance
- The Virtual Tour starts here.
- DAK - The Oasis
- The Oasis - the entrance to Animal Kingdom.
- DAK - Safari Village
- Safari Village - the hub of Animal Kingdom.
- DAK - March of the ARTimals
- Photos of the March of the ARTimals parade.
- DAK - DinoLand
- DinoLand U.S.A. - Countdown to Extinction; the Boneyard.
- DAK - Discovery River
- The Discovery River Boat ride.
- DAK - Asia
- Asia, including preview plans for this 1998/1999 area.
- DAK - Africa
- Africa: Harambe village.
- DAK - Kilimanjaro Safari
- The Kilimanjaro Safari.
- DAK - Pangani Forest
- Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.
- DAK - Conservation Station
- Take the Wildlife Express to Conservation Station
- DAK - Camp Minnie-Mickey
- Festival of the Lion King; links
- DAK - Guidebook
- Each of the panels of the Animal Kingdom Guidebook.
- DAK - News
- Press and Web news links about Animal Kingdom
- DAK - News Clips
- Press and Web news clips (text). You are Here!
- Walt Disney World Visit Tips
- Hints and tips on visiting WDW from our experiences.
- Epcot: World of Motion
- Andrew's NEW World of Motion memories site.
Animal Kingdom Opening Day News Clippings
Text excerpts from online news sites about Animal Kingdom's opening days. Pre-opening news stories are
in the next section. See the News section on the Africa page for a full list of links.
Animal Kingdom Pre-Opening News
What a day in Kingdom
By Cory Lancaster, Tim Barker and Lesley Clark of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, April 23, 1998
The house was packed. The lines generally were short.
The glitches were few. And the weather was perfect.
Add to that good news from federal investigators and a
splendid earnings report announcing a planned stock split.
Could even Disney have scripted a day like this?
The planets seemed in perfect alignment Wednesday as
Walt Disney World opened its fourth and largest theme
park to a crowd of thousands, who began arriving at the gates before dawn.
Disney's first new park in almost a decade attracted so
many visitors that the 6,000-car parking lot was closed an hour after the 6 a.m. opening.
``This has just been an amazing day,'' Bob Lamb,
Disney's vice president for Animal Kingdom, said
Wednesday evening. ``We're giddy at this point.''
The only downside was when the park's sole thrill ride,
Countdown to Extinction, closed for nearly an hour
because of technical problems. And some tourists wanted more exciting rides.
But the overall impression was positive.
``It's awesome,'' said Sara Davis, 18, of Champaign, Ill.
``There are more rides at other parks, but this is natural and relaxing and entertaining.''
Honorary 1st family. Roy Disney greets the Werikhes during opening ceremonies.
Michael, with his daughters, Kora, 7, (left), and Acacia, 9, is known as the
`Rhino Man' because of his crusade to help black rhinos.
(photo by GARY BOGDON THE ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Disney unveiled the park on Earth Day, with the stated
hope of turning a profit while entertaining, educating and
motivating people to protect the environment.
The park is a radical departure for Disney. But
executives say it's a return to the company's roots, when
Walt Disney preached conservation in his 1950s nature films.
The message may have been lost on first-day visitors.
The buzz was rides and attractions, with the best
reviews going to the safari ride, a 3-D comedy movie
about bugs and the dinosaur-themed thrill ride.
``I would say I like this park the best,'' said Maureen
Schneider, visiting from Haverhill, Mass., with her
husband and two children. ``The safari ride with all the
animals was incredible. Nobody should miss that.''
A few said the 500-acre, $800 million park didn't quite
meet their expectations. The boat ride was a little boring.
The safari vehicles go too fast. And there weren't
animals in all the animal areas.
Draws crowd. Tree of Life caused 1st guests to linger before visiting rest of the park.
(photo by GARY BOGDON THE ORLANDO SENTINEL)
``I'm not sure what I think,'' said Dena Morris of
Bethany, Conn. ``We've been going back and forth about that all morning.''
There weren't enough rides to suit Robert and Barbara
Light of Indiana. But they said they'll return next year
with their two children in tow when the park's sixth land,
Asia, opens with its water thrill ride.
``It'll be better when a few more attractions are open,'' Robert Light said.
Unlike other park openings that featured glitzy
Hollywood stars, Animal Kingdom's was more subdued.
Actor Drew Carey, however, attracted a crowd while
filming in Camp Minnie-Mickey for Sunday's Animal Kingdom special on ABC-TV.
But like other openings, there were die-hard Disney
fans. At 5 a.m., 350 cars were waiting at the parking plaza to get into the Animal Kingdom.
First at the gates were Brenda Herr, husband, Damon
Chepren, and their 22-month-old son. The St.
Petersburg couple stayed up nearly all night, napping for
two hours in a Mazda 626, to ensure a spot at the front.
Herr said she has long wanted to be a Disney park's
``First Family.'' The honor includes theme-park passes for life at Walt Disney World.
``She was determined, and she let me know darn well
we were going to make it happen,'' Chepren said.
``When we were waiting in the car, she looked me in the eyes and said, `You will run."'
The park was scheduled to open at 7 a.m., but Disney
let visitors through the turnstiles an hour early after a
brief ceremony with the ``Circle of Life'' song from
Disney's The Lion King movie and a burst of rose-pedal
By the time the Kilimanjaro Safari ride opened, there
were more than 1,000 people in line, stretching the
length of Harambe village. The wait: More than an hour and a half.
``We're die-hards,'' said Nannette Decker, who lives
near Tampa. ``What's Disney without lines? Especially on opening day.''
By the afternoon, the lines had tapered altogether.
A mile away, two dozen people stood along busy U.S.
Highway 192 near a giant Animal Kingdom billboard.
They were protesting Disney's treatment of animals,
including 12 deaths at the park since last fall. A federal
agency Wednesday cleared the company of wrongdoing.
``Animals don't belong in captivity,'' said Lee Day, 27,
of Oviedo, who wore a T-shirt printed with ``Eisner Are
You That Cruel to Your Children?''
``It's probably the prettiest zoo on the planet,'' Day said.
``But I don't think the skies in the aviary are 6 or 7 miles
high for the raptors to fly, and I don't think the elephants have 100 acres to roam.''
The protesters, who held signs reading ``Dead Animal
Kingdom'' and ``Disney: A Tragic Kingdom for
Animals,'' also took out a full-page ad in Wednesday's
New York Times, decrying Disney's animal-care record.
But even the protesters didn't escape the lure -- one
woman wore a Mickey Mouse watch.
``We loved Disney in the old days,'' said Mimi Barnes of Orlando.
Extra patrols were out to keep an eye on the protesters
and to make sure traffic kept moving. Neither protesters
nor traffic created any problems.
Inside the park, Disney trinkets were a big seller. With
the park only a few hours old, Luis Rodriguez Jr., of
New Jersey, had invested more than $400 on Disney memorabilia.
The most expensive purchase for the Disney collector
was a $225 limited-edition poster of the park's towering icon, the Tree of Life.
``That's kind of high,'' Rodriguez said, ``but I like the poster.''
Others limited purchases to standard tourist fare -- T-shirts, postcards and buttons.
``You've got to have something to take back to the
grandchildren,'' said Joseph Dabritz of New York.
[Posted 04/22/98 11:14 PM EST]
Disney Animal Kingdom Opens to Overflow Crowds Wednesday, April 22
By Brad Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - The stampede of humans eager to be among the
first to visit the Animal Kingdom was so large Wednesday that Walt Disney Co.
turned thousands away from its newest theme park almost as soon as it opened.
Some families had waited overnight for the chance to be among the first to enter
the park on its official opening day, crowding through the turnstiles when it
opened an hour early at 6:00 a.m.
But the gates were closed just 75 minutes later when Animal Kingdom reached
its capacity of 28,000 paid visitors. Adults paid $42.00 plus tax for a one-day
admission to the park, children paid $34.00 each.
With about 5,000 journalists and a large number of guests with annual passes,
the total may have reached 35,000, but Disney does not release attendance numbers.
``This park in fantastic. My uncle would have been proud,'' said an ebullient Roy
Disney, nephew of the late Walt Disney, the studio executive and film animator who founded the empire.
Animal Kingdom joins Disney World's other Orlando attractions, the Magic
Kingdom, Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios.
Tourists seemed impressed with the centerpiece attraction, the Kilimanjaro
Safaris, where passengers see most of the 540 acres of the park populated by
elephants, wildebeests, baboons and other African wildlife living on a
painstakingly recreated African savanna on what was once Florida pine scrub.
``It is so different than a zoo,'' said Maria Herzog, a tourist from Brasilia, Brazil.
``The animals look different. They behave different when they're in their natural setting.''
Disney spent $800 million getting details right, although illusion often
substitutes for reality. What look like tire ruts in mud may be molded concrete,
and vegetation was sometimes pasted together leaf by leaf.
But there is plenty that is real. More than 200 species of captive-bred animals
were imported for the park in the greatest migration of zoo animals ever, Disney officials said.
Soon, park officials plan to add the remains of one real dinosaur, the largest
tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, whose fossilized bones will be restored in
public view before taking their place in a Chicago museum. An exhibit of Asian animals will open next year.
Wednesday's opening did not come without some controversy.
A handful of animal rights protesters picketed outside Disney's gates and
threatened to commit acts of civil disobedience designed to force police to arrest them.
Disney employees said the activists tried to break into the animal containment
area overnight. But Disney spokesman Bill Warren said there was no evidence
linking them to a perimeter fence that had been pushed down.
About two dozen animals have died either at the park or en route in the six
months leading up to Wednesday's opening.
The park's board of advisors includes some noted zoologists and wildlife
conservationists, and they have continued to support Disney's efforts.
``Animals are being born and die all the time in captivity,'' said Jane Goodall,
the renowned primatologist and a Disney advisor. ``The only reason this came
up was because of the Disney name. Animals suffer enormously in the wild,
and that's a fact often overlooked.''
``The wild has nothing to do with this situation whatsoever,'' Richard Farinato,
director of captured wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United
``Some of these deaths are absolutely avoidable,'' he said. ''We're not worried
about animals that die under anesthetic or in transport, that's unavoidable. But
when trucks run over cranes, that's sloppy. When you put poisonous vegetation
in an animal environment, that's sloppy.''
``Sometimes things happen that are unfortunate but are not necessarily in
violation of the law,'' a USDA spokesman said. ^REUTERS@
Safari ride, 3-D movie get good reviews at Animal Kingdom
Compiled from Staff reports
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, April 23, 1998
With a crowd waiting at the gates before dawn, Disney
opened the Animal Kingdom an hour early on
Wednesday, getting mostly positive comments about its
biggest and most unusual theme park.
The new theme park attracted so many visitors that
Disney closed the 6,000-car parking lot an hour after
the 6 a.m. opening. Afterward, only people with
multi-day and annual passes were allowed in.
Inside the park, the rides and attractions operated
without a glitch, although a few visitors complained
about long lines, especially for the safari ride, which
takes riders through a 100-acre preserve with hundreds of exotic wildlife.
A mile away, two dozen protesters waved signs and
chanted against Disney's treatment of animals. The park
remains under federal investigation for a dozen animal
deaths since last fall, including two African birds run over by safari vehicles.
Reuters via infobeat.com 04/22/98
Disney chose Earth Day to unveil the park to the public
and begin its ambitious mission to entertain, educate and
motivate people to protect wildlife and forests.
In that way, this park is a radical departure for Disney,
although company executives kept saying this week that
even Walt Disney was subtly preaching conservation in
the 1950s in his early nature films.
The heady messages were lost on many visitors
Wednesday. They talked mainly about the rides and
attractions, giving the best reviews to the safari ride, a
3-D comedy movie about bugs and the dinosaur-themed thrill ride.
[Posted 04/22/98 3:02 PM EST]
Primate researcher Goodall defends Disney
By Brad Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Jane Goodall, the world famous
primate researcher, said Tuesday she believed animal rights
activists were attacking Walt Disney World's new Animal Kingdom,
where about two dozen exotic animals have died recently, simply
because of the Disney name.
``Just a few animals dying is not a concern for me,'' Goodall told Reuters.
She was a consultant in the park's development and serves on its board of advisers.
``Animals are being born and die all the time in
captivity,'' Goodall said. ``They can die from old age or from
any number of things. The only reason this came up was because
of the Disney name. They're an attractive target.''
The Animal Kingdom opens to the general public Wednesday.
Over the past six months, more than two dozen animals have
died at Disney or on their way to the park. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture is investigating whether Disney violated the
federal Animal Welfare Act.
Among the dead animals were four cheetah cubs, two hippos
and two rhinos, which died from causes ranging from infection,
kidney failure and poisoning from ethylene glycol, an ingredient
in anti-freeze and certain solvents.
Animal rights protesters plan to picket the main entrance to
Disney World Wednesday.
All of the more than 1,000 imported animals at Animal
Kingdom were born and bred in captivity.
``Animals suffer enormously in the wild, and that's a fact
often overlooked,'' Goodall said, adding that their environment
may not be as artificial and constrained as many animal rights activists assume.
``The gorillas are living in a habitat not that different
from what they would experience in Africa, especially as that
habitat is gradually being destroyed,'' she said. ``And they are
safe... That's something you might take very seriously if you were a gorilla.''
Goodall, in Orlando for the park's opening, is the founder
of the Jane Goodall Institute, a leading organization supporting
chimpanzee conservation. She has spent 36 years researching
chimpanzee behavior, much of it in the wild.
Disney's ready, but are the roads?
By Lesley Clark and Cory Lancaster
of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, April 22, 1998
A system of new roads designed to ease traffic near
Walt Disney World will be put to the test today when
tourist-filled cars descend on Animal Kingdom as it opens to the public.
Disney's fourth theme park is expected to intensify traffic
hassles on local roads, but state Department of
Transportation officials said they expect few problems
on opening day, in part because of Disney's aggressive road-building project.
``There are additional access points that didn't exist
previously,'' DOT spokesman Steve Homan said.
``They haven't contacted us to tell us they anticipate any particular problems.''
Law enforcement isn't so certain. The Osceola County
Sheriff's Office will have 15 additional deputies on
patrol, and the Florida Highway Patrol plans to have
more troopers on Interstate 4 near the tourist corridor.
Its main concern is that a wreck -- even a minor one -- could tie up traffic.
``Another theme park is certainly an added burden with
the traffic,'' FHP spokesman Lt. Chuck Williams said.
``It's going to be our job to keep the roads clear as quick as we can.''
The DOT will monitor the highway to determine if it
needs to turn on its electronic highway message boards
warning motorists of potential tie-ups.
The centerpiece of an $84 million project is a new
interchange connecting Interstate 4 with the southern end
of World Drive, the main road leading into Disney and
Animal Kingdom. The interchange and a system of
feeder roads, financed by the Reedy Creek
Improvement District, Disney's quasi-governmental arm,
are expected to take pressure off of other highways,
including crowded U.S. Highway 192 and state roads 535 and 536.
``We think we have the road system in place to handle
the traffic,'' Disney spokesman Bill Warren said. ``I
don't think we would open a park unless we thought we
had the road structure to support it.''
The largest of the Disney theme parks, the 500-acre
animal-themed park features five ``lands,'' which include
a replica of an African savanna, more than 1,000
animals and a number of shows.
Celebrating. Dancers wearing costumes from `The Lion King' perform in front of a backdrop
with images of animals and birds that live in Kingdom. The park opens at 7 a.m. today,
but guests are likely to start lining up by 5 a.m. They won't get into parking lot until about 7.
(photo JOE BURBANK THE ORLANDO SENTINEL)
On Tuesday morning, with the usual pageantry, Disney
executives and employees staged an elaborate
dedication ceremony for the Animal Kingdom under cloudy skies.
Thousands of spectators got glimpses of Hollywood
stars, such as Drew Carey and Sidney Poitier, while
watching performers sing and dance numbers from Disney's Lion King.
``We knew we had to come up with something that set
itself apart,'' Disney Chairman and Chief Executive
Officer Michael Eisner said Tuesday of Animal
Kingdom. ``Nature is perhaps the greatest storyteller of all.''
Industry watchers speculated that for today's opening to
the general public, tourists would arrive at the park as
early as 5 a.m., two hours ahead of the scheduled 7 a.m.
opening. But Warren said they would not be allowed
into the parking lot until shortly before 7.
The first day of business for Disney theme parks has
been different each time, Warren said. The Magic
Kingdom crowd was relatively light, Epcot was packed,
and Disney-MGM Studios drew moderate crowds, he
said. Disney does not release attendance figures.
Disney will hold an opening ceremony for the $800
million park at 9 a.m., featuring Roy Disney, vice
chairman of the Walt Disney Co., and Judson Green,
president of Walt Disney Attractions.
Today marks another milestone, especially for park
visitors: Admission prices to all of Disney's Central
Florida theme parks will increase by about 6 percent --
more than $2 per ticket for adults and children. It's the
steepest increase in years.
The opening has drawn interest from more than just
tourists, news crews and Disney bigwigs. Also planning
to attend are animal-rights protesters and park fans
angry that Disney might scrap Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at the Magic Kingdom.
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and the
Daytona Beach Animal Rights Coalition will set up a
demonstration at 11:30 a.m. along U.S. Highway 192
and World Drive to protest the deaths in recent months
of 12 animals at Animal Kingdom.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the
deaths. Animal Kingdom Vice President Bob Lamb said
federal officials re-inspected the park last week and
were satisfied with the animals' care. He predicted the
USDA would clear Disney of wrongdoing in coming
weeks. A USDA spokesman would say only that the investigation is continuing.
At 2:30 p.m., a banner-towing airplane hired by Team
Toad -- a group of Mr. Toad fans -- plans to circle the
Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.
[Posted 04/21/98 10:59 PM EST]
Animal Kingdom throws star-studded bash
By Cory Lancaster of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, April 20, 1998
Expect celebrities, insider parties and tons of national
television coverage this week as Walt Disney World
unveils its fourth and largest theme park to the world on Wednesday.
The $800 million Animal Kingdom is unlike any other
Disney theme park in that the stars are real-life animals, not Disney's costumed characters.
Even before the opening, the company has learned how
challenging that can be. The unveiling comes amid a
federal investigation into whether the park could have
prevented the deaths of 12 animals since last fall,
including two exotic African birds run over in separate incidents by safari-ride vehicles.
Disney isn't used to such clouds on opening day. And
the gala this week is the most elaborate in the company's history.
The guest list includes several thousand journalists, travel
agents and industry representatives, flown in from interviews with top Disney executives.
Michael J. Fox, Drew Carey, Stevie Wonder and David
Copperfield are scheduled to attend, along with such
animal experts as Jane Goodall, noted for her research
on chimpanzees. Disney Chairman and Chief Executive
Officer Michael Eisner and Vice Chairman Roy Disney will be on hand.
``It's going to be our biggest and most ambitious opening
we've ever done,'' said Al Weiss, president of Walt
Disney World. ``This is an important business venture
for us. We want the world to know about Animal Kingdom.''
The events leading up to the opening will be closed to
the public. Anyone without credentials will have to
watch the hoopla and the celebrities on TV.
ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today are
expected to air live Tuesday from the park, as will
NBC's Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, said Linda
Warren, Disney senior vice president of marketing and brand management.
Even the grand-opening ceremony, which will be inside
the park shortly after the gates open at 7 a.m.
Wednesday, won't be seen by the public. Warren said
the company learned from past openings that visitors VIPs crowded up front.
So instead, Disney will hand out commemorative posters
to paying visitors as they enter the park and are greeted
by musicians, employees and rose-petal confetti. In the
spirit of the park's conservation theme, Disney ruled out paper confetti.
``We're doing things differently because this is a different park,'' Warren said.
When Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, for
example, Disney trotted out dozens of TV and movie
stars. There will be fewer at this opening because,
executives say, Disney doesn't want glitz and glamour to detract from the park.
``In this park, the animals are the celebrities,'' Warren said.
Disney started running national TV ads for Animal
Kingdom last week, and the park already has been the
focus of stories in many newspapers and magazines.
With the number of journalists staying at Disney this
week, the blitz of stories should continue into the summer.
Eight years in the making, the 500-acre Animal
Kingdom showcases 1,000 animals in natural
surroundings. Attractions include a safari ride, boat
rides, stage shows, a 3-D comedy movie about bugs
and a dinosaur-themed thrill ride, Countdown to Extinction.
TV coverage Tues Apr 21: Good Morning America, Today and
Live with Regis and Kathie Lee are scheduled to air live
Tuesday from the park. Disney airs a one-hour special
about the park during ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday Apr 26.
Regular park hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
Ticket prices: Adults and children 10 and older,
$44.52; children ages 3 to 9, $36.04; children younger
than 3, free. Prices include tax. Parking: $5.
[Posted 04/19/98 10:27 PM EST]
Pre-opening online news text from Animal Kingdom articles:
Animal Kingdom set to open
From staff reports
With Disney's Animal Kingdom set to officially open
to the public Wednesday, area tourism leaders and
government officials are hoping the new theme park
will make Central Florida the king of the jungle when it comes to attracting visitors.
Disney's Animal Kingdom, the fourth and largest Walt Disney World theme park,
covers 500 acres and features more than 1,000 real animals, as well as an
assortment of extinct ones.
"Nothing like Animal Kingdom exists anywhere in the world," said Joe Rohde,
Walt Disney World executive designer for the new park.
The park includes an African safari, a dinosaur thrill ride, other natural jungle and
grassland habitats for animals and stage shows.
"Our guests will journey into the last wild sanctuaries of the planet - vast forests
and grasslands where the great herds of Africa will surround them," said Rohde.
Disney and area officials are hoping the theme park will have a big impact on the
area. The new attraction will kick off with a major media preview, set to begin
Monday and continue through opening day Wednesday.
Dr. Hank Fishkind of Fishkind & Associates, an Orlando economic development
and research consulting firm, said he has no doubt that the new Animal Kingdom
will be a boon to the local tourism industry.
"Of course, when this kind of new gate opens, it's had a dramatic impact on
increasing visitors to our area," Fishkind said. "It seems logical now that this
happens, because that's what we've seen occur over and over, with the openings
of Universal Studios Florida and Disney/MGM Studios."
However, people have always worried that a new attraction would somehow hurt
business at the other already existing theme parks, he said.
"Historically, people have said, 'well, we'll see an initial increase in tourists but
then that will drop off,' or 'it'll take away from guests coming to Sea World or
other area attractions,' " Fishkind said. "But that just hasn't happened. In our
market, what has happened repeatedly is that a new gate greatly increases the
number of visitors, and then those numbers level off to a plateau. But that final
plateau is at a much higher level in terms of overall visitor counts."
With business booming already in Osceola County, it may be hard to tell just how
much an effect the Animal Kingdom will have on the county.
"It is hard to tell if we are feeling the effects yet," said Mike Horner, president of
the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce. "The economy is so good rightnow."
But Horner added, the bigger Disney gets , the better for Osceola County.
"It seems like whatever they do turns to gold here in Central Florida," said
Horner. "I am really excited about it."
Kissimmee City Manager Mark Durbin said the addition of another park can do
nothing but increase business along the busy U.S. Highway 192 tourist corridor.
"It's very positive for the community," Durbin said.
The county should also benefit through increased traffic on Osceola Parkway,
according to County Commissioner Robert Guevara. The toll road links east
Osceola County with Walt Disney World and leads directly to the gates of the Animal Kingdom.
Getting around the Animal Kingdom should not be difficult, despite its size. The
park is laid out in traditional Disney hub style, with the towering Tree of Life as its centerpiece.
Guests will enter the park through The Oasis, the park's green grotto filled with
waterfalls, gardens and exotic birds and animals.
After passing through stone archways, Discovery Bridge will take visitors to Safari
Village. Bridges crossing the Discovery River lead to the park's other lands.
Safari Village is an "artists' colony, dominated by The Tree of Life. Inside the
145-foot-high sculpted tree is a 430-seat theater that shows the 3-D film, It's Tough to be a Bug.
The Africa portion of the theme park, the largest part of the Animal Kingdom at
110 acres, starts in the village of Harambe, featuring the Swahili architecture of an
East African port city. Guests board open-sided lorries that will take them past
nearby herds of animals roaming freely. At the end of the two-mile safari trail,
visitors can follow the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail to a world of endangered lowland gorillas.
Dinoland U.S.A. begins with a busy dig area, with dinosaur skeletons and fossils.
Dinoland includes a play area where youngsters can climb, crawl and slide through
the skeletons of triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex. Nearby, the Cretaceous Trail
features a walking visit to some of the survivors of the dinosaur age like
soft-shelled turtles and Chinese alligators. Finally, Disney engineers bring
dinosaurs back to life at Countdown to Extinction. Visitors board time-traveling
vehicles and are whisked back 65 million years to save the last dinosaur from extinction.
Near Dinoland U.S.A. is Conservation Station, the Animal Kingdom's base for
insights into the natural world, including the dangers facing animals. The area also
includes a petting zoo where visitors can meet and touch small animals.
Future attractions, scheduled to open in early 1999 include Asia, a land of animals
from southern Asia, and Tiger Rapids Run, a white-water rafting ride through
jungles inhabited by tigers, gibbons and other exotic Asian animals.
A Disney executive with big earrings?
By Cory Lancaster of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, April 10, 1998
As a rising star in Walt Disney's creative-ideas division, Joe Rohde was greeted with stares and a few glares
when he began wearing his company pin to work every day.
It was the mid-1980s, a time for preppy fashions and
time to pierce his ear and insert a Disney
gold-and-garnet lapel pin, given in honor of his fifth anniversary.
''I used to wear it through my ear in no small part to
annoy the people working in the (Disneyland) park
when I would walk in and have work to do,'' he said.
Since then, earrings have become his trademark and
now include a mass of tribal-looking bones and shells
that dangle from his elongated ear lobe almost to his shoulder.
And it's a telltale sign that Rohde, 42, chief designer for the new Animal Kingdom theme park, doesn't fit the
mold of the typical Disney executive.
This is the man -- sporting a handlebar mustache and
seated in an office reminiscent of a college dorm room
-- whom Disney entrusted to design a park that cost an estimated $800 million.
By 1990, when company executives approached
Rohde about the project, he had a reputation for
immersing himself in projects, going so far as to paint
some of the pictures hanging in an Animal Kingdom restaurant.
And Disney needed an idea person for this park. Early
on, company executives weren't sure what they wanted.
''Really all that existed was a germ of a notion from
(Disney Chairman) Michael Eisner that the company
should do something with animals,'' Rohde recalled,
''which is probably what made it easier for people to
allow myself and my small group of designers ... to take
on the problem, since the problem was so unformed.''
From the start, Rohde drew on his world travels to
design the 500-acre theme park -- Walt Disney
Rohde, a frequent backpacker through Europe during
high school and college vacations, and his wife traveled
to the Indonesian island of Bali in 1987, living in a
thatched stilt house and bundling themselves in mosquito netting at night.
During that trip, Rohde observed how Balinese artisans
carved animal figures into the trunks and branches of
dead trees on the island. Rohde applied the same
concept to the Tree of Life, the Animal Kingdom's
145-foot icon, which is covered with 325 animal carvings.
Once on the project, he and his fellow designers with
Walt Disney Imagineering, the company's creative
division, traveled throughout Africa, taking thousands of
photographs to use in re-creating an African savanna for animals and an African village.
''Unlike any other creative director at WDI, he really
pushed international trips,'' said David Brickey, principal
interior designer for the Animal Kingdom. ''We really
got first-hand experience to help us capture the flavor
and culture of these places, instead of relying on photographs.''
Rohde appears pleased with the finished product. While
giving a tour of the park recently -- a black leather
jacket slung over his shoulder and dressed in jeans and
a white, billowy cotton shirt -- he was half proud papa
and half salesman, excitedly pointing out obscure details
that go unnoticed by most theme park visitors.
He attempted to re-create African towns with
authenticity. Gift shops in the fictional village of
Harambe bear fake business licenses, complete with the official seal of Harambe.
''I promise you this is just a whole lot like being in East
Africa,'' Rohde told his entourage in a booming voice,
articulating each word with precision. ''Many of these
styles and surfaces are very very distinctly copied. It is a
very thoroughly imagined environment.''
Rohde, who comes from a strong artistic background,
learned very young about the power of make-believe
settings to transport people to foreign lands.
As a boy, he hung around the set of Planet of the Apes
while his father worked as a cinematographer. During
production of that and other films, he was allowed to
roam the 40,000-acre Southern California ranch once
owned by 20th Century Fox, home to many movie sets.
As Rohde explored, he might stumble upon a castle, then a train wreck, then a farmhouse.
''I was around some form of story-making from a very
young age,'' he said. ''When you're on a film set, it's
very interesting how you can stand in one place and
have a tremendously convincing illusion and then move
-- sometimes less than a foot -- and have that illusion completely disappear.
''So I became acutely aware at a young age of the
power and the methodology of creating illusions.''
His mother was trained as an actress and saw to it that
he took acting classes. Growing up, he thought that
would be his profession. But after graduating from a
California liberal arts college -- Occidental College --
Rohde became an art and set design teacher at the prep school he once attended in Los Angeles.
Noticing the quality of his sets, a parent of one of his
students suggested he apply to Walt Disney Imagineering, and Rohde was hired in 1980.
It was in his early days with the company that Rohde,
then long-haired and soon to add the earring, developed
a reputation as a talented free spirit. In all his years with
the company, he says no one has ever asked him to moderate his appearance.
But in hindsight, he wishes he hadn't put so many
earrings in his lobe. At first, he started with just the
Disney lapel pin. Then he added gold hoops with it.
Soon, the hole in his ear had stretched more than he intended.
He calls it his ''National Geographic ear.'' On his travels,
people offer earrings for his collection. He received one
while walking on a trail in the Himalayas, another by a
tribal elder in Kenya, another from a tribesman in Thailand.
''I have the full-dress earrings, and the daily earrings,
and the travel earrings that don't set off the security alarm when you fly.''
Rohde is best known in local Disney circles for
designing the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island,
which, not surprisingly, has a foreign travel theme.
The club is decorated as a 1930s British explorers club
and is packed with memorabilia purchased at garage
sales and antique stores around the world. Disney
employees, dressed in safari garb and other outfits,
mingle with customers and swap stories.
On the heels of that club, which opened in 1989, Rohde started on the Animal Kingdom.
''In our business, we're storytellers, and Joe is a very
good storyteller,'' said Marty Sklar, vice chairman for
Walt Disney Imagineering. ''But you have to add
something on top of it ... and that's a passion for the subject.
''He gets into the subject very thoroughly and deeply.
He's very smart, and yet he has the artistic talent at the same time.''
During the eight years of planning and building the
Animal Kingdom, Rohde oversaw hundreds of
designers. But it is Rohde who will be remembered as
the park's father. And because of that, the park's
success or failure will remain uniquely his.
Recent reports of animal deaths at the Animal Kingdom,
including four cheetah cubs who ingested a toxic
chemical and two exotic African birds run over by a
safari-ride vehicle, may taint the park's opening.
But the long-term success of the park remains to be seen.
In the weeks leading up to opening day, Rohde is
putting to use his training as an actor for media
interviews about the park. Disney projects bring
enormous attention, but Rohde is at ease with it.
''He was an actor in high school and college,'' said his
wife, Melody Malmberg. ''He's very comfortable with
attention and being in front of the camera.''
The couple met in college and have been married for 16
years. In that time, their personal and professional lives
often have intertwined. Malmberg, a former journalist,
once worked for Walt Disney Imagineering. And she
has written a book about the making of Animal
Kingdom, which will be sold inside the park.
The couple have two boys, ages 4 and 1, and have
rented a home in Windermere since mid-1996.
After Rohde's obligations end at the Animal Kingdom,
the couple plan to return to their home in Altadena,
outside Los Angeles. Rohde will keep an office at the
Animal Kingdom until at least next spring when Asia, the park's fifth land, opens.
Rohde doesn't know what project he will tackle next.
But with the hectic pace of late behind him, he may have
time to return to his paintings, one of which remains
half-finished and moldy on his back porch. Several
others hang in the Animal Kingdom, including one of
dinosaurs in the Restaurantosaurus restaurant.
Or maybe Disney finally will build him his own stage.
''We've joked many times that if we need another ride
or show in the park,'' said Judson Green, president of
Walt Disney Attractions, ''we could just put another
stage up and Joe would be entertainment enough.''
[Posted 04/11/98 12:35 AM EST]
Disney changes ride after birds killed
By Cory Lancaster and Christine Shenot of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, April 4, 1998
Three weeks before Walt Disney World opens its new
Animal Kingdom theme park, the company is making
changes to its premier safari ride after two exotic African
birds were run over by safari vehicles.
The West African crowned cranes are among a string of
animal deaths in recent months that illustrate the
problems Disney faces in opening a theme park with
real-life animals instead of costumed characters.
Aside from the crowned cranes, which darted under
safari vehicles on two separate occasions since late
February, Disney's Animal Kingdom also has lost:
-- Four cheetah cubs in late December. Necropsies
showed the four, which had been weaned, died from
kidney failure after ingesting ethylene glycol, a toxic
chemical found in automotive antifreeze and solvents.
Disney officials said the cubs had been relocated from
another zoo within two weeks of their deaths and could
have ingested the chemical there. Disney officials
couldn't find ethylene glycol near the cubs' pen.
-- A female hippopotamus on Feb. 12. The hippo
died of blood poisoning from multiple infections on its
back and feet. The hippo, which had arrived 10 days
earlier from a zoo in Europe, was treated with antibiotics to no avail.
-- A white rhinoceros on March 24. The animal,
which had just arrived from an undisclosed facility, was
anesthetized for a routine medical examination and died.
-- A black rhinoceros late last year. A necropsy
revealed the animal had swallowed an 18-inch stick,
which lodged in its digestive tract and caused the deadly infection.
Disney officials said the rhino did not eat the stick while
at the Animal Kingdom. The animal wasn't fed woody
materials in the park, and the stick belonged to a plant
species not found in Central Florida, they said.
Despite the number of deaths, Disney officials maintain
their animals receive the best care available. And
records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and
the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission,
which inspected Animal Kingdom, show the park met or
exceeded standards in all areas.
``A thorough review of the treatment of the animals, the
care of the animals and our protocol don't reveal flaws,''
But after the crane deaths, Disney moved the remaining
crowned cranes away from the path of the safari
vehicles in the Animal Kingdom, which opens April 22.
And the company put more mirrors on the vehicles so the drivers can see the wildlife.
Richard Farinato, director of captive wildlife protection
programs for the Humane Society of the United States,
said new wildlife parks typically have such problems but
that the deaths should concern Disney officials.
``Whenever you're bringing animals into a brand-new
situation, you're always taking a chance they'll have a
hard time acclimating,'' said Farinato, a former zoo executive.
But Farinato, stressing that he did not know all of the
facts, said a worrisome point is that Disney is having
these problems even though it has hired some of the best zoo talent in the nation.
``They are basically the top end of the profession,'' he
said. ``If I were these people, I'd be looking at these
things and shaking my head and saying, `What the hell's going on here?"'
He said the cheetahs very likely picked up the chemical
compound that killed them somewhere in their
environment. That's because they're constantly licking themselves.
[Posted 04/04/98 12:25 AM EST]
Animal Kingdom to host feeding frenzy
By Tim Barker of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, March 29, 1998
So they've built it. Now how do they get them to come?
Walt Disney World's newest theme park, Animal
Kingdom, will be opening in April amid what promises
to be a frenzy of commercials, special events, and all
the news coverage the company's public relations
machine can wring out of the mainstream media.
For such an event -- with the success of an estimated
$800 million to $1 billion park at stake -- Disney can
be expected to push every button it can in an effort to give the park a strong launch.
Figuring out exactly what they have planned is not easy.
Disney would not discuss its marketing strategy for this
story, but it may be helpful to look back at the activities
surrounding the last opening of a Disney World park -- Disney-MGM Studios in 1989.
The company spent many millions of dollars to advertise
through newspapers, magazines, television and radio
stations throughout the country and in selected foreign
markets. Included in that campaign was a 16-page,
full-color advertising spread in Time magazine at an estimated cost of $1 million.
Much of the same is expected this time around,
according to Disney officials who have granted interviews to trade publications.
The company's initial print surge should break in the
Northeast in early April, followed by a television
campaign starting on April 13, Randy Garfield, vice
president of sales and travel operations for Walt Disney
Attractions, told the trade journal Travel Weekly.
If the company uses an approach similar to the
Disney-MGM battle plan, expect a marketing thrust
with advertising that will target children, who are relied
upon to influence parents' travel plans.
Despite the company's early efforts to tout its new park
as a place to see animals in a natural environment, the
marketing campaign will continue to target mainstream travelers.
Don't expect to see a big advertising push in Sierra
Club-style publications that cater to hard-core nature
enthusiasts, said Abraham Pizam, professor of tourism
management at the University of Central Florida.
``This is not a trip down the Amazon River, where you
can see animals in a natural setting. Nobody is kidding
themselves,'' Pizam said. ``You can call it anything you want but it's still a zoo.''
As such, Animal Kingdom will have to carve a niche
among the area's other offerings.
Pizam expects the park to fit nicely into Disney's theme
park stable -- giving the company the ability to attract
children (through Magic Kingdom), adults (through
Epcot), and nature lovers (though Animal Kingdom).
Some observers suggest that the park's opening could
bode ill for some of the other top attractions in the area.
``I think it will be a huge success. Anything with animals
is,'' said Tom Elrod, former president of marketing and
entertainment for Walt Disney Attractions. ``The bigger
question is what's going to happen to the other parks.''
Observers say the three parks that would seem to be
threatened by Animal Kingdom are Epcot, which has
struggled to stay updated, and Sea World and Busch
Gardens, which feature animals as a strong selling point.
But UCF's Pizam said he thinks everyone stands to
benefit from the arrival of Animal Kingdom. Sea World
could be aided by an increased interest in animal parks.
``People will want to compare,'' he said.
And the right marketing campaign could breathe new
life into Disney's other attractions, for which repeat customers are critical.
``They would be fools not to do a major campaign,'' he
said. ``They will all benefit from it -- all the other parks.''
At the heart of the initial marketing drive will be an
extravagant three-day media shindig.
Last time around, Disney invited more than 7,000
journalists, travel writers, film personalities and guests to attend Disney-MGM's premier.
Disney paid the bill for a great many of those, despite
the fact that many mainstream journalists -- including
those at The Orlando Sentinel -- are prohibited from
accepting complimentary air fares, lodging, food or gifts.
Disney would not disclose the cost for the event but the
trade publication Advertising Age estimated the party's
price tag at $30 million. Disney disputed that number as being too high.
It looks like Disney is cutting a few corners this time.
In 1989, many of the invitees from newspapers,
magazines, broadcast outlets and travel companies
were allowed to bring guests to the four-day, free sneak
preview of the park. The invitations included air fare
and a three-night stay in one of Disney's hotels.
For Animal Kingdom's premier party, the media types
are still promised a free outing -- though only three days
this time -- but Disney is being a little more selective
when it comes to guests. Everyone can bring someone
but the lower-level invitees have to pay $350 for companions.
The timing could have been a little better for Disney,
which had planned to coordinate the media
extravaganzas for Animal Kingdom and the launch of
Disney's first cruise ship. By planning the events
together, Disney could have saved money while almost guaranteeing larger crowds.
But those plans were crushed last month when Disney
announced another delay in the maiden voyage of
Disney Magic from Port Canaveral. The April 30
launch date has been pushed back to July 30, the second such delay.
And while Disney's advertising push will be important,
the media preview represents a chance for a far greater return in terms of exposure.
``Those people will come and they will `ooh' and `ahh'
and it will all be written into stories,'' UCF's Pizam said.
``It will be worth tens of millions of dollars in advertising, if not more.''
But the media feeding frenzy is not expected to end
after the park's opening -- not if Disney can help it.
Some observers suggest the park is holding back on
certain stories so reporters will have more things to
write and talk about in the coming months and years.
Disney officials have been reluctant to discuss various
aspects of the park, notably the conservation element.
Click here to
go to the next News text (pre-opening news) page
``They're not just opening a park, I think they are
opening a two- to three-year marketing campaign,'' said
Tim O'Brien of Amusement Business, a trade publication.
The park also should receive a fair amount of attention
from television and radio in the form of morning talk shows and specials.
But here's one thing not likely to be repeated: Before Disney-MGM opened, NBC was allowed to
come into the park to film part of a two-hour variety
show focusing on the new attraction. That's unlikely this
time since Disney now owns the ABC network.
Christine Shenot of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
[Posted 03/27/98 7:24 PM EST]
Click here to
go back to Our Disney Diary home page
Click here to
go to our family news home page