Our Disney Diary Home Page
Main page and intro; family links.
DAK Updates
Changes and updates; other links.
DAK - Entrance
The Virtual Tour starts here.
DAK - The Oasis
The entrance garden to Animal Kingdom.
DAK - Safari Village
The hub of Animal Kingdom; Tough to be A Bug show.
DAK - March of the ARTimals
Photos of the March of the ARTimals non-parade.
DAK - DinoLand U.S.A.
Countdown to Extinction; the Boneyard.
DAK - Discovery River
Discovery River Taxi (formerly Boat Ride).
DAK - Asia
DAK's newest area. Maharajah, Kali River.
DAK - Africa
Harambe village.
DAK - Kilimanjaro Safaris
Lots of safari pics
DAK - Pangani Forest
Pangani Forest Exploration Trail: Gorillas.
DAK - Conservation Station
Take the Wildlife Express to Conservation Station
DAK - Camp Minnie-Mickey
Festival of the Lion King; tour ends; website links
DAK - Guidebook
The front and back of the guidebook.
DAK - News
Press and Web news links about Animal Kingdom
DAK - News Clips 1
Press and Web news clips (text). You are Here!
DAK - News Clips 2
Pre-Opening news clips
DAK - News Clips 3
1998/99 news clips.
Walt Disney World Visit Tips
Hints and tips on visiting WDW from our experiences.
Walt Disney World - Hotels
Personal reviews and recommendations on staying at WDW
Walt Disney World Prices
Prices for admission tickets, hoppers and passses.
Epcot World of Motion
Andrew remembers World of Motion
WDW International Program
Andrew's experiences in this program

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. A post-opening news section follows that. For news links click here.

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.
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]

Reuters via infobeat.com 04/22/98
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. ^REUTERS@

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.

Animal Kingdom
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 (in summer; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily in winter.)
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]

Animal Kingdom Pre-Opening News

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.
``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]

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