Disney's Animal Kingdom News Clips Aug 98 - Mar 99: DAK WDW

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Welcome to our Animal Kingdom Virtual Tour!

Disney's Animal Kingdom
News Clips (continued)Aug 1998 - Mar 1999


Dragon in the mist. A 200-foot creature (top) snakes its way through the crowd on Thursday during Animal Kingdom's grand-opening bash for its newest section, Asia. Thousands of people turned out.

Photo: Joe Burbank/The Orlando Sentinel

East greets guests at Animal Kingdom

Tim Barker of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on March 19, 1999.

When Disney put the finishing touches Thursday on its fledgling Animal Kingdom, it marked an end to the company's plans for the park.
At least the plans Disney is willing to tell the rest of the world.

Thursday's official opening of the Asia section was a formality -- the area has been open several weeks -- and a chance for Disney for promote the park to newspaper and television reporters and travel writers from around the world.
But it also left Animal Kingdom's plate empty, with Walt Disney World officials denying there is anything concrete in the works. "We have several ideas on the drawing board, but we haven't really decided what to do next," said Bob Lamb, vice president of Animal Kingdom.
Some observers wonder whether Disney will take up an idea that has been floated for the park -- a Beastly Kingdom featuring mythical creatures. The park's logo, in fact, features some sort of dragon creature not found in the park.
"It's possible," said Joe Rohde, the park's chief designer. "I think it would be a very strong addition to the park to go that direction."
For now, observers suggest Disney may wait to see how things go for the park, which by most accounts had a very good 1998, meeting its attendance goal of 6 million visitors in almost nine months. The park opened in April 1998.

The addition of the Asia section, particularly the Kali River Rapids ride, is expected to make the park a stronger draw.
"It's going to improve the park. And it might bring some people back," said Steve Baker, president of Orlando's Baker Leisure Group, which does consulting work for theme parks. "Asia sort of rounds it out and extends the stay another hour or hour and a half."
Still, Animal Kingdom's success seems to be coming at the expense of Disney's other parks, which found themselves with shrinking crowds last year.
Disney does not release attendance figures, but according to Amusement Business magazine, the older parks -- Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios -- suffered attendance declines ranging from 8 percent to 10 percent compared with 1997.
That is, in part, because of families such as Cynthia Martin's.
The Martins of Toronto, in town for a week of nothing but Disney, faced a dilemma Wednesday evening: Which of the four parks would earn a return visit?
Considering that the family was making its second visit in four years, the decision to return to the newest park, Animal Kingdom, was an easy one.
"We had a great long deliberation last night," Martin said. "And this won out."
In particular, the family wanted another shot at several of the park's rides, including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Countdown to Extinction and Kali River Rapids.
The Martins were not alone.
Customers were lined up hundreds deep for the water ride, which takes passengers along a twisting path to illustrate the damage logging operations do to rain forests.
The park "needs rides like this. It needs Asia," said Leslie Holmes of Massachusetts, who was waiting for her son to complete another water-soaked trip on Kali.
[Posted 03/18/1999]

Disney will show off the Animal Kingdom in a cross-country safari
The Orlando Sentinel By Cory Lancaster
Monday, March 8, 1999

Disney's Animal Kingdom is going on the road, visiting 12 U.S. cities in coming months to boost interest in the year-old theme park.
The Animal Kingdom Adventure Outpost Tour will be set up in municipal parks and will cover an area the size of a football field.
The show will feature a dinosaur-themed play area, where kids can dig for mock dinosaur bones. A 20-minute stage show will include songs from The Lion King. A virtual tour will give a preview of park attractions, such as the Kali River Rapids rafting ride, and Mickey and Minnie will be available for photos and autographs.
The publicity tour is similar to the one in 1996 that touted Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary across the country.
''This will showcase everything that goes on in the Animal Kingdom,'' said Bob Lamb, the park's vice president.
Lamb said most Americans know about the Animal Kingdom, which opened last April with 1,000 animals. The tour isn't intended to build name recognition but to let people see what's inside the park, he said.

Industry observers estimate 6 million people visited the Animal Kingdom in its first nine months of operation. Disney executives have said the park met its attendance goal. In contrast, 15.6 million people visited the Magic Kingdom last year and 10.59 million visited Epcot, according to industry estimates.
To promote the Animal Kingdom, the tour will visit 12 cities: Miami April 17-18 C.B. Smith Park; Dallas April 24-25 Fair Park; Houston May 1-2 Cullen-Baker Park; Washington DC May 8-9 Montgomery County Agricultural Center; Philadelphia May 15-16 Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park; New York May 22-23 (TBD); Chicago May 29-30 Grant Park; Boston June 5-6 MDC Lederman Field; Hartford June 12-13 Bushnell Park; Cleveland June 19-20 Cleveland Metroparks Brookside Reservation; Detroit June 26-27 Southfield Civic Center; Atlanta July 10-11 Centenial Olympic Park.

No live animals will be used in the show, which Disney calls an "urban safari camp." But animals will be portrayed by live performers and in paintings, carvings, giant balloons, totem poles and videos.
The show will be presented in conjunction with Disney World corporate partners, American Express and National Car Rental.
1999 Orlando Sentinel Interactive

Animal Kingdom changes add more entertainment

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, Oct 26 1998

Walt Disney World is tinkering with its new Animal Kingdom park, temporarily closing the Discovery River Boats and revamping a few other attractions.
The 500-acre theme park, which opened in April, was a departure for Disney in that it offers fewer rides and attractions than other Disney parks while touting a message of conservation. So it's no surprise the park would need some fine-tuning.

Last month, the river boats were shut down so the ride can be redone with more entertainment. The attraction will re-open sometime next year, Disney spokesman Craig Dezern said.
Some visitors had complained the boat ride was boring. Visitors had expected to be entertained during the seven-minute cruise when, in fact, the boats were designed simply as a form of transportation to the other side of the park.

Other changes include a new band and a storyteller accompanying the March of the Artimals parade. The parade had been called the March of the Animals, but Disney added "art" to the name to emphasize its arty reproductions of animals, designed by sculptors, painters and weavers.

The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail has been renamed the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, to shift the focus away from just gorillas. Fire jugglers have been added to the Festival of the Lion King stage show. And the story line for Flights of Wonder, a bird show, was rewritten to add some humor. "They've kept the same birds, but they've injected humor to get the audience more involved," Dezern said. "This is all part of the evolution of the park."

Next spring, the park will expand with the addition of a new area -- land of Asia -- featuring a river-raft ride. Disney does not comment on park attendance, but industry analysts say the Animal Kingdom will exceed projections of 7 million to 8 million visitors in 1998.

By Tim Barker of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, Oct 5 1998

Zoo review

Disney's Animal Kingdom recently gained accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the premiere umbrella group for zoos.

The Animal Kingdom received the blessing of the AZA on Sept. 14 at the group's annual conference in Tulsa, Okla., said AZA spokesman Erik Neidy. The AZA accredits 185 zoo facilities in North America.
Disney had been waiting for the accreditation. Under AZA rules, the company could not apply for it until the theme park opened to the public in late April. It was shortly after the opening that an AZA team inspected the 500-acre park, its 1,000 animals and animal-care facilities.
The inspection included a review of safety procedures for both animals and humans, educational programs and veterinary programs. A new accreditation review will take place every five years, Neidy said.
The park was stung last spring by worldwide publicity about a string of animal deaths. Disney later was cleared of wrongdoing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates zoos.

Lesley Clark of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
[Posted 10/03/1998 17:9]

Parks' attraction dips

Cory Lancaster of The Sentinel Staff
Published in The Orlando Sentinel, Dec 22 1998

This year was no thrill ride for Central Florida theme parks.
Hurt by summertime fires, fewer Asian visitors and increased competition, the area's big three theme park companies either suffered a drop in attendance for 1998 or had flat numbers.
That's the word from Amusement Business magazine, a trade publication that each year estimates attendance for the top 50 parks in North America.

As usual, Central Florida's six major theme parks dominated the top 10. But attendance from 1997 dropped as much as 10 percent.
Visitation was down by 8 percent at the Magic Kingdom; 10 percent at Epcot; and 10 percent at Disney-MGM Studios, according to the trade publication. Attendance at Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld Orlando was about the same as last year, the publication reported.
Tim O'Brien, who covers theme parks for Amusement Business, blames the decline on factors already well-known around Central Florida. Visitor numbers have been down. The summer fires kept people away, and Disney's new Animal Kingdom theme park intensified competition.
Various analysts have been saying in recent months that Animal Kingdom was stealing visitors from other parks, not generating new visitors or prolonging stays.
"Visitors did not extend their stay in the market to see more as officials had hoped for," O'Brien wrote for next week's issue of the magazine.
Walt Disney World does not release attendance figures, but even Disney executives have acknowledged that Animal Kingdom stole away more visitors from its other parks than expected.
But Animal Kingdom met its attendance goal of 6 million visitors, making its debut at No. 6 on the Amusement Business top 10 list of parks, despite being open only since April.
Disney spokesman Duncan Wardle would not comment on the Amusement Business figures, saying they are estimates not based on company figures.
"It's been a record year for Walt Disney World," he said.
Disney World did attract more visitors than ever -- about 2.5 million more people visited its parks than in 1997, according to the trade magazine.
The magazine's O'Brien blamed a soft tourism market, summer fires and increased competition for the flat years at Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld Orlando.
"We never comment on attendance," Universal spokesman Jim Canfield said. "Certainly, those factors he mentioned influenced the business."
Theme park business was weak across the country in 1998. Attendance at the top 50 theme parks and amusement parks in North America dropped 1 percent -- the first time since the recession of 1991 that the parks did not report a combined yearly increase, the magazine said.
[Posted 12/21/1998 10:10 PM EST]

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, August 14, 1998

Disappointing park attendance lowers expectations for Disney's earnings

Is the Animal Kingdom eating into profit gains?
By Cory Lancaster Of The Sentinel Staff

Walt Disney World, accustomed to big gains in attendance when a new theme park opens, may not see such boom times with the Animal Kingdom.
In the first quarter after Animal Kingdom debuted, attendance at Disney World's four theme parks climbed 5 percent, below projections by financial analysts of 6 percent to 8 percent gains.
Some financial analysts foresee "low single-digit increases" in overall Disney World attendance for the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and only slightly stronger in 1999.
Why the modest gains for Animal Kingdom? Part of the reason is cannibalization -- a word being heard with increased frequency in the theme park business. As more theme parks open, visitors are forced to make choices. Some parks, such as the Magic Kingdom, remain a must-see, while others, such as Epcot, may get passed by.
In other words, if Animal Kingdom attracts an estimated 8 million visitors in its first year, some of them will come at the expense of Disney World's other parks.
Also, Disney World had record attendance last year, fueled by an ambitious marketing campaign touting the Magic Kingdom's 25th anniversary. It would be hard for any new attraction to top that.
"Last year was so strong," said Linda Bannister, a financial analyst with the Edward Jones investment firm. "You can't add eight million more people."
Analysts say modest gains in theme park admissions aren't cause for concern. In the third quarter, which ended in June, Disney theme parks worldwide posted a 10 percent increase in operating income. That's considered a good number, although well below the projected 18 percent gain.
And Disney World isn't dependent on theme park tickets alone. Even if attendance rises slightly, it can -- when coupled with increases in hotel occupancy, visitor spending and theme-park ticket prices -- still produce significant gains for the Disney company's theme park division.
"It's a whole bunch of moving parts," said Christopher Dixon, a financial analyst with the PaineWebber investment firm. "It's not as simple as attendance."
Some analysts have lowered earnings expectations for Disney's fourth quarter, which ends Sept. 30, and for 1999, partly because of cannibalization at Disney World. But other analysts disagree in light of the lower-than-expected third quarter theme parking earnings. They say Disney World will be hard-pressed to achieve anything approaching double-digit attendance increases, given the cannibalization that occurred after the Animal Kingdom opened April 22.
Dixon with PaineWebber said that problem could intensify next year when Universal Studios opens its second theme park, Islands of Adventure.
Disney World does not comment on its attendance figures. But Disney World President Al Weiss said the company always takes into account such factors as cannibalization. And he disagrees the problem will worsen with Universal's expansion.
"If Islands of Adventure and all the other local competitors go out and market outside our area and
[Posted 08/13/98 8:13 PM EST]

Asia tour should come roaring back next month

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, Jan 11 1999

Disney World offered holiday visitors a sneak preview of its new Maharajah Jungle Trek in the Animal Kingdom and is expected to reopen the attraction for good next month.
Maharajah Jungle Trek, a self-guided walking tour through dense vegetation and replicas of Asian ruins, is filled with Asian wildlife, including tigers, giant fruit bats, Komodo dragons (a type of lizard) and tapirs, which are a cross between a horse and a rhinoceros.
Disney designers paid extraordinary attention to detail on the Asian architecture, hand-painting scenes on many buildings. Forty-foot "monument poles" rise from the habitat of gibbons, a long-armed type of ape. The carved poles are found in India and Nepal, built in honor of deities and princes.
The jungle trek is the second attraction in the park's Asia section. Flights of Wonder, a bird show, opened with the Animal Kingdom in April. And Kali River Rapids, a rafting ride, opens March 18 -- the official opening of the entire Asia section.
The jungle trek closed Saturday. In the next month, Disney will introduce more animals to the attraction.
"We anticipate it reopening with all the animals acclimated in early February and remaining open through March," said Disney spokesman Mark Jaronski.

Lesley Clark of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
[Posted 01/10/1999 5:59 PM EST]

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