January 27, 2006
Disney adds Everest thrill ride in Florida
By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Expedition Everest, a $100
million attraction at Walt Disney World featuring an encounter
with a giant robotic Abominable Snowman, or yeti, opened this
week as a preview for Disney fans.
By placing the thrill ride in Animal Kingdom, Disney Co. is
hoping to excite teen-agers about the least attended of the
four Disney parks in Orlando.
Animal Kingdom, known more for its animal safari and its
support of worldwide conservation, was the eighth most visited
amusement park worldwide with more than 8.2 million visitors in
2005, according to Amusement Business magazine.
Its sister park, Walt Disney World, saw nearly twice as
many visitors last year.
"It's not as big a gamble as you would imagine it would
be," said Steve Baker, an Orlando-based amusement industry
consultant of the new ride's price tag. "It's all geared to
hotel rooms and increasing the length of stay in hotel rooms."
Baker projected a 6 percent to 10 percent rise in
attendance at Animal Kingdom as a result of Expedition Everest.
Disney's parks and resorts business is one of its most
successful, accounting for $9 billion of the company's $32
billion in revenue in 2005.
This week's soft opening of Expedition Everest is limited
to Disney pass holders and vacation club members, with the
ride's grand opening set for April 7.
Though not the fastest, tallest or most extreme coaster on
the market, Everest immerses riders in a Himalayan adventure to
the home of the legendary yeti.
The ride reaches a top speed of 50 miles per hour around a
nearly mile-long track with an 80-foot drop. At 200 feet tall,
Everest is the tallest of 18 mountains created by Disney at its
parks worldwide, and the yeti, the ride's piece de resistance,
is Disney's largest ever Audio Animatronic robot.
The ride has been estimated to cost as much as $100
million, although Disney has not published the price tag.
Without acknowledging that teens have been less interested
in Animal Kingdom or that there has not been enough for them to
do at the wildlife park, Disney spokesman Jacob DiPietre
stressed Expedition Everest's appeal to teens.
"We believe it will have a special appeal to teens and that
is very important to us," DiPietre said. "There's no doubt this
attraction will have a special appeal to that group given the
thrill factor and the addition of the yeti and the theming
around the ride."
Expedition Everest is the biggest addition to Walt Disney
World since the 2003 opening of the Mission: SPACE, a $100
million simulator ride that uses spinning centrifugal force to
create the sensation of a rocket launch.
Just as Mission:SPACE cranked up adrenaline and attendance
at the Epcot park, industry insiders expect Everest's payoff
will be a boost in attendance at Animal Kingdom.
"Maybe this gets you to stay through one more meal or one
more merchandise stop," said theme park consultant Jerry
Aldrich of Orlando. "There's just a lot of ramifications, a lot
of things you do in your day that can help pay for it."
At 14, the Johnpoll twins are just the demographic Walt
Disney Co. was targeting with the new ride.
"It rocks," said Sara Johnpoll of Coral Springs, Florida,
disembarking with brother, Michael, who added, "I would
definitely go on it again."