Return to Opening Day: Animal Kingdom 1998

I always feel the need to apologize when I haven’t posted for awhile. I imagine everyone giving up hope and moving on. By now, there must be only two people left reading parkeology. Thanks mom and dad!

Anyway, I thought I would make up for it with a series of posts involving time travel. This seems to be a fascination of ours. The Parkeology offices are always cluttered with remnants of the past. For instance, did you know in the in the first 27 years of Walt Disney World’s existence, the longest anyone ever had to wait for a new park was 11 years (1982 – 1971 = 11, for those of you who are Universal fans). Do you know where we were 11 years ago? Celebrating Animal Kingdom’s 5 year anniversary, that’s where. And the opening of Mission Space. Wow. I’m suddenly aware of just how long Horizons has been gone.

Well here we are. 16 years and counting since the last theme park opened. It got me to wondering. Just what was it like to be among those first visitors to walk through Animal Kingdom’s gates? So much has changed in 16 years. Is there anything left that vaguely resembles the Opening Day experience?

That’s what we’re here to find out! Today I embark on a special tour. Call it the Opening Day Tour. Here at last is your chance to step through the portals of time into each of the four theme parks — and see which of their attractions you can still experience today. Ready to begin? Here are your candidates for Animal Kingdom, 1998.

  1. Discovery Riverboats
  2. It’s Tough to be a Bug
  3. Colors of the Wind, Friends of the Forest, from Grandmother Willow’s Grover (possibly the clumsiest title ever)
  4. Festival of the Lion King
  5. Countdown to Extinction
  6. The Boneyard
  7. Journey into Jungle Book
  8. Dinosaur Jubilee
  9. Kilimanjaro Safari
  10. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
  11. Wildlife Express to Conservation Station
  12. Flights of Wonder

You’d think with Animal Kingdom being the newest park, most of those things would still be pretty much the same, right? Well think again, buster!

I liked the Riverboats, though their lines were more indicative of AK’s low ride count than of a quality, worthwhile attraction. They’re history now, though you can visit their docks and hang out with Pooh. The Jungle Book show was disjointed, but unique (no Jungle Book attraction has appeared before or since). It’s also history, replaced first by Tarzan, then by Nemo. The Pocahontas show was sucky, and has been paved to make way for Avatar (actually it closed years ago). Dinosaur Jubilee was nothing but a temporary museum, now buried under the parking lot theming of Chester and Hester. That leaves AK with a 33% turnover rate since 1998. And our attraction count has whittled down to eight.

You remember that scene where Pocahontas and the tree spirit of a Keebler Elf hungrily attacked a flock of ducks?

You remember that scene where Pocahontas and the demon tree spirit of a Keebler Elf hungrily approached a flock of ducks?

Flights of Wonder is still there, but in a completely re-invented theater, and also with a different script. The same could be said of Festival of the Lion King, which has had significant changes to its show building over the years (mainly to make it more comfortable). Now it has gone dark as it moves to a completely different location in Africa. Six left.

The Safari is the same layout, and a lot of the same animals, but gone is the Opening Day poacher storyline, and the characters of Warden Wilson Matua and Dr. Jobson. Heck, even the dead Big Red elephant was removed shortly after debuting.

A whole slew of attractions have changed names. Conservation Station became Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and early exhibits have been replaced, though the train is still fundamentally the same ride — if you don’t count the modifications made when Asia came online. Gorilla Falls became Pangani Forest and Countdown to Extinction became Dinosaur. Both are still basically the same experience, but have been tweaked enough to be different from 1998. Dinosaur in particular had much wilder programming back in its CTX days. Also those compies still hopped, that pteranadon still swooped, and that meteor actually collided with your vehicle courtesy of something called the Vortex Generator. Also, there was a Styracosaurus in that planter out front. And the planter was actually a fountain.

Not to mention a happy barbershop quartet of Carnos. Altogether boys! "Goodnight, ladies. Goodnight, ladies..."

Not to mention a happy barbershop quartet of Carnotauruses that used to perform outside. Altogether, boys! “Goodnight, ladies. Goodnight, ladies…”

That means out of 12 attractions, we are down to 2. The Bug movie and the Dinoland playground area. Both of these attractions are virtually identical to their Opening Day selves. The Boneyard appears to me as unchanged, other than the occasional Wilderness Explorer hotspot. It’s Tough to Be a Bug is also scene for scene identical, though its queue has gained some cargo net canopies, designed to protect guests from falling chunks of debris from the aging Tree of Life.

The queue is dangerous enough as it is!

The queue is dangerous enough as it is!

So there you have it. If you want to time travel, why not do it with some style? The Opening Day tour of Walt Disney World has to be easier than WDW47. Drop by Animal Kingdom for a little fun in a mammoth sandpit filled with BB pellets, then skip on back to the Tree of Life Repertory Theater to take in a 3-D Flik. Make sure to complain that AK isn’t even a half-day park, just like they did back in 1998.

Of course, your tour can’t end there. Animal Kingdom might have opened 16 years ago, but it wasn’t the first park on the block. To get the whole picture, we have to go back.

Back... stage?

Back… stage?

No, way back. Like 25 years ago.

Back... stage?

Okay, but can we stop at a mini mart or something to get some snacks?

No can do, Ellen. Now shut up so we can visit Disney MGM Studios.


Comments (5)

  1. to give you an example, Hollywood doesn’t care about making movies for the USA anymore, they only care about the international market (where the real money is), this is why there’s been such a downturn in quality of movies over the last ten years and why most movies made these days are about superheroes and whatnot, which are easy to grasp concepts for anybody from Tajikistan to Timbuktu

  2. I doubt there will ever be a new Disney park in America, America is just not where it’s at for new theme parks anymore, for that you got to go to China or Dubai or God knows where (because those countries are certainly more deserving of spending money on than the good ole USA, am I right?)

    I’d LOVE to be proven wrong, but I’m just very cynical about the way corporations view the USA these days, we’re has-beens when it comes to our wallets in their view

  3. Still here.. patiently waiting…
    Wow, not much left. Looking forward to the rest of the series. I’m more than ready for the new park we are due.. but it has to have the wonderland labyrinth from Paris and the awesome DisneySea attractions from Tokyo.

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