Wednesday, June 6, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 10 - Disney Animal Kingdom

"Welcome to a kingdom of animals...real, ancient, and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn."
Michael Eisner, April 22, 1998


Disney's fourth theme park in Orlando is truly one of the greatest achievements in theme park design.  It is certainly the prettiest theme park in Florida and has some of the greatest examples of themed design in its lands.

With the addition of Pandora: The World of Avatar and Rivers of Light, the park has transformed into a full day experience with attractions that make the park even prettier at night.  The continued development of this park should follow the care and attention paid to Pandora and Rivers of Light.  From there, the park can become one of, if not the, best park in the Disney portfolio.

Primary Goals:

  • The park does need a few more attractions.  There is plenty of space in the park to expand and the park should fill out with a variety of experiences still centered around its core theme.
  • The park needs more interior spaces.  The park has a lot of shady spaces but precious few interior spaces.  This is most felt in June, July, August, etc. where the heat can become unbearable.  Even more than the other parks since there is no air conditioning to escape to.  While it should not be over done, a few more spaces to cool down in would be welcome.
  • There are a few spaces that should be fully utilized throughout the day.

With these goals in mind, I'll walk through each land in the park and discuss the updates.  I'll be walking through the park clockwise from Discovery Island through Pandora, and around to Dinoland U.S.A.  This is generally the approach we take in visiting the park, so it makes the most sense to me to approach it this way in addressing the parks needs and changes.

Discovery Island:
The expansion of Discovery Island and the addition of Tiffins has greatly improved this section of the park.  Further, the Tree of Life Awakenings projections on the tree have added a great atmospheric show for the island after dark.  The only thing I would add to this section of the park was to bring back the Discovery River Boats.  These boats were an original attraction of the park, designed to be transportation from a dock on Discovery Island, then to a dock on Asia and back around.  The boats were discontinued because they had very little to see, but were drawing longer lines as the first ride available.

Discovery Island with Reinstated River Boats
I would bring back the boats, adding a dock in Africa, and the a new location for a dock in Asia.  I would also add a few scenes that would make the river more exciting as it winds around.  Outside Pandora, I would replace the old attempt at a dragon in a cave with a water banshee or similar from the world of Pandora.  Something to peer out of a cave and add excitement.  In Africa, I would add a Jungle Cruise boat docked on the side opposite the boat dock.  Around the bend, across from the UP! Bird Show, I would add a phoenix.  Around in Asia, I would add a Kraken or Loch Ness like monster that pops up of the water outside the boat.  Finally, back around Dinoland U.S.A. I would add an Allosaurus.

Discovery Boat Route
Pandora: The World of Avatar:
Pandora has been a great addition.  It is truly a breathtaking land and a pinnacle of imagineering.  With the addition of the MECH armor walk-around and drum show, the land is very fleshed out.  I would not add anything.

A Bug's Land:
While bugs are represented in the Tough to Be A Bug show in the Tree of Life, there is space to add a version of the land from California to the Animal Kingdom park.  The land would add several attractions that are good for the little ones, along with a little puddle park to help cool down.  It continues the theme of celebrating animals and would add another section of attractions that could be continuously open to the front of the park.  One modification from the California Adventure version that I would make is to change Heimlich's Chew Chew Train to be a ride that circles the land, passing over the entrance and behind the other attractions.  This lengthens Heimlich's ride, one of the most common complaints about the attraction itself.

An Added Bug's Land
Should there be a need to reroute the back street and push further into the parking lot, a bug dark ride could be added to the back half of the land.  This land would be a little cul-de-sac off the path from Pandora into Africa.

Africa has gone through great growth as well.  The theater district and the Harambe Market area has created one of the best thematic lands in North America.  And Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of Disney's best and most unique attractions.

I would add a dark ride to the land, next to the Harambe Theater. Ideally the ride would be a Lion King dark ride, but would not be one that re-told the story, instead focusing on explaining and exploring the circle of life, with a James Earl Jones narration.  If the push is for a "book report" style attraction, I would make it a Tarzan attraction.

Dark Ride in Africa
While discussing a ride with animatronics, I do want to discuss their broader use in the park.  Animatronics should be used only to bring to life mythical, extinct, or cartoon animals.  They should never be used to replace extant, live animals.

Conservation Station/Rafiki's Planet Watch:
Conservation Station plays closest to the park's message, allowing for animal interactions and learning opportunities.  I would keep the message of Conservation Station, but explore bringing it more in line to the parks existing aesthetics.  This would potentially mean changing the station to a specific location.  For this I would focus on a national parks approach, with J. Audubon Woodlore as the face of this section.  If not national parks, I would go for perhaps a farm approach. Just a change of decor really.

Conservation Station and Expansion
The location of Conservation Station also opens up the expansion area that has already been cleared.  I would adapt this expansion area into South America, to continue the themes the park has established.

South America:
While part of the expansion pad would be used to push out Asia, the majority of the expansion would house a new South America land.  Like the other lands in the park, South America would be modeled after a particular small town/village on the edge of the Amazon.  This section would house a new table service restaurant, a counter service option, a market area for shops, and a signature ride attraction.  Given the prevalence of the Amazon, I would love to develop a true Jungle Cruise.  A Kilimanjaro Safaris-like boat ride, from which you saw real animals of South America.

South American Expansion
This would open up into the Asia section of the park.

Asia likewise has developed into a great land in the park.  Expedition: Everest and the Yak and Yeti have fleshed out the land well.  It could though use a redevelopment to open the land up to the expansion.  To achieve this, I would push the Maharajah Trek back as indicated above, to open Asia into the expansion.  This expansion would free up space to add a Harambe Marketplace-like section to Anandapur and a Jungle Book ride in a abandoned temple section.

Asia and Lagoon
The rest of the land works.  The only thing I would add is to try and find a daytime use for the lagoon and the seating built for Rivers of Light.  For this, I would pull out the plans for the Andrew Lloyd Weber Noah's Ark show meant for the EPCOT hotel lagoon.  It's a shame something like that was buried in the vaults.  It may need a once over, but that subject matter would be perfect for the setting.

Dinoland, U.S.A.:
Dinoland, U.S.A. is a land of contradictions.  A purposefully cheap and tacky appearing roadside carnival in Chester & Hester's Dinoland, and a more intentional Dinoland with a excavation site and Dinosaur Institute.

While I am surprised that I would defend Chester & Hester's, I think it fulfills a specific purpose in demonstrating one of the ways we interact with animals.  If anything, I think the sub-land suffers for being under developed, only having carnival games, a spinner, and a wild mouse roller coaster.  To remedy this, I would fully expand this sub-land, adding three rides and expanding out the amount of land this sub-section takes up.

Chester & Hester's Expansion
To accomplish this, I would move the carnival games to the side near the Theater in the Wild, placing them more in a line like a midway.  I would also remove the Primeval Whirl track on that side, reducing the ride down to one track, but allowing for an expansion area opening up to add a dinosaur dark ride.  This dark ride should look specifically like a dark ride at a state fair, utilizing ultraviolet lights and plywood like cutouts.  It should be very, very indicative of a classic Fantasyland dark ride, only with cartoon dinosaurs.  The entrance/exit to the ride should look like a trailer, though the larger show building could be hidden by trees and landscaping.

Behind the Primeval Whirl, I would add Chester & Hester's House, a lps ride like Mystic Manor.  Instead of going through various artifact rooms, it could go through various time periods in the paleolithic ages, revealing bones and artifacts uncovered from various dig sites.

On the Dinoland side, the land needs one final attraction.  I would build a version of the initial planned Excavator roller coaster, where the roller coaster is going through a dig site, with various fossils.

Dinoland Excacvator
I would place this attraction to the west of the entrance side of the Dinosaur ride.  This would place the roller-coaster, Dinosaur ride, dig site, and garden with Dinosaur statues all within the more accurate Dinoland..

Seasonal Overlays:
Of all the parks in Walt Disney World, Disney Animal Kingdom lends itself the least to seasonal overlays.  The modest decorations on Discovery Island would remain.  Likewise, A Bug's Land would lend itself to the oversized decorations that California Adventure has used.  Otherwise, understated will be the watch word here.

Parades and Nighttime Spectaculars:
While Animal Kingdom has previously had two parades (March of the Artimals and Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade), there is not a current parade.  The pathways no longer are conducive to a traditional parade, so I would recommend a boat parade on the Discovery River.  Perhaps it could be combined with the daytime Noah's Ark show - a parade of the animals coming to the ark.

While Rivers of Light is a beautiful nighttime show, it has underwhelmed some viewers.  It needs a final punch, and since fireworks are not exactly possible in this particular park, I would implement drone floating lanterns.  The drones could launch from a barge in the center of the lagoon.  The flying drones would give height to the visuals and fill in the show where it is perceived to lag.  All in a thematically appropriate manner with the lanterns.

Cartoon Mascot:
For the cartoon mascot of this park, I would select J. Audubon Woodlore.  As a park ranger, Woodlore embodies the spirit of man's interaction with animals and the protection of the same.


As always, thanks for sticking through this with me.  Next up in the series is Disney Springs.

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