My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Dinosaur at Disney's Animal Kingdomby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. I hope you are all well and safe out there. It's been a challenging few weeks here in New York. As I write this it appears that we may be seeing some light at the end of yet another COVID tunnel. The winter cold has settled in and although I'm a lifelong skier and love winters, my thoughts are starting to turn south right now for some much needed relief. Just today, I was having a conversation with MousePlanet's own Gregg Jacobs about traveling to the Caribbean, our favorite islands to travel to and when we might consider heading back. Gregg's an Aruba guy and having been there myself I can't blame him but, at this point, I'll take any of them. I could use a beach chair and a drink with a hunk of fruit and an umbrella in it pretty badly right now. Unfortunately, that's a little out of reach for me at this point, but how about sunny Florida? Maybe Central Florida? Home of Walt Disney World? Is that on my horizon? As it stands, I'm the just about only one on the MousePlanet team that hasn't made it back into a Disney park since this mess began in 2020. Quite honestly, that's a designation I could do without. I'm dying to go back. Maybe this spring? Hopefully by summer. Only time will tell but, as always, there's a Disney trip planned in my head.
The truth of the matter is I'm not going back this week or next month, so what do I do in the meantime? I think about it. I talk about it and right here twice a month, I write about it. If you've been following along with my articles, and thanks so much for sticking with me if you have, I've been counting down the very best that each attraction has to offer on Walt Disney World property. I'm still in Animal Kingdom. For the last two articles, we've been enjoying Discovery Island. Now it's time to cross a bridge and start exploring the rest of this magnificent park. But which way to go? Do I head to Africa and the Safari? How about Pandora and Flight of Passage? I think I'll hold off on those two for now and head across the bridge less traveled and make my way over the bridge to Dinoland U.S.A.
When I say less traveled, it's not that guests don't routinely visit Dinoland. They do. Dinosaur, which I'll be talking about today, continues to draw a crowd almost 24 years after opening. But the rest of Dinoland U.S.A. has been the subject of much derision since the park opened in 1998. I'd be hard pressed to disagree with the naysayers and that's an unusual position for me to take. As long as I've been writing here on MousePlanet and it's been a good long 13 years, I've tried to stay positive. Quite frankly, I find no need to complain about Walt Disney World. It's an incredible place and I'm always in awe of just what goes on there every single day. That said I have always questioned the whole cheap carnival sideshow theme that makes up a big section of Dinoland. I've heard the Imagineers explain the backstory and the reasoning for it, but I have to say, I've never quite bought into it and I know I'm not alone.
One area that I think fits in well in Animal Kingdom's theming is the half of Dinoland U.S.A. that surrounds the attraction I'm going to talk about today, Dinosaur. When I walked through Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama I felt like I had mysteriously left the park and not in a "Cool, I'm actually in Africa" or "I'm actually visiting Pandora" kind of way. It felt out of place to me. The landscape and vegetation around Dinosaur feels like it belongs in the park. It's transformative in a good way. What is it that I like most about this venerable Disney attraction in Animal Kingdom? Let's take a closer look with my Top 5 things to love about Dinosaur at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
5 - The Queue
We all know that Disney is big on creating elaborate queues for their guests to spend time in while they wait to board their attractions and Dinosaur is no different. As you enter the Dino Institute you start off in a smaller hallway and have some fossil exhibits to look at. But the room that I like best is the second room of the queue, the one with the full size Carnotaurus fossil as it's centerpiece.
FastPass used to whisk me through this room rather quickly and I rarely got to see just how much cool stuff the Imagineers placed here for our viewing pleasure. The few times I waited for Dinosaur without a FastPass, I thoroughly enjoyed the sediment walls complete with fossils to touch. But what I really enjoyed was the fact that every few minutes the lights would dim and Bill Nye the Science Guy would give his spiel about the great asteroid that struck Earth and drove the dinosaurs to extinction. It's good storytelling and sets up the rest of the attraction for you.
4 - The Murals
In the aforementioned Dino Institute main queue area there are several very cool murals that adorn the higher regions of the room. My favorite is the one with the dinosaurs meeting their fiery demise as Earth is struck by the giant asteroid that did them in.
Sure, it's a little brutal an image for a Disney attraction, but that doesn't mean it isn't a really cool piece of art. If you're a big dinosaur fan, you're probably pretty happy to begin with walking through the queue rooms, but I've always felt that the murals add a little something extra. Unfortunately, most people probably don't even take the time to look up at them as they make their way through and that's a shame.
3 - The Condiment Pipes
As Disney fans we're all well aware that the Imagineers sneak all sorts of hidden details into their attractions. Although some details are obvious and are meant to be seen, there are others that are so far-fetched you need to read about them or have them pointed out to you or you'd never know they were there. Case in point are the faux pipes overhead in the Time Transport Loading Bay of the Dino Institute. The pipes are insignificant to the experience or to the backstory. They're there to look good and to give the room the more industrial feel that it's supposed to have.
If you look closely, you'll realize that the pipes happen to be red, yellow and white. If you look even closer, you'll see some chemical formulas written on the pipes. Random gibberish to make the pipes look more realistic? Sure, except for the fact that the formulas happen to be the formulas for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise on the corresponding colored pipes. Dinosaur was originally sponsored by McDonald's and legend has it that the pipes are a nod to the ride's old sponsor. That's the kind of cool thing that the Imagineers sneak into a ride that I just love.
2 - The Animatronic Dinosaurs
If you're going to have an attraction that takes you back to the Cretaceous period in search of dinosaurs in a Disney theme park, it better have really awesome and realistic looking animatronic dinosaurs. This is where the Imagineers really shined when they built this ride. The animatronic dinos are super realistic. At times they are regal and beautiful and at other times they are downright terrifying. My favorite of them all has to be the Carnotaurus.
You come up against this massive beast several times in the ride and each time it appears more and more threatening. The animatronics needed to be awesome for the ride to work and, all these years later, they still really are.
1 - The Time Rovers
I'm a big fan of Disney ride vehicles. Years ago, I actually wrote a Top 5 Disney Attraction Vehicles list and Dinosaur's Time Rovers were right there among my 5 favorites. These ride vehicles are probably the most complex ride vehicles in all of Walt Disney World, and for that matter perhaps in any theme park anywhere. These massive time traveling jeeps not only look cool but they also give you one heck of a ride. When my sons were younger and afraid of drops on rides, it took me a while to explain to them that you don't actually drop in Dinosaur, it's the ride vehicle that moves and makes you feel like you're dropping. Sometimes it's hard to believe that these ingenious ride vehicles move like they do. The ride would certainly be fun even without the complex vehicles but, as always, the Imagineers put their brains into overdrive when they designed these things and I feel like they totally make the ride what it is.
Once you turn down those stairs towards the loading platform and catch a glimpse of the Time Rovers, you realize what lies ahead; a completely amazing attraction that totally immerses you in the experience thanks in no small part to these incredible vehicles.
Dinosaur has endured over the last 23 years despite dividing guests straight down the middle. It's pretty much a love it or hate it kind of attraction. Some little kids are absolutely terrified on this ride, and who can blame them? It's loud. It's scary. There are giant beasts trying to attack you around every corner. It's dark. It's noisy. To say it overstimulates the senses is a gross understatement. I can see why people hate it. But all of the reasons I just listed make me love it every time I experience it. I think it's a total blast. Is it very Disney? Well, it's not exactly "it's a small world," but so what? I think it's an absolute classic. When I finally get back to Walt Disney World, I can't wait to get myself back on rides like Peter Pan's Flight and feel like a kid again. But I'm also equally looking forward to being tossed around and terrified on Dinosaur once again. Opposite ends of the spectrum, for sure, but both equally as exhilarating for this Disney fan.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below and share your thoughts on Animal Kingdom's Dinosaur. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.