My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdomby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and well out there.
I realize that one of the unfortunate side effects of the last two years has been the slow erosion of the things that truly make me who I am. For the longest time, when times were tough, I have always been able to fall back on the few things that I have grown to love most in my life. Aside from my wife and family, I've adopted a few things that I need to consistently do in my life that complete me and make me feel who I am. One of them, and I guess this goes back the longest in my life, is skiing. We're approaching the third March that we've all been in this mess and in all of that time I've only skied once. I skied a lot the winter of 2019-2020, that is up until everything shut down. The following winter – the ski season of 2020-2021 – I skied for exactly one day. The ski resorts are open, but out of an abundance of caution and ill family members, I've stayed away. I also run the Ski Club at the school where I teach and those trips have been sidelined and still are. That's where I used to get most of my days in on the mountain. I am headed up skiing in a few weeks and I can't wait to get back out there again because, simply stated, there's been a huge hole in my life without it.
Yet another thing that has essentially been sidelined for the past two years are live concerts. I saw my first rock concert in 1982 at Shea Stadium here in New York. It was The Who and The Clash and that was it. I was hooked on the live music experience. Shortly thereafter, my wise older brother took me to my first Grateful Dead show at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey and that was really it. I was "on the bus" as the Deadheads say and have been ever since. Summer 2020, Dead and Company, the newest iteration of my favorite band, cancelled their summer tour and I faced my first summer without a Dead show since 1988. As things began to open up a bit, I did get lucky in Summer of 2021 when I was able to catch them twice, but still – seeing Grateful Dead music performed live has been such a core facet of my existence that it truly does feel like a big piece of me has been missing. My other live musical passion is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Don't even get me started on that because they haven't toured since 2016. I was extremely blessed to see Bruce live during his original Broadway run in 2017. That's a cherished memory for sure, but sometimes I can't believe it's going on 6 years since I've seen Bruce and the band play together. Yet another huge hole in my life.
Which brings me to Disney, more specifically to Walt Disney World. I haven't been back since Fall of 2019 and, as I keep mentioning in my recent articles, it's really starting to get to me. I have plans in my head to get there either this coming Spring or Summer, so there is light at the end of the tunnel for sure, but sometimes that light just isn't bright enough to get me by. There are so many experiences at Walt Disney World that fill me with so much joy and I've spoken about so many of them here over the years. Living without them for the past two years has once again created this large hole in my life. One of those things that I so deeply miss is the rush that can be had when I climb to the top of that huge precipice in Disney's Animal Kingdom, pause for a moment and then begin to hurl backwards downhill on what I've long considered to be the greatest roller coaster on Earth: Expedition Everest. I'm a big coaster guy and the last one that I was actually on was none other than Everest on that last Disney weekend with my sons two and a half years ago.
I've been on a whole bunch of roller coasters in my life. The world famous Cyclone, for instance, is only about 20 miles from here. One of my best friends, Benny, and I had a rather strange ongoing tradition. When something major was going on in our lives, we'd call each other up and set up a date and time to head over to Coney Island together. The mere phone call was an indication that something major was up. We'd get on the Cyclone. We'd get to the top and as we went over that awesome big drop, the person with the big news would shout it out. "I'm gettin'' marrieeeeeeeeed!" "Diane is pregnaaaaaaaaaaannnnntttt!" It was good stupid fun. We'd go have a hot dog at Nathan's and laugh about our silly little tradition and delve deeper into our news. So, yeah, it's safe to say that roller coasters and me have a special relationship and it's no small statement when I claim that Expedition Everest is 100 percent my favorite coaster anywhere. Why exactly is that? Let's check out my Top 5 things to love about Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom and you'll see.
5 – The View From The Top
It's no breaking news that Central Florida is pretty flat. It may be the flattest place I've ever been to and I can remember driving through Indiana on my way to a Dead show commenting on how incredibly flat that state was and how far off into the horizon I could actually see. I grew up skiing and hiking in the Green Mountains of nearby Vermont and where I live now, on the north shore of Long Island, is actually quite hilly. So flat is not my thing. However, one of the cooler things about being at Walt Disney World is when you finally get up high – like say the top of the Contemporary or the top of my favorite roller coaster – and you are treated to some seemingly endless and breathtaking views.
Pandora from atop Expedition Everest. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The peak of Everest, at about 200 feet high right when you come to a stop and face the ripped apart tracks, has to be my favorite view on Disney property. The first time you go, pay attention to the ride and enjoy the moment. After you've been on a few times, start turning your head left and right and look for some beautiful Disney landmarks off in the distance as well as Animal Kingdom's massive Tree of Life and the incredible floating mountains of Pandora.
4 – The Yeti
I'll never forget bringing my dad on Expedition Everest on his first trip to Disney with us. My father's the one that took me to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone for the first time and to Rye Playland to ride the Dragon Coaster. My love of coasters definitely began with him so I was excited to go with him on my favorite coaster. When we disembarked, someone said, "What'd you think of the giant Yeti?" And my dad, pricelessly answered, "There was a giant Yeti?" I guess his eyes were closed the whole time and despite it being one of the biggest things Disney has ever built, it is kind of a blink and you'll miss it sort of thing.
The Yeti on Expedition Everest. ©Disney.
There's been so much griping about the Yeti for years now on the Internet and I get it. it's one of the largest and most elaborate animatronics ever constructed and yet, thanks to a rare Imagineering oops moment, he doesn't really do what he's supposed to do. I do remember seeing the Yeti function in "A mode" when he literally swiped at you as you scream by him. Of course, he hasn't done that in so long now that that's becoming a fading memory. If you read the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom, they describe the Yeti's drive system as having, "enough hydraulic force to move a passenger jet." Very cool, for sure. But not so cool for the pounding it was handing to the ride's foundation. So much so that he has been functioning in "B mode" for years now. They bathe him in strobe lights in order to trick your mind into thinking that he's moving. Still, the Yeti is impressive and he's a major feature of the whole experience from the queue to the projection Yeti tearing up the tracks to the big boy himself that he can't be discounted no matter what mode he's operating in.
3 – The Single Rider Line
Even with Pandora peeling away guests to that side of the park, Everest is still a hot ticket and draws plenty of long lines throughout the day. It was always a FastPass acquisition for sure. But most people don't realize that just off to the right of the main entrance is a rarity on Disney property, a single rider line. I've seen 40-60 minute wait times posted on the standby line and walked right over to the single rider line and literally walked all the way up to a waiting ride vehicle without stopping. Then I've gotten off the ride and gotten right back onto the single line and done the same exact thing. I would typically book a FastPass for Everest, enjoy it with my family and then my goal was to throw in another 1 or 2 spins on the single rider line while the kids were perusing the gift shop.
This is an older photo, and the best I can find of the single rider entrance to Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. Make sure you look for it on your next excursion. Photo by Donald Fink.
If I had nothing else that I wanted to do in the park, I could probably stay in Serka Zong and ride the single rider line over and over again all day long and barely wait in a line. How often can you say that in a Disney park, especially with an E ticket attraction like Everest? Disney doesn't hide the fact that this line exists but, at least in my experience, it's barely used by the guests and I hope it stays that way.
2 – The Drops
When it comes to coasters, I prefer a more classic experience. Maybe it's my background growing up in such close proximity to the Cyclone. The Coney Island legend is fast. It has sharp turns and, of course, the big drop. That's the kind of coaster I love. I don't need to go upside down multiple times and spin through corkscrews. I'll happily do so, but I'd much rather go fast, whip around some turns and experience that crazy sensation that I wait for: the big drop. I can't explain it. I guess it's a combination of things: the slow climb loaded with the suspense as you head up higher and higher and then the wait for that moment when you plummet down at high speeds. I love it. You should hear me scream!
Look closely at the middle row and you'll spot a very happy MousePlanet Top 5 writer plunging down the drop on Expedition Everest. Photo by Chris Barry.
I can handle the giant drops on such Six Flags beasts like Nitro in New Jersey – 215 feet at 80 mph! Yes please! The bigger and faster the better as far as I'm concerned. But there's just something about the two drops on Everest that really make it my all-time favorite. The first one is backwards and I think that makes all the difference. Everest only hits about 50 mph, which is still pretty darn fast, but going that fast backwards is really something else. Then just when you thought you've had all the fun you need, you still have the big forwards drop coming up. One is in the dark and one is in the light and they're both so awesome. I can't wait to get back and feel the 3 G's pulling me into that seat! It totally makes you feel alive.
1 – The Details
Of course, the one thing that Disney does better than anyone is fill their attractions with so many mind-blowing details. The Expedition Everest experience starts with the amazing glimpses you get of it from all over the park. There are so many incredible views of the Forbidden Mountain from so many locations throughout Animal Kingdom, like the bridge into Africa, the dining pavilions of Flame Tree Barbecue on Discovery Island and the up close views of the mountain as you walk on that path leading from the Nemo theater into Asia. It's breathtaking to see from a distance and when you get up close, it only gets better. Then you enter the queue and are treated to literally thousands of props, most of which are authentic and brought over from the Himalayas by the Imagineers themselves.
The extensive theming around the base of Expedition Everest can be seen all along the Discovery River. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Dare I say it, the Everest queue is worth skipping the FastPass (or now the Lightning Lane) and single rider lines just to experience the staggering amount of detailing. It's Imagineering at its finest; a work of art from start to finish. If you love roller coasters, the details throughout Expedition Everest are the icing on your thrill seeking cake. If you hate roller coasters, get on the line anyway. You won't believe what you're seeing as you travel through the many rooms and twists and turns of this remarkable queue. You can always chicken out at the end and duck out of the ride, but at least you'll see just what the incredible team of Imagineers can do when they put their mind to it.
I mentioned several of my favorite coasters in this article. There's the world famous Cyclone, the locally famous Dragon Coaster up in Rye Beach and the insanely steep, fast and long Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure. I love them all and that's barely scratched the surface. I could wax poetically about Space Mountain and Big Thunder at the Magic Kingdom. I'm supposed to be heading back to Hershey Park this spring chaperoning a school trip that I so, so hope still happens so I could go on the legendary Comet and the new Candymonium monster coaster. There's the awesome Steel Force at Dorney Park and the insane Apollo's Chariot down at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. But still, even with all of those and several more that I haven't mentioned, to me there's just nothing else like Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, the 100 million dollar coaster and Imagineering masterpiece at Walt Disney World. It's my favorite roller coaster anywhere and I can't wait to get back down there so I can feel that special piece of Disney magic that's really in a class by itself.
I'll be skiing soon, probably in about two weeks actually. I'm hoping the Dead will be back on the road this summer and maybe even Springsteen and the E Street Band if the rumors are true and COVID doesn't continue to pull the rug out from underneath the live music business. These are all things I need in my life; things that have been put on hold for too long. And, of course, with a little faith, hope and pixie dust, I'll be back at Walt Disney World in the next few months screaming like a banshee as I plummet down the slopes of Expedition Everest and finally making myself whole again.
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 Expedition Everest. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
Hey Chris, After reading this Top 5 I think you need to move to Florida. And instead of being able to drive to skiing you can drive to WDW!!
As far as roller coasters I have tried Expedition Everest one time and after reading this piece I might try it again. I am a Thunder Mountain, Mine Train roller coaster kind of guy.
One thing that is near the Top of my Top 5 is the single rider line. With all the changes the single rider line at Test Track has been awesome. I haven't tried the single rider line for a year or so and I hope it is still there.
So many changes and in my mind so many towards control and higher prices. But, if people continue to pay these higher prices for less value then my opinion really doesn't matter.
Will be very interested to see the top 5 after your next trip.
I definitely consider this ride a favorite.
The view from the "top" (If I'm being a stickler, I think you are actually still on the lift hill if you can see Pandora though maybe there are other parts of the ride where you can see it.) : I agree that's neat. If you get the first car, it's possible to see out to Epcot (not that you have time to recognize much more than Spaceship Earth and maybe the general shape of Swan and Dolphin, but it's still a cool view! Somewhere I might have a slightly blurry photo of that view. Other neat little detail to look for at the top is the flying owl that moves (up above the peak to the left of the broken tracks).
The Yeti: I'm a bit torn on this. I know the original intent was pretty grand, but I did not become a visitor until long after he was immobilized. So for me he's always been in the dark or in the Disco Yeti flashing strobe "B" mode. When your dad missed it was that before the breakdown, or was he still moving and more viewable for that trip? I ask because I certainly did not see him the first few trips, probably until I knew where to look. And when I mentioned it to a friend once, he referred to the "part where he rips up the tracks" (the silhouette video screen show before the big drop). So my friend missed him too. While I understand what they are trying to do with the strobe, I feel like it would be better with maybe a longer flash to leave him lit for longer so people are more likely to see him. I can imagine that's a hard balance to do so that all the different cars of the train get a similar view though. Maybe that's also part of why they strobe it. There might not be a good timing solution between the strobe and just leaving the light on him full time.
Single Rider: ABSOLUTELY! This might be my #1 or #2. It is important to note for anyone looking for it, the photo above shows it when it is closed. If the umbrella is open with a CM standing under it, then it's open. Regarding how long the wait can be in general, I'd be very curious to hear from people who have been going since Genie was rolled out. When I was there in October 2021, it seemed more busy, but that was in the period when there was no FP+ and also before Genie was active.
The drop(s): I agree they are good. While I enjoy all the Disney coasters, I can't say I'm a general coaster aficionado like you are (despite growing up on LI, I've never ridden on the Cyclone or even been to Coney Island). And even though I'm now in PA just north of Philadelphia, I've also never done the Six Flags Great Adventure visit!). That said, based on what you call out as your likes, I'll suggest we need to get you to step out of the Disney Bubble one day when you visit Orlando and possibly visit Sea World. Mako is one of their newer coasters that has a very good big drop. It's info on the Sea World site (20 stories and 73 mph) make it sound like it may be close to what you called out re: speed and height for Nitro. Their newest coaster (Ice Breaker) sounds promising too (I was contemplating a visit to SW in October, but wanted to wait until this new coaster opened). It has a backwards component, and it sounds like it will be a good ride. I watched some of the media day vloggers, and they seemed to think it was good (of course, standard disclaimer for any of those, you have to remember they get these preview opportunities by giving positive reactions on their channels). Oh, and Manta is really cool too.
The details and theming: yup! Not sure I'd go on the standby line multiple times or anything, but it's definitely cool for someone who's never been through it. The backstory is great. The neat little "plus-ing" of the signs in the room right before you board are a nice little touch. Seeing a sign with your name on it as you walk by is neat. (It's not a given that it will pick your magic band, I guess, depending on how many are in the area at any given time. But I've seen my name on one of the graphics at least once or twice over the years). And I definitely agree on the seating area at Flame Tree being one of the best views in the park.
Although EE is becoming too intense for me, I love this rollercoaster. It is one of my favorite queues at Disney Parks. It's too bad it's one of the last non-movie IP-based attractions built by Disney.