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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.