Expedition Everest

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Disney Imagineers have hit a home run with Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. The attraction—with a queue that is really an attraction in itself—is an amazing show, even without the roller coaster.

Expedition Everest is a worthy addition to the Disney mountain range. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Let's start at the beginning. The story of Everest actually starts right at the point where the pathway splits from the road to Anandapur, which heads toward Kali River Rapids. At the junction point is the Kshana Travel Company (a themed Disney Vacation Club sales location) and the Royal Anandapur Tea Company, a store selling a variety of rare teas ostensibly harvested from tea plantations that are serviced by the Anandapur Rail Services trains.

The shape of the shrine on the peninsula mimics the shape of the mountain range. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Continuing along the walkway, we find a shrine to the Yeti on a peninsula overlooking the mountain. Viewing tubes focus on the peak of the Forbidden Mountain. As we approach the village of Serka Zong, we first find the Yeti Palace Hotel, still under construction but "opening next season." Next we see Gupta's Gear, a trekker's shop, with the Shangri-La Hotel and Internet Cafe located upstairs. Between the two buildings are located the entrances to the area's restrooms.

The Yeti Palace Hotel is still under construction, with rebar still showing on the upper floor. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

While Gupta's Gear takes the bottom floor, the Shangri-La Hotel and Internet Cafe occupies the top floor. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

When we finally reach outskirts of Serka Zong, we find a gateway that serves as the Fastpass structure. A carved Yeti footprint serves as a measure of the minimum height requirement for the ride. Nearby is a boulder with a warning attached, stating "Beware the Legend of the Forbidden Mountain." A canvas sign is wrapped around the boulder and fastened with climbing ropes, advertising "Expedition Everest." The sign mostly covers the words "Beware" and "the" below it, causing the combined signs to give the attraction's full name, "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain."

Finally, we come upon the beginning of the covered queue area. The building, the former offices of the Royal Anandapur Tea Company, have been taken over the Himalayan Escapes, who have reopened the Anandapur Rail Services tea train railway. This is where the Fastpass and Standby queues enter the village of Serka Zong, and the storylines that you follow diverge. First, let's follow the more intricately detailed standby queue.

The standby queue begins in the booking office for Himalayan Escapes. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The upper floor of the booking office contains a residence. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Those following the standby queue have not yet booked their passage on an expedition, so they begin in the booking office. An old computer sits on a desk, while maps, advertisements, news clippings and so forth are attached to the walls. The room is lit by bare light bulbs. Upstairs appears to be the residence of whoever works in the booking office.

From the standby queue, visitors can see the Fastpass queue across the courtyard. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

A shadowbox shrine to the Yeti is inside the mandir. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Leaving the booking office, we pass through a courtyard on our way to a mandir—or—pagoda, dedicated to the Yeti. The mandir contains a shadowbox-type shrine to the Yeti (secured from meddlesome guests by chicken wire), which includes a sculpture of a Yeti surrounded by fruit, bowls and other decorations. Across from the display is an interior courtyard containing stupas and shrines dedicated to the Yeti.

A Yeti shrine in the mandir's courtyard contains many relics. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The relics in the shrine courtyard are already drawing many coins being aimed at the cups and bowls. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

After exiting the mandir, visitors walk through a small tea plantation still maintained by the Royal Anandapur Tea Company on their way to the General Store to pick up the necessary merchandise for their trip to Mount Everest. The general store includes cold weather gear, rope, backpacks and food, including boxes of "Ye-Tea." In the center of the store is a small refreshment station featuring Tongba and Mustang Tea.

The general store carries ropes, backpacks and supplies. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Various cookware is also on display at the general store. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

What general store would be complete without a display of men's magazines? Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

From the general store, we exit to the Yeti Museum. The museum tells the story of the Yeti through various exhibits such as "The Yeti – A Living Legend for Thousands of Years," "Outsiders 'Discover' the Yeti," "The Mystery of the Lost Expedition," "The Yeti – A Scientific Examination" and "The Yeti – Interpreting the Findings." The Yeti Museum exits into a small photo gallery of the staff of Himalayan Escapes that leads to the loading area for the ride.

An image of the Yeti welcomes visitors to the Yeti museum. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The remains of the lost expedition to the Forbidden Mountain appear to have been somewhat shredded. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

And the queue is even more amazing than it sounds in narrative. But we haven't heard the story of the Fastpass queue yet. Those with Fastpasses are lucky because they have already booked their expedition. Instead of the booking office, they enter through the permit office, where they are to check in for their expedition and make sure that they have the proper permits. Again, there is residential space upstairs from the office.

The permit office displays which permits are necessary. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Some interesting groups have left their mountaineering stickers on the door frame. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

When leaving the permit office, we pass along the opposite side of the courtyard at the exit of the booking office. We next approach the Anandapur Mountaineer's Association building, which carries supplies and information about safe and responsible trekking and climbing. We then continue past the Yeti Museum annex before entering the other end of the photo gallery that leads to the loading area.

The Anandapur Mountaineers Association operates a shop in the Fastpass queue. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The Yeti Museum annex displays a smaller cross-section of the contents of the full museum. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Single riders follow the Fastpass queue and split off just before the Yeti Museum annex to line up alongside the photo gallery building. Those who wish to wait for a seat in the front row are queued in a separate line in the same area.

The steam donkey engine pushes the old tea train into the station. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Steam billows out behind the engine. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Now, it's finally time to board our steam donkey train for our expedition through the Forbidden Mountain on our way to the climbers' base camp at Mount Everest. The "pusher" train has six cars including the engine, and seats 34 people in 17 rows. As it pulls into the station and again as it leaves, a blast of steam billows from the bottom of the engine.

If you want to be surprised by what happens on the ride, please click here to jump past the ride description.

The ride itself begins with a trip through lowlands, then climbs alongside a stairway toward a tunnel through the rock below a mountain fortress. Inside the tunnel is a mural depicting the Yeti, as well as a shrine to the creature along the side of the track.

The train track climbs alongside the stairway. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

A mural of the Yeti is high overhead inside the tunnel. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The train then continues up the steep lift across a high bridge, giving wonderful views of the Animal Kingdom to one side, and other areas of Walt Disney World to the other. At the top of the lift, the train drops and turns left, then passes through a misty tunnel before exiting the mountain to find that the track has been ripped apart. Large footprints are visible alongside the train. A vulture rides the wind currents above the peak.

The train ride continues along the snowy peak. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The train track has been shredded by the Yeti. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Suddenly, the train pitches backwards, down through the dark inside the mountain, for over half a minute. It finally comes to a stop with a view of a shadow of a train track projected on the cavern wall above. Suddenly, the shadow of the Yeti jumps onto the train track, roars, and rips apart the train track. At a small sound from the engine, the Yeti looks at our train. We begin rushing forward out of the chamber as the Yeti's shadow looks like it is jumping toward us.

The Yeti roars off to the left. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

As we come out of the chamber, the track drops 80 feet before curving back into the mountain. Upon exiting the mountain, the track begins a 720-degree spiral that starts back uphill before we reenter the mountain. Continuing uphill, we lose more speed before we enter the signature moment of the attraction.

A train rises to the peak of the mountain while another escapes its first contact with the Yeti. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Now, there have been photos of the Yeti animatronic published in many corners of the Internet since the attraction opened. I avoided looking at them until I rode the attraction. I'm glad that I did. The photos, while they are really good, do not give a good impression of just how fantastic this creature is. It is so large, fast and smooth that the photos just don't do it justice. So I'm going to leave it for you to experience for yourself. If you really need to see a photo, go to one of the other sites.

What I will tell you is that the Yeti is 30 feet tall in "show mode." If it were to stand straight up with its arms in the air, it would be 50 feet tall. And yet it moves quickly and smoothly to reach for your train. You escape just in time, leaving the Yeti to roar in vain as you exit the mountain and head for the unload area.

For those who skipped the ride description, welcome back!

Upon exiting the attraction, you find yourself in the Serka Zong Bazaar, a store with camping gear, ceremonial masks and other merchandise decorating the walls, and all sorts of Yeti merchandise for purchase.

A huge display of masks adorns one wall of the Serka Zong Bazaar. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The store contains all sorts of Yeti merchandise. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Between the Bazaar and the Fastpass queue's Mountaineer Association building is a sample ride seat for guests to see if they will be able to fit safely into the seat and get the lap bar pulled down enough to lock. The sample seat includes a door, which allows mobility-impaired guests to see how they will fare in the handicap-accessible last row of the train.

A sample seat allows visitors to ensure that they will fit. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

If you can lower the bar to the green area, you will be able to ride the attraction. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Outside the Bazaar is a large waiting area where those who are not riding can wait for the members of their party that are on the ride. The area provides a great scenic overlook for the main lift and drop on the ride.

The spacious waiting area gives non-riders plenty of room to explore while they wait. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The overlook from the waiting area gives a great view of the drop. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

All in all, this attraction has really hit a home run. Even without the coaster, this would be a great show. Thumbs up to all those involved in the design and construction (and to those who keep things running smoothly, as well)!