Thursday, January 26, 2006

Expedition Everest

After what seems like years of waiting, Expedition Everest, the latest attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom, has finally made its debut. At the moment, it's only on a limited basis, but Cast Members, Annual Passholders, and DVC members have all had the opportunity to experience its excitement firsthand.

Since my husband and I both have APs (and since hubby is a roller coaster buff), we've been waiting anxiously to experience it. We've watched as it grew from a cleared-out plot of land to a massive structure looming over the Asia section of the park. It's a giant, snow-capped mountain with metallic tracks surrounded it; the ride runs both inside and out, sort of like Big Thunder Mountain, but it's a heck of a lot cooler.

The AP preview event started today, so we trooped off to the Animal Kingdom around noon. We figured that the intense die-hards who wanted to be the first to ride would have cleared out by then. We were still expecting healthy-sized lines, but we figured that they would have slacked off somewhat if we arrived a little later.

We debated getting a Fast Pass for Kilimanjaro Safari before heading to Expedition Everest, figuring that we could do a quick safari ride on the way out. But laziness won out; we didn't feel like walking all the way to Africa when the Asia section of the park is so much closer.

The area near Everest is blocked off, with Cast Members checking APs and DVC memberships before they allow anyone in. They were also requiring photo IDs so "cheaters" couldn't borrow someone else's pass. Hubby and I produced the required proof and were soon heading to the base of the "mountain" with a hoard of other excited previewers.

Amazingly, Fast Passes were being offered for Everest. I guess that the preview is a training exercise for the CMs, too, so they're running the ride just as they would on a "real" day. The standby line was listed at 20 minutes, so we decided to grab Fast Passes, ride a time or two through the regular line, and then zip through with our passes as the finale.

Disney has really been plugging the theming in Everest's queue line. At first, I wasn't to impressed; it was detailed enough, representing a supply shop where you could stock up on goods for your trip to the top of Mount Everest. But overall it didn't strike me as any more impressive than Test Track or The Great Movie Ride.

Once we got farther inside, my level of admiration grew. There were cases with all sorts of cool "artifacts"; my favorites were the animal masks. There were also the remains of a camp that had apparently been ravaged by an unknown beast. The yeti, perhaps? Or is he just a legend? We were about to find out firsthand!

At first, the line moved quickly, but suddenly it went 101 (i.e. broke down). That's not really surprising during a preview, when they are still working the bugs out. My only worry was whether they'd get it running again quickly, or whether we'd be caught in the queue till closing time, clinging to false hopes.

Fortunately, it wasn't too long before the line of anxious Everest trekkers continued its progress toward the loading station. Before I knew it, we were being directed to our row (row 6, in the middle of the train) and clambering into our seats for our newest Disney experience.

The seats have high backs to support your neck, and you are secured in with an individual lap bar. Each seat has a storage net where you can stash bags, backpacks, and whatnot if you don't feel like clutching them throughout your trip. That's a major plus for true coaster fans, who like to spend the entire ride waving their hands in the air without having to cling to extraneous items.

In the months and years of waiting for Expedition Everest, I tried not to get my hopes up too much. After all, I am married to a die-hard coaster fanatic who has dragged me across the country to ride such gems as Magnum XL at Cedar Point (a masterful coaster with a 200 foot first drop and a bowtie where you literally float out of your seat for several seconds, topped off with a wicked string of nut-crunching bunny hills that make me glad to be female). After experiencing some of the top coasters in the country, Disney World's offerings are baby carriages by comparison.

But still, I think Disney needs to up the thrill ride ante to compete with parks such as Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens. Deep in my heart, I nurtured a small hope that Everest would be their first salvo in a "real" coaster war. And if not...well, hopefully it would at least measure up to the other "mountain" coasters.

An air of excitement swept through the train as we raced towards our date with the Yeti. Right off the bat, as the chain lift ratcheted us into the sky, I was impressed by the panoramic view of Disney World. On one side, the entire Epcot area is spread out in front you, while the resorts near 192 beckon on the other. If you can manage to turn around, you'll see the Contemporary and Space Mountain jutting up out of the trees.

But the view doesn't last too long, as you are soon plunging into the mountain on a wild ride with wicked lateral forces. CAUTION: SPOILER AHEAD...DON'T READ ANY FARTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THE RIDE.

I love the part where you zip towards an area where the track ahead of you seems to be ripped up. If you continue, you'll plummet off the edge! Much like the boat ride in Norway, the train stops and you suddenly find yourself zooming backwards into almost total darkness. There is no big drop, but the dual punches of being nearly blind in the blackness and curling through sudden twists and turns in extremely disorienting. If you are prone to motion sickness, this is the most likely part to affect you.

Eventually you stop and watch a shadow projected yeti, but I quickly learned that it was more fun to watch the track in front. If you look closely, you'll see it literally rotate so you can continue your journey going forward.

After more wild twists and turns, you'll zoom past a 40-foot shaggy Yeti before the ride abruptly ends. And I do mean abruptly...trust me, the brakes work very well! I thought that the quick end after the Yeti was a bit of a let-down. It seemed like there should be something more. But that's only a minor criticism of what is a very cool ride overall.

To put my opinion in perspective, I call it "cool" from the standpoint of a Disney family attraction, not a mega heart-pounding roller coaster. It's not in the same league as Hulk or Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure...not even close. Think of a more exciting version of Thunder Mountain Railroad that offers great panoramic views of the Disney World resort and that also goes backward and you'll have a pretty good idea of its intensity level.

I didn't see many teenagers, but there were lots of younger kids around, and every one of them who I spoke with loved the ride. It seemed to be a winner with the parents (and many childless riders) too. It's rough enough to offer some harmless thrills while still being smooth enough not to cause whiplash (unlike the innocent-looking but surprisingly vicious Primeavel Whirl mad mouse coaster in Dinoland...that thing should be called Prime-Evil, as it put my neck out of whack for a week!).

My husband and I stopped in the requisite gift shop at the ride's exit to purpose Expedition Everest t-shirts. We noticed that the standby line seemed even shorter than before, so we hopped in for another ride. That turned into another...and another. We couldn't help it; we just had to take advantage of the low crowd density. Soon enough, summer will be upon us, with multi-hour waits. Florida residents know how to strike when the iron is hot.

Eventually, it was time for our Fast Pass. We used it for an even shorter wait ("shorter" was a relative term, since the standby line was no more than ten minutes). As we hiked through, we noticed a Single Riders entrance. Intrigued, we decided to ride one more time to give that a try. You could get on even more quickly as a single rider than with a Fast Pass. Hubby and I did it multiple times, and we ended up on the same train all but two times. As a single rider, you must sit wherever you are directed, which means that you will be separated from your party. It's actually kind of cool, as you typically sit to another single, and many like to chat. Both my husband and I had some very interesting conversations with our row mates.

But all good things must come to an end, and finally we decided that it was time to leave. We had set a goal to ride Expedition Everest a lucky 13 times, and we accomplished that easily. I was game for more, but I hadn't eaten lunch, and my low blood sugar had given me a head rush the last few times of going through the backwards part. At least I wasn't along in ignoring my physical needs for the thrill of the ride; as I was mentioning my dilemma to my husband, a woman near us in the line said "Same here!" and pointed to her hypoglycemia Med-Alert bracelet! Now that's a true ride fan!

Thus, we threw in the towel at 13 and headed out of the park. We were both still amazed at what a wonderful experience it had been. We'd planned on riding twice at most, picturing neverending lines of frothing fans. Getting rides in the double digits was beyond our wildest dreams.

13 isn't the most times that I've ever ridden one coaster in a single block of time. Years ago, I managed to hit 40 on Batman at Six Flags in Illinois. It happened at a special hard-ticket event where the lines on every ride were virtually non-existent. I didn't even have to get off the ride, other than to switch seats if someone happened to be waiting for my row. At that time, I had loaded up on plenty of sugar and was prepared for marathon riding. I thought that I did pretty good on Everest, considering that the decision to rack up so many rides was spontaneous.

Everest isn't a contender among the mega-coasters of the world, but it's a nice additional to Disney World. It's family friendly and definitely a kid-pleaser, and it's insinuated its way among my top three favorite Disney rides (the others being Soarin' and Tower of Terror). Next time you're at the Animal Kingdom, be sure to give it a try.

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1 comment:

Scott Ames said...

Wow.. you rode it 13 times? Outstanding.