Home » Behind the Ride: 4 Mind-Bending Tricks Employed by Disney’s Expedition Everest

    Behind the Ride: 4 Mind-Bending Tricks Employed by Disney’s Expedition Everest


    In 1998, The Walt Disney Company debuted their first newly created park in almost a decade. Expectations were sky high, and most people realize that the initial reactions were decidedly mixed. After garnering 8.6 million visits in 1998, park attendance steadily declined to 7.3 million in 2002, a number it matched in 2003.

    On the fifth anniversary of the park’s debut, Disney wanted to make a splash. They announced construction for a revolutionary new ride. It would not only compete with some of the headline-grabbing, adrenaline-spiking roller coasters being built at other theme parks but also deliver a signature view in the sprawling Animal Kingdom landscape.

    Expedition Everest was the ride, and no expense would be spared to make it the ultimate park experience. $100 million was ultimately invested in its creation, making it almost as expensive as the movie Cars, the first Pixar release after Disney acquired that company in 2006. $100 million was such an unprecedented financial outlay for a theme park ride that it was still listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive roller coaster in the world a full five years later.

    Disney definitely got their money’s worth. Almost a decade later, Expedition Everest remains the signature attraction at Animal Kingdom, and it will hold that title until the debut of Avatar Land in 2017. It is one of the most thematic ride park experiences in the world, featuring breathtaking visuals and G-force of 2.7 that happens in the dark. And let’s not forget the 22-foot-tall state-of-the-art animatronic Yeti. Expedition Everest is a hallmark achievement in engineering. Read on to discover how it works.

    4. Recreating Nepal


    The Experience: Expedition Everest is a high concept ride. During their time in line, visitors are symbolically altered into tourists in an exotic land.

    The Trick: The Nepalese town of Serka Zong in the fictional kingdom of Anandapur is the location, and Disney spared no expense in creating the most realistic fictional city imaginable. Countless Imagineers trekked to the Himalayas in order to understand the indigenous culture. In fact, some of the pictures taken during these actual expeditions are now displayed in the museum/wait line for the ride.

    With a nine-figure budget, there is obviously a lot of attention to detail utilized to create the atmospheric Royal Anandapur Tea Company and accompanying Yeti Museum. Over 8,000 genuine Nepalese items were purchased to be integrated into the ride area. If you have ever noted the astounding authenticity of the props on display, this is the explanation. They are the real deal rather than recreations.

    3. Making the mountain

    Image © Disney

    The Experience: A 199 foot tall mountain somehow seems even larger, making it the focus of the entire theme park.

    The Trick: Building a man-made mountain is an arduous task rather than an easy one, despite what you may believe because of Disney. After all, the theme park masters have built about 20 of them over the years starting with The Matterhorn Bobsleds in 1959.

    In order to differentiate it from the rest, the mountain setting for Expedition Everest had to be eye-grabbing in an original way. Rather than compete with the new style of giga-roller coasters popping up across the world, Disney’s Imagineers chose to focus upon what they do best: atmosphere.

    Using a forced perspective, Everest is recreated as a background peak off in the distance to the right, thereby creating the sensation that the dazzling landmark in question, the Forbidden Mountain, is much larger than the 200 feet tall.

    Disney’s vaunted attention to detail and expertise in line of sight causes the short mountain to dominate the landscape across Animal Kingdom without requiring massive height for the actual structure. Simply by crafting a mountain range rather than a sole mountain, the Yeti’s residence looks gigantic. It is a blueprint example of how to make less seem like more.

    2. Broken tracks and a backwards ride

    Image © Disney

    The Experience: The path to Everest is destroyed, and an impending peril forces riders to lurch backward at tremendous velocity.

    The Trick: The premise of the ride is that the visitor is journeying from one destination in the Himalayas to another. In order to navigate the vast distance quickly, people on the expedition ride a passenger train to Everest. There is only one problem. The train involves a shortcut through the Forbidden Mountain area protected by a territorial Yeti. And the Yeti wants to wreck the infringing vehicle.

    In order to escape the monster, the rider is redirected onto a different set of tracks, narrowly avoiding disaster. By defying expectations and thrusting the user backward, an element of surprise is created off the bat. How many roller coasters in the world guide you along the path to broken tracks, only to divert you backward at extreme velocity?

    Amazingly, all that is required to pull off such a memorable feat is a second set of tracks. As the user is propelled upward to the broken section, they ride on a visible portion of tracks. Once the visual danger is revealed, the carts are pulled back onto a track segment that cannot be seen from the frontal view the rider has. And even if they could see it, they would be distracted by the broken tracks ahead. In this manner, Disney employs the same misdirection magicians use in their craft.

    1. The giant Yeti

    Image © Disney

    The Experience: A 22-foot-tall animatronic Yeti tries threatens to attack the train.

    The Trick: Even though a rider spends only a brief moment in plain view of the Yeti, Disney’s vaunted ride builders wanted the experience to be as memorable as possible. After all, the Yeti makes the ride. As Popular Mechanics notes of the construction, “the beast became an object of obsessive perfectionism from Disney’s Imagineers.”

    In order to enhance the realism, vertical as well as horizontal slides were employed in order to maximize the movement potential of the beast. It had a range of two feet of vertical motion plus five feet of horizontal motion. So, if it were real, its movement ability would be deadly.

    A whopping 6,000 pounds of fur was utilized in order to create the memorable look of the killer Yeti. Imagine if your dress garments required 250 zippers and 1,000 snaps in order to suit up each day. That is the type of attention to detail that distinguishes Disney. The entire ensemble dramatically increases the overall weight of the animatronic, which is estimated at 20,000 pounds.

    The Yeti is so heavy that the creature is airborne. No legs could support such girth. Amusingly, its legs and left arm are unpowered. Their movement occurs naturally, like a puppet, as the regular motions of the other ligaments propel them.

    Not content with the visual alone, a 3,000 psi hydraulic thruster was implemented to power the animatronic. Engineers claimed that the Yeti has more power than a 747 jet engine. And all it tries to do is smack you. Imagine the force if it ever did.

    Unfortunately, many guests will be aware that the Yeti animatronic has not functioned as intended for years. A few months after the ride opened, the foundation on which the Yeti stands was damaged, and his full range of movements was put to an end. Instead, a strobe light now flashes behind him to give the impression that he is moving – earning the creature the nickname “Disco Yeti”.