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DinoLand USA sign

Wondering about that tacky carnival dripping with dinosaurs in the midst of Animal Kingdom? These spots will get you to the bottom of this area's rich storyline.

To the average tourist, DinoLand USA looks horribly out of place in a Disney theme park. This area is everything that the Disney name is not – gaudy, tacky, and stereotypical. You could pick up Dinorama and replace it any mall parking lot in the country and it would look more at home outside the JC Penny than it does nestled between exotic Discovery Island and the majestic peaks of the Forbidden Mountain.

Despite its unusual appearance, DinoLand USA is not the cheap addition that it seems to be. This area has a richer story line than nearly any other spot in a Disney park. You just have to know what to look for.

1. Inside Restaurantosaurus

The dining area in Restaurantosaurus

If you’re not paying close attention, the interior of Restaurantosaurus will look like a confusing mish-mash of styles. This is more than another crazy-crap-on-the-wall restaurant. This single building can tell you the entire story of DinoLand USA if you pay close attention.

Restaurantosaurus was originally a fishing lodge. Look past the add-ons and you’ll see that the core of the building still has that rustic look and feel. In the soaring ceilings and wood paneling, you can see the first incarnation of this space.

In 1947, an amateur fossil hunter stumbled upon the first significant findings in the area. He joined together with several of his fellow scientists to purchase the land and turned the fishing lodge into a visitor’s center. From there, the space evolved into a museum housing some of the area’s earliest finds. The Dino Institute later used the building as their first fossil lab.

Display case in Restaurantosaurus

Today, Restaurantosaurus serves as both a commissary and a dormitory for the Dino Institute’s grad students. Look past the remnants of old fossil exhibits and you’ll begin to see signs of how the building is used now. You’ll see the vehicle maintenance building, rec room, and even some sleeping spaces elevated above the dining areas. Look up and you can spot a tire swing tacked up in the rafters, offering a clue as to the rowdy activities that take place here when the grad students return for the night and the restaurant is closed.

2. The Rooftops of Restaurantosaurus

Grad student hangout on the roof of Restaurantosaurus

Keep your eyes focused upwards when you’re approaching Restaurantosaurus and you’ll see that this spot is a favorite hangout for the grad students inhabiting the town. Lawn chairs on the roof offer a comfortable spot for lounging. Plungers stuck to the water tower are just one example of the pranks that grad students like to play in this area.

3. The Notice Board Across from the Boneyard

This bulletin board brims with insightful notes

If you really want an in-depth look at the storyline behind DinoLand USA, the notice board across from the Boneyard is a must-see spot. This board contains everything from a map of the area complete with notations from the grad students’ point of view, to a welcome letter from the resident professors.

As you’re examining the map in the upper right corner, take a good look at the area where you’ll now find Dinosaur. This attraction still has its original moniker on this map: Countdown to Extinction. The ride’s name was changed after the Dinosaur movie came out, to capitalize on the silver screen success. (As a side note, another little nod to the ride’s original name exists in the loading area where you’ll see “CTX” on the wall.)

This handy area map is complete with notations

Don’t miss the little notes between grad students. You can get a great feel for the relationships going on by reading these little messages. Every now and then you’ll even see that professors have to step in and mediate to keep things professional.

Notes between students can get a little personal

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