I was lucky enough to go on a backstage tour of Expedition Everest with my DAK coworkers. This is my favorite ride at DAK! (Last week I rode it as a single rider 3x in a row!) A small group of us arrived at Animal Kingdom at 6:30am. We waited for about 15 minutes until our managers arrived and escorted us backstage all the way to Asia.
So the concept of Expedition Everest is that there is a tea stand in the lowlands of Asia. Because there is only one stand, people can make a fortune supplying tea leaves. However, the best tea is grown on the highlands of Asia, around a tall mountain range called the “forbidden mountain”. Only the bravest are willing to go collect tea from there and travel all the way back. However, most people who find their way to Mount Everest never return! There is talk of a huge beast – a yeti – terrorizing these tea traders.
The tea trade was abandoned for many years because the locals were too afraid to venture back into the mountains. However, some people want to capitalize on the lore, so a British man Bob and his guide Norbu set out to build a railroad from the highland tea lands to the lowlands called “Himalayan Escapes” travel agency. Ride it at your own risk….I heard that a yeti might be messing with the tracks!
After we were taken to meet our tour guides in front of the ride, we got to do a walking tour of the mountains. We walked up the steep walkways around the track to see the Yeti’s cave. The attractions lights were turned on and the Yeti is HUGE! The tour guides explained how much the fur weighs (a ton), that it is made of up actual yak fur (yuk!), and how it can be completely removed to expose the animatronic skeleton. The attraction cost $100 million to build and the Yeti alone was $10 million.
When the ride originally opened, the Yeti arm moved out as if to grab you, making it a really scary effect. However, the Yeti was so big and heavy, it was destabilizing the cement foundations and breaking apart the mountain!
If you look closely, the Everest mountains are actually a mountain range with three distinct peaks. They are actually individual mountains, built separately. This is because the Yeti is so huge, the builders put him inside and then finished building the mountains around him! Because of his size and location in the ride, it is virtually impossible to fix the issues with his animatronics. There is no way to take him out, without breaking the mountain, no way to build scaffolding, and no way to propel from the ceiling safely enough to fix it. Instead, Disney decided to add strobe light effects so that when you ride past him, it looks and feels like he is reaching out to grab you!
Next, we walked the 14 flights of steep stairs to the ride-switch, where the train stops and then proceeds to go backwards. This peak provides a beautiful vista of all three of the parks as Expedition Everest is the tallest structure at WDW, even taller than the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios.
We got to see the Yeti footprints, the broken track, and the fluttering Tibetan prayer flags. We walked over to the lift, which was an even more fantastic sight. The entire DAK Park was spread out below us in the early morning sunlight. The animals were just waking up and being moved from their overnight holding pens to their daytime areas and stocked feeding stations. The Florida birds that live at DAK were waking up too, moving from treetop to treetop.
Next, we went on a walking tour to visit all of the animals in Asia. There are a family of moneys living near Kali River Rapids that do a calling/hooting song every morning and night. It is a pretty spooky sound to hear at 6:30am! The father starts and then the rest of the family joins in with their own “lines”. It is so loud that you can actually hear these moneys all the way at the end of the Animal Kingdom parking lot!
They live on what looks to be an old Shrine that has lots of scaffolding. The DAK story is that this was an abandoned shrine that was recently rediscovered. The people decided to rebuild it back to its former glory. However, they woke up one morning and discovered that a family of monkeys has taken over and were playing on the scaffolding! Instead of forcing the monkeys to leave, they allowed the monkeys to live in peace in the shrine.
Another cool fact is that the area near the bathrooms in Asia are more interesting than you’d think! You can see the name of the “store” on the front is Gupta’s Gear, which provides supplies for your upcoming Everest expedition. Hanging on the pillars are backpacks which were actually found and collected from the real Mount Everest!! People attempting to climb Mount Everest have to make hard choices when it comes to what they can carry and what they must abandon. There are literally tons and tons of abandoned supplies, backpacks, and gear all along the climb to the summit. There is a group of Sherpa’s who regularly goes up and down the mountain and collects all the abandoned gear to preserve the mountain environment. Disney purchased some of this abandoned equipment and now you can see actual equipment used on Mount Everest! Animal Kingdom is amazing when it comes to detailing!! Another secret found in Everest is actually found in the standby queue. Look around when you first walk into the building where you sign up for your expedition. On the table is a very old Disney’s Wildlife Conservation Fund sticker! Be sure to look for the Hidden Mickey too.
As the line wraps around, you walk into the second room which is where the owner of the tour and his guides live. There is a huge wooden ladder that leads to a bedroom upstairs. This is an authentic ladder which was purchased by Disney imagineers when they went to Nepal to find ideas for the ride. They went into a store and were talking to a really old woman when they saw this ladder. It’s unique because the entire thing is made from a single log.
Wood in Nepal is very scarce, so to find a tree is this big and this old, and to cut it down to create a ladder….it is virtually priceless. In Nepal, wood is actually displayed on rooftops to display the family’s wealth. (Hint: Check out the rooftops of the buildings surround Everest!)
The Disney imagineers wanted this ladder so bad that they offered three times the woman’s yearly income for this ladder. However, this ladder belonged to the woman’s great great great grandparents’! She refused them several times, but Disney kept upping the price and she must have cracked because this ladder is now in the standby line of Everest! Who knows what price she eventually agreed on??!!
I was hoping to ride Everest with the lights on, but the backstage tour literally took three hours. The DAK Park as open by the time we were ready to ride it. But, we did get to be the first group to ride it that day! After the first ride, we all jumped off and got right back on to ride it again!
I love this ride! I can’t believe the incredible detailing that went into creating such a cool experience! It was the most unique experience I may ever have while working at DAK.
We worked at WDW for a year in the Disney College Program (Fall 2013/Spring 2014) and have written a book about what it’s like to be a cast member working for Disney.
We included advice on how to successfully get into the DCP program, including some of the actual phone interview questions, how to have a successful internship, and how not self-term before your program ends. Our book is filled with lots of behind-the-scene stories of the magic of Disney.
Available now at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats. Published by Theme Park Press.