LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ancient legend holds that high in the Himalayan Mountains lives an enormous creature that fiercely guards the route to Mount Everest.
Now that legend roars dramatically to life at Disney's Animal Kingdom in a new runaway train adventure that combines coaster-like thrills with the excitement of a close encounter of the hairy kind.
Expedition Everest is part of the 18-month "Happiest Celebration on Earth," the jubilee honoring 50 years of Disney theme parks and commemorating the 1955 opening of Disneyland. The celebration began May 5, 2005, with the launch of the largest lineup of new shows and attractions and continues through 2006.
Walt Disney World guests will discover for themselves the fearsome lore of the yeti when Expedition Everest peaks in early 2006 at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. Aboard out-of-control railcars screaming forward and backward, white-knuckle adventurers swoop into the unknown, braving twists, turns and drops inside and outside a mighty mountain leading to an unforgettable encounter.
"Expedition Everest adds a new dimension to our storytelling in Disney's Animal Kingdom," said Joe Rohde, executive designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and lead designer of the park. "It's a thrilling adventure themed to the tradition of the mysterious yeti."
The story begins when guests are transported to a distant world of exploration and the mythical village of Serka Zong. A canopy of prayer flags, an ornamental monastery, intricately carved totems, and a garden of stone carvings of the yeti clutching the mountain immerse guests in a far-off realm. The yeti's role as protector of the sacred mountain is reinforced in this detailed environment rich in culture and tradition.
"The Himalayan culture is full of ritualized architecture encouraging great harmony and structure," Rohde said. "The colors of the village, the carved animal heads on the doors, the totems -- it's all very symbolic and authentic."
Despite forewarnings, the proprietors of Himalayan Escapes tour company entice explorers to embark on a rugged train journey to the mystical Everest. First stop is Norbu and Bob's booking office to obtain permits, and then it's off to Tashi's General Store and Bar for needed supplies for the journey.
Next, explorers pass through an old tea warehouse that houses an elaborate museum run by Professor Pumba Dorjay, a conservation biologist who believes the yeti's existence is grounded in fact. The richly designed yeti museum showcases artifacts reflecting Nepalese culture, plus a history of the Himalayas and tales of the yeti. Photos show sherpas and others who have conquered the summit.
Now equipped to conquer the mountain, trekkers board the Anandapur Rail Service. This aging 34-passenger industrial railway, which was once used to transport tea, is now destined for the foot of Mount Everest.
As the steam train rolls through thick bamboo forests and fern groves up the first hill through a fortress, ritualized music signals riders to dangers ahead. En route a cluster of sacred yeti totems and a massive yeti mural crafted on the rockwork gives further warning to turn back.
The train continues across a teetering bridge into the mountain, dives into shimmering glacier valleys and then climbs up through the snow-capped peaks.
Skulking silhouettes and shadows of the lurking yeti, coupled with startling special effects and climate variations, enhance the attraction as the steam train darts in and out of the picturesque mountain range.
But suddenly the train screeches to a halt near a gnarled mass of twisted metal. In a fit of rage, the yeti has torn apart the track. The thrills intensify as the runaway train moves both forward and backward through darkened mountain caverns and icy canyons and guests head for an inevitable face-to-muzzle showdown with the towering yeti -- known to some as the abominable snowman.
The train accelerates at speeds up to 50 mph into a fog of spiral curves taking mountaineers down a 80-foot plummet to escape the wrath of the powerful yeti.
"Seeing the yeti will really startle the guests because it is so real, so convincing," said Rohde. "It is the most mammoth and sophisticated Audio-Animatronics figure ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering."
Expedition Everest, towering at nearly 200 feet high and occupying a 6.2-acre site, will be located in the Asia section of the theme park. It is one of 18 mountain attractions created by Walt Disney Imagineering at Disney theme parks worldwide.
Expedition Everest will feature Disney's FASTPASS -- offered at no charge to park guests -- designed to reduce wait times at popular attractions in all four Walt Disney World theme parks. Expedition Everest will have a height restriction of 44 inches.
Disney's Animal Kingdom is a 500-acre theme park where the exciting worlds of wild and whimsical creatures come to life on an authentic African safari, in an Asian rain forest, on a trip back in time to the age of the dinosaurs and in other attractions and shows brimming with stories about animals and encounters with favorite Disney characters.