Originally called Countdown to Extinction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, DINOSAUR has been thrilling guests at Walt Disney World since April 22, 1998. As an Enhanced Motion Vehicle (EMV), Walt Disney Imagineering used the same ride design and track layout as Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland. For DINOSAUR, the story instead revolves around the CTX Time Rover, capable of taking guests back to the cretaceous period to a prehistoric world filled with dinosaurs. Searching for an iguanodon, guests encounter a ferocious carnotaurus and must get back to the present before the infamous asteroid that caused the dinosaurs to go extinct crashes with the earth.
In this podcast episode, we discuss the history, details, fun facts, and trivia of DINOSAUR, along with a binaural scenic audio recording of the attraction.
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What if you could travel back in time and roam with the dinosaurs through a prehistoric world? It’s a topic frequently explored in movies, shows, and even theme park attractions. Perhaps the most famous of these productions is Jurassic Park, the 1993 Steven Spielberg production that grossed over $1 billion dollars in box office sales worldwide and launched a series of 6 additional films over a span of 30 series. It also led to the creation of Jurassic Park: The Ride, a water ride that opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in 1996 and at Universal Islands of Adventure in 1999, plus the addition of Velocicoaster at Universal Islands of Adventure in 2021.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Matt, you have only ever mentioned that other theme park up the road one other time on the show (and if you don’t remember that by the way, you should go back over 100 episodes to my discussion about Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which also happens to be one of my favorite podcast episodes, but I digress). I bring up Jurassic Park and its aforementioned attractions not because I want to start a discussion about them, as much as I enjoy the Jurassic Park franchise, but because they in some way helped Disney realize that guests love dinosaurs.
There’s something mysterious and thrilling about traveling to far off places, and that includes other periods of time, especially times in world history that humans never got the chance to see, an era long before we ever roamed the earth. In fact, paleontologists estimate that dinosaurs lived on our planet between 245 and 66 million years ago, at least according to my research from the Natural History Museum. That’s about 11,000 times older than human civilization began, millions of years before we made our first appearance on the Earth. Again, I am getting maybe a little off topic, but you have to admit there’s something rather cool about dinosaurs and the field of paleontology, but don’t just take my word for it. Bill Nye agrees!
[Play Bill Nye “dinosaurs are just cool” clip]
By the way, the first person to tag me in a post on Instagram and tell me which attraction that clip is from is going to win an Imagination Skyway mystery prize package. And Bill Nye is going to come up again in this episode in just a little bit.
The subject of dinosaurs can be fun, exciting, mysterious, educational, charming, or downright scary. It all depends on how the subject is portrayed, and it’s one of the many reasons the Imagineers decided to incorporate a land devoted to dinosaurs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.
With the park’s development being led by Imagineer Joe Rohde, the team focused their efforts around a core mythology for the park, the idea that nature has intrinsic value. While a large portion of the park would be devoted to live animals and take direct inspiration from real places and cultures around the world, the Imagineers realized that the intrinsic value of nature could also be communicated through stories involving other periods in earth’s history and even through mythology.
In the case of mythology, the Imagineers were working on a land that Disney fans now lovingly refer to as Beastly Kingdom. The land would have focused on mythological creatures like dragons and unicorns, which is why you can often find a dragon in the theme park’s logo and a unicorn section of the theme park’s parking lot. Even though these creatures are imaginary ones, they explore the ways in which various cultures have incorporated animals into stories and legends to communicate the value of nature and to symbolize morals, virtues, and ideas. Due to budget constraints in the final design stages of the park, Beastly Kingdom was placed on hold with the hopes of one day revisiting this concept. The park opened instead with a land called Camp Minnie-Mickey, which eventually became Pandora – The World of Avatar. While Pandora isn’t exactly the Beastly Kingdom the Imagineers originally created in the 1990s, I love the many similarities it shares with this concept, which I explore a bit further in my podcast episode about Avatar Flight of Passage from January 2022.
We’ve talked a little about mythology. Let’s now focus on history. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Imagineers realized that the intrinsic value of nature could be communicated through other periods of time, which included eras long before humans roamed the earth. With the growing popularity of dinosaurs thanks to Jurassic Park and even an upcoming Disney film project focused on dinosaurs, there was a chance not only to tell an exciting story about wildlife and nature but also an opportunity to support Disney’s financial outcome through increased attendance and dinosaur-focused merchandise. Ultimately, the land became known as Dinoland USA, commonly referred to as Dinoland for short.
The original idea for Dinoland involved some elaborate designs and a few major attractions, including a wooden roller coaster through a dig site. Like many projects at Disney, the Imagineers start with a grand design during the blue sky phase, where they dream up whatever their minds can imagine, not worrying about any kinds of real world constraints. Over the life cycle of a project the designs inevitably get scaled back, and the same can be said for Dinoland. Still, it’s always fun to look at the earlier concepts and see what was dreamed up, which includes the wooden roller coaster idea. Thankfully, we still got a rather major thrill ride in this part of the park, which we’ll get to in just a moment.
First, let’s talk a bit about Dinoland as a whole. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which was written by the Imagineers, describes the backstory for Dinoland in a section they call “Backstoryosaurus”. It reads as follows:
“Dinosaurs may be extinct, but they are still very much a part of the Animal Kingdom story. These amazing creatures are known only through the efforts of humans to learn about them. Our collective ideas about them are shaped by our individual points of view. Dinoland, USA, puts the entire spectrum of attitudes and beliefs about dinosaurs on display for all to see. It bears the imprint of each element of its varied citizenry – ranging from the rigid to the zany.
The original residents of Dinoland predate the discovery of fossils on the site and don’t know quite what to make of all the hubbub. Some are just trying (mostly) to go about their business – like the proprietors of Restaurantosaurus – but others have figured out numerous ways to capitalize on the notoriety. Have you seen Chester & Hester’s lately?
The most imposing presence in town is that of the Dino Institute, which houses the Dinosaur attraction. The Institute was founded when the mother lode of dinosaur fossils reared its flattened and petrified head. The denizens of this bastion of higher learning are deeply devoted to the science of dinosaurs, and don’t have much of a sense of humor about their work. They’re stuffy and self-important, and… institutional.
But Dinoland really takes its cues these days from the crazy grad students who are enrolled in classes up at the Institute. They leave their mark all over town through pranks and practical jokes. They haven’t been reined in by the halls of academia and still see dinosaurs as being fun, fun, fun. Just like we do!”
As you can probably tell, the Imagineering team really did look to explore all those aspects of dinosaurs that I mentioned earlier – the fun, the exciting, the mysterious, the educational, the charming, and the downright scary. These are broken down into the various sections of Dinoland, with Chester & Hester’s taking on a brighter, family-friendly tone and the Dino Institute taking a darker look at the past. You can sense this tone about both areas the moment you enter the land. Passionate Disney fans sometimes lambaste Dinoland as being more superficial than some other lands at the Disney Parks, but if you’ll allow me for a moment to argue otherwise, try to imagine yourself back at Dinoland USA from what you’ve seen in photos or with your own eyes.
When you walk into Dinoland USA from Discovery Island, the first word that might come to mind is “kitschy”. Chester & Hester’s looks like a whimsical roadside attraction, something you might have found along route 66 back in its heyday. The parody rock ‘n’ roll music you hear in the background, the flashing lights, the midway-style games, the larger-than-life dinosaur statues, and the bold signage speak to a carnival-like attraction. Even the concrete pavement looks like an old parking lot. Don’t let the cliched designs fool you, though. Dinoland has a plan! Even the pavement is described in the Imagineering Field Guide as being “one of the most difficult paving styles for the Imagineers to create.” The book even goes on to describe the process the Imagineers went through to make the pavement look just right.
Chester & Hester’s looks like a cheap carnival by design. It’s meant to evoke a feeling of fun and nostalgia, tapping into the way many adults felt about carnivals when they were kids. This part of the land is zany, dynamic, and approachable. It’s designed this way to appeal to families and to encourage a sense of play. More notably for today’s discussion, it serves as an awesome contrast to the Dino Institute.
Unlike Chester & Hester’s, the Dino Institute is not immediately apparent when you enter Dinoland. It’s hidden, tucked away in a quiet corner of Dinoland in a dense portion of forest. In fact, if not for the signage and park maps, many guests might not even head to this part of the park. As you head toward the Dino Institute, the silly and fun-loving sounds and music from Chester & Hester’s slowly begin to fade, only to be replaced by the serious and unassuming soundtrack that plays outside the land’s main attraction. The cumbersome architecture of Chester & Hester’s also begins to fade as the more rigid and symmetrical structure housing Dinosaur emerges into view. Even the shrubbery appears to be more finely manicured around the entrance. And while the dinosaur statues at Chester & Hester’s appear to be childlike and fun, the dinosaur statues outside the land’s thrill ride look like something out of a museum. In short, there is a very intentional shift in tone that happens as you approach Dinosaur. Chester & Hester’s is meant to be lively and inviting, full of music and laughter. The Dino Institute is meant to be serious and cold. It’s your first clue that Dinosaur is another kind of experience, another example of a masterful transition that most guests don’t even realize.
Again, I’m not arguing that Dinoland is the most elaborate and impressive land designed by Disney, but it employs some rather impressive Imagineering techniques, and I do applaud the Imagineers who helped design it.
Now that we’ve approached the Dino Institute, let’s talk a bit about Dinosaur, or as it was known on its opening day, April 22, 1998, Countdown to Extinction. Before we even get inside the building, there’s a fun story that has to do with the facade, something that actually relates to Walt Disney.
If you’re looking at the entrance of the building, you’ll notice that you really cannot see the massive show building that houses the two-story attraction. That’s because there’s a line of trees sitting on top of the building behind the entrance rotunda. This design was inspired by “it’s a small world” at Disneyland and a happy accident involving Walt Disney himself.
As the story goes, designers in the WED Model Shop were busy working on how to incorporate “it’s a small world” into Disneyland, which was set to be moved from the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York. In designing the location, they left a collection of artificial trees on top of the show building, keeping them nearby as they looked to dress up the area in front of the attraction. One day they received short notice that Walt was coming to inspect the designs, and they began scrambling to move the trees off the building. Walt saw what was happening and told them to wait, asking what they were doing. After they explained why the trees were on top of the building, Walt told them to keep them where they were, realizing that the trees on top of the building would help to disguise the large show building that housed the majority of the attraction. Walt always liked to keep backstage areas out of view from guests, and this seemed like a practical way to keep the beautiful building facade in view but the rest of the building out of sight. When it came to designing Dinosaur and its predecessor, Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland Park, the Imagineers employed the same trick from Walt.
The storyline for Dinosaur is not just a thrilling journey to the past. It’s also meant to communicate the intrinsic value of nature, which in this case is demonstrated by a conflict between corporate and academic interests, personified through two characters on the attraction, who we’ll introduce in a little bit.
What is perhaps most fascinating about the Dino Institute is its history, which ties it to another part of Dinoland USA: Restaurantosaurus. According to the land’s backstory, Restaurantosaurus began as a fishing lodge, and in 1947, an amateur fossil hunter made his first find on the grounds of the lodge. Together with a group of fellow scientists, the amateur paleontologist purchased the site in Diggs County. The fishing lodge eventually became a visitor center, then a fossil museum site, and then the original home of the Dino Institute, which was founded in 1949, just 2 years after the amateur’s find. Today, Restaurantosaurus serves as a commissary and dormitory for Dino Institute students. Meanwhile, the Dino Institute seeks to gain greater knowledge about our prehistoric companions. In fact, the Dino Institute’s motto is “Exploration. Excavation. Exultation.” signaling the joy the founders feel for uncovering new information about dinosaurs.
Decades later, the founders of the Dino Institute started looking to the future and looked for a new leader to help grow the organization. After searching for a new Chairman, they hired Dr. Helen Marsh, an executive with a reputation for helping to lead failing science museums and research institutions to profitability. One of her first calls to action as the head of the Dino Institute was to buy out a tech company working on time travel. The resulting technology became known as the CTX Time Rover, with CTX standing as an acronym for Countdown to Extinction, the attraction’s original name. Following a storyline similar to that of X-S Tech, the alien company behind the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter at the Magic Kingdom, Dr. Marsh sought to quickly capitalize on the new technology, opening time travel tours to the public, hoping the increased attendance could fund future technology and research.
The rush to capitalize on such ambitious new technology before the ethical and real consequences are considered feels like a harkening back to the blockbuster film we discussed earlier, Jurassic Park. As a matter of fact, Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, has an apt analysis of a similar venture.
[Insert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_7RvW-avZ8 1:18-2:00]
This plotline addresses the ethos of Disney’s Animal Kingdom because it once again presents the intrinsic value of nature as being in conflict with humankind’s short-sighted economic ventures that disregard their ecological impact. On the surface, traveling back in time to see live dinosaurs sounds like an incredible way to learn more about the creatures of the past, but it also comes with broader dangers that extend well beyond our understanding. Like Malcolm’s warning, the scientists were so busy wondering if they could make time travel possible, they never stopped to wonder if they should. Of course, the plot thickens as we move closer to the end of the queue.
As guests, the reason that we are visiting the Dino Institute is to take advantage of the CTX Time Rover technology, which gives us the opportunity to travel back in time and experience a prehistoric world with our own eyes.
To set the stage for time travel, the Imagineers made sure guests completely understood we were starting in the present, millions of years after dinosaurs became extinct. To accomplish this task, they created a museum-like environment, showcasing the dinosaurs of the past. Outside the queue, you’ll find dinosaur fossils, statues, and busts, including a large iguanodon standing in a central fountain in front of the entrance. As the iguanodon will soon be a central part of the attraction’s story, the Imagineers made sure every guest would pass this statue. It’s also worth noting that on opening day, when the attraction was called Countdown to Extinction, the dinosaur in the iguanodon’s place was a styracosaurus, an herbivorous ceratopsian believed to have lived during the Cretaceous Period.
Walking into the first part of the queue, we pass through an old wing of the Dino Institute, a museum serving to inform guests about dinosaur predators, behaviors, extinction, and even survivors. This leads us directly into a large museum rotunda, where we immediately come face-to-face with a fossilized statue of a carnotaurus, a carnivorous therapod discovered in Argentina from the late Cretaceous Period. Paleontologists believe that the carnotaurus measured 25 feet in length and could weigh up to 4,600 pounds.
Most guests who first see this fossilized statue believe that the dinosaur in front of them is a tyrannosaurus rex, but this common misconception once again stems from the popularity and success of Jurassic Park. In fact, the Imagineers first considered a t-rex to serve as the fearsome dinosaur predator for this attraction, but it turns out that Walt Disney Animation Studios was currently working on a computer animated film called Dinosaur. The story for the film called for a ferocious creature called a carnotaurus, and it focused on a hero character named Aladar, an orphaned iguanodon seeking sanctuary after a meteor shower destroys his home. To better play into the film, the team made sure to focus the attraction on both of these dinosaur species.
To get back to the ride, the entrance rotunda in the queue includes some gorgeous murals depicting prehistoric scenes, as well as a diorama depicting the asteroid impact that scientists believe caused the massive worldwide extinction of most dinosaurs. To help educate guests about paleontology and to make it abundantly clear that we’re in the modern era, the Imagineers hired a popular TV personality, Bill Nye the Science Guy, to voice the narration for this part of the queue. In fact, I often hope for a slightly longer wait in this part of the queue just so I can learn some fun facts about dinosaurs from Bill Nye. In case you haven’t experienced the attraction, here’s a brief clip you might hear in the rotunda.
[Play Bill Nye clip]
Once we exit the rotunda, we’re sorted into one of two preshow rooms to the left or right, which alternate new groups of guests every few minutes to maximize the efficiency of the attraction. Once we enter the briefing room, we’re introduced to Dr. Marsh in a short video segment, where she passionately describes the Time Rover and its ability to transport us to a prehistoric world. In the attraction, Dr. Marsh is played by Phylicia Rashad, an actress famous for playing Clair Huxtable on the Cosby Show and over 85 additional film and television roles. After explaining the incredible tour experience ahead, Dr. Marsh signs off by exclaiming, “the future is truly in the past.” It once again harkens back to a similar corporate mantra coined by Chairman Clench from Alien Encounter, “the only way to seize the future is to grasp the present.” It’s no surprise that both of these attractions were developed just a few years apart from one another and were both designed to attract older audiences, especially teens and young adults.
Once Dr. Marsh’s prerecorded sequence ends, the TV monitors shift to a “live” safety briefing from the Dino Institute control center. Here, we’re introduced to Dr. Grant Seeker, a character whose name literally symbolizes his goal. Dr. Seeker is played by Wallace Langham, a television actor who would later become best known for his role as David Hodges on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The self-proclaimed friendly controller and heck-of-a-paleontologist goes on to explain that rather than sending guests to the early cretaceous period, he intends to send us on a secret mission to the very end of the cretaceous period, where (or should I say when) he has tagged a locator on an iguanodon he believes is the key to better understanding this species.
Before Dr. Grant can go on to explain our mission, Dr. Marsh interrupts, insisting that the late cretaceous period is dangerously close to the asteroid impact that “destroyed most life forms on earth.” She assures us that the Dino Institute tours are designed to send us to the early cretaceous period and that all time rovers are securely locked on those time coordinates. Dr. Seeker backtracks and assures Dr. Marsh that his access is denied to make any changes, and he continues on with the safety briefing. Once Dr. Marsh exits the room, Dr. Grant quietly gains access to the time rover coordinates and updates them to the end of the cretaceous period, then explains that all we need to do is follow the homing signal to the iguanodon, then he’ll enlarge the transport field and send us all back to the modern era. Oh and about that asteroid, he assures us we’ll be in and out of there before it ever breaks the atmosphere.
Of course, most guests at this point realize exactly what lies ahead, which is precisely what the Imagineers hope. With the ride designed as a thrilling and scary adventure, the preshow and attraction signage let guests know that this intense attraction might not be suitable for all guests.
Entering the attraction load area, we descend down to the loading platform. Hanging from the ceiling are a trio of banners that echo Dr. Marsh’s catchphrase, “the future is in the past”. Meanwhile, colorful pipes and wires above the time rovers give the impression that time travel must require a great deal of power. As a bit of historic trivia, three of the pipes above the track are colored white, yellow, and red, each of which is labeled with a unique chemical formula. McDonalds was a long-time sponsor of the attraction from 1998 until 2008, and to pay tribute to the sponsor, the symbols written on the white, yellow and red pipes represented the chemical formulas for mayo, mustard and ketchup, respectively.
Approaching the basement of the loading area, we’re then sorted into one of two loading platforms, where we come face to face with our Time Rover, each accommodating up to 12 guests at a time across three rows of four seats. Surrounding high voltage transformers and industrial equipment add to the sense of a science-fiction story.
Before we board the attraction, let’s talk briefly about this kind of ride, known as an Enhanced Motion Vehicle Dark Ride, or EMV for short. The EMV system was designed by an Imagineering team led by Disney Legend and Imagineer Tony Baxter for the 1995 Disneyland attraction, Indiana Jones Adventure. An EMV essentially combines two different types of attractions, a dark ride slot car similar to Test Track with an ATLAS motion simulator. ATLAS by the way stands for Advanced Technology Leisure Application Simulator and is the technology responsible for Star Tours.
The combined ride system allows for multiple degrees of motion on any given vehicle. The bottom of the guided ride system is a moving platform responsible for the relative forward motion speed of any given vehicle. The vehicles are capable of accelerating, decelerating, and coming to a complete stop at any given point along the track. Meanwhile, a hydraulic system sits between the seats and the chassis on each vehicle and allows for programmable pitch, roll, and yaw movements. The Imagineering programming can recreate just about any realistic motion the team can conceive, from rolling over rocks and boulders to getting stuck in the mud. In the case of Indiana Jones Adventure, the team even programmed a realistic ride down a set of stairs. The track at this part of the ride is a simple slope, but the programmed motions make it feel like the jeeps are truly driving down a set of stone steps.
With the popularity of Indiana Jones Adventure, the Imagineers knew that they could repurpose the EMV system for additional attractions. When it came time to finalize the designs for Dinosaur, especially knowing that the budget was stretched thin, the Imagineers decided to pitch the EMV system for the Animal Kingdom attraction. In fact, Dinosaur not only uses the same ride system but also the exact same track layout. Truly, the track layouts are identical for these two rides. Still, most guests who experience these two attractions would not even realize that the track designs are the same since the storyline, props, stage sets, effects, and even vehicle motions are completely different. Still, it’s a bit of trivia that I love to share with other Disney fans.
Boarding our time rovers, we secure our safety belts and proceed to the time travel sequence, which sends us into a room that some describe as looking like the inside of a toaster, or at least I do. Dr. Seeker reminds us of our mission, and we begin the journey back to the late cretaceous period. Here is where we first sense the hydraulic capabilities of the EMV system, which pivots guests above the track as if we were in a small boat rolling over waves on the open sea. Up ahead, a visual light and smoke effect make it seem as if we’re traveling back in time, and as the sequence ends, the room goes dark and we turn left into a prehistoric forest.
Once here, we slowly make our way past animatronic dinosaurs in a somewhat gentle experience, the first being a styracosaurus as a calling back to the original dinosaur statue at the entrance of the ride. Other than some slight dips and bumps from the vehicles simulating an off-road jeep adventure, the ride moves somewhat peacefully for the first 30 seconds. Of course, that’s all about to change.
Dr. Seeker informs us that it’s time to get serious and locks autopilot on the homing signal, which sends the vehicle accelerating forward through the forest. The time rover sends us over some rough bumps as Dr. Seeker identifies another large dinosaur ahead, which he thinks could be the iguanodon. As it turns out, we suddenly find ourselves beside a hungry carnotaurus, whose red scales, shark-like teeth and sharp horns make it very clear this is not the kind of dinosaur we want to be near.
We quickly accelerate to evade the predator and next encounter a sauropod, whose long neck is stretched out next to the vehicle. We pass by and quickly make our way through a den of pterodactyls. Rounding a long corner, we come face-to-face with a pterodactyl about to swoop down at the vehicle, but quickly race down a steep hill into a very dark section of forest, where a herd of tiny compsognathus leap next to the truck along a series of branches.
Unfortunately, our vehicle loses traction and gets stuck in a dark section of forest right next to our unwelcoming carnotaurus. It begins to run toward the vehicle, and Dr. Seeker activates four-wheel drive to send us just out of harm’s way. We go through a pitch black section of forest through an evasive maneuver, then continue forward. The computer signals another dinosaur ahead and coldly identifies yet another carnotaurus. The dinosaur roars off to our right and is the closest it’s been to the vehicle, but we once again accelerate to outrun the creature.
Just as Dr. Seeker is about to give up and abort the mission, the computer identifies the iguanodon up ahead. A projection mapping effect casts a laser net on the iguanodon as we round a corner to head back to the present. Suddenly, we see the asteroid crash in the distance up ahead as a carnotaurus comes lurching toward us so close we could practically touch its scales. The lights flash as we dive just below the carnotaurus, sending us through a time sequence back to the Dino Institute. We slowly make our way back to the load area as Dr. Seeker ensures us that the iguanodon made it to the Dino Institute as well, thanking us for our help.
Arriving back at the loading platform, we exit on the opposite side we entered and make our way back from the basement up to the main level of the Dino Institute. On the way we hear security comchat alerting the staff of the iguanodon. Making our way into the gift shop, called the Dino Institute Shop, we pass a series of security monitors showing the iguanodon roaming the facility, with some special guest appearances from Dr. Marsh and Dr. Seeker trying to find and catch the dinosaur.
Part of the reason Dinosaur is so intense is not just because of the vehicle movements and storyline but also the lighting, animatronics and special effects on the ride. Amazingly, the ride only achieves a top speed of 12mph. It feels much faster because of the hydraulic motions and the tight turns, drops and stops on the ride. The attraction is one of the darkest at Disney, and I mean that literally. Minimal lighting creates a heightened sense of suspense, as guests are never quite sure what’s more than a few feet ahead of them. The minimal lighting used is employed in specific colors and brightness to direct the eye to certain parts of the ride. You can see just enough of the forest environment and dinosaur species to make out your surroundings, but not enough to get a full grasp on what lies beyond the next section of track. Of course, the 11 audio-animatronics add yet another dimension to the experience, and Imagineering paid particular attention to the carnotaurus, which was created to look like a realistic dinosaur but even more menacing. Speaking of realism, it’s worth noting that the Imagineers consulted with paleontologists for the attraction, looking to make the ride both exciting and somewhat educational.
The countdown sequence on the ride also adds another dimension to the thrill of the experience. Placing guests moments away from the asteroid impact adds a greater sense of urgency to the situation. We don’t just have to find the iguanodon; we have to find it quickly! As we move through the attraction, the computer system reminds us of exactly how much time is left before the asteroid hits the earth, culminating in us escaping mere seconds after the asteroid collision.
While Dinosaur is a scary attraction today, it was even more intense in its original Countdown to Extinction format. The original ride motions were even more intense than today’s version, and the lighting was even dimmer. In addition, the original end sequence actually featured a near-direct collision with the asteroid. Rounding the corner past the iguanodon, a bright light would flash to reveal an asteroid rapidly accelerating toward guests, as if the gigantic object was a fraction of a second away from hitting the vehicles at thousands of miles per hour. There was even a loud whistling sound to accompany the effect, making it seem even more frightening.
Part of the reason for the shift from Countdown to Extinction to Dinosaur was to better relate the ride to the Dinosaur film and to make the attraction a bit more approachable for younger guests. While still a frightening experience, the ride isn’t quite as intense as it once was. Additionally, the Imagineers incorporated a scene or two from the film into the experience, most notably in the preshow where guests can now see Aladar walking through a prehistoric forest.
While the ride has seen some of these modest changes and some routine refurbishments over the years, it remains very much similar to its opening day experience over 25 years ago. The attraction lasts just a little over 3 minutes along nearly 1,900 feet of track and can accommodate over 2,000 guests per hour.
With such a fascinating topic at hand, it’s clear to see why Dinosaur has remained at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for so many years. The ride taps into a popular subject but does so in its own way. More importantly, it neatly fits within the overarching narrative of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The attraction might involve prehistoric creatures, but we still feel an emotional connection to the experience and grasp the conflict between nature and economic interests that seek profit without any regard for nature. Not surprisingly, the attraction ends with nature emerging as the dominant force at play. You could argue that the interests of the Dino Institute won as well, but it’s important to remember that Dr. Seeker was a byproduct of the greedy culture set forth by Dr. Marsh. By going rogue to literally seek a grant, taking shortcuts to make that happen like Dr. Marsh rushed the time rover into public view, he put the Dino Institute in harm’s way, sending an iguanodon back to the present, putting not only the facility but also the institute’s reputation at stake.
Now that we’ve discussed this Dinoland attraction, I’d love to take you for a ride with me on Dinosaur, thanks to some binaural scenic audio I recorded from the park. Like most binaural audio, this experience should best be enjoyed with headphones or earbuds, but listening on another kind of audio device should still help you to feel like you’re really riding the attraction. With that, let’s head to Diggs County, make our way to the Dino Institute and enjoy Dinosaur.