Perhaps what distinguishes Disney attractions most is Disney’s commitment to story. Every detail at the Disney Parks and Resorts, even the smallest of food carts, plays a role in conveying a story in a physical setting. One of the attractions at Disney that demonstrates this principle best is Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World.
At its core, Expedition Everest is a mountain-themed roller coaster. The track elements alone are thrilling enough to delight roller coaster enthusiasts, but the rich details and special effects are what really set it apart. If you’ve experienced this attraction, you’ve probably sensed that there’s a story at play, but you might not have given much thought to just how deep the story goes. To give you some idea, I’d like to share a brief overview of the attraction’s storyline. As you read the story, think about the details in the queue and ride experience that tell this adventure and about the attraction’s connection to the other parts of Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The Backstory of Expedition Everest
At the base of the Himalayas in Nepal lies the small village of Serka Zong. Unlike the wetlands of Anandapur, which is home to Kali River Rapids, Serka Zong is surrounded by majestic, snow-capped mountains that seem to stretch higher and farther than the eye can see. To many tourists, this setting inspires a sense of adventure and discovery. The locals, however, have a very different set of beliefs. They believe the Himalayas should not be exploited but rather respected. In fact, the locals believe that a protective spirit guards the Himalayas from harm and invasion. While at first this belief might seem supernatural, the town is full of artwork and even shrines depicting what seems to be a real creature. Whether the Yeti is real or not is up for debate, but many explorers have ventured into the Himalayas on a quest to prove that the Yeti is real, and many have returned with spooky evidence: larger-than-life animal prints, twisted steel, and even a blurry photo of a giant primate. This proof only amplifies the warnings from the local villagers who urge explorers not to tempt the guardian of the mountains.
Despite these warnings and signs of danger, there appears to be a new business in town that hopes to bring ecotourism to Serka Zong. Founded by two entrepreneurs, Bob and Norbu, Himalayan Escapes offers tourists the opportunity to take a train ride through the Himalayas to Mount Everest. Finding inspiration in an abandoned tea plantation, Bob and Norbu have transformed the old plantation into the base of their new company, and they’ve repurposed the old tea trains (which were previously used to carry tea leaves from the mountains to Serka Zong) and turned them into transportation vehicles for Guests to take the opposite journey up into the mountains. To make things even simpler for Guests, Bob and Norbu have created three separate options. Those looking to reserve their journey ahead of time can book a FastPass+ reservation and receive priority boarding. Travelers without reservations can still take a ride to Mount Everest, but they have to wait in what usually turns out to be a longer queue to board. Finally, Bob and Norbu offer solo travelers a third queue that fills up any remaining seats to really maximize their profits.
While this journey might seem like a great economic opportunity for the town (and Bob & Norbu of course), there’s just one problem. Bob and Norbu decided to take a shortcut through the Himalayas to get to Mount Everest faster. Rather than journey around the Forbidden Mountain, they decide to take Guests right through it on a direct path to Everest. The local villagers, believing this to be the home of the Yeti, warn travelers not to board the trains. Of course, not everyone shares the same superstitions, so many inevitably end up boarding the tea trains and taking the risky journey to the tallest mountain in the world.
Once you board your train, the vehicle begins its journey by picking up some pace to get to the foot of the Forbidden Mountain. It then begins its climb to the summit. On the way, locals provide one final warning by showcasing a Yeti shrine. Bob and Norbu’s tea train pushes through and makes it to the summit. Not long after that, Guests find themselves peering ahead at a broken track along a cliff. The train comes to a screeching halt as Guests hear a roar echoing in the distance. Is that the roar of the Yeti? It can’t be. It must just be the wind. In a panic, the train suddenly accelerates backwards and Guests find themselves spiraling down an alternate track through a dark cavern. Coming to a stop, we find new evidence that the Yeti is real: a giant silhouette swoops down and rips up another piece of track.
Knowing that the Yeti must be behind us, the train accelerates forward in an attempt to head back to the base. It quickly paces through dark caverns and around large spirals to get back to Serka Zong. Entering one final cave, our worst fears are finally realized. The Yeti is real! There’s no time to step on the brakes so our train does its best to accelerate past the Yeti as he does his best to grab our train. We make it past him just in time and, somehow, safely make it back to Himalayan Escapes. As we board our vehicles, we realize that the locals were right, that the Yeti is real and that we should perhaps have respected the power and sanctity of the Himalayas.
Learn more about Expedition Everest in this Imagineer Podcast bonus episode: