One of the newest thrill rides to open in the Walt Disney World Resort may just be the most impressive. As Disney approached its 50th anniversary, the company wanted to celebrate in a truly special way. What was its idea? Create a park attraction that would in many ways serve as the link between Disney’s amazing past and its promising future. Disney showed that it was ready to pull out all stops in order to get everything just right. In 2006, The Walt Disney Company introduced Expedition Everest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park at Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Expedition Everest is more than just a roller coaster. It is the embodiment of the Disney spirit: a ride that combines Disney’s trademark thrills, unexpected twists and turns, incredible attention to detail, and impressive project management skills. First, let’s consider some of the technical details of Expedition Everest:
• With a peak of just under 200 feet, the ride is contained within the tallest of 18 mountains created by
Disney’s Imagineers at Disney parks worldwide.
• The ride contains nearly a mile of track, with twists, tight turns, and sudden drops.
• The Disney team created a Yeti: an enormous, fur-covered, Audio-Animatronics monster powered
by a set of hydraulic cylinders whose combined thrust equals that of a Boeing 747 airliner. Through
a series of sketches, computer-animated drawings, sculptures, and tests that took more than two years
to perfect, Disney created and programmed its Abominable Snowman to stand over 10 feet tall and serve as the focal point of the ride.
• More than 900 bamboo plants, 10 species of trees, and 110 species of shrubs were planted to re-create the feeling of the Himalayan lowlands surrounding Mount Everest.
• More than 1,800 tons of steel were used to construct the mountain. The covering of the framework was done using more than 3,000 prefabricated chips created from 25,000 individual computer-molded pieces of steel.
• To create the proper color schemes, 2,000 gallons of stain and paint were used on rockwork and
throughout the village, Disney was designed to serve as a backdrop for the ride.
• More than 2,000 handcrafted items from Asia are used as props, cabinetry, and architectural
ornamentation. Building an attraction does not come easily or quickly for Disney’s Imagineers. Expedition Everest was several years in development while Disney sent teams, including Walt Disney Imagineering’s Creative Executive Joe Rohde, on repeated trips to the Himalayas in Nepal to study the lands, architecture, colors, ecology, and culture in order to create the most authentic setting for the new attraction. Disney’s efforts reflect a desire to do much more than provide a world-class ride experience; they demonstrate the Imagineers’ eagerness to tell a story—a story that combines the mythology of the Yeti figure with the unique history of the Nepalese living in the shadow of the world’s tallest mountain. Ultimately the attraction, with all its background and thematic elements, took nearly five years to complete. Riders on Expedition Everest gain a real feel for the atmosphere that Disney has worked so hard to create. The guests’ adventure starts by entering the building of the “Himalayan Escape” tour company, complete with Norbu and Bob’s booking office, to obtain permits for their trip. Overhead flutter authentic prayer flags from monasteries in Nepal. Next, guests pass through Tashi’s General Store and Bar to stock up on supplies for their journey to the peak of the mountain. Finally,
guests pass through an old tea warehouse that contains a remarkable museum of artifacts reflecting Nepal’s culture, a history of the Himalayas, and tales of the Yeti, which is said to inhabit the slopes of Mount Everest. It is only now that guests are permitted to board the Anandapur Rail Service for their trip to the peak. Each train is modeled after an aging steam-engine train, seating 34 guests per train.
Over the next several minutes, guests are transported up the roller coaster track, through a series of
winding turns, until their encounter with the Yeti. At this point another unique feature of the attraction emerges: The train begins rushing backward down the track, as though it were out of control. Through the balance of the ride, guests experience a landscape of sights and sounds
culminating in a 50 mph final dash down the mountain and back to the safety of the Nepalese village.
Disney’s approach to the management of projects such as Expedition Everest is to combine careful planning, including schedule and budget preparation, with the imagination and vision for which the company is so well known. Creativity is a critical element in the development of new projects at Disney. The company’s Imagineers include some of the most skilled artists and computer-animation experts in the world. Although it is easy to be impressed by the technical knowledge of Disney’s personnel, it is important to remember that each new project is approached with an understanding of the company’s underlying business and attention to market projections, cost control, and careful project management discipline. New attraction proposals are carefully screened and researched. The result is the creation of some of the most innovative and enjoyable rides in the world. Disney does not add new attractions to its theme parks frequently, but when it does, it does so with style!
1. Suppose you were a project manager for Disney. Based on the information in this case, what critical
success metrics do you think the company uses when designing a new ride? That is, how would
you prioritize the needs for addressing project cost, schedule, quality, and client acceptance? What evidence supports your answer?
2. Why is Disney’s attention to detail in its rides unique? How does the company use the “atmosphere” discussed in the case to maximize the experience while minimizing complaints about the length of wait for the ride?