The Thrill of Expedition Everest

Atmosphere at the Grand Opening of Expedition Everest at Walt Disney World on April 7, 2006 in Orlando, Florida.
Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

As a roller coaster, Expedition Everest is just OK. And as a themed dark ride, the attraction would be just OK without the coaster elements. But the combination of the coaster, which is integral to the ride's story, and the attraction's lavish, immersive environment, creates another Disney E-ticket tour-de-force and a welcome addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Expedition Everest is one of the top roller coasters in Florida. See which other rides made the list.

At the time this review was written, the animatronic Yeti character at the end of the ride was working. Soon after the attraction opened, however, it failed and is no longer moving as originally intended.

Fast Facts About Expedition Everest

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy! and10=Yikes!): 6 for fairly intense positive G-forces, backward coaster motion, and darkness.
  • Coaster type: Indoor/outdoor steel.
  • Top speed: 50 mph.
  • Height: 112 feet.
  • Drop: 80 feet.
  • Height restriction: 44 inches.
  • Fastpass-enabled.

Handling Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest does not have any inversions, does not soar to nosebleed heights, and reaches a relatively tame top speed of 50 mph. Disney considers it a "family" attraction (although I'd say it's at the upper end of that category), and while it's more aggressive than Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain, it's certainly less intense than coasters such as Sea World's Kraken.

But Expedition Everest does reverse direction and race backward (in the dark, no less), delivers some formidable positive G-forces (also in the dark), and feels way more out of control because of the sections in the dark. If you can handle the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios, you'll be able to face the Yeti. If you're on the line, I'd advise you to suck it up, hold on tightly to the rider next to you (hopefully, someone you know), and join the expedition. The attraction is a Walt Disney World highlight, and you owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

What Is It With Disney and Mountains?

The 200-foot "mountain" commands the skyline at Disney's Animal Kingdom and looms large throughout the resort. By using forced perspective (a common theme park trick), it appears much taller.

Joe Rohde, executive designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and the colorful, larger-than-life creative head of the park, says that the Mouse House often bases its attractions on mountains because they help give stories their power. "Mountains are pregnant with meaning," he says. "They are a primal mythic concept." Speaking of myths, Expedition Everest combines the lure of tackling the legendary mountain with the powerful myth of the yeti, Everest's abominable snowman protector.

The attraction casts guests in the role of explorers as they trek to the fictional Nepalese village of Serka Zong. The richly themed area is filled with bright prayer flags, indigenous plants, weathered buildings, and other artifacts that Rohde and his team developed based on their extensive research in Asia around Mount Everest. There are shops hawking climbing gear and other supplies, but the bustling air of adventure and anticipation in the village is punctuated by subtle and outright ominous warnings about the yeti.

The queue line meanders through the booking and permit offices of the Himalayan Escapes tour company, a pagoda-style shrine that's brimming with Yeti totems, a general store, and the Yeti Museum. A makeshift exhibit in a converted tea warehouse, the museum offers evidence of the importance that the Yeti plays in art and culture as well as the reverence and fear that he inspires. The displays also present information that appears to corroborate the existence of the mythical beast. Oh oh! The stage thus set, guests proceed to the railroad station where they board old trains, once used to haul tea, to take them to Everest's base camp.

Expedition Everest Will Put Hair on Your Chest

When the queue is packed (which is most of the time), ride ops may not give guests the choice of seats, but the first car offers unobstructed views while those in the rear offer the most intense ride. From my experience, the next-to-last row, number 16, is prime seating for thrill-seekers.

The ride starts innocently enough with a pass through bamboo trees and ferns filled with twittering birds. The train climbs the lift hill and passes a huge yeti mural etched into the rock wall. According to Rohde, Disney had the coaster's manufacturer, Vekoma, use magnetic fields to modify the anti-rollback device so that it wouldn't emit the characteristic coaster click-clack-click sound and compromise the tea train theme.

The train takes a small dive into the mountain, emerges to the sight of twisted, impassable track, and stops on the incline. The Yeti, apparently infuriated by the violation of his sacred ground, unleashes his wrath on the explorers. With nowhere to go, the train hesitates, shudders, and proceeds backward into the mountain. This is where Expedition Everest gets nuts.

You'll Flip Over Expedition Everest

Unbeknownst to riders, a piece of switch track flips over so that rather than retracing its route, the train takes a different course deep into the mountain. Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida also hits a dead end and sends its trains backward, but it uses a more traditional lateral track-switching mechanism. Rohde says that the ride's two high-speed track switches, which each takes six seconds to flip, are the first of their kind and represent a coaster breakthrough.

The coaster hurtles backward into the mountain's dark void. The track banks and the positive G-forces push the lap bars into riders and the riders into their seats. It's a strange and disorienting sensation to be blindly racing backward and to feel the strong gravitational pull. Riders' thrill tolerances and coaster savvy will help determine the ratio of giddiness to dread they will experience.

Yeti Encounter

The train screeches to a halt again, this time on a decline, and a projected shadow image of the Yeti is seen ripping up another section of the track. The train proceeds forward, plunges down the front of the mountain (smile, this is where your photo is snapped), and, with the destroyed track, sends riders freefalling to their apparent doom. Instead, the coaster careens in and out of the mountain for some high-speed, banked-curve action.

Before returning to the station, the coaster makes one last pass through the mountain, and the enormous Yeti takes a convincing swipe at riders with his oversized paw. With the coaster flying past, the encounter lasts a mere second or two, but the effect is wild. The Yeti is Disney's most sophisticated animatronic figure to date, according to Rohde.

We got to experience Expedition Everest at night, something that most guests won't get to try, since the park generally closes before dusk. And that's a shame. The mountain has dramatic lighting against the evening sky. When the train ascends the lift hill, it casts an eerie shadow on the opposing cliff wall. And the cloak of darkness envelops riders in inky blackness when they enter inside the mountain. (Some light seeps in during daylight hours.)

Disney originally planned to feature real, extinct, and mythical animals as it was developing the Animal Kingdom. When it opened, many criticized the park for its paucity of attractions. Expedition Everest, which reportedly cost $100 million, marks the first Animal Kingdom ride to acknowledge imaginary creatures. It showcases the fine art of Disney storytelling and hopefully is the first of many to feature fabled beasts.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.