Channel 7 Eyewitness Newsvan and Countdown to Extinction in 1998.

When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, one of the few “rides” in the park was Countdown to Extinction in Dinoland U.S.A. The ride was basically a dinosaur-themed version of the Indiana Jones Adventure that had opened at Disneyland in 1995. Once the movie Dinosaur came out, the ride was renamed to Dinosaur, though remnants to the original name still remain…

CTX Rover on the Dinosaur ride vehicles, a tribute to the original name of Countdown to Extinction. April 13, 2019.

But I digress… Taking a trip back in time (see what I did there?) to 1998 shows another change. In that inaugural year of the attraction, you would see this TV station news van parked nearby:

WABC-TV 7 Newsvan parked outside of Countdown to Extinction on October 17, 1998.

As I browsed archived messages on the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup, I found someone noticing it was missing by February 19, 1999. And, even more interesting, there was an entire thread just a few days earlier speculating about what part this newsvan played in the story of the attraction.

Oh well. Had the van remained, it would have been replaced by a website or blog by now, anyway.

Until next time…

Animal Kingdom in 1998

Last year, Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrated 20 years of being “not a zoo.” The park opened on Earth Day in 1998 (April 22). This was the first U.S. Disney park to open during my adult lifetime (I was a teenager when EPCOT Center opened in 1982). I considered making a trip out for the grand opening, but decided I’d wait a bit and let the crowds settle.

I wish I had visited earlier, because by the time I saw it in October 1998, things had already started changing — including the removal of one original attraction!

But I digress…

I wanted to share a sample of what it was like experiencing this park for the first time.

While I was walking towards the entrance, I noticed how beautiful the greenery was. This light caught my attention:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom parking area light October 17, 1998.

I don’t remember what it said not the rock, or if that is even still there. I’ll look for it my next trip.

I remember it being a long walk to get to the entrance.

Walking to the entrance of DAK on October 17, 1998.

I remember being amazed when I saw this waterfall. What a great entrance for this new park!

The waterfall entrance on October 17, 1998.

A minute later, and I would realize this was not the entrance at all. It was the Rainforest Cafe! Neat. Of course, today, you can’t even see the waterfall from here. The trees have grown in and blocked that view.

The real entrance was cool, but now I was a bit let down.

The DAK entrance on October 17, 1998.

I don’t recall what that truck was doing, but I’m betting it was trying to sell tickets to Pleasure Island 😉

I could continue with these photos and take you on a tour of my day, but instead we’ll stick to the outside of the park. Back then, the trees were freshly planted:

The trees needed a bit of help on October 17, 1998.

Even though it didn’t open with the park, we were still pretty excited to see what might come when the fantasy animal realm (Beastly Kingdom) was added. You could see the dragon in the logo, so we knew it would be happening…

Original DAK logo featuring the Dragon on October 17, 1998.

I’m still waiting.

I’ll end with two pictures from the outside of Rainforest Cafe. Click to open the full-size gallery:

I’m not sure how much the inside has changed since I never spent much time in it after this first trip. I got to visit the first three Rainforest Cafes in the Chicago area, so I already had my T-shirt collection started.

There. Now I’ve given Walt Disney World a bit more love. But they will be much, much more love to give in future installments.

Until then…

Hard-core Mickey Mouse fan at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998 (Earth Day). I had considered being out there for the grand opening, but thought it would be a better trip if I let the crowds die down first. I made my first trip six months later in October that year.

The main attractions were the Kilimanjaro Safaris (still there, but changed), It’s Tough to Be a Bug (still there), and Countdown to Extinction (no longer there by that name, but still there and known as Dinosaur today). I’ll be writing about that first visit later, but I wanted to pass along this photo:

Super fan with a Sorcerer Mickey tattoo at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on October 17, 1998.

If I recall, I noticed her tattoo after my first ride on Dinosaur and I asked her if I could get a photo of it. Twenty years ago, tattoos still weren’t very common, and I’d never seen one in that position on the lower arm.

Today, such a simple arm tattoo wouldn’t get a second glance, and I’ve since seen folks with entire “sleeve tattoos” of copyrighted Disney characters walking around Disneyland. (When did the tough image of biker/military/pirate/prisoner tattoos become something you could mix with Disney?)

But back then, it was something surprising, and worth using one of my limited amount of digital photos on.

Does anyone know her? If so, tell her the guy with the computer camera she met at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998 says hi.

Until next time…

Bryon, my 2007 Animal Kingdom bartender

In the late 90s, I used to travel with a PalmPilot PDA (a Palm III, actually). These PDAs (personal digital assistants) were what we used in the years before Androids and iPhones. I also had a snap on 14.4 modem (spiffy!) so I could dial in to my ISP and download/upload e-mail from a hotel, or even from a payphone (if it had a phone jack on it). High tech! Later I would upgrade to a Kyocera 6035 – one of the very first smartphones. It was a phone with a PalmPilot and modem built in! Higher tech!

I used my Palm III (and later, Kyocera) to take vacation notes and maintain a TO DO list of everything I wanted to see/ride/experience. These notes are how I used to document my trips on my 1990s website from my front page “news.”

But I digress.

When the first iPhone came out in 2007, I purchased one and brought it with me on Disney trips. It became my new notepad and TO DO list. Even though I’ve upgraded my phone a few times since then, my old notes and reminders I had migrated to my later phones.

Recently, I came across my “cast member kudos” notes I took during a trip in March 2007. If I ran into a CM who I thought was really exceptional and going above and beyond “typical Disney,” I’d make a note of them and write into to Disney to share my kudos after I returned home. (This is something I encourage all of you to do.)

My 2007 trip notes included the following:

Barry Plank City, FL photopass
bryon at Dawa Bar DAK
Tomoko, Yuki

Cast Member Kudos, March 2007

I don’t recall what PhotoPass Barry did to impress me, but I think Tomoko and Yuki were the fun CMs at the saki bar in Japan. (That was the first time I’d ever really been there.) But Bryon? He was one I think I remembered. I wondered if he might still be around, twelve years later…

Many things have changed since 2007. The Dawa Bar in Animal Kingdom, for example, has been rebuilt and relocated since I last saw it. Here’s the version I remember:

Dawa Bar on September 30, 2007.

And here’s what it looks like today:

Dawa Bar in 2018.

I decided to ask at the current incarnation of Dawa Bar if they knew of a bartender named Bryon. Indeed, the bartender I spoke of said he did, and informed me he was still with the company and currently working over at Epcot at the Garden Grill.

I now had a mission to find out if it actually the same Bryon that impressed me so much in 2007 that I included him on a very short list of cast member kudos?

The next day, I visited Epcot and made a specific trip into The LAND to ask about their Bryon.

Garden Grill in 2018.

To my surprise — their Bryon was indeed the Bryon I remembered! He’s been with the company for almost 30 years.

It’s a small world, after all!

If you make it to Epcot, and feel like a huge all-you-can-eat breakfast with visits from Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto, check out the Garden Grill and ask for Bryon. If he’s not around, Vickie is also great fun.

That’s your Park Hopping tip for the day. Use it wisely.

Until next time…