In Summary of Subtraction
That's pretty much the park. Right. I left out the animal habitat exhibits. Gorilla Falls (sorry, it was renamed Pangani Forest Exploration Trail for the same reason that you can't ride Tiger Rapids Run) in Africa and Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia are cool walkthroughs, but they are no more elaborate than the habitats you will find at your local zoo. Nobody is paying more than $60 to spend a few hours at the zoo.
But, really, that's most of the park. Doesn't sound too inspiring does it? Of course not. Disney knows this. It's why the ride that may finally win back a growth in attendance -- the Everest roller coaster in Asia -- is going in. However, it won't open until 2006 (probably in 2005). Disney will have sat on this stagnant park for eight years before giving the park the second marquee attraction that will get the turnstiles clicking. Pity the patient shareholder. Suffer the sweltering patron.
For now, what can you say about the only major theme park in Central Florida that is sometimes keeping shorter hours than the area's water parks. Don't buy the argument that the abridged hours are related to the animals. During the summer of 2003, while Animal Kingdom was closing as early as 5pm Busch Gardens Tampa was open until 10:30pm and Sea World Orlando wrapped up the day at 10pm. Even if they had to close down some of the live animal attractions -- like the Future World animals in EPCOT that must be put to bed by 6pm daily -- surely the park can stay open much later, right? No. The reason the park is closing at 5pm is because it's already nearly empty the hour before.
Things have gotten so bad that the park is bribing guests with nearly free kid meals under the condition that they extend their stay beyond lunch. Don't believe me? For $5.99 guests can buy Meal Plus Certificates for their children at most of the counter-service restaurants (it is $11.99 for adults). That includes a kid meal of their choice and vouchers for two more items. One is for a free popcorn or ice cream bar, which can run as much as $3 for the Tollhouse cookie ice cream sandwich. The other voucher is for a free bottle of water or soda -- which retails for $2.50. The beverage that comes with every kid meal is worth more than $0.49 so they are literally paying your children to have lunch, as long as they agree to the hostage situation because the tickets are supposedly (though not exactly enforced) to be used later that day.
"Nahtazu," Disney tells you. This is not a zoo. Yes, but it's also not an adequate full-day park experience. Nahtaday? Located in the heart of Florida where the sun is fierce and thunderstorms violent, most experienced park goers will suggest that you avoid Animal Kingdom on hot days or rainy days. With little to offer in terms of enclosed attractions it's sound advice. The problem is that just about every day in Florida is hot or rainy.
Six years into the fourth gate experiment and Animal Kingdom is still an incomplete attraction. Disney logic would dictate that a name change would be in order. But, you see, it used that trump card already when it had Mutual of Omaha objected to the park's original moniker: Disney's Wild Kingdom.
What's in a name? For a struggling park still rummaging for an identity it's the difference between John Doe and John Dough. That's the problem. If untapped potential was a currency Animal Kingdom would be a miser. But it's not.