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G’Day Mate! Australia coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

I first reported on the development of a new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom based on the continent of Australia back in October of 2007. It was shortly after that when the housing bubble popped for good and the house of cards banks had built on home mortgages came tumbling down threatening to take the world’s economy with it. At that point Disney turtled and postponed a number of projects until a time when the economy returned to better.

That time appears to be now. Despite Iger’s protestations on quarterly results conference calls, all new spending on the theme parks is not exactly over. There’s a lot scheduled, just at Walt Disney World. Work will begin in earnest on the Art of Animation resort and a new DVC property is scheduled for the old River Country location. We also know about the expansion of Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland. Phase I is well underway, and Phases II and III are undergoing retooling with discussion boards going crazy with rumors of what is in and what is out. Downtown Disney will soon have Hyperion Wharf. Star Tours 2.0 is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and there are two big plans for DHS expansion fighting over which will get the green light first. Imagination pavilion at EPCOT has long been rumored for another makeover. I hear they’ll start work as soon as they can find a replacement sponsor for Kodak. Even ESPN Wide World of Sports complex has a bowling alley waiting for a new sponsor to set the bulldozers to work. That leaves just one park, the park most in need of additional capacity, waiting to see what cards will be played.

That park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This week I heard a couple bits of news that has me ready to say “G’day Mate!” Yep, work on the rumored Australia section of the park has reportedly been approved. Although I have not yet seen it myself, my minions tell me that there has been some clearing work on the future site already. I also heard that approval has been given in the new budget to hire some additional resources that will be tasked to the project. Take those two facts, along with a couple other sources I spoke to, and I think we can safely say the land of Oz is coming to Orlando.

They way I see it, Australia is the first step in realizing the final vision of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The park currently lacks any aquatic/sea-life exhibits. So picture a Great Barrier Reef exhibit and a Killer Whale and/or Dolphin show. DAK does have a few Kangaroo, but a larger Marsupial exhibit would be a great addition. The location of Australia will allow guests to walk to and from the Conservation Station and allows removal of the Wildlife Express railroad. That frees up important land in Africa which will finally allow The Festival of the Lion King to move to its rightful place in the park. Once that happens, Camp Minnie Mickey is open to be re-themed (although don’t get your hopes up for Beastly Kingdom, that ship has sailed).

I’ve highlighted a few areas here in this overhead shot:

The red area is where Australia will be built. This is where the construction vehicles parked when they were building Everest. But the entrance is actually closer to the Asia walking trail. The purple area is where the Wildlife Express railroad currently runs to Rafiki’s Planet Watch (aka Conservation Station) highlighted in green. It’s a snug fit, but the whole Festival of The Lion King (in blue) can fit in the lower turnaround area for Wildlife Express. Once FoTLK moves, you can see the huge expansion pad below it in Camp Minnie Mickey just waiting for development.

This leaves one problem — transportation. Disney needs to realize that DAK is the largest of its theme parks and will be getting even bigger with Australia. The modified hub and spoke model will be dashed with the addition of Australia. What’s really needed is some sort of system that will bring guests from the front of the park to the back. While I’d love to see some sort of peoplemover, it goes against the theme of nature to have the transportation of tomorrow in the park. They could repurpose the Wildlife Express and run it from Conservation Station/Australia down to the back side of Dinoland. That would help tired feet get back to the front of the park at the end of the day. However, I think the perfect solution for this problem is a skyway. New technology I just saw at IAAPA gets rid of some of the problems Disney experienced with the old skyway and the park really is built to be experienced from above as well as on the ground.

My usual philosophy with Disney projects is to not believe anything is for real until the day after it opens to the public. But I feel the needs of the park and the clues from my sources are aligning to the point where I am relatively confident that Australia is on the way. Disney has to come up with an answer to Harry Potter, guests are leaving DAK after half a day or just skipping it entirely. Making DAK a full-day park needs to be a high priority for the resort if it wants to hold guests on property for four full days. Australia is the first step down that path. I report back as soon as I have more.

38 thoughts on “G’Day Mate! Australia coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom”

  1. I find it very highly unlikely that a DVC property will be built at River Country.

    1) Back in the 90’s the project to convert the 100, 200, and 300 loops into a moderate hotel was nixed because focus group research revealed that doing so would take away from FTW what made it what it is.

    2) The DVC expansions are all driven based on the non-DVC resorts that DVC members choose to stay in when they choose not to stay at a DVC resort

    3) Most of FTW is swampland

    4) Most of FTW is protected wetlands, the footprints of the individual sites can’t even be expanded

    5) Most of FTW is swampland

    6) While a hotel *might* fit on the site of River Country, there’s not enough space for a convenient parking lot. Disney would have to go with a parking garage or go with a very, very long and stretched out parking lot. Moving the service road to the Lodge isn’t an option because, most of FTW is swampland and protected wetlands (did I mention that). The road is already above grade moving it simply isn’t an option because there’s no where for it to go.

    7) And this is the really big one, there’s simply not the utility infrastructure to support a building. It is well known that when River Country was built that the decision was made to use treated lake water. River Country’s demise was due in part to the twice monthly $28,000 bill for the chemicals to treat the water. Disney would have to run additional utilities – water, sewer and electric – to the site which would be immensely expensive if not impossible because most of FTW is swampland and protected wetlands.

    8) The facility would have to be multi-story to realize any immediate profit given the overall construction costs, but as we all know the height would be limited.

    9) The logistics of transporting guests to the doorstep of the property would be horrendous. If access was through FTW, you’d be adding MORE vehicles to an already congested area. If access was from the Lodge, you’d be having vehicles travel on a two-lane road that can’t be expanded due to most of FTW being swampland and protected wetlands.

  2. I’m surprised to hear this! I had been under the impression that the expansion pad nearest Camp Minnie-Mickey would be the first to be utilized, but I’m thrilled to hear that there is forward momentum for Australia. I’m probably in the minority here, but I really think the park needs more animals and not just rides. A healthy mix of the two will turn AK into a full day park and lots more repeat customers.

  3. Great article, and great possibilities. I wonder if I wouldn’t try to move and/or re-theme the Flights of Wonder show and place it elsewhere–like the Pocahontas location. That would open up an entrance that way that could come up through there. Then I would consider keeping the trains and adding a stop at Australia. Just thoughts.

  4. Here’s another thought with opening Australia area – it opens up not just the Lion King stage area, but the Finding Nemo stage area. Nemo was based in Australia, and by all rights, should be relocated to a new stage in that land to fit a Great Barrier Reef exhibit. I’m really crossing my fingers for a Soarin’ type ride themed with the Rescuers Down Under. It’ll need an A Ticket ride to anchor this place.

  5. Enjoyed your report and love the idea of installing some sort of transportation across the park- gosh it is needed- and I am on a scooter! A new Skyway would be great on so many levels (even if I couldn’t use it.)

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  8. I’m not too optimistic about this right now. Everything I’m hearing right now is that Disney is slowing down the development for the parks.

    You also addressed some of the major concerns with that area. Accessing that expansion plot requires restructuring of several locations, most likely the Wildlife Express train (although reworking the Maharajah Jungle Trek could also work).

    Additionally, the walking required to reach that land could be prohibitive to some guests. I do like the idea of having the Wildlife Express train (or a Skyway) do a grand circle tour of the parks, if this were to happen it could be a way to add more animals (real and mythical) to the park.

    The other problem I see with this is that if the park were to be laid out on an actual map, Australia would logically reside where the Finding Nemo Musical currently resides. Given the small size needed for a marsupial exhibit, it may make more sense to build in this area and level Primeval Whirl/Dinorama. Finding Nemo also would be a stretch thematically as the story takes place partly in Australia.

    I hope this rumor is true, but as I said at the beginning I’m not optimistic. I’ll be sure to reach out to a few people to hopefully gather more information. At the very least it’s one worth watching.

    Tim Grassey
    Co-Host WDW Fan Boys Podcast

  9. No way it will be a whale and dolphin show!!! Disney is too smart for that. Sea World’s days are numbered as people start to figure out how inhumane it is to keep these incredible creatures in small tanks as they slowly go insane. Please say not to that Disney.

  10. I’d rather see a Great Barrier Reef instead of a killer whale or dolphin show. I can go to SeaWorld for that.

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  14. It sounds great, and I cannot wait, whatever Disney decides to do. My overall concern is the connection between the parks. Right now, DAK is only connected if a person rides the busses to the park. I would like to see some boats to get to DAK, as well as the busses. How about expanding the monorail? OK, I can hear some groans out there. Anytime, I read expansion of the parks, I always comment about this. Maybe one day I will get my wish. People have told me how much it will cost to expand the monorail, including adding a new track, new cars, etc… I think it could work. anything that is related to AK, (Park, Lodge, etc, )is so isolated from everything else, except the value resorts. It would be nice, and a person do not have to use their cars to park, or think of the gas to power these busses. At least they need to thing about having boats to these areas.

  15. There is no way that Disney will put in a skyway at dak! It would give the guests more opportunity to irritate the animals.. And because of what happened at mk, when they got rid of their skyway.. Haven’t heard anything about Australia being added but when i go to work today, will definately ask.

  16. You mention an updated skyway technology at IAAPA in your post. Could you eloboarate or point me in the right direction to check this new technology out?

  17. i just wrote about this in my new blog. every source i have points to Australia and that the land is already being prepared!!!! Im so excited about this i think it will be awesome!!!!!!

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  20. I actually don’t think that DAK will go into marine life becaues that’s really Sea World’s business and “the living seas” Pavillion at Epcot has some nice exhibitions, too.

    At Dreamworld in Australia there is a nice “Australia” area which boosts some nice theming and wildlife which alltogether would also work at DAK.

    When it comes to transportation: yes, the park may be the biggest of all Disney Parks but as the Safari takes up a vast space I don’t see a necessity just yet.

  21. I happen to like the Wildlife Express, I hope they keep it in some form, I think that would please Walt (an avid rail fan). Actually it would be great if they had transit that made stops it the various areas and the park entrance. And if the Adventurers Club does not return to the Wharf (which might make me wharf), maybe it could come to DAK…

  22. The idea of Australia & the Skyway is absolutely perfect. Seeing the animals & other attractions from above would be exciting. DAK really needs more to make a day of it.
    We actually miss the Skyway @ Magic Kingdom.

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