Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park 10th Anniversary Celebration

| April 22, 2008

It’s hard to believe that the Animal Kingdom is 10 years old.  I was there for opening day and to say this park has grown in the past 10 years would be an understatement.  New rides, shows, attractions and restaurants have all been welcome improvements to a park that started out feeling less than complete when it first opened.  I feel honored to have been able to witness that growth and to be present at the 10th Anniversary Ceremonies.

It started out as a very early day, well for me anyway.  We arrived at the park at 8AM to find the folks from WDW Celebrations had an area set-up just to left in front of the turnstiles.  There they greeted everyone with a smile and gave out lanyards with ID tags, a small card with the days events on it and a very cool 10th Anniversary button.  I must say I am totally impressed with the way this has been handled and executed.  We did not sign up beforehand but we were still welcomed and given a sticker that indicated we had priority seating for one of the main events, a lecture given by Imagineer Joe Rohde.  Mr. Rohde is one of the driving forces behind Animal Kingdom – but more on him and his lecture later.

After getting our ‘credentials’ we went to get in line at the turnstiles.  The park was set to open at 8:45AM and the lines were already back to the ticketing booths.  As we made our way through the crowd I noticed a gentleman wearing a DIS Unplugged Podcast t-shirt.  I said ‘excuse me sir, do you listen to the DIS Unplugged’ he said ‘yes’ and I introduced myself and Kevin.  It was Tony, Anthony’s father.

If you listen to the Podcast you know that Kevin says ‘Hi’ to Anthony on every email show.  Anthony’s Mom emailed us a while back and said that the kids in Anthony’s class didn’t understand or appreciate his love of Disney – but Anthony was thrilled to find the Podcast and other ‘like minded’ people who loved Disney as much as he did – and some who even made a career out of it.  Anthony has come to symbolize for us that part in every Disney Fan that feels they need to explain their love of Disney, or who are made to feel a little ‘left of center’ when talking about the magical place they are passionate about.

After meeting Anthony’s Dad we met Anthony himself and I think Kevin was more star-struck to meet him than anyone else.  We met the rest of the family, gave them some DIS Unplugged pins, posed for pictures (yes, there is a new picture of me out there somewhere) and Kevin even signed Anthony’s shirt (talk about uncomfortable moments).  After socializing for a few minutes we took our spot in the back of the line and waited for the park to open.  A few minutes later we were met by Bob and some other folks.

Upon entering the park we headed to the Tree of Life where the crowd had stopped.  Our timing was perfect because as soon as we got situated the music started and performers from the Festival of the Lion King Show appeared.  They danced and marched in front of us.  Next came a ‘float’ of sorts carrying Erin Wallace, senior vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, Jane Goodall, world-renowned primatologist and Joe Rohde, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering and executive designer of the Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

AKL 10 Year DedicationEach gave a short speech about the Animal Kingdom, the newly renamed Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and how proud they all were to be a part of The 10th Anniversary Celebration and rededication ceremony.  The highlight was when Jane Goodall gave Disney a chimpanzee ‘thank you’ for all they do to help wildlife around the globe.  It’s certainly nothing I can describe here except to say it reminded me of a specific scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally.

After the rededication ceremony we worked our way back to the Theater in The Wild to hear Joe Rohde.  I was surprised to see the theater was only about half full given the speaker and subject matter.  I think Disney should have had signs out letting people know what was going on.  Many folks walked by us in line and were wondering what was going on.

Mr. Rohde was introduced by Valerie Bunting, VP of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, and he was met by thunderous applause.

Joe Rhode LectureMr. Rohde spoke for about 45 minutes and covered many topics including; early concepts for the Animal Kingdom Park, what the land was like prior to development, what it’s like to try to bring a concept this big to reality and what it’s like to be a Disney Imagineer.  It seemed as if he thought he was only speaking to Disney Cast Members instead of ‘guests’ as he went into great detail to explain that the Animal Kingdom is a ‘story’ rather than a destination and that it is important for Cast Members to help guests realize the magic of watching that story rather than racing from one ride or show to another.

He used slides to show the progress of the park as well as where many of the conceptual ideas came from.  One thing that fascinated me the most about his presentation was that he had photos of actual notes and story boards they saved from early brainstorming sessions about the park.  It was enthralling to hear how the Imagineers came up with concepts and overcame problems to make an entire Theme Park come to life, especially one that involves some unpredictable elements – like live animals.

All-in-all he gave a compelling presentation that any true Disney die-hard fan would love and I am happy I got up early to experience it.


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  • mandymommy4

    Great blog! I love how you stopped Anthony’s dad, I was wearing my shirt today to and although you did not see me (or did and ran the other way b/c of my 4 rug rats :) ) it’s nice to know that you appreciate and recognize fans when you identify them in the parks! How cool that Kevin got to meet Anthony! Can’t wait to see the video!

  • happy2go2wdwmom

    Sending you my best Goodall chimp style “THANK YOU” for your blog! What a banner day. Aren’t you SO GLAD you went up to Tony to ask about the disunplugged t-shirt?

  • mandymommy4

    Forgot to add~ I loved what Joe Rohde said about taking in all the details and not just rushing from ride to ride! After hearing him talk about his trip to Africa and Tibet and all the authentication that was put into the EE que , for example, I did enjoy the details and appreciate it so much more!

  • http://podcast.wdwinfo.com John Magi

    Sorry we missed you mandymommy4 – we were in the first set of seats to the left – in the back most row. You probably stared at the back of heads for most of the show.

    We certainly would have stopped you and said hello if we saw you.

  • LilGMom

    I love how you all met Anthony, how so very cool! I would have expected the theatre to be full and standing room only with Joe Rohde being the speaker, I know I would have ditched the hubby and kids to be there.

  • wildeoscar

    ok, how cool is it to say hi to a fan in an unplugged tshirt and it is “the” Anthony. Totally rocks.

  • tonyadenmark

    What an amazing day…for the life of me, I can’t figure out the When Harry Met Sally reference, will you share?

  • ADP

    Sounds like a great morning. It had to be very inspiring to just be there. To listen to Joe Rhode speak about AK would be a real treat! Thanks for the report!

  • WaltD4Me

    I wasn’t there for opening day, but I did go to AK in October of 1998 and being blown away by what I knew must have gone into creating that park. It is really amazing that it’s been 10 years. I would have given anything to hear Joe Rhode talk about it, I can’t believe that theatre wasn’t packed to the rafters! And to also meet Anthony?! There isn’t much I get up that early for either, but the for the day you guys had it would have been beyond worth it.

  • http://podcast.wdwinfo.com Kevin Klose

    The scene from “When Harry Met Sally” that John is refering to is Meg Ryan’s infamous deli scene after which a woman (Rob Reiner’s actual mother) turns and says “I’ll have what she’s having.”

  • mommyceratops

    That is a great blog! Thanks for sharing!! Wow you met Anthony?! :) that is so cool!!

    (I love that scene from when harry met sally)

  • tinkbutt

    sounds like the swag at this party had a higher approval rating!!! lol i wish I could have been there thanks for sharing !!

  • Minniemouse07

    Wow…how cool to have been there! Thanks for the recap!

    I was lucky that back in the stone age, Jane Goodall was a featured speaker at my college. I was involved in student government which meant that not only did I get a good seat, but we all went to a reception afterwards with her.

    She is such an amazing woman…and has achieved so much in her lifetime. How lucky you were to get to see her!

    BTW… great scene from WHMS.. it was filmed at Katz’s Delicatessan on Houston street in NYC. We used to go there as kids w/ my parents so it was really cool to see it in the movie. Not so cool was returning there as an adult and having to explain the significance of the table tent describing how they filmed the movie there!

  • Cyrano

    An excellent, detailed blog John :)
    Adam of WDW Celebrations definitely seems for another young man to personify all that Walt Disney stood for :)

  • UrsulasShadow

    I’m thrilled that they did up the anniversary right. I’ve been a Jane Goodall fan since I was young, and of course, everyone loves Joe Rohde. I want your life, John.

  • Madi100

    Thanks for the blog. Sounds like a fun time. And, how cool to be able to meet Anthony.

  • georgemoe

    Just finished watching all 6 parts of the Joe Rohde presentation. Thanks guys! Nice job.

  • timmac

    I didn’t make it to the park for most of the celebrations (I had four little ones in tow, and getting out early just didn’t work for us, lol), but was there later in the day, and saw many of the various pins and buttons… my son has one of them that someone gave him.

    On a semi-related note, the night before, while at AKV (where we were staying at the time), as I went down to the Mara to refill our drink mugs, I had the pleasure of meeting Jason from WDW Celebrations on an elevator.

    I noticed his lanyard and nametag, and the “Jason” name seemed awfully familiar… I had that “star struck” feeling of being in his presence. Granted, not nearly as exciting as what John described of Joe Rohde’s presentation, but still a moment of excitement for me :)

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