Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) opened in 1998 and originally featured one small fire effect. It was seen from the Discovery River Boats, a boat attraction that went around Discovery Island. When you approached Camp Minnie-Mickey, an area of lightly themed meet-and-greets with the Disney characters, you saw on the left a stone formation sculpted to look like a dragon’s head, with water coming from its mouth. Further ahead, another stone formation featured a massive flamethrower, simulating a dragon’s breath. This served as a preview for Beastly Kingdom; an area themed after mythical animals such as dragons and unicorns. This area sadly was never built, and the land was later used for Pandora – the World of Avatar.
Countdown to Extinction was the park’s initial thrill ride. Using the groundbreaking Enhanced Motion Vehicle (EMV) first seen on the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, the story here is the Dino Institute invented the Time Rover, a futuristic all-terrain vehicle capable of time travel. Our guide/host, Dr. Seeker, goes against the program and sends us dangerously close to the meteorite that ended most life on Earth 65 million years ago. Actual fire was not used during the ride, but sparklers installed inside the first time-travel tunnel. As our Time Rover ascended through smoke, sparks would fly as we traveled back in time. Unfortunately, as with another Disney attraction (Space Mountain: De la Terre a la Lune at Disneyland Paris), the effect proved challenging to maintain and was turned off shortly after the ride opened. Countdown to Extinction was renamed Dinosaur in 2000, to take advantage of synergy opportunities with a recently released animated film and which coincided with a toning down of the Time Rover movement and a less intense experience effect and sound-wise.
If you look to the right of the Expedition tag, you can see “CTX Rover”, which is a reference to the original name of the attraction.
Fire appeared again in 1999 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom when Asia received two new attractions. The first was the Maharaja Jungle Trek, an elaborate set of animal exhibits where guests see Komodo Dragons, Bengal and Sumatran tigers along with bats and other creatures from Asia at the guest’s own pace since this is a walking attraction through ‘old’ ruins of a palace.
Kali River Rapids was initially planned as Tiger Rapids Run, a water ride where visitors would see a lot of the animals that eventually made the Maharaja Jungle Trek their home climaxing with an encounter with tigers in their enclosure. Ultimately, the ride was downsized in length and scope, and the journey is now simply a short Intamin river rapids attraction that uses 12-seat rafts. The original climax of Kali River Rapids (as the ride was eventually called) was a passage through a devastated forest. Illegal loggers have been destroying the forest and even set fire to it. Guests float by a damaged logger truck as intense fire blasts in the air. The raft would make a right turn toward the edge of the river as a fire arch surrounds the top of the drop. The boat then slid down a large 20-foot tall drop, creating a wall of water that soaked half the boat when it reached the bottom. In 2004, the fire effects were eliminated to create a new area for workers, cast members in Disney parlance, to monitor the drop. Having cast members in the middle of a raging inferno was not possible and the ride sadly lost its climax as a result.
Kali River Rapids at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.