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Animal Kingdom

Birth of a disappointment

After weeks of guest previews and dodging bad press over animal fatalities at the park Animal Kingdom officially opened on April 22, 1998. Appealing to early risers with its 7am opening and closing near dusk, would a dozen hours be enough for guests to fully enjoy everything that Disney's newest destination had to offer?

Anyone parked by the exit turnstiles found out quickly as the masses began scrambling out of the park by noon. Much to Disney's dismay people weren't "getting" the park. They would rush to the park's signature safari ride attraction, wander about to take in a show or a few of the limited number of rides and attractions then bolt before the Florida heat melted the flesh off their bones.

Disney responded by adopting the herding strategies of its parking attendants. Cast members lined up down the oft-traveled path from the front gate to Africa's Kilimanjaro Safari and tried to disrupt the beeline by directing patrons to less popular sights and attractions along the way. It proved to be a flimsy lasso so the company tried to direct traffic again by opening the park an hour later. Failing that, it bumped the opening ahead another hour to 9am. All that produced was even more sun-doused guests heading out an hour or two later than the original noontime exodus. So Disney shaved a pair of hours off its closing schedule too. Billed as a vacationer's paradise, Animal Kingdom had become an ironic 9-to-5 park. So was Animal Kingdom an all-day park or not? By squeezing the accordion of operating hours, the answer was moot. Disney had made its newest Florida theme park a half-day destination by default.

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