THE DISNEY THAT NEVER WAS A DIFFERENT DINOLAND U.S.A.
ADAPTED FROM THE SHOWNOTES OF THE DISNEY DISH PODCAST
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE DISNEY DISH PODCAST
In Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you may have noticed that certain areas of the park seem better planned than others. Africa and Asia are both immersive and tell compelling narratives throughout the lands. The now defunct Camp Minnie-mickey was a Band-aid solution to cover-up the never built Beastly Kingdom. And Dinoland U.S.A. seems cobbled together; does Chester and Hester’s Dino-rama really belong in the same storyline as The Dino Institute?
It turns out, yes! But there’s a big part of the story missing that ties it all together. And in losing that piece of the puzzle, Dino-rama became something altogether different than originally planned. Originally, the concept of Dinoland U.S.A. laid out a brilliant, thrilling, and interwoven theme throughout the land and its many attractions–but all that we have left today of that original vision is the DINOSAUR! ride, The Boneyard, and some other skeleton artifacts.
Take a peek at the zoomed in map above. Do you notice anything different about Dinoland U.S.A. from what stands in the park today? Well, for starters there’s a big track for a coaster that never was: The Excavator.
Here’s another view with concept art from 1993 showing off the original plans for Dinoland U.S.A.:
As you can see, the land was originally imagined as much more elaborate–it was meant to portray an active dig site, and The Excavator would have been an adventure through an area that was too dangerous to enter. Over time, a small coaster (Primeval Whirl) was added to the land, but without the cohesive theme for the land that The Excavator would have brought. To understand that, we’ll look to the original Dinoland U.S.A. backstory:
Chester and Hester’s was the local gas station on the site of a sand and gravel company, where trucks could be serviced and fuelled before hitting the road again. One day while digging up sand, a giant dinosaur bone was uncovered. Scientists arrived to explore and discovered that below the pit of sand and gravel was a huge archeological find full of fossils! With lots of field work to be done, a benefactor at the local college buys up the whole site and turns it into an extension of the paleontology department—complete with dorms, a cafeteria, and of course, The Dino Institute.
Next time you walk through this area, take a closer look and you can see plenty of evidence that college students were meant to be overtaking this area–like a pyramid of beer cans next to lawn chairs on a roof, or piles of clothes near the river where kids went skinny dipping. Chester and Hester opened up a roadside attraction for tourists who wanted to get in on the dinosaur action, because the actual dig site is closed to the public.
So on one side of Dinoland, you have this cheesy tourist trap, and on the other side, you have a fancy Dino Institute (funded by that same benefactor, who became obsessed with going back in time to when the dinosaurs were alive, thus creating the Time Rovers featured in DINOSAUR!). But the missing link is the dig site!
Sure, you can see a bit of this today with The Boneyard (which also seems out of place without the central story)–an area that was meant for little kids to play while their parents and older siblings rode the thrill rides in this land: DINOSAUR! (which was originally called Countdown to Extinction) and The Excavator.
So about The Excavator… It was supposedly a piece of equipment left over from the sand and gravel pit days. It was a series of cars that were used to haul material up out of the pit over to the dump trucks. As more sand was removed, The Excavator became unstable and unsafe, so it was shut down. Then the college kids show up and they fire it up again to help haul bones out of the pit!
The queue area would have featured plenty of “condemned” signage, broken safety barriers, etc. The Excavator would have been a much bigger coaster than Primeval Whirl–the Imagineers were looking to take a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad concept to the next level–having guests actually zoom through a giant skeleton, rather than just speed past a fossil. And right before the end of the attraction, a folk art dinosaur from Chester and Hester’s would spring to life and menace the trainload of passengers.
After The Excavator concept was scrapped from Animal Kingdom, it was considered for Hong Kong Disneyland’s Adventureland, but that plan never came to fruition.
While we’re talking about Dinoland U.S.A., check out this concept art from Countdown to Exctinction (now DINOSAUR!) – a raptor attack scene and a more elaborate finale through a swamp filled with dinosaurs.
So there you have it–the now extinct plans for Dinoland U.S.A., which would have made it a totally different experience for guests. Maybe it’s not too late to bring some of those ideas back… We’ve got Time Rovers, right?