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Disney's gets new Himalayan flavour
IANS[Wednesday, May 03, 2006 09:43]
Orlando (Florida) - The latest tourist attraction in Florida is a snow-capped, 60-metre hill at Disney World in Orlando that is designed to resemble Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain.

According to Disney, the hill, made from 25,000 steel components, costs more than $100 million and is the most expensive roller coaster ever constructed. Disney has christened the ride "Expedition Everest".

However, the roller coaster is not the only addition to Disney's arsenal of amusements.

The company intends to use "Expedition Everest" to raise its profile as a nature conservationist. A copy of an entire Tibetan village has been constructed at the bottom of the mountain.

It is "astoundingly authentic", says Bob Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

The roller coaster designers spent a long time travelling through the Himalayas and collected more than 2,000 items of furniture and decorations during their trip.

"Of course the real Himalayas are incomparably more beautiful, larger and more diverse," says chief designer Joe Rohde.

"But if you want to get an impression of the Tibetan mountains without going there, you have to come here. We resemble the original very closely."

"Expedition Everest" certainly does set new standards.

When it reaches the peak, the roller coaster does not plunge down the other side as other rides do, but comes to a sudden halt in front of tracks that appear to have been ripped apart by an immensely strong force.

The coaster then reverses backwards at high speed before it once again comes to a quick halt.

As the passengers wait and stare at the side of the mountain where the shadow of a Yeti can be made out, the tracks turn around, enabling the ride to race onwards inside Everest.

"During my expedition to the Himalayas, I was surprised to hear the Yeti is looked upon as a creature that guards the mountain's pristine environment," says Rohde.

"It watches over nature and makes sure the mountain's solitude is not disturbed. Our job was to recreate this myth and the ideal of nature protection that it represents," he says.

"You can experience our story in a number of different ways. Each of our guest has to decide for themselves how far they want to go in their understanding."

"Expedition Everest" is just one part of the Animal Kingdom, one of four large theme parks in Disney World.

Disney has been praised by animal rights activists such as Jane Goodall for its efforts at housing elephants, giraffes, lions, hippos, rhinos and other animals in their huge outdoor enclosures.

Goodall, who conducts research on apes, says, "If I was an animal, I would want to live in Animal Kingdom."

Goodall has just received a grant of $100,000 from Disney for her research work.

Disney donates about $1 million every year towards nature protection projects. A third of the Disney World complex is itself a nature reserve and the company is keen to promote its green image both in Europe and the US.

"We want to show the public we are thinking beyond our company, that we are not just interested in profit and that we have a heart," says Al Weiss, the head of Disney World.

Weiss is proud of Disney's record when it comes to recycling, saving energy and using ecologically friendly materials.
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