If you have dinosaur enthusiasts in your midst, you know which Animal Kingdom land you have to visit first: DinoLand USA! Following the path on Discovery Island from the park entrance to the right, DinoLand is the first land you’ll reach. Enter by passing under a steel truss footbridge (the “OldenGate Bridge”) that’s guarded by a massive 52-foot-tall Brachiosaurus skeleton. (The original of this fossil replica can be found in the Field Museum in Chicago.)
Workin in the hot sun
Diggin’ up bones
… Diggin’ in DinoLand!”
You may hear this song playing on the WDIG radio show in the Boneyard just inside the entrance of DinoLand USA.
The Boneyard (note its large bone-shaped sign hanging out front) is an elaborately themed paleontological playground with many interactive discoveries waiting to be made. If there’s a crate with a big black handle, attempt to open it (and listen closely). If you see dinosaur footprints in the ground, jump up and down on them (you may hear a roar). If you see bones in a wall, try pressing on them (music may follow). (The musical “xylobone” is also a great photo op.)
Adults who know something about paleontology will enjoy a Boneyard picnic table onto which digsite interns have carved their favorite dinosaur jokes. There are also chalkboards and displays throughout the boneyard with scientific notes from the paleontologists in charge of the dig.
It can be frustrating to try to follow the progress of your child by watching from the ground because he or she can suddenly disappear down a slide or staircase and pop up somewhere else entirely. Note that there’s a bridge above that crosses over into a separate area (where the kids can dig for hidden fossils buried in sand). It works best if one adult is willing to just follow right along with the young ones – up and down stairs, across bridges, down slides. (This adult might be entitled to a refreshing Yak Attack beverage over in Asia!)
Note that the Boneyard generally opens an hour after park opening.
MousekeFind: Across from the Boneyard, Dino-Rama is spelled out in a small hedge which is bordered by old license plates.
CHESTER AND HESTER
As you move beyond the Boneyard into the heart of DinoLand USA, you’re entering the realm of Chester and Hester – and it’s a lot more fun if you know the backstory! There was a time when “Diggs County” was just a backwater with nothing more than a ramshackle gas station — owned by an elderly couple, Chester and Hester. But everything changed when dinosaur bones were discovered in the area. This drew scientists and tourists like a magnet, and the digsite (Boneyard) was set up and the Paleontological Institute (with the DINOSAUR thrill-ride) was founded.
CHESTER AND HESTER’S DINOSAUR TREASURES
Chester and Hester converted their gas station (the remains of which can still be seen in DinoLand — it sold Sinclair gas of course, whose mascot is a dinosaur) to a remarkable souvenir shop, Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures. (Framed photos of Chester and Hester at the original station can be found inside.) The roof is covered outside with kitschy dino signs, while the rafters inside are filled with a “dinorama” of hundreds of little plastic dinosaurs (some riding a train and some ready to launch off a ski jump, amongst other shenanigans).
CHESTER AND HESTER’S DINO-RAMA
With the success of their gift shop, Chester and Hester set out to tempt more tourists to stop and spend the day (and their dollars). They opened a small amusement park in their parking lot called Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, complete with carnival rides and midway fun (called Fossil Fun Games). They also added attention-grabbing highway signs and billboards advertising the Dino-Rama. In a demonstration of massive roadside tourist-magnet architecture, Chester and Hester built their Cementosaurus – a towering, yellow Brontosaur who smiles down on the entire Dino-Rama area. You’ll walk right under her on your way to the Theater in the Wild.
MousekeFind: You can still spot the painted lines marking the spaces on what used to be a backstory parking lot.
This Dumbo-style attraction offers rides in friendly, greeny-blue triceratops. Choose the back to control how high you go; the front seat has a lever which controls the pitch. Don’t miss the view of DinoLand from the top!
MousekeFind: Look up to spot a bright tailed comet orbiting in the opposite direction to the flying triceratops.
Here is a brightly themed wild-mouse type ride which will spin and twirl you back in time. The time machine has been created by Chester and Hester’s scientist-cousins, Esther, Fester, Nester and Lester (look for their white-lab-coated images in the boarding area). Children must be 48 inches tall to ride.
MousekeFind: At the top of the ride, you’ll see three hitch-hiking dinosaurs who may remind you of the famous trio at the end of the Haunted Mansion.
While Chester and Hester celebrate dinosaur whimsy, the dignified Dino Institute, according to Disney’s backstory, is run by scientists who are devoted to research and education. A full-sized Carnotaurus skeleton is on display in the center of the rotunda (aka the queue). Don’t miss murals, dioramas, and real fossils in the stratigraphic walls of the Institute. The Institute intends to send you on a controlled tour of gentle dinosaurs in a time machine vehicle, but your trip is repurposed by Dr. Seeker (whom you’ll meet in the pre-show) who sends you on a chaotic attempt to save the last Iguanodon from extinction. (This is the dinosaur you see out in front, eyeing a giant comet.) Your time rover has to dodge not-at-all-gentle carnivores and a giant meteor. The bucking movement of the Time Rover is turbulent and the lunging Carnotaur is pretty startling (not to mention the darkness, flashing lights, and loud sounds), so this is not a ride for the very young or the motion sensitive. The rescue, by the way, is successful, and Dr. Seeker thanks you for your help as he rushes off to find the Iguanodon “before security does.” (You can see the wandering dinosaur yourself on the monitors as you exit.) The Dino Institute Shop has a good selection of gifts for young dino hunters.
MousekeFind: A massive prehistoric sea turtle skeleton suspended overhead in the Dino Institute Shop.
A statue of a Gallimimus marks the start of this primeval stroll through “the living past” – ferns and cycads that have been on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs. You’ll also hear dinosaur sounds and rustling and might spot a small herd of Ceratopsids on a small rise (though the underbrush often grows thick and tall enough to obscure them).
FINDING NEMO: THE MUSICAL
A respite from the Florida sun can be found in the air-conditioned 1,500-seat indoor Theater in the Wild, the home of an engaging Nemo musical. This Broadway-style show combines the talents of puppeteers (who both wear and ride their puppets in some cases), dancers, and acrobats against colorful sets to tell the story of FINDING NEMO with new songs inspired by the story.
PHOTO OPS WITH DINOSAURS
Near the Dinosaur Treasures gift shop, you’ll find a unique concrete dinosaur covered with little pieces of glass and mirrors.
Out behind the gift shop, there’s Corythosaurus – a helmet-crested, duck-billed dinosaur statue – standing up on its back legs, waiting for you to take a photo with him. Look out for a nearby bench inlaid with ceramic dinosaur shapes.
Near the Cementosaurus is a cutout of a red car with fins which is loaded with dinosaur passengers — all it needs is you as the driver.
At the entrance of DINOSAUR is a cast of Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex known.
On the other side of the path, a Hadrosaur presides over a play area and children are permitted to climb up for a photo. Safari Donald also greets guests in this area.
MousekeFind: Look for a small black Hidden Mickey among the green and red scales of the Hadrosaur’s back.
HAVE A BITE
The large counter-service Restaurantosaurus is themed as the quarters of the students of the Dino Institute and the workers in the Bonyeyard. You can choose burgers for the carnivore or the herbivore (Angus or black bean). Their Cretaceous Cooler is made with Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, Midori, and Pineapple Juice.
Trilo-bites is a counter service location with a frequently changing menu. At the moment, you can wash down a Buffalo Chicken Waffle Slider with Funky Buddha Floridian Hefeweizen beer!
Dino Bite Snacks offers ice cream cookie sandwiches and hot fudge sundaes.
MousekeFind: DinoLand roadsigns for Diggs County US 498 (the Animal Kingdom opened in April of ’98!).