If You Love The Ride Expedition Everest At Animal Kingdom, Visit These Destinations That Inspired It

Despite its name, the Expedition Everest ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida isn't only inspired by the world's tallest mountain. Putting Everest in the name just makes it easy for theme park guests to conceptualize that the fake mountain they're ascending (via roller coaster) is the tallest one in Disney World. The real Everest's north/northwest face did inform the design of said mountain, which tops out at 199 feet, higher than other classic rides like Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain. However, the attraction's backstory involves a train shortcut through a forbidden part of the Himalayas, the mountain range where Everest forms but one precipitous peak on the Nepal–Tibet border. Disney Imagineers, including Animal Kingdom's lead designer, Joe Rohde, visited Nepal on a research trip when Expedition Everest was in the blueprint stages. Yet they mixed and matched different real-world inspirations to come up with the attraction, its queue, and the surrounding buildings in the park's Asia section.

To join a legit Mount Everest expedition, arriving in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, is common. For the north face, you'd need to cross the border to Tibet, an autonomous region of China. Then, you would spend weeks acclimatizing, moving from camp to camp, and climbing the mountain up and down. It's doable through travel agencies like Great Adventure Treks and Sherpa Expedition and Trekking. However, it would be a massive undertaking — one for experienced climbers with tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, Expedition Everest's influences extend to several other travel options.

Visions of Nepal and Tibet

In the early 1990s, Joe Rohde was among the first visitors when Nepal's Mustang district opened for tourism. Some details in the Expedition Everest queue and the Serka Kong Bazaar gift shop were pulled from his trips. A mandir, which looks like a three-story pagoda, is one notable feature of the queue. In Mustang, you can see a mandir at Muktinath Temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Another popular local sight is the Kali Gandaki River, which lends part of its name to Animal Kingdom's nearby Kali River Rapids ride (though it was inspired more by the Chakranadi River in India).

Muktinath is part of the Annapurna Circuit, a scenic route around Nepal's biggest conservation area. It ends in the Kali Gandalki Gorge, the deepest river gorge on earth. While Animal Kingdom is known for its conservation efforts and celebrations of biodiversity, you can see them in more natural surroundings here as mountain goats and other animals roam the wild.

Rohde and the Imagineering team reportedly crossed into Tibet to visit Ding Guo Shan, a 1,000-year-old monastery associated with the Yeti, the hairy snow monster that shows up in the Expedition Everest ride. The queue's faux Yeti Museum even contains some of Rohde's trip photos. It also features imported Nepali artifacts like a monk's dance costume from the annual Mani Rimdu festival at Tengboche Monastery, located in Nepal's Khumbu region (where your train is headed in the ride's backstory).

Planes, trains, and cautionary tales

Circling back to the mountain Expedition Everest is named for, its north face — the part the jagged Animal Kingdom landmark is based on — is where British explorer George Mallory famously went missing a century ago in 1924. Whether he was the first to reach the top before dying remains one of history's great mysteries. Yet Mallory's fate and the success-to-death rate of 33 to 1 for attempts at summiting Everest may be enough to dissuade some Disney fans from leaving Florida.

If the extreme challenge of climbing Mount Everest doesn't appeal to you, Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines offer sightseeing flights over the mountain out of Kathmandu. In a plane, you could still commune with the sight of Everest, vicariously climbing it from the air. Otherwise, you may have to settle for the 50-mph train ride aboard the attraction that once held the Guinness World Record for "most expensive roller coaster."

Like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest is so tall that, if it were a foot higher, it would require flashing red warning lights at night to meet FAA regulations for the safety of aircraft flying overhead. In that sense, the ride lives up to its name, and it might be enough to satisfy some thrill seekers. However, if you want to explore the world beyond Disney, Nepal, Tibet, and the real Mount Everest await you. You probably won't see the Yeti, but you still might have a once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure.