The prehistoric-themed Dinoland U.S.A. has a fictional backstory: back in the 1940s an amateur fossil hunter found dinosaur bones at his digging site and he and his scientist friends purchased the site and turned it into a place for curious minds to find answers about dinosaurs, with paleontological research group the Dino Institute being the first place founded on the site. In later decades, as a way to bring the institute into the 21st century, Dr. Helen Marsh (played by Phylicia Rashad) was hired to lead the institute thanks to her reputation for saving museums and scientific institutions in bad financial shape, with one of her first orders of business being buying out Chrono-Tech, a start-up company that was researching time travel. With the Dino Institute’s funding, Chrono-Tech was able to open time travel to the general public, which brings us to the present day where Walt Disney World guests are able to see dinosaurs in person when they visit this park.
The main attraction at the Dino Institute is Dinosaur, a dark ride in which you board Chrono-Tech’s time rover and travel back in time to the Cretaceous Period and witness some amazing audio-animatronic dinosaurs (the largest animatronics ever built at the time). This ride was originally known as Countdown to Extinction until the year 2000 when Disney’s animated film Dinosaur was released and the name of the attraction was changed to match the name of that film. While the ride and the film have different narratives, they were both being developed at the same time, which influenced which species would show up in the attraction, including the Iguanodon and the Carnotaurus. You even get to meet the film’s protagonist Aladar when the Dino Institute attempts to save the Iguanodon from a meteorite during the course of your ride.
Among the other locations at the Dino Institute that are open to the public is the Boneyard Playground, an excavation site-themed play area where you can see and touch the skeletons of dinosaurs, with scaffolding and transport tubes being used as slides and jungle gyms.
Other attractions include a walkthrough area known as the Cretaceous Trail, in which prehistoric plant life and dinosaur sculptures can be seen alongside Disney characters who have also travelled back in time like Donald Duck and Daisy Duck, who are here to learn about their dinosaur ancestry and who can occasionally be seen partying with other Disney characters at Donald’s Dino-Bash!
Another attraction you’ll see on the path to the Dino Institute is Dino-Sue, a Tyrannosaurus skeleton discovered in South Dakota in 1990. Sue is not a Disney character. She is a real dinosaur discovered by real scientists, although the version at Dinoland U.S.A. is a bronze cast replica.
Elsewhere in Dinoland U.S.A. is Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, Chester and Hester bring two locals who converted their gas station into a fossil souvenir shop in order to take advantage of the nearby Dino Institute’s popularity. The Dino-Rama is what Chester and Hester call their own mini-amusement park within a park which initially featured their own time travel-themed attraction: a roller coaster known as the Primeval Whirl, a spin-filled ride full of dips and turns galore, although it has been permanently shut down with Disney planning to replace it with a Moana-themed water ride in the future. Other attractions include the Triceratop Spin (similar to the Dumbo ride in Magic Kingdom) and the carnival-style Fossil Fun Games, featuring games like the Whac-a-Mole-style Whac-a-Packycephalosaur, the gas station-themed squirt gun battle Fossil Feuler, and ball games Mammoth Marathon, Comet Crasher and Bronto-Score.
In addition to all these attractions, visitors at Dinoland U.S.A. can also see a show at the theater in the Wild Venue. From 1998 to 1999 that show was Journey Into the Jungle Book, and from 1999 to 2006 it was Tarzan Rocks!, with Finding Nemo – The Musical replacing that show in 2007 and being a mainstay all the way until the pandemic when the show was closed down and was later replaced by the show Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond in 2022. Plus while you’re here you can get something to eat at Restaurantosaurus, Dino-Bite Snacks, Trilo-Bites and Dino-Diner, and get some shopping done at Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures and the Dino Institute gift shop.
Although this reportedly could all be short-lived because Disney recently announced that Dinoland U.S.A. could possibly be closed down to make room for a new park themed around Disney films like Zootopia and Moana, although it’s still in early planning stages so for now you can still enjoy Dinoland U.S.A. as it is. Just make sure you visit before the meteor strikes.
In my next article, we’ll conclude my tour of Disney’s Animal Kingdom by exploring Asia and Pandora.