Animal Kingdom Welcomes First Visitors

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Hundreds of visitors arrived before dawn to be the first inside Disney's $800 million Animal Kingdom when it opened here on April 22.

The scientist Jane Goodall, who also is an adviser to Disney, was among those certifying that the facility is providing optimum care for the 1,000 animals contained in the 500-acre park, following allegations to the contrary made by nine animal rights demonstrators.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Welcomes First Visitors

The new park is a winner, according to invited guests Sue Shapiro, president of the New York-based Giants consortium, and Ross Mantione, president of Kingdom Vacations in Plains, Pa., one of Disney's preferred tour operators. Shapiro said visitors' exposure to the animals and to Harambe, Disney's composite of an African village, could stimulate interest in travel to Africa. "It's not commercial and not a zoo experience," Mantione said. "It's also respectful. The music for the parade was not too loud."

Agents can profit by leveraging the strength of Disney's diverse vacation options, Randy Garfield, senior vice president of sales and travel operations for Walt Disney World, said at Animal Kingdom's opening luncheon here.

Citing Disney Cruise Line as a profit opportunity, Garfield said that whereas only 8% of the U.S. population have cruised, nearly 75% of all Americans have visited a Disney theme park or resort. "As a result, our marketing strategy is to sell the Disney Cruise Line not as a cruise vacation but as a new kind of Disney vacation, one combining a stay at Walt Disney World with a Disney experience at sea."

The company, he said, will continue to rely on the agency distribution system.

The industry can expect more major expansions and initiatives, he said.

Meanwhile, Disney announced that ground for the 1,300-room Animal Kingdom Lodge will be broken in 1999. The lodge is scheduled to open in 2001.

David Wilkening contributed to this article.

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