When you first enter Animal Kingdom’s DinoLand, U.S.A. you may think you have wandered off Disney property. The loud, somewhat gaudy carnival atmosphere is in direct contrast to the rest of Animal Kingdom – and every other Disney park for that matter. But for little boys like my grandsons, Marshall (5) and Benjamin (4) who love dinosaurs, it is paradise. For my granddaughter, Katherine (7), there is thankfully an intriguing story behind DinoLand that makes a great scavenger hunt.

DinoLand's Boneyard, Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Grandmom

DinoLand’s Boneyard, Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Grandmom

Digging Up Bones and Clues in the Boneyard

One of the things I love most about Disney is that every park has a back story and DinoLand, U.S.A.’s is one of the most interesting. Of course, my little grandsons are really only interested in the dinosaurs. As Marshall says, “I like all of the dinosaurs but especially the ones that eat meat.” I have no idea why, but apparently it’s common because Benjamin’s favorite is the T-Rex also because it eats meat.  Apparently vegetarian dinosaurs aren’t quite as exciting. While the boys are entertained with all manner of dinosaur tales, I can keep my granddaughter – who is not as smitten with the extinct beasts entertained with the hunt for evidence of the story behind DinoLand.

According to Disney legend, DinoLand, U.S.A. started in 1947 with the discovery of some dinosaur bones by an amateur fossil-hunter in a small highway town. The fossil hunter and some of his scientist friends pooled their money and purchased the site. They were later joined by more scientists, volunteers and grad students and the Dino Institute was founded. They are all still living there and you can find plenty of evidence if you look for the clues.

To little boys and girls enamored with dinosaurs, the Boneyard is a big playground filled with fossils to discover, creatures to climb and even a Xylobone that makes dinosaur roaring music. To older kids, the Boneyard is an excavation site where the Dino Institute’s grad students have left plenty of clues about their work. Look for bulletin boards where the grad students have left notes to each other debating scientific discoveries or check out the lounge area on the Boneyard’s upper level and you’ll see lawn chairs, a stereo and a cooler. Sounds like grad students to me! There are also notes about the funny dinosaur names for all the students.

The Dino Institute and its grad students are only part of the story of DinoLand. It seems there were two locals, Chester and Hester, who owned an old gas station. When the scientists came to town, Chester and Hester saw dollar signs and wanted to find a way to make a few bucks off this dinosaur fossil discovery. They converted their old gas station into a fossil souvenir shop.  It’s easy to find clues – just look for the old gas pumps and see what’s nearby.

A Dinosaur Mission

Dino Institute's Dinosaur Ride, Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Grandmom

Dino Institute’s Dinosaur Ride, Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Grandmom

For dinosaur lovers and those of us more interested in the story of the Dino Institute, the DINOSAUR ride is the highlight of DinoLand.  It starts with a tour of the Dino Institute with Bill Nye, the Science Guy as the host.  After the tour everyone experiences time travel back to the prehistoric days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to find the last Iguanodon and bring him back before he becomes extinct.  All of the kids will be entertained and maybe even a little scared as they dodge meteors and growling, frightening dinosaurs.  As Marshall told me, “It is scary, but I have to be brave because I have to protect Mommy and Sissy.”

Chester and Hester’s Midway Spectacle

Chester & Hester's Midway Games, Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Grandmom

Chester & Hester’s Midway Games, Photo by Terri Marshall, Globetrotting Grandmom

You can thank Chester and Hester for the loud, clanging carnival atmosphere throughout DinoLand.  These fellas were not going to be outdone by the Dino Institute’s DINOSAUR ride so they created Primeval Whirl, a spinning, swirling roller coaster.  They added “Triceratop Spin” – a giant toy top where you can ride in and control a dinosaur “car” as you move up and down and around and around.  And yes, we have Chester and Hester to thank for all of those loud clanging midway games, just one more way for those fellas to make a few extra bucks while keeping all of us entertained!

By doing a bit of research on the back story before you visit the park you can make your time in Animal Kingdom’s DinoLand, U.S.A. fun for all the kids.  For the non-dinosaur lovers, the search for clues about the life of the grad students and those two money seeking locals, Chester and Hester becomes an entertaining scavenger hunt.  Meanwhile all the little dinosaur lovers will have plenty of time to hang out with their favorite dinosaurs.  Obviously for my little ones it will be the meat eating variety.