By Diva Viva
Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World opened on Earth Day 1998. I was lucky enough to be there on opening day, and I remember lining up with hundreds of excited Disney Fans at the front turnstiles. As the countdown to opening began and the characters and cast members cheered us on, we got on our marks, we got set, we got ready, and we ran! We ran straight to the back of the park to Kilimanjaro Safari so that we could grab a place in the first line to see the animals. Kilimanjaro Safari was a totally new experience for Disney fans and we couldn’t wait to see the lions, elephants, hippos, and other animals up close and personal.
In the first few years of Animal Kingdom, there was a learning curve for Disney. The animals didn’t like to be out during the day in the hot Florida sun, they found spots that were away from where the guests rode by to see them that they preferred, and they weren’t having babies as quickly or as frequently as expected. Disney did the right thing though, and they brought in zoological and veterinary experts and they re-worked the ride route so that the animals were more drawn to spots right near the guest ride cars. Over time, the ride has continued to get better and better with much more focus on why we ride it: the close up experience with the animals.
All the guidebooks used to say that you had to ride early in the morning or at dusk to get the best look at the animals, but I would argue that it is no longer true. I have had amazing animal encounters at all times of day. The animals are accustomed to the guests, and they like to greet them. They almost show off for us. Any time of day is a great time to visit them on the ride, and you can go as many times as you want (or as many times as the crowds allow for) because each time, you will see something different.
My favorite ride through was about five years ago when on a mid-afternoon ride we caught a herd of elephants and their babies bathing in a pool of water. They were spraying each other and themselves with trunks full of water, creating a shower that cooled them down and let us get right in the middle of the fun. I have never seen such pure joy in an animal! Our guide went extra slow so we could watch and radioed to the other guides to get over to the area to experience the special moment with their guests as well.
In more recent trips, I have been pleased that they have changed the ride even more so that the focus isn’t on the fake animatronic elephants that used to create a story line for the ride. The focus is, as it should be, on the real animals.
My tips for riding Kilimanjaro Safaris are:
- It is worth the ride, every time! The experience is always different. Going more than once can be a great option!
- It doesn’t matter what time of day you go, you always have the chance of catching a special moment.
- The ride is perfect for all ages, and a great choice to ride with the whole family.
- Sit on the outer edge of the car to see best, though the middle seats see well too. Toddlers and small children should sit inside for safety, but excited older children should sit on the outside edge to see best.
- If you can, sit up near the guide/driver because often they will give extra tips and commentary off radio to the guests seated around them, and they will answer questions for you as well.
- Have your camera ready, but remember, the best shots are those that celebrate your family vacation, not just the shots of the animals. If you can, get shots with family members seated in the cars with the close-up animals behind them. Those are the photos you will most want to keep after the trip.
I love Kilimanjaro Safaris and I hope you do too! Happy Safari!
~ Diva Viva