By Disney Bride Diva
Disney has been hard at work over the past year introducing new and exciting experiences to Animal Kingdom. Over the years, this Park has had the unfortunate label as a half day Park. I never agreed with that. If you are only spending a half day here then you are missing many amazing opportunities. Yes, it has some great thrill rides and experiences including Expedition Everest, Kali River rapids, Kilimanjaro Safaris and it’s newest addition Pandora: The World of Avatar. However, I feel that the walking trails and animal encounters are what sets this Park apart from the others.
Did you know there are gorillas in Animal Kingdom? I’ll admit that it wasn’t until the second or third visit years ago that I realized there were beautiful walking trails where I could view many birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. Take time out of your busy schedule to walk the Discovery Island Trail, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail or the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Along the way, knowledgeable guides are available to answer any of your questions.
This past year my husband and I signed up for the Wild Africa Trek. I had been wanting to take this three hour tour for a while now, but at $249 per person plus Park admission, it was something we needed to save up for. With such a steep price tag, I had high expectations for this tour and it didn’t disappoint!
For the safety of the participants and animals, there are a few guidelines to follow in regards to physical requirements and attire for the day. Guests must be at least 8 years old, (if under 18 they must be accompanied by an adult) and 48 inches tall. All participants must be in good physical health, able to walk over uneven terrain, be comfortable with heights and weigh between 45 and 300 pounds. This is due to a safety harness which must be worn during close animal encounters and while crossing a suspension bridge. Other requirements include comfortable clothing, closed toed shoes and a provided safety strap for your glasses / camera. Complementary lockers are provided for all of your personal belongings.
Accessible tours are available for those who are unable to walk the first half of the tour. Wheelchair / ECV users and others with mobility issues will be taken on a different route with alternate animal encounters, then meet up with the rest of the tour for lunch. Disney suggests calling and discussing any mobility issues for specific details regarding their accessible tour at (407) WDW-TOUR.
We had a beautiful cool day for our trek. We were asked to check-in at the booth beside the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris fifteen minutes prior to our tour. We made sure to leave a good amount of time to get through the gates and walk to the Africa section at the back of the Park.
Once we checked in, we were asked to sign an insurance waiver and then our two guides began to fit us for the safety harness and headsets. We were also given a souvenir water bottle to fill up which was ours to keep at the end of the tour. With only a few minutes left before the tour start time, none of the other parties had shown up. We had already been told that the trek would still happen even if it was just my husband and I. So for the next ten minutes I secretly hoped they wouldn’t show up and we could have a VIP tour LOL! After we waited an extra five minutes past the start time, my husband and I set off in VIP style with our two tour guides.
We have been on many of the tours before. We have always found the group sizes to be a nice number usually around fifteen people or so. While I am a very social person and enjoy talking with other guests, NOTHING compared to a private tour!
Our guides have had this happen before and encouraged us to ask as many questions as we wanted. Included in the price of the tour is a photographer to capture all the animals and activities that day. We ended up with 152 photos of just us and the animals! Our photographer also invited us to point out anything we would specifically like a picture of. The photos were great and had a nice mix of posed and candid shots. At the end of the tour we were provided with a card that contained the photo website and our unique code to download all of the photos.
The tour consists of three sections. The first hour or so is a walking tour, then there is a light meal at the lookout halfway through and the final section is a ride in a private safari vehicle out on the savannah.
During the tour we were taken on backstage trails so we were able to get closer to the animals for viewing. Our guides explained the species, their habitats, nutrition and other pertinent information. We learned about the various flora and fauna and why it was selected for different areas of the savannah.
We were able to walk out on a ledge and view the hippos. They were enjoying a nice mid-morning nap in the sun. At this point during the tour, guests are able to feed the hippos. Our guides tried their best to wake them, but the hippos weren’t having any of it! To be honest, I was quite happy being so close just watching them snooze. I have never been that close to a hippopotamus before. Years ago I was on a service project in South Africa and a hippo had come out of a local watering hole about a half kilometre away and our security team had us evacuate the work site because hippos can be very dangerous.
One of the highlights for me was crossing the suspension bridge. While it is completely safe, it is made to look very rickety with boards missing and ropes hanging down. We were taught how to clip ourselves onto the safety lines, (a skill which we needed numerous times throughout the tour). Then one at a time we crossed the bridge over the hippos and crocodiles. The nice thing with the private tour is that nothing had to be rushed, and I spent a good amount of time just hanging out on the bridge.
By the time our light lunch rolled around I was ready to sit down and take a break. This African-inspired meal is at an overlook of the savannah where we could watch the animals and the safari vehicles from Kilimanjaro Safaris go by in the distance. We were seated at a wooden table and each given a tin that broke down into compartments. The sections contained various dried meats, curry chicken salad, spicy shrimp, smoked salmon, pita bread, sun-dried tomato hummus, fruit salad and an edible orchid on top. All the food was delicious with the curry chicken salad a standout for me. To drink there is water and POG juice, (also known around Disney World as Jungle Juice at Boma or Stitch Juice at Ohana). Anytime I can drink POG juice I’m a happy camper!
Once lunch was finished it was time for the safari vehicle ride. We were able to get so much closer to the animals than the Kilimanjaro Safari vehicles. When our driver got into a great viewing area, she would stop the truck and turn it off. Sometimes we just stayed parked for up to ten minutes as the animals walked right by and posed for pictures. Our guides were so knowledgeable about all the different animals and their habitats. We were excited to see the new baby elephant Stella out with her big sister that day.
The best part about this tour was the ability to stay stationary for a period of time and watch the animals. While I love Kilimanjaro Safaris, the vehicles have to keep moving. On this tour, whether we were walking or riding in the vehicle, there was plenty of time to stop and watch the animals interacting with one another and their environment.
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