Do you want to get up close and personal with some serious animals? Then you must try Disney’s Wild Africa Trek, aka, “the safari nobody knows about.” The Wild Africa Trek is an amazing three hour tour of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park savannas, off road, away from the crowds of the Kilimanjaro Safari tours. (This is not to be confused with any of the safaris offered to concierge-level guests at the AKL). We chose this tour as a special event for our Disney honeymoon vacation, and we were blown away by how terrific our safari was from start to finish! (If you’ve already enjoyed the Wild Africa Trek, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts).
Because of its special nature, the Trek should be booked several months in advance with Disney Private tours (407-WDW-TOUR). Although expensive like many things at Disney, we did not consider it overpriced for the experience we enjoyed. You’ll be offered a time slot for your reservation. Although many sites recommended an early morning booking, we had an 11:45 spot and saw tons of animals.
The trek leaves from its own gate in small groups of eight directly across from the Kilimanjaro Safari gate in the Animal Kingdom Park. Upon checking in with a cast member, you will be required to put all of your person items, except for your camera, into a combination locker specifically allotted for Trek guests (sorry no cellphones are allowed). Once this is done, a guide will lead through suiting up into all your trek gear. Yup, there’s gear, don’t you feel special now? A photographer’s vest, outfitted with hooks and a large carabeener will get you in the mindset for the “trek” interactions with animals. You’ll also be give a stainless steel commemorative water bottle to stay hydrated, which you’ll get to keep. Although Disney states repeatedly that you are required to have a wrist cord for your camera, they kindly supplied one without questions to any of the slacker guests who failed to have this (ahem…that would be me).
After suiting up, you will be introduced to your guides. We started off with two fabulous gals, and I have to say, they were absolutely the BEST! Fun, relaxed, full of information, and well-spoken, the guides spoke to us trekkers through an audio ear-piece as we walked through the forest.
The beginning of the tour starts off on the main public path that runs through the back of the Animal Kingdom Park. After about 10 minutes, however, your guides will hook a sharp left into the trees and you will start your trek. Notice the bewildered looks on the faces of the mere mortal visitors who are not on your trek when they see you in all of your gear disappearing behind a fern, and then bask in the glory of your “specialness.”
Your first stop will be the hippos’ swimming hole. Your guide will show you how to clip on to the suspension rack that enables you to walk out on the edge of an outcropping overlooking the hippos directly below. You are clipped on for safety purposes…hippos may look friendly, but you do not want to fall into their pool. We saw two hippos below, who swam over to the group as our guide threw them fresh heads of romaine lettuce. Hippos eat in a fascinating manner which I never appreciated until I saw it up close and personal. Your guide will tell you lots of interesting tidbits about hippo behavior.
At one point, as we stood in our group of eight on the rocky cliff overlooking the hippos, a Kilimanjaro Safari Tour flew by in an open tour bus on the opposite side of the lagoon. The visitors pointed at our group and snapped pictures of us. Again, please bask in the glory of your specialness. Moving on, your guide will talk some serious animal talk as you traipse, I mean trek, through the forest. Walking through a fern canopy with the sunlight filtering through the trees, I could not help but feel happy to be a part of nature. Although the Disney advisements warn that this trek can be strenuous at times, we felt that the walking portion of the tour was the equivalent to a light hike in the hills, and at no time were we out of breath. Also on our tour was an eighty-three year old gentleman and a ten year old boy, both of whom easily kept up with our pace (ok, they raced ahead of us).
To get a closer look at the crocodiles, you will have to cross two suspension bridges high above their oasis. This is done in a safe enough manner for you to enjoy the experience, but with a little built in excitement! You’ll feel like a great explorer. Many of the boards are “missing” on both suspension bridges and you’ll have to hop across gaping holes or else you’ll hit your shins (ouch!) against the wooden planks as your foot falls into the net below. You are also strapped on with your carabeener to a cable for peace of mind, in case you are worried about falling. I enjoyed this part of choreographed adventure greatly, particularly being able to stop for a moment halfway across to take pictures. My husband was also face to face with a vulture who landed on the bridge as he came across!
As you cross the suspension bridge, Disney has a photographer waiting for you at the end. Your pictures from the crossing, as well as at key moments along the journey, are available to you online via a passcode for downloading. Be advised, this is a group trek, and everyone’s photos will be included, not just your own party. We really liked our group so it was nice to be able to see everyone’s experiences and remember who we “trekked” with, but I have noticed some complaints about this online. Disney no longer provides you with photo images on a disk for the Wild Africa Trek. Once you cross the bridge you will see the crocodiles, as promised!
After the crocodiles, your safari will continue in a large truck with open sides. We visited in November and it actually got quite chilly, so our guides provided everyone with flannel blankets. If its cool, dress warmly with a fleece jacket and pants. Most of the time, this will not be an issue. The truck for the Wild Africa Trek does not ride on a set course like the Kilimanjaro safari truck does. Be forewarned, the ride is VERY bumpy at times. If you have back problems, you might feel a bit jarred. This has a lot to do with the bench seating along the sides of the truck. Just know that you will be twisting and turning to look out at at the animals while you are moving along bumpy paths at a rapid pace. The big “gift” of the Wild Africa Trek is that your truck can pull off the road, for substantial periods of time, when animals are spotted (Kilimanjaro Safaris does not). We stopped for giraffes for a good ten minutes, which enabled everyone to get some amazing pictures and also to watch a herd of giraffes cross the savannah two feet in front of our vehicle.
We also stopped for lions…
Once you pass by the flamingos, you’ll know it’s time for lunch!
All of this trekking outdoors will make you hungry, and luckily Disney has found the perfect spot for you to have some lunch! A open-air wooden pavilion, built right out on the savannah, is the site for a delicious picnic included with your tour. Served in steel tiffin lunch boxes, you will be absolutely delighted by a spread of treats for lunch. We were served hummus with small pita, chilled spiced shrimp, wonderful prosciutto, smoked salmon pinwheel sandwiches, and a refreshing fruit salad with a sweet citrus dressing. My husband does not jive with fish, so we were able to make a note of that when booking our reservation. He was served a delicious curried chicken salad instead of the shrimp.
You’ll also get some sweet passion fruit juice to wash it all down.
The last part of your journey (and you will be SO sad it’s ending) will focus on Disney’s conservation efforts around the world. We had no idea what a huge impact Disney’s Wildlife Conservation Fund makes throughout the world. In large and small ways, practical ways, and educational ways, Disney is making a difference in the lives of animals inside AND outside of the parks. It’s very easy to say “save the animals” without also considering the people who interact with them on a daily basis. For instance, what if a cheetah ate your goats, and your goats were all you had? Our guides talked about issues faced by both humans and animals and addressed ways that problems can be solved so that both can live harmoniously. This is not an easy feat, but with many species dwindling drastically in numbers, it is an ultimately necessary one. At the end of your tour, you will get to decide how the percentage of your ticket price will be donated, based on animal type. If you are visiting the Animal Kingdom Park for the very first time, you will have a lot of fun on the Kilimanjaro Safari, included with your entrance ticket. You will still see animals, albeit on a faster, more scripted tour. But if you are looking for a little more adventure, a lot more knowledge, some animal interaction, great photographs or a luxurious lunch…
…and if you want to be special, I highly recommend the Wild Africa Trek. You’ll be an advocate for creatures great and small ever after. And don’t forget to wave at everyone else as they pass by!
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