Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are you WILD About Animal Kingdom?

When I first saw the buzz about Animal Kingdom’s new tour on the Disney Parks Blog a couple years ago, I knew I wanted in!  I immediately grabbed the phone and called, hoping there would be a Wild Africa Trek tour available for our February 2011 trip! And as luck would have it, there were two remaining spots for my first choice: the 10am on February 20! I was so excited after we booked! We were told we needed to arrive outside Tusker House Restaurant at 9:45 sharp with photo ID and be dressed to hike, wearing sneakers.

We arrived at Animal Kingdom for park opening at 9am that morning.  We took a few Photopass pictures and meandered through the park so we could grab some Expedition Everest fastpasses before our tour.  We arrived at Tusker at around 9:40 and did not see tour guides so we asked at the restaurant podium and were directed off to the side and behind the restaurant.  There was a tour podium here where we checked in and were sent to our pre-tour bathroom break, as there is no bathroom stops for the first half of the tour.

Upon our return the rest of our group was gathering together and we were all asked to sign waivers and give our email addresses so that we could fill out a survey of our tour afterwards.  Once we were all set our tour guide came and brought us behind the back of Tusker House and through a gate that lead us along the water to a small hut.  Here we were given our lockers to leave all bags, and items that we could not bring with us.  All we had on us when we got outfitted was our sunglasses and pocket digital camera.  We were then outfitted with vests that had belay hooks (which we were discreetly weighed for so that we would have the proper sizes) and shown how to clip ourselves and our things into our gear.  We were even given canteen water bottles that clipped to our vests.  Our names were written on the bottles with a silver permanent marker.

As we waited for the whole group to be outfitted we were given some “Jungle Juice” which is a similar fruit juice drink to the ones served throughout Disney World.  We also had a chance to clip our harnesses into a cable line and walk a practice bridge.

Once we were all ready to head out for good we back-tracked up by Tusker House, formally introduced ourselves and found that we had two tour guides, one who we were able to listen to through the earpiece and radio we had been given back when we were outfitted, and a second who would be taking pictures.  We headed through the park towards the Pangani Exploration Trail.  We stopped to talk about some of the trees and other flora in the park and headed right into the Gorilla Sanctuary.  Our Wild Africa Trek had officially begun!

We continued on the trail until we reached a small gate in the fence which we entered and began our behind the scenes tour.  We hiked for a few minutes, and then stopped to view a hippo skull and discuss and learn about these great creatures.   After continuing to hike a little bit more we came upon a crocodile skull and our awesome tour guide gave us some great information about these beasts.
We then came out on the water overlooking the hippo area of Animal Kingdom’s habitat.  The hippos were not on our side of the water today but we got to practice hanging out over the water for the Nile crocodiles that were up ahead.  We got some great views of the hippo action up ahead as well.  Plus, we got some really cool photos of ourselves behind the scenes at Kilimanjaro Safaris.  The ride was heading right on through and we got to practice our Disney prince and princess waves!

We then headed back in for a short hike which brought us to our first of a bunch of bridges that would suspend us over the hippos, and then crocs!!  This was so amazing I can’t describe it.  We were completely harnessed and hooked into cable lines above the bridges and went one at a time out over the Disney swamps.  We were given instructions before hand and were completely clipped in and safe.  Then we went out and had time to stop and enjoy the views and take pictures if we wanted.  (I noticed no more than 2 people were on the bridge at once so I am thinking this may be where the weight restriction comes in for those wondering.  There is also only a certain amount of space between the rope rails on the bridges.)

In any case, we spent probably twenty minutes to a half hour exploring the different rope bridges and learning about the different habitats and about the Nile crocs!  We then hooked in and headed to get up close and personal and lean over the crocodiles down below.  This was just a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t properly describe.  Crocodiles just have this amazing prehistoric look and it was crazy to see how slow they move and how scary they truly are up close.  My husband and I kept saying things to each other like “they don’t even look real!”

After we finished with the crocs we hiked back towards where we would be picked up for our VIP safari.  On the way we saw some animals that were nice previews to the cattle we would see on our ride.  We took a couple more group photos before un-harnessing and leaving our vests behind to board our vehicle.

Once we got on board we placed our water bottles (which were ours to keep) under our seats and grabbed some of the binoculars that were in cases under the seats for us to use.  We continued to be wowed by the amazing animals on the savannah.  We saw antelope, giraffes, wildebeests, elephants, and a bunch of African cattle whose names I can’t remember.  I was in awe at all the animals we were able to see that day!  We were able to pull over in multiple areas for better viewing as we made our way around the Kilimanjaro Safari vehicles and continued to do our prince and princess waves! Seeing the baby elephants was such a highlight for us- as we looked out of our vehicle we had truely left Disney World and were magically on an African safari!
We made our way towards our “Boma”, a structure on the savannah that sat high enough to see the flora and fauna far in the distance for us to view animals and enjoy our meal.  We got our bathroom break here (we were about 2/3 into our tour at this point).  The enclosure was a really interesting piece of architecture with hand-carved wood everywhere and a thatched roof offering shade and even a breeze from overhead fans.  Our food was served in a really neat steel tiered canister.  The food here was great.  This was my favorite lunch of our entire trip! There was all sorts of different items including fresh melon, dried apricots, brie, prosciutto, salmon stuffed with creamy dill, a sweet bread, and pita pockets.  There was even an edible flower which I promptly stuck in my hair.

I never felt rushed viewing the savannah.  We had time for our potty breaks, delicious meals, pictures, and just enjoying the fact that we were sitting in Adirondack chairs looking out on animals on an African savannah!!

Once our time here was over we piled back into our tour vehicle for the last leg of our tour.  More fabulous animal viewing was to come: ostriches, rhinos, lions, and more amazing cattle were up ahead. We disembarked with only a few minutes remaining on our tour.

We headed back towards the hut we had been outfitted originally at and retrieved all of our belongings from the lockers.

Some may consider the rest a spoiler so read at your own risk…

We were given Conservation hero pins (these are the somewhat generic pins that they give you when you donate to the Disney Conservation Fund) and told that a percent of our tour price was going toward the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.  The pins we received were Animal Kingdom specific (the night before this we had gotten similar pins from donating after purchasing an item in the store in Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo and Friends).  Personally, I like these pins.  We turned ours into magnets and I smile when I see them on the fridge.  I know some people are looking for a trading pin since most tours come with these but from what I know about the tour as it has progressed is that now they have Conservation Hero pins which say Wild Africa Trek (I actually inquired with Disney about these and they sent me and my husband ones to replace our generic ones about 3 months ago so that is what was being given as of summer 2012).  We were also able to choose which animal we would like our donation to go to and were given animal choices too.

As the final piece of the tour, we were given a certificate and a Disney Photopass card.  The Photopass card had all the images of our tour group from the tour and the certificate was a code to receive a Photopass CD with all the images on it for free!  Isn’t that incredible?  What a great extra and what an incredible experience!

Ever since our return I have gushed to all my Disney World traveling friends about this tour and how they just must give it a go.  It was well worth the money, and even though this was a introductory price, will still be well worth it in the future.  Before this tour Animal Kingdom was a half-day park at best for me and my husband, and thanks to the plethora of information and this amazing experience I am actually looking forward to our return to see my furry friends out on the savannah!

All images (c) to Picturing Disney and/or Disney's Photopass.  Images may not be used without express written permission. 

1 comment :

  1. Awesome review! This is on our Disney bucket list!