This adventure was part of our Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, and I can honestly say it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done at any theme park. We were on the 8am tour on Thanksgiving day, which meant meeting at the entrance to Animal Kingdom before the park opened. Being that it was my birthday present, Jen did an outstanding job of keeping it a secret, even from Bayley. As we arrived at the park, all we knew was that whatever my present was, it was happening that morning, and it would mean getting in to the park prior to the actual opening time. It wasn’t until we walked into the Wild Africa Trek area that either of us began to figure out what we were about to do.
On arrival to the park, we were instructed to wait off to the side until our guides arrived. Once they did, we were led through the park just prior to opening, so just like our Magic Kingdom breakfast at Be Our Guest the day before, we got to enjoy an empty park as we walked to the staging area for the trek.
Once you arrive at the starting point to the trek (right next to the Kilimanjaro Safari entrance), you go through some instruction from your guides, and get suited up for the trek. Things to note here:
- No sandals. Closed-toed shoes only.
- The tour cost does not include park admission, you still must have a ticket for Animal Kingdom.
- Kids must be at least 8 years old, and 48″ tall. No unaccompanied minors, either.
- If your health doesn’t allow for long periods of walking over some potentially rough terrain, don’t go.
- No loose cameras, including phones. If your camera or phone can’t be strapped to the gear you’ll be wearing, you have to put it in your locker.
Those are the basics, but be sure to check the “know before you go” section of their site for all requirements. That last one is a big one that several people in our group, including us, didn’t know going in. I’m pretty sure I was the only one allowed to take my phone, because I had two straps on it that I could use to strap to my gear. If you don’t get to take your camera, it’s not the end of the world, as they take a lot of pictures along the way, all of which are included in the cost. They give you a web site address you can download all pictures from a day or so later.
After they get everyone into their harnesses, go through some basic safety instructions, test out the wireless headsets your guides talk to you on, they give you a short description of what’s going to happen, and you’re off! The tour starts with a walk down the same Pangani Trail all the other guests can access, and you’ll end up getting some funny looks from other guests along the way who have no idea why you have all that gear on. Along the way, one guide is giving you information on the animals you see as you walk, while the other one is shooting pictures of the group. They switch off roles a couple of times along the tour too, so you get to hear from both guides assigned to your trek. Once you get close to the end of the Pangani Trail, you take a little side exit that dumps you off on a closed trail. You then hike along this trail for a while, with your guide talking to you about the area and animals, until you arrive at the hippopotamus pool.
Once here, they strap your harness into a support railing so you can safely walk along a ledge overlooking the pool. While here, you’re given a talk by their resident hippo expert while enjoying the view, and while having your picture taken by the guide with the camera.
Once complete, you trek a little farther to the start of the ropes course. This is one of the highlights of the trip, as you get to walk over two rope bridges. If you’ve experienced the Kilimanjaro Safari ride before, you’ve driven under the first of the two bridges, and like us, may never have even noticed it. When you get to the first bridge, you’re strapped in one by one, and cross over to the platform between the two bridges. The guide currently shooting pictures actually crosses first, so he/she can get pictures of each person as they cross. The shots of us on the bridge face-first were shot by our guide, and the others were taken by me.
Once you’re across to the first platform, they stop each group for a quick photo:
After that, you make your way across the second bridge one by one, and pass over the crocodiles. The bridges are pretty easy to walk across in my opinion, but they can get a little bouncy when more than one person is on. They also don’t mind if you make a quick stop while walking to take a pic or two if you have your camera on you, just don’t stop for long periods and hold everyone else up.
Disney’s attention to detail is quite evident on the bridges, too. Even though the bridges are perfectly secure, and there’s no danger of falling, they make the planks along the way look worn and brittle. Nice touch 🙂
Once across, you walk to a ledge overlooking the crocodile pit and strap in to another support railing while listening to the croc expert and having your picture taken with them.
After you finish up here, you shed your harness, as you no longer need it, and hop into a safari truck for the next part of the expedition. Your truck joins the same path the regular Kilimanjaro Safari trucks are on, with the occasional deviation on to side paths the regular trucks don’t take. These side paths allow your group additional time to see some of the animals, and in some cases, allow you to get closer to animals than the regular path does, depending on where the animals are that day. When the trucks stop for these closer views, you can also stand up to get better shots. We got lucky with the giraffes, with several of them congregating right next to one of these side paths. Our truck pulled up next to them, and while our guides gave us good information on them and answered questions, we got to be pretty close and get some great shots.
Once we finished up there, the truck headed up to a building sitting on the savannah. We’d seen this on past safari trips, but until now had no idea what the purpose was. For the trek, it actually gets used as a 30 minute rest stop, giving you time to relax and enjoy some food specially prepared by the chefs at Tusker House. All this as you enjoy some spectacular views, complete with binoculars to use. While there, the guides will also take pictures of you in various poses, and you obviously have the opportunity to take some of your own pictures.
There were also a coupe of short rain showers during our stop, which caused some of the animals to run for cover. I can’t say I’ve ever seen giraffes running so fast!
Once your time at the camp is up, you load back in to the truck for the ride back to the drop off point, which is the same platform the regular Kilimanjaro Safari trucks drop off at. You then follow your guide back to the Wild Africa Trek entrance where you pick up whatever you placed in the lockers before heading out into the park to enjoy the rest of your day.
The whole trek is about 3 hours, and it’s worth the time and money in my opinion. Getting to see things from a more behind-the-scenes perspective in a small group setting, while getting a ton of useful information was a blast. The rope bridges and brunch at the private safari camp are icing on the cake, and totally justify the cost, in my opinion. Our guides were great, too, we can’t thank them enough for an outstanding morning!
Enjoy a few more pictures from our trek, and when at Animal Kingdom, consider giving this a try!