28 July 2017

No Hurry in Africa

There are a lot of experiences that guests can have at Walt Disney World that are included in the cost of admission, but there are also those that have an additional fee associated with them. Some aren’t incredibly expensive, but are definite memory makers, while there are others that definitely make a dent in a vacation budget. One such experience, the Wild Africa Trek in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will definitely leave a mark on a budget, but is it worth the cost?

Let’s start with a breakdown of Wild Africa Trek’s cost, time, and what’s included before we venture deeper down the path into Harambe. The cost is between $189 and $249 per person, depending on time of year, time of day, etc., and this is in addition to regular theme park admission cost. It is a three hour tour, but you won’t be getting on a boat, so the chances of you returning to the general park population after the three hours are high. The tour has several different components including a walking section, a meal break, a truck tour, and even some adventure bridge elements. There is a harness that you wear for the tour, which means that there are some physical requirements for taking part in the tour, including height (at least 48 inches), age (minimum of 8 years old), weight (between 45 and 300 lbs.), and clothing (close toed shoes are required and skirts and dresses are not recommended). Now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s start our trek into the Harambe Wildlife Reserve.

As a general rule, and unless you were to book for an entire group, each tour on the Wild Africa Trek has multiple families taking part in the same session. On the day we ventured out we had four or five other families of varying size along with us. Each group has two tour guides who, while very sneaky about it, tend to keep one of them in the front and one of them in the back to ensure no one gets left behind. They are terrific at engaging in conversations as we start our walk across Harambe and through part of the Pagani Forest Exploration Trail, but I did notice this safety positioning as we moved through, but that’s likely due to my experience as a preschool teacher where I employed similar techniques. You will also be fitted with an earpiece so that you can hear throughout the walking portions of the tour. This enables guests to hear in crowded areas and for Cast Members to not have to raise their voices when in close proximity to animals.

Let’s talk about photographs for a moment. You can bring a camera with you, provided it can be attached to your vest or has a strap that you can wear around your neck. Additionally, the tour guides are also photographers, so they will have a camera with you. At the conclusion of your tour you will be given a slip of paper (one per group, so chose your most trustworthy family or friend to hold onto it) with a website address and code to access the photos from your group. They will do their best to capture you and your group with animals throughout the tour, candid shots, and shots of the animals you see along the way. The website also includes a set of the best photos ever taken from Wild Africa Trek. So, while you may want to take your own photos, you can relax knowing you are in good hands, photogenic ally speaking. There is no additional cost associated with this photographs either, they are included as part of your tour. You can download them and print them as you wish, you can even share the website address with family and friends who weren’t there if you want to show off! The photos will eventually disappear from the website, so I would recommend downloading the entire set as soon as you get home.

Depending on crowds you can spend a little time on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in the research facility and aviary before heading off the familiar trail and into behind the scene areas. There are a few faux animal remnants as you move between the animal environments, along with a glimpse of zebras if you’re lucky. At various stations along the walking portion of the Wild Africa Trek you will meet other animal caretakers who can fill you in on details surrounding specific animals, assist with enrichment activities with the animals. These Cast Members, in addition to your tour guides, are a wealth of information and they want to share that information with you. Take advantage of this, while they have talking points that they will hit, there is plenty of time to ask questions and they love that level of engagement.

During the walking portion you will get up close and personal, as up close and personal as is safe with wild animals, with hippopotamuses and Nile crocodiles. The ledges that you stand on are great, and you are tethered in, but make sure you are following the instructions you are given for your own safety. Let me be very clear here, we’ve all seen the guests on Wild Africa Trek from our trucks on Kilimanjaro Safaris, but you have no idea how long those guests are actually there. I tried to keep track of how many trucks went by, but eventually lost count, that is how much time you will spend with these animals. Do not feel like you are being rushed, while it will feel like it went by in a flash in hindsight, you should soak in as much as you can in those moments because you have the time to do so. It is some of the greatest animal interactions I’ve ever had.

In between the hippopotamus and Nile crocodile enclosures you will traverse the rickety bridges over the Kilimanjaro Safaris’ route. The bridges, while they look scary, are as safe as walking down any walkway in the park. Between being tethered, the cables that comprise the actual bridge, and the netting underneath, there is absolutely no way those crocodiles are going to get to you, or you to them. I’m not going to lie, the entire time I was crossing the bridges I was humming the Raiders March and living out a lifelong dream of being Indiana Jones. Take your time to enjoy this as well! I all but sprinted across the bridges, as I was one of the first across and didn’t want to hold up the rest of the group, but the families behind us who got in on the fun by trying to make the bridge bounce for the family member in front of them or taking pictures of one another in the middle of the bridges, seemed to being having a ton of fun.

At this point you will move on from the walking portion to a private truck tour of the savanna, but this is not your average Kilimanjaro Safaris truck. The Wild Africa Trek version only has bench seats around the perimeter of the truck bed, allowing everyone to have a window seat and a great view. You will also stop at several points, veering off of the truck path, to have more time to watch the animals on the savanna. We were able to get terrific views of both the giraffes (my wife’s favorite) and the Ankole-Watusi cattle (my favorite). If you haven’t lost track of time by this point, I would be shocked, you are seeing and experiencing so much that you don’t have time to think about how long you have or haven’t been on the trek.

Once you make your way around the savanna and by the elephant environment, it is time to eat. Depending on the time of day your tour is taking place, you could either end up with a breakfast or lunch menu, both of which are prepared by the wonderful staff at Tusker House. Meals come in a double-stacked set of tiffins with water or jungle juice (orange, guava, and passion fruit juices) to drink. While menu items can change, and Wild Africa Trek will work with guests on dietary restrictions, the typical menus are as follow. Breakfast includes air-dried beef and prosciutto, smoked salmon roulade with dill, fig cake with Boursin cheese, brie cheese and apricot, berry yogurt and dried cranberries, and fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger. For lunch or afternoon meals you can typical expect chicken curry salad, sun-dried tomato hummus and mini pita, marinated tandoori shrimp, smoked salmon roulade with dill, air dried beef and prosciutto, and fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger. Both also come with an edible flower that is the perfect palate cleanser between dishes.

I could go item by item through the menu we were presented with, which was the lunch offering, but let’s just say there wasn’t a bad bite in the entire meal. Nothing is overly spicy, but there are incredible flavors, wonderful savory items, and components that hit the right sweet notes. Everything in my tiffins left me wanting more, but I was definitely full by the end of the repast!

The other delight that comes with the meal is the location. The outpost is at the highest point of the savanna and offers unparalleled viewing of the entire area. Binoculars are provided for those wanting to look out over the savanna. There are rocking chairs for those that just want to sit back and relax, before or after your meal, and feel the breeze bouncing through. There is also a display case that your tour guides can open for you that features artifacts and photographs that educate and provide further stories for the guides to pass along. Many in our party were caught up in the views and missed this wonderful display case, but our tour guides were thrilled to share more with us about what was contained within.

After our meal as appropriately settled guests venture back to the truck, with a brief discussion about the work of the Disney Conservation Fund, and conclude our tour in the same fashion as the traditional Kilimanjaro Safaris. From there we return to the Wild Africa Trek welcome outpost to return all of our gear and get some last minute information before being turned loose back into the park. Each of the families in our groups asked to take a photograph with our tour guides as we had had such an amazing time together. This didn’t seem to be a common request of the tour guides, but they loved that we were all that engaged and told us that they were going to be bragging about our group to the other guides for a very long time.

Overall, I cannot recommend the Wild Africa Trek enough. It is one of the greatest events I have ever had the joy of taking part in at Walt Disney World. It has likely spoiled me and ruined me for Kilimanjaro Safaris going forward. However, I also wouldn’t want to do the Wild Africa Trek on every visit, not that I could afford to, as I really want the encounter to keep its uniqueness and not just become another item to tick-off on the itinerary. I want to be able to look forward to each Wild Africa Trek with great anticipation when, and if, I can schedule it for another trip. The takeaways are incredible, from the memories to the meal, the time with animals to the incredibly informative guides, and even your souvenir water bottle, and it is an experience unlike any other in Walt Disney World. If you’ve never had the opportunity to take this outing, or if you’ve wondered if you would enjoy the Wild Africa Trek, I can easily offer it up with my highest recommendation.

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