Welcome to the Harambe Village, home of the Kilimanjaro Safaris expeditions! This ride takes you through a 110 acres of the African Savanna in an open-air vehicle. Along the way you will see 34 species of exotic African animals including lions, elephants, giraffes, and zebras. Your tour guide will drive you through some rough terrain to get you back to the best viewing areas. Be prepared for an animal encounter unlike any you have experienced before!
Sounds pretty cool huh? Well, it should. This is the ride that spent more than 50 years in the making. How is that? Well, if you listened to our episode from two weeks ago on the Jungle Cruise then you probably already know. Originally, Walt Disney envisioned that ride to be a real life exploration of the jungle, complete with live animals. At the time, Disney just couldn’t figure out a way to bring that vision to life, so audio-animatronic animals became the stars of the Jungle Cruise, and the idea of a real animal expedition was put on the shelf for many years. When plans for Walt Disney World’s 4th theme park came to life, the idea was back on the table. Disney’s Animal Kingdom would provide the means, the space, and the technology necessary to coordinate this massive Imagineering project.
Once the plan for Kilimanjaro Safaris was given the green light, there was a lot of work to do before getting it open. The environment housing the animals was so important that Disney planted the ride’s lush vegetation, trees, and foliage 2 years in advance of it opening. They wanted to give the Savannah enough time to mature for the animals that would call it home. Speaking of those animals, Disney Imagineers had to decide what animals would be a part of the ride. This too presented a number of factors to consider. How would the animals interact with one another, how active would they be, and how easily could they be moved back stage? You see, like the rest of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Kilimanjaro Safaris is designed to immerse the viewer in the environment. Unlike a typical zoo, there are no visible fences or concrete dividers. As you ride though the Savannah, it feels like the animals are all roaming freely. That means large open plains, rocky wetlands, and lush forests make up the habitat for the animals. All of these natural looking wild spaces help to conceal the dividers and borders. That means that the lions can’t find their way to the zebras, or to your safari vehicle!
In order to help further immerse you in the idea of a real safari, the road for Kilimanjaro Safaris is not paved, even, or smooth. The Disney Imagineers spent a lot of time and effort sculpting the very trail that the safari vehicles would follow. You will bounce up and down as you pass over creaky bridges, feel the tires dig into the ruts of dry creek beds, and splash your way through some low lying water. Don’t worry about getting wet, your safari vehicle is an all terrain, 32 passenger truck that puts you 8 feet off the ground. Also, the top speed will never exceed 10 mph. Still, it will feel like you are going faster than this at times and you will be thankful for the padded seats cushioning some of those bumpy blows. Every safari adventure is a little different because the speed of your journey is determined to some extent by how heavy a foot your driver has. This all provides a very real adventure as you wind your way through the rugged landscape of Kilimanjaro Safaris.
With that said, this is probably a good time to mention how difficult it can be to take pictures on the safari. Trust me, I understand the appeal of wanting some great shots of this unique experience. On some rides I have spent more time looking at the animals through a camera lens then I have with my own two eyes. I usually regret this by the time I get off the ride; the bumpy ride makes taking great pictures challenging at times. Your safari vehicle stops very rarely, and when it does it is only for a matter of seconds. Not only is your ride vehicle in motion the majority of the ride, but the animals usually don’t stay perfectly still either. So, my advice is to have the camera ready when those few good opportunities come along, but for the most part just enjoy taking in the beauty of the ride. If you have a photographer in your group, let them sit on the edge of the row to get the best view point for snapping those pics.
So, what exactly will you be seeing on Kilimanjaro Safaris? We don’t have time to go through a detailed run through of the ride today, but let’s hit some of the highlights! Among the 34 species of exotic African wildlife, some of the most popular are zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, crocodiles, and hippos. The giraffes are usually my favorite because you can have some very close encounters with these long necked giants. On our last ride, the giraffes were having an afternoon snack right next to the trail. This was one of the spots I was able to capture a great picture of my wife and nephew with giraffes right there in the background. By the way, I learned on the safari that a group of giraffes is called a tower of giraffes. Your Kilimanjaro Safaris driver also serves as your tour guide and will offer up some great information like this as you proceed through the Savannah.
One of the other animals I really enjoy seeing when they aren’t hiding is the okapi. If you are unfamiliar with these unusual looking creatures, they look like a cross between a zebra and a giraffe. They have black and white striped markings on their legs and a long neck with a giraffe-like head. While their legs make them look more akin to zebras, they are in fact the only other species that shares the same family as giraffes. They are much shorter, only about 5 feet tall at the shoulder, but actually contain the same number of vertebrae in their necks as giraffes. So, I guess I’m a sucker for the giraffe family since two of my favorite animals on the safari share the same heritage. Of course, there is a lot more to see than just the giraffes and okapi. To help identify the variety of wildlife on the safari, you will find an animal tracking guide above your head in the vehicle. Many of the animals, like the okapi and bongo, are very shy and can be hard to spot. Others, like the 5,000 pound hippos, have a harder time hiding. These huge beasts are usually staying cool by relaxing in the water and are pretty easy to see.
As you continue moving through the massive area of the safari, your guide will help you spot the animals along the way. For those that went on the ride when it originally opened, you may remember a story line involving poachers and a race to find a missing mommy elephant and her baby. That version of the ride came to a close in 2012. Since then the backstory of the ride has been removed. Today Kilimanjaro Safaris just focuses on delivering the best possible safari experience.
Let’s take a minute and talk about when to head over to the Harambe Reserve. There are two times of day that work best for Kilimanjaro Safaris, first thing in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. Currently, the ride is usually open from 9 am – 5 pm. When Disney’s Animal Kingdom is hosting Extra Magic Hours you can get in at 8 am if you are staying on Disney property. If this is the case, heading straight back to Africa and taking in Kilimanjaro Safaris as your first ride of the day can be a good strategy. The animals are usually more active in the cool morning hours and the wait time should be very short. As the day progresses, the wait times will steadily increase along with the temperature. The animals tend to seek the refuge of shade in the midday sun. This means between 10 am – 3 pm, you will have a longer wait, hotter ride, and probably see fewer animals. If you wait till after 3 pm the lines will be shorter and the animals again more active. As I said last week on our Maharajah Jungle Trek podcast, the animals know when 5 o’clock is approaching. This means they will be heading backstage and it will be dinner time soon.
My preferred touring plan includes a late afternoon ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris. After spending a week at the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge, I always found the animals to be most active from 3 pm – 5 pm. With this in mind we chose to do a late afternoon tour on Kilimanjaro Safaris the last time we were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As I said earlier, the giraffes were so close to the road we had to stop and let several pass in front of our vehicle before moving on. We had a great time seeing the animals out and about. Afterwards, we made the short walk to Asia and took in the Maharajah Jungle Trek and then finished our day with a soaking wet ride on Kali River Rapids. We did all of this without the use of Fastpass + as well. Now, there are currently only 5 options for using Fastpass + at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. So, with Kilimanjaro Safaris being one of the five, you could certainly choose to do this ride during the busier time of day and skip the line with a Fastpass +. To summarize, get this ride in first thing in the morning, late in the afternoon, or use a Fastpass +. Follow one of those three paths and I believe you will have a great time on Kilimanjaro Safaris!
Of course the best time to view this great ride may change a bit next year. If you listened to our D23 Expo Ride Update Part 1 podcast, you know there is a new version of Kilimanjaro Safaris coming in 2016. For all the details on the new Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris please be sure and check out that episode or come by our website.
If you just love this ride and want to experience it in even more depth and detail, there is a little known bonus tour called Wild Africa Trek. This is a 3-Hour privately guided tour that takes you even closer to the animals seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris. The Wild Africa Trek is primarily a walking tour that at one point straps you into a safety harness and has you walking across a rope bridge. A mere 10 feet below will be hippos and Nile crocodiles. Talk about exciting! While you take in the heart pumping thrill of the trek, your tour guide will be educating you about what you see. Meanwhile, a professional photographer will be taking pictures of you throughout your experience. All of the photos taken are part of the package and will be available to download once you are done. If that wasn’t enough, you will also be treated to some first rate African snacks during your expedition. Menu items are subject to change but may include sun-dried tomato hummus, marinated tandoori shrimp, and fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger. Now, there are several physical requirements that you must meet to participate in the Wild Africa Trek. I will link to the full list in this week’s show notes. For now, just know participants must be 8 years of age or older and at least 48” tall. Finally, you must have valid theme park admission to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and pay an additional fee for the Wild Africa Trek. At the time of our podcast the price is between $139 – $249 per person plus tax. To book a reservation you can call (407) 939-8687.
That will wrap up our time for this week. I hope you have enjoyed learning about Kilimanjaro Safaris, the ultimate animal experience at Walt Disney World. Thank you so much for joining me today! It has been my pleasure to once again share my passion for Disney. Remember I am here to help you! If you have any questions or comments about today’s blog please drop me a line. You can comment over at our Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, or subscribe to the podcast. For now, have a great week and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!