In all of Animal Kingdom, my favorite attraction by far is the spectacular Kilimanjaro Safaris. The attraction opened with the park on Earth Day 1998 and has continued to develop ever since. Offering a wide range of species to have up-close encounters with, this attraction truly embodies the adventurous spirit of nature and the wild that the Animal Kingdom is all about.
When the attraction first opened, Kilimanjaro Safaris was based upon the story of traveling through the reservation with the guidance of a warden to save Little Red and Big Red the elephants from poaching. As you continued through the preserve in “Simba One,” the warden would guide you on your mission to intercept the poachers who were on the hunt for ivory. You would be in time to save Little Red (sorry Big Red), an animatronic baby elephant located in the back of a truck at the end of the ride. There was even a scene depicting the poachers’ camp, and a final scene featuring cast members dressed as the captured poachers and a preserve worker holding them at gunpoint. During Cast Member testing before the official opening of the park, there was a bloodied carcass of what was supposed to be Big Red missing her tusks after being killed by the poachers. Obviously, many were horrified by the scene and due to the reaction this portion of the ride was removed before ever opening to the general public.
Over the years, the poaching storyline slowly has dissipated from the ride, currently only featuring the original warden in a video played in one area of the queue. The ride now focuses simply on taking in the beauty of each environment and the natural habitats and actions of the animals. The environments themselves are spectacular with the most breathtaking occurring early on in the attraction. The African Savannah scene, prominently featuring the giraffes, is one of the most beautiful views you will see in all of Walt Disney World. To be able to take a clear picture of the scene, try and be seated on the right side of the safari vehicle during your “two week excursion.”
While riding through, you may wonder how all of these environments can hold animals that would…well…eat each other in the wild? The answer lies in what you cannot see. Disney created cleverly hidden fencing systems and moats which ensure that the animals each remain in their own areas while allowing them to roam free where it is appropriate and safe. For the best example of theses hidden safety measures, pay attention when near the lion’s rock habitat. If you notice, you cannot actually see the ground run straight to their rocks. This is because there is a large moat/gap out of view preventing the lions from leaving their rocks and causing trouble elsewhere in the attraction. To a keen eye, you will be able to pick up on some of these hidden barriers throughout the ride.
If you are looking to experience a higher volume of animals, be sure to visit Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing in the morning, especially on an Extra Morning Magic Hours day. Since it is cooler earlier in the morning, more animals will be out roaming before the sun gets too strong. In addition, the animals are fed first thing in the morning by food hidden cleverly in plain view of the guests. This draws the animals strategically towards the ride vehicles in order to allow guests better glimpses. While passing through the savannah, look in the trees for subtly hidden boxes concealed in the trees nearest to the vehicles. These boxes contain food for the giraffes in an effort to have them spend more time in proximity to the guests. In addition to the early morning, visiting towards the late afternoon and evening will also offer better views of the animals as it is usually when the temperature begins to break and cool off for the day.
Did you know that Kilimanjaro Safaris is so large that the entire Magic Kingdom can fit inside this one attraction? That being said, it makes sense that Disney recently introduced an exclusive excursion inside the attraction. The Wild Africa Trek tour features the opportunity to cross a rickety old bridge suspended mere feet above the hippopotamuses and crocodiles. You then are able to board a safari vehicle which can travel freely throughout the attraction and visit many of the animals while stopping to take pictures and simply take in the environment. When Disney announced this tour, I was beyond excited as one of my dream vacations is to go on an African Safari and, being broke, this is probably about as close as I will ever get! If you read my post two weeks ago on Disney resolutions, you know that I am currently working my way through all of the tours that Disney has to offer, and this is the next one on my list. This tour truly sounds like a spectacular inside look at Kilimanjaro Safaris that I can’t wait to experience.
From wild animals, to breathtaking views, and a bumpy ride, Kilimanjaro Safaris is a quintessential experience in the Animal Kingdom to be experienced over and over again. Just be sure to always be on the lookout for those Tommys!
What is your favorite animal on Kilimanjaro Safaris? Have you ever had a special up close encounter with any of the animals? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.