My Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by Christopher Rainville

Wild Africa Trek debuted in 2011 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Since its debut I have seen many reviews on various Walt Disney World fan websites as well as reports featured on various Disney podcasts. I have always considered the adventure a little too expensive for what it consists of despite the glowing reviews all over the web stating that it’s definitely worth the money which is currently at $189. During our trips down to Walt Disney World we often spend time with some friends of ours who live in Florida. They had suggested that we give the tour a try and since my wife seemed like she wanted to try it, I decided to go along with the group. My main goal as an avid photographer was to try to get photographs of the animals that exceed the ones I get on the Kilimanjaro Safari. I booked the tour for 8:45 AM just before Animal Kingdom opened. They have several bookings throughout the day and stagger the groups so you never see any others while you’re on the walking portion of the tour. You will however see other safari trucks during the break period.

Has DVC members, we got our friends a room for the night before at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge as our tour was Thursday morning. Once we were out and all together, we decided we would try to take Disney transportation over to Animal Kingdom. After 20 min. and seeing three Epcot buses, two Studio buses and a Magic Kingdom bus we decided to take the car since we’re now concerned about missing our required 15 min. early check-in time. We arrived at Animal Kingdom with plenty of time for our check-in. Since the park was not open yet there was a representative for the tour standing to the right of the entrance gate near the cast member entrance lane. He took our names down and confirmed that we were who we were by checking our IDs. This is a very important step if you plan on taking this tour. They do check to see that you are the same person who booked the tour. You only need one ID for each group so you don’t need to bring every ID but I could imagine people not being able to go on the tour because they left it in their room or did not know they were supposed to bring it. Another step in the check-in process when we were at the front of the park was to write down everyone’s address. This tour also includes a photo disc which they mail it to each group. Just to clarify, when I booked the tour there were four of us, my wife Kim, and myself and our friends Pat and Bill. The photo discs were sent to my address and Pat and Bills address so even though we booked together, a disc was sent to each address. Once he verified who we were and that we did belong in the 8:45 AM tour, we waited for some others to arrive and check-in. Once most of the group had arrived he went over some of the things we would be seeing and doing throughout the tour. Soon the rest of the group arrived and it was time to go into the park. We were told to get our park admission media ready as we would be going in altogether. When you book the tour they tell you that park admission is not included so you will need some sort of admission ticket.

Once we were all through the gate and into the park our guide led us back to Harambe where the tour check-in area is just behind the Dawa bar. The gentleman who checked us in at the front of the park left us with the people at the desk and he headed back up front to greet other guests. We were all given a clipboard with a release form to sign and were told to make sure we read it thoroughly before signing it. Since I had booked the adventure I had additional homework. Along with a release form was a survey on how the booking process was. It didn’t take all that long, but I just wanted to get going on my tour and having to fill out an additional form was kind of a pain. Once everybody was checked-in and had their form signed it was time to get suited up. The cast members took us over behind Tusker House. Opposite the outdoor eating area is a wall that makes up what appears to be a fort which separates Harambe from the river that surrounds Discovery Island. There was a gate and a few stairs that led down to what appeared to be an African fishing village.

This camp is where you get your gear and begin the trek.

This camp is where you get your gear and begin the trek.

We walked behind the village and into a heavily wooded area where we found a small thatched roof base camp. It was built on a raised platform so there are a few stairs to climb. There was a cast member there to help us put on our vests which included a tether and clip. During the tour there are areas where we would need to be attached either to a safety rail, or guide wire. The vests were mesh so they didn’t make you hot but there was a harness aspect to them that went around the upper portion of your legs and that was a bit uncomfortable and took some getting used to. The vests also come with a water bottle which is attached by a tether and sits in a pocket. The stainless steel water bottle is yours to keep at the end of the tour. There was a counter with all of our name tags on it and we were told to pick up our name tag, put on our vests and fill up our water bottles. The last thing you had to put on was an earpiece which allowed us to hear the guides during the tour. It’s very lightweight and the battery pack fits in another pocket on the vest. The guides have a microphone with a wireless transmitter so they broadcast to your headset. There were times when we were separated enough that they

Bill all suited up and ready to go.

would cut in and out but it was very rare and the system seemed to work pretty well. We did have one person who needed a battery change during our tour but other than that they seem to work flawlessly. Once you are suited up you were told to go back down the stairs and over to the test bridge to try it out. The test bridge is a small suspension bridge that is only a few feet off the ground but gives you a sense of what it will be like when you’re on the tour. If you don’t have any issues navigating the test bridge then they took you up to another clearing above the area where we suited up. This is where our guides formally introduced themselves to us.

Our tour guides

You basically have two guides that stay with you throughout the tour one is your actual tour guide and the second is more of a photographer and walks behind the group but still has a microphone and does talk during the tour. Our tour guide’s name was Bethany and the tour guide in charge of picture taking was Devin. Devin was using a Nikon D90 with an 18 to 200mm lens. I was shooting with a Nikon D90 with an 18 to 200mm lens. They do allow cameras on the tour as long as you can either attach them to the vest using a provided tether and clip or you have it on a strap that can go around your neck. At least one person from every group in our tour had a camera. Most had a point and shoot camera and another member of our group had a Canon DSLR. Even though they do provide pictures of your tour I recommend bringing your camera. The whole idea of the tour for me was getting some pictures that I can’t get when I am on the regular Safari. Bringing your own camera is about capturing what you felt and what you saw during the tour. There may be things that you saw that were important to you that may not be important enough to the Disney photographer to photograph. This tour is a personal experience and you want to be able to capture it yourself.

Once the guides had introduced themselves they went over some of the basic rules and checked all of our hearing pieces to make sure they worked. We headed back through the fishing village and behind Tusker House.

Our first of several group photos.

Once we’re back in the park we took a group photo to start the adventure. Next we walked through Harambe and over to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. We went through the trail pretty quickly and did not really stop. We walked through the aviary and ended up at the meerkat enclosure. One of the meerkats was out so we did pause for a few moments to get a look at him. Next it was time to enter the actual trail for the tour. Located within the meerkat observation area in the left corner was a gate which had a padlock on it.

Heading out to start our trek

Our guide Bethany unlocked the gate and instructed us to follow her through it. I of course lingered a few more minutes allowing everyone to go ahead so I could grab a couple more pictures of the meerkat. I was at the end of the group with Devin the photographer behind me. I have to say, they do warn you when you book the tour that you have to wear closed toed shoes and be able to walk on an un-even and narrow pathway. The path through the forest was surprisingly small and very primitive. There were several sections that had tree roots visible which were kind of slippery. As I mentioned before, the path is very narrow and un-even but there are a lot of small and medium-size trees close to the edge of the path which often gives you something to hold onto if you feel uncertain about your footing. Nobody in our group ever slipped or fell nor did I feel unsafe, but walking on that path does require your full attention.

The trails can be narrow and full of brush in some places.

Once we headed through the gate and onto the path we headed up a small hill. Bethany stopped and pointed out an enclosure from the top of the hill that we are standing on. The hippo pool we were looking at was the one that you see during the Pangani Forest walking trail. From our vantage point we could see the tops of the windows that look into the hippo pool. We only stopped for a second at the most and continued walking down the path. Eventually we could see a gated area with a small metal ribbon like structure that was attached to the ground by thick poles. We were standing at the top of one of the hippo pools across from where the Kilimanjaro Safari trucks drive. This was a first area where we used our safety hooks. We are instructed how to open them and lock them so we could attach them to the safety rail. Once the first person attached they moved forward through the gate. It kind of reminded me of watching a World War II film where the paratroopers would attach themselves to the jump line. One person connects to the rail and moves so the next person connects moves forward and so on. It was all fairly organized and once everybody was attached we were standing over the hippo pool in a line. The safety line is a bungee cord so you can feel it pull back if you lean forward too much. Also on the other side of the gate was a hippo trainer. She had a silver bucket with her that had some romaine lettuce, corn, and other hippo treats in it. Our guide introduced us to her and she took over talking about the hippos and answering all of our questions. The pool we were looking at had one single male in it. Apparently there are actually several hippo pools that are not connected. This allows them to separate the hippos for various reasons. Much like people, animals don’t always get along with their coworkers. The trainer threw a head of romaine lettuce into the water and the hippo came right over to it. The hippo was only a few feet away from us. Although I thought the experience was really good, I was disappointed that there was only one hippo in the pool. We are able to take pictures of the hippo as the trainer talked and answered questions. We spent a pretty fair amount of time dangling over the hippo. Everybody had a lot of questions and she answered each and every one of them. Part of the experience at the hippo pool included Devin taking shots of each individual groups of people. Those pictures came out really good and I think that’s the best part of having the Disney photographer on the tour.

We continued down the narrow path which seems to run parallel to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride until we got to a tall wooden tower with steps leading up to a platform. This is the first of two suspension bridges. This is definitely the best part of the walking portion of the tour. Everybody gets on the platform.

Pat waits for the OK to go as Kim works her way across.

Our tour guide is actually on a separate platform above us. This is so she can hook us up to a safety wire that runs over the top of the bridge. Once you are hooked on you go across. Each person waits until the next person is about halfway through before they get on. The bridge itself is very stable but it does shake especially when you’re not on it alone. There are missing slats in the bridge which is both good and bad. On the one hand it makes walking on the bridge somewhat challenging. There is a safety net below the gaps where the missing boards are so you can’t fall through but it does add a sense of danger being able to see through the bridge. On the other hand I wanted to stop and look around but because there were other people behind me, I couldn’t really do that for too long. However with the missing boards you have to look down and concentrate on where you’re stepping. I would have preferred that all the slats be in the suspension bridge so I could simply walk without looking down and be able to enjoy the scenery. It’s probably important to note that if you are truly afraid of heights this is probably not for you. The suspension bridges are surprisingly high. The first suspension bridge goes over the Kilimanjaro Safari road and the trucks pass right under you as they move out of the hippo pool area and towards the bridge where the crocodiles are. As we made our way to the other side Devin, who was the first to cross, took pictures of us as we moved over the bridge. As we got to the end he would have each person stop and pose for a more formal portrait style

Navigating the second bridge.

picture before moving on to the next platform. At this point the safety cable transitions to a metal rail and you slide your clip along over to the second bridge which is suspended over the Nile crocodile enclosure. The second bridge was pretty much identical to the first. I noticed as I got to the end platform of the first bridge there was another cast member on the end platform of the second bridge who also had a camera. She was actually the trainer for the crocodiles but was doing double duty as a photographer on the second bridge. When you get to the end of the second bridge you un-clip from the safety cable, head down the stairs, and proceed to the staging area to hook up to another apparatus similar to the one at the hippo pool. There’s a small table with the skull of a crocodile on it which we all had fun taking pictures with. My wife Kim was the first one to go across the bridges, our friend Pat second, her husband Bill was third and then I followed them. Because of the spacing and the nature of the bridge The view from the second bridge.we waited in the small area for quite some time for the others to finish their crossing. Once everybody was across the last bridge and off the platform the cast member that was taking pictures came over and we started hooking up to the safety rail just like we did for the hippos. Once we’re all connected the crocodile trainer talked

The bridges are quite high.

about caring for the crocodiles. Much like the hippos everybody had a boatload of questions about how often they ate, what they ate, how long they stay underwater, and she answered all the questions. Unlike the hippo pool there are no ducks in the crocodile pool. She had told us that she had actually seen a crocodile eat a large native bird that had landed in the pool. She joked that the ducks know not to land in the crocodile pool. So then I noticed there were some fish in the pool and asked if the crocodiles eat the fish. She told us that they will sometimes eat the fish but they keep them so well fed that they really have no need to hunt the fish or the birds that may be in the area. I was surprised to learn that the crocodiles don’t really eat that much and that they feed them only once a week at the most. Like the hippo pool, you really do get pretty close to the crocodiles. I have to say they’re not as entertaining as the hippo was since they don’t really moved much. Once our visit was over we moved off the safety rail and continued on our adventure.

We went further down the path and went uphill a little bit more. There was a giraffe skull next to the path just before we hit a clearing. We were fairly high above the savanna portion of Kilimanjaro Safari. We could see all the animals off in the distance as well as several of the Safari trucks as they navigated the winding path through the savanna. At this point our walking portion of the tour was complete and Bethany suggested we take a group photo with their thumbs up to show that we all made it through without losing anybody. We all assembled for our thumbs-up group photo. After the photo we were told to remove our name tags, earpieces and, our water bottles from the vests and deposit the vests in a large duffel bag. After we had removed our vests we are instructed to move down the

Safari Truck

platform to an awaiting truck that would take us on our private safari. The truck was not the same as the safari trucks used on Kilimanjaro Safari. Instead they’re converted pickup trucks and have seats along the edge of the bed with large wooden rails and a canopy. Devin pulled out binoculars for everybody to use. It was nice to have the binoculars to see the animals really close. We did have a separate cast member who was introduced to us as our driver for the safari. I don’t remember her name but Devin said it was her last safari as she was changing positions after today. The safari portion of our tour followed the same path as the Kilimanjaro safari vehicles do but there were areas where we would pull off and park to observe the animals. Our truck continued down the main road that services the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction. Throughout the safari Devin and Bethany were talking about the animals and even telling us some things that you would not get on the attraction safari. They would talk about some of the quirky habits particular animals might have. We also learned during the safari that a female giraffe that was previously living over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge had been released on the savanna for the first time that morning. During our safari we passed the elephants but we really never did stop very long which disappointed me.

Once we were past the elephants we headed over to the Boma. No, not the restaurant

The Boma

at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge but an enclosure with a thatched roof set out in the savanna. The Boma is essentially a viewing platform that houses the only restroom stop on the tour and is where the food is served. The truck pulls right up to an unloading area and everybody disembark to have a snack and use the restrooms.

Snack Tin

The food is served in a two-tiered metal lunchbox. We also had a small metal cup for chilled juice. At the beginning of the tour when we met with the gentleman up at the gate he did ask us if there were any food allergies so special accommodations can be made. On the top tier, were three stainless steel bowls and a flower.

One bowl had a melon salad with ginger mint

Top Tier
(WDW Photo Club)

dressing, another bowl contained yogurt with granola on top of it, and the other bowl had dried apricots with cubes of brie cheese. The top tin also had a short bamboo spoon for eating the melon salad and yogurt. The bottom tin had mini pita breads, a fig almond bar that was sweet and moist, smoked salmon and dill cream cheese accompanied by a cucumber slaw, and lastly,

Bottom Tier
(WDW Photo Club)

prosciutto and dried beef which were rolled together. Overall the food was well prepared and tasted good but I think the novelty of eating safari style was more enjoyable than the food itself. The yogurt was really good and I use the dried meats and the mini pitas to make small sandwiches which I would’ve enjoyed more with a condiment like mayonnaise. The fig and almond bar was good if you like fig Newton’s. In case you’re wondering yes I did eat the flower and it was actually quite good. Despite its appearance, it does not have the texture of the typical flower but that of iceberg lettuce. It’s fairly sweet, crispy and had a smooth texture. During our time at the boma we were able to walk around the platform and watch the safari vehicles and the animals. During this time Devin also took photographs of each group. After about a

Devin’s photo of us

half of an hour it was time to get back on the safari truck. We left the boma and got back on the main road that the Kilimanjaro Safari trucks use. We passed the single white rhino which was fairly close to our vehicle but was not facing the vehicle. We rounded a corner and came upon the cheetah enclosure. I have been on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride dozens of times and never have I seen the cheetahs so active. If you have been on the attraction safari you have most likely seen the cheetahs sitting up at the top of the hill towards the back of the enclosure usually in the dark shadows. Our driver pulled off the main road and we parked with the back of the truck facing the cheetahs. One of the cheetahs appeared to be hunting something that must have seen in the grass just beyond the enclosure. Devin noticed that it kept stalking and then it would stop and pop its head up and continue to circle in the area. The other cheetahs run the opposite side of the enclosure near the woods but were also walking back and forth. I got some good photographs of the cheetahs but there were times when the attraction Safari trucks were in the way. We had parked with the road between us in the cheetahs so every few minutes safari truck would slow down or stop in front of us. We still had one more stop to make before the end of our tour that was a lion enclosure. I have to say, if Disney messed up one part of the Kilimanjaro Safari, it’s a lion enclosure. The few times I’ve actually seen the lions out I have very rarely seen enough of them to make it worth it. Devin felt that it was about the time they usually come out of their den so he had the driver pull off the road. We are parked on a bit of a hill and could see the top of the enclosure fairly well. Much better than if you are on the Safari ride. We waited for a few minutes but no animals emerged. Devin gave the all clear to move when a lioness appeared. Devin told the driver to stop which she did but we were off of the hill and couldn’t see as well. It was mentioned a few times that we should back up onto the hill but our driver just pulled forward. I would say this was my main complaint of the Safari portion of the tour. There were times when the group wanted to stop and needed the driver didn’t get the message, or she ignored it. Devin had a walkie-talkie and would tell her when to stop but she did not always stop when he would ask. This is what happened near the elephant enclosure and it was happening now with lions. It would’ve mattered much if we had stopped anyway because the lioness did not stay out long. She wandered around the center of the top

portion before heading back into the den. Once we passed the lion section of the tour we did not see much more and it was essentially over. Bethany and Devin spoke about the old poacher section of Kilimanjaro Safari which had now been removed and a fence put up to hide the construction for a new zebra savanna. There were a few Walt Disney World veterans on the tour and we all started to reminisce about the different incarnations of the Kilimanjaro Safari story. We pulled up to a separate unload area near where the attraction Safari unloads. We walked back through Disney’s Animal Kingdom in over to the camp where we started the tour several hours before. We took another group photo but this time we are told to be a little goofy less serious as well as a standard group photo. We then were told that a portion of our tour cost would go to various conservation efforts. We were given a stone and told we could make the choice as to which conservation effort are portion of the tour cost went towards. The choices were big cats, elephants, white rhinos, or to the general Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund. I put my rock in for the white rhinos.

I would say in general I really enjoyed the tour and since my goal was to get pictures of the animals that I would not otherwise get on the standard Kilimanjaro Safari tour, I would say it was a success. The big question is however, after taking the tour, did I think it was worth the price? I would have to say all in all I do see the value in the tour for what I paid. They had to have put a lot of money into the infrastructure.  The platforms, bridges, and the boma. I certainly don’t feel I would do it again anytime soon given the cost however. I still think it’s a little pricey since you don’t really see anything that you wouldn’t ordinarily see on the Pagani rain forest walking trail or the standard Safari ride. You do however get to see some of the animals much closer as is the case with the hippo in the crocodiles. I also think that having your own private Safari truck is a real advantage assuming your driver stops when you want them to. The time we spent with the cheetahs for me, was one of the highlights of the tour. Even if we were on the standard Kilimanjaro Safari in the cheetahs were that active none of the trucks stopped long enough to really get to watch them. I did enjoy our tour guides Devin and Bethany and I thought they did an excellent job. I guess another question is, would I recommend this tour? I would recommend this tour but not without explaining that you don’t really see anything extra that you wouldn’t see from other areas of the park and that although the trip to the boma was a nice experience, the food did not push the tour over the top given the cost of it. I guess what I am saying is, I would try to present realistic expectations. I would definitely recommend it if you are a serious amateur photographer like myself looking to get some unique shots that you ordinarily would have a really tough time getting without the tour.  People who want to take the time to learn about the animals would find the tour good too.  The Photo CD really came out well and it came to us only a few days after we got back from our vacation. If you really want to shorten the time you get your Photo CD do your tour at the start of your vacation as we did ours towards the end. Keep in mind that you do get the same CD as everybody else so there will be a lot of photos of people you don’t know and they will have pictures of you . (so try to look your best)  There is a folder on the CD of generic photos along with the ones they’ve taken on your tour. These are very high quality stock photos of the tour and are a great addition.
One more final thought. Kim and I took the Back Stage Safari tour in 2009 and although it isn’t as great a tour for photography, at only $72.00 it is a far better but different tour in my opinion. After the Back Stage Safari Tour I felt I would like to do it again in the future. To much time has past for me to write a detailed account of it but if you really want to know about the animals and how they are cared for the back stage tour is the was to go.

If you’re interested in booking this tour here are a few tips and things you should know.

  • Remember that you can’t take a lot on the tour. Anything that won’t fit in your pocket has to be attached to the vest or have a very secure strap. There are lockers provided for cell phones and other things you’ll need to store during the tour.
  • Don’t leave your room without someone in your party having a photo ID. If you cannot produce a photo ID you will not be allowed on the tour
  • Open towed shoes are not allowed and the paths are very primitive so wear comfortable, supportive footwear.
  • If heights make you uncomfortable do not take this tour without first seeing the bridges that you will be traveling on from the standard Kilimanjaro Safari attraction. The bridges are visible as you pass the hippo pools.
  • Unfortunately this tour runs in the rain and is only canceled in extreme weather when safety becomes an issue.
  • I recommend booking the tour before the Park opens to the general public. It’s always a treat to be in the parks when they are closed and get some “people free” photographs.
  • The only restroom during the tour is at the boma which you will arrive at about an hour and a half from the start of the tour. The tour guides will give everybody a “last call” for the restrooms before heading out to start the tour.
  • If you think this tour is not for you, consider the Back Stage Safari.
  • Tours can be booked by calling 407-WDW-TOUR. For more tour information visit the Walt Disney World tour website. WDW/TOURS 


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