Number 1: Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
This should come as no surprise to fans of grumpymickey.com. I have posted several stories already on Kilimanjaro Safaris. It is quite simply, in my grumpy opinion, the best ride Disney World has to offer.
To understand why you have to understand some things about me. First I am not only grumpy I am a nerd at heart. Second I love animals. this ride combines both of those parts of my personality into one ride. The nerd gets to learn about animals!
The ride premise is nothing spectacular. You are leaving Harambe Village for a tour of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. The tour is scheduled for two weeks. I have taken this safari numerous times and though it is one of the longer rides at Disney World it has never been two weeks! During your tour you will be in constant contact with warden Wilson Matua who is patrolling the reserve for poachers. Your particular tour has the call sign Simba 1. Okay its not an original name but the theme behind the ride is not the impressive part. It is the ride itself.
Your ride vehicle is a rather large open-sided truck. All seats are bench seats that hold up to six people. Unlike many of the rides at Disney World, including even the Liberty Square River Boat which actually runs on a rail, these trucks are true trucks. The driver can take them anywhere he or she wants. Don’t bother trying to bribe them into taking you off the prescribed course though. I have tried and it doesn’t work. For the best view, of course, try to get a seat on the outside.
Disney has pulled out all the stops to recreate Africa on this one and it is very much appreciated by me! You get to see a lot of different animals some of which I had never heard of before. Having been to Africa myself, the real one I mean, the road is especially authentic. There are bumps and potholes everywhere and the ride can be a little rough at times but don’t be discouraged it is worth it.
The animals are the stars of this ride and they are not hid behind cages as they would be in a zoo. Many of them roam quite freely through their designated area. On more than one occasion the entire system has had to be shut down because an animal has chosen to stop right in the middle of the road. I had the unique experience of staring at a giraffe’s butt on one trip because he was blocking our path. He eventually tired of eating leaves and moved out of the way as if he really had no where else to go. Even white rhino’s are allowed some freedom to roam. They can come right up to your truck!Dangerous animals of course cannot get close to you! Ignore the rumors about guests being lost to the great cats. It never happened. At least not to me. The dangerous animals are kept separated from all the guests by trenches and other systems that have been built into the environment in such a way you never see them!
Even keeping the animals in their respective areas has been tackled with typical imagineering skill. You will notice from time to time that you come to what looks like a gate. In fact it is but it is always open when the ride is running. As you pass through the gate you will notice chains on the road. For whatever reason the animals do not like the chains and will not cross them!
Keeping animals separate and guests safe is not the only way the imagineers outdid themselves though. Many of the bushes and plants you see are actually feeders only pretending to be normal plants. Keeps the animals in better range for your viewing pleasure!
One other fact you may not know. The animals do not actually sleep on the open savanna. They are brought each night to their respective homes, which are much more like the zoo you might expect. There is no ranger who goes out to gather them up though. Each of the different animals has been trained to respond to sound and when they hear the appropriate sound for their species they head in all on their own! For the most part that is!
Of course all those little imagineering tricks go unnoticed for the most part and the ride is exceptional. Keep your camera ready for some excellent shots!
If you missed part one of the Disney World Top Seven Must Sees click here.
If you missed part two of the Disney World Top Seven Must See click here.
Deep in the wilds of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is what I consider the greatest attraction in the park. In fact my wife and I love it so much it we may consider it the best attraction in the World! True it is not the fastest ride on property. It does not have the big drop of say a Splash Mountain or the animatronics of Pirates of the Carribean. It does not rely on speed, height or technology to thrill. The stars of this show are the animals. If you love animals you will love this. Even if you don’t you have to try it at least once.
True to Disney form there is a back story behind the attraction. You, the guests, are embarking on a two week guided safari of the Harambe Wilderness Reserve on your safari truck, Simba 1. Throughout the ride you will be in touch with warden Wilson Matua who is patrolling the reserve from the sky keeping an eye out for poachers. Thus your ride begins.
Some rides proclaim never to be the same twice. This ride delivers because the animals on the reserve are not in traditional cages. Instead the wonderful imagineers have recreated Africa in painstaking detail. It does not take much imagination to believe you are really in Africa. This of course, leaves you the guest at the mercy of the stars of the show and sometimes they are very shy while at other times some of the more peaceful ones will walk right up to your truck. On some occasions they will even stand right in front of your truck. During these occasions your truck will stop and your experience will be even longer. I have heard that on at least one occasion a baby giraffe was very curious, stuck its head in the vehicle and licked a guest! I am not sure whether that would be a thrill or not but you will come away with a once in a lifetime story.
Your vehicle will wind its way past various animals. Some of them you will be familiar with such as hippos, elephants and giraffe. Some you might not have encountered before such as the endangered Okapi and the Thomson Gazelle, called Tommies for short. Taking pictures can be a challenge because the vehicles may slow down a little but they never truly stop, unless one of the animals is blocking the way. If you want to take pictures try to get a seat on the sides of the seats and not in the middle. Your driver will help spot animals and educate on some of them. If you are a nerd like me, sit up front so you can ask questions.
As the ride nears its conclusion, which is considerably shorter than the “planned” two weeks but is still one of the longer rides at Walt Disney World, warden Wilson radios in that poachers have been spotted. Your truck jumps into high gear as you help keep them from harvesting elephants to sell their tusks.
Kilimanjo Safaris fills up quick. Head their first thing in the morning to get on quickly or use a Fastpass. The animals tend to be more active during the morning. This is especially true in summer when the heat sets in and many of them hide in the shade. If your first ride doesn’t thrill you don’t be too worried. Try it again and it will be totally different. If you love animals the way my wife and I do, you cannot miss this one!
As you exit the vehicles you will be right at the entrance to the Pangani Forrest Exploration Trail. I recommend not rushing away, unless you have a Fastpass about to expire. The trail offers views of several animals including hippos but the stars of the show are silverback gorrillas.
Jambo! The Animal Kingdom is probably my favorite park at Disney World. There are many reasons it is. One is the buildings and environment are authentic enough to really draw you into another world. It is not hard to forget you are in central Florida and think you really are walking down the streets of Asia or Africa.
This is particularly true of the Africa section if you happen to be there in the summer. Walt Disney World has been called the happiest place on Earth and I tend to agree but there is something else they don’t advertise. In Summer, it seems like the hottest place on earth! Especially in the Animal Kingdom for some reason. With the architecture and the heat you will believe you have been transported from Orlando to Harambe no problem.
My favorite ride at the Animal Kingdom is the Kilimanjaro Safaris. I love seeing the animals but don’t confuse this ride with a zoo tour. The imagineers have done a wonderful job recreating Africa. The animals are kept in areas that resemble their native habitat. There are no cages and bars. Only “open” savanna. Of course it is not as open as one would think. Predators are kept separated from prey and from guests! It’s just done in such a way that you don’t really notice.
The ride would be quite dull of course if you did not see the free roaming animals. Here the imagineers have stacked the deck in your favor. Using hidden feeding stations they increase the odds you are going to get a good view of the main attraction. Remember all those rocks and clumps of grass? Well behind a lot of them are food bins which keeps those animals close by.
That is not their only trick though. How many times have you been on the safari? Have you ever noticed that the star of the whole show, the male lion, is almost always on Pride Rock? There is a reason for that. You never see the surface of Pride Rock. Only the sides. If you did see the top you would notice something very out of place for an African savanna. Right there, for mr lion’s convenience, is an air-conditioning vent! So while you are panting away in the “African” heat he is up top getting a fresh breath of air. Now ask yourself a question. Given the options where would you be?
Just another way Disney has pulled out all the stops to create a great show for us because a lion walking around in the grass hidden would just be boring. When we see him on Pride Rock, though, it’s hard to not start singing “The Circle Of Life” from the Lion King.
Now if they could just get him to stay awake and active all day long! Alas, lions sleep a lot and I am afraid short of shooting him full of double expresso we have to settle for a sleepy lion.
I woke up this morning in severe need of a Disney fix! I was daydreaming about how nice it would have been to wake up at the Animal Kingdom lodge. I could have strolled over to see some giraffes, zebras, ankoli cattle or thompson gazelles on the way to morning coffee and breakfast. Then off I would have been to the park with extra morning hours, the Animal Kingdom. By now I could have ridden Everest probably twice and hit Kilimanjaro Safaris at least once. I know it seems awful early to have done all that but I am big believer in making the most of those extra magic hours. On our last extended family trip my wife and I had ridden the Rocking Roller Coaster 5 or 6 times before most people had entered the park. Of course we were using the single rider line.
If you could have wakened this morning at Disney, which resort would you have it and would you have made the morning extra magic hours?