Thursday, March 15, 2012

Animal Kingdom's Wild Africa Trek

When trying to find that special "thing" to make this trip to Walt Disney World different, my husband and I decided to research the various tours that are available in each theme park. After reading through the descriptions of all the tours and their reviews, we decided on the fairly new Wild Africa Trek tour in the Animal Kingdom park. The tour is offered several times throughout the morning and we booked the first tour of the day at 8:00am.

We woke up bright and early and made our way to the bus stop around 7:00am. Although some say that buses begin running one hour prior to park opening, the Animal Kingdom didn’t open until 9:00am that day and buses were running to each of the parks. Aside from early morning tours, some restaurants offer breakfasts an hour before the park officially opens so buses are available earlier than one hour before.

After making our way through an empty bag check, we waited just outside the turnstiles for them to start letting guests in for breakfast and tours. While we were waiting, a castmember came out to check us in for our tour. She went through all the rules and terms and conditions, had us sign a waiver, checked our addresses and advised us to use the bathroom one more time because we wouldn’t have the chance to again in a while! They also checked to make sure we were all wearing closed-toed shoes. One woman had sandals on and they assured her that they would find her a pair of sneakers, which they did!

We were then directed to the early entrance turnstiles and told to make our way to Africa. Once we all arrived at the Dawa Bar, we were whisked through a gate and led just short way down to the area where they set us up with our gear!! This is also where we met our guides. We went around to the back of this hut where we found our lockers. We were told we could only bring what we could carry and any cameras either had to be strapped to the wrist or worn around the neck. Everything else would have to be stowed.

After we locked our belongings away, we were weighed (completely privately) and given our vests. The guides were so great about gearing us up, I honestly don’t even remember everything they did! There were straps going around the top of each leg and the vest itself was quite heavy. We were also given water bottles, which we were told to fill from the water cooler. There was a spot to hold the bottles on our vests. The last thing we were given was an earpiece so that we could hear our guides talk about what we were seeing as we walked.

We were then led to a practice bridge so we could get a feel for what the rope bridges on the tour would be like. If we could make it across this without any trouble, we would be fine. After going over the practice bridge, we were given some Jungle Juice. While we drank our juice, the three guides came over and officially introduced themselves. One would be speaking, one would be taking pictures and one was following along to learn from the others, which they often do. It was also at this point that they reminded us that they would be taking pictures throughout the tour and we would receive a disc of all the photos, which was included in the price of the tour.

After stopping for a few group pictures, the tour officially began. We walked through the actual park itself for just a few minutes, starting in Africa and going into the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail where we passed a few animals and walked through the aviary, all the while the guide was giving us information on what animals we were seeing. Up to this point, we were seeing all things that could be seen by any park guest but before I knew it, we had veered into the forest and were walking through a wooded trail. When we emerged into a clearing, we were joined by a man who was there to tell us about the hippos. At this point, our guides hooked us in so that we could stand on the edge of the hippo enclosure without any wall or fence in front of us.

We spent a good amount of time learning about hippos and watching this guy eat! When we first got there, he was sleeping against the rock but once the trainer threw him some lettuce, it was amazing to see him get up and eat right below our feet. He seemed very content to put on a show for us!

After our visit with the hippos, it was back through the woods until we came to another clearing where we encountered the first of a series of rope bridges. Now they said if we could cross the practice bridge in the beginning, the rest of the bridges would not be a problem. Well these bridges were a HUGE difference! First of all, they were a lot longer, which made them way shakier. They were also very high off of the ground and the planks seemed very far apart at times. They were very cool looking, though!

The guide with the camera crossed first and also served as the example for what we were to do in order for the other guide to get us strapped in. We crossed one at a time and once each person was a good length down, the guide would tell the next person to go. We crossed a total of three bridges, the last one going directly over alligators! The guide was taking pictures of us the whole time. After we unhooked from the rope bridges, we stopped to look at and talk about the alligators for a while.

We were then led again through a wooded path and came to a clearing where we were told to take off our gear. Although it did not seem heavy at the time, it was quite a relief to get the extra weight off!  We were then whisked onto a private truck and drove out into the safari! We were on a similar route as the safari ride but we took our time looking at each group of animals and would occasionally pull off to the side so we had more time to talk about and look at the animals. They also provided us with binoculars!

At some point, we were directed to look at this structure in the middle of the savannah and that’s when we were told that that is where we would be stopping for an African inspired snack!  When we arrived at the hut, we couldn’t believe how beautiful and amazing everything was. It’s one thing to be in the middle of the savannah in a ride vehicle but there’s something about not having a cover over your head and being able to stand up and walk around that made it so incredible. There were tables and chairs set up in the shade but I found a comfy chair in the sun right up against the railing and was told that we could pull up another chair and have our snack right there!

After eating, we had time to just look around and soak it all in. Mostly we saw the giraffes. They were literally right there, walking by the hut we were in. Around back, there was a boardwalk that went out to an area that had some rhinos. We did not feel rushed at all but I could have stayed there all day!

We got back in our private safari truck and continued looking at and talking about the animals in the savannah.

As we were pulling back into our final destination, we were given some information about Disney’s Conservation Fund. We try to donate a few dollars every time we go to Animal Kingdom so we were thrilled to hear that a portion of our tour cost was going directly to the animal of our choice. We were led to a Survivor-style box where we were to choose a rock and put it with the animal we chose. We could pick between big cats, elephants, or rhinos.

After choosing which animals to donate to, we were led back to the lockers we we got all of our belongings. We took a few last picture with our guides and were out to enjoy the rest of Animal Kingdom park by 11:00am.

Overall, the tour was just about three hours. By the time we got into all our gear, practiced our rope bridge and got moving, it was 8:20. The walking portion was until around 9:30, when we started driving around the savannah. Our snack and time at the hut was about 45 minutes and then we finished up around 11:00.

The Wild Africa Trek is offered most days at various times in the morning at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park. The cost of the tour varies by season and starts at $189 per person. In my opinion, if you are looking for a unique Disney experience, it is absolutely worth the cost! For more information on this tour, contact me or any agent at Mouse World Travel!

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