In early 2011, we were planning our second family trip to Walt Disney World. This was our first family trip beyond the Magic Kingdom, and we wanted to make the trip extra-special, really highlighting the magic of each park. Disney announced the Wild Africa Trek tour while we were planning. We knew immediately we wanted to do it. It was quite expensive for a family of four, and we needed to book before there were even any reviews, but we committed anyway. It was the best decision we ever made!
What is Wild Africa Trek?
Wild Africa Trek is a 3-hour, guided tour through the African safari in Disney's Animal Kingdom. The tour is divided into two parts, broken up by a snack break. The tour begins with a hiking portion and includes trekking through the forest, crossing the crocodile-laden Safi River on a rope bridge, and hanging off a cliff to get an up-close look at the hippopotamus.
The second part is an up-close tour of the African savanna in an open-air safari vehicle.
What makes this tour different from the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction that's included with park admission? Two big things – first, Wild Africa Trek takes you much closer to many of the animal areas than the basic ride. If you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris, you know that some animals can wander on and near the roads, but others are enclosed. Many can only be seen from a distance, if you spot them at all. Wild Africa Trek goes much closer to many of these enclosures. The second major difference is on Wild Africa Trek the guides will actually stop and let you spend quality time watching and photographing the animals. The Kilimanjaro Safaris ride will sometimes slow down for a decent photo op, but unless you get behind a giraffe pile-up, don't count on stopping, and you can't stand up or move around the crowded car so your view is more limited. On the tour you are either walking or you're in an open vehicle with seating around the sides (not rows). Tour groups are never more than 12 guests and often smaller than that; there's never a crowd. You always have a great view and the guides are always ready to stop and give you the best experience they can.
Near the end of our tour, we drove through the savanna and observed a particularly interesting animal interaction. A cheetah was prowling along the edge of his (well-hidden) fence and spooked a small herd of kudu.
The kudu ran past a herd of white rhinos who were startled into moving across the rode we were traveling on. The rhinos settled right next to the road with us parked along side, close enough to reach out and touch (touching is not allowed, of course!)
We spent a long time just parked there, watching and taking pictures of the rhinos. We were there for so long that the guide asked “Is anyone in a hurry?” No one was, so we stayed.
Of course, this is an unscripted tour with wild animals. There are no guarantees what you will experience, but the guides know the animals well and the tour goes so close to the animal areas, the opportunities for interactions are endless.
Wild Africa Trek for Everyone
One of the best features of this tour was that we could include the whole family. If you're familiar with other Disney tours, you know that kids are not permitted behind-the-scenes. Because the Wild Africa Trek takes place entirely “on stage”, the tour allows kids age 8 and up. Participants must be at least 8 years old, 48 inches tall and weigh 45 – 300 lbs. Note – they do weigh participants at check-in and the weight includes the safety harness and your camera, so keep that in mind.
My son was 8 when we did this tour. Though he definitely isn't a thrill-seeker, he absolutely loved it. He has no fear of heights, so he did fine on the rope bridges, and at one point I caught him swinging (with his legs in the air) from the safety harness.
The tour was educational, but there was so much to see that we had no trouble holding his attention, and the guides were wonderfully patient with his endless stream of questions.
Speaking of heights — I always get a lot of questions about fear of heights. With typical Disney attention-to-detail, the rope bridges on the tour are designed to look authentic, complete with weathering and missing boards. They are, of course, made with steel cables and perfectly safe. The bridge is high, however, and it does shake and sway when you walk. Guests cross the bridge one at time, but you might still be on the bridge when the next guest starts, which could cause it to shake more (especially if the guest is a jumping 8-year old). My husband is terrified of heights but he really wanted to do this tour, so he just took it slowly. There was never any pressure to rush.
As for mobility issues — my sister has Ehlers-Danlos which affects her joints, and she has limited energy. For most of our trip, she used a wheelchair. Hiking in the woods is not normally on her list of preferred activities, but she loves animals so she was super motivated.
Although the hike is a trail through the woods, it is relatively smooth with no steep slopes or rock climbing. There are steps up to the bridge, but again, the biggest thing that made it doable is that we weren't rushed at any stage. There are wheelchair-accessible and less strenuous versions of the tour available; contact Disney for details. We did our tour in the morning and planned to spend the rest of the day viewing animals in the park, but by the time we were done, we were all pretty wiped out. I recommend not planning anything too energetic after your tour and maybe even keeping it low-key the following day.
Capturing the Magic
For me the best part of the tour was the opportunity to get up-close photos of the animals.
Despite persistent Internet rumors to the contrary, you are permitted to carry your own camera. It must, however, have a neck strap or wrist strap that allows it to be secured to the safety harness. No unsecured items are permitted on the tour for the animal's safety, so that means no camera phones unless you have a strap to secure it. I carried my DSLR (a Nikon D40) with my 28-300mm zoom lens on a neck strap. It's a bit heavy to hike with but I couldn't imagine doing the trip without it. I had it in my hands and was snapping photos for most of the trek. I do recommend not trying to walk across the rope bridge and snap photos at the same time; I lost my footing and got a nice rope burn. Not my brightest idea, and, really, there's plenty of time to stop and take pictures of the crocodiles.
You do get quite close to some of the animals.
However, if you have a zoom lens, I highly recommend bringing it. Some animals will still be farther away.
Or you might just want to get really, really close.
One other recommendation – go first across the bridge so that you can capture your family from the front instead of the back. I didn't think of that one until I was writing this post.
Another great feature of this tour – Photopass is included. The guides take photos of the whole trip and they're included in the price. You'll get group shots and individual shots, as well as photos of the animals that you see on your tour. Some some stock photos are also included. The guides are trained to take lots of photos at designated spots, for example, when each person crosses the rope bridge. But if you want particular shots of your party don't hesitate to ask.
Between my photos and the Photopass I had 1000 pictures, and that was after deleting the blurry ones and the Photopass shots of other guests.
Other Things You Should Know
Wild Africa Trek runs for three hours and can be scheduled throughout most days the park is open. Price varies seasonally and by time of departure, ranging from $189-249; sometimes Disney runs specials in the slow seasons and the afternoons. Park admission is required.
The tour breaks for 30 minutes half way through for an African-inspired snack on an elevated platform overlooking the savanna.
The food that is provided would generally be considered a light meal or a substantial snack. We had the lunch version, though they now offer a breakfast variation for the morning tours.
We are a foodie family with exotic tastes, so we enjoyed it, but I don't think it would be considered too exotic for the average eater. There is a less-exotic kids option that they seem to default to for children. My son rarely eats off the kids menu, so we had to keep stressing that at every point – when we booked, when we checked in and again when we got the food; he definitely wanted the more interesting food.
For more information about Wild Africa Trek or to book, contact Walt Disney World.