We recently returned from a trip in August at WDW (trip report here). We did the Wild Africa Trek in Animal Kingdom for the first time and it was a great experience. I’ve written a summary/review of the Trek including pictures and my thoughts on the experience. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, suffice it to say that it was really fun for both my daughter and me (she’s 9 years old, the youngest trekker in our group) and we would definitely love to do it again, especially once her younger siblings are old enough to do it too.
The Wild Africa Trek is billed as a three hour excursion into the Africa region of Animal Kingdom (the same area as the Kilimanjaro Safari(KS) attraction) where you get to walk through wooded trails, cross over crocodile pits via 30-foot high rope bridges, explore the savannah in a safari vehicle, finished off with a snack of African-inspired foods in the boma (a raised outpost in the middle of the savannah). In our case, the trek consisted of roughly an hour and half of walking around, followed by an hour in the safari vehicle and just over 45 minutes or so at the boma snacking and taking pictures. Your are accompanied on your trek by two guides. Our guides Ashton and Becky and were really terrific. During the entire experience, they told us interesting facts, answered questions, made jokes, took photos, and added a lot to the experience. My daughter is still spouting all sorts of facts they told us during the trek. Treks generally have a maximum number of people (something like twelve people or so).
Our trek was scheduled at 8AM (park opening). They advise arriving at the park 30 minutes prior (taking a taxi from your hotel if necessary). It was here where we ran into our first and really only problem of the day. I had become so accustomed to using my MagicBand at the park for everything that I had left my wallet, ID, and money. When you show up for the Trek, you are met at the park gates by cast members who are dressed in trek gear. They verify your name and request some form of ID. I was briefly in panic until I remembered that I was wearing a Road ID, which had my name on it. It was weak ID at best but the cast member was very sympathetic and allowed us through. Anyway, just be warned that you need to bring ID (a good idea under all circumstances, you never know when you might unexpectedly need to leave the confines of the park). From there, our group was led to the Wild Africa Trek assembly point which is right next to the standby entrance for KS. It was here that we met our two trek guides. The trek guides, in addition to being photographers during the Trek (all trekkers are given a code to download the photos taken during the experience from a Wild Africa Trek-specific website) they are safety monitors making sure nobody has an accident. Our harnesses always got checked before each and every time when they were to be tethered to a safety line.
It was there that they asked us to put all of our un-tethered belongings into a locker secured by a 4-digit code of your choosing (very similar to a hotel safe). You are allowed to bring a camera or smartphone provided it has a tether or strap. I brought a small DSLR with a 70-200 lens on a sling strap. Hardly anyone else brought cameras at all. That’s okay because the guides do a great job taking photos (I’ve included some of their photos as well). You were not allowed to bring any sort of bag. We were then weighed and fitted to safety harnesses appropriate to our size and weight. The harnesses have leg and shoulder attachments similar to safety harnesses worn by utility-pole workers, the difference is that these hardnesses were sewn into green mesh vests which have pockets for things such as a water bottle (your are given one to use and keep as a souvenir). The harnesses had a “monkey tail” which attaches to to a safety line. The monkey tail has a locking carabiner which they taught us to operate. I asked if anyone had ever needed to use the safety harness because of a fall and they said “luckily not yet”. Let’s hope it stays that way or else I’m sure other they’ll have to implement ever more rigid safety protocols. The monkey tail attaches to a loop on the right breast of the vest. As I normally wear my sling strap across my left shoulder and across the right breast, it would have seriously interfered with attaching and removing the monkey tail. Had I been better prepared, I would have setup my sling to go across the other shoulder. Just be aware of that if you’re going to bring a sling-type camera strap. Finally, everyone got outfitted with radios. These allow you to hear the two guides without them having to shout at the group. As well, during the trek you meet up with other experts who are able to speak to the trekkers using similar radios.
Once every got harnesses, sun screen and bug spray, we took our first photo of the day (they provide sunscreen and bug spray but beware that if you are specific about what you like in terms of sunscreen or bug spray, apply your own before you get harnessed in). Under other circumstances, it might have seemed corny, but we took a normal group photo then a “fierce” lion pose and I really liked the overall look of the “fierce" shot. You could tell some people were really into it while others were just kinda like “eh”. We then marched to the entrance of the Pangani Forest Trail attraction and shortly after the entrance, there’s a nondescript gate that says “Authorized Trek Guides Only”. This is the entrance to the trek. Across all of the times I’ve been on the Pangani trail, I can honestly say I’ve always missed this gate, it’s so well blended into the environment.
From there, we walked over to the hippo pool near the Safi River. We got safety-checked and tethered to a safety line which allowed us to walk to the edge of a small cliff (maybe 20 feet up). Here we were met by a cast member who tended to the hippos and told us about them. He banged on a bucket (which is their call) and they readily came over knowing that they were about to be fed. From our vantage point, we watched him toss lettuce to the hippos which they happily munched but they went completely nuts for watermelon. When that got tossed in the water, there was a mad scramble to get it. The birds surrounding the area also went after the watermelon. I was shocked the hippos didn’t eat one of the birds on accident.
Hippos have a HUGE open mouth, coupled with bad eyesight and awful territorial behavior, even though they are herbivores, they can be quite dangerous
Some interesting hippo facts:
- They weigh a ton, literally, between two to three thousand pounds.
- They eat over 100 lbs vegetation each day in order to support that.
- Even though they are vegetarians, they can be extremely dangerous to people who get too close as hippos are extremely territorial, have awful eyesight, and then to charge without much thought. If you look at the pics below, they have some scary teeth that are just as likely to crush your skull as any vegetarian food.
- The two hippos we met, Henry and Hans were father and son, with Hans (the father), being about 14 years old.
- Hippos mark their territory via a mixture of their feces and urine which they fan around with their tail. We got to witness this, quite a, ummm, interesting sight.
Rope bridge over the crocodile pit.
With that done, we unclipped and walked over to the rope bridges over the crocodile pit. After another safety check and instruction on how to get clipped in, we walked across the bridge one at a time. The rope bridges were surprisingly stable and there’s a continuous netting that goes under the wooden rungs of the bridge. The most disconcerting thing is that some of the wooden rungs were purposely distressed or removed to provide a aged look. This results in you sometimes stepping off of the rungs onto the netting. If you’re not paying attention (say posing for a photo), they might instead get a photo of you making the “oh ****” face as you struggle to not fall. That aside, even for the ones in our group who feared heights made it across the bridge pretty easily. The guides took plenty of pictures of each person crossing the bridge (making sure we got shots of the crocs in the pit below). After crossing the bridges, we were at a precipice similar to the hippo pool where another cast member told us about the crocodiles.
Some of the most interesting croc facts:
- Animal Kingdom only has male crocodiles because if there were females, they would kill each other.
- If there were a mix of males and females, the males might hurt each other, a lot, competing for dominance and then they’d mate with the females. Animal Kingdom is apparently not currently setup to deal with baby crocs.
- Crocs regularly lose limbs in fights for dominance. For example, Lefty was a croc that had lost his left front paw/hand in a fight.
- They have names for all 29 crocs, mostly playfully based on their defects. Dr. Evil is the croc who only has a pinky finger on one paw.
- During the hurricanes, they will move the crocs to a reinforced backstage area. Apparently they had to do this once or twice before.
- Finally, I asked whether zig-zagging when running away from a crocodile was a myth. What the guide said was this: “It’s true that crocodiles don’t really make turns very well. But if you’re running away from one, you’re not going to have the presence of mind to zig-zag back and forth. Your priority is to get the heck away in as straight a line as possible. All you have to do is make one turn early and then run for dear life”. I always thought the image of someone doing the serpentine maneuver when running away from a croc was funny.
A view from above the croc pit.
They call that one "lefty"
One of our AWESOME trek guides crossing the bridge, note the monkey tail attached to an overhead safety wire
The safari vehicle
With the croc encounter done, we got to the staging point where we could finally take of the harness/vests. From there, it’s onto a private safari vehicle which takes our group around the Savannah. Our guides handed out “Frosty Towels” which are cotton towels infused with lemongrass oil as well as other cooling ingredients. These towels were sitting in a cooler of ice and after the heat of the walking portion, they felt absolutely great. They also sell Frosty Towels in some of the gift shops but you can buy them ahead of time ‘cuz it’s bound to be cheaper. Just beware that my daughter developed a slight allergic reaction to the towel. Better to try it at home first if you’ve got sensitive skin or are worried about that. Anyway, the safari vehicle drove us around the savannah on the same path as the KS vehicles and our guides would occasionally tell the driver to stop at a vantage point. These stops were substantially longer than during the KS attraction. You get to stand up when the vehicle is fully stopped and they have binoculars to give you a better view. The guides would banter about the animals. We saw lots of giraffe, include some pretty up close, elephants, various deer, antelope, a warthog, zebras, rhinos, and the odd ostrich or two.
Some more facts we learned:
- Giraffes don’t sleep very much, maybe only 30 minutes in five minute bursts.
- Perhaps as a result of that, they are not exactly mentally “there”. As our guide put it, "they are only as smart as they have to be”. Put another way, imagine those stoned surfer people from the movies, that about describes giraffes.
- In DAK, as a result of the safe environment, animals sometimes have modified behaviors. For example, giraffes usually drink from watering holes in twos, one drinks, one stands watch. In DAK, this doesn’t happen because they’ve all learned that they are essentially free from predators. Our guide said, “if I ever reincarnate, I want to come back as a Disney animal"
- There is one male giraffe who is the “stud” of the group. They regularly bring in female giraffes from other zoo’s and they go on giraffe dates.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge is officially setup as a separately registered zoo from Animal Kingdom, I found that interesting.
- Whereas in the West, we think of elephants as majestic, wondrous animals, in Africa, culturally elephants are looked upon as deadly killers who destroy villages and lives. No wonder they aren’t as concerned about conservation! It’s going to take a lot of work to shift those prevailing cultural attitudes in order to overcome problems like poaching.
- Elephants are afraid of bees. DAK originally setup bee noise emitters to help keep elephants away from areas they’re supposed to avoid, but the elephants figured out they were fake within a day. Now they have to do other things to help direct the elephants’ movement.
- Sometimes wild rabbits and other small mammals will wander into the cheetah area, whereupon the cheetahs receive an extra snack.
- The one warthog in DAK is a female, named Charo.
Ankole Cattle, raised mostly as a status symbol
Finally, we drove to the boma, a raised enclosure in the savannah with a commanding view of the surroundings. There, we were treated to African-inspired snacks served in food tins. Mine had a combination of yogurt, trail mix, cured meats, breads, a papaya slaw, and the always popular Jungle Juice. My kid had granola bars instead of the cured meats and slaw. The food was okay, but not really the highlight of the trek for me. Honestly, if it could mean lower trek fees, I would happily have done without food. Also, the boma was the first opportunity we had to use the bathroom so you definitely want to do that BEFORE setting off. After about 30-40 minutes at the boma, our trek ended.
Our post-trek meal
Throughout the experience, it was abundantly clear that our guides were not only well-informed, they were also deeply concerned about the animals’ welfare and about conservation. You get a taste of that during KS but this trek really drove that point home. At DAK, they want to give the guests a good show, but they stop well short of forcing the animals to perform. I really like that much better than circuses or traditional zoos where I always suspected that the show came first. And the end of the trek, we were driven back to the starting point, retrieved our secured belongings and were given the souvenir water bottle, a special Wild Africa Trek Conservation Hero badge, and a code to access the pictures that the guides shot during our trek. A portion of the Trek fees go to the Disney Conservation Fund (thus the Conservation Hero badge). You get the honor of voting for a particular of species to benefit from your donation by dropping a stone into a container corresponding to each species.
Both my daughter and I thought this was a fantastic experience and well worth the fee we paid (my understanding is that the Trek varies from about $189 to $250 depending on season with discounts sometimes available. We paid just over $200 each, which seemed fair). Even though we were in the brutal Florida heat and humidity (the heat index rose to just over 100 by the end of our trek), for the most part, I didn’t feel terribly uncomfortable. I guess all of the things to do and see became the focus of the trek. That said, I’d still recommend an early morning trek as the animals tend to become less active in the heat of the later afternoon. The early morning weather will also be cooler than practically any other time of the day.
The best thing I could say for the experience is that having done it, I would happily do it again (and in fact we mean to do so when the rest of our kids are old enough). If anyone is on the fence about doing this, I highly recommend it as a way to experience a very different side of Disney World.
Thank you Ashton and Becky!
A note about the photos: These photos include some shot by our guides during our trek and some from the top 50 of all time shot during prior treks and finally, some I shot during the trek. I'm sharing all of the photos in hopes of inspiring more folks to take the Wild Africa Trek and learn a lot more about the animals of DAK. Please don't use these photos for commercial purposes without consent of their rightful owners.