There’s more to Walt Disney World, in Orlando Florida, than Mickey Mouse and the Cinderella Castle. For those of us who will never make it to the African Savannah (make that most of us!), there’s good news: Disney World’s safari expedition in the Animal Kingdom is the next best thing.
Yes, it’s a bit of a hidden gem among the parade of princesses and Star Wars attractions you’ll find in other areas, but that’s not to say it isn’t popular. Loads of people discover this underrated outing every year. Suffice it to say it’s not the first thing that pops into our heads when it comes to the world-famous Orlando theme park.
The Kilimanjaro Safari may be your only chance to see okapi, warthogs and hyenas without ever leaving the continent. It’s also a good chance to slow down and savour the quieter pleasures of a vacation that can often overwhelm. To get there, you’ll take a pleasant but short train ride to Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a 44-hectare oasis that’s home to nearly three dozen species of African wildlife.
Then, it’s a journey by open-air vehicle through the plains and wetlands to view some of the most majestic creatures on earth. It’s a bumpy ride, for sure. There are even warning signs posted for those prone to motion sickness or with certain medical conditions. Most people, however, will have no problem. Hey, if you’ve tackled Space Mountain or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train already, a bumpy buggy is a piece of cake!
OK, so now you’re here.
It’s hard to contain the oohs and ahhs when you first catch sight of a gazelle or wildebeest. The guides do a good job of explaining all of the different animals but wait…if you look above your head, there’s a legend posted inside the vehicle with pictures of all the four-legged creatures you might see. Kind of a field guide to exotic game.
Except we’re only shooting with cameras, of course. For obvious reasons, the drivers are not allowed to come to a complete stop. They do slow down long enough for some great photo ops.
On the day we visited, we saw giraffes reaching skyward for some tantalizing leaves, rhinos foraging for food, and a couple of baby elephants playfully butting heads – or were they fighting? – at water’s edge.
No matter what, it’s a fascinating display that many of us only ever see on television. You’ll especially enjoy it if you’ve been on Jungle Cruise, a corny but classic Disney attraction that features amusing – and decidedly fake – wildlife. No animatronics on the Kilimanjaro Safari — this is the real McCoy.
When it’s all over, our safari ride clocks in at around 22 minutes.
Come to think of it, that’s the same length as a half-hour TV show, minus the commercials. But instead of watching those graceful animals prance across your screen, you’ve just had the pleasure of watching them live.
By Andrea MacDonald
Andrea MacDonald is a writer, editor and PR consultant based in Halifax. She can find the fun in just about anything and pretty much lives for chocolate. Her secret identities include boater, RVer and kitchen-gadget fanatic. You can find her at www.word-house.com, Linkedin and Twitter at @AndreaMac_HFX