Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek Review

Recently we crossed a long-awaited item off our Disney wish list.  Raymond, Joseph and I finally, after talking about it for years, took the Wild Africa Trek in Animal Kingdom.  Was it everything we hoped it would be?  Yes and no.  Much of the experience was the way we’d imagined and we learned a lot about the animals we saw along the way.  To be fair and balanced, I must also add that some of this pricey adventure was disappointing.  Here are the details of our experience on…

Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek

We were booked for the day after Christmas, but the only person who knew it was me.  During Christmas dinner at the California Grill, I sprang the surprise and then everyone was excited about the next day’s big plan.  After breakfast at Tusker House, we’d have time to go on Kilimanjaro Safari before we checked in for the Wild Africa Trek near the Safari’s entrance.  We were scheduled for the 10:15 am trek, which would end at 1:15 pm.  Information we received about the trek ahead of time emphasized the need to dress in pants or shorts with sturdy, closed-toe shoes.  We all wore jeans, t-shirts and athletic shoes, which were perfect choices.

As soon as we arrived, the Cast Members got busy outfitting us in our gear.  We were weighed (very discreetly) and strapped into a harness/vest combo.  We then had all our loose items strapped on (Disney provided straps for glasses and cell phones/cameras) and received our complimentary water bottles to fill and also have secured to our vests.  (Note: the harness were snug around the tops of our legs, so loose pants tended to bunch up on some folks.  Looked uncomfortable!)  We were also given wireless audio devices that allowed us to easily hear our guides throughout the first part of the tour.  After some instruction and a group photo, we were ready to go.  Photos are included in the price of this experience and the guides take pictures all along the way from start to finish.  (I’m not using any of those photos here due language in the licensing agreement that comes with the pictures.)

So far, so good.  Our group of twelve guests was made up of Raymond, Joseph and I, two adult men (father and son maybe), a mom with young son and daughter (minimum age for the trek is 8), and a family of four (with teen girl and tween boy).  We noticed early on that the tone of the tour was geared strongly towards children.  There were some cute jokes involving Frozen references, but also some not-so-cute childishness that I thought even the kids didn’t seem to like.  We were taught to use Swahili words like hakuna matata (no worries),  asante sana (thank you very much), twende (let’s go) and kwaherini (farewell).  The guides insisted that every time they asked if we were ready to go, we throw our hands on the air and say twende!  But when the group was enthusiastic, we received a lecture about how we had to be quiet because we would upset the animals.  Personally, I thought we could have done without both having to say twende repeatedly and the lecture.

The tour was broken up into three main parts:  The walking path and rope bridges, touring by safari truck, and eating on the savanna.

Walking path and rope bridges:  Here we learned about hippos and crocodiles.  The path to the hippo pool was a little rugged and jungle-esque, and that part was fun.  There was an additional guide waiting to tell us about hippos.  She had some hippo snacks in a big plastic bowl and she struck the bowl repeatedly with a plastic stick to lure the two male hippos (father and son) over for a snack, so we could have a closer look at these enormous and interesting animals.  Unfortunately, the hippos were having none of it.  They remained completely uninterested in the guide’s tasty offering.  They did not budge an inch.  After that, we got to look at a reproduction hippo skull before we threw our hands in the air and quietly said twende.

Next we made our way to the rope bridges.  There’s a lot of concern for safety, which is understandable of course, but it’s also time-consuming.  Before we can be clipped to any of the safety cables, each person’s harness must be checked and tightened as necessary.  When my harness was checked, the guide loudly proclaimed, “This is way too loose!” before proceeding to tighten the straps.  This bugged me and I and wanted to reply, “YOU are the one who strapped this thing on me in the first place!”, but I managed to restrain myself.  This particular guide was snarky and condescending throughout the tour and as time went on, it irritated me more and more.  Especially when he wasted time being especially unpleasant to the youngest member of the group.  Poor kid was just excited and didn’t deserve the extra-snarky treatment.

There were a lot of small details involved when walking over the rope bridges – stand in a certain spot when it’s your turn, hook your cable to a pulley which a cast member up on a platform uses to get your harness attached above the bridge.  Wait until told, open the gate to the bridge (watch your feet), step onto the bridge, close the gate.  One at a time, we made our way over the bridge – the next person was allowed to go only when the person in front of them had reached the half-way point.  Kids went with an adult before and after them.  The bridges are made to seem rickety and well-worn.  Many of the slats are “broken”, so we had to pay careful attention to where we were stepping and the going was slow.  This took up a big chunk of touring time.  If you are afraid of heights, you will not like this part.  If you’re a thrill junky who’s zip-lined before, this will most likely seem very mild.  You do get to see hippos and many enormous crocodiles below and a guide will take your picture on the bridges.

After the bridges and another safety check, our harnesses were clipped onto an overlook for more crocodile viewing.  We were cautioned many times to be sure we didn’t lean out in a way that would put any pressure on our harnesses.  We learned some interesting facts about crocodiles and got to ask some questions before our group moved on to board our safari truck.  We were, thankfully, able to ditch the harness/vests at this time.

As a huge fan of Kilimanjaro Safaris, this was probably my favorite part of the tour.  We traveled the same path as the Safaris (for the most part), but got to stop several times to learn more about giraffes, African painted dogs, and a few other animals and take pictures.  While the vehicle was parked, we could stand up and move around (in the truck bed) for better animal viewing and picture-taking.  We were given some ice-cold, individually wrapped, bug-repellant-treated wash cloths.

Our safari truck eventually made its way to a building where we had lunch.  We each received a metal container full of smaller containers, naan bread, and an edible flower. The food was great!  Humus, chicken salad, cured meats, a shrimp, a slice of salmon roll-up, and fruit.  Juice was available as well.  After we ate, we could move to the far side of the building where the deck overlooked some rhinos.  I mentioned to our guide that we’d taken the safari that morning and I had a question about something we’d seen.  He actually rolled his eyes at me and asked, “Why would you take the safari if you were coming on the Wild Africa Trek?”  I love the safari and it’s a must-do on every visit to Animal Kingdom.  I had FastPasses booked later in the afternoon for other attractions, but the safari is best (to us) in the early morning.  Did I explain all that?  Nope.  I just said we wanted to scope out where we’d be going on the tour if we could.  Then I asked my question about the rhinos.

On that morning’s Kilimanjaro Safari, we’d noticed one rhino facing off against three other rhinos.  They were all very close together with the one nose-to-nose with the other three who stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a stare down.  The guide explained that a male rhino was being allowed to spend small periods of time in the enclosure with the three female rhinos, but the three were firmly against getting to know the poor lonely guy any better and tended to band together to indicate a hard pass on his advances.  This was exactly the kind of information we’d hoped to learn on this adventure – to find out more about individual animals at Animal Kingdom…who they are, if you will, and what their lives are like living in the park.When time was up for eating and rhino-viewing, we got back on the truck and continued on our way to the end of the tour.  We exited the truck at the same place as Kilimanjaro Safari and made our way to the lockers to retrieve our stuff.  The guides passed out slips of paper that provided directions on how to get our pictures from the tour.

Would we do it again?  Not for the price we paid (during peak season, $249 per person).  We think a kid-free option like Disney Cruise Line offers for many of their excursions would be appealing.  Not that the kids were trouble, they were very well-behaved and enjoyable.  We just felt like the guides’ scripts were targeted towards children, people who know nothing about animals, and Animal Kingdom park newbies.  As long-time Animal Kingdom fans who have visited many times, we wanted more in-depth information with a less condescending delivery.  I know several people who have taken the Wild Africa Trek and all had a wonderful experience.  I’m sure it greatly depends on the guides and unfortunately, one of ours seemed to not like his job very much.

Have you taken the Wild Africa Trek?  How was your experience?

Disney’s Pandora – What I Want to See

Since the recent announcement about Pandora’s opening date in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I can’t stop thinking about this new land.  What will it really be like?  After all the doubt and speculation, will Disney and Avatar fans all be pleased?  Will that amazing Na’vi shaman animatronic figure be as cool in person as she seems on Facebook?  What would I like to see?  That last part, I’ve got figured out!

Disney’s Pandora – What I Want to See

Joseph came home to visit for a couple of nights while Raymond was out of town on business this week.  He knows I hate staying by myself (Junior’s not much of a watch dog).  He gets free food, I avoid loneliness – it’s a win-win for both of us.  For fun, I came up with my best idea for a Pandora attraction and ran it by Joseph to see what he thought.  He not only liked the idea, he immediately started building on it to make it better!  Armchair Imagineering is FUN!!!

I started with this idea:  Think about the experience of Turtle Talk With Crush (in Epcot’s The Seas With Nemo and Friends).  Imagine that same technology used in a classroom made of glass (instead of just one wall).  Guests would enter a special environmentally controlled room (to protect humans), reached via short tunnel extended from the main Pandora research facility.  The tunnel would take “students” partially into the wilderness of Pandora lessons on the planet’s flora, fauna, and culture.  As everyone takes their seats, Na’vi “instructors” would approach the enclosure, introduce themselves,  and talk about what it’s like to live on Pandora.  Visitors in the classroom would be able to see Pandora and the Na’vi people through all four walls and the ceiling.  The experience would be interactive exactly like Turtle Talk, but instead of being geared towards the pre-school set, this attraction would mainly engage tweens, teens, and adults.  Students would have an excellent view of the plants, animals and people of Pandora with the ability to ask (and answer) questions.

Joseph added his thoughts:  The experience would change along with the time of day – just like Kilimanjaro Safaris.  Early mornings would show the Pandora landscape during sunrise (or suns-rise?) and the Na’vi teachers would explain how the planet changes as night turns into day.  Midday would offer completely different “lessons” and then, as the sun(s) set, dusk and nighttime would transform the experience yet again with different animals in the wild among the glow of the bioluminescent plants.

The technology is already available for this attraction!  Think about the possibilities!!!

What would YOU most like to see in Pandora?

 

 

 

Tiffins – Disney Park Signature Dining Perfection

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is immersive, exquisitely themed, and carries guest away on exotic adventures.  For visitors looking for a signature dining experience that perfectly reflects the park’s theming, Tiffin’s is the place!

Tiffins – Disney Park Signature Dining Perfection

My favorite attraction in Animal Kingdom may be in Asia (Expedition Everest), but my favorite section of the park is Africa.  From the Dawa Bar and Burudika Band to the Harambe Market, Festival of the Lion King, and the Gorilla Falls trail…Every square inch of Africa is amazing!  I have yet to visit when I didn’t see several things I’d never noticed before.  On the last visit, we were serenaded by a wandering musician…what a unique and unforgettable experience!dak-musician

When the opening of Tiffins was announced, we knew we had to try it.  We love adventure in both vacation activities and dining.  By all accounts from the early Tiffins reviews, the experience sounded both exotic and delicious.  (This is probably not the best restaurant for picky eaters.)tiffins-sign

We booked an early dinner for seven to cap off a full day of Animal Kingdom touring.  The exterior of Tiffins blends well into its surroundings.  When we walked in, it was obvious that the carefully crafted details outside the building were magnified on the inside.  The most meticulous care went into making the restaurant’s interior feel uniquely special and perfect for its location.

What we liked – Everything!  The service (ask for Kile!), the ambiance, the food, the wine…every detail was fantastic.  Kile, our server, was passionate about Tiffins and was happy to share details with us about everything from the artwork on each wall to the flavors in the menu’s dishes.  tiffins-rivers-of-light-wallNotice the colorful fabric behind the lighted animal figures (just like the floats in Rivers of Light!)?  Those fabric pieces were once Animal Kingdom Cast Member costumes.  tiffins-interior-wall-detailSee the wooden poles?  tiffins-wood-carvingsThey are covered in carvings of a multitude of different animals – these very same poles were once painted bright blue and stood in Camp Minnie-Mickey.tiffins-menu

What we didn’t like – Nothing.  We loved everything about Tiffins…it was us we didn’t like.  This restaurant is special and we felt a little soggy and grimy after being in the park all day and maneuvering through an afternoon downpour.  We were a ragtag bunch eating in a very nice place.  Luckily, that’s to be expected with any in-park dining, so while we wished we’d been a bit more presentable, we enjoyed an excellent meal just the same.tiffins-soup tiffins-octopus-appetizertiffins-beef-entree

What would get us back – Time and budget.  Signature dining = expensive meal, so we’d need to plan accordingly.  Also, we’d want to book a meal at Tiffins during a day we were already planning to be in Animal Kingdom.  Unlike signature restaurants on the monorail loop or at resorts in or near Epcot, the Animal Kingdom park is pretty far away from where we usually stay.  It’s not someplace we would visit just for a meal.  All that being said, we do already have anther reservation at Tiffins in about a month.  Our first impression was great and there are many things on the menu we’d still like to try.

If you’re an adventurous eater and you love Disney signature dining, Tiffins is a solid choice for a unique and special experience.  Have you tried Tiffins?  How was your meal there?

Disney Dining – Tusker House Breakfast

Great location, perfect for families and groups of all sizes, wonderful variety of buffet foods, AND fantastic Disney characters! What a perfect way to start the day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

Disney Dining – Tusker House Breakfast

Once upon a time, our family made character dining experiences a must-do on every Walt Disney World visit.  Just because we may have outgrown that tradition (for now), doesn’t mean we can’t make room in our touring plans for a Disney vacation meal that still includes some character interaction from time to time – especially if the menu is great.tusker-house-mickey-lyndsey-and-joseph

I’d heard great things about the menu at Tusker House and realized that an early breakfast there would give us a jump on our full day of action-packed Animal Kingdom plans.  Our group of seven consisted of a wide variety of food preferences and varying degrees of pickiness – what could be easier than a buffet packed with both traditional breakfast fare and several more exotic, African-inspired flavors?  I chose an 8:35 reservation & we arrived extra early…better to beat the crowds and be first in line for Kilimanjaro Safaris after breakfast.

At the park entrance we were directed to a specific Tusker House waiting area where a very kind Cast Member told us how to find the restaurant. After a short wait, we were on our way.

Once inside, our excellent server, Kat, showed us around the food stations on our way to our table. She explained that the foods were arranged to make it as if guests were shopping in a marketplace. There were no lines…simply move from station to station and fill your plate as you desire.  We arrived at our table, Kat left to get coffee and juice, we headed for the market/buffet.tusker-house-buffet4 tusker-house-buffet3 tusker-house-buffet2

So many options! It was hard to decide where to begin. Along with bacon, eggs, ham, Mickey waffles and the other usual crowd-pleasers were more unique choices from salads to curry, bobotie, and a carving station.  I took small portions of a few things, intending to go back for more after round one.  I’m wary of buffets sometime and want them to be super clean and well-stocked.  These food stations were beautifully maintained.tusker-house-breakfast-plate3 tusker-house-breakfast-plate2 tusker-house-breakfast-plate1

Kat had let us know to expect characters to come by our table, one at a time. Sure enough, the well-paced arrival of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy allowed us plenty of time to eat while pausing for photos. I thought they were all terrific, but Goofy was extra fun.  The characters are all dressed for safari with their own individual styles.tusker-house-donald-and-megan

Just before Daisy made her entrance, I stepped back over to the buffet intending to take a few pictures and maybe grab a couple more foods to sample. Unfortunately, the reason Kat had made an effort to explain how the buffet is supposed to work became clear – a huge, long line had formed! This was no marketplace, this was a slow-moving nightmare. I decided I was finished eating, but made an effort to take a few pictures for you by squeezing in between people here and there. (Find menu details here.)tusker-house-goofy

Our breakfast was over moments before the scheduled park opening & we were on the first Kilimanjaro Safari of the day. We had a great time in Tusker House and would recommend it to small families and large groups alike. The food’s plentiful and tasty, the characters charming and fun, the atmosphere and setting are well-themed and highly detailed.  Just as we’d hoped, Tusker House was the perfect way to kick off the day at Animal Kingdom.

Do you enjoy character dining at Disney World?  Have you tried Tusker House?  What did you think?