Who Would Love Animal Kingdom’s Wilderness Explorers?

I cannot say enough how much we love Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  So much to see and do, no two visits are ever the same.  Recently we were at Animal Kingdom for the second time during our week-long, Christmas week vacation.  The weather that day was cold and windy, but we were determined to make the best of our last day at Disney World!

Who Would Love Animal Kingdom’s Wilderness Explorers?

Arriving uncharacteristically late in the morning (Kona breakfast was worth it!), we’d barely made it into the park when I said, “Wait!”.  I realized we’d just passed up some Cast Members who were part of the Wilderness Explorers activity.  They appeared to be getting another family started on their quest to earn badges, gain knowledge and explore Animal Kingdom.  I told Joseph (who occasionally still does what his mother tells him) to go back and get us our information for this maybe-not-really-for-grownups activity.

Clearly the Cast Members were enjoying this earnest young man asking how to join the fun.  A kind young lady handed him his Wilderness Explorers Handbook, his “uniform” (a sticker), and helped him earn his first badge by teaching him the Wilderness Explorer call…”The wilderness must be explored!  Caw Caw Roar” with the proper hand gestures, of course.  I moved closer as I took pictures and when the Cast Member realized we were together, offered me my own book (I said we’d share) and insisted on giving me my uniform.  I wore that sticker proudly all day!

Armed with the map in the handbook, we set off to earn some badges.  Inside the booklet’s back cover, I saw the “levels” explorers could reach based on the number of badges earned.  The top level, Fish, required 20 badges to achieve.  Goal set, we were on our way!

There are two types of Cast Members to help you with this activity.  Troop Leaders, who wear a Wilderness Explorers’ uniform and Badge Guides, who are identified by the orange badge satchels they carry.  This means that some activities involved a leader teaching or showing you something (insect, fossil, animal information) and other badges were earned simply by obtaining certain information on our own.  We ran into lots of other families earning badges.  Some awesome Cast Members would spot us first as we were looking for their station and call out, “Hello, Wilderness Explorers!”  This is when wearing our “uniform” was helpful.

The Troop Leaders were passionate about the information they shared.  We were sincerely interested and asked lots of questions – this is what makes this activity suitable for all ages!  The Badge Guides were responsible for checking to make sure we completed the badge requirements, but weren’t there to teach us anything.  They were all nice and some got a kick out of our enthusiasm.  To earn the “Yeti Badge”, explorers are supposed to mark in the book how tall they are compared to the wooden yeti foot print outside Expedition Everest.  Much too tall for this to be accurate, we took a picture instead to show the Badge Guides who got a laugh out of our efforts.  Pay no attention to the beer in Joseph’s hand.  Thirsty work, this badge earning.

All in all, this is a very fun activity for families of all ages!  We were successful in our quest to earn 20 badges!  Without rushing too much, we managed it in about 4 1/2 hours, working around the three FastPasses we had booked.  The Wilderness Explorers is part scavenger hunt, part problem solving activity, part learning from an expert – all of it interesting and entertaining.

Have you earned any Wilderness Explorer badges in Animal Kingdom?  If you have kids (of any age) or if you’re just looking for a new way to explore the park, consider adding this to your plans for your next visit and have a great time!

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?

Jingle Cruise – Adventure Awaits

Of all the magical, wonderful details found at Walt Disney World during the holiday season, none tickle me quite as much as the Jingle Cruise in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.  All of my favorite punny jokes and adventures along the jungle waterways of the world with a holiday overlay!  What could be better?Jingle Cruise Christmas Tree

Jingle Cruise – Adventure Awaits

Intentionally homemade.  The idea that the skippers and dock workers pitched in to make their far-from-civilization locale feel more like home for the holidays is completely endearing and makes each detail, large and small, adorable.Jingle Cruise Hut Decorations

From the attraction’s signs to the names of the boats, the animals, natives, and more – the holiday additions are everywhere!  I can’t catch all of the details on a single ride, so if I can arrange it, I’ll ride the Jingle Cruise more than once.  If time allows, I’ll use a FastPass for one ride and wait in the standby line for the other.Jingle Cruise Sign

The holiday overlay begins outside and continues throughout the queue and ride – so be ready to pay close attention and not miss out on anything!  If you’re in a large group, challenge each other to find every detail.  As with other Disney attractions, you’ll want to look up, look down, and look all around – magical surprises are sometimes in unexpected places!  Jingle Cruise Chalk BoardIf you’re already a fan of the Jungle Cruise, you’ll love the holiday version.  If the Jungle Cruise isn’t usually your thing, consider giving the Jingle Cruise a try if for no other reason than it’s the only attraction at Walt Disney World with a holiday overlay and it’s clever and fun (and cheesy)!Jingle Cruise Crew Mess Dinner Menu Jingle Cruise Holiday Gorillas

If you’re planning a visit to Walt Disney World during the holiday season, add Jingle Cruise to your must-do list!Jingle Cruise Trader Sam

If you’ve already sailed on a Jingle Cruise…did you love it?  What was your favorite part?  What other attractions would you like to see get a touch of holiday magic?

 

That Time I Rode Mad Tea Party

I’ve managed to enjoy many trips to Disney World without, until recently, ever stepping foot into a teacup.  While Megan once said it might be her favorite attraction, I’ve never been a huge fan of anything that spins.  So I’ve always just walked on by Mad Tea Party without the urge to change the fact that it’s among the very few attractions I can’t add to my list of once-and-done.magic-kingdom-selfie

That Time I Rode Mad Tea Party

I wouldn’t say I succumbed to peer pressure, but Megan and Lyndsey (Joseph’s girlfriend) were irresistibly enthusiastic when they noticed Mad Tea Party had no line and we had plenty of time to spare.  They’d been adorably happy, dressed in cute Disney shirts throughout our trip.  They were always smiling and excited to see and do as much as possible.  I caved and somehow convinced Raymond to go with us.  Our group of seven walked right on and, finding the teacups of our choice, split up and climbed aboard.mad-tea-party-friends

We had plenty of time to look around and take a couple of pictures because our Mad Tea Party experience was delayed…by a guy with a selfie stick!  Yes!  Those Fantasyland Cast Members were vigilant in their duties and just as the ride was about to begin, one of the Cast Members announced to another that there was a selfie stick among the guests!  I was immediately interested!  Captivated, really, to find out the fate of the offending guest and his contraband photographic device.  Poor guy!  He was rapidly approached by a serious, stern Cast Member, intent upon her duty.  His selfie stick was confiscated, his information gathered, and he was summarily informed that he would be able to retrieve his property at the park’s exit when he was ready to leave.  Clearly, all he wanted was a picture of himself on Mad Tea Party and instead ended up humiliated and selfie-stick-less.  (A list of all Disney park rules can be found here.)mad-tea-party-newbies

Once the selfie stick was dispatched per Disney regulation, the ride began…and seemed to end within moments.  I was somewhat disappointed.  Here I’d avoided this most iconic of Disney attractions because I was worried about the spinning and it was a, well, a dud.  I didn’t feel the joyful thrill reflected on those faces in the Disney commercials.  Raymond and I, in our pink teacup, revolved around the Tea Party a couple of times and the ride was over.  Not as spin-ish as I’d imagined and much shorter than expected.mad-tea-party-chillin

There you have it.  Megan and Lyndsey were happy and that made it all worthwhile.  Raymond and I survived Mad Tea Party and can check it off the list of Disney attractions we’ve tried.  I also learned a valuable lesson should I ever be tempted to attempt the use of a selfie stick in Magic Kingdom.

Mad Tea Party fans!  What am I missing?  Is this attraction a must-do on your Walt Disney World vacations?  WHY?