17 January 2011 by AOL Travel News
Attached to a lifeline and leaning out over a cliff to observe a 2-ton bull hippo, I forgot for a moment I was in Orlando at Disney's Animal Kingdom, on a Wild Africa Trek.
As the name would imply, Disney Imagineers have created a backstory for this new tour that involves trekking through Africa. But the surprise here is the Wild Africa Trek really provides a soft adventure experience at Walt Disney World, as AOL Travel News discovered on a preview.
During the three-hour tour, which debuts this week, guests literally go over the river and through the woods to previously restricted areas of Animal Kingdom's Pagani Forest and Harambe Wildlife Reserve, including to the edge of cliffs, for up-close views of creatures including hippos and crocodiles.
Along the way you navigate rickety rope bridges – positioned way above the Safri River and a croc-filled ravine – and you bushwalk on dirt trails, over tree roots and pushing back occasional branches and fern fronds.
The tour is being offered several times a day, and is limited to 12 participants at a time, age 8 and up. The introductory price is $129 per person, plus park admission. Reservations are required.
The starting point is an outfitters shack in the Harambe village, where participants are strapped into a harness vest with clamps, much like you'd wear to go ziplining. Earphones and a transmitter are also provided so you don't miss any of the commentary from your two guides.
Everyone is required to wear flat, closed-toe shoes. And if you want to bring a camera make sure it has a strap – you aren't allowed to carry anything. Lockers are provided to store what you can't bring on the trek.
As you follow your guides through the village, other guests may stare, wondering what you are up to, especially as you pass through areas marked "Do Not Enter."
You pause to see the park's gorillas, and animal bones and skulls provide talking points for the guides in the forest, but the first big thrill comes when you get hooked in your harness to a lifeline for a look at hippos in the Safri.
The location is right across the river from where Kilimanjaro Safari vehicles pass, but trekkers get much closer to the hippos.
A cord with a little elasticity allows you to experiment with the cliff edge. You can lean way forward to see the creatures from about 20 feet away, though your feet never actually leave the ground.
Those on the other tours may think you're either part of a show or may simply be jealous. One fellow in a safari vehicle shouted "jump" as he saw our group on the cliff.
The backstory leads to the need to cross an old and rickety bridge because the new bridge has been "washed out."
Your crossing is in fact super wobbly, which is part of the fun – a safety net and your lifeline assure you can't actually get into too much trouble as you navigate uneven slats. But it's still a little scary crossing a 120-foot expanse some 30 or 40 feet above the river.
A second bridge takes you above a ravine occupied by surprisingly large and menacing-looking crocs. There's a cliff you can lean over to see these creatures too though the setup wasn't quite ready on our preview.
The bush trail eventually leads to the savanna where you board a specially designed open-air truck to view giraffes and gazelles, elephants and wildebeest.
While the Kilimanjaro tour vehicles offer some of the same views, only those on the Wild Africa Trek get to take a half-hour break at a fancy open-air safari camp platform equipped with tables and chairs (and nice facilities too).
Here you enjoy what Disney is calling an African-inspired "snack," but what's really a meal (breakfast or lunch) cleverly served in camp tins.
It's the perfect spot to watch the animals and pretend you're really in Africa. GO BACK