As one of the signature attractions of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Kilimanjaro Safaris is a must-do for any visitor to the park. At 110 acres, it’s also the biggest Disney ride in the world – and with over 30 species of animals to see, that space definitely doesn’t go to waste!
Whether you’re an avid safari-goer or a newbie, we’ve broken down everything you’ll want to know before you ride, along with some bonus tips and fun facts that will help take your safari to wild new heights.
All about Kilimanjaro Safaris
Kilimanjaro Safaris takes guests through Harambe Wildlife Reserve for an up-close look at several dozen species of animals in a variety of habitats, from rocky wetlands and dense forests to the wide-open savanna. The ride’s main claim to fame is that it offers a unique way to get up close to several dozen species of animals. Plus, all of the critters have the ability to roam within their habitats, so no two safaris are ever the same!
Off the bat, it’s important to know that you likely won’t get to see every species that calls the reserve home on a single excursion. While Disney does a great job of enticing the animals to wander near the ride’s path, they’re not trained to perform or pose for your viewing. The best way to see as many creatures as possible is to take several safaris, each at a different time of day. However, that’s certainly not a necessity – between the sheer number of animals on the reserve and the skilled safari guides who point them out, it’s nearly impossible to come away without at least a few great sightings.
The story behind the safari
In its current iteration, Kilimanjaro Safaris isn’t very plot-driven; instead, the ride is presented as an opportunity to take a “two week” safari through the habitats in Harambe Wildlife Reserve, including Ituri Forest, the Safi River valley, and the Serengeti savanna. Over 30 species of African animals call the reserve home, from elephants and lions to springbok and bongos. Each safari truck is equipped with several visual guides to help you identify the animals, but the biggest help will be your expert guide. They go above and beyond to make each trip unique and interesting by sharing wildlife facts and pointing out the harder-to-spot critters along the way. For example, did you know a group of flamingos is actually called a flamboyance?
Although the current version of the attraction doesn’t have a specific plot, Kilimanjaro Safaris originally had a compelling storyline that revolved around protecting a mother elephant and her child – Big Red and Little Red – from poachers. Midway through the journey, a call would come in from the warden of Harambe Wildlife Reserve, alerting the guide to the danger. The safari truck (which had the call sign “Simba-1” back then) would give chase, eventually leading to the poachers’ capture and a happy ending.
Over time, the story of Big Red, Little Red, and the poachers was phased out in favor of a less narrative-driven, more relaxed excursion. However, you can still spot some remnants of the old storyline in and around the reserve, including a poster in the queue that advertises Big Red and Little Red as “two of Harambe’s famous wild animals.” In addition, most safari guides will share a little background knowledge about poaching and conservation at some point in the ride – usually when passing the elephant habitat.
What to know before your safari
As we mentioned earlier, the best way to see as many of the animals in Harambe Wildlife Reserve as possible is to take multiple safaris throughout the day. However, if you only have time for one, your best bet is to ride early in the morning or at sundown, since these are the times when the inhabitants are most active. We recommend the latter of the two times, as Kilimanjaro Safaris offers a special sunset experience that features strategic lighting and the opportunity to see unique nocturnal behaviors from the animals. The lions are especially active at sundown – you may even hear a few mighty roars!
If your priority is to photograph the various species, try to make sure that you get a seat on the outside of a row for an unobstructed view. Both sides of the truck are equally good for seeing animals – after all, they’re free to move about as they please. But, in general, the right side of the vehicle offers a better view of the savanna, while the left will put you closer to many of the animal habitats, including the elephants and lions. If you’re prone to motion sickness or have neck or back issues, you may want to sit towards the middle or front of the truck, as the last few rows can be quite bumpy.
Despite your tour guide’s jokes about taking a two-week safari together, each journey through Harambe Reserve generally lasts about 20 minutes. Be sure to account for this time if you have dining reservations or a FastPass+ reservation for another attraction to use afterward. And speaking of FastPasses, you can also reserve a time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris, which is a great way to enjoy this popular experience while avoiding the long line it often boasts! (Keep in mind that you can see even more African animals on the nearby Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, as well.)
Easter eggs – or should we say ostrich eggs?
If you’re an avid fan of the Disney parks, you’re probably familiar with the concept of Hidden Mickeys. If not, it’s pretty simple: Imagineers hid subtle representations of Mickey Mouse throughout the parks for guests to find. On Kilimanjaro Safaris, you can spot one when you come across the flamboyance of flamingos. Take a close look at the island in the middle of their pond, and you’ll see that it’s shaped in the silhouette of Mickey.
While we’re at it, we’ll let you in on another secret: although the vast majority of the wildlife in Harambe Wildlife Reserve is real, the baobab trees are all fake – this unique species of tree is extremely difficult to transplant, so the Imagineers opted for concrete replicas instead. The termite mounds and ostrich eggs that can be spotted around the reserve are also artificial!
Do you have a favorite animal to spot on Kilimanjaro Safaris? Are there any species that you haven’t had a chance to see yet? Let us – and thousands of other Disney die-hards – know over at our Orlando Informer Community on Facebook.
As they say in Harambe, kwaherini. (That means “go well” in Swahili!)