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Wildlife Discovery Excursion

Recently, I joined Deb Wills and Allears.net editor Deb Koma on a special safari adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom called Wildlife Discovery Excursion. This adventure is only available to guests staying in a concierge room (Club Level) at any Disney World resort. I was excited to be part of this very limited adventure.

Our excursion was scheduled to begin at 1pm and we were instructed to meet in front of the Mombasa Marketplace shop in Africa at 12:45. We were met by one of the animal trainers (Susan on the left), and our driver (Suzanne on the right). Susan has twenty years experience working with animals at various zoos and has been caring for many of the creatures here at the Animal Kingdom for the past five. Suzanne normally takes guests on the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction, but occasionally is assigned to host groups on this special tour.


Susan and Suzanne


These tours can accommodate between 14 and 16 guests, but today only one other person was joining our adventure. After introductions were made, we headed backstage and boarded a minibus. With the exception of our vehicle, we were asked not to take any pictures in the backstage area, but once we reached the safari, we were free to snap away to our heart's content. We were also told that we could get up and move around in the minibus, even while the vehicle was in motion.


Safari Vehicle Exterior

Safari Vehicle Interior


As we pulled away, Susan told us that this was a very informal tour. She had plenty of information to share with us, but she preferred tours where the guests ask lots of questions. She also said the tour would last around an hour, but could be longer depending on the animals we encounter and how many questions we asked.

Our vehicle skirted the west side of Kilimanjaro Safaris for a few minutes and Susan pointed out a fence that encircles the entire attraction. This fence is used to keep the native Floridian animals from venturing into this area. After driving along several backstage roads, our minibus eventually turned onto a spur road of the Kilimanjaro Safaris and eventually joined the main thoroughfare and we were now traveling along with the other vehicles on this attraction.


On the Main Road


I have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris over one hundred times. I could probably give the tour myself I'm so familiar with the spiel presented during this twenty minute ride. But today I learned so much more. You see on this tour, you're not given the same information as you receive on the safari. Here, your guide fills your head with all sorts of interesting and new facts. The first thing I learned was that Disney participates in a national breeding program. A governing board keeps track of all the different species around the country and determines an optimal number. Then zoos are requested to encourage or discourage breeding appropriately.

I have noticed that as you enter the hippopotamus enclosure, the first watering hole on the right is always sparsely populated while the second pool on the left seems to have an abundance of these creatures. Well, there's a reason for this. It's been determined that currently there are enough hippos in U.S. zoos so Disney is keeping the males and females separated in accordance with this national directive. The two males live in this first enclosure and the many more females live in the second.


Hippo


Next we drove over the crocodile paddock. We didn't discuss these creatures in any detail but they always look a little scary to me.


Crocodile


From the crocks we drove over a hill and into the savannah. After a short distance, Suzanne pulled our minibus off onto a side road and we parked for several minutes. However, there were no animals in this immediate area so we talked of other things.

If you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris more than once, you've probably noticed that you saw different animals on different excursions. Or that certain areas might seem void of animals while other spots have an abundance of creatures. That's because Disney does not force the animals to exhibit themselves. They are completely free to roam at will (within the safety of their particular enclosure). However, Disney does employ tricks to entice the animals within view of the tour. In some places, special treats are placed inconspicuously to encourage nibbling close to the road. And for the lions, the rocks are cooled and heated to persuade them to lie within our view.

While parked in the savannah, Susan mentioned the wire netting encircling the trees. She explained that many of the animals gnaw on the bark and the trees would be stripped clean and die in no time if they didn't take this precaution. She also told us that every morning, the horticulturists inspect the entire safari and replant and replenish much of the vegetation.


Tree with Wire Netting


As we continued our tour, we came across a giraffe lying down in the grass. Susan said that this is unusual as they usually spend their days walking and eating. She also brought out a box of giraffe droppings and explained to us that the vets use droppings to gain an abundance of information about the various animals " including if they might be pregnant.


Giraffe

Giraffe Droppings


Since it wasn't a busy day at the Animal Kingdom, the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction was not running at full capacity. This allowed our minibus to travel slower than usual and even come to a complete stop if we were trying to photograph a particular animal. However, as soon as another safari vehicle caught up with us, we had to move along.

Next we came to the elephants. While passing these mighty beasts, Susan showed us a sample of the hair that grows from their tails. We were allowed to touch it and we agreed it was extraordinarily thick and almost felt like wire.


Elephant

Elephant

Elephant Hair


For those of you who have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris before, you know that the mandrill is often elusive. But today we were lucky and were able to capture some great pictures. Of course, it helped that Suzanne slowed down our vehicle considerably to afford us some good shots.


Mandrill


As our tour continued, we pulled off the road several more times for additional pictures and informative conversations. Here we're parked near an ostrich nest. At this stop we learned that all of the ostriches at the Animal Kingdom are female and you can tell males and females apart by their color. Females are gray and males are black. However, one of the females here recently molted and when her feathers grew back, they were black. At the moment, they don't have an explanation for this odd behavior.


Ostrich

Ostrich

Ostrich


We were also told that an ostrich can weigh between 140 to 290 pounds. Because of this, the eggs are extremely thick in order to withstand the weight of the mother sitting on them. Susan said she often will have children in the group stand on one of the eggs to demonstrate their strength. The shiny texture you see in this next picture is natural. This egg was not coated with varnish.


Ostrich Egg


We were also told that the ostriches here are continually laying eggs, but since they are not fertile, the animal keepers gather most of them up. The yolks and whites are then blown out and the eggs are used by artisans to be either painted or carved.

Since much of this tour could be a little dry for children, Disney makes sure they are not forgotten. Each child on the tour is provided with a drawing board and crayons and is encourage to circle the animals they spot and draw others in the white space. On the back, more coloring options are provided with a conservation message.


Children's Drawing Board

Coloring Page

As we passed the flamingo enclosure, we're told that their island is a large hidden Mickey.


Flamingos and Hidden Mickey

Flamingo


We pulled off the road again and drove up to a ridge that separates the west savannah from the east. Here we had a wonderful view of the safari not available to regular guests.


Savannah

Savannah


While we were up on this ridge, a curious giraffe ambled over to our minibus and checked us out. It's practically impossible to get pictures like this on the regular safari ride.


Giraffe

Giraffe

Giraffe


From this vantage point, I could also see some of the hidden “treat” locations and this salt and mineral lick spot.


Salt and Mineral Lick


Susan explained to us that the animals are encouraged to return to their backstage barns in the evening and each species has a distinct call it has been trained to respond to. At night, the animals are given a health inspection and routine medical procedures are performed.

When discussing the oryx, Susan showed us one of their horns. She pointed out how it had split near the base. If this horn belonged to a living creature, the vets would fill it with an epoxy resin to ensure that dirt and humidity didn't cause this inner tissue to become infected.


Oryx

Oryx


Although no rhinos were out while we were touring, Susan showed us a rhino horn and explained how these creatures are being slaughtered for this simple body part.


Rhino Horn


We pulled off the road again across from the cheetahs. This is another animal that is often difficult to see and photograph while on the regular Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Susan explained to us that male cheetahs live in groups while females live alone with their litter.


Cheetahs


Lions sleep up to twenty hours a day and do most of their hunting during the night. Because of this, it is often difficult to get a good picture of these majestic cats while on the regular tour. But we were somewhat fortunate and our driver Suzanne was able to stop our minibus for a minute and I was able to snap these pictures.


Lioness

Lion


After passing by the poachers camp, we left the regular trail and headed backstage. We spent a few more minutes with our guide and trainer and posed for this picture. We were also given FastPasses that were good immediately for Kilimanjaro Safaris enabling us to experience everything again, albeit at a faster pace.


Group Picture


I took over three hundred pictures while I was on this tour and I did not post all of the species I photographed. My aim today was to give you an idea of what to expect on the Wildlife Discovery Excursion, not to chronicle every animal we encountered. I also only shared a very small portion of the information I was presented with. And if I can remember 25% of this, I'll be doing good.

Is this tour for everyone? No, it's not. First, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you must be staying in a concierge room at one of the Disney resorts to even be eligible for this experience. And if you've ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris and have come away satisfied with the information presented, then I wouldn't spend the extra money for this more in-depth tour.

But if you've come away from Kilimanjaro Safaris wanting more, then by all means, sign up for Wildlife Discovery Excursion if you're eligible " especially if your hobby is photography. The driver and guide do their very best to offer guests numerous opportunities to get the best possible shots and you will learn so much more than the average Animal Kingdom guest.

The tour is offered twice daily at 10am and 1pm. The cost is $50 for both children and adults and you sign up at your resort's Concierge Desk.

And because I know someone will ask, I used a Nikon D80 camera with a 18-200mm Nikkor lens. Once back home, I used Paint Shop Pro to crop and enhance a number of my photos on the computer.

Visit the AllEars® Rate and Review Area to see what others have said about the tour and add your own reports! http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=350&cat=80


The previous post in this blog was Simple Pleasures at the Magic Kingdom.

The next post in this blog is Signs at Walt Disney World - A Detailed Quiz.

Comments (18)

Kristen:

I went on this tour back in December and I loved it so much that I am going on it again in May and taking my mom along. If you are eligible I completely recommend going on this tour!

Neil Norlund:

Jack,

My wife and I took my mom (83 years old) on the Wildlife Discovery Excursion last September. She loved it and so did we! Of course, as you noted, we saw some different animals than you did. (For example, we did see some Rhinos.) That makes each visit unique, and makes repeats worthwhile. We don't normally stay at the deluxe resorts, much less on the Concierge level. However, for a special trip for a special person or persons, we recommend all of the above.

Thanks for another great blog article.

Neil

Andree Godin:

Wow! another great article. I really loved all the info that we wouldn't normally get from the regular ride, like the seperated hippos and the lions, etc. Looking forward to sharing this info with my hubby in Dec., cause for sure we'll be doing the kilimajaro safari like we did in last april. Would like to do this special tour but since my husband is learning english now I think it'll be best to just do the regular ride with me telling him about your details. Thx so much once again for information that makes visiting Disney more wonderful.

David Santo:

Dear Jack Attack,

Shiny ostrich eggs?

A bonus FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris?

And giraffe droppings?

Dude, you are living the dream.


Dave

Darrell Shortt:

Hi Jack,
Great job as always. I have ridden Kilimanjaro Safaris many, many times myself and absolutely love it! I do, however, have two questions that I can never remember to ask while I'm there. Why can't they clear some of the obstructing foilage that usually hides the elephants? Why don't they have zebras on the safari? If you have any ideas, please share. Keep up the good work.

Jack's Answer:

1. I'm not exactly sure what foliage you're talking about so I can't be 100% my answer is correct, however... You must remember, each animal has its own designated area to keep it safe from other animals. Each "enclosure" is surrounded by a mote and/or electrical fences. Plants are used to hide these from the guest. Another possibility it this... Elephants are highly intelligent animals. It's possible that they were given areas where they could "hide" from the tours for their own sanity. This is just a guess on my part.

2. Zebras may not have been in sight because of recent births on the savanna. They are very aggressive to babies. (Thanks Amy for this answer.)

Josh:

hey jack
great blog on the safari tour. I love this attraction at animal kingdom but you got to see it in a way i would only dream of. it was amazing how much more information was available. can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Eric Streebel:

Jack,

I dig the theming of the mini bus (the paint job to look trail-worn and muddy, the luggage on top) it fits right in with the other safari vehicles. My only question is did your mini bus run on propane as the main trucks do in Disney's effort to limit pollution near the animals?

Eric

Jack's Answer (Thanks to Amy):

The Excursion "Bus" (we called it a van when I worked there) does not run on propane. It's regular gas so that it can be driven on normal roads and highways.

Elizabeth:

Hi Jack,

What a treat! Few bloggers can match writing talent with such impressive photography skills. Thank you so much for sharing this cool tour with us! I didn't even know about it, but now it's on my to-do list!

Elizabeth

Deanna:

Oh Jack, this looks like such fun! Kilimanjaro Safaris is such an amazing experience; I ride it at least twice every trip. I love all the little things you learn on each safari and how each driver makes it different. I would love to do this excursion if I ever stay at concierge level! Just another thing to make concierge worth it :)

I had heard of the Wildlife Discovery Experience, but I didn't know what it was. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Sharon:

Hi Jack. I was the other guest/photographer on the tour with all of you. Just wanted to say you did a very nice job documenting and communicating all the information that was provided on this tour. Great photos!

Sharon

MeMe:

Why is the tour offered only to those who can afford the concierge level? I have stayed at animal kingdom lodge but could never afford that level, but would love to go on this tour. my dream vacation is a african safari,but because I can't afford to stay at that level I can't get the chance to ever go on this or the surise safari. It some how dosen't seem fair.

Jack's Answer: I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't. I suggest you contact Disney for more information. A number you can start with is their general information number: 407-824-4321 ext. 0 for a live operator.

John Brodi:

I am a DVC member and am not familiar with the 'Club Member Level' mentioned in the article. Is it available to DVC members? If not, how would a DVC member be eligible for the special safari tour? My family will be visiting in June and I would be interested to find out if we could do this tour.

Jack's Answer:

It's is my understanding that this perk is only available to guests staying in the concierge rooms. My suggestion to you is contact your DVC representative. I'm sure they'll be able to answer your question. Who knows, maybe it's also available to those booking a Grand Villa.

Catherine Barbree:

I LOVE ALL WILDLIFE I ALSO LOVE GIRAFFES THEY HAPPEN TO BE MY #1 FAVORITE ANIMAL.

Debbie:

We will be experiencing this tour in April and after reading your blog I am even more excited for the tour! We have experienced the Safari many times in the past and now can not wait for the Wildlife Discovery tour!

Thanks again for the great blog and photos....

Jennifer Keller:

Thanks to this article, I have adjusted our stay so that we have a day in concierge just to be able to go on the Wildlife Discovery Excursion. My kids are super excited. Would love to see the rest of your 300+ pictures!! I took 1450 on my last trip to Disney! Thanks again.

Nathaniel Powe:

Hey Jack,

My favorite blog journalist has struck again. Thanks for the WDE info. I didn't even know that it existed. I'll have to take my dad on this excursion the next time I visit WDW. thanks again for your photos and journalism. Your work is greatly appreciated.

"THE Disney Fanatic"

Amy:

The Excursion "Bus" (we called it a van when I worked there) does not run on propane. It's regular gas so that it can be driven on normal roads and highways.
Zebras may not have been in sight because of recent births on the savanna. They are very aggressive to babies.

Jennifer Brown:

what is the difference between this and the one offered only to animal kingdom conceirge level? we did that one last fall and i loved it but i was wondering the differences?

thanks!

Jack's Answer:

The "Wildlife Discovery Excursion" IS the tour offered to guests staying on the concierge level. However, it was just recently announced that the tour has been discontinued.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 15, 2010 5:00 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Simple Pleasures at the Magic Kingdom.

The next post in this blog is Signs at Walt Disney World - A Detailed Quiz.

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