Pros: Incredible, up-close view of animals.
Cons: Poaching story line seems very forced, ride is a little bumpy.
My husband and I love visiting zoos and seeing animals, so we were greatly looking forward to visiting Animal Kingdom during our Disney vacation.
I'd heard about the long lines for Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris, so my goal was to get there first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, our alarm didn't go off in time for us to make it during the early hour of park time reserved for Disney resort guests, but we still got to the park early and headed right for the safari. We were early enough that we only had to wait about five minutes, even though it was a weekend day.
On the safari, you pile into these giant jeep-like things. Each row seats four or five people, and up in the front of the jeep is a nice photo-supplemented list of all the animals you might see. Then you take off for your safari. I was very, very impressed with the safari. Disney has done a terrific job of making you feel like you're truly on a safari. Our driver/guide was fantastic: I'm sure she'd seen all the animals on the reserve many times, but she still seemed to get a lot of joy out of seeing the animals running around.
I'd read that each Kilimanjaro Safari can be vastly different, depending on what animals are out and about, and after riding it, I believe it. The day we visited, the giraffes were the star of the show. They were very active, running around like horses in a pasture. Several got close enough that the drivers were having to stop the safari vehicles. Watching a giraffe run around 10 feet away was one of the cooler things I'd ever seen.
We got to see so many animals that I don't remember all of them, but some of the other highlights for me were the hippos, elephants and lions. Some were very close, others you had to look carefully to see. There were a couple of animals, some kind of steer-like creatures, that were hiding in the vegetation, and our guide didn't even see them until we'd passed.
The thing that really got me was how much more relaxed and playful the animals seemed at the Animal Kingdom than they do at most zoos. I know we probably caught them on a good day with terrific weather, but those giraffes just seemed much more happy than the ones I've seen hanging out by the giraffe barn at our local zoos.
Even without the animals, the safari area would be a sight to behold. The vegetation is beautiful. Our guide pointed out a few specific points of interest, like this really awesome tree that looked like the roots were on top.
Of all the things I saw on my Disney trip, I'd put the Kilimanjaro Safari on top of the list. It was just a wonderful experience and one I wouldn't get to have anywhere else, short of actually visiting Africa.
The only thing I didn't like about the ride was that they kind of forced in a story line — your tour is supposedly chasing a poacher to save a baby elephant. I appreciate Disney's efforts to encourage people to help end poaching, but the story line just seemed fake and out of place. I read somewhere that they're going to change it, so hopefully that won't be in there much longer.
I would warn that the ride is a little bit bumpy. You're not going to fall out or anything, but if you've already had a long day and your bones are aching, it might be kind of rough. We were just starting the day and full of energy, so it didn't bother us at all. Other than that, it's a nice way to relax and get off your feet for about 20 minutes.
If you have kids, I don't think there's anything about Kilimanjaro Safaris that would scare or upset them, unless maybe they get scared that something's going to happen to the fake baby elephant. The animals can be very close, but you never get the feeling that they're going to come bite you or anything.
My recommendations for Kilimanjaro Safari:
1. Arrive early at the park to avoid lines (or use FastPass).
2. Try to ride it early in the day or on a cooler day — the animals will likely be more active.
3. If you want to take a lot of pictures, try to avoid being seated in the middle of a row. Or if there are four people in your group, you could seat the two most overzealous picture-takers on the outside edges and share photos once you get home.
4. Already know where you're going after the safari by the time the ride starts. At Disney, there's always a tendency to pull out your map and be thinking "Where do we go after this?", but to really enjoy this ride, try to stop and relax for a minute. If not, you might miss something really cool.