Category Rank: 7
Park: Animal Kingdom
Park Rank: 2
If you haven't noticed, we have had a string of interesting entries recently. We started with some smaller minor items at the beginning of this list, and have now entered an area of items that are a bit more difficult to judge. We continue this trend with #35.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris are journeys through the savannah regions of the Animal Kingdom, seeing real animals in their natural habitat (or the Disney-provided natural habitat). The rides are on an open sided vehicle that can seat up to 30, and is narrated by the driver (who acts as a travel guide). Unlike the Jungle Cruise, however, the scenery is the star attraction, and this is an educational event.
The journey includes looks at several animals, including your basics (lions, giraffes, elephants) as well as some rare ones (black rhinos, white rhinos, hippos), as well as many that you need the handy animal guidecard to help you distinguish (eland, okapi, kudu, addax, impala, oryx, bontebok, etc). There is also quite a bit of natural beauty to see, including a close-up of a baobab tree, that looks like it is upside down, as well as close-ups of some termite mounds.
The ride has mellowed a bit over the years as it has become more about the animals themselves than the backstory. However, there was a pretty interesting fictional backstory to this. The Harambe Preserve is a fictional African location that "happens" to be magically located right next to the Animal Kingdom park. There are many warnings about the possibility of poachers throughout the queue leading up to the ride, including some taped interviews with the head warden Wilson Mutua (a native Harambrean, if that is the correct expression for that fictional country).
Once you were on the journey, in addition to the regular narration, the driver would occasionally receive "radio" communication from Wilson, warning of poachers in the area, which would perfectly set up the guide to talk about the dangers animals face from humans. At the end of the ride, we would see a baby elephant (this one, an animatronic) having been placed in the back of a jeep. We would then "race" our safari vehicle to chase away the poachers and save the mother (their names were "Big Red" and "Little Red").
Something I learned in the research for this post, there was a grimmer backstory originally. When you would come to the conclusion of the ride, instead of a happy ending, you would see the slaughtered corpse of Big Red. Yes, I'm not joking. They tested this out with some cast review rides before opening it to the public, and a good thing too, as the cast suggested changing the ending (let that be a lesson to you that you should always test out your ideas completely before you release your multi-million dollar theme park attraction to the general public).
The Big Red-Little Red story was reduced to talk about animal preservation more in general (which was pretty confusing when you finally saw the elephant in the jeep), and then eliminated in 2012. Now, it is all about the animals. Well, not quite. You can get some really good tour guides who can answer questions and interact with kids, making the ride quite enjoyable.
We have ridden this ride first on every visit to Animal Kingdom, and occasionally again in the afternoon. Doing so right away in the morning helps with some animals that become lazy as it becomes warmer (such as the lions). There seems to be more activity. Plus, if you are there fairly close to the park opening, the lines are very short (but within an hour, they get very long).
Kilimanjaro Safaris is an interesting exhibit for this list. You could easily consider this ride a thrill, since it is a headliner and a spectacle. It also is something that isn't truly Disney-ish, as it has the feeling of Busch Gardens more than Disney (especially without the Little Red animatronics). However, the ride loses its luster after the first two times you see it... it has reached the point where you know what is going to be there. The ride has reached that point where you go on it because you always go on it; it is the nostalgia of the ride that is the attraction. Plus, this ride is truly what Animal Kingdom is known for. It is like Spaceship Earth for Epcot or Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey for Universal's Islands of Adventure. When you shake everything out, this seems like the perfect place for this attraction on our list.
We return to Magic Kingdom for #34. Like the Kilimanjaro Safaris, this highly interactive comedy show is one of the best thrills the first time you see it. However, after multiple views, you realize that while there is a bit of improvisation, the act is the same every time, and thus the viewing becomes more of a nostalgic activity than a thrilling one.