Hippos, crocodiles and giraffes...oh my!
At a little before 7 a.m. on the last full day of the 2011 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration my friend Tracie and I boarded a van with six other moms and headed to the Animal Kingdom....ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime - the Wild Africa Trek!
We arrived "behind the scenes" at the Animal Kingdom and after signing the required "I promise not to sue Disney if a crocodile eats me" legal documents, we took a few group photos, had our last bathroom break for the next two hours, and then headed to the "outpost" area to get suited up for our trek.
And by "suited up" I mean this - we had to be weighed (thankfully NO one but our 'guide' saw that number!) so they could fit us for those lovely green vests you see in the photo. The vests included straps that had to be wrapped basically under your butt and between the legs and oh my gosh...what a sight it was to watch us get hooked into the vest. Another part of the vest is a harness and a huge carabiner hook. Any cameras or smart phones had to be attached to the vest with other carabiner hooks. And we had a water bottle attached to us. All in all....the vest weighed about 5 pounds. Oddly enough, you really felt like an adventurer in this getup.
After getting geared up and walking over the "practice" bridge, the guides told us to enjoy some hot chocolate or juice ... which sounded really good, except for the fact that we weren't going to have the chance for a "biological experience" (Disney speak for bathroom breaks!) for another 2 hours. Yeah, we couldn't pee for two more hours. So, yes please...more hot chocolate!
And then, we were off on the great adventure...
We walked through the Animal Kingdom headed toward the Pangani Forest and then we made it to the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, and once we entered the trail area it was really incredible. No longer were you IN Disney...oh no...you were IN the wildlife reserve, hiking through the bamboo and trees, hearing animals in the distance. I kept thinking...holy cow...I'm really doing this...gosh I hope we don't run into any big bugs...or wild animals on the lam...."
Our first stop was at the hippo river where we had the chance to clip to a lifeline and walk out to the edge of the "cliff" overlooking the hippo's river.
The research assistants who work at the reserve (yes, we were ON a reserve and there ARE research assistants who work there.....keep up with the story, people!) were feeding the hippos who just happened to be father and son. The son had not yet shown his 'dominance' and therefore he was still hanging out with dad, eating watermelon. Say cheese!
Being clipped on the lifeline and having the chance to get THISCLOSE to the hippos was incredible. And breathtaking. And I think many of us kept repeating "oh my gosh! this is AMAZING!"
After a bit more walking we came to the first rope bridge that we had to walk over to cross the hippo river and head toward the crocodile river. OK, to recap....we are walking on a rope bridge that hangs over a river that is full of animals that will kill you (because just in case you didn't know this, hippos kill people). But, this IS Disney.....so you pretty much realize you're safe! That being said....I chose to NOT be the first person over the bridge. I gave up my spot at the front of the line....just in case.
One by one we clipped on to the lifeline over the bridge and started across. I was looking down the entire time repeating "holy crap. holy crap. holy crap."....Yeah, I was a bit terrified. Not of falling but of...well, yeah...OK, I was scared of falling. Which was stupid because there's a net under the bridge and I was hooked to a lifeline with a bungee cord. I wasn't going anywhere. But the whole walking over a swaying rope bridge...well, it's quite REAL. And a bit scary. But in a good way.
I made it across the bridge ... safe and sound...
And then, there was the next rope bridge. This one hung right over the crocodile river. Real. Live. Man eating. Crocodiles. I'm talking 17-foot long crocodiles. River monsters. You get the picture, right? The best part of this bridge? As we're waiting to cross, both sides of the rope bridge are covered with vultures. Real, live vultures. As if they're just waiting for us. (I said to our guide "hey, nice touch with the vultures." .... he quickly shooed them back to the treetops.)
And so it was time again to cross another rope bridge....this was my view at one point (notice Mr. Toothy Croc below)...
After making it over this bridge, we had another chance to get up close to the crocs when we clipped onto a lifeline on land. And then we walked a bit until we reached our safari vehicle. We were able to get out of the vests (fastest 5 lbs I ever lost!) and grab a seat on the truck. At this point our adventure joins the rest of the safari vehicles on the Harambe Wildlife Reserve - viewing giraffes, elephants, cheetahs and more.
And then we came to our safari camp right there smack in the middle of the reserve. We exited the safari vehicle and everyone grabbed some (amazing!) food and juice and we had breakfast right there in the middle of the wildlife reserve. The food was delicious...yogurt parfait, fresh fruit, dried apricots with brie wedges, dried beef, pancetta, smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and fig bars. (And it was served in those adorable metal tins - which I am going to buy the next time I'm at the AK.)
After breakfast - and a much needed potty break - we finished our tour of the reserve and headed back to base camp, getting a chance to see lions, rhinos, ostrich and more on the way "home." There was so much to see on the trek that I'm sure I missed something .... which means I need to do it again!
This adventure was so incredible and I was so lucky to have the chance to experience it! I would do it again in a heartbeat and would recommend it to anyone who has a sense of adventure and is looking for something "different" and "new" while on a Walt Disney World Vacation.
Some notes about the Wild Africa Trek: You must be 8 years of age or older and weigh between 45 and 310 pounds. The trek is three hours long and is offered several times a day at Disney's Animal Kingdom. You need to be in good physical health to participate - there is quite a bit of walking and the truck ride is rather bumpy. For more information visit this site or call 407-WDW-TOUR to book your adventure!
Check out this video and blog post from my friend and 'trek partner' Tracie from Vacation Field Guides.
Disclosure: While I paid my way for this event, we were given an incredible deal by Disney. The conference fee included three nights at the Grand Floridian, 7-day park hopper tickets, the conference, most meals, several special events, and other 'goodies' to take home. All opinions expressed in these posts are mine. Disney did not ask that we blog about the event. But as a lifelong, dedicated Disney fan, I am more than happy to share my experiences with you.