Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition is a fairly tame ride through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, a 100-acre savannah in the Africa area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Sure, there are some bumps when the driver intentionally speeds through the reserve, but the attraction is not designed to be a thrill ride.
As a mom who has ridden in the jeep-like vehicles with kids of varying ages, I was surprised to hear a cast member said that the attraction was being changed this week because some parents complained their children found it too scary. Apparently the ride’s theme of protecting the reserve from elephant poachers is what they found frightening.
However, Walt Disney World announced a few months ago that the attraction would undergo changes to include more live animals, especially zebras. Publicists emphasized that the safaris still would offer a strong message of conservation, but they did not explain how that would play out.
For repeat riders, the first modification they will notice happens shortly after boarding the vehicle when the prerecorded message from the game warden to Simba 1 (your ride vehicle) is not played. Farther into the savannah, the audio-animatronic elephant, Little Red, who is stuck in the back of the poachers’ jeep, is gone. And so is the abandoned poachers’ camp. In their place is bright, new sod, which extends the savannah for the zebras that are expected to move in by fall. A watering hole also is expected to be created nearby.
Perhaps the most obvious change for kids who love this ride is when the vehicle does not speed up on its “chase” to help save the baby elephant. Instead, the vehicle maintains a slow speed during the whole “two-week” trip. A friend who rode it this week said her children would most miss bouncing across the rickety bridges, rocky hills and rivers in this new version of the safaris.
The ride currently wraps up with the driver talking about Disney’s conservation efforts.
Although I am a little disappointed about the pacing of the refurbished Kilimanjaro Safaris, I do look forward to seeing more zebra and the possibility of being able to better photograph them when we’re traveling at a slower speed.
This recent change to the ride’s storyline isn’t the first. Jack Spence describes what happened to the attraction shortly before Animal Kingdom’s grand opening:
“Before the Animal Kingdom opened to the general public, cast previews were held to help the operations people work out the bugs that are inherent with the opening of any new facility. At this time, the Big Red-Little Red [mother and baby elephants] story had a much darker ending. At the end of the safari, guests came across the bloody carcass of Big Red, tusks removed, obviously downed by the nefarious poachers. Even though the dead elephant was fake, it was real enough looking to terrify little children and upset many adults.
“The Imagineers only wanted to drive home the point that killing animals is evil, but their message was too heavy-handed for a theme park and complaints were numerous at Guest Relations. With only a few weeks left before the official Grand Opening, something needed to be done. In the end, the carcass was removed and minor script changes were made leaving the fate of Big Red ambiguous.
“For the most part, guests riding Kilimanjaro Safaris are far more interested in spotting real animals than they are in fictitious stories about poachers. So in 2007 another script change was implemented. With far less chatter on the two-way radio, we now learn that a baby elephant is wandering the Reserve and we’re asked to keep a lookout. We still pursue poachers at the end of our journey, but the lost elephant is never in any real danger.”
To read more from Jack’s two-part blog on Kilimanjaro Sarafris, go to AllEars pages /blogs/jackspence/2011/01/kilimanjaro_safaris_at_animal_1.html and /blogs/jackspence/2011/01/kilimanjaro_safaris_at_animal_2.html.