Changes on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom take place this week



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.

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42 Replies to “Changes on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom take place this week”

  1. We just rode this after having been years ago, and it was B O R I N G… we kept waiting for the poachers part, which never came. Just another example of the wussification of America to appease a few whining brittle snowflakes. Very disappointed, Disney!

  2. My family was very unhappy when we rode the safari and the adventure of rescuing the baby elephant from the poachers had been removed from the ride. That story made the attraction exciting. There are several stops on the ride where we have to wait for the bus in front of ours to move on. Rescuing the baby elephant provided entertainment during those waits. Now, the riders will be staring at their phones. Most Disney goers have an opportunity to go to the Zoo in their home town, but Disney was the only place where they could go on an adventure where heros save a baby elephant from poachers. This was a very bad choice.

  3. I used to love this ride. The story (in Disney fashion) made it very entertaining. I was looking forward to sharing that experience with my son last week for his 1st visit to the park. Although he loves animals, he was obviously bored to death by the experience, and so was I. You get more story and entertainment riding the train around the park at the Magic Kingdom. We visit our local zoo often, and stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge for the chance to be close to wildlife, so it’s not a lack of appreciation for the animals. But the new version lacks any imagination whatsoever, and was the low point of our trip.

  4. It is sad that we have to change things cause people wine so much and get their way. I liked how Disney had mixed the Safari into a fun way. The jokes of the 2 week tour and poachers out there as a way of awareness. It doesn’t look and have the same feel without the chase and other things going on. Sometimes the animals will hide and you won’t have anything but the story line to go with to make it exciting. It was always meant to be something more. And really, out in the wild, you will have the bumpy and fast parts so it made it that much more real. You are never going to make everyone happy as there will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like something. If we changed and stopped everything that someone complained about we would not have anything in the world what so ever.

  5. I welcome the change. I always enjoyed the safari part. The “chase” part was hokey and inauthentic. After watching real animals up close, park guests were subjected to the land version of the Jungle Cruise….it just didn’t make sense.

  6. The great thing about the ride is seeing all those amazing animals and being so close to them. The storyline always felt tacked on and superfluous. And it always struck me as ill considered to end this great ride with… a fake animal. Glad to hear of this change.

  7. It’s really too bad that Disney took the story aspect out of the safari. My daughter has rode this ride every year since she was six (now 13). When she was younger she was so proud of herself that she “helped” save Little Red. The bounces and bumps and the “high speed” chase were part of that wonderful Disney story-telling magic. The new slower speed and phot-ops will be welcome in certain areas but Disney really should have found a better balance.

  8. We visited for the first time during spring break. We felt rushed through the Safari. At times we didn’t stop long enough to get pictures of the animals, which was disappointing. In my opinion, it would be an improvement to be able to stop in key areas, and enjoy the wildlife which is what a safari is all about. I would be happy to see the storyline dropped altogether. More animals would be a big improvement as well, thanks to Disney for recognizing that!

  9. I was bummed about this change when I rode a couple of weeks ago…although I was so into searching for animals during the ride, that I didn’t realize things were missing until a few minutes after the ride…the first thing I missed? “Simba One, come in Simba One!” This was one of those quirky Disney things that I loved and I’m sorry it’s gone. 🙁

  10. I’m glad they’re changing it, even if I don’t agree with taking those parts out. It’s a must do attraction and I think they should change up simple things like the conversation over the radio. The best time I’ve ever had on the safari was last month, we were the last bus of the day and he took the time to linger longer. He even pointed out some lesser known facts about the ride. It was nice to have a slightly different experience.

  11. One of the reasons I love the Animal Kingdom are the conservation lessons taught there. I always thought the jerky Safari detracted from the wonder of seeing the animals in a habitat similar to their natural one. For those not lucky enough to be staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, this is a rare treat. My kids don’t like being slammed around just as they have sighted a giraffe or elephant. There are enough thrills throughout the Disney parks, children and adults need to appreciate the wonders presented so well by WDW. I think Uncle Walt would agree with the new version of Safari.

  12. I have to admit, I’m happy about this change. From the very beginning, I sort of hated that this amazing chance to see animals in their natural habitat had been “Disneyfied” by turning it into a ride. I also found it a little weird to have an animatronic elephant as part of the attraction. I think there are probably great ways to get the whole “poaching is bad” message across without turning the safari into “just another ride.” Which sounds weird when I say it, since clearly, this IS basically a ride… but I’ve never really thought of it as such. It reminded me much more of the monorails they used to have at Busch Gardens when I was a kid.

  13. Not sad at all to see the storyline go. It was ridiculously corny and i can only see the little animatronic elephant posing as a real element so many times. I’m glad they’re choosing to focus more on the animals and less on a hokey storyline.

  14. I love this ride as do my three kids! I will enjoy more animals, but come on “scary?” If kids were scared by this maybe they better stay on Dumbo at M.K. How about explaining to your kids the message behind it and that the “action” it is not “real.” Wimpy kids and their parents who allow it drive me nutty! Don’t ruin the ride for the non-wimpy adults and kids!

  15. The story line never bothered me but I did get to be opening family twice and took the safari with a guide that told a lot more about the animals and the habitat. That was cool.

    Having been on a real safari in Africa, Disney almost has it nailed with the bumpy roads and such and in real Africa there are lots of safari trucks out all at the same time so I don’t see a problem with seeing the other vehicles. Would love to see new habitats and such.

  16. Personally, I will not miss the corny commentary on this ride nor the fake looking “campsites” and so on. More animals…..great. We enjoy seeing the animals in the environment created for them, and love being able to spot them and have them identified. Drivers are generally well informed and educated about the animals and that adds a lot to the attraction. When with our grandchildren, we noted that they were far more interested in the animals than in poachers, rickety bridges, and following a story line.

  17. Sorry to hear of these changes, but they’ve been tweaking the poaching storyline over the years. When we first rode it, the poachers were captured and you saw a game warden holding them at gunpoint. They dropped the guns and warden a couple years later. Also, I remember the first time we rode, the driver made a big deal of the poaching angle, making sure you heard what was being said in the radio transmissions, which is sometimes tough depending on the background noise and where you sit in the vehicle. When we rode last summer, the driver seemed to ignore the plotline as much as possible.

  18. I honestly won’t miss the story, it got boring years ago. I love just seeing the animals. As far as bouncy, the last time I was on in January we hit a bump so hard I rose a foot in the air and crashed down on my tail bone, pretty painful. With that said, I’m not buying the scary part, don’t ride it if your child is scared.

  19. I am disappointed by this change. I understand how the story could possibly be upsetting to kids, but really, taking out the bumpy bridge and the little chase? It was a bit of fun.

    I have a son who has autism. He loves this safari. But you know what? Wishes and Illuminations send him into hysterics, so my husband and I take turns going to Illuminations and Wishes while the other does something else with our son. Disney does a great job of accomodating guests with special needs, but sometimes people have to come up with their own solutions to problems that don’t encroach on others’ enjoyment.

  20. The poacher story didn’t bother my 7 year old in the least, the bridge collapse simulation did however. She thought that was real and she was in tears over it. That really surprised me given that she rode the Tower of Terror without any problem!! Still, I’d vote for leaving in the faster, bumpier ride and just leaving out the poacher storyline.

  21. I’m THRILLED that Disney is taking this direction with Kilimanjaro Safaris. Yes, the message of conservation is important. But there are plenty of other ways that Animal Kingdom works this into the park. I’m sure people will love the added animals to the attraction. Besides, don’t the same old storyline and animatronic baby elephant get a bit tired after experiencing this attraction a few times?

  22. I can’t believe this. My kids were ages 6 & 7 when they rode Kilimanjaro Safaris. It wasn’t scary, it was thrilling. Next thing you know, uptight parents will force Disney World to remove the dinosaurs from the Dinosaur ride, and make them turn the lights on. I’m surprised DW didn’t just add a disclaimer to the description that the theme may be too intense for young passengers, just like they do for dark & noisy rides.

  23. Wow I’ve been on that ride with a 7 yr old, a 3 yr old, a 5 yr old & a 2 yr old and none of them were anything but excited & thrilled by it. Now if they still had the bloody elephant carcass I could see why that would bother little kids (it would bother me too!)

  24. I say good riddance to the poachers camp! I’m so looking forward to the expanded savanna with the opportunity to see more animals up close at the watering hole.
    I’ve never really enjoyed my “safaris” in the past because the vehicle always sped thru too fast to really take in the view. I always have the urge to say to the guide “Hey…what’s the rush?”

  25. I hate it that they are taming this ride. My children-17, 8, 5(autistic), and 6 mos at the time of their last ride in Dec ’11 loved everything about it. We rode it 3 times thanks to our GAC; our 5 yr old couldn’t get enough and the baby just laughed as we bounced along.

  26. I, personally didn’t have an issue with the ride, but I was not a fan of the video that played in line that opened with the ‘crack of a rifle shot’… While I think the general theme of the ride went over many kids’ heads, I did see several children startled/scared/upset but the video they played in line.

    And, truth be told, with my own inquisitive daughter now, I am not sad to avoid the conversation about what poaching is until she gets older.

  27. I am disappointed that they are catering to what probably amounts to a minority. Reality is sometimes scarier than we like, but then again it’s reality. I just read this article to my kids and they were disappointed as well and responded with: “we liked that part!” Hope they don’t decided to soft on Pirates of the Caribbean.

  28. I was just there last week. On Sunday the script with poachers was used and then again on Wednesday the script was changed and the items described above were removed. The driver’s speech was not as free flowing, probably because it was so new but it left a very dull long break at the end of the attraction.

  29. We’ve always thought the whole poacher thing was hokey and distracting. We’d love to hear more about the park and animals. Let the drivers be safari guides and we’ll love it!

  30. They have certainly tamed down the message aspect of this attraction. I was an annual passholder when they opened Animal Kingdom, and if memory serves me correctly, there was a “soft” opening for annual passholders. I rode the attraction when the carcass of Big Red was part of it and I was a bit surprised that it was included. Anyway, in all the many many times I have ridden this ride, I have never once seen an upset child.

  31. I love this attraction, but I sure will miss the bumpiness & jumpiness. It made the ride more fun. As far as the fictional poacher story…I don’t think many people listened to it anyway. They’re too busy taking in the sights and sounds of the animals.

  32. Give me a break!!! This is ridiculous and the big/little red story was great. There was nothing scary about this ride and the fast chase was great. Telling the story of conservation this way is better than hearing Disney’s philosophy (boring!!!). What a shame!

  33. While I will miss the story, I understand completely why people wanted it taken away. My family has enjoyed Disney World many times. Our past trip in 2011 included 4 children, one of which has now been diagnosed with a couple disorders. It was hard to get him to ride much of anything. He was terrified on the safari, even as much as he loves animals. He literally feared for his life. I just hope in the future I can get him to ride it again and show him how peaceful it will be now. I for one thank you for the changes and my son will as well.

  34. I am one of the people who will be VERY glad to see the changes. The first time my grandson Sebastian went on the ride (at age 4) he was in tears when he saw the poacher’s camp with the tusks on the ground and continued to be distressed about it for a long time afterwards. While he loves animals, he refused to go on the ride again. Now he’ll be able to! I am looking forward to seeing the new zebra habitat that will replace it.

    Like my grandson, some young kids are very sensitive. They see the live animals on the safari and have trouble understanding that parts of the ride are real (the animals) and part fake (the poacher storyline).

  35. We’ve ridden that ride 25+ times and my children now well into their teens always played along with the storyline and cheered when Little Red was found as if it was the first time they heard the story.

    I understand the need for change and I’m sure the ride will still be fine, but we’ll miss getting rid of the poachers and celebrating Little Red.

  36. This is disappointing to me as I don’t think kids paid much attention to the message in the first place and now they will probably take nothing home at all. I’m not sure what is so scary about the current story – my 6 year old niece rode the attraction and wasn’t frightened in the slightest. Maybe if the parents explained to their kid what was happening in lighter terms or assured them at the end that Little Red was alright (isn’t seeing it in the truck enough?) we wouldn’t have so many kids allegedly freaking out. I’m curious to see what “strong message of conservation” they will be able to express now.

  37. When my family last rode the safari ride (May of 2011, 1 year ago) we noticed the guide driving the truck took more of a humorous approach. He told a lot of corny jokes just like the Jungle Cruise. My husband enjoys the jungle cruise so we were pleasantly surprised. We were hoping this new light-hearted approach was going to be used for now on.

  38. My daughter (age 6) also loves the bouncing and the speeding across the bridge. At the end she always says, “Look mom, they found him!” I’m sure she will ask about it on our next venture!

    Ugh……..why do people have to make such a big stink about something so simple? And, why does Disney feel the need to change because of 1 person?!?! What about all the other people that enjoy that part of it. Really, 1 person?!?!?!

  39. As a animal viewing ride the changes make sense, I guess. I enjoyed the storyline, as it made it more of a Disney Attraction, and therefore, I am sorry to see it being weaned out. They have added so many vehicles out there at the same time that it no longer seems like a safari anyway. This attraction, along with Hollywood Studios Toy Story Mania, appears to be over design capacity, something “suits” and Imagineers should take into consideration as they move forward with new attractions.

  40. Too bad Disney is going soft on this one. The story line will be missed and isn’t Disney all about the story. Not to mention it makes everyone realize the reality of what is actually happening in the world.

    So long Little Red.

  41. Love Kilimanjaro Safari! Rather enjoyed the bumps & such, don’t think we’ll really miss the poacher thing.

    True story….last year, on my mother’s first trip back to WDW since Epcot opened she very much enjoyed Kilimanjaro Safari. We only found out after we got home that she didn’t realize they were REAL animals!!!!!!! We had a big rhino in the road that we had to wait for and passed by it very closely and it still didn’t occur to her that this was a real animal. She just wondered how in the world they managed to get the animatronics so lifelike!

  42. Why take out the bumps and jumps….
    My children (ages 3 and 2 last year when we were there) loved that portion. They thought it was fun.
    Sometimes taking away too much… too much.