Lions on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris

Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris is Nothing Like a Theme Park Ride

No, I’ve never been on an actual African safari, but Kilimanjaro Safaris feels authentic. Disney Imagineers designed a beautifully immersive experience, not a theme park ride. How did they do it? By letting real animals freely roam on 110 acres of Florida savanna called the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. Well, not all the animals are free to roam. We don’t want a Jurassic Park moment…

Walt Disney originally wanted to include live animals in Disneyland. The idea was nixed for many reasons, and we ended up with the Jungle Cruise instead. Thankfully, Joe Rohde and the Imagineers who developed Animal Kingdom made Walt’s vision come true decades later.

Let’s talk about the greatness that is Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Did you know?
Kilimanjaro Safaris originally incorporated some thrill-ride touches. Guests were tasked with helping save a baby elephant from poachers. In additon, the enormous ride vehicle had to cross a “collapsing” bridge. I remember being thrown around as the drivers/guides slammed the gas pedal to escape certain doom. It was fun, but probably a little too intense for younger children.

Click any image for a larger view.

Kilimanjaro Safaris main entrance sign

The queue is underwhelming

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The ride queue is decent but mostly unmemorable. And part of it is exposed to the sun. The covered portion shows up quickly enough, at which point you’ll cross a bridge over a road. Here you’ll see the ride vehicles pass below.

Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris ride vehicles
Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris loading area

The sign in the image above is largely ignored. Cast Members will line people up in two zones. Zone 1 boards first. But many people in zone 2 follow those guests right onto the truck. Don’t be those people.

Cast Members drive trucks. Huge trucks.

As I said, Kilimanjaro Safaris is enormous. The footprint for this ride is larger than all of Magic Kingdom. Moving people across 110 acres requires big trucks. These vehicles are not on a track; Cast Members actually drive them, navigating bumpy roads while speaking to guests and avoiding animals that may cross their paths. They undergo extensive training for this job, and it shows. Safari CMs are some of the best in all of Disney World.

Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris ride vehicles
Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris ride vehicle
Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris ride vehicle
Harambe Wildlife Reserve sign on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris

There are some man-made features

Not everything is real. Two baobab trees and numerous termite mounds are made out of concrete. Cultivating baobab trees in Florida is probably an impossible task. These fake trees look fantastic and require minimal maintenance.

Baobab tree on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Baobab tree on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris

Each safari is a unique experience

No matter how often you experience Kilimanjaro Safaris, it will always be different. Why? Animals. They do what they want when they want. Unfortunately, that might result in a lackluster ride from time to time. But that’s rare. Cast Members have some tricks to keep animals front and center.

Many recommend you ride in the morning and evening, as animals tend to be more active during those times, especially in summer. Florida heat takes it out of everyone and every animal.

Some safari animals are free to roam

To guests, it appears as if all the animals are free to roam throughout the reserve. This is true for many of the docile creatures on the savanna. For others, it’s an illusion painstakingly created by Imagineers. Predators and dangerous animals (I’m looking at you, hippos) are prevented from venturing into other animal habitats and getting too close to the ride vehicles. But the barriers set up around these animals blend into the terrain. The camouflaging is incredibly well done and adds to the realness of the experience.

Masai Giraffes near truck on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris

Allowing animals to roam freely does pose challenges, however. It’s entirely possible your ride could be interrupted by a giraffe, rhino, or ostrich crossing the vehicle path. In those cases, your guide will wait patiently for animal wranglers to lasso the offender. I kid! No, Cast Members will arrive with a tasty bit of food to entice the animal to move.

You will see plenty of your favorite animals

Kilimanjaro Safaris features over 30 animals, including hippos, elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, rhinos, cheetahs, and lions. Your guide will provide plenty of info about these animals while rumbling through the reserve. The biggest reactions from guests are typically for the giraffes and lions. Oh, and the babies. The babies get the loudest squeals.

And now for the animals…

Bongo on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Bongo
Submerged hippopotamus on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
This is how you’ll usually see the hippos. It’s Florida. It’s hot. I wish I could join them.
Nile Crocodiles on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Nile crocodiles
Zebra on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Zebra
Zebras on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Zebras
Ankole cattle on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Ankole cattle
Ankole cattle on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Ankole cattle
Sleeping painted dogs on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Sleeping painted dogs. It was brutally hot that day.
Masai Giraffe on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Masai giraffe
Masai Giraffe on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Masai giraffe
Masai Giraffe resting on the ground on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
A Masai giraffe sleeps about 30 minutes each day, so don’t expect to see this pose very often.
Masai Giraffe on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Masai giraffe
Masai Giraffe on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Masai giraffe
Wildebeest on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Wildebeest
Black rhinoceros on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
A sleeping black rhino
African elephant on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Male African elephant. He lives a solitary life, separate from the herd.
African elephant on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
African elephant
African elephant on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Young African elephant
Flamingos on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Flamingos. Do you know why they’re pink? You’ll find out on the ride.
Sleeping white rhinos on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Exhausted white rhinos. We’ve met a couple in person. Highly recommended.
Ostrich and white rhinos on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Ostrich and white rhinos

The lions have air conditioning!

Yes. The safari lions have AC. Imagineers knew they needed to entice these cats to hang around all day, so they added hidden vents to pump cold air onto the rocks.

Lions on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
A very sleepy king of pride rock
Lions on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Lion and a yawning lioness. She looks ferocious, but she was just waking up.
Lions on Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris
Lion and lioness

I filmed a time-lapse of the safari before the goat habitat was built. It’s a decent way to preview the ride if you only have about 2 minutes to spare.

Kilimanjaro Safaris details

  • Kilimanjaro Safaris is located in Africa at the back of Animal Kingdom.
  • The ride typically lasts 20 minutes. Delays are possible if the animals have other plans.
  • It is wheelchair accessible, but guests in ECVs will have to transfer to a seat or wheelchair to ride.
  • Lightning Lanes are available.
  • There is no height requirement.
  • There is no rider swap.

Closing thoughts

The level of immersion in Kilimanjaro Safaris is second to none. It’s a must-experience attraction every time you visit the park. 1000 out of 5 stars.