An African safari will transform you, if you let it. And after I had driven alongside a lion family, after having been surrounded by water buffalo, after having scooted away from an angry mama elephant, I was curious about an ad I saw for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
It promised an African safari experience. And it looked pretty authentic, too. I took Disney up on the promise and my wife and I headed for Orlando, no vaccination shots needed, no passports. The result: A pretty good representation of a real African safari, and not a corny moment.
The Lodge actually goes beyond what you’d expect. It starts, in a way, the moment you set foot on the grounds. Years ago, when the idea of an African experience was conceived, the Disney people sent architects and craftspeople to Africa. They came back with some extraordinary ideas as well as hard objects. For example, some of the streets are actual replicas of the kind of pavement you’ll see in African cities. And the statues and ornaments are authentic.
The lobby evokes images of an African lodge: the multi-colored woods of varying designs; the chairs and benches covered in geometric figures. The lights are covered with intricately designed shades. The motif is carried over to the bedrooms. Yes, there is a tub. There is a television. There is air-conditioning. But with wood abounding, and those interesting designs on the blankets and chair coverswell, it felt exactly right.
From our balcony I looked downand, yes, that was a giraffe loping below me. And a zebra grazing. Not a Disney animation, but the real thing. For the Lodge actually sits on land adjacent to a savanna-like setting where animals roam.
But what of the Disney safaris? I haven’t been on the one they offer at night, but the daytime excursion felt right.
We got into an open vehicle for our trek. I recall the African experience including bumps–plenty of them. And I wasn’t disappointed at Disney. I don’t know if these are real bumps, or something on a track, but if felt as if we were going over the kind of roads you have on a safari.
And then you begin to spot the animals–to the left of you, to the right. They are so close, you might wonder how dangerous this might be. Not to worry: You are separated from them by a hidden chasm. They can’t get to you (and you can’t walk out and get to them).
Along the way I spotted dozens of denizens–a lion basking in the shade (that’s what they do most of the day). And, yes, that’s a hippo. We also caught sight of an ostrich.
The Real Thing
The room, the lobby, the ride, the people, the animals–this was evocative of our actual African experience. And don’t forget the food. The actual safaris I was on had a variety of breads, along with somewhat spicy mediterranean and local dishes (I didn’t find eland on the Disney menu).
All in all, it was great fun as well as educational. Now, that’s a terrific combination.