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How Does Disney’s Ride Compare to a REAL Kilimanjaro Safari?

Jambo from Africa!

It’s one of the most unique attractions in theme parks across the world. There’s nothing that comes close to the wild Walt Disney World ride at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios – in fact, the entire Magic Kingdom Park could fit inside Kilimanjaro Safaris!

Home to a vast array of wildlife, a huge savannah, and a bumpy ride in one of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve vehicles, the attraction is renowned for giving Guests a different experience every time they venture into the African reserve. With over 30 species of animals found in over 110 acres of open plains, there is plenty for Guests to spot on their next Disney safari.

Inspired by our love for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, we trekked to Tanzania and went on a big African adventure, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and going on a real-life Kilimanjaro Safari. So, how does Disney’s version of an African safari compare to a real Kilimanjaro safari?

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Credit: Disney

Well, we’ll start by saying that honestly, Disney Imagineers got it pretty spot on. Disney somehow has managed to capture in its Walt Disney World ride the essence of surprise, enchantment, and wonder that comes with encountering an animal on safari.

Remember that moment as you turn past the baobab tree into the savannah and you suddenly catch your first glimpse of a giraffe? You might gasp, squeal, or quickly point it out to your fellow Guests. On a real safari, it really is just like turning a corner and coming across an elephant, a cheetah, or a giraffe. All of a sudden, you’re face to face with a majestic animal.

The difference, of course, is that in the wild, it truly is a surprise to see that animal. In Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Cast Members driving the safari vehicle know which animals to expect in each contained area, whereas, in the Serengeti, your guide has no idea where the next animal could be.

As animals are unpredictable, Disney World uses devices such as air-conditioned rocks, cool breezes, salt licks, cooling or warming waters, and food to attract the animals towards the vehicle routes. This, of course, does not happen in Africa.

We happened upon a couple of male lions just sitting by the track, some elephants casually enjoying a mudbath, and a cheetah with its latest catch. None of these were expected, and without the time constraints and routine of the Disney ride, we could sit for over 30 minutes just watching one animal.

kilimanjaro real safari tanzania

Credit: Disney Tips

We booked our 8-day Kilimanjaro climb and 4-day safari expedition through the Kilimanjaro Climbing Company. After the life-changing trek to the top of Africa’s tallest mountain, we were rewarded with four days of animal encounters and beautiful scenery. We explored the Tarangire, Serengeti, and Lake Manyara National Parks, as well as the Ngorongoro Crater.

The Tarangire National Park really reminded us of Harambe and the vast savannah that Disney has constructed. In July 1990, Imagineer Joe Rhode and other Imagineers visited Kenya and Tanzania to research for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and study the wildlife.

And you can really tell. If you took photos of Tarangire and Disney’s Kilimanjaro Safaris, you’d only be able to tell the difference by the established tracks of the Disney ride.

kilimanjaro safaris disney world tanzania

Credit: Disney/ Disney Tips

In the real-life Serengeti National Park, of course, there are no wait times, no Lightning Lanes, and a very different “Kilimanjaro Safari” experience. 

It was actually difficult to remember that we weren’t on a Disney ride and that everything we saw was real. We had to remind ourselves that the dirt track wasn’t a well-constructed Imagineering design, the safari vehicle could just stop and go off-road whenever it wanted, and the animals weren’t in carefully thought-out zoo areas.

We had our own personal Land Cruiser and Tanzanian Guide, who was an expert in animal knowledge and led us to magnificent encounters with elephants, zebras, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, and so much more. There were only two of us in the vehicle as opposed to the 32 Guests Disney can squeeze into the vehicles for theme park efficiency, but the bumpy nature of the safari was definitely accurate!

At one point, we even got stuck in the mud in the middle of the Serengeti National Park!

elephant safari

Credit: Disney Tips

A big difference we noticed was the slightly incorrect Swahili used in the attraction. Walt Disney World Guests have been told for years on Kilimanjaro Safaris that “Kwaherini” means “Go well,” but it may surprise you to learn that Disney misled you. The word means simply “Goodbye.”

We were actually puzzled when we heard our guides (and the National Park signs) say “Kwaheri,” and kept thinking Walt Disney World was really wrong. “Kwaherini” is just the plural version of “Goodbye.”

So they do in fact say goodbye when you get off Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

kwaheri swahili tanzania africa safari

Credit: Disney Tips

If you’re a huge fan of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and just love the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride, then you must consider a real-life African safari. Disney did an incredible job in recreating the Tanzanian savannah, but to get those true magical and unexpected moments with animals, you have to be in the real Africa.

There’s a big difference between seeing an elephant in the same area each time you go on Disney’s safari versus encountering a herd of 15 elephants having a mudbath and being the only safari vehicle sat watching them for 20 minutes!

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who has worked at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Adventures by Disney! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her husband, an Air Force pilot. Find her children's book at @bear.hug.book