Just outside the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an unassuming stand. Most of the time, you will see a low desk with an awning overhead. No crowds. No Cast Members. Just a sign overhead that reads Curiosity Animal Tours.
Once in a while, you will see a small group of excited park goers clustered around that desk. A few Cast Members stand nearby, chatting, explaining, and otherwise entertaining those who wait. Those lucky guests are about to go on a little adventure.
You might say, they are about to savor the savanna.
See, the tour is called that. So….
Animal Kingdom’s Savor the Savanna tours have been around since 2016 and they just recently returned as an extra ticketed offering at the park. The tour gives guests from age 8 and up a chance for a closer look inside the legendary safari attraction. This is one of those extra special experiences that will stick with you long after your trip is over!
Start your tour!
When your reserved time approaches, your private guide to the safari will accompany your group of ten-ish guests to a side entrance. Your smaller safari truck has only a bench on each side rather than several rows designed to accommodate a large number of guests. Meet your driver on the way in. They have the enviable task of going off the “rails” of the normal safari trucks. You are about to see the safari in a whole new way!
Wave to the guests who waited in line for the standard Kilimanjaro Safari as you pass. You’re driving in between the main attraction vehicles for part of your journey. You’ll find that your driver can pull off the beaten path and pause at various points through the trip, even taking some alternate routes. Your guide is very well versed in the care of the animals in the safari, dropping details about how the animals are bred, cared for between tours, and the like. Ours knew the names of quite a few animals as he had been working on the tour for several years before the two-year hiatus.
Talk about close encounters! Guests on the normal safari are often treated to animals roaming close by the trucks and disrupting traffic, but we got to park even closer. At one point we parked in the midst of a giraffe feeding area and got to see a few from feet away. One of the longhorn cattle paused for a a few minutes in front of the truck. Our guide explained he seems to like the attention.
We spent several minutes talking to a Cast Member from the care team. She rolled up in her own truck and explained some of the work going into general feeding and care of the animals. The work Disney’s Animal Kingdom does as a certified zoo extends into breeding programs between other zoos and even plans to reintroduce endangered animals into the wild. She gave us time to ask questions as well. After my wife’s insightful question, we learned that one of the reasons animals are given supplemental food at strategic positions around the savanna is because giraffes tend to strip all the naturally growing wildlife given a chance!
Here’s the “savor” part
Halfway through the experience your truck will pull off the main road and head toward a covered platform. If you’re familiar with the safari, this platform overlooks the flamingo pond. It’s here you will disembark for a while to enjoy some fine food and drinks with a great view of the savanna. Experienced safari folk will likely recognize this location as well, off in the distance and raised up.
The platform is a fun, outdoor location. There are two restrooms, which is a good thing. You’re about to spend about 45 minutes on this viewing platform eating, drinking, and watching animals! The food served is a sizable mix of small finger food. Think charcuterie, writ large. A wide variety of meats and cheeses to sample. Several dips including a really delightful hummus. Vegetables, both pickled and fresh. It really was a nice spread and there was something for everyone. The Cast Member in charge of the table explained she likes to see who takes what and challenged us to eat one of the hibiscus blooms. They’re tasty.
The lookout stocked a selection of African wines. Some had a specific connection to wildlife conservation and the guides were happy to talk about each. Add in a few domestic and regional craft beers like Tampa Bay Brewing’s Old Elephant Foot IPA, and you’re set. Oh, of course there’s some delightful fruited water and soft drinks if you prefer.
On the road again
In all, plenty of food and drink to enjoy during your time but not quite a full meal. If you roam the platform, there are binoculars stationed around and a long walk that crosses over to views of the lion habitat. The two departure times ensure that the setting sun will giver you spectacular views of the scenery and the wildlife who are ready for feeding and cooler temps.
We spent some time getting to know our fellow travelers and guides. It was kind of nice to meet interesting people out in the wild, as it were. It’s been long enough since we could have a nice conversation with Disney folk that even this introvert missed it.
After your rest on the lookout is done, it’s time to board your truck and continue the tour. Keep rolling through the savanna and as your tour draws to a close, your guide will talk a bit more about the conservation efforts happening at the Animal Kingdom and what you can do in your home region. Before you leave, each member of the party will receive two bamboo coasters to take home. Your memories of this exclusive experience will stick around for years, but the coasters are certainly a nice souvenir at the end!
Savor the Savanna is an extra cost experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. Tickets currently cost $174 per person. As mentioned above, the experience is for guests aged 8 and above. Though children might enjoy the up-close looks at animals, but this tour seems designed for adults.
The food and drinks at the lookout location are satisfying but not necessarily filling. Think of this experience as more of the cocktail party before the wedding reception than a true meal. It’s enjoyable, but you might want to hit up Tiffins afterward.
The tour is expensive, but with such a high level of Cast Member interaction, you get what you pay for. If you’re interested in exclusive experiences, the Savor the Savanna Tour is up your alley. Tickets can be purchased up to 60 days in advance, but they are hard to come by.
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