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Disney's Night Kingdom lives to see another day (sort of) with DAK's Wild Africa Trek

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Disney's Night Kingdom lives to see another day (sort of) with DAK's Wild Africa Trek

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Do you remember that niche park which the Imagineers toyed with building back in 2008? You know, that project which went by a variety of names among them Disney's Night Kingdom & Disney's Jungle Trek)?  Which then would have given WDW Guests the opportunity to have all sorts of hands-on experiences?

If not ... Well, here's a few quotes from that online survey that Disney representatives sent out to UK  tourists back in late 2007 / early 2008 just to gauge their interest in this proposed theme park. Which described Disney's Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek as being ...

... a premium, exclusive experience (during which) your very own personal adventure guide (would lead) your expedition party of around 8 people through the wild ... From crossing rickety bridges or navigating narrow paths, to encountering rare animals up-close ... there are unbelievable experiences at each stage of your journey.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Does any of this sound familiar to you folks? It should. Given that - just this past week - The Walt Disney World Resort began taking reservations for Wild Africa Trek. Which will give visitors to Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park the chance to ...

... navigate a seemingly precarious rope bridge over the Safi River or venture to the edge of a cliff to get close to the hippos and crocodiles below (both while safely harnessed).

Mind you, there are key differences between these two projects. For starters, Disney's Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek was to have been a stand-alone park. One that would have given a limited number of Guests (according to Company insiders that I've spoken with over the past 2 years, daily capacity for WDW's proposed 5th gate was to have been set somewhere between 1500 - 2000 visitors per day) a unique & exclusive experience " ... with no lines, no crowds, and no waits. " Where a single admission price was to have covered all aspects of your 5 hour-long stay in Disney's Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek. The live shows, the food, even the soft drinks.

Whereas Wild Africa Trek ... This three hour-long "up-close-and-personal" adventure basically builds on what already exists at this 12-year-old theme park. Indeed, a seldom-used corner of Tusker House is now being repurposed as this new tour's check-in area. And what had previously been a backstage area at this buffet-style restaurant is now being redressed as an onstage-though-out-of-the-public-eye test facility. Where would-be Wild Africa Trek participants will have to prove that they're actually up to the challenges that lie ahead on this "expert-led adventure" by first strapping on a safety harness and then making their way across a test rope bridge.

That - to be honest - is what's kind of unusual about WDW's Wild Africa Trek. In that this is not an attraction / experience which is intended for all Disney World visitors. Indeed, Disney's own description of "... this unique outdoor adventure" is that it's " ... aimed at active vacationers" who are " ...  adventure-minded."

Translation: Disney's recreation of an African bush walk isn't intended for every member of the family. You must be at least 9-years-old to participate in this new DAK program (More to the point, anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult) and at least 48" tall. And because you're going to need to cross " ... a seemingly precarious rope bridge" over the Harambe Wildlife Reserve's crocodile enclosure ... Well, the Mouse will need Guests of a certain size to prove that they're actually under 310 pounds before they'll then be allowed to walk out over that expanse.

But the upside is ... Those who qualify / are actually up for all of the physical challenges that are a key part of Wild Africa Trek are going to see a whole new side of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Which will start when your two guides takes your group of no-more-than-12 Guests down the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Where you'll hear all sort of stories about this part of the theme park that you've never heard before.

But the real fun starts once you get past the meerkats. When you'll actually head out into the brush at Harambe Wildlife Reserve. Where - in order to stay on this deliberately overgrown path - you or the guide will often have to hold back branches & duck under fallen-down trees.

Mind you, there's more to this three-hour-long experience than just mushing through the brush and/or leaning out over DAK's hippo pool. Guests who sign up for this Wild Africa Trek will eventually be able to climb aboard a custom-built, open-air vehicle for a trip through Harambe Wildlife Reserve's  savanna.  Where - unlike those trucks full of Guests that are expected to make it through the entire Kilmanjaro Safari in under 19 minutes - your vehicle will be allowed to linger. Even go off-road and follow an animal (for a while, anyway) as it heads backstage to the barns. If that's what it takes to give WDW visitors an intimate & personalized safari experience.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But the downside to Wild Africa Trek is - because of the number of backstage areas these Guests will be passing through over the course of this three-hour-long experience - they won't be allowed to bring along any cameras or cell phones. What's more, given the rugged conditions that these WDW visitors will be dealing with over the course of this three-hour-long experience, Disney's placing some pretty restrictive wardrobe restrictions on Wild Africa Trek as well.

To be specific, Guests who show up for this new DAK tour wearing flip-flops will be turned away. For safety's sake, given the terrain people will be hiking through, closed-toe shoes with a back strap and/or hiking boots are required. Disney's also got some pretty strong suggestions (i.e. skirts and dresses are not recommended) in regards to what women should be wearing before they then head out on their Wild Africa Trek.

That said, Disney does hope that the finale of this new WDW experience (i.e. where tour participants will spend upwards of 30 minutes in a private safari camp. Where - from an elevated viewing platform - they'll then have a commanding view of the savanna and will be able to look down at all the wildlife while they sample African cuisine) will make all of the effort, exertion and restrictions involved here worthwhile.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

However, recognizing that it may take a while to get the balance of elements on DAK's Wild Africa Trek just right ... Well, that's why WDW is now booking tours from January 16th - February 26th at the introductory price of $129 per person. With the understanding that - should Wild Africa Trek prove to be popular - Disney World will then bump  the price  point of this premium experience up to $189 per person.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that - in order to take part in DAK's Wild Africa Trek - you first have to  purchase admission to this WDW theme park. So if you tack that $82 one-day, one-park base price onto the $189 per person charge that Disney eventually hopes to get for this new premium experience ... Well, that puts you roughly (factoring in tax) at $275 per person. Which is about what WDW officials were hoping to charge for admission to Disney's Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek.

So what do you folks think? Do you like the fact that some of the concepts that the Imagineers initially dreamed up for WDW's niche park have now been resurrected for DAK's Wild Africa Trek? Or do you wish that Disney had just bitten the bullet and gone ahead & built the full-blown version of Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek back in 2008?

Photo by Gene Duncan. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

UPDATE: I got a call earlier this morning from someone closely associated with the development of Wild Africa Trek who wanted to quickly address one concern that many JHM readers seem to have about this new Disney's Animal Kingdom premium experience. And that's that cameras & cell phones won't be allowed on this tour.

"It's true that -- mostly due to safety-related reasons -- that we don't want tour participants to bring along their cameras and cell phones. But that doesn't mean that we'll be sending Guests away empty-handed from Wild Africa Trek.

Over the course of this three-hour-long experience, the Guides themselves will be taking pictures of the participants as they go through various aspects of this tour. And at the end of their Wild Africa Trek, each Guest will be presented with a few complimentary photos for their bush walk through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. With the option of then purchasing additional images of their tour through Disney's PhotoPass program.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I'm sorry that I can't be more specific about how many free photos we'll giving tour participants. But you have to remember that we haven't actually run any Wild Africa Treks yet. So we don't really know which pictures of which activities the Guests are going to want. More importantly, whether we're going to need to supplement this part of DAK's new premium experience with a video offering.

It's important to stress here that Wild Africa Trek will be a work-in-progress for its first few weeks of operation. And that we'll be making adjustments to both the tour itself as well as the souvenirs we offer as we go along."

So I hope that this update clears up any concerns that JHM readers may have about that no-cameras-or-cell-phones rule that Disney has in place (for now, anyway) when it comes to Wild Africa Trek.

Your thoughts?

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  • So they created an experience that I'll never see due to ADA issues? Great going folks...not..

  • I wish Disney had "bit the bullet" and built the Night park. You would be getting alot more for your $275 at the Night park factoring in the dinner, show, all the attractions etc that were going to be offered PLUS you could actually bring your camera. Disney went the "cheap" route. Instead of the $500 million that the Night park was projected to cost they will spend maybe $1-2 million tops while still charging the same price. Less value for the money.

  • I'm honestly glad this unaffordable (and unattainable for me and my partner due to physical limitations) Disney experience is just part of a park we can already enjoy the vast majority of.  If it had been the Night Park... well, we'd have wished sadly to be able to go, while knowing we never could.  It would have been like a great big huge ongoing Club 33: something for a small number of elite who could afford it.  One thing I love about Disney is that, while not cheap or free, it's basically accessible to many, many people, rather than being exclusive.

  • Night Kingdom would have been no more of a 5th Gate than Discovery Island. Had the NK plans moved forward, everyone would now be bitching about construction, concept art, and transportation woes.

  • Okay, so I admit I'm no ADA expert, but given that every other ride, attraction,and experience in WDW has to be accessible to mobility challenged guests, anyone have any clue how they're going to make this work? I see this lasting about 10 minutes until the first suit is filed.

  • Should mention, though, that I'm totally going to take DD and do this next year after she turns 9. This sounds incredible!

  • I just can´t imagine that Walt would approve this. He wanted a place where everyone could have a great time. More and more experiances get cluttered with payed options. Just like the availebility of vieuwing space around the Epcot lake at night, the vip spots for the new water show at California adventure or the nice seating area at the garden theater at christmas.

    This year I´m going to Sea World and Universal.

  • To Tielo above. You are going to go to Universal and Sea World? That's a GREAT idea, because they would NEVER do any kind of exclusive, pay to play experience. And if you believe that they you are more stupid than I thought. Have you never heard of Discovery Cove?!?! Or Universal's front of the line pass?!?! Or the exclusive tours that Universal does?!?!

  • Tielo; thanks for mentioning the "what would Walt do issue." My family knew Walt and Lillian. I think Walt would approve of this, just make it accesible to everybody. As for the pay for play issue that jedited mentioned, that's not so much an issue (just my opinion). Just make it ADA compliant.

  • It sounds cool, a bit like some of the Theme Parks in Cancun, like Xplor,  (  http://www.xplor.travel/  ) which is amazing, yet a daytime park. But it also sounds quite ridiculously expensive, especially considering the very limited number of hours you get.

  • This sounds great!  I'm definitely trying it next time I'm in WDW.

  • While this sounds like a fun concept in theory, there are a number of issues.  One being - don't they already have essentially "backstage tours" of DAK?  This seems very similar - a little more focus on the animals, but not much different. And this seems a lot more expensive.  

    More importantly, what is audience this is geared towards? No matter what the Disney Corp might want now, Disney main brand is family entertainment (be it through the parks, DVC, television or films.) Family means including the pre-teens in almost any endeavor.  As example, any non-kid friendly film is now allocated to Touchstone.  Disney unloaded Miramax; Hollywood Pictures is gone; and Disney Double Dare You (Disney version of horror) died before it even released its first film.  

    This new experience is not kid friendly.  It is not for the naturalist.  (I cannot think of any naturalist who is going to let others take the pictures for them.)  And it does not appear to be for the armchair Disneyana fan / D23 member.

    It appears to be for the 20-30 year old adventurer who happens to be Disney fan.  While there are many 20-30 year olds who are Disney fans without families, how many of these people are also “adventurers.”  I wonder how big of a market exists to support this experience.  If I was an adventurer type of person, why not go on the real thing?  Why spend three to four nights in FL to do a “safe” version.  Moreover, this does not seem much different to other (and sometimes cheaper) adventurer type of attractions, like a day at San Diego Wild Animal Park (yes, I know that is in California, but comparable with $37 admission plus $70 for the 3 hour safari), Discovery Cove (anywhere for $130 to $230 for 9 hours, which includes 14 days  of admission to Seaworld and Busch Gardens) or truly exotic places.

    The price point of $189 seems more inline with old Disney Isitute classes, which was abounded first 2000 for lack of family participation, and then in 2003 for lack of business participation.

    I simply don’t get this re-hashing of a bad concept.

  • I was all set to start packing until I read the camera restriction. That totally kills it for me and I think for a lot of others. Getting some one else to take tourist photos is not the same as getting to take photos of real animals. Just ask anyone who has been on real safari. Its the main reason people go on safari. The photo restriction is incredibly short sighted and paranoid of Disney.

  • have to agree with photoguy.  the reason i love the safari is pictures of animals, not of guests.  if i want a picture of me Iwill stand in front of the tree of life.  But I want pics of the animals.  so short sighted!

  • Walt didn't seem to mind the ADA-unfriendly Skyway or Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough.  I have a "wait and see" attitude about this.

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