Like many people I am a huge fan of Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I have always been a lover of zoos and exotic animals, so this attraction is aimed directly at me (especially since the government is not receptive to my owning a giraffe). I have always heard that the best time to ride is early in the morning because it is cooler (a relative term, specifically in August) and the animals are more “active.” I have always been curious about this advice since a) these are African creatures who should be used to heat and b) they never seem to be particularly active anyway.
What I decided to do on my last visit was take my own informal and incredibly flawed survey by riding Kilimanjaro Safaris three times in the same day in early March. The first go around was at 9:15am, just after rope drop. The second was at 12:30pm and the third at 4:45pm, just before the attraction closed for the day (last call was 4:55pm on that particular day). I am using this post to give you my opinion about the best time to ride based on my experience that day (and share pictures because I love animal pictures).
Ride #1: 9:15am
This is supposed to be the best time, so let’s see how this one goes. It started out a little rough with the first few enclosures (rhino, hippo, crocodile) being a little tame. It didn’t get much better at the savannah where the giraffes were not in their usual spot near the trees. As we got toward the end of the savannah it picked up considerably, though, as we found giraffes, wildebeest, and antelope. In addition the elephants were all up and about as were one of the cheetahs and a female lion. Although it was sleeping, near the road there was even a warthog, which I always seem to miss on my safari rides.
In general I felt that there were a lot of animals that were visible and often close to the road. I got several good pictures of animals and one that I really love (the big one of the longhorn). This was not quite a perfect ride, but it may be the closest one I’ve had.
Ride #2: 12:30pm
Normally March is not a hot month in Orlando. The day I decided to do this, however, was firmly into the 80s, so the mid-day heat was in full effect. If I was guessing ahead of time I would have thought this to be the lamest of my rides. I assumed the animals would be taking their afternoon naps and resting for an evening of park touring (oops, that is my schedule). There were definitely fewer animals visible, but it was not a bad ride. The crocodiles were all out of the water, and the giraffes were feeding on their trees right near the road. The lions and cheetahs were presumably napping, and the elephants were way in the back, but there were more animals hanging around than I expected there to be. It was not as good as the early morning trip, but it was still fun.
Ride #3: 4:45pm
I expected this to be a fun trip, and not just because I was at the Dawa Bar for a while beforehand. I was thinking that since it was close to sunset the animals would be moving around and getting ready to go into their night enclosures. I was half right: they were ready to go. The problem is that many of the enclosure entrances are not in good viewing spots (which made sense once I thought about it). This was probably the worst trip I have had on Kilimanjaro Safaris. We saw very, very few animals, and once we got past the savanna, we saw nothing at all. The light from the setting sun was very nice, so the pictures I did manage to get are still cool, but there are not many of them.
My one day, non-scientific, barely useful conclusion is that the later you ride, the less you see. I still love this attraction, but if that 4:45pm trip was the only one of my vacation I would have been very disappointed. My advice is to get there early and ride multiple times if you want to see all the animals (and to visit the Dawa Bar).