You may call me …keeper…for I am the keeper of theme park tales. Forgive my absence friends but I have been working on obtaining another notch on my theme park belt. I know proudly hold the rank of SENIOR WILDERNESS EXPLORER.
After experiencing, and enjoying, Disney’s evolution of interactive adventures… Kim Possible’s /Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, I looked forward to Animal Kingdom’s take on it from its beginnings. I’ve always been troubled with how Joe Rhode’s masterful vision of the Animal Kingdom has slowly eroded from its promising beginnings. No Beastly Kingdom, no Discovery River boat ride, no Countdown to Extinction, no Yeti(well…), and the uncharted paths and trails slowly taken away, repurposed, or just closed off. I was weary, but still optimistic at the promise of a true adventure moving back into this beautiful park. Well my friends, I am happy to report that this charming journey really embodies the spirit of discovery, learning, and yes, adventure that is at the core of what the Animal Kingdom is, or at least should be, about.
You pick up a Wilderness Explorer guidebook at an unassuming station right after you come out of Discovery Island and are indoctrinated into the ranks of the WE team by some enthusiastic Senior Explorers. You learn the secret greeting and get your first badge (in sticker form) for your book at this first stop in addition to a WE logo badge to wear to identify you to your fellow Explorers. Your goal is to explore the wide expanse of Animal Kingdom and try to collect as many of the 30 available badges from the Wilderness Explorer (known forever more here as WE) leaders at each stop. The locations are identified on the map and you will also spot WE signage plus the team in their colorful uniforms with a backpack full of badges waiting for you wherever you turn.
You will learn about all manner of creepy crawlies on a lost path behind the tree of life, the legend of the yeti in a small Asian village, study meerkats in the Savannah, dig for fossils, or talk with an expert on animal diet and care behind the scenes. These mini-lessons cover every aspect of the different areas of the park and are the perfect enhancement to stimulate adventurers both young and old. Although many assume this is for kids, it is open to all that want to enhance their experience at the park …adults are not made to feel foolish and younger guests are not talked down to. I had some enlightening seemingly “off script” and genuine conversations with the leaders at the flamingo station, bugs, Asian culture, animal calls, and gorilla stations. These are knowledgeable CMs that truly enjoy sharing what they know. I could quibble about the 6-7 stations that have merchandise cart CMs pulling double duty as WE leaders but at these stations the handbook and physical props do all the heavy lifting and that extra level of interaction, although missed, does not hurt the experience.
Your final badge takes you back to where you started and the CM seemed genuinely excited when he heard I had completed my field book. He went into a back cabinet and produced the surprise SENIOR WILDERNESS EXPLORER badge as the perfect “plus” for concluding this near-perfect adventure.
I spread my badge earning across multiple visits so as to get the full unrushed experience but it can be accomplished on a full day adventure if desired. Another way is to just tour the park doing what interests you and letting the WE experience enhance your adventures. This program is free to all and even if you plan on only doing one or two stations is a nice souvenir to take home from your day.
Kudos Animal Kingdom…it does my heart good to see someone there still remembers…
Every Day’s An Adventure