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Animal Kingdom: Wild Africa Trek will get guests even closer to nature

Disney World's latest backstage tour is off the beaten path. The Wild Africa Trek, which debuts Sunday, takes small groups of theme-park guests through the forests behind the scenes at Disney's Animal Kingdom. During a preview Friday, we found ourselves in locations I never dreamed we'd be allowed at Animal Kingdom and experienced several well-thought touches during the three-hour tour.

Here are a few initial impressions.

+ Most vivid in my mind will be looking over the edge of a bluff – practically dangling – about 15 or 20 feet above a hippo … so close we could see the hair on his back. This was opposite the vehicles rumbling along for the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Yeah, we were very securely tethered … but that didn't keep a guest from yelling "JUMP!" from across the pond. There will be a similar experience above crocodiles that wasn't quite ready Friday.

+ Trek participants will check in behind the Dawa Bar and be outfitted in a secluded spot not previously used by guests. Safety equipment consisted of a special vest that doubles as a harness. There are lockers there for anything you might drop – actually, most of those items aren't allowed. Despite rumor to contrary, you ARE allowed to take your camera, as long as it has a neck strap or a wrist strap that can be tethered to the vest. As a group – maximum of 12 – we looked like a safari Special Ops team traipsing through Harambe, but for $129, you ought to feel special, right?

+ That safety equipment is truly a lifeline during the rope bridge crossing, which puts you over the pathway of the safari vehicles, the Safi River and crocodiles. Again, you are tethered, and there's safety netting. I felt OK about it in that Disney-won't-kill-me-will-they way, but it's very high up. Acrophobiacs, beware!

+ The terrain is more rugged that I imagined. No pavement at all, really, with inclines, tight quarters, dangling branches and slightly challenging obstacles and stairs. This is no place for people who have trouble walking through the park – or for people in flipflops.

+ The cherry on top: The Boma Landing, the rest spot built in the middle of the savanna, with a wide view of the wildlife: flamingos and elephants one way, giraffes and gazelles another. An expansion opening soon is already under construction, and it will offer glimpses of where the lions hang. At Boma, there are chairs and tables, decks and coverings, binoculars and a light snack (Disney is hesitant to call it a meal, but it's dang close). It's a little unreal and hard to believe you're in Florida still. Tours will spend about 30 minutes there, but it's special – to the level of Year of a Million Dreams prize.

Reservations for Wild Africa Trek are taken at 407-939-8687. The experience is for guests 8 years old and older. The Treks between now and Feb. 26 are being offered at $129 per person (Entrance fee to Animal Kingdom is also required.)

More information at http://www.disneyworld.com/disneyafricatrek.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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