The big question: African safari or Disney Animal Kingdom? – 1 Feb 2007

The question

I want my children to see African wildlife in a wide open space. Will they appreciate an expensive safari, or should I just take them to Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

It’s a tricky one. Going on safari is one of the ultimate travel experiences. It’s long been a honeymoon favourite, and the safari market is gearing itself up towards families.

But do children and wild animals really mix? It’s a question many parents might ask themselves if they are considering taking the family to the African bush.

Seeing animals close up can be a thrilling and educational for kids, but would they get the same level of enjoyment somewhere like Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida?

They can see lots of the same animals in a safe, controlled environment – and experience all the usual fun of a Disney holiday. We’ve weighed up the alternatives.


The case for Africa

Africa operators argue that a real safari is a holiday that kids will remember forever. It’s an introduction to the wonders of nature, an inspiring, educational, experience and great fun to boot.

Operators recommend different minimum ages, but the general agreement is that children over six benefit most – and those from around 10 seem to really appreciate all they’re seeing.

“Seeing animals in the wild is far, far better than any theme park,” says Expert Africa managing director Chris McIntyre. “Kids often grow up with everything on a plate and Africa doesn’t work like that.

“Safaris are about Africa, the wide open spaces and the people as much as the animals. Visiting a local village and seeing how people live is a wonderful experience, and educational in a way a theme park can’t be.”

When choosing where to go, clients need to consider whether they are prepared for their child to take anti-malaria tablets. South Africa is often a favourite because of its malaria-free safari options in the Eastern Cape.

Going on safari needn’t be as expensive as most people expect either, say operators. A popular choice is combining a short safari with some time on the beach – that way children get to see the Big Five as well as enjoying a more traditional sun and sand holiday.

Sample product

Travel 2 has an eight-day Kenya Horizons tour, from £1,320 per adult and £689 per child (based on one child sharing with two adults) in May. Children under seven are not permitted. The tour includes two nights at the Samburu Game Reserve, one at Mount Kenya, one at Lake Nakuru and two in the Masai Mara, with transfers, game drives, most meals and Kenya Airways flights.

For a safari/beach combination, Cosmos suggests the four-night Thorn Tree Safari, combined with 10 nights at the Neptune Paradise Village on Diani Beach, Kenya, from £1,079 per adult and £689 per child in May, based on full-board on safari and at the beach, with flights.


The case for Florida

Disneys Animal Kingdom offers an equivalent of the safari experience in a family-friendly environment

Disney Animal Kingdom offers rides and live shows in addition to wildlife encounters

For some children, especially younger ones or blasé teens, sitting around in a jeep, waiting patiently for unpredictable Mother Nature to do her thing can be a bit tedious – and bored children can be distracting for other guests too.

With a trip to somewhere like Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where sightings are guaranteed, children get to see animals roaming freely as part of a wider theme park experience – and without malaria tablets or any safety issues.

Many safari lodges in Africa don’t accept children under a certain age (often 12) and some don’t take kids at all, so if your client’s family includes young children, Disney could be more suited to their needs.

Jetlife reservations manager Noula Agapiou said: “At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, not only do you get a 33-acre private savannah, where you can enjoy the feel of a real safari, you also have adventure rides, walking tours, animal encounters, Kids Discovery Clubs, the Wildlife express train and many other attractions. There are great live entertainment shows too, from Finding Nemo the Musical to The Festival of the Lion King.”

A week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is also likely to cost less than a week on safari.

Sample product

Jetlife features seven nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in May, with return flights on Virgin Atlantic and transfers, for £956 per adult and £351 per child for room-only accommodation.


What’s the alternative?

Like other parts of Africa, Namibia has plentiful game parks, but the focus is on its stunning landscape and on outdoor activities such as sand dune surfing. It’s a country that is suited to flydrives, so families can enjoy a lot of freedom.

Operators such as Explore Worldwide have some great ideas for family adventure. The Namibia Cheetah Safari includes dolphin watching and a visit to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and dune-surfing and quad-biking are available. Prices start at £1,947 per adult and £1,747 per child in July, for 15 days, with flights and most meals.

Or there’s the Land of the Lemurs trip to Madagascar, visiting rainforests looking for lemur, as well as chameleons, birds and tree frogs. Time on the beach is also included. The 15-day trip costs from £2,375 per adult, and £2,085 per child in July.

If Disney is not quite what your client is looking for, suggest Busch Gardens Park in Tampa, Florida, an adventure park with an array of attractions based on African landscapes and wildlife. There’s a mix of rides and shows and a zoo with 2,700 animals.

Premier Holidays offers a pre-bookable ticket to Busch Gardens Park and SeaWorld, with transport between the two attractions, for £62 per adult and £56 per child, for as many visits as you like.

  • Related training: Travel Weekly Academy for Kenya (you must be registered to take the course)

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