Betty O’Neill-Roderick

ORLANDO, Fla.: Two new adventures at Walt Disney World encourage guests to “take a walk on the wild side,” if they dare.

If you’ve taken the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom you probably wondered what it would be like to be out there roaming the savanna with the animals. Now the new Wild Africa Trek offers a thrilling guided expedition that gets you much closer to the animals than you ever imagined.

It is a strenuous journey; guests are urged to dress in long pants and wear sturdy shoes. All necessary gear is provided as you prepare to trek to the deepest, most remote reaches of the Animal Kingdom.

We met our guides, Daniel Gunter and Ellie Lovell, at the outpost behind the Dawa Bar in Africa. Soon we were outfitted in survival vests with carabiners for our cameras and a water bottle provided for our trek. You may feel some trepidation as you are strapped into the gear, and warned there are no bathroom breaks for the first two hours of this adventure.

Then we were asked to traverse a swaying bridge 10 feet off the ground, and told this is only a prelude to later in the trek when you must cross a bridge 30 feet in the air over the Safi River, where hippos and crocs reside.

If you haven’t backed out by this time, guides lead the way through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, but soon you leave the trail and pick your way through fern and vine forests on a bushwalk that sets the tone for this adventure. The path is rough, and walking is difficult, so we see why sturdy shoes are recommended.

Wild birds flutter above as we make our way through the Panjani Forest where African wildlife reside. Next to us a huge hippo surfaces and opens his jaws for a photo op before he returns to the water.

Our guides tell us there are two herds of elephants in the forest, and we catch a glimpse of the newest baby elephant just waiting to have his picture taken. The elephants are curious and seem to come closer when our cameras are in view.

We have arrived at the Safi River, and learn the only way to the other side is that swaying footbridge, 30 feet in the air (unless we want to attempt to swim across with the hippo). We opt for the bridge, and our guide clips us onto a safety line.

One at a time, we make our way across the bridge, careful not to disturb the hippos below. Then there’s another bridge, taking us over crocodiles sleeping below. Our guide assures us crocodiles only eat once every week or two, and everything seems peaceful until one disturbs the group and they all wake up.

We continue our journey overland in a safari vehicle, with giraffes crossing the road ahead. A white rhino takes a mud bath, and we spot Watusi cattle, Thomson’s gazelle, Patterson’s eland and other browsers and grazers who occupy the savanna. Ahead of us are okapi, an animal that scientists first noted in 1901, and has some zebra-like markings on its beautiful brown color.

We clip into our safety lines again at an overhang by the crocs’ riverbed, so close it seems we can reach out and touch them. Talk about cliffhangers!

As we continue our journey, a cheetah warily watches from a cliff, while nearby a lion and lioness laze in the sun, completely oblivious to visitors taking their picture.

Our destination is a private safari camp called a “boma” right in the middle of the savanna, where we enjoy a taste of Africa, served camp-style, including dried beef, curried chicken salad, fruit, smoked salmon and sun-dried tomato hummus. We have bamboo spoons, but our guides tell us in true safari tradition we would eat with our hands.

We gaze at breathtaking vistas, surrounded by beautiful animals on all sides, but one giraffe comes closer, perhaps to see if our food would be better than the grass they all seem to enjoy. After lunch, our guides tell us we must return to civilization, but we are all reluctant to leave this beautiful, peaceful vista.

Reservations are a must for the Wild Africa Trek, and can be made by calling 407-939-8687. This is a wonderful family adventure, but children must be at least 8 years old, and if under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Guests must weigh between 45 and 300 pounds, be at least 48 inches tall, and expectant mothers are not permitted. Cost is $129 in addition to park admission, and includes all gear, lunch and a DVD of your experience.

Exotic driving

If the roar of a racing engine thrills you, or you long to be a race car driver for a day, then head over to the new Exotic Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway. Here you can drive super cars by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche.

From the time you drive through the tunnel and onto the track, you know you are in for an extreme adventure. After an orientation, guests are invited to get behind the wheel of one of these super cars and take a few spins around the track.

Professional race car drivers ride with you as you drive that Lamborghini or Porsche. Safety is of prime importance on the Disney Speedway, and the drivers guide you around the course, but you are in full control of the car. It’s a thrilling way to experience an exotic car on an oval racetrack.

Or if you prefer, you can take a ride with a professional driver at the wheel.

The interior road course section at the Speedway has been specifically designed for the Exotic Driving Experience, which opened to the public on Jan. 16. The course features a series of quick, challenging turns, complete with barriers, fencing and rumble strips. This section replaces the front stretch of the oval, and together with the backstretch comprises a one-mile layout that has been named the Exotics Course at Walt Disney World Speedway.

The new track layout allows drivers to experience the awe-inspiring acceleration, speed and handling of these high-performance vehicles, whether driving or as a passenger.

Driving Experiences start at $199 for six laps around the circuit. Thrill rides with a professional driver are available for $99. Reservations can be made at www.exotic?driving.com, or by calling 855-822-0149.