‘Up’ is one of my favorite Disney Pixar movies for so many reasons: the first couple of minutes are incredibly powerful without a single word being spoken, the story revolves around the blossoming friendship between a grumpy old man and a (slightly annoying) little boy, two people who couldn’t be more different – and there’s a talking dog! But my very favorite thing about ‘Up’ is the message of travel and adventure, no matter who or how old you are. Encouraging my kids to learn more about the world around them is very important to me (read more on why we love travel with kids here), and with this in mind, I’m so excited to tell you about a recent experience we had where my 4-year old Harrison became a Wilderness Explorer at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
How do you become a Wilderness Explorer?
The Wilderness Explorer program is open to anyone visiting the park (adults and kids alike – I saw plenty of adults participating on their own!) and is absolutely free! Upon entering Animal Kingdom, head towards the Tree of Life and as you cross over the bridge, the Wilderness Explorer booth is on your right. All you have to do is approach the Cast Members and ask to become a Wilderness Explorer! They give you a little activity book and a pencil, and explain how you visit different stops throughout the park to collect explorer badges (stickers) just like Russell does in the movie. Cast Members then have the kids say the Wilderness Explorer pledge (“the wilderness must be explored!”) and practice the Wilderness Explorer call to earn their first badge. The explorers are then sent off on their way! Harrison did a great job following instructions to earn his first badge, although I must admit I was distracted by two fully grown men being forced to participate with their kids – their Wilderness Explorer calls attracted quite a bit of attention! All the kids were really excited to go off and earn more badges, and this seemed to me to be a great way to explore the park in more detail.
What does the program involve?
On the front page of the activity book there is a map of the park, and there are 30 additional locations to earn a badge. Harrison was told to “look out for the Cast Members with the orange bags” since they’re the ones who can help you earn your badges. Once you find a location on the map, the Cast Member with the orange bag is usually stood right there on the lookout for Wilderness Explorers to help. Each page in the book has an activity to complete in order to earn your badge, and the Cast Members will chat to the explorers about what they’re looking at, and offer their help. Once they complete the activity, they earn their badge, and get a sticker to put in their book.
One of my favorite things about this program is that you can hit a few stops on each park visit, and keep bringing the book back to earn more badges on future trips. The activity book also has an area at the back called the ‘field journal’ where there is space to draw or make notes on things you’ve seen or done during the day. This did a great job keeping Harrison entertained while waiting for shows!
What were some of the fun stops we made?
We had a few hours at the park and obviously wanted to hit some of the rides and shows, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the book all in one day. Harrison picked out some of the badges he really wanted to earn, and those were the ones we focused on. Not surprisingly, we ended up in Dinoland USA!
In order to earn his Fossil Badge, Harrison listened to a Cast Member talk about dinosaur fossils, and how we can tell what a dinosaur ate just by looking at their skeletons. The explorers were then given a puzzle to do where they had to match up the dinosaur’s jaw to the rest of the skull based on color and size. Upon completion of the puzzle, the kids were awarded their sticker! Another Dinoland USA badge was the Dinosaur Badge, which was earned in the Boneyard playground. This playground is awesome as it is, as it gives kids chance to run around and burn off some energy. The activities here included counting different types of dinosaur, searching for other animals fossils in the dig site, and uncovering a secret code to earn the dinosaur sticker. Harrison loved this sticker so much he wanted to wear it instead of putting it in his activity book, so the very sweet Cast Member gave him an extra one!
We made some other fun stops as the day went on. At the flamingo habitat, Harrison had to spot certain flamingos in the flock and answer questions about how they got to be pink, and he learned more about how to care for the earth to earn his Conservation Badge. My personal favorite was the Hiking Badge, which involved finding various items on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trails; the walking trails at Animal Kingdom are so fantastic but little details are often overlooked. Searching for things to earn this badge forced us to pay more attention, and we noticed details we’d never noticed before – despite having been to this park about a hundred times!
Who would enjoy this?
Honestly, I think pretty much any kid would enjoy this – and as I said, the adults seemed to be having as much fun as the kids! The activity book gives the kids something to do as you explore the park, and no park is more fun to explore than Animal Kingdom! The little details are quite incredible if you really look for them, and completing the activities certainly encourages you to pay more attention. The activities are suitable for kids of all ages, and Cast Members are quick to help out explorers that may be struggling or finding a task difficult. The Cast Members involved really do seem to love their jobs, and the ones we encountered were all so enthusiastic about having the kids get involved and really learn something. At the end of the day, I asked Harrison if he had learned anything new, and he surprised me by repeating almost all of the facts he had learned from the activities!
I would say if you’re going to Animal Kingdom, this is definitely something fun to check out. Even if you only do one or two of the activities and only earn a couple of badges, it’s such a fun way for the kids to pass the time, and learn more about the park. You can learn more here.
Have your kids ever participated in the Wilderness Explorer program? Did they enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below!