Yesterday the new interactive game Wilderness Explorers opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The game is based on the Boy Scout-esque troop Russell is a member of in the movie Up. The main objective of the game is to travel around the park with your game book earning “badges” (stickers) for completing activities to eventually become a Senior Explorer. The 31 activity stations are scattered throughout the park, including animal trails and Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
We arrived at Animal Kingdom just after noon and headed to the main sign up station on the bridge between The Oasis and The Tree of Life. The Cast Members were very enthusiastic and eager to explain the game and help walk us through getting our first badge: learning the Wilderness Explorer call. We were given a Wilderness Explorer Handbook, which included a membership card, instructions, map, and pages for each of the badges we would earn with directions and activities. We also could see a framed set of all the “badges” we could earn, although ours would be in sticker form affixed on the appropriate page of our books.
We took a moment to assemble a game plan to earn all the badges by consulting the map for activity locations. We also soon figured out the pages of the book go more-or-less in order for a clockwise trip around the park and decided to tackle it that way. Each stop is marked by the Wilderness Explorer logo, a sign showing the badge earned at that station, and a Troop Leader or Badge Guide holding a bright orange satchel (also featuring the logo of the badge for that station).
The game had many different types of activities. Some were simple and just required you to listen to something and write down a code word or find answers to questions on a billboard. Some stations were more interactive and had guests completing a puzzle, going on a scavenger hunt, or learning something specific about a different culture. I really wasn’t expecting to learn too much in a game designed for children, but I was pleasantly surprised. All of the Cast Members were incredibly knowledgeable and more than willing to take time to talk with us and answer all of our questions.
I also noticed Cast tailoring the activities based on the guest’s age and level of interest. For example (contains minor spoilers), to earn the Tiger Badge in Maharajah Jungle Trek we had to find the word “deforestation” and tell it to the Troop Leader. When we got up to her, there was a little bit of a line, so we heard her interact with a two kids in front of us. The Troop Leader asked the first girl if she knew what “deforestation” meant. The girl shrugged and very obviously just wanted her sticker. The Troop Leader patiently explained to her what the word meant, gave her the sticker and moved on to a boy who was about 10. She asked the boy if he knew why tigers had stripes. He gave a very detailed answer indicating he knew quite a bit about tigers. She asked him several more questions until she stumped him and could teach him something new. He was obviously delighted, got his sticker, and went on. Now it was our turn. As adults she talked to us about practical things we could do at home or through other organizations to help tigers and preserve their homes. All of this was the same Cast Member giving out the same badge, but she made sure each guest got the best experience possible. So many of the Cast did small things like this to truly make the game spectacular.
Another thing that I particularly like about the game is how much of the park we were “forced” to explore. I’m a huge Animal Kingdom fan, really enjoy the animal trails and exhibits, and often spend time looking around…yet this game took us to areas even I had never seen. I also picked up and used a bird spotting guide for the first time ever in one of the aviaries. We climbed through The Boneyard in DinoLand U.S.A. petted goats in Conservation Station, wandered through the exit trails of It’s Tough to Be a Bug, and even had a scavenger hunt through the Expedition Everest queue! It is clear this game is designed to get guests to visit areas of the park they normally wouldn’t, and it worked.
All in all it took us about 5 hours to complete everything. This, however, included a table service lunch break, and we did spend more time than is necessary chatting with the Troop Leaders at some stations. We also took things slow and spent time looking at things not related to the game. At the end of the game there is no big prize or anything…just the souvenir Wilderness Explorers Handbook with all your stickers and notes from playing.
A couple of tips for playing. One of the badges requires you to ride the Kilimanjaro Safari (or at least go through the queue). I recommend getting a FASTPASS before getting the badges in the nearby Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Rafiki’s Planet Watch so that you don’t waste too much time in line. Second, I know this seems like common sense, but make sure you read everything on the page for each badge. We did more backtracking than we had to because we didn’t fully read what we needed to do…and we had trouble finding some stations because we didn’t realize there was a detailed description right there on the page. Also, work the game in to whatever else you want to do in the park. Nothing is time dependent, and it is all spread out, so as you go around the park you can also experience attractions, see shows, or do anything else you want. Finally, although you can complete the game in one day, you don’t have to. Do it over multiple days, or even multiple trips. It is meant to enhance your enjoyment of the park, not wear you out or keep you from other things you want to do.
In comparison to other interactive games like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom or Pirate’s Adventure Treasure of the Seven Seas, Wilderness Explorers truly stands out. The other games are standalone experiences that have nothing to do with the areas they are in. Wilderness Explorers is a supplement to the park. It helps highlight often overlooked aspects that make Animal Kingdom such a unique place. I highly recommend this game for guests of all ages, whether they are first timers or veteran park goers.