“Adventure is Out There!” is arguably the most memorable line from Pixar’s 2009 release of Up!, the story of a young boy, Russell, and an elderly gentleman, Carl, who become unwilling traveling companions to South America. Young Russell is a Wilderness Explorers (think Boy Scout), who is dragged into Carl’s South American adventure while attempting to earn his Assisting the Elderly merit badge. Now, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, you can become a Wilderness Explorer and collect your own merit badges as you explore Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park!
Disney’s Wilderness Explorer program is designed to give children the opportunity to truly explore Animal Kingdom. Throughout their experience they will learn about and explore different cultures, diverse flora and fauna, conservation efforts and more, all while earning their Wilderness Explorer Merit Badges. The merit badges, which are in the form of stickers, go into their Wilderness Explorer Handbook, and each badge is indicative of a specific learning objective or activity. While designed for elementary aged children, my 3-year old, Connor, loved participating, and the Wilderness Explorer Guides were great about modifying the activities to fit his age. According to him, the program was “totally cool”.
This interactive experience can be done at your own pace, and you can collect all or some of the badges. While on our trip we completed probably half of the tasks, and didn’t particularly seek out the Wilderness Explorer booths, but rather participated as we came upon them. We started our journey on the Pangini Forest Exploration Trail in Africa, and just continued along our previously determined touring plan. Connor had a blast looking for the location markers, and was quick to point them out when he saw one. He also made quite the friend in Wilderness Explorer Cast Member, Torin, and proclaimed that Torin was his new best friend before we left that day. The Cast Members we encountered during the program were among the friendliest we met during our week-long stay, and you could tell they enjoyed working with the children as they earned their badges.
What did Mom think? As a teacher, I loved that this was an educational experience for children. Animal Kingdom is such a unique park, and this program helps children, and adults, grasp just how different Animal Kingdom is from a zoo. I learned quite a bit myself and thought it was great how the program encouraged children to interact with Cast Members from different countries. It was much better than the cultural interactions of the Epcot Kidcot stations, where the majority of the Cast Members simply sit there watching the children color. It would be my hope that this program sparks something new at Epcot. The cultural learning experiences are so unique, and I think the opportunity to learn from first-hand sources is invaluable!
Have your children had the chance to become a Wilderness Explorer like Russell? If so, please share your experience! And remember, Adventure is Out There!