SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

by on February 14, 2015 18 Comments

Filed under: Adults, Beyond the Parks, Dining, Drinking, DVC, kids, Merchandise, Resorts, Saturday Six, Shopping, Walt Disney World (FL)

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Each of Walt Disney World’s onsite hotels have their own unique feel, and that rings true from the value end (such as Art of Animation) through the moderates (including Port Orleans French Quarter) and all the way up to the deluxe resorts like The Contemporary. That said, no hotel in Orlando stands more by itself as a one-of-a-kind original experience than Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Located directly next to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park (and absolutely nothing else,) many guests consider Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) too far out of the way to consider staying at. While the wait for the Disney buses may be a little bit longer than other resorts on property, today’s edition of the SATURDAY SIX is going to count down six reasons we feel everyone should consider staying at AKL as part of their next vacation, starting with…

# 6 – Indian-style Bread Service at Sanaa

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Sanaa bread service. A first ballot hall of famer for Disney food. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Animal Kingdom Lodge is broken up into two parts, the main hotel (Jambo House) and the Disney Vacation Club wing (Kidani Village.) In these two areas there are three of Disney’s best restaurants including Boma and Jiko at Jambo House, and Sanaa at Kidani Village. Unlike many restaurants at WDW that have dumbed themselves down in order to maximize profits as part of Disney’s Dining Plan, AKL’s restaurants deliver an experience that is true destination dining. The standout of these three venues is Sanaa’s bread service. With five different types of Naan bread available and up to nine different accompaniments to go with it, this is a bread service like no other.

The current pricing for this bread service includes a choice of three breads and three accompaniments for $10.49, or all nine accompaniments for $12.99. This may be one of the best values on Disney property as not only are you getting an amazing amount of food, but the presentation and overall taste factor is through the roof. You can also add extra pieces of Naan bread for $2.00 each, and this is one appetizer that the entire table can share the experience of. Pretty much anyone who has ever tried the Sanaa bread service becomes an immediate apostle for it. including our friends the Disney Hipsters. It’s that good. Let me remind you that guests do not have to be staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge to enjoy lunch or dinner at any of the onsite restaurants. Reservations are encouraged, however you can also order the bread service at Sanaa’s bar area if you can not score an ADR, or just want to walk up.

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Mango chutney and roasted red bell pepper hummus, two of the nine accompaniments you can order as part of the Sanaa bread service. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Other dining highlights at AKL include Boma’s amazing buffets for breakfast and dinner, and Jiko’s award winning menu and shockingly large amount of wines from South Africa. How extensive is their wine list? Jiko actually came in 11th in Food & Wine’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences in America. If you find yourself eating the same old hamburgers, chicken nuggets, or ubiquitous pizza flatbreads on your next Disney vacation, do whatever you can to at least make one stop at AKL to try something different. You will not be sorry.

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This mac and cheese isn’t on the Jiko menu, but you’ll want to ask your server for it. scrumdiddlyumptious! (photo by Daisy Lauren)

PRO TIP: Sign up for the free culinary tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

# 5 – Zebra Domes

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Zebra Domes at Boma. Why have one when you can have a dozen? (photo by Tom Bricker of Tavel Caffeine.)

We recently covered Zebra Domes in our article on top Disney snacks found outside of the theme parks. They are the signature snack at AKL, and while they were formerly only available at Boma (as if you needed another reason to make an ADR) they can be bought in packs of four at Jambo House’s The Mara and Johari Treasures at Kidani Village. It’s hard to explain why the Zebra Domes are so good – and the fact that you get to enjoy them in such a truly amazing atmosphere probably plays a part in it – but anyone who looks forward to their next Dole Whip or Mickey Premium ice cream bar knows what we are talking about. Forget the world class resorts and multi-million dollar E-Ticket attractions, sometimes it is just the snacks that make us fondly remember our last Walt Disney World vacation (and count down the days until our next one.)

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A Zebra Dome looking out from a Kidani Village balcony. Not exactly sure what the five best views at WDW are, but this is one of them.

 

# 4 –  The Lobbies

Walt Disney World has some amazing lobby experiences across property, including Wilderness Lodge and the stately Grand Floridian, but we love our first steps walking into Jambo House and Kidani Village. The huge open feeling of Jambo House is breathtaking, along with the stunning chandeliers above. You walk into the lobby of Jambo House on third floor of the resort, and right below you are the restaurants Boma and Jiko, so while walking near that area you will get some amazing smells that almost have you floating towards those restaurants like Yogi Bear to a picnic basket. There are many areas in the lobby to just sit down and take in all the atmosphere, including next to crackling fires. Disney in general is very good about transporting you away from the Real World, but Animal Kingdom Lodge just might be the best at accomplishing that feat.

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The gorgeous lobby of Jambo House. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

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The back end of Jambo House’s lobby. Note the bridge at the top which is a great place to get a spectacular view of everything below. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

 

Kidani Village’s lobby is much more intimate than Jambo House, but it has elements that really give it the wow factor including large lighting fixtures made out of blown glass to resemble fire, as well as an unbelievable look into the savanna area. There are two large outdoor viewing areas at the end of Kidani Village’s lobby, and we love to grab a pack of Zebra Domes and just sit on a huge rocking chair watching the zebras and giraffes graze. This is the type of experience that separates Disney from its competition, and one that you will remember for years.

 

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Kidani Village. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

# 3 – The Merchandise

It is very rare when merchandise makes our list for things that we enjoy at Disney resorts because, let’s face it, for the most part the merch at the hotels stink. It’s the same stuff literally everywhere. The toys and shirts you see at Port Orleans Riverside are the exact same ones you will find at the Grand Floridan and Pop Century. The gift shops at Animal Kingdom Lodge are not like this. Jambo House’s Zawadi marketplace is one of my favorite stores on Disney property. It is HUGE and filled with many items you can’t get anywhere else at WDW. There are unique pieces of African art and clothing. There are a ton of different types of instruments, all of which at least feel handmade and not off an assembly line. Johari Treasures at Kidani Village is much smaller than Zawadi, but it also offers a decent amount of unique items that can let you deliver a more interesting story when you return home to tell your friends, family, and coworkers about your trip. Five, Ten, Twenty years from now you probably won’t remember where you got your Disney Parks 2015 t-shirt, but seeing your small bongo drum is more than likely going to instantly bring back vivid memories of AKL.

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A selection of just some of the drums at Jambo House’s Zawadi marketplace. To say the three year old boy in party was a fan of these may be the understatement of the year.

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Some of the unique items available at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s gift shops.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge items.

PRO TIP: In the refrigerated cases at the back of the Zawadi Marketplace you will find several bottles of African beer available, including Tusker Premium Lager.

# 2 – The Pools

More and more of my trips to WDW and Universal have young children in my family accompanying me, which means pools are becoming a bigger and bigger factor in deciding where we choose to stay. The Uzima pool at Jambo House and the Samawati Springs pool at Kidani Village are two fantastic resort pool areas. Both have great slides, including the massive 128 foot slide at Samawati, which is among the best on property. Directly next to Samawati is the incredible Uwanja Camp, an elaborately themed playground featuring water cannons, a bubbling geyser, and a huge water tower.  I am a huge proponent of encouraging guests to build in a “resort day” to their week long WDW vacations, but AKL’s pool areas are also the perfect way to decompress after a busy day touring the theme parks.

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Samawati Springs pool at Disney’s Kidani Village. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The start of the slide at Samawati Springs pool. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The end of the 128 foot slide at the Samawati Springs pool. (photo by Brandon Glover)

PRO TIP: While the kids are enjoying the pool, adults can enjoy the benefits of Private Dining by the pool. These meals (including Tandori Chicken and Grilled Lamb Kefta) are served in a bento box and will be delivered directly to you poolside.

# 1 – The Savannas

This is it. This is by far and away the number one reason to book a stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The beautiful savanna areas at both Jambo House and Kidani Village will give you an opportunity to see zebras, giraffes, and almost 30 other animals roaming the grounds. All Disney hotels have some sort of “preferred view” option when it comes to choosing hotel rooms, but “savanna view” at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is right at the top of a very short list of the best views in all of Walt Disney World. You can certainly make a case for “Magic Kingdom view” at, say, The Contemporary, but in my mind a savanna view room is one of the ultimate unique experiences at WDW.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge savanna. (photo by Brandon Glover)

You don’t have to be staying onsite to at least get a taste of what this is like, as both Jambo House and Kidani Village have areas where anyone can walk out and take in the view. There are Cast Members who will answer any questions you have about the area and helpful tools that make it easy to identify what species of animal you are looking it.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge savanna.

Each savanna view room at Jambo House and Kidani Village also comes with a sheet that helps you in identifying the various animals who are out 24 hours a day (we had a zebra munching on some food near our room at 3AM in the morning.)

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Taken from the balcony of a Kidani Village room.

One thing I found truly amazing was how many opportunities there are to experience the savanna.  There are huge windows overlooking the area while walking through the hallways of Kidani Village. There are seats at various restaurants with a top notch view. There are nooks and crannies throughout both Jambo House and Kidani Village in which you can just stop, relax, and view something you just can’t see at any other resort in Orlando.

Window overlooking the savanna

Window overlooking the savanna

HONORABLE MENTION: All The Little Touches Throughout the Resort

One thing that is fantastic about the Animal Kingdom Lodge is that it feels uniquely Disney, but doesn’t hit you over the head with characters or larger than life theming. Everything feels right. While there definitely are hidden Mickeys throughout the resort, in many ways AKL reminds me of the early years of EPCOT Center, before that park became Epcot and transitioned into just another Disney park. Animal Kingdom Lodge is special, and doesn’t need a three story tall Simba or Mufasa to inform you of it’s African theme. The artwork alone throughout the resort could fill up its own article. The lobbies and hallways are filled with incredible pieces of art straight from Africa, almost to the point where you’re getting a free museum trip with your hotel stay. One of the fun things I like to do at Disney’s Pop Century is walking through the lobby and looking at the back wall filled with Americana. Animal Kingdom Lodge is like that taken to the next level, and it’s everywhere you go.

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The hint of a mosquito net behind the beds at Animal Kingdom Lodge are a great touch.

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While many areas of WDW have signs that say “don’t touch,” this piece of art at Jambo House encourages guests to touch.

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Lamp outside Kidani Village. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Eat your heart out Tangled.

 

 

So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also catch Your Humble Author’s attempt to make 1,000,000 typos on Twitter: @derekburgan

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One last look at the Sanaa bread service dipping accompaniments.

If you enjoyed this list, you may also enjoy:

Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Six Surprises of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter

Six Reasons To Check Out Disney’s Pop Century Resort

Special thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, Disney photographer icon Tom Bricker, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, and Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.

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Posted on February 14, 2015

18 Responses to “SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge”

  • by Aliceinwonderla on February 14, 2015, at 8:44 am EDT

    I just love this wonderful article which highlights so many of the fabulous features of my family’s favorite resort! We are so pleased that Disney has allowed AKL to remain unique and subtly authentic, just as you mentioned. It truly is a special getaway.
    But one thing I don’t understand is why people think it is far away from the parks, or that the buses run longer than those of other resorts. We have stayed there five or six times and I have never noticed this. Perhaps it’s a misconception that comes from the feeling of remoteness? It has even led me to do a few calculations based on travel times to the parks that are posted on a couple of “Disney tips” websites, including Touring Plans, and even the numbers do not show that staying at AKL will give you long bus trips. Perhaps if you only go to MK… But not if you are visiting all the parks. Seriously!

    But I will concede that someone who expected to feel in the middle of the excitement all the time would not enjoy this aspect of AKL. Thank you for showcasing the resort in such a beautiful way!

    • Thank you for the comments. I always encourage people who are traveling to WDW to rent a car, even if staying onsite and only doing Disney parks. I agree that EVERYTHING is relatively easy to get to on WDW property. The biggest problem with the buses is, as of today, they still don’t have a way to let guests know when the next bus is coming. 10 minutes seems like a half hour when you are just standing there having no idea when your bus will come. This frustration then goes up to the next level when other buses come but not the one for the park you are interested in. When/if Disney puts bus times at the actual stops or integrates into My Disney Experience, I bet people’s complaints/misconceptions about Animal Kingdom Lodge go way down.

    • We did a split stay BLT/AKL last year and the more remote feel of AKL was a great way to wind down after 4 days of being in the middle of everything at BLT. AKL is fantastic as a place to spend a couple of days just hanging around the resort. The pool and play area at Jambo are great, and there seems to be more at-resort programming at AKL than at the other deluxe resorts.

      I agree that the buses at AKL are no worse than any other resort. I enjoy driving but would never bother taking a car from a resort to a park. You aren’t driving for most of that trip, you’re waiting in line to get into a parking lot, finding a parking space, taking a tram, and walking. Then on the way out you’re trying to find your car amongst 10000 other identical rentals cars and fighting traffic since you’re probably leaving at the same time as everyone else. No thanks, that’s not a vacation.

  • We always bring our car to WDW (all the way from Ontario, Canada), so the distance to everything is no big deal. However (and this is a problem with Deluxe resorts in general) the cost is just not worth it. We don’t stay at the value resorts (Port Orleans or Coronado Springs are our typical haunts), but the Deluxe resorts run double the cost of the moderates – usually 3-5x the cost of the values. For a place you sleep and occasionally swim, I just can’t justify them. We’ve eaten at Sanaa, we plan to eat at Boma next visit. But staying there? If some day I splurge (without the kids) and take my wife to a Deluxe resort at Disney, Contemporary and Polynesian are higher on my list (simply because I’ve wanted to stay at them for the last 35 years.)

    • It can definitely be challenging trying to justify the cost of a Deluxe stay versus other venues onsite and offsite. Our one night stay last year at the Contemporary was over $615 for one night. ( http://blog.touringplans.com/2014/10/01/contemporary_atriumclublevel/ ) Granted there were a lot of things that were absolute terrific about that experience, but that’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re a family and looking at spending a good part of your day at the theme parks. We generally stay at value resorts for part of our trips, and then switch over to a good moderate or a deluxe for the special occasions. Thankfully Disney has been regularly having good discounts for Florida residents and/or Annual Passholders in this area as well.

    • I haven’t looked at cash prices for years thanks to DVC, but when I used to stay cash there were 3 distinct levels of pricing for deluxe resorts. Monorail was the most expensive, followed by Boardwalk area, then WL and AKL. At the time a non-savannah room at AKL was only a bit more expensive than a moderate.

      A quick look at disney’s website tells me AKL starts at $284/night, and Coronado Springs starts at $175/night. Not a small difference, but not multiple times as expensive either. Poly, on the other hand, starts at $429/night.

      • Polynesian is certainly out of reach. I think my issue with AKL, is for it to be a unique experience, you pretty much need the savannah view, which is a lot more than $284 (it starts at $418). Contemporary, meanwhile, comes in at minimum $356. (Still more than I want to pay for an 11 day stay at WDW, but cheaper than Polynesian by far.

        Some day… when the kids move out, I’m going to go on a few shorter Deluxe resort trips.

    • Wanted to make sure you know that you can rent points on the mouseowners rent/ transfer site to stay in deluxe DVC accommodation. Dave’s Disney DVC site has points for $14 but if you use their cost calculator, you can see the point cost. I have purchased point the last two years from Mouseowners and use Dave’s site to calculate what I need for my stay. Under $200 a night often, for off season and sometimes closer to $150 for some.

      The other cheap way is buying Disney rooms through Orbitz when they have a 15 or 20% off Disney’s already reduced prices. Last summer, August/ September is maybe the cheapest to go to Disney, Animal Kingdom Lodge rooms were $162 and POP were $69.

      I have stayed at four deluxe resorts this way and am working my way through. I usually do a split stay to off-set costs. Good luck!

  • Where was the photo with all the lanterns taken?

  • Your article is spot on. We absolutely love AKL and can’t imagine staying anywhere else on property. And even though we’ve always had a car while there, we use Disney transportation much more frequently than our own car. Sure we’ve waited sometimes, but the wait has never been unreasonable.

  • If you get the chance, the concierge lounge at AKL is outstanding. “Free” booze all day, you say? Count me in.

  • by Ruth Woodhouse on February 15, 2015, at 4:49 am EDT

    When we go to WDW we stay off site but rent DVC points and stay on WDW property for one or two nights and by renting points the price is very reasonable. Last time we stayed in Jambo House – November last year and had a fantastic time. We even got to see all the Christmas decorations. So you can always treat yourself without breaking the bank. My next mission is to stay at the Beach Club Villas and am already looking for DVC points to rent. I know this means paying for 2 places to sleep for a couple of nights but it’s a treat and living in UK it’s not like we can nip over for a couple of days lol

  • It is an absolutely gorgeous resort and the only way I’ve been able to stay here is because of my DVC!!

  • Thanks for the details, the photos and the desire to go tomorrow! We’re Pop Century, but that’s because we’re on a tight budget and we’re park commandos.

  • I haven’t tried Sanaa yet, but Naan is always one of the best tasting things at any restaurant that serves it. Just don’t bother buying it at the store.

  • I love Animal Kingdom Lodge and have stayed at both Jambo and Kidani and eaten at all the restaurants several times. I think you article was spot on, except for the restaurant portion. Jiko has some of the best food I have eaten on property – absolutely 4 star gourmet. I cannot believe you chose to highlight Macaroni and Cheese. For those who have never been there, this gives readers absolutely nothing to go on. For example, it has some of the best vegetarian offerings on site. It combines flavours and provides a unique palate experience like no other. It is African cuisine served decidedly upscale.

    And Saana is another gem. Yes, the bread and condiments side is really good but the curries and other meals are to die for. It has the best kid’s menu on property with salmon and other things my daughter loves. If you go to a four star restaurant are you really just going to eat bread and condiments or macaroni and cheese?

    Boma is widely considered to be the buffet on property with the best food. It is consistently one my family’s favourite restaurants for all ages, by far.

    Perhaps you are just not a foodie? Loved the rest of the article but the food portion left me scratching my head at what you chose to highlight.

    Cheers!

  • by Kristeen Kohrs on February 16, 2015, at 2:01 pm EDT

    I’ve mainly stayed at the Value resorts over the years but decided to splurge after a canceled trip to Kenya last supper – AWESOME resort and a very unique experience. Travel time to the parks was longer but buses were less crowded and the walks to the bus stops at the parks were shorter so maybe a bit of a benefit. I WISH I knew I could get zebra domes “to go” at Kadani when we were there last week – although maybe not – I might have really packed on some extra pounds. They are unique and YUMMY!