Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever August 13, 2015: Animal Kingdom Area Hotels

After last week’s adventure to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we’re back with another beastly Best Week Ever that delves into your dwelling options in the neighborhood of Walt Disney World’s newest theme park. Let’s take a trip to the Animal Kingdom area hotels, starting with WDW’s weakest resorts and working our way up to some of its very best!

 

Disney’s All Star Resorts

Let’s begin at the bottom, and I’ll do my “best week ever” best to be as polite as possible: I’m not a big fan of the three value-priced All Star Resorts.

 

It’s been a long while since I’ve stayed overnight in one, but I remember them being large, loud, and largely lacking in the Disney magic of the more expensive on-site hotels.

Not much seems to have changed; it’s still eerie how identical the outside of the resorts are.

 

Deja vu all over again!

 

The lobbies all have a similar look, with some minor differences in the color palate and layout.

Maintenance work was underway in half of the All Star Music lobby.

Of the three, I think All Star Movies has the nicest lobby, with this Hollywood Bowl homage mini-movie theater.

 

Another variation between the three lobbies is found in these electronic “memorabilia” displays (and whether or not they work).

 

Each All Star resort has its own gift shop…

 

…and arcade.

All Star Sports seems to have the most up-to-date collection of arcade games…

 

…but pricing is identical at all three resorts.
Note the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade machine on the left. Disney must have gotten a Groupon for these games, because I’ve seen them in almost every arcade on property.

The biggest difference I found between the three resorts was in at the food court. While All Star Sports and All Star Music have nearly identical restaurant layouts, the World Premiere food court at All Star Movies has an updated design with nicer aesthetics and smoother crowd flow.

 

The only downside is that All Star Movies’ drink island is currently under refurbishment, leaving guests to use this temporary setup for the moment:

 

The bar service at all three resorts is similarly limited, but All Star Movies has these electronic tablets to play games on while you get buzzed.

 

Finally, take a look at the main feature pool at all three resorts.

All Star Sports Surfboard Bay Pool

 

All Star Music Calypso Pool

 

All Star Movies Fantasia Pool

 

 

My pick is the Fantasia pool at Movies. Which one do you prefer?

 

All three resorts’ pools offer a full schedule of activities, including evening movies (weather permitting):

 

Even with the above options, I’m guessing most guests at the All Star hotels don’t spend a ton of time hanging around the resort; they’re probably only there while asleep in between park touring marathons.

 

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

Moving onwards and upwards, Coronado Springs is one of the Walt Disney World Resort’s hidden hotel gems. Mostly frequented by convention-goers, some tourists aren’t even aware that it exists. But it sports a luxurious look and feel that is much more in line with a deluxe resort than its moderate classification.

 

Coronado Springs makes a lovely first impression with its Spanish Colonial-inspired entryway:

 

Step through the lobby to the main outdoor promenade, and the view across the lake will take your breath away.

 

Coronado Springs’ main pool and playground is called “The Dig Site,” and may be second only to Stormalong Bay among all the on-site resorts’ water features.

 

Landscaping around the property is also admirably lush, with some wonderful wild flowers currently in bloom.

 

Back inside the hotel’s main building, I was struck by how quiet it was compared to other hotels I’d visited. Apparently this property is highly dependent on convention traffic, and can be relatively empty when there isn’t a large meeting booked.

Rix Lounge, open evenings at Coronado Springs

 

Coronado Springs’ Pepper Market food court.

A prime example is Las Ventanas, a table-service restaurant that isn’t even listed on the hotel’s official map. I had nearly declared it dead and gave up looking for it, when I stumbled across it on the way to the restroom.

 

The room was completely empty, and I felt so sorry for the lone waiter that I sat down for an appetizer, making this my first-ever pity lunch.

 

While the service was superior — the chef even came out twice to chat — I can’t say I’m surprised that Las Ventanas isn’t more popular. For starters, the menu is a mish-mash of generic dishes with no consistent cultural identity:

 

The crab cake I ordered was well-seasoned but made from mushy pre-processed backfin meat.

 

And while they went out of their way to find out-of-stock ingredients for my Jalapeño Margarita, the peppers were so heavy-handed I couldn’t finish it. (La Cava del Tequila this is not.)

 

I felt bad for the friendly staff, but can’t see myself making a dinner reservation here any time soon.

 

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

We’ve saved the best for last! Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful theme park resort hotels in the state (if not the world), and the only one in Orlando where you can see live African animal strolling the savannah outside your bedroom! That perk alone is enough to make many guests eagerly pony up the deluxe prices, to stay here; if I had the spare cash, I might do the same.

 

Let’s start at the original Jambo House lobby, which ranks up with the public areas at the Grand Californian and Wilderness Lodge for sheer jaw-dropping awe. All three were designed by the late architect Peter Dominick Jr.

 

The common areas are also filled with beautiful authentic African artwork.

 

The pool main pool here is nice, but not as elaborate as some other WDW deluxe resorts.

 

Jambo House is also home to a couple of WDW’s top restaurants. Everyone loves the buffet at Boma

 

…but Jiko is the place to go when you want to celebrate a special occasion.

I love the abstract bird sculptures flying overhead in the Jiko dining room.

 

Just remember to bring something nice to wear!

 

A short drive (or longish walk) down brings us to the Disney Vacation Club’s Kidani Village.

 

The common areas here are less overwhelmingly impressive and more welcomingly homey.

 

Families have left their name on this tapestry, which hangs in a small room of the lobby where organized kids activities are held.

 

Kidani Village also has its share of priceless cultural artifacts on display.

 

Of course, the real stars of Animal Kingdom Lodge are…the animals! The public balconies and overlooks at Kidani are often a little less crowded than the popular observation spots at Jambo House.

 

Animal Kingdom Lodge conducts free tours of the resort’s rich anthropological collection. I’ve taken a similar tour at Disneyland’s Grand Californian, which I found fascinating. Maybe I’ll take this one and document it for a future Best Week Ever?

 

We’ll end this week with Kidani Village’s main pool complex. While Jambo House’s pool is a bit bland, the DVC’s side’s facilities are phenomenal, ranking among the resort’s very best in terms of theming, shade, and range of recreational features — including a scenic overlook where you can watch wild animals in your wet trunks!

 

Which Animal Kingdom area resort is your favorite? Share your opinion in the comments below!

 

Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

13 thoughts on “Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever August 13, 2015: Animal Kingdom Area Hotels

  • August 13, 2015 at 10:01 am
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    Hi Seth! I really enjoy reading your articles. Your topics are interesting and unique, and I especially enjoy the bits of humor (“pity lunch”–brilliant!). The photos, however, seem a bit underwhelming, particularly blurry ones. While I wouldn’t say that any blurry photo is ideal, the ones that show text/signs are harder to read (such as menus). I would suggest that photos published of text/signs be sharp and glare-free. Not wanting to seem to critical here, and I love that you include so many photos with your articles. Thank you for your work; looking forward to the next one!

    • August 13, 2015 at 10:35 am
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      Hi cjherbie, thanks for the feedback!
      Here’s the deal: on rare occasions I’ll use a blurry photo (like the one above of Jiko dress restrictions) if the content is valuable and no other better image is available.

      However, 99% of the photos in this (and all my blog posts) are just fine. The issue is that your browser is degrading the image quality in order to reduce the file size & speed up page loading, since the raw photos are many megapixels.

      If you want to see any of the photos in higher resolution, click once on them to bring up a better quality slideshow. Or for maximum resolution, right click (or long press, on iPad) on any photo and open it in a new browser tab/window. You’ll see that all the text (especially on menus) is razor sharp!

      As for glare — sorry, but until Disney put a roof over Florida, or stops putting printed items behind glass outdoors, there isn’t much that can be done. MIT just developed software that can remove glare obstructions from photos, maybe they’ll let me test it???

  • August 13, 2015 at 10:07 am
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    Hi Seth! I love this site and am usually just a passive reader but I had to say something to defend the All-Stars… they don’t seem to get the love they are due! I absolutely agree that the other hotels featured are nicer for adults and certainly better if you are spending a day looking at hotels rather than staying at them. However, the All-Stars are perfect for two types of families: budget-minded who love Disney, and those with children under 4 or 5. I stayed at ASMo this past May with my 3yo and it could not have been more perfect. We really liked the food court, always quick and decent food and didn’t experience any problems with noise (just need to request room facing away from the pool). My husband and I have stayed at a lot of the on-site hotels but I have to say for the price, ASMo with a preschooler can’t be beat. My daughter and I had so much fun going around the All-Star complex, we spent almost a whole day walking around taking pictures with the enormous statues and checking out the grounds of ours and the other All-Stars. We recently stayed at French Quarter with her and she liked ASMo so much more! The fantasia pool and child’s play area were very fun for her, even though there were no slides this wasn’t a problem because she was a little small to go on the big slide at POFQ anyway. The only hotel that compared for her was when we stayed at Caribbean Beach because they have that awesome kids waterplay area with slides (the updated room with her own bed didn’t hurt either). This went on for longer than I meant it to but I wanted to say awesome blog, keep up the good work, but don’t be too hard on the All-Stars, they are the coolest in the eyes of a 3 year old!

    • August 13, 2015 at 10:37 am
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      Hi Toni, that’s the most passionate defense of All Star I’ve ever seen! 😉
      I didn’t mean to bash, and I’m sure every hotel is the greatest though some 3yo’s eyes. But given the location, amenities, and aesthetics, I have a tough time justifying a stay there vs spending a little more or a better hotel, or saving a bunch of $ and going off site. Maybe I’m just spoiled from visiting all the other WDW hotels!

    • August 13, 2015 at 11:04 am
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      I’d like to add my “two cents” in defense of the All-Stars resorts. We were two adults staying ASSports (no 3 year-olds or kids of any age) and we LOVED it. So much so that we booked a bounce back for the same place. The vibe there is youthful, the grounds impeccably maintained. And the bartender was a riot, and she poured the second best margarita we got the whole week we were there – La Cava being in a class by itself. And, per the desk staff, the place was sold out during our stay, yet it was quiet, and bus service was awesome – never more than 15 minutes, and never shared with another resort and never had to stand. Not once in a 7 day trip – either direction. Can’t wait to go back in October, when we have set aside a whole day to lounge at the pool and explore all three All-Stars.

      I really enjoy your blog, Seth! I look forward to it every week. Thanks!

      • August 13, 2015 at 11:52 am
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        Thanks for sharing your experience! You sure got lucky with the buses!!

  • August 13, 2015 at 11:20 am
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    We love the All Stars. The best is… they are small, so you don’t have to walk so long to the bus stations. Not everybody has a car. Normally I love your articles, but this time, I think it is a bit unfair. I prefer spending my money elsewhere then on a place where I get out at 7 in the mornings and come back at midnight. I just need a place to sleep and be near the Foodcourt and the bus stations. The All Stars are perfect for that. For sure the Deluxe resorts are nicer… that is why you pay more money. It depends on your needs on a Disney vacation. The article would be better if it is more neutral.

    • August 13, 2015 at 11:36 am
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      I have to agree with Nicole, particularly her final sentence. And I have to take exception to your earlier rebuttal, “Spend a little more for a better hotel.” It must be nice to think that $100 more a night (and that’s at the lowest price moderate as of today, according to MDE) is spending “a little more.” Must be nice… first work problems are the WORST.

      • August 13, 2015 at 11:57 am
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        Thanks for your feedback. When I said “spend a little more for a better hotel” I was referring to AoA or Pop, both of which I slightly prefer to AS. Or stay at universal’s cabana bay and drive to Disney for a couple days, you’ll love it!

        Technically, anything involving theme parks is a “first world” problem… 😉

  • August 13, 2015 at 1:30 pm
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    We stayed in Kidani in January. It was a dream! We adored the pool and all of the amazing detail.

  • August 13, 2015 at 4:34 pm
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    Don’t forget Sanaa at Kidani. Yummy food, animals right outside the window, and pretty easy to get a reservation.

  • August 13, 2015 at 7:39 pm
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    Yes! Please do the anthropology tour and document it.

  • August 13, 2015 at 8:27 pm
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    in your Coronado pictures, what’s that across the lake? I don’t recognize it. (I’m sure I could look at a map and figure it out, but what fun would that be?)

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