Touted by some as “too far away from everything” (a silly notion, really, when all of the Walt Disney World resort is so easily accessible), the Animal Kingdom Lodge has firmly landed itself in one of the top spots for our family, amongst all 28 of the resort hotels owned and operated by Disney.
The Lodge originated as one building, now referred to as Jambo House. When you arrive, it looks somewhat unimposing.
One step into the lobby though, and you realize you are in someplace special. The huge ceiling, massive picture window overlooking the savanna, chandeliers, and gorgeous decor instantly transport you to somewhere far away from Central Florida.
From Jambo House, you can see two beautiful savannas – Arusha and Sunset; both offer unique sets of animals.
In 2009, Disney Vacation Club added a separate section to the resort called Kidani Village. DVC rooms are available in both Jambo House and Kidani Village; the Kidani portion is made up entirely of “Home Away From Home” accommodations, while Jambo house is primarily standard Deluxe hotel accommodations.
Connected by a walkway, Kidani shares the Sunset Savanna with Jambo House and also has its own, the Pembe Savanna. Much like the relationship between Wilderness Lodge and its associated Villas, Kidani Village is extremely reminiscent of Jambo House – on a more cozy level. The same rich woods, local artisan inspiration, and beautiful African fabrics are ever-present, but the lobby and buildings are smaller and more intimate.
Like most DVC resorts, Kidani Village offers a lot of fun amenities like barbecue pavilions, basketball and shuffleboard, DVD rentals, workout facilities, and more. Kidani Village guests are also free to use any amenities at Jambo House for a different experience. Both sections offer a variety of room options, including different views, different sizes, and concierge options.
There are three table service restaurants available at the resort, Jiko, Boma, and Sanaa, as well as one counter-service option, the Mara. There is also the breathtaking Victoria Falls lounge, and the Uzima pool bar.
We joke (but are probably not really joking at all) that we could spend a week here and never leave the resort.
Thinking about staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or Disney Vacation Club’s Animal Kingdom Villas? Here are some of the things we love most, in no particular order:
- the savannas. This one may be predictable, but there’s a reason for that. Where else in the US can you wake up and see a giraffe grazing just off your balcony? And if you aren’t able to stay in a Savanna-view room, don’t worry! Walking down the nearest hallway or waiting for an elevator may afford you a fun surprise at any time. Animal guides are available in each room, at the front desk, and at the outdoor viewing areas to help you identify and learn more about what you see.
- the cast members. Disney cast members are generally top-notch, but there is something extra special about the folks at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Many of them are “ambassadors” from countries and regions of Africa and can tell you folk stories, art history, and cultural nuances from a first-hand perspective. Speaking of stories…
- the firepits (and story time!) Every night, catch a story from one of the ambassadors around a beautiful fire pit overlooking the Arusha Savanna. Some of my favorites are like those from Tinga Tinga Tales – folklore around why things are the way they are today. It’s often educational… and always entertaining!
- quiet spaces. Some of my favorite places in all of Walt Disney World to just sit and relax are at this resort. Often tucked away off of hallways, both sections of this hotel are full of hidden locations to sit and work or just relax in quiet.
- the Disney details. Of course “details” makes my list; it’s one of the things that draws our family to Disney Parks time and time again. There are subtle and beautiful Disney details throughout the resort, such as a lovely little Simba in the bathroom tile. There is enough to make Disneyphiles smile but it is not so overwhelming for folks who want to step away from the theme parks into a different atmosphere for a while when they return to their resort. There is a great deal of research and story put into every part of the resort. “Kidani” means necklace, and that section of the resort is aptly designed to look like one. The savannas are lit every night with artificial moonlight to look as if there is always a full moon, for optimal viewing. The fabric choices and decor tell tales about the land.
- the pools and splash area. The Uzima pool at Jambo House is one of the largest pools on Disney property. It has a true zero entry and is absolutely gorgeous. Kidani Village has another pool with water slides, as well as a super fun interactive play area called Uwanja Camp. This is one of the few hotels at which we will be sure and schedule a “pool day” during our trip.
- Zawadi Marketplace. I’m thrilled that the shopping experiences at Walt Disney World are going away from the homogenized thing they tried for the past several years… but even if this wasn’t true, this shop has never succumbed to that trend. You can get your typical souvenirs if you’d like, but you can also purchase things made in African villages and other souvenirs that are much more unique than you might see elsewhere.
- special activities. I mentioned some of the amenities and activities above that are typical of DVC resorts, but Animal Kingdom Lodge has several that are unique to this property. Tour the kitchens of the restaurants, decorate a cookie in Boma, see the animals with night vision glasses, create crayon rubbings, and learn to track animals. Most of these activities are included with your stay, and those that are offered at an additional charge are always extremely reasonable.
- Sanaa bread service. Yes, I am including one menu item on a list of reasons to shell out big bucks for a hotel stay. Of course, you could also just visit for dinner – but where’s the fun in that? If you are a fan of naan, you will love this bread service: mouth-watering Naan in variety of flavors, served with a variety of dips. The rest of the food throughout the resort is great, too. Boma consistently makes guests’ “top buffet” lists, Zebra Domes are the stuff of many Disney fans’ dreams, and Jiko earns its keep as a signature dining experience. You really can’t go wrong with any of the choices.
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