The one Disney Resort you must visit: The Animal Kingdom Lodge
Even if you are not staying there, this is the one resort you must visit. It is an amazing place and home to some of Disney’s best restaurants.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a snazzy take on safari chic, with balcony views of wildlife that alone may be worth the tabs, but its distance from the other parks may be a drawback for those planning to explore all of Disney World. On the other hand, if you have a car, it’s the closest resort to all of the affordable family restaurants lining US 192 (Irlo Bronson Memorial highway). By far the most exotic Disney resort, it’s tailor-made for families.
Designed by Peter Dominick of Wilderness Lodge fame, Animal Kingdom Lodge fuses African tribal architecture with the rugged style of grand East African national-park lodges. Five-story thatched-roof wings fan out from a vast central rotunda housing the lobby and featuring a huge mud fireplace. Public areas and many rooms offer panoramic views of a private 33-acre wildlife preserve punctuated with streams and populated with 100 types of free-roaming animals and 130 birds.
Most guest rooms boast hand-carved furnishings and richly colored upholstery. Almost all rooms have full balconies. Studio and one-, two-, and three-bedroom villa accommodations are available in Jambo house (the main building) and at adjacent Kidani Village, a Disney Vacation Club property. Having stayed at Kidani Village, we think it’s a quieter, more relaxed resort. The lobby and rooms have a smaller, more personal feel than Jambo house. The building’s exterior isn’t anything special—essentially a set of green rectangles with oversize African-themed decorations attached. Kidani’s distance from Jambo house makes it feel remote. The bus stops are a fair distance from the main building too, and it’s easy to head in the wrong direction when you’re coming back from the parks at night.
Fabulous pools at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
The Uzima 11,000-square-foot pool has a zero-depth entry point and is surrounded by large canopy trees and Floridian palms. The pool includes a children’s wading pool and 2 whirlpool spas. You can also cool off at Samawati Springs Pool, which offers a thrilling waterslide, 2 whirlpool spas and Uwanja Camp—an animal observation site-themed water playground with squirting Venus flytraps, a rope bridge and a water canon. The Samawati Springs Pool is located at Kidani Village.
Animal Kingdom Lodge offers some of Disney’s most amazing cuisine
Like all Disney Resorts the Animal Kingdom Lodge has a Quick Service restaurant (The Mara) and the Maji Pool Bar as well as the Uzima Springs Pool Bar offer small fare. For a relaxing drink check out the Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar or the Victoria Falls Lounge.
Foodies however must check out Jiko – the Cooking Place, an upscale restaurant blending traditional African, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine.
Boma – Flavors of Africa offers an all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet at breakfast and dinner. It is the perfect place to introduce kids to the flavors of Africa. My all-time favorite is Sanaa – an East African-inspired eatery which I recommend especially for lunch. Ask for a seat at the window and enjoy views of African wildlife over the savanna. Make sure to try the Indian-style bread service. Sanaa, located at Kidani Village, is also home to “Dine with an Animal Specialist” where during a 4-course lunch, guests learn about the animals roaming just outside the windows of the restaurant. After your meal, your host will take you to a secured area for an up-close encounter with the radiated tortoises—one of the most endangered animals cared for at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. For more details check out my review of Lunch with an Animal Specialist.
If you are visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge venture out to the public viewing areas of the savanna. Ask the concierge for a Wildlife Field Guide or learn more about African animals from the wonderful safari guides who are in these outside viewing areas during the day.
For an in-depth and completely updated review of all Walt Disney World Resorts check out the 2016 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. The book will be available as of August 11, 2015. Pre-order your copy NOW!
The guide has everything you need to plan your family’s trip hassle free. Weather your are planning your annual vacation to Walt Disney World or preparing for your first visit ever, the book will give you the insider scoop from hotels, restaurants, and attractions to rental car companies.
What’s new in the 2016 edition of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World?
– A step-by-step time line showing when to book your hotel room, make restaurant reservations, get Faspasses, and send room requests to your hotel
– How to meet Frozen‘s Anna & Elsa with a minimum of fuss
– How to save big on Disney’s Memory Maker
– The most common Magic Band questions and answers
– A simple chart describing the Disney vacation you can get for $500, $1,000 and $1,500, including theme park admission, dining, and lodging options, for families of all different sizes.