Here it is. My first official DIS review. As the new guy, I had to try to curb my obvious excitement and wide-eyed optimism in order to form an impartial opinion of what is, by all accounts, an amazing resort. Let me tell you, it was pretty much impossible.
Walking into the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it’s tough not to be totally blown away. The lobby alone induces the kind of awe and magic that Disney is known for. Cristina and I arrived around 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Before we even entered the building, we were greeted a number of times by different cast members; a nice touch that I wouldn’t necessarily expect. Entering the massive lobby, we were at once impressed and confused…the amount of stuff to see in this place is unbelievable but…where’s the check-in desk?! After suppressing our excitement and focusing on the task at hand, we easily found the desk with only one guest ahead of us in line. The check-in process took a total of about 3 minutes (especially easy after using the online check-in service) and despite getting there two hours before the regular 3pm check-in time, our room was ready to go. Don’t count on this, though. Your mileage may vary.
We were offered bell service but declined. In hindsight, we should have accepted. The resort is laid out like a horseshoe with the lobby in the center and hallways extending out on either side. Our room was literally at the tip of the left side of the horseshoe. After huffing it halfway, we were really wishing we had let someone else take care of the bags. Word of advice: check the map to see where your room is in relation to the lobby and consider taking advantage of the bell service. A walk from the lobby to the end of either hallway can easily take 3 minutes, which doesn’t sound long but if you’ve got kids and bags, it can be rough. The good news is, all of the hallways are indoors and air conditioned so the hike wasn’t all that bad.
Upon first entering the room, we weren’t entirely impressed. The layout was fairly typical with two queen beds (a single king is available), television, refrigerator, table with two chairs, closet, vanity area separate from the tub and commode, and a balcony. After further inspection, the details that make this a deluxe resort began to show; ornate wood-carved furniture, two under-mounted sinks in the vanity with a marble counter-top and modern fixtures, an LCD HDTV with a separate box to plug in your own devices (HDMI and composite connections for everything from a Blu-ray player to an Xbox)…these are the things that set Disney’s deluxe resorts apart from the rest. Not to mention the savannah view from the balcony. We just happened to have a room that looked out over a feeding area so we were basically guaranteed to see animals fairly often.
Unfortunately, the room lost a few points for cleanliness, and it didn’t even take much effort to notice the lack of attention it had received. The armoire clearly had dust on its shelves and there was a single jelly bean laying on the floor in the middle of the entry hallway. How a jelly bean was left in such a high traffic area is beyond me. Rather than jump to conclusions, we let a day pass to see if the maid staff would rectify these problems; after all, this room could have sat unused for who knows how long. On day 2, however, the dust on the armoire remained. Pete and Walter had an identical room on the opposite end of the resort and theirs was spotless from the start, so again, mileage may vary.
Also worth noting: the room had no separation for the vanity area. Those of you early-risers with families that prefers to sleep in will find it difficult to get ready in the morning without lighting up the whole room. Considering it’s a feature of Port Orleans Riverside (a moderate resort), I would have expected some kind of similar feature for a deluxe resort.
One word continually jumped into my mind as we explored the Animal Kingdom Lodge: discovery. Everywhere we went, we found something new and interesting. For example, there was an outdoor stairwell adjacent to our room and since Cristina likes to explore every inch of a place, she decided to see where it went. I laughed because…how interesting can a stairwell be? As soon as we stepped out, we were greeted by two huge Ankole cows (AKA the big fat cows with massive horns). Apparently a stairwell can be awesome. Granted, we were 3 stories up so it’s not like we were face-to-face, but there isn’t another resort I can think of where you can accidentally come upon something like that. The presence of wild animals on the grounds of the resort adds a sense of unpredictability to what would otherwise just be a place to sleep in between visiting Disney parks.
They also have a ton of African wood carvings and other works of art scattered throughout the building. Each piece is labeled so it’s like walking through a museum, minus the stuffiness.
Most of the views in this resort are breathtaking, offering looks at some amazing animals in a very natural-looking habitat. Unfortunately, the chain-link fences that surround the grounds are a little jarring, making some of the views seem like you’re looking at a school recess yard instead of an African savannah. I understand they’re necessary, but I would have expected Disney to find a creative way to hide them.
The pool is massive and there are plenty of patio chairs lining the many sidewalks. We had no trouble finding a couple of chairs to stow our belongings while we took to the pool. There are two hot tubs on opposite ends of the pool which were almost always full but we did manage to get into one alone for about 10 minutes…until two little girls came and joined us. I wouldn’t think that kids and near-boiling water would mix, but there always seemed to be kids in both hot tubs.
The Zawadi Marketplace is one of the best resort gift shops around. They sell original artwork inspired by the resort, African-themed sculptures and percussion instruments, and even resort-specific t-shirts, something that has become increasingly rare. Of course, there’s also a section dedicated to all of the toiletries and non-prescription medication you may have forgotten while packing.
Buses travel from Animal Kingdom Lodge to each theme park and Downtown Disney about every 20 minutes. Our trip from the resort to Magic Kingdom took only 20 minutes total which I found fairly surprising, especially considering that’s the furthest park from the Lodge. From Magic Kingdom, we decided to head to Downtown Disney to see how long it would take to get back to the resort from there…and we were severely disappointed. Traveling from Downtown Disney Marketplace to Animal Kingdom Lodge took 56 minutes after a stop at Pleasure Island and Typhoon Lagoon. Word of advice: If you’re traveling from DTD to a resort, grab the bus at Pleasure Island…it took 20 minutes just to get from the Marketplace to Pleasure Island on the bus, which is close to the same time it would have taken to walk there.
From Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House (the main guest building), it’s possible to take the Downtown Disney bus to Kidani Village, the Disney Vacation Club area of the resort. While there’s not much for a regular resort guest to do at Kidani Village, it’s home to Sanaa, one of four restaurants on the property. If you want to try all of the food options, you’ll have to make this trip at some point. Kidani Village is also about a 6 minute walk from Jambo House, so if you like the fresh air, it’s not too bad. From Kidani Village, you can take any theme park bus back to Jambo House.
Animal Kingdom Lodge has a plethora of great restaurants. The Mara is their quick-service food court that serves some basics along with a few surprises. You can get the typical burger or chicken nuggets, but they also serve some really great sandwiches and flatbreads. They also offer a number of quick options from the cooler; pre-made ham sandwiches, salads, and fruit bowls, as well as a few dessert options. At The Mara, you can eat inside or take your food out to one of the tables near the pool, a great option if you’re on a food run for your little swimmers.
Boma is a buffet-style restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner. While we didn’t make it there for breakfast, the consensus was that dinner was only so-so, especially considering the price. The food certainly wasn’t bad, but at $35.99 per person, we expected more. The meat selection included a nut-crusted salmon that I really enjoyed, as well as roasted chicken and a carving station serving up fresh-cut strip loin (New York strip). The chicken was decent and the strip loin was nearly rare and fairly fatty, which was a turn off for me. The chef did offer to serve a more cooked piece of meat so if you prefer medium to well done, take advantage. Also on the buffet was a salad station, various soups including an incredible and unique peanut soup, pasta, rice, couscous, and a dessert station.
Jiko is the fine-dining establishment in Jambo House where prices range from $9 for an appetizer all the way up to $41 for a steak. They have a fairly extensive and exotic menu including flatbreads, wild boar tenderloin, seared duck breast, and wild striped bass, as well as the typical fare including seared salmon, beef short ribs and a filet mignon. Before we even got there, friends of ours had recommended the filet mignon with mac & cheese, which is no longer on the menu. Apparently the restaurant recently switched chefs and the new one decided to offer the filet with potatoes and green beans instead. The part that bugs me is that everyone raves about the mac & cheese and they’ll still prepare it if you order it…which many people do (including half of our party). If it’s that popular of a dish, wouldn’t you want to put it back on the menu?
Our experience at Jiko was fantastic up until the entrees were served. Pete and I had both ordered the filet cooked medium, and both came out nearly raw. At that point, everyone else had their food and felt bad for eating while we waited for them to fix our steaks. Then the steaks came back out and while mine was great, Pete’s still wasn’t right. I enjoyed the meal immensely but the overall experience was sullied by their inability to cook a steak properly. Considering the fact that most people rave about Jiko, I’d say they were just having an off night and I wouldn’t expect this to be the norm.
Over at Kidani Village is Sanaa, another full service restaurant offering unique African dishes with an Indian-inspired flare. I ordered the burger for lunch just to see how unique it would be…and I was not disappointed. It was served on Naan bread (sort of like a pita) with minted greens, tomato, onion, and “cucumber-yogurt raita.” It’s a very interesting twist on a very traditional meal. They also offer more exotic choices like a lamb kefta (same as the burger but with lamb), shrimp with green curry sauce, and a fish-of-the-day with curry broth. And that’s just for lunch; the dinner menu differs slightly. Lunch prices range from $11.49 for a turkey club to $18.99 for the fish, while dinner ranges from $17.99 for Tandoori Chicken to $28.99 for a New York Strip steak.
One thing we noticed about dining at the Animal Kingdom Lodge was that they seemed to recycle much of the food throughout the restaurants. The “vegetable pizza” that I got at The Mara was nearly identical to the Kalamata Olive flatbread we got as an appetizer at Jiko. We also got these little dessert balls at The Mara called “Zebra Domes” which were also served on the buffet at Boma and brought as a peace offering after our bad experience at Jiko. Each restaurant still had plenty of signature dishes so I wouldn’t take off too many points for this obvious money-saving technique.
For guests looking to be pampered a little more, I’d highly suggest upgrading to concierge level (Kilimanjaro Club). The 6th floor of the hotel is only accessible to those with concierge room keys and there are almost always complementary sodas, water, and juices available. There are also complimentary hors d’oeuvres served throughout the day and beer and wine in the evenings.
By far the biggest draw to the Kilimanjaro Club upgrade is the opportunity to take the Sunrise Safari tour. Sundays and Thursdays, guests with concierge access have the option of taking this unique tour through Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari ride. The experience costs $65 for guests ages 10 and up, $32.50 for ages 3-10 and must be booked in advance. Guests meet their guides in the lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 7:00 am and are taken by bus through the back gate of the park. Once there, you’re split up into two groups and are taken to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Rather than take the typical 15 minute themed ride through the safari (trying to track down poachers and save the baby elephant), you’re treated to an hour-long ride with one of the animal trainers as he or she tells stories about their experiences and how they train the animals. They take their time driving through the animal exhibits and they’ll stop for as long as 10 minutes at a time so that everyone can get plenty of photos and watch the animals. It was a really fun experience, especially if you’ve done the safari ride a number of times and wish that you could just sit and watch the animals for a while instead of speeding past them.
Here’s some video from the Sunrise Safari
After three amazing nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, I would easily give it a 95 out of 100. The only points lost were in the cleanliness of the room and the recycling of certain dishes throughout the restaurants. On the whole though, and as trite as it sounds, this place is magical. The cast members were all friendly and inviting, the common areas were comfortable and interesting, the dining options were plentiful and unique, and again, the animals put this resort in a category of its own. Anyone looking to stay at a Disney deluxe resort should consider this one, but especially those of you who have had past Disney vacations and are looking for something new and exciting.
The morning of our check-out was a sad one, but I only threw a minor tantrum in the hallway…
Category: Disney World