On our very first trip to Walt Disney World, we stayed in a value resort. A few years later, we stayed at a moderate, and last fall we stayed in a deluxe resort for the first time.
In trying to decide which deluxe resort we should try first, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge was an easy choice to make. Within moments of arriving at Kidani Village, we were no longer asking ourselves why people pay deluxe resort prices – that’s literally how long it took for us to answer the question. It is a whole other world in terms of customer service, theming, atmosphere and you can get that sense immediately, upon pulling up to the resort.
The resort is surrounded by lush greenery, there are atmospheric sounds filling the air, and the resort actually seemed quiet and serene. Granted, we did arrive later in the evening, but the whole resort had a peaceful quality to it during the length of our stay. Like many experiences to be had at Disney, it’s difficult to put into words just what it is that makes you fall under its spell, but I’ll try to explain why we loved staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge – and why we would stay here again. I would even venture to say there’s a good chance we will stay here again before striking every Disney resort off our list.
There are two sections to Animal Kingdom Lodge, the main lodge, Jambo House, which has a stunning lobby, featuring African shield chandeliers and a wide array of African art. About a 5-10 minute walk away is Kidani Village, which is the Disney Vacation Club building. We are not DVC members (I wish we were though!) but you don’t have to be a DVC member to stay at the resorts. Kidani Village also has an impressive lobby with equally stunning artwork. It’s worth noting that Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has one of the largest collections of African art in the U.S. and the entire has it spread throughout so there’s always sometime great to see around every corner.
We stayed in a standard studio room at Kidani Village. We didn’t splurge on the savanna view room, which typically costs somewhere in the neighbourhood of $200 USD more per night, but it could be worth it for some people, especially if you’re not doing Disney on a budget. For us, this was a shorter trip and we planned on spending the majority of our time in the parks, so we opted to save the money on the room view – and we’re glad we did.
While I imagine it would be magical to wake up and see a giraffe right outside your window, we had plenty of other opportunities to view the animals. There are a number of large windows in the hallways that offer a great vantage point for viewing the animals, and there are viewing spots outside, spread all around the resort. However, I do know many people find the extra cost for a savanna view to be worth it, and if we ever do find ourselves in such a room, perhaps we’ll change our tune.
The standard studio room was perfect for us. We had one queen sized bed, a couch, small kitchenette, the bathroom was spacious and we had a little balcony where we sat one morning and had cake pops for breakfast (because that’s what you do on a vacation at Disney, make choices that otherwise might be frowned upon). I loved the colour scheme of earth tones in the rooms, and the resort in general, and I found that made the resort very comfortable. There’s also not a great deal of bright lighting around and in the resort in an effort not to disturb the animals. I thought this only added to the immersive atmosphere of the resort.
This was our first trip that we drove to Disney so we had a car with us and took advantage of the resort parking which was in a covered garage, with easy access to an elevator and our rooms. We left our car there for the entire trip and barely gave it a second thought until our dreaded last-day-in-Disney.
Animal Kingdom Lodge has a number of restaurants that are often on people’s favourite Disney restaurant lists, but of course there is never a enough time to eat everywhere we want when at Disney, and we only got a chance to eat at The Mara and Boma. Sanaa is located in Kidani Village, and we thought about going there for breakfast, but I was adamant about having Mickey waffles that morning, and Sanaa does not have them on their breakfast menu, so we went to The Mara instead.
I really enjoyed The Mara. We had snacks here (Zebra Domes, obviously!) and breakfast, but the atmosphere was probably my favourite out of resort quick-service locations, so far. I loved the décor which made it feel as if you’re under a canopy of trees.
We also had breakfast at Boma, which I really enjoyed, but I wouldn’t necessarily be in a rush to eat there again if we weren’t staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We are not the biggest fans of buffets, but we had a good time and a good meal at Boma. We had friendly service, Kenyan coffee which was very good, and a quiet table. We had a fairly early reservation, among their first sittings, and by the time we left, around 9:30 or 10am, it was starting to get busier. What we liked about the buffet at Boma is that you can get your standard breakfast offerings, including Mickey waffles, eggs, pastries etc. but you can also try some African inspired dishes. We tried a bit of mostly everything, and couldn’t find anything to complain about, but also there wasn’t really anything to rave about either.
I wish I could say we went swimming every day, but we didn’t go swimming once. This is partly due to the time of year we visited (November) and mostly due to the fact that we like to get to the parks early in the day, and we don’t often return to the resort to break mid-day, so that leaves our pool time to the evenings, and the evenings were just a little too chilly for us to venture into the pools. We did visit the pool areas, and while they look lovely and are zero entry pools, their theming is nothing too spectacular, but more in line with the natural theming of the resort. If we stay here again, or I should say, when we stay here again, trying out the pools at Kidani and Jambo House will be a priority.
Because we are just two adults, the walk between Jambo House and Kidani Village was not a bother for us. I actually enjoyed the stroll between the two, which we did to explore Jambo House, visit the resort gift shop, and eat at Boma and The Mara. Each lodge has their own bus stop, and there is a shuttle between the two resort areas, but often it is much faster to just walk, than wait for the shuttle. The shuttle is a regular van and doesn’t fit too many people. We took the shuttle once, on our first journey over to Jambo House. We squeezed into the shuttle with a family and their stroller and many bags. Once we realized how close Jambo House really was, we elected to just walk from that point on.
We understand though that this was not an inconvenience for us because we aren’t a family travelling with lots of bags, a stroller and kids. If that were the case, the trek between the two areas would not be as quick and easy, and would make staying at Jambo House a much better idea.
We saw a lot of animals while we stayed here: zebras, flamingos, and even a baby giraffe. There were other animals, but I neglected to bring my wild life guide with me and honestly just enjoyed watching them from the beautiful surroundings of the resort.
Although Animal Kingdom Lodge is in the deluxe category, it is not very close to many parks, as is the case with the Magic Kingdom resorts. Animal Kingdom is nearby, but still requires a bus rides (albeit a very short bus ride of ~3-5minutes). The buses to the other parks will seem longer simply because Animal Kingdom lodge is at the South end of Disney property. There are no boats or monorails, so the distance away from the other parks may deter some people from staying here and paying deluxe prices. But for the animal lovers, it is an absolutely beautiful resort that has its own savannahs filled with animals and that has to be worth something!
I felt as if I was living in the lap of luxury throughout our entire stay here. I felt like I was finally part of an elite group of people that stay at Disney deluxe resorts (which is totally possible to do if you get a good room deal and budget) and best of all, I didn’t feel as if we didn’t belong there – and to be honest, that is something I had worried about when staying at a deluxe resort. We didn’t want to feel out of place, but that wasn’t the case at all. We felt right at home. I think one thing I really loved about this resort was that when we compared it to the busyness of the parks, or some of the value resorts we have stayed at, this resort felt peaceful, and offered a nice break to the crowds, the noise and the ‘always-on-the-go’ mentality.
If you’re looking to take the plunge into deluxe resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a great place to start – a totally unique experience that added a whole new aspect to what a Disney vacation means for us.