More Than the Lion King: A Review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Dec 18, 2018

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Walt Disney World gives you a couple dozen resorts to choose from when planning a Disney World vacation (not to mention the array of off-site options). Each of the Disney World resorts has its own theme, and one of the most spectacular and unique themes can be found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

This African-themed lodge is nearest to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, but you don’t have to leave the hotel’s grounds to enjoy the animals, since they are viewable from the lobby, the hallways and even many of the rooms! Paying extra for a better view is rarely worth it in the realm of family travel, but at Animal Kingdom Lodge, a savanna-view upgrade is absolutely worth consideration.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge first opened in 2001, but was expanded a few years later to include a few hundred Disney Vacation Club villas, giving the resort a variety of accommodation types to meet the needs of families of different shapes and sizes. Animal Kingdom Lodge is considered a Disney Deluxe Resort (along with iconic properties such as Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort). This means that your stay probably won’t be inexpensive, but the investment in a 24/7 magical Disney Resort experience is worth it.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is home to extensive African art.

In This Post

Booking

You can book Walt Disney World Resort hotels using some types of points (such Citi ThankYou points from the Citi Premier Card via the Citi Travel Center), but we paid cash for this stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge by booking directly with Disney. Returning Disney guests are sometimes given targeted bounce-back offers, and annual pass holders (like us) are also eligible for discounts that can make booking direct the best deal.

Rack rates for entry-level rooms at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge usually range from about $300 to $500 per night, but Disney sales and discounts can drop that price to under $300 per night certain times of the year.

Savannah views for days.

Another way to save money at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is to rent Disney Vacation Club points. Not only does this spare you from the $24-per-day parking fee, but, as outlined here, you can pretty easily save 50% on the retail price of the stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge by renting points. There are trade-offs (such as the lack of daily housekeeping), but turning a $2,000 stay into a $1,000 stay may be worth making your own bed.

We put some of our peak-season $500-per-night two-night stay on the Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points for the stay but primarily used discounted Disney gift cards to cover the majority of the charge while at the resort.

Those with a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card may want to book Disney Resorts via Hotels.com to earn up to 20% in rewards on the stay. You could also use your Discover it® Miles or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to book your Disney Resort stay and then use the miles from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per mile to cover the charge.

Charge everything to the room and it should all code as travel
Charge everything to the room and it should all code as travel

Location

The main reason you might want to avoid a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge is location. On our stay, we found it to be the most remote of all of the Walt Disney World Resorts, and it could have easily taken us 45 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom from the lodge door to door. None of the Disney World parks were within walking distance of this resort, and only the Animal Kingdom was relatively nearby.

I mean, we were still on Disney property, so nothing was terribly far away, but unlike being on the monorail at the Contemporary, nothing was especially close, either. If you stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, expect to rely heavily on the Disney bus system, your own rental car or the (magical but pricey) Disney Minnie Vans.

Check-in

Disney World didn’t have an elite status program or anything that got us guaranteed early check-in (or late checkout), so I always assumed that the room wouldn’t be ready until the stated time. In this case, that meant 3pm check-in for the traditional hotel rooms in the lodge and 4pm for the deluxe villa-style accommodations you would probably be renting with Disney Vacation Club points.

We arrived at the lodge a little before 1pm and fully expected to wait a few hours for a room, but it was ready for us upon arrival.

Entering Disney
Entering Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is an experience.

We loved the added convenience of a Disney Club-level room for ready-to-eat breakfast, upgraded service and included simple dinners and evening snacks, but none were available for booking on our dates online, since we booked pretty close to our travel dates. So I inquired at check-in if a Club Level upgrade were possible. The good news was that it was available, but at a staggering charge of $400 per day. We politely (and quickly) passed on that option. Had the upgrade been $150 per day or less, our family would have likely said yes.

At check-in, we were also given an itinerary of the on-site entertainment and cultural activities, of which there were many — more than I’ve seen at any other Disney Resort.

Room

There were two separate villages at Animal Kingdom Lodge: the original Jambo House and the Kidani Village that was added later and made up of DVC villas. We spent the entirety of this stay in the Jambo House and were assigned a savanna-view room on the second level, about as far down the hallway away from the lobby and pool as possible.

The lobby was on the third level, which meant taking an elevator down to the second level. This resort was massive, with well over 1,000 rooms and villas, so expect to do some walking. We brought the stroller into the resort simply because the walk to the room in the evenings with a tired 3-year-old was very far.

Entrance to Jambo at Animal Kingdom Lodge
Entrance to Jambo at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Our room was around 350 square feet with two queen beds, a small table, TV and, most importantly, a balcony with a view of the zebras and giraffes.

The view of the animals was the star of the room and the primary reason to stay at this resort. My tween was totally overwhelmed with happiness watching the animals from the room.

If you love the idea of waking up to drink coffee and view animals on the savanna from your private balcony, then book the room with a view. We watched the animals for hours. These were real animals, not animatronics, so they roamed different parts of the savanna at different times of the day and weren’t always visible from our room.

Other than the view, the room was fine for a Disney property, but not over-the-top spectacular in other categories We appreciated the two queen beds (instead of the doubles in some Disney rooms), the African theme was carried into the room with mock mosquito netting, art, patterns and colors.

 The bathroom had a double vanity separate from the toilet and tub. We did have issues with both the toilet and phone during our stay, as both required maintenance. This made calling down for our $33-per-day car valet impossible, but service was very efficient even without the call-ahead option.

Food and Beverage

Animal Kingdom Lodge had some of the best dining available at Disney World, but many of the restaurants did have an African theme. Boma — Flavors of Africa was the breakfast and dinner restaurant in Jambo.

 It was an all-you-care-to-eat restaurant, and while there were no characters here (unlike at many similar Disney restaurants), it simply didn’t need them. The food and surroundings stood alone quite nicely.

For breakfast, there were both African and traditional American favorites: corned-beef hash, sweet plantains, goat-cheese scrambled eggs, bread pudding, bacon and even Simba waffles.

The house juice, coffee and service were also well above average at this pricey but delicious restaurant. Breakfast for two adults and two kids rang in around $100, so expect dinner to be more than that.

For a less expensive on-site dining option, there was Mara, just out back off the Jambo lobby. Mara had hot items such as fried eggs, ham-and-cheese sandwiches and Mickey waffles, cheeseburgers and flatbread, as well as grab-and-go drinks, snacks and muffins.

On a longer stay, or if you just really like tea, coffee or soda, you may want to spend $18.99 for the refillable mug that you could fill up in this grab-and-go restaurant. You could also pick up a bottle of wine.

Nicer dinner options at Animal Kingdom Lodge included Jiko — The Cooking Place and Sanaa, though we didn’t have time for either on this busy trip. We did, however, order room service, which was composed of two kid meals for the littles and two glasses of wine for the bigs. After a long day in the parks, it was fantastic to have dinner and drinks appear at our room.

Kids meal delivered via room service
Kids meal delivered via room service.

Amenities

The animals were king of the jungle at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but the resort had much more going on than “just” a savanna. First, let’s talk about the African drumming that was going on when we walked in. It set the tone, and the women who were drumming were excellent at getting the kids involved in making music. We encountered the drumming around the resort multiple times per day on our stay.

Other free amenities available on site during our stay were African face painting, talks with a savanna guide, access to African cultural experts, wildlife-themed games, the Primal Parade, night-vision animal viewing, cookie decorating and a daily culinary tour that allowed you to tour and sample food from the on-site restaurants. Again, all free! My biggest regret from this trip was that we didn’t have more downtime at the resort to try out all of the available tours, talks and amenities.

Other amenities included what may be the largest pool at a Disney World resort, on the Jambo portion of the resort. There was also a pool with small waterslides and a kids play area on the Kidani side of the village, though we didn’t make it over there on this stay.

   The Jambo pool had a zero-entry section, a medium-sized waterslide and lifeguards.

If your family was after drier fun, there was a nearby playground to burn off steam while you waited for dinner, since they would text you when your table was ready.

A few steps away from the playground was a spot to enjoy on-site flamingos.

There was also an above-average arcade and Simba’s Activity Center. This spot used to be known as Simba’s Clubhouse, a kids club that provided childcare, but now it was an activity center where children needed parental supervision but could play and make African-themed crafts for a small fee.

Like at all Disney Resorts, staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge got you included access to the Magical Express Bus to and from the airport as well as complimentary bus transportation around the Walt Disney World Resort.

Overall Impression

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is not a cartoon version of Africa. This is not “The Lion King” and “Hakuna Matata” at every turn. This is a breathtakingly detailed property that is a joy to inhabit for a few days. The amount of real African art, the emphasis on knowledgable cultural guides and local experts, and the way that they engage guests in learning about a place many have never seen is impressive.

While renting DVC points or hunting for deals can make this one of the more affordable Disney Deluxe Resorts, it will be an investment in the experience of staying here. Make time to actually enjoy the unique on-site amenities, meals and resources, as you are isolating yourself from much of Disney World when you commit to staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge. But if a taste of African culture, watching animals on the savannah and learning a thing or two on your vacation sounds good, then Animal Kingdom Lodge should be the site of your next Disney World vacation.

Read on to learn more about maximizing your time, points and money at Disney World:

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