Animal Kingdom Jambo House Villas 1-Bedroom Disney Vacation Club Review Part 2 – Mara, Jiko, and Sanaa Reviews, The Pool Bars, and Resort Merchandise

This review continues from Part 1, which introduces the resort, includes a walkthrough of a 1-bedroom villa, and covers the various resort activities like swimming and safaris.

The Food

Animal Kingdom Lodge’s culinary landscape rivals the best of Disney’s resorts. It would be hard to argue that it’s better than Grand Floridian on the high end, with Victoria & Albert’s and Citricos among the best restaurants on property, but that’s the only real exception. And when you add Sanaa over Grand Floridian Cafe, The Mara over Gasparilla Grill, and Victoria Falls over Mizner’s (arguably), you could make a real argument that Animal Kingdom Lodge offers Disney’s best overall food and beverage. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer, whether you’re staying on property or visiting from an area resort.

The Mara, AKL’s principal quick service, is located down this covered path behind the main building, and extending out toward the Uzima pool.

Serving all three meals, The Mara offers some ethnic twists on the usual fare, in addition to the standard waffles, bounty platter, and an interesting-sounding croissant sandwich.

Lunch and dinner options are similarly diverse. You can go American with the burger, pepperoni flatbread, nuggets, half chicken, etc. or you can try something spiced up a bit like the African stew and barbecue chicken flatbread, with a unique tamarind bbq sauce.

More specifically, for lunch:




Dinner usually adds a few more specialty items like ribs, salmon, and lamb stew.

Even more items are available in the to-go cooler:

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/mara1.jpg











The majority of the wines are actually of African origin at reasonable prices. More on Zebra Domes in a minute. Red wine is also available:

The Protea Red Blend is a particularly good value – $19.99 at Total Wine or less than $2 more here.

A similar selection is available at the gift shops here and at Kidani Village.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/mara1.jpg

The bakery case includes some relatively unique options like the Giraffe Orange Marmalade Cupcake, Zebra Chocolate Butterfinger Cupcake, and Banana Nut Bread.

Ice cream bars are also available.

The soda situation is the same RapidFill deal as the other resorts.

Sprite Zero is always nice to see.

Joffrey’s coffee, Nestle cocoa, Gold Peak Tea, and creamer.

A toaster and such. A microwave is also available.

There’s also a small toppings bar, in addition to butter and cream cheese packets. You don’t usually see cream cheese out and about like this.

Mara’s setup is somewhat archaic. You place your order with a cast member that fills out what you want on a paper checklist and then you pay at a separate cash register. You’ll be buzzed shortly thereafter, where you return to the ordering area to pick up your food. Most Deluxe-level quick services deliver the food to your table these days.

This time around, Lisa ordered the $9.49 Chicken Pita with Sun-dried Tomato Hummus, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Mixed Greens, and a Mint Yogurt Sauce with choice of Couscous or French Fries. This is a little more interesting than your typical fast food chicken sandwich with nicely roasted chicken with some mild spices that’s cooled by the mint yogurt and sun-dried hummus. The pita was nice and fresh with a chewy quality and the vegetables added some crunch.

Mara’s couscous is among my favorite on property – flavorful with a nice mix of fruit and vegetables. Skip the fries!

The Falafel Pita is obviously a better choice for vegetarians, but I felt like the more flavorful chicken contrasted better with the other toppings should chicken be an option.

The $9.99 Barbecue Chicken Flatbread – Tamarind Barbecue Sauce, Cheddar Cheese, Roasted Chicken, Corn, Red Onions, and Cilantro is a more unique flatbread than the title might insinuate. The tamarind bbq sauce is kind of hard to describe – the ripe fruit has a mild, distinct sweetness about it. The corn (which you can leave off if you prefer) adds some texture and it’s otherwise fully loaded with chicken. Very good.

Archival footage of the African Stew – With Beef, Turkey, Ham, Carrots, Potatoes, Peas, Chickpeas, and Raisins Served Over Basmati Rice – $8.49 is not particularly photogenic here, but it’s also a nice change of pace from the usual for a couple dollars less than most entrees. There’s plenty of nicely spiced meat and vegetables on top of a hearty pile of rice. Very good and very different.

Props to anybody with the stomach for that Reuben Hot Dog.

The indoor seating area is nicely air-conditioned and there’s outdoor tables and chairs just outside for those that don’t mind April’s 90-degree highs this year.

Uzima Springs Watering Hole is the nearby pool bar.

The pool bar menu is standard, with the addition of Safari Amber on draft and Casablanca and Tusker beer in bottles.

The room service menu is also available poolside. Note the $3 delivery charge and 18% gratuity, which brings the price of a burger up to $24.78 with tax. I think I would walk to The Mara, but it’s nice for the Polynesian Bungalow crowd to have some options.

Speaking of bars, Victoria Falls is Jambo’s main lounge area, located on the second floor on the level in between the main lobby (third floor) and the restaurants on the first floor.

Open from 4pm to midnight daily, it offers some unique food and drink options.

In addition to a few specialty cocktails. I have a full review of most of the unique food and drink items in this review if you have interest.

The short version is that Victoria Falls is usually a nice, relaxing, low key opportunity to try some unique food and cocktails.

This picture may or may not help you understand where everything is in respect to everything else. Victoria Falls is mostly by itself here on the second floor with the lobby up a few stairs. Continue down the stairs and Boma is on your left, Jiko is on your right, and the doors outside to the quick service and pool are in front of you.

Boma is the popular, albeit characterless, breakfast and dinner buffet.

Although we didn’t have an opportunity to try it this time around, both meals are excellent. With tax, breakfast is currently $23.42 for adults and $12.77 for kids. Dinner is $40.46 for adults and $21.29 for kids, which puts it in line with most other resort buffets like Cape May Cafe and 1900 Park Fare.

According to Disney,

Resembling a lively African marketplace, this restaurant features all-you-care-to-enjoy buffets at breakfast and dinner.

Under thatched roofs, savor vibrant flavors from over 50 African countries—along with favorite American classics.

Greet your day with a cup of full-bodied Kenyan AA coffee, tropical juice and a bountiful breakfast buffet. Selections may include made-to-order omelets, French toast, African pastries, carved ham, fresh fruit and corn beef bobotie—a type of South African quiche.

At dinner, watch chefs prepare grilled seafood, roasted meats, vegetarian specialties, fresh salads and house-baked pastries in the onstage kitchen. Kids can enjoy options like chicken nuggets, while Guests 21 years of age and up delight in unique South African wines—many of which are available by the glass.

I have an old Boma review with horrific quality photos here, but my conclusion is the same:

I think it’s fair to say Boma is the best of the Walt Disney World dinner buffets, at least as far as food quality and selection are concerned.  Everything is prepared fresh with high quality ingredients.  The food selection is interesting, without being “crazy.” The steak was flavorful.  The chicken perfectly seasoned. The homemade salad dressings out of this world. The soups are all outstanding.  One word of advice on the soup though – be careful around anything that looks like peanut soup – it could very well be the crab soup. And it’s going to take at least 2.71 zebra domes to put that taste to bed.

While every single item on the menu may not be appealing, there are certainly enough “safe bets” to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. And from there, you can branch out a bit and pick a few of the more “out there” selections. Or you can go crazy with the cornmeal porridge/sweet corn and spinach pudding and forget about the chicken and steak. While I would be lying straight through your computer screen if I told you that I loved every single item (that panna cotta was a little weird), it doesn’t matter! It’s a buffet! Get something else!

Jiko – The Cooking Place is the resort’s signature restaurant, which means it costs two credits on the Disney Dining Plan and is otherwise upscale (expensive). According to Disney:

Vibrant spices, crackling wood-burning ovens and boutique South African wines transport you to the heart of Africa.

Discover a delicious blend of traditional African, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine. Steak, chicken, seafood, vegan and vegetarian dishes are infused with a uniquely bold blend of tantalizing flavors and fragrant spices.

Changing seasonally, the menu may include flavor bursting appetizers like imaginative brick oven-fired flatbreads and mouth-watering entrées such as oak-grilled filet mignon.

The children’s menu features pizza, grilled chicken or steak, and market-fresh fish served with ancient grains and vegetables.

Just inside the entrance is a small lounge area called Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar, largely full of people waiting to be seated, though anybody is welcome to order a drink or food from the bar.

The menu:

See https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/animal-kingdom-lodge/jiko-the-cooking-place/menus/ for a current or more readable copy.

Several unique cocktails are available, but Jiko is really known for its robust African wine list:







I’m not sure how anyone picks a wine out of the lineup with the list being largely unavailable before you arrive and most of these names being foreign to anyone but the most serious of wine drinkers.

The usual selection of beer is also available:

Plus the Tusker and St. George.

I ordered an $11 Apula-Tini, which is Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka and DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple with citrus and lime juices – $10. Which is to say, it’s basically an appletini with an unadvertised cherry stuck in the bottom. It was a nicely balanced cocktail – perhaps a touch too sweet for me.

Lisa ordered a Hanging’ Out in Cape Town Martini – Hangar One Mandarin Vodka (which is amusingly misspelled on the menu), Van der Hum Tangerine Liqueur, Peach Schnapps, and Cranberry Juice – $10.25. This one turned out to be far too sweet and syrupy and marks the first time either of us have ever returned a drink on Disney property.

She traded it in for a vodka gimlet.

A $9 Zambeezi Knees Martini with Hendrick’s Gin, Local Honey Sage Simple Syrup, and Citrus – less expensive and more proficient than most lounge cocktails.

The complimentary bread was more bland than I’ve been served in the past – these are more or less your standard dinner rolls.

I preferred the more interesting Ethiopian dabo bread with the tandoori butter that they had served for a long time.

I’m not sure I would have gone with the swirl treatment on the accompanying spread, which actually helped spice up the bland rolls.

I ordered the $18 Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin – Mealie Pap, Chakalaka, Truffle Oil, and Micro Cilantro, which has been on the menu for a couple of years with these exact ingredients, which is a testament to its popularity, considering just about everything else changes with the seasons.

I realize it doesn’t look like much in the picture, but the extraordinarily tender boar is grilled to a perfect rare and then placed on top of the creamy, flavorful pap and surrounded by the chakalaka, which in this case is a mildly spicy South African vegetable relish. Longtime readers know I pan almost everything, but if I was going to go back to one Disney appetizer, this would be on my short list. Exquisite.

Lisa ordered the $11 Roasted Cauliflower Flatbread – Bhuna Masala, Roasted Cipollini Onions, Lamb Chopper Cheese, and Mitmita Gremolata. The Bhuna Masala, which basically ends up as a relatively spicy curry paste, usually contains about 20 ingredients that are lightly pan-fried in oil to bring out the flavors. The addition of the cipollini onions is key as they are a sweeter onion that contrasts nicely with the spicy base and the Lamb Chopper cheese is a creamy, gouda-like clone that eases the heat from the bhuna masala even more. The roasted cauliflower on top provides an earthy crunch to what is an excellent vegetarian flatbread. While it might sound a little “out there,” these flatbreads are relatively inexpensive and a nice size for sharing, so you don’t have a lot to lose by adding one to your meal.

For appetizers, I’m also a big proponent of whatever seafood soup is on the menu.

Since Lisa’s parents are good friends with one of Jiko’s major wine suppliers, I felt foolish going in without a solid recommendation and blindly picked “black pearl” from the list. It tasted like wine and ended up being a lousy value.

For an entree, I went with the $39 Lamb Two Ways – Winter Vegetables, Pumpkin Seed Duqqa, Grilled Olive Ciabatta, and Mango Demi-glace, which is another popular entree that has lasted more than a year on the menu with a slight adjustment for seasonal vegetables. Looking back, this was not the smartest choice for me as I am a very hungry, growing boy that requires more than a couple bites of meat for my main course, regardless of how flavorful each bite might be. The nicely grilled, rare lamb chop sits on top of the pulled lamb underneath. The subtle spices in the pumpkin seed duqqa and the slightly sweet, very mildly fruity mango demi-glace help mask what is sometimes an unpleasant, naturally gamey flavor of the lamb. Altogether, it was a great few bites of food, but I left wishing there was something else on the plate.

Lisa ordered the $40 Nigerian-spiced Berkshire Double-cut Pork Chop – Braised Greens, Ancient Grain Risotto, and Apple Butter. It was a much more substantial piece of meat than my lamb with an appropriate amount of tenderness for being a chop. It was cooked to a nice medium with some spices that enhanced the flavor of the meat without changing the expected flavor profile of the pork. The exterior crispiness added some texture to what is one of Lisa’s favorite entrees of all time – perhaps only behind Citricos’ swordfish.

A variety of snapper is usually available – this is yellow tail from a previous visit.

Scallops are also a mainstay, here as the “West African Jerked Scallops” with a coconut curry sauce.

Dessert offers some drinks.

And as you might expect, dessert.

I’ve sampled Jiko’s desserts in the past – this one is the $11 Milk Tart with Gooseberry Jam and Goat’s Milk Balsamic Ice Cream – something you’re probably not going to find anywhere else. Or here, for that matter, anymore.

And another dessert that was taken off the menu with the latest update, the $10 Chocolate and Tea Safari – Vanilla rooibos-Tanzanian chocolate cake, free form “kit kat” and green tea ice cream.

Jiko enjoys nearly universal praise. It’s a restaurant that isn’t scared to try a few things out of the ordinary and is one of the last bastions of innovative flavors and presentations at Walt Disney World. If you’re looking for something that isn’t just another previously frozen mahi mahi slab or reheated lasagna, then Jiko is an outstanding choice if you can swing the cost.

Now we find ourselves over at the Kidani pool complex for the Maji pool bar. There are some televisions around and plenty of space if you prefer to pull up a chair.

While there is no traditional quick service at Kidani, the pool bar does offer a few selections without the hefty delivery and service fees of the Uzima bar.

If you prefer, there are a couple slightly more upscale entrees that do arrive with the extra charges.

Draft beer includes the very good Victory Golden Monkey (9.5% ABV *swoon).

And they’re smart enough to offer it by the pitcher.

If you’d like to enjoy a savanna view with your drink, it’s available right next to the bar.

In case you’re wondering what a double Jack and Coke costs, it’s $10.

Those of you with refillable mugs can fill up at the self-serve station near the bar.

Located inside Kidani Village on the ground floor, you’ll find Sanna, the resort’s casual table service meal:

While the restaurant closes for a couple of hours in the afternoon, the lounge continues serving drinks and a limited appetizer menu in the meantime.

The lounge is a nice size and you’ll likely have the place to yourself in the afternoon. Things pick up in the evening, particularly after the hosts start inviting those waiting for tables inside.

What’s available in the lounge between 3pm and 5:30pm. And the full lunch menu:



Lunch is my favorite meal here because you have the opportunity to enjoy the same atmosphere and views outside along with a largely less expensive menu. Dinner removes some of the less expensive sandwich and other entree options:

And adds some fancier steaks, a surf and turf with tandoori shrimp, and a lamb shank, among other items.

A word of warning: I think Sanaa is my favorite lunch spot on property.

Disney’s description is woefully long, but you can read it in its entirety here. In short:

Savor slow-cooked meats, salads and vegetarian specialties as you discover African cooking with Indian flavors.

Step inside this exquisite, East African-inspired eatery, which evokes a traditional spice market, decorated with handcrafted wares under the graceful branches of an acacia tree.

Watch gazelles, zebras, giraffes, kudu, ostriches, cranes and more as you dine.

Like just about everything else Animal-Kingdom-related, the restaurant is exquisitely detailed.

I recommend requesting a window table at check-in. Another reason why I like lunch is that the restaurant is usually much less busy, which makes it more likely they can accommodate your table request in a shorter amount of time. Because the savannas don’t see much artificial lighting, you can also be assured your view will be well lit in the middle of the day. Of course, the sun sets after 7:30pm most of the year, so early dinner guests will enjoy plenty of sun-lit savannas. On the other hand, if you’re seated after dark, you’re just going to be staring at your reflection in the window for most of the meal.

In case you’re wondering how close the animals get to the window tables. “Yo dawg, can I get a french fry?”

The view outside. The Indian-style bread service is the most popular item on the menu, despite being hidden at the bottom of the drinks menu:

My strong recommendation is to spring for all nine accompaniments:

The arrangement of the dips, chutneys, and such go from least spicy on the right to spiciest on the left, with your bread choices in the middle. It’s a great way to start the meal and if you’re sharing among three or four people, the cost is only a few bucks a head.

In case you’re wondering what any of the nomenclature means, Sanaa provides definitions as part of the menu:

Lisa ordered the $16.99 Appetizers Sampler for Two – Potato and Pea Samosas, Lamb Kefta Sliders, and a choice of Chana Tikki or Seasonal Soup:

Don’t be shy about ordering one of these appetizer samplers as an entree. The lineup usually consists of menu mainstays and feature two or more of the restaurant’s most popular and most endearing items – think of it sort of like a Panera “choose two” where you don’t actually get to make any choices. In this case, the Lamb Sliders with Goat Cheese, Piquante Peppers, and Pickled Shallots were filled with sizable patties of lamb – probably more meat in just one than in the entirety of my Jiko entree – cooked to a nice medium with some spice from the peppers tempered by the salty goat cheese on fresh rolls. You do have the choice between the Chana Tikki (Spiced Chickpea Cakes with Tomato Chutney) and seasonal soup. The Chana Tikki is sort of a mushy patty with a texture that isn’t unlike hummus, but it has a distinct flavor that can be modified with the accompanying cucumber raita, jicama slaw, or mango chutney. The chutney also complements Disney’s best samosas, which are substantive fried pockets of peas and potatoes. It’s a nice assortment of flavors and if you don’t like something in particular, you’ve got something to trade somebody else along with more options on your own plate. Recommended.

I ordered the $17.99 Grilled Beef Sirloin Steak – Roasted Potatoes, Braised Winter Greens, and Coriander Chutney, which seemed to be targeted at the meat and potatoes crowd. I’m not sure the unadventurous would enjoy the flavor profile though, which is heavily influenced by African and Indian spices that aren’t exactly outlined in the description. The few bites of meat in this case were overcooked, but enjoyed a flavorful glaze, in addition to the variety of spices that were hard to pick out. The accompanying potatoes and squash(?) rounded out the meal well with the greens offering some crunch. This would have been a home run if the steak had been cooked rarer. You will likely have better luck as our server seemed confused by the definition of “medium-ish.”

I enjoyed a previous lunch with the venerable Alexander J. Parks, who ordered the Sanaa Burger – Spiced Mustard, Goat Cheese, Pickled Shallots, and Piquante Peppers served on Naan Bun with Roasted Potatoes and Pickle Spear. It’s a contender for best burger on property – there is none of that previously-frozen-patty garbage that permeates just about every Disney-operated restaurant, table service or otherwise.

Just a thick, perfectly cooked patty seasoned well in between a fresh bun and interesting toppings. Highly recommended and if you really want, they can probably find a slice of cheddar back there.

I previously ordered the $15.99 Tandoori Chicken Sandwich – served Open-faced on Naan Bread with Minted Greens, Tomato, Onion, and Cucumber Riata. The chicken is surprisingly juicy and tender, thanks to the tandoor oven and marinade. Everything is fresh with the cool flavors from the mint and cucumber offering a welcome respite from the usually hot weather outside.

The chewy naan bread brings it all together. So good and very filling.

Dessert and such:


Sanna is worth a visit whether you’re staying at the resort or not. Lunch in particular is a low key affair with reasonable prices, great views, and better food.

Animal Kingdom Lodge has a plethora of choices when it comes to dining – likely even more than you were previously aware of. Some of it is a little “out there,” but most of the flavors should be more accessible than you might expect and most menus include some “safer” items.

Resort Merchandise

Being so popular with guests, Animal Kingdom Lodge offers a lot of resort-specific merchandise:










The store offers its fair share of generic theme park merchandise, in addition to Animal Kingdom theme park merchandise, and unique items made in Africa.

For example.

Zawadi Marketplace, the resort store, is located just inside the main entrance on the right and is also home to food, beverages, and toiletries:












Conclusion

Whether you ultimately decide to stay at Jambo House or Kidani Village, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a beautiful resort with amenities so unique that I think just about everyone would benefit from a stay here. Outside of a “real” safari, this is as close as most of us are ever going to get to zebras, giraffes, and other African wildlife. With excellent restaurants, nicely appointed villas, immaculately themed public spaces, and an infinite number of details, a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge is something to relish for years to come. Or with the right DVC resale contract, you could return each year for not much more than it would cost to stay at Coronado Springs for the same length of time.

Contact Rachel Thompson at www.dvcmagicresales.com for more information on selling or purchasing a DVC contract for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or any other Disney Vacation Club property. With 10 years experience on the resale market, you will be in good hands.

Comments

  1. Crystal says

    The falafel pita, couscous and zebra dome was *literally* the best meal I’ve ever eaten. Worth going out of your way to get one if you’re not staying there. Also…I wanted to pick up something resort-specific for the home at the gift shop and just forgot. Do you know if there is any way to order resort-specific things online? Or does that defeat the purpose of “resort-specific”?

  2. Renee says

    You may have just answered a huge question for me inadvertently. I have been deciding if I should ship a case or two of bottled water to our resort (WL). I see a packaged case of Desani in the cooler photos above. Are they available at all resort gift shops? Do you know if they are $50. or cheaper than the usual 2.50 per bottle.
    Avid follower and it might have paid off again. Thanks for all the great advise and info!

    • Chris says

      Josh commented on a prior review that the cost of cases of water was reasonable. Can’t recall if they were newly available or the cost had been prohibitive before.

  3. Anonymous says

    Thank you Josh! You’ve reaffirmed our choice of resorts for our next trip. Can’t wait to enjoy AKL!

  4. Barry says

    That beef is definitely over and that lamb is even more definitely rare…a decent vet could have that running back to the kitchen

  5. Kristin says

    Sanaa is one of my favorite Disney restaurants. The naan bread service is delicious…..and pretty fun for the kids!

  6. Boma Steve says

    Thank You for two wonderful reviews of AKL, we have 34 days to go and I am now jumping out of my skin to get there. We have both Boma (of course) and Sanaa on our reservation list of places to eat. Jiko is bit much with two young ones but we may get a chance to have a drink and a app. Will definitely try the bread and all 9 spreads from Sanaa for sure. Thanks again Josh/Lisa

  7. Tim says

    I am equally amused and amazed at how typically reliable reviewers continue to give Jiko high praise, despite absurdly small portions and just above average food at signature prices. My wife and I are foodies who love exotic cuisine but had a very similar experience at Jiko and consider it a “thumbs down.” Somehow that restaurant places a magic spell on attendees and creates an illusion that it’s better than it really is.

  8. Tammy says

    Wonderful review on AKL and the dining options. I am now very confused…we currently have reservations at Jiko but now I am second guessing myself and wonder if we should change to Sanaa especially after seeing the bread service! Decisions, Decisions…

  9. andrea says

    Oh, man. Disney needs to start paying you. We have sworn off WDW for the foreseeable future because of a less-than-stellar trip a few weeks ago. And yet, here I am, reading your review of my favorite place in the world and in the “World” and I texted my husband to ask if he would mind “giving it one more try” and staying at AKL again.

    Oh, how I love that place!!! Take away all the parks and rides and whatever…AKL is a true vacation in and of itself!

    Thank you, again, Josh 😉

  10. Sue says

    Love the dining at AKL, and some of the Mara dinner specials rival TS. Liked the African Stew better when it came in a bread bowl.
    Have to agree on Jiko serving size. For the price they charge, serving size is pretty stingy. Side of potato wouldn’t even add up to half a potato. And a teaspoon of greens? I left still hungry too. Boma is our fav buffet! Saana lunch is wonderful, the short ribs, yum.

  11. IndyND says

    We’ve eaten at Boma and walked the resort a few times, but haven’t stayed there. It looks fantastic. Now I want to hit Sanaa for lunch.

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