Part 2, which covers food options and reviews of Mara, Jiko, and Sanaa, in addition to the pool bars and a look at resort merchandise, is available by clicking here.

This review is sponsored by by DVC Magic Resales at (they used their DVC points to book the room and in exchange will also be posting this review and reviews of the other properties). If you’re looking to buy into the Disney Vacation Club or purchase more points for less than you’d pay Disney directly, they’re a great choice. They also take excellent care of those looking to sell their contracts independently.

Past reviews:

I’ll admit that I may have lied back in the Wilderness Lodge review when I said it was my favorite Disney resort to visit. Depending on the day and which way the wind is blowing, my favorite is sometimes Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL). There’s just so much to see and do there – from the savanna viewing, to the fantastic restaurants and lounges, to the exquisitely detailed public spaces, there’s nothing else quite like it.

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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.

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A Few Newsworthy Notes…

by josh on April 4, 2015

Disney continues to allow guests visiting Magic Kingdom through April 12th to book a 4th FastPass+ in advance, so long as they set up their FP+ no earlier than two days in advance. Guests who have already booked FastPass+ for dates through the 12th will be assigned a 4th low priority FastPass+ experience, which can then be modified to the attraction and time of your choice. The two attractions currently being assigned are it’s a small world and Journey of the Little Mermaid. This is basically an attempt to lower waits at the kiosks for 4th, 5th, etc. FP+ users.

Disney announced the celebrity lineup for Star Wars Weekends at the Disney Parks Blog here. Several shows are available as Tier 1 FastPass+ selections for guests staying at Disney resorts. Only the first four weekends are available for booking with the whole 60-day window thing. The shows this year will be presented in the same theater as Beauty and the Beast rather than the air-conditioned Premier Theater. If there’s a show you really want to see and FP+ is available, I would go ahead and book it. Lines for the popular shows are very long and when a show is full, it’s full. Because shows are Tier 1 FP+, you would have to select a single show over Toy Story Mania or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

You have the rare opportunity to meet me, Dave Shute, and Jim Korkis during my one contractually obligated meet and greet of the year on April 20th. We’ll be outside Liberty Inn at Epcot from 7pm through whenever it looks like nobody is actually going to show up. Lisa will be there to help ease what are usually very awkward conversations. We’ll be signing copies of our guidebook, “The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit,” but if history is any indication of the future, we’ll sign just about anything else. I will also mention that the book is currently the cheapest I’ve ever seen it and still includes the complimentary Kindle download included with a print purchase.


4/17/15 Update: Hollywood Studios hours reduced to 9am-6pm from 9am-7pm and Fantasmic cancelled on Saturday October 24th.

This is the Free October 2015 Disney World Crowd Calendar that shows the Recommended Parks to Visit, Overall Crowd Level Estimation, Cost, Historic High/Low Temperature, Historic Chance of Precipitation, Extra Magic Hours Schedule, Fantasmic Show Times, Holidays, and Special Events.

Make sure you first read my month-by-month overview of visiting Disney World, located here. The overview will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of cost, crowds, weather, and special events on a broader scale. Once you figure out when you would like to visit, you can move on to this more detailed look.

Here’s a quick explanation of how to read the calendar and what the numbers mean. It may seem like it’s a little long, but you’ll only need to read the explanation once.

  • The first line in each box is the date.
  • The second line shows the cost to book a room at a Disney-owned resort. $ = Value Season, $$ = Regular Season, $$$ = Summer Season, $$$$ = Peak Season, and $$$$$ = Holiday Season. Occasionally there will be a + or – after the $$$ to show that the cost is slightly higher or lower than usual, but not by enough to raise it another $ notch.
  • The third line is the average high and low temperature and the chance of precipitation. All data is based on the last 15 years. I wouldn’t read too much into the precipitation percentages for each day because just one or two additional days of rain in the last 15 years can raise the percentage substantially. I included it so you can look at the precipitation trends throughout the month(s) and take it into consideration when deciding when to book your vacation. For a broader overview of the month, read the month-by-month overview I linked to above.
  • The fourth line is an estimation of the overall crowd level. A “5″ refers to average crowds. Numbers above 5 refer to a larger than average overall crowd level and numbers below 5 refer to lower than average overall crowds. A day with an overall crowd level of “1″ means that the crowds are expected to be the absolute lowest of the year and a “10″ means crowds are expected to be at their largest of the year. In other words, the overall crowd level estimation will give you an idea of how many people are in the four major theme parks. Individual theme parks can have smaller or larger crowds than the overall estimation, which is where the theme park recommendations come in.
  • The fifth line shows the theme parks I recommend visiting in green and the theme parks I recommend avoiding in red. There is also a | sign that splits up the recommended and not recommended Parks for the color blind or those printing in black and white (the Parks to the left of the | sign are recommended). I use the usual abbreviations for the Parks; AK is the Animal Kingdom, EP is Epcot, HS is Hollywood Studios, and MK is the Magic Kingdom. In addition to the colors, the Park on the far left is the most recommended Park to visit that day. The Park second to the left is the second most recommended and so on. For example, if the line reads AK EP | HS MK then the Animal Kingdom is the most recommended and Epcot is the second most recommended. On the other side of the | sign, Hollywood Studios is not recommended and the Magic Kingdom is expressly not recommended even more. If possible, I would strongly recommend you visit the Park that is most recommended each day. Please read below the calendar for an overview of how I’ve selected the recommended Parks and also a day-by-day explanation.
  • The sixth line lists which Parks have Extra Magic Hours and at what time they start. Morning Extra Magic Hour lasts one hour and usually starts at 8am. Evening Extra Magic Hours last two hours from the start time. For example, if you see AK:8am EP:9pm, that means the Animal Kingdom has a morning Extra Magic Hour from 8am-9am and Epcot has evening Extra Magic Hours from 9pm-11pm.
  • The seventh line lists the Fantasmic show times at the Hollywood Studios.
  • The eighth line lists the start time of Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP:) and Wishes Fireworks at Magic Kingdom(W:). For example, if you see, MSEP: 9pm & 11pm W: 10pm, it would mean that Main Street Electrical Parade begins at 9pm and 11pm and Wishes begins at 10pm.

The Calendar is also available in an easy to view and print PDF file, Here.

Click the image to enlarge it.

Thursday October 1

Animal Kingdom: 9am – 5pm (Not Recommended)

Epcot: 9am – 9pm (Most Recommended)

Illuminations: 9pm

Hollywood Studios: 9am – 7:30pm (Not Recommended)

Fantasmic: 8pm

Magic Kingdom: 9am – 7pm (Tentatively Recommended)

Morning Extra Magic Hour: 8am-9am

Festival of Fantasy Parade: 3pm, Main Street Electrical Parade: None, Wishes Fireworks: None

Animal Kingdom is not expressly recommended, though it won’t be a terrible day there. The morning Extra Magic Hour at Magic Kingdom won’t draw nearly the same number of people as usual with the short hours of operation and lack of evening entertainment during regular Park hours and casual vacationers will largely ignore it with the 7pm close. We also don’t have evening Extra Magic Hours scheduled anywhere and Animal Kingdom hasn’t offered a morning Extra Magic Hour since Sunday. You can still do well by arriving prior to Park opening and taking care of the main priorities first thing in the morning, but it will be busier than the many recommended days during the week. Most people will want to take advantage of the better days at Epcot or Magic Kingdom.

Epcot is our most recommended Park. We’re going into another busy weekend, thanks to the guaranteed higher crowds for the International Food and Wine Festival. Fantasmic and Magic Kingdom’s morning Extra Magic Hour will also help pull people away today. Plus, yesterday’s evening Extra Magic Hours will have been wildly popular with Disney resort guests and they won’t be looking to return today, especially in the morning. All in all, today and next Monday are your best days of the week at Epcot. Take full advantage by arriving by 8:15am and head straight for Test Track, Sum of All Thrills, Mission: Space, and Soarin’. Head up to World Showcase beginning as close to 11am as possible to stay ahead of the incoming Food and Wine Festival crowds. Return to Future World after 5pm to find lower crowds there than the afternoon, keeping in mind that only Soarin’, Test Track, Spaceship Earth, Mission: Space, Character Spot, and The Seas continue operating after 7pm. Hit the other Future World attractions from 5pm – 7pm and then return to Soarin’ and Test Track after 8pm to find shorter waits, use FastPass+, or take advantage of single rider at Test Track. It’s also an excellent night to stay for IllumiNations.

With no evening entertainment at Magic Kingdom, short hours at Magic Kingdom, no evening Extra Magic Hours anywhere, and nothing special happening at Epcot or Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios is going to be busier than recommended days during the week. Plus, it’s later in the week, which means most people on a weeklong vacation will already have visited Magic Kingdom and Epcot and they’ll be looking to spend a day at one of Disney World’s less popular theme parks. With nothing specific drawing people to the Studios, it’s not going to be crazy crowded, but it is going to be busier than other recommended days during the week and should be avoided if possible.

Magic Kingdom is tentatively recommended today, which is rare for a day with a morning Extra Magic Hour attached. However, the 9am to 7pm operating schedule and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the evening make the Magic Kingdom significantly less crowded. While the Extra Magic Hours schedule is a major deciding factor for Disney resort guests because many of them feel like it’s Disney’s way of dictating where they belong each day, the short hours will be a bigger turn off. Over the past several years, Thursdays with a morning Extra Magic Hour and a 7pm close have not been much busier than other Mickey’s Party dates over the course of the week. Days with longer hours of operation and nighttime entertainment remain much more popular. In other words, the morning Extra Magic Hour will attract some Disney resort guests, but the short hours of operation and Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios will cause many of them to head elsewhere. Off-site visitors are much more likely to visit on a Monday, Wednesday, and/or Saturday. If you are Extra Magic Hours eligible, you can have a huge amount of success if you arrive by 7:30am and head straight for Fantasyland or other priorities. You should have no trouble riding all priority Fantasyland rides in the first hour and you can move to the headlining Mountain rides or popular characters after that. If you aren’t Extra Magic Hours eligible or don’t arrive until after 9am, head straight for Fantasyland or Tomorrowland where you should find short standby waits at most attractions. Tomorrow will be slightly less crowded overall. If you’re not Extra Magic Hours eligible or don’t plan to arrive until after 9am, then Friday would be the better choice.

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It’s been a while since we’ve taken a good look at merchandise. Most of the pictures below are new-ish things, though occasionally something old will catch my eye that I don’t think there has been a picture of previously. A link to the last merchandise update is available here. Part 2 is available here.

World of Disney at Downtown Disney:

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Continued from Part 1.

Keystone Clothiers at Hollywood Studios:

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It has perhaps been too long since we visited the joy that is Downtown Disney/Springs.

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I’m not sure when we’ll get to it next, so we’ll take a very short opportunity to visit Hollywood Studios to check out the new Studio Catering Company menu. This post from a couple of weeks ago offers a more robust view of what’s going on at the Park.

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It’s been a while since we’ve been on the monorail as the sun is rising, so we’ll check out the new Be Our Guest breakfast situation with an 8:05am reservation.

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As you may be aware, I am the co-author of the highest rated Walt Disney World guidebook of all time (on Amazon): The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit. It’s available on Amazon here. If you’re wondering what the book looks like and includes, this post introduces it.

Dave and I ran an update last week, updating a lot of little things that changed and a few major things like updated ticket pricing, special event details, Be Our Guest lunch reservations, restaurant menus and pricing, updated FastPass+ kiosk locations and priority, new advice on Wishes FastPass+, updated color-coded maps, and whatnot. Both the print version and electronic Kindle version are updated. Unfortunately, Amazon’s Kindle update system leaves something to be desired (there’s no mechanism for telling Amazon to push an update through and they’re slow to figure out changes have been made), but those of you that have purchased the Kindle version or received a complimentary copy with your print purchase should receive an automatic update shortly. New Kindle purchases will receive the updated edition automatically and new print purchases will also receive the updated Kindle version for free using the Kindle MatchBook program.

People will occasionally say, “Josh, you helped us so much planning our vacation and your site has no advertisements, what can we do to help support what you do?” The answer is buy a book. You can keep the Kindle version to reference yourself and hand the print copy off to the neighbor that won’t stop bugging you about what to order at Pecos Bill or whether they want the Stitch’s Great Escape FastPass+ or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

And perhaps more importantly, if you just buy one now I won’t have to keep bugging you about it.

I’m not usually a big horn tooter, but the website and book have received some nice press this past week.

The Boston Globe: Planning a trip to Disney? Read this first.

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