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 www.dvcmagicresales.com (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.
- Saratoga Springs review is available here
- Old Key West is available here
- Wilderness Lodge is available here
- Beach Club is available here
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.
Like Wilderness Lodge, the lobby is stunning, particularly with the new flooring.
Dressed up with a tree from Thanksgiving through the first week in January.
And a few other festive touches here and there.
But what sets Animal Kingdom Lodge apart from just about any other resort in the world is the collection of lush savannas extending out from the back of the resort.
There are a variety of public areas that guests visiting the resort for any reason have the opportunity to enjoy. And of course, anybody staying at the resort will enjoy poking around a bit.
From the outdoor viewing area that’s accessible down the stairs in the back of the lobby, we’re not much further than 50 or so feet away from giraffes, zebras, and ummmmm…
Can I say Somali Wild Ass on a family friendly Disney World blog?
There are some fun photo opportunities if you like cows.
This giraffe must be a blogger since it seems intent on pointing out everything inauthentic about the savanna.
Sunset Lounge, located near the back of the lobby off to the left, provides great views of the Sunset Savanna in a richly detailed area.
From the inside.
There’s usually less activity on this side, at least compared to the Arusha Savanna, which commands the highest nightly rates.
Our balcony overlooked Sunset Savanna in a “standard view room.” As the sun sets, giraffes feast just a few feet in the distance. It’s a special and unique experience.
The fire pit for the nightly s’mores roast.
Or perhaps just a seat near the fire.
A map of the resort:
Animal Kingdom Lodge is separated into two separate resorts that more or less operate autonomously, though they share several amenities, with the majority of those found at Jambo. Disney Vacation Club rooms are primarily found over at Kidani Village, where you’ll find the casual table service restaurant Sanaa, a second feature pool and bar, the Community Hall, and another arcade, among other things. Most of the DVC studios and villas at Jambo House are located on the 5th and 6th floors with rooms below that reserved for guests paying cash.
Couple that with the number of view types and you have a lot of numbers on the rate chart:
Ignoring the DVC units for the moment to discuss the additional cost of upgrading the view, the extra cost per night during Value season to upgrade from Standard View to Arusha View is a whopping $127. I used to be firmly in the, “if you’re going to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, it’s the one view upgrade I always recommend getting.” I’m not sure if it’s just because I live 15 minutes away and can go any time I want, but my opinion has softened.
Obviously waking up to this view every morning and being able to walk right out onto your semi-private balcony is pretty magical. But the balconies are public enough that you’re probably going to have to put pants on before going out there anyway. And if you’ve managed to find pants, you can probably take the elevator down to the third floor to enjoy the same exact view from one of the public areas. Feel free to chime in on your view opinion, particularly if it changed after staying at the resort. I will say the savanna views are extremely popular, which is why they command such premium pricing. For “once in a lifetime” style vacations, you may certainly want to consider it.
Jambo House’s check-in and concierge are located just inside the main entrance on the left.
Kidani Village has its own check-in and concierge for guests staying there.
Its lobby isn’t as grand as Jambo House, but the glass artwork is neat.
“The Library” is a neat space just off the lobby.
Kidani also enjoys public viewing areas outside.
Another vantage point.
There’s a lot to see and do at Animal Kingdom Lodge regardless of whether you’re staying there. The following will largely discuss the perks of staying at the resort, in addition to reviews of The Mara, Sanaa, and Jiko – The Cooking Place.
Since we already took a look at pricing, we’ll jump right into the room. Jambo House 1-Bedroom Villas come in at 720 square feet, which is right around the same size as Beach Club, Wilderness Lodge, and Saratoga Springs.
The layout is a little different than the other villas we’ve seen. The semi-open kitchen, complete with an island, is located just inside the doorway. Then down the hall is the bathroom off to the left and the bedroom off to the right. You can otherwise walk in and look straight through the window past the balcony and into the savanna. If you’ve upgraded the view, of course.
Across from the kitchen is a closet with a high chair, iron, ironing board, highchair, Pack ‘n Play, and extra bedding.
The main living area with the couch, sofa bed, and television.
A dinner table of sorts as there’s no breakfast bar like Saratoga, Wilderness Lodge, and Beach Club.
The television, shelving unit, and DVD player should all look relatively familiar, though they’re nicely themed to the resort. Note the lion carving in the back of the chair on the right, in addition to the other little details around the room.
The couch pulls out to a bed that’s just about two inches narrower than a queen, but the same length, which is a little wider and a little longer than most other couch beds.
With both beds pulled out.
Finally, looking straight back to the entryway.
Okay, one more of the light shining in through the sliding glass door that leads out to the expansive balcony.
The kitchen has the same amenities as the other 1-bedrooms we’ve looked at, but the setup is a little different.
Everything should otherwise be accounted for:
It’s a pretty nice assortment of pots, pans, and openers that may come in handy even if you’re not planning an elaborate feast. Just the wine opener and microwave can save you a lot of time.
The washer/dryer are located in the closet down the hallway that leads to the bathroom and bedroom. There’s also a vacuum cleaner and a laundry basket in there.
The bathroom setup is different than the other properties we’ve looked at as well. In the other one bedrooms, the bathtub and shower were located in separate rooms, offering more opportunities for people to bathe with some privacy while others prepare for the ROPE DROP THAT WILL NOT BE MISSED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
Otherwise, the toilet is located in a separate room in back. But you’d have to disturb the theoretical person in the shower or tub to get back there.
The shower/tub combo.
Additional storage underneath and more shelving on the far left.
The bedroom should look familiar with the king bed, chair, television unit, dual bedside tables, lamps, and ceiling fan.
The desk, chair, lamp, and outlets in the corner of the room.
One difference we noted was the large size of the armoire to the left of the television.
I thought it’s large size made the room “feel” smaller than the others we’ve visited, despite being a similar size.
Otherwise, the bedroom is nicely appointed with a big comfy bed.
Feel free to chime in about the livability of the space, particularly as it compares to other 1-bedrooms. Our villa wasn’t ready until 4:45pm and with an 8pm Jiko reservation, we didn’t spend a ton of time in the room not asleep. Check-in is officially 4pm, but rooms aren’t guaranteed until 5pm.
Activities and Things to Do
Jambo House’s expansive Uzima Pool is popular. According to Disney:
Escape to an 11,000-square-foot pool with an exciting waterslide and gently sloping, zero-depth entry point similar to that of a natural watering hole. Surrounded by large canopy trees and Floridian palms, Uzima Pool includes a children’s wading pool and 2 whirlpool spas.
With recent water feature playground additions at Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian Village, and the Grand Floridian, Uzima’s small kiddie pool might leave something to be desired, but little ones do have a separate, chill area next to the main pool that doesn’t attract bigger kids.
Zero depth entry into Uzima, which is conveniently located right outside the back of the main building.
One of the two hot tubs. The area is not usually this gloomy, but cooler temperatures and clouds give us a better opportunity to get pictures without having to point a camera in somebody’s face.
Behind the Jambo pool, you’ll find a small playground area.
One last look at the pool from the other side, with the slide on the left, and the pool bar out of frame on the right.
Guests staying at Jambo House also have the opportunity to visit Kidani Village’s Samawati Springs Pool (pictured above), which, according to Disney:
Offers a thrilling waterslide, 2 whirlpool spas and Uwanja Camp—an animal observation site-themed water playground with squirting Venus flytraps, a rope bridge, water cannons and more. Samawati Springs Pool is located just a short walk away at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
Likewise, guests staying at Kidani are welcome to visit Jambo’s Uzima Pool.
Finding Kidani’s pool can be a little awkward as it’s actually located outside, sort of in front of the resort’s main building. As you exit the main building, you would take a right and follow the sidewalk to this inconspicuous structure that looks more like a cast member building than the entrance to a pool complex.
This is also where you’ll find Kidani’s gym, Survival of the Fittest. Jambo’s is called Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center with information on services available here.
The usual assortment of cardio machines and weights, in addition to a nice view out the back.
The lush theming and the fact that you’re sort of removed from the rest of the resort gives the pool complex a sort of calm atmosphere.
If it weren’t for all of the other people, anyway. There are some fun water features that the kids can interact with running down to the pool.
We didn’t have any problems finding lounge chairs after the sun finally came out in the late afternoon.
A Kidani hot tub.
Another playground area. It takes eight to ten minutes to walk between Jambo House and Kidani Village. All buses to the theme parks pick up at Kidani first, which makes it relatively easy for Kidani guests to hop on just about any bus and find themselves at Jambo House a minute or two later. The Downtown Disney bus operates in the reverse order, picking up at Jambo first. There’s also a van that goes back and forth between the two resorts, so you have some options if you’re trying to transfer between the two properties for recreation, dining, or just to look around. Of course, you can drive your own vehicle as well. There’s short term parking next to the pathway down to the Kidani pool, which is best used if you’re just popping over to swim or play.
Another good reason why the Lodge is such a good choice is the sheer number of activities available all day:
Face painting, cultural tours, cookie decorating, night vision animal viewing, movies, meet and greets, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing off-day.
The resort doubles down on holidays as you can see from the Easter schedule, in addition to the usual pool games and movies:
With Kidani Village offering separate games and different movies, you have twice as many convenient options as most resorts. It’s hard to beat outside of Epcot’s Crescent Lake area.
Both properties enjoy an arcade. Pumbaa’s Fun and Games Arcade is located near the kiddie pool behind the main building at Jambo.
It’s a large footprint with plenty of space to move around, which is nice.
The other half:
Amusingly, Lisa and I gave this Typhoon “game” a try. It turns out that it’s actually a sort of simulator not unlike Star Tours, only far less immersive with much lousier graphics. I’d skip it in favor of something else.
Simba’s Cubhouse Children’s Activity Center is also located near the Uzima Pool, operating daily from 4:30pm through midnight. It offers supervised care for kids between the ages of three and twelve. More information on pricing and activities is available here.
Kidani Village is home to a second arcade and the resort’s Community Hall, since the Kidani wing is where you’ll find the majority of the Vacation Club villas. The two are located through what are probably the two most nondescript doors on property. There are “cast member only” doors with more signage than these, which only have small placards next to the doors indicating what’s inside. Anyway, both are located i the back of the lobby down the hallway to the right from the main entrance.
The Community Hall is a neat amenity, particularly for those with kids that either want to blow off some steam or enjoy some downtime. There are couches, crafts, video games, pool, art, etc.
There’s even a semi-private balcony in the back for savanna viewing.
Most kids require your own adult supervision.
Video and board games are available to rent and take back to the room or play at the Hall. Examples of the arts and crafts, which carry nominal fees for the supplies, are on the counter on the right. Tennis rackets, basketballs, shuffleboard equipment and grilling tools are also available to rent.
The Hall’s usual hours are 9am-10pm.
And Kidani’s arcade, Safari So Good, is more of the same:
While a bit smaller, it offers a similar variety of games and is largely less crowded.
Location and Transportation
Unlike most Deluxe level resorts, which are generally connected to at least one theme park via some interesting method of transportation like the monorail or watercraft, all Animal Kingdom transpo is via bus. The resort is not nearly as disconnected from the rest of the property as some may lead on, but the lack of walkability to Epcot or Magic Kingdom may be a deterring factor for some visitors. Buses are also shared, with Kidani being dropped off and picked up first on each of the theme park routes, making it more likely Jambo visitors will stand. Bus or car trips to Magic Kingdom only take about 15 minutes once the vehicle leaves the resort. Animal Kingdom is about five minutes away. Epcot and Hollywood Studios are about ten minutes away. Downtown Disney is usually a haul and a half, but you could say that about most resorts during the Disney Springs construction. Basically, don’t let anyone try to convince you that AKL is “extremely isolated.”
Otherwise, bus transportation in a macro sense will be as reliable as any other Disney resort with similar waits and similar transportation times.
Part 2 covers food and merchandise.