Have you ever spent a day at Walt Disney World without a park ticket? Many guests fail to realize Disney magic can be found outside the parks, particularly at the Walt Disney World Resorts. Even those who aren’t staying at a Disney Resort are free to visit and enjoy some of what the different resorts have to offer. Today, we’re focusing on a resort offering a truly wild and unique experience: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge!
Animal Kingdom Lodge opened in 2001 and sits right next door to Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. While every Disney Resort offers an experience, Animal Kingdom Lodge offers an experience like no other. Here, guests are transported to an African savanna where over 30 species of African wildlife roam free right outside the lobby and your guest room… and that’s without ever leaving Central Florida!
Animal Kingdom Lodge consists of two buildings: Jambo House and Kidani Village. Jambo House is the main resort building with a gorgeous, jaw-dropping lobby which captures African culture, art, and architecture. Kidani Village, which opened in 2008, has a smaller lobby with a feel all its own and is the resort’s Disney Vacation Club (DVC) wing.
Animal Kingdom Lodge is a Deluxe Resort, meaning it falls in the most expensive of Disney World’s resort categories. All guest rooms are located inside the resort buildings; however, the guest room wings are horseshoe-shaped, meaning some rooms are quite a distance from the lobby.
Finally, unlike other Deluxe Resorts at Disney World, Animal Kingdom Lodge only offers bus transportation.
What Makes Animal Kingdom Unique:
The animals, of course! Spread across four savannas, even non-guests can see gazelles, zebras, giraffes, and more both inside and outside the resort buildings. At night, guests can use night vision goggles for free to see these beautiful animals.
Next, there’s the Jambo House lobby. The ceiling looks like it’s thatched and features giant chandeliers resembling African shields. Oh, and there’s a suspension bridge guests actually can cross! Massive windows at the far end of the lobby frame the savanna. Guests can descend a staircase built into rock work and exit to the numerous viewing areas of the savanna. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the lobby also contains a fire pit and running water feature, not to mention the countless other details celebrating African history and culture.
Graze All Day:
The dining options at Animal Kingdom Lodge are incredibly popular and truly an experience highlighting dishes from Africa and India! Jiko – The Cooking Place is the resort’s signature restaurant; but the all-you-can-eat breakfast and dinner buffet at Boma is a must-do for many guests with its selection of both cultural and traditional menu items for all tastes. My personal favorite? Zebra Domes! This fan-favorite treat is Amarula Cream Liquor mousse atop a thin cake base and covered in white chocolate with dark chocolate drizzled stripes. I have been known to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge just for a pack of Zebra Domes.
Now at Kidani Village, Sanaa offers a quick-service style breakfast and a table service restaurant for lunch and dinner. Sanaa is somewhat of a hidden gem and its Indian bread service with 9 dipping sauces practically has its own fan base. Finally, many of the tables at Sanaa offer views of the savanna and a variety of birds and animals! Tip: If seeing the animals at Sanaa is a priority for you, book a lunch or early dinner reservation. If not, it may be too dark to see them!
The Mara, the resort’s grab-and-go location is one of my personal favorites. It too balances a variety of traditional dishes with those that favor the exotic, but I’m particularly a fan of its desserts! This is also where you can purchase a pack of Zebra Domes without a Boma reservation. Finally, The Mara offers a late-night dining menu and is open past midnight for the convenience of guests returning late from the parks.
Go On a Shopping Spree:
It’s a challenge to find unique or themed merchandise at Disney World these days. This is why Zawadi Marketplace is worth a visit. Here, guests will find resort-exclusive merchandise, handcrafted African art, themed clothing and home decor, and even stuffed animals resembling the animals that can be observed throughout the resort.
Watch the Animals:
Even if you aren’t staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge as a guest yourself, you can still enjoy the over 30 species of African wildlife roaming freely just outside the resort when you visit. Both Jambo House and Kidani Village are designed to showcase the animals and offer viewing areas both inside and out. Visitors can pick up a free Wildlife Field Guide at the front desk to try to find them all.
The resort also has Animal Experts stationed by the outdoor viewing areas to inform guests about the animals and answer questions. At night, at both Jambo House’s Uzima Overlook and Kidani Village’s Kidani Rock Overlook, night vision goggles are provided to see what the animals are up to after the sun goes down.
Get Those Insta-Worthy Photos:
Since Disney makes merchandise solely themed around oft-photographed walls and backgrounds these days, I have to point out photo spots found outside the parks.
Animal Kingdom Lodge immerses guests in the culture and aesthetics of Africa, so this resort is full of gorgeous backdrops and meaningful details to meet your social media feed needs. The suspension bridge, rock staircase, and indoor water feature in Jambo House are ideal for photos; and, of course, the gorgeous overlooks of the savanna where you never know what animal might make an appearance! I also recommend the entrance to Kidani Village. The earthen wall is covered with dozens of lanterns that light up and flicker at night!
Explore or Take a Tour:
There are countless things to do at Animal Kingdom Lodge, many of them educational and cultural, but always fun! Plus, you don’t always have to be a resort guest to enjoy them. Guests can listen to Cultural Representatives tell about lives and homes in Africa and learn from Animal Experts during select times about animal enrichment and animal tracks. There’s also countless games, crafts, and music for little explorers, as well as Hidden Mickeys to find!
For the adults, and some kids, Animal Kingdom Lodge offers an impressive selection of tours and classes to learn more about the animals, the resort, and African arts, culture, and cuisine! There are several special safari tours, such as Sense of Africa, Starlight Safari, and Wanyama Safari. Foodies will enjoy the resort’s Culinary Tour, and lovers of history, art, and culture can take part in the Cultural Tour of Sanaa, the Jambo House Art Tour, Kidani Village Art Tour, and lastly a Cultural Safari where a Cultural Representative offers a virtual tour of their homeland.
Do Some Pin Trading:
You don’t have to be in the parks to pin trade or find new releases. Like most Disney Resort gift shops, Zawadi Marketplace offers a great selection of trading pins. Know that you can always trade with Cast Members at the resorts and in the parks. Just look to make sure they have pin lanyards or pin boards displayed to trade.
Have you ever spent a day at Walt Disney World without a park ticket? What is your favorite thing to do at Animal Kingdom Lodge? Here’s a fun retro bonus! Take a look back at the construction of the Disney Vacation Club’s Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: