The Underrated Awesomeness of Animal Kingdom Lodge

It’s really a shame that one of the best all-around resorts on WDW property is often overlooked by so many people. I say this because we, too, were once guilty of automatically excluding Animal Kingdom Lodge from our resort “must-stay” list simply because of its location.

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There’s no way a room with a view like this could possibly still be convenient to a theme park. Right, giraffe?

Animal Kingdom Lodge is quite literally off the beaten path. It’s tucked away in its own resort area, there are no parks within walking distance, and the only WDW transportation option is the bus. We hate the buses with a fiery passion. Thus, AKL automatically had a major strike against it before we ever set foot on its grounds. But we’d enjoyed meals at both Jiko and Sanaa in the past, and I’m a total sucker for the African theming that’s so perfectly maintained at this resort. So eventually we knew we were going to have to give it a try despite our misgivings (and fear of the buses). We finally stayed there in March of 2017.

We will be back.

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I mean seriously. Look at this place.

With that being said, AKL is definitely a bit different than the other Deluxe resorts on property. It’s a very distinctive experience, and it isn’t necessarily ideal for every type of WDW trip. So before I go into more details about our impressions, I’ll go ahead and give a few important pointers to keep in mind when considering staying here.

  1. Animal Kingdom Lodge is isolated. It’s supposed to be that way. It’s part of the theming. Does it feel “Disney” still? Absolutely. But you are separated from the parks when you’re at the resort, so if you’re wedded to the idea of being able to see Magic Kingdom or EPCOT from your room, this might not seem like a good option. I would beg you to keep an open mind, though, and consider AKL anyway. The atmosphere is honestly second-to-none.
  2. You will have to drive or take a bus anywhere else on property. This includes a short 3-minute (or so) bus ride over to Animal Kingdom itself. You’ll need to factor in far more significant travel times than if you were staying at other Deluxes. Yes, in  today’s day and age where Disney trips are meticulously calculated and planned down to the last second, this might seem like a nightmare and a half. It’s really not, though, if you remember that AKL is designed to be very self-contained and immersive. Yes, all the WDW resorts are designed this way, too, but AKL takes it to another level. The dining here is exquisite. There is so much to do at the resort. Instead of planning most of your evening meals elsewhere, consider staying at the resort this trip. It’ll save you the headache of bus travel and you really get to enjoy all the special things AKL offers.
  3. Animal Kingdom Lodge is made up of two separate resorts. This is very important to know. Jambo House is the name for the main resort building, where all the guest rooms are located. It’s the first building you see when you enter the resort gates. There is also Kidani Village, an additional building that is made up entirely of DVC units. There are no resort rooms in Kidani Village. If you book a resort room at AKL through the Disney website or reservations line, you’ll be in Jambo House. There are DVC units in Jambo House, too, for some reason, but they’re restricted to the fifth and sixth floors. Kidani Village is worth visiting for Sanaa, their table service restaurant, but otherwise everything else you’ll need will be in Jambo House.
  4. The rooms at AKL are smaller than at the other Deluxe resorts, with the exception of Wilderness Lodge. A standard room here sleeps a maximum of 4 people. This includes Club Level rooms, too (besides suites, of course). All the King rooms are handicapped-accessible, as well, so plan on a double Queen instead. You can technically rent a DVC unit that sleeps more than 4 and still be in the “main” building (Jambo House), but that will entail going through all the not-so-fun stuff you have to deal with to rent DVC points. I’m not going into that in this blog post. I’ll save it for a later time.
  5. Club Level rooms at AKL are located on the 4th floor. There are suites with Club Level access located on other floors, too, but all the standard Club rooms are on 4. The lounge is on the 6th floor. You’ll need to take the main elevator up to 6 (which is a restricted access floor) in order to visit the concierge desk, grab a snack or drink, etc. Some people dislike this layout and therefore avoid AKL’s Club Level. We thought we’d hate it too, but it surprisingly didn’t bother us. It’s something to keep in mind though.
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The 6th floor elevator lobby. If you take a left, you’ll meander your way right into the Club Lounge.

The resort rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge all look the same, for the most part, so I refrained from taking pictures (well, good ones anyway). If you want to see some, Google Images can assist you. They’re very beautiful and definitely nail the African theme without being too in-your-face. You feel like you’re transported to Africa, you really do. We both agreed, however, that the rooms are well overdue for a refresh. They were immaculate and very well maintained, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think the rooms here have changed since the hotel was built back in 2001. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with them next. For now, though, they’re still extremely comfortable, warm, and feel both upscale and “Disney” at the same time. All the rooms here have balconies.

Room types are classified by view, with three categories:

  • Standard, which includes everything from a straight-on parking lot or bus stop view to barely-obstructed savanna views. You can really luck up in this category and get some great animal viewing, but don’t assume.
  • Pool. I think you can figure this one out on your own.
  • Savanna, which has a direct view of, well, you guessed it.

The most ideal savanna viewing floor is the 4th floor, because it’s the perfect height to be able to see the whole expanse of the animal areas. That’s why the Club Level rooms are on the 4th floor. Oh, and all Club Level rooms have a savanna view! It’s one of the many perks AKL Club Level offers that makes it really stand out among the WDW Deluxe resorts.

From the moment we first checked in, we immediately realized that AKL is probably the perfect choice for couples looking to have a more quiet and subdued Disney World trip. As with all WDW resort common areas, the lobby had some hustle and bustle, but we were shocked by how relaxing it felt despite it all. Maybe it’s the super high ceilings or something, but any noise in the lobby seemed to immediately turn into ambient background noise that suited the atmosphere. There are African drummers throughout the day who perform and sing, too, which only adds to the experience. There’s really something special about sitting up in the gorgeous Club Lounge hearing the drums while enjoying a glass of wine. There’s nothing else like it on property.

AKL is designed for guests to spend time there. You could easily spend several days just taking in the resort grounds, watching the animals from your balcony, doing the free restaurant tours or the wine tasting at Jiko, and just relaxing. Doesn’t sound like a typical Disney trip, does it?

 

Club Level here takes things to another level, literally. (See what I did there? It’s on the 6th floor and your room is on the 4th..?)

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I should skip the jokes and stick to posting pictures instead. Here is a seating area and a window.

The Kilimanjaro Club lounge itself overlooks the gorgeous lobby. You can’t really see out to the savanna, but since all the Club rooms have a savanna view you don’t miss it too much. It’s a large lounge with two side-by-side concierge desks, a main seating area, two side seating areas, and a children’s area with its own TV. Like all Club lounges at WDW, it can get crowded, particularly at breakfast, but it never became unmanageable while we were there. There were a lot of cast members working at any given time, everything was kept clean and replenished, and we rarely had to wait more than a minute or two to find someone if we needed something.

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Part of the afternoon snack service.

One unique thing about the Club Level experience here is that all alcohol is by-request only. If you’re familiar with how Club Level works at other Disney resorts, you’ve seen the assorted wines, beers, and cordials set out in the evenings for guests to choose from, either with a cast member serving them or just available to take on your own. At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you simply ask a cast member for whatever you want, they pour it in the back kitchen (which is right behind the serving area in the picture above), then they deliver it to you. Sure, it’s always nice to be able to go grab a beer or a glass of wine yourself, but we surprisingly weren’t bugged by the setup here at all. In fact, we liked it most of the time because we often asked for either Jungle Juice mimosas or sangria (red wine mixed with Jungle Juice — a delicious concoction that is basically the same thing as the infamous POG juice over at the Polynesian Village). Those are a lot better when someone else makes ’em for you. You’re on vacation, after all.

By far the greatest aspect of Club Level at AKL is the food. I could write poetry about it, it’s that good. There is a chef from Boma who prepares dishes in the lounge during the evening meal. AKL is also one of only two WDW resorts that offers an afternoon tea in the lounge (the other being Grand Floridian). The scones are amazing.

Luckily for me, the Club Lounge had an electronic menu of their food and drink options. So instead of trying (and inevitably failing) to remember everything myself, I can just do this:

Magic!

The whole food setup in the lounge is really well-implemented. There’s the usual Nespresso machine and coffee/tea/juice/water service area, a snack area, and then the rest of the expansive service bar is dedicated to hot and cold items.

Yes, before you ask: the food here is definitely African-inspired. That can turn some folks off. It shouldn’t, though. Most of the dishes they serve here sound exotic, but the taste is pleasing to all but the most unimaginative palates, I swear. In a lot of ways, AKL’s food options tend to skew more toward adult tastes. Yet another reason why couples and adults traveling without kids in tow should consider staying here.

Here are some more lounge photos so you can get an idea what the space itself looks like:

 

With everything the Kilimanjaro Club at AKL offers, it’s really shocking to know that it’s consistently one of the cheapest Club options on WDW property. The same goes for standard non-Club rooms, too. AKL is cheaper largely because of its location. But considering the fact you can see animals from your balcony, get food and drink options that are some of the best of any Club lounge, and enjoy a fully immersive and unique African experience yet still be at Disney World, it’s really difficult to convince us to stay elsewhere.

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See the hidden Mickey?

We’ve stayed at almost all the Club Level Deluxe resorts at WDW, and Animal Kingdom Lodge ranks right up there among the best. There’s a real sense of pride and care that’s palpable among the cast members who work there. You can tell they love the resort and they want you to, as well. Does it have its downsides? Yes, albeit very few. But if you’re willing to go out on a limb and take a slightly different kind of WDW trip, one that isn’t as scheduled and hurried, skip the jumping back and forth from park to park and resort to restaurant and give AKL a try instead. You won’t think of Disney World the same way again. We promise.