Safari Days at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Make new (animal) friends at Disney's Animal Kingdom Resort
Make new (animal) friends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

Are you an animal lover? If yes, you will reach nirvana at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. If no, you will quickly become one if you stay here! For the last leg of our Disney tour, we spent one night at AK’s Jambo House, Disney’s safari-inspired resort.  This incredible property does a lot to maintain a peaceful environment for the wildlife that dwells there, in spite of the masses of people visiting. From the minute you enter the lodge, you will notice very subdued lighting (ok, it’s extremely dim) and an earthy neutral color palette, as well as large windows and viewing areas. Most impressive is the fine collection of African Art you will find in small gallery-like displays, complete with chat labels, throughout the hotel. I could have spent days getting to know this collection, and in the future, I intend to! There are over three hundred pieces of African art, making this one of the largest hotel art collections in the world.

The bright colors of traditional Kente cloth draw you down the hallways at Jambo House
The bright colors of traditional Kente cloth draw you down the hallways at Jambo House (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

If you are not one who can just jet-off to Africa for a visit anytime (and you probably wouldn’t be reading if you were) let Disney make all your safari dreams come true. This is the next best thing. In true Disney fashion, the theming at the Animal Kingdom Lodge goes a long way to be convincing. Yet, there is also something very sincere in the way the theming is handled at this particular resort. Feeding areas set up outside, large roaming spaces are called savannas, reconstructed habitats showcase indigenous plants, and the architecture all works to remind us that we are merely tiny visitors in this giant animal world and it is a privilege to be the presence of the zebras, giraffes, gazelles and wildebeests. If you can manage it financially, I highly recommend booking a savannah-view room. These rooms have a more central location on the savannah for viewing animals. If you cannot, rest assured, the hotel has many viewing areas from the hallways and exterior paths behind the hotel. There is no way to leave this place without seeing some amazing animals!

The view from your room will captivate you for hours
The sunset view from your savannah-view room will captivate you  (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

Animal Kingdom Lodge rooms are fairly spacious, and build on the safari theme. Of the three resort rooms we stayed in on this trip, the AK room was the brightest and airiest. The bathroom, however, was very dark (so bring a flashlight in for showers). Mosquito netting effects over the bed, a white duvet, and large sliding glass door onto the balcony made the guest room a sunny haven. Rust-colored textiles, woven ceiling fans, and dark wood furniture accents further added to the warmth of the interior. This will likely inspire you to go home and redo your entire bedroom in safari-chic.

Custom safari wallpaper
Vintage-style treasure map wallpaper in the powder room (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

One of the nicest details in AKL guest rooms are the custom lace sheer-panel curtains that hang down in front of the sliding glass door. Try to find all of the animals and a friend from the Lion King which are woven into its delicate design. What is so brilliant about these curtains is that let into the light from outside, provide classic Disney content theming, and add to the safari-feel of the room. Both kitschy and elegant (how on earth did they do that) it was all I could do to not rip these down off the wall and bring them home in my suitcase with me.

Disney's greatest interior design innovation ever (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)
Disney’s greatest interior design innovation ever (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

You probably won’t be spending too much time in your room here. Instead, you will be drawn out to the balcony overlooking the savannah. Disney has carried its theming right down to the littlest details. Sit in your zebra-backed chair and watched the giraffes reach up to feed from baskets hung from the trees outside your window. Munch on some delicious zebra domes from the counter-service snack bar. We stayed in a Kudu Trail room overlooking the Arusha Savannah and highly recommend it.

Your throne awaits
Your throne awaits (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

Late in the afternoon, I tried to take a little disco nap to prepare for our night out on the town. This was impossible. The scene outside the window kept changing every few minutes, with herds of new animals and birds moving through. I kept hopping up to watch and to take photographs.

The scene outside is always changing at Disney's AKL
The scene outside is always changing at Disney’s AKL (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

Part of the authenticity of the theming at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is the direct result of Disney’s efforts to educate guests about the animals, their natural habitats, and their increasingly desperate need to be protected in Africa. Knowledgeable Savannah Guide Cast members are posted on outdoor walking trails and overlooks with binoculars (night vision binoculars when the sun goes down) you can use to get a closer look at the animals you are learning about. In each guest room there is also a handy identification guide for animals on the savannah.

Here is a list of the animals you can see at Animal Kingdom Lodge

  • Ankole Cattle
  • Zebra (Plains Zebra and Harmann’s Mountain Zebra)
  • Somali Wild Ass
  • Giraffe
  • Okapi
  • Red River Hog
  • Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • White-Bearded Wildebeest
  • Waterbuck
  • Roan Antelope
  • Scimitar-Horned Oryx
  • Addax Antelope
  • Eland Antelope
  • Pink-Backed Pelican
  • Ostrich
  • Lesser Kudu
  • Nyala
  • Sitatunga
  • Impala
  • Thomson’s Gazelle
  • Radiated Tortoise
  • Guineafowl
  • African Greater Flamingo
  • Egyptian Geese
  • South African Shelducks
  • Blue Crane
  • Grey Crowned Crane
  • Egrets
  • African Spoonbill
  • Marabou Stork
  • Northern Ground Hornbill

You will not see any elephants, gorillas, tigers, lions, cheetahs, hippos, or rhinoceros roaming around the Animal Kingdom Lodge grounds. For those you will need to head over to the Animal Kingdom theme park. The highlight of our entire weeklong trip was Disney’s Wild Africa Trek, an amazing special behind the scenes safari tour. This is not the same as the Kilimanjaro Safari which is included with your park entrance fee. The price of The Trek is hefty, however a large portion of the proceeds goes to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, which directly supports wildlife conservation in over 100 countries. At the end of the tour, you get to choose how your contribution will be appointed.

Lest you be one of the few to bristle at the thought of an “educational vacation” don’t worry, there’s plenty of hedonism at the AKL too. When we were there, the mezzanine-level bar proved to be a hot-spot for those waiting for dinner at the Boma buffet and upscale Jiko restaurant. The gift shop is impressively stocked with many items, including leopard print Disney ballet flats, men’s watches, giclee prints of artists’ interpretations of the resort, and hand-carved wooden animals from Kenya. The gift shop also carries snacks and beverages, OTC medicines, magazines, and Lilly Pulitzer fashions. The zero-entry pool is also well-lit at night for a dip with a large hut-style pool bar at one end. The outer water facility also features a hidden spa area, located right next to the flamingos’ sleeping pen.

A night swim is in order
A night swim is in order

The lodge feel is enhanced by numerous fire pits on the property. Outside on the walking trail there are two. The one closest to the main lobby doors is surrounded by rocking chairs and provided a romantic spot from which to survey the moon and stars. A smaller fire pit is located further down the trail. We happened upon it just as staff were wrapping up a little complimentary s’mores toasting party.

Alas these marshmallows were not ours...
Alas these marshmallows were not ours…

Inside the lobby was my favorite fire pit of all (see this is what Disney does to you…you now have a favorite fire pit!) was located at the back of the Main Lobby. If you are visiting during the cooler months, seek out this sitting area with a book or a newspaper and relax in front of the glowing warmth. Coupled with the low light levels, you’ll end up more relaxed than you’ve been in months. Speaking of the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s lobby, it is tremendous. Enormous in size, impressive in decor, it even has a faux-suspension bridge running across one end for second floor guests to traverse. Suspended from the ceiling are massive chandeliers based on Masai warrior shields. During the holidays, the focal point is the gorgeous Christmas tree. A Photopass photographer was stationed here during the day, and much to our surprise, one of our photos from this encounter showed a little Tinker Bell and a piece of cartoon mistletoe in the final picture.

Christmas comes to the Lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Christmas comes to the Lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge

All of the delights of the Animal Kingdom Lodge do come at a price. The price tag is substantial, so do look for deals and discounts. Annual pass discounts, Disney Visa, and summer rates all go a long way to making your Disney Deluxe Resort dreams come true. Be advised, Animal Kingdom Lodge is the one resort to be linked to the parks by bus service only. This is fairly minor when it comes to reaching the Animal Kingdom park next door, however, more distant parks, like the Magic Kingdom will be a minor headache to reach. For evenings out at other resorts, you may even have to spring for, gulp, a taxi. We ended up doing this to make our Spirit of Aloha luau reservation on time back at the Polynesian Resort. After waiting 30 minutes for a Magic Kingdom, bus we hopped into a taxi at the hotel. A taxi to the Polynesian cost us a whopping $20 one way. Plan ahead, and leave plenty of time for transportation to and from this resort for your ADR’s.

When the bus or er, taxi, brings you home to Jambo House for the night, get into bed and sleep peacefully, knowing the animals are sleeping too…just outside your window.

Click here to check out my NEW Post about the Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park! 

Wild Kingdom
Wild Kingdom Outside your Door (Photo: Chris DeGennaro)

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