Are you an animal lover? Interested in learning about animal conservation? Looking for an adventure away from the theme parks?
Gallop on over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. This resort is a magnificent African-savanna themed oasis away from the crowds, lines and thrill rides. Public viewing areas overlook vast flatlands with exotic wildlife, unique animals and birds.
Inside the Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas (AKL), is an exotic Indian and African fusion restaurant called Sanaa. Read a full review of Sanaa here.
Sanaa is the location of an amazing, little-known experience–the opportunity to dine with an animal specialist!
This is a review of our experience of dining with an animal specialist.
In the fall of 2016, I planned a surprise trip to Walt Disney World for my family. One of the surprises was reservations for me and my daughters to dine with an animal expert at Sanaa. Honestly, I accidentally found this option during a late-night Googling session and quickly booked it without doing any research. (That’s how excited I was to find such a thing!)
Around noon on January 7, 2017, we checked in at the hostess desk at Sanaa. Sanaa is located one level down from the main lobby inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village.
We were led to our table along with the other diners with reservations for this experience. There were exactly 12 guests. My daughters (ages 11 & 12) were the only children.
All 12 guests were seated at a large, rectangular table facing enormous 9 foot tall windows with gorgeous views of the Sunset Savanna. The table was long enough to accommodate the 12 diners and the animal specialist sat in the middle.
Kate introduced herself as our Disney animal specialist host for our meal and experience.
A very friendly and attentive waitress took our drink orders, while Kate told us about her education, background and passion for animal science.
Almost immediately, the family-style appetizer arrived. It was the Indian-style bread service, which consisted of five different naans and nine distinctively flavored accompaniments. Though we each had small individual plates, it was awkward to reach for food and share the dipping containers with strangers.
My daughters and I loved the onion kucha, paneer paratha, tamarind chutney, tomato date jam, mango chutney, spicy red chili sambal, and garlic pickle. The man sitting next to me wanted more naan and was quickly granted his request.
The restaurant was busy and loud because it was prime-time for the lunch crowd. Luckily, my daughters and I were seated close to Kate. At times, my youngest struggled to hear her speak, though.
Kate shared personal experiences, stories and fun facts about the animals on the four savannas at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We learned how the animals are acquired, cared for and responsibly bred.
The salad course came after the bread service appetizer. Each guest received their own small bowls with a salad sampler of three very unique and fresh salads. All three salads were meatless. My favorite was the Nigerian root vegetable and citrus salad, but my daughters preferred the chickpeas with cucumber and tomato offering.
During lunch and while Kate talked about the hoofed animals and birds, we watched zebras, gazelles and giraffes walk by the large windows.
Because I pre-ordered a vegetarian meal at the time of making our reservations, I received a small portion of two different meatless entrées, while my daughters and the other diners were given two small meat dishes.
The meat dishes were butter chicken and Goan seafood curry. The butter chicken was the winner according to my girls. Both dishes smelled delicious.
I enjoyed the vegetarian chickpea wat and lentil dhal dishes. All meals were served with warm scented Basmati rice.
The exotic 4-course lunch concluded with a dessert trio of Afrika Povu (Tanzanian chocolate mousse), lemon lychee tart and seasonal Kulfi.
Kate spoke during the entire meal, answering all questions and elaborating on guest comments. She taught us about several current field research projects and Disney’s commitment to animal conservation.
The three-hour meal flew by and we could have easily listened to Kate share her knowledge for several more hours. She was friendly, approachable, patient, very passionate and honest.
She did an amazing job.
After the meal, the 12 guests expected to enjoy a private interaction with radiated tortoises, but most of the small animals were relocated earlier in the day to the barns because of dropping temperatures. (It was early January.)
Instead, Kate accompanied the group outside to one of the main savanna viewing outposts and spent another 20-30 minutes answering questions specific to the animals roaming in front of us.
The entire experience lasted about 3.5 hours and included a very enjoyable, 4-course lunch and an exceptional interaction with a Disney animal expert.
If you or someone you love has an interest in African wildlife, animal conservation or zoology, I highly recommend this experience.
Advanced dining reservations are required for this event. Call 407-939-3463 for more information, available dates and to make reservations.
Dining plans are not accepted. (The dining plan is accepted for meals at Sanaa, just not for this dining experience.)
Guests must be at least 8 years old to attend.
Each experience is limited to 12 people per day.
Vegetarian and vegan options are available.
Dress is casual.
Because advanced dining reservations (ADR) are required, you can park your vehicle in the self-parking lot or parking garage for free during the event.
Valet parking can cost between $20-$25.
At the time of this post, there is no direct transportation between Disney resorts. The quickest and easiest way to travel to Sanaa from a Disney resort is to take Disney transportation to the Animal Kingdom theme park and then board the Disney bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. You can get off of the bus at Jambo House and walk or you can stay on the bus until you reach Kidani Village.
If you are at a Disney theme park, the best way to travel to Sanaa is to board a Disney transportation bus that is headed directly to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.