Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and a few reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge-A Review Of My New Favorite Resort



Do you dream of studying the fascinating wildlife found on an African savanna?  Is a late night safari, exploring a private animal preserve on your bucket list?  Would you (and your children) jump at the chance to see hundreds of animals and birds in a 43 acre habitat?

Surprise!  Guess what?!?  You don’t have to travel to Africa to experience all of these things!  Believe it!  These adventures and so much more are available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Who knew?!?


Quite honestly, for so many years this resort totally flew under my radar.  My family LOVES the Polynesian Village Resort and historically, we have spent most of our vacations enjoying the tropical setting and easy access to the monorail system.

I never considered Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) mostly because of the lack of transportation options. (Buses only)  But, I made reservations for my two daughters to have lunch with an animal specialist, which is hosted at AKL. (Read a review of that awesome experience here!)

I booked one night at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort to avoid driving home after the lunch experience. (Laziness CAN pay off sometimes!)



Walking from the parking lot to the resort lobby at Jambo House


So, our “accidental” visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge was in January of 2017.  Upon entering the breathtaking lobby, I was immediately transported to a far away continent.

The Lobby:

The soaring ceiling, authentic African artwork, beautiful tribal prints, ornate wood carvings and enormous glass windows kept my eyes darting around the lobby area.  My daughters and I were completely mesmerized!

I instantly wondered, “Why haven’t we visited this place before today?!?”



Lots of comfortable seating, African prints and authentic artifacts


A cozy indoor fireplace with large rocking chairs



The soaring thatched-roof ceiling and enormous, unique light fixtures


The Check-In:

We arrived early, around 10:00 A.M., because we checked out of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort that morning.  It took about 15 minutes for me to drive to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in my car.

Under the assumption that our room at AKL would not be ready at 10:00 a.m., I packed a “day” bag and checked our other luggage in with the concierge.  But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was in fact available!  The front desk cast members were friendly and very helpful.

I returned to the bag check area, got our luggage and headed up to our room.

The only hallway leading to the elevators was pretty tight for guests checking in or checking out and everyone was wrangling bags, suitcases and children.  I noticed guest rooms along that hallway and instantly reminded myself to never stay on the main floor.

We found these awesome African artifacts displayed near the elevator and spent a few minutes admiring them.



Look at the awesome animal print carpet!  Can you find a hidden Mickey?

The Rooms:

Our resort room had a savanna view on the 3rd floor of Jambo House.  As soon as I opened the door, my girls made a bee-line to the balcony, where there was a small table, 2 chairs and an animal identification guide.  They immediately got to work, identifying each species and making note of the animals’ habits.



Small balcony overlooking the savanna



I thought my 11-year-old was never going to come back inside!  I took this picture and sent it to my husband.  He immediately knew I had stumbled upon a magical, new resort!



The view to our left


The view to our right


The room was beautifully decorated in full African theme motifs, complete with faux mosquito nets and tribal wood carvings.  Standard rooms sleep 4 guests plus 1 child under the age of 3 in a crib.  Though a typical room at AKL is only 344 sq. ft. and among some of the smallest in the deluxe resort category, we never noticed.

My daughters would love this room even if it only had canvas tents for sleeping!  Luckily for my back, that was not the case.



The view of our room from the door.  Bathroom on the left, closet on the right.  Beds on left, television on right and balcony straight ahead.



The beds were comfortable, with plenty of blankets and 4 fluffy pillows.



African-themed wood carving on the headboard and plenty of light placed near both sides of the beds.  A nightstand was in between the two beds.


Room amenities included a decent size mini-fridge, flat panel TV, desk, ceiling fan, small table and two chairs, coffee maker, hair dryer, complimentary Wi-Fi and room service is available.



The flat screen cabinet had 2 dresser drawers, a DVD player, and a large storage shelf on top.

The bathroom featured two sinks with plenty of counter space and ample storage underneath.  There were two drinking glasses, but I prefer new, unused and wrapped plastic cups.  Disney facial soaps and shampoos were available, as well as a hair dryer and trash can.



Two sinks with counter space and a large mirror



The water closet was separated from the sinks by a sliding pocket door.

The shower and water closet area was fresh and clean and decorated with the same African-styled prints.  The arched shower curtain bar made the space inside the shower appear larger.  There were enough towels for three people, but the room sleeps four and I expected a few more bath-sized towels.

The Resort:

The hotel is the most secluded of the Walt Disney World deluxe resorts and was built in 2001.  It is home to approximately 200 hooved animals and 130 birds, which roam freely among the 3 separated savannas.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort consists of two main buildings, Kidani Village and Jambo House.  Kidani Village is connected to Jambo House by a relaxing 1/2 mile walking trail lined with tall reeds, waving grasses and colorful, blooming bushes.  Guests can walk between the two buildings or ride in a shuttle van.



The walking path between Jambo House and Kidani Village.



Beautiful flowers



Bright and colorful bushes


There are 972 rooms available in Jambo House and 324 units in Kidani Village, which is part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC).  Guests of either section have access to all amenities offered in both buildings, including restaurants, fitness center and swimming pools.

The Restaurants:

The Sanaa restaurant is located inside Kidani Village and offers an exotic African and Indian fusion menu.  The food is unique and wonderful and the view of the savanna is spectacular.  Sanaa serves lunch and dinner and is considered table service.  Order the Indian-style bread service with accompaniments.   Read a full review of the Sanaa restaurant here.

Boma–Flavors of Africa is an enormous buffet that serves breakfast and dinner.  Both meals feature traditional dishes as well as African-inspired offerings.  We enjoyed the Simba waffles, creamy grits, fire roasted tomatoes, charred asparagus, and the plentiful varieties of soups and salads.  This restaurant provides many vegan and vegetarian options and is considered table service.  It is located inside Jambo House, one floor down from the lobby.  Read a full review of Boma–Flavors of Africa here.



The delicious food of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Jiko–The Cooking Place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s signature table service restaurant located inside Jambo House.  Jiko only serves dinner.  It is a beautiful and romantic restaurant, but our experience was less than stellar.  The top two menu items (the beef short ribs and the lamb) were not available on the evening we visited and the service was painfully slow even though the restaurant was not full. The tiny portions of our dishes were bland and we left unsatisfied and disappointed. The menu was recently redesigned so we hope to give Jiko–The Cooking Place a second chance soon.

The Mara is the quick service restaurant on property and is located inside Jambo House.  It has indoor and relaxing outdoor seating that overlooks the pool area.  The Mara serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and even offers late night dining.  Dishes include traditional American and African favorites, like fried egg sandwiches, oatmeal, muffins, chicken nuggets, burgers, flatbreads, African stews and pitas.  It was clean, efficient, and is one of the best resort quick service restaurants for vegans and vegetarians on the Disney property.

Disney restaurant menus are seasonal and change often, so check for current menus on the Disney website.  All menus are available under the dining tab or choose “dining” through the My Disney Experience app.

The Pools:


The beautiful Uzima Springs Pool

The Animal Kingdom Lodge features two main pool areas–one surrounded by the rooms of the Jambo House configuration and one pool is close to Kidani Village.



Complimentary life jackets and towels are available, as well as lounge chairs, umbrellas and covered tables.

Uzima Springs Pool is an 11,000 square foot oasis that faces Uzima Savanna and is closest to the guest rooms in Jambo House.  It has a zero-entry point, a 67 foot waterslide and a lounge bar connecting to the pool’s deck.  There is also a children’s wading pool and two whirlpool spas nearby.


Samawati Springs Pool is near the Animal Kingdom Villas-Kidani Village.  It holds 118,138 gallons of water and offers an 128 foot waterslide and zero depth entry.  Uwanja Camp is a children’s water playground with three different zones for varying ages.

Lifeguard stations are posted at both pools, but check for hours of operation.

All Disney resort pools are heated and can be used year-round.  We visited in early January and it was exceptionally cold, but my girls were still swimming!


The only person in the pool was my daughter.



Pic of me wearing several cozy layers and a thick jacket, while my girls enjoyed the hot tub



Walking around the pool area

The design of the resort pool area is breathtaking.  The pathways are lined with jungle foliage and tropical plants, creating a relaxing and peaceful environment away from the crowded theme parks.



View of some of the Jambo House rooms from the pool area

The Activities:

The Hakuna Matata Playground is near Jambo House and the Uzima Springs Pool.  There is a bench, a drinking fountain and lots of shade.


The Hakuna Matata Playground



Another view of the Hakuna Matata Playground

While walking around the pool, we discovered several savanna viewing areas, interesting boulders, beautiful water features and a flamingo habitat.





My daughters enjoyed a game of ping pong.


The most popular and featured activity at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is viewing the exquisite African savanna wildlife in a large, realistic-looking habitat.  There are multiple public viewing areas, some with benches and communal fire pits.

Once the sun goes down, you can use complimentary night-vision binoculars to find exotic animals on the dark landscape.


On several occasions, my daughters and I encountered African cast members stationed around the savannas.  The cast members were very knowledgeable and willing to share stories and answer any questions about their homeland.




Over 30 species of African wildlife occupy the Animal Kingdom Lodge savannas.


During the check-in process, I was given a calendar of the resorts upcoming activities.  Multiple cultural programs and nature based activities were available and my daughters chose to enjoy a free cookie decorating lesson and a free cake decorating class.


Decorating cakes near the entrance of Sanaa


A cookie from the cookie decorating lesson


A cookie from the cookie decorating lesson

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge also features several safari excursions for additional costs.  The Wanyama Safari is a private safari followed by dinner at Jiko–The Cooking Place and there is an one-hour long nighttime safari.

Call 407-939-8687 for additional information and to make reservations.

The Transportation:

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is secluded, which means transportation is limited.  The only Disney transportation available to travel to the theme parks from AKL are Disney busses.  There are two main bus stops, one at Jambo House and one for Kidani Village.  Digital screens are posted at the stops and display expected bus arrival and travel times.  We used our personal vehicle while onsite.

Self parking lots at Jambo House are slightly far from the lobby.  Valet parking is available for $20-25 a night.  Complimentary valet parking is available for those with a disability parking permit.

The parking lot at Kidani Village is a large, covered parking garage.

There is a shuttle van that runs between Jambo House and Kidani Village approximately every 20 minutes.

The Location:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas is located at 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 32830-8410.  It is closest to the Animal Kingdom theme park.  If you want to travel the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort from another Disney resort, just board a bus to the Animal Kingdom theme park and then board a second bus headed to the AKL resort.

For more resort information, call 407-938-3000.

What We Loved:

  • Both the breakfast and dinner buffets at Boma–Delicious!
  • Lunch at Sanaa
  • Lots of vegan and vegetarian options
  • Lunch with an animal specialist experience
  • The warm and inviting lobby
  • All of the educational opportunities and knowledgeable cast members
  • The beautiful Uzima Springs Pool and waterslide
  • The view from our savanna view room, watching the animals from our balcony

If I Had A Magic Wand, I Would Change:

  • The resort location and transportation options.  Because this is a deluxe hotel, I expected either additional modes of transportation or triple the amount of busses.
  • The volume of the music played at the Uzima Springs Pool.  We had to shout at each other while having a normal conversation.
  • The tiny corridor that leads to the elevators.
  • There are no character meals offered at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


Why We Want To Go Back:

  • We hope improvements have been made at Jiko–The Cooking Place and we are looking forward to eating at the other restaurants again!
  • We are craving the bread service and dips from Sanaa!
  • I would like to enjoy the resort pool area during warmer weather.
  • There is nothing like waking up to a view of an African savanna!
  • We want to experience some of the safaris and night-time excursions.
  • Every cast member we encountered was friendly and helpful.
  • This is our new favorite Disney resort.

Must See:

  • Spend lots of time checking out the 3 different savannas because different animals inhabit each area.
  • The two waterslides

Must Do:

  • Free educational events
  • Look at the African art and crafts

Do Not Miss:

  • The bread service at Sanaa
  • The Simba waffles at Boma

Friend-to-Friend, I want you to know:

We enjoyed our night at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge so much that we booked a second night and delayed our plans of returning home!  My daughters (ages 11 and 12) loved this resort!  Through a series of unfortunate events, my husband was not with us during our 2 night stay at the awesome Animal Kingdom Lodge and my girls can not wait to show him around!

Dining reservations are open to everyone at the 3 impressive, table service Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants. You do not need to be a resort guest to dine on property.  I highly recommend advanced dining reservations for all of the table service options, especially Boma–Flavors of Africa.

If you have dining reservations, you can park your personal vehicle in the self parking lots free of charge.  You can also use valet parking for $20-$25.

The AKL restaurants accept the Disney Dining Plan.

All resort guests enjoy complimentary parking at the Disney theme parks.  Resort guests can also have park purchases delivered to their resorts for free–restrictions apply, so ask for specifics at the gift shop.

The Zawadi Marketplace is a large gift shop located inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It carries African themed statues and kitchen gear, swimsuits, toiletries, snacks and beverages, souvenirs, keychains, cough drops and many other items.

There are laundry facilities (pack quarters!), dry cleaning and valet laundry services available.

Victoria Falls is the bar and lounge area inside Jambo House.

A limited spa and fitness center is also on the Animal Kingdom Lodge property.



Dine with a Disney Animal Specialist–A Review



Zebras roam the Sunset Savanna

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.

Read a full review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort here.


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.



A view of the windows at Sanaa from the savanna


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.



Kate, the amazing animal specialist, and my daughters


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 Indian-style bread service was shared by everyone at the table.


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.



Our knowledgeable animal expert worked closely with the giraffes at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


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.



The dessert trio at Sanaa




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.

Click here to check out some super awesome top 10 Disney experiences!

Click here to learn about super cool FREEEEEE things to do at Disney!