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Our family’s favorite place to stay at Walt Disney World is Animal Kingdom Lodge, hands-down.
There is SO much we love about it, which I will share in detail below. But what first-time visitors usually don’t know is that Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually made up of two distinct properties – Jambo House and Kidani Village.
In this post, I’ll share my review of the resort, the pros and cons of each property, and likely overload you with tons of pictures!
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: The Basics
Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) opened in 2001 and is located near the Animal Kingdom Theme Park. It is a Deluxe Resort that is set on an actual 33-acre wildlife preserve.
It contains both standard resort hotel rooms, as well as Disney Vacation Club rooms. For a quick primer on Disney Vacation Club (DVC) and how save up to 70% compared to Disney’s prices, check on this post on how to rent DVC points for stays in Deluxe resorts!
In 2009, a second property, Kidani Village, opened adjacent to the original Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The Lodge was renamed “Jambo House” to differentiate it from the new property. Kidani Village contains only DVC villa rooms and has its own lobby, restaurant, and pools.
Both hotels comprise Animal Kingdom Lodge in its entirety, which is regularly listed in the top ten family resorts in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. In 2011, AKL also earned AAA Four-Diamond status.
You will have a fantastic experience at either resort, thanks to Disney’s world-class hospitality and the outstanding amenities. Below I will compare and contrast what you’ll find at Jambo House and Kidani Village so you can decide which might be better for your family.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Location & Transportation
AKL is located in the southwest corner of the Walt Disney World Resort. It is very close to the Animal Kingdom theme park, however you can’t walk to the park (though I would love it if they would add a walkway in the future).
The only way to get from AKL to the theme parks is by bus, car, or taxi. The travel times are less than 5 minutes to Animal Kingdom, around 15 minutes to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and about 20 minutes to the Magic Kingdom.
This might be a turn off for some, especially if you are used to the 10 minute walk from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom, or the even-shorter walk from the Boardwalk to Epcot.
However, the tradeoff is that you really feel surrounded by nature at AKL!
There is no development around the resort and this helps with the illusion that you really have been transported to a remote African wildlife preserve. The view from any room is of lush foliage or animals, instead of a concrete jungle.
My family would gladly spend a few extra minutes on the bus in exchange for the feeling that we aren’staying in Orlando at all. 🙂
In my experience, it takes about 10 minutes to walk from the Jambo House lobby to the Kidani Village lobby. The path is marked with signs and easy to find.
There is also a shuttle bus that runs back and forth between the two properties if you don’t want to do any additional walking.
Now I’ll compare and contrast the dining and amenities found at both resorts. First of all, guests staying at Jambo House and Kidani Village are allowed to use the amenities at BOTH locations. That gives you a lot of options!
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Wildlife Viewing
The amenity that makes AKL unique among all other Disney hotels is the savanna, of course! T
here are actually four different savannas at AKL, with Kidani and Jambo sharing the main Sunset Savanna. More than 200 mammals and birds representing almost 40 species live there, and different animals can be found on different savannas.
The savannas are the actual homes of the animals who live there and they are open 24 hours. AKL is even accredited by the American Zoological Association (AZA), which ensures quality of care for the animals. (Source – AllEars.net)
Our favorite animals to view are the Giraffe (found on every savanna), Zebra, Ankole Cattle, Okapi, Flamingos, and African Crowned Cranes. There is an animal viewing guide in every room which you can keep and even carry down to the animal viewing areas with you.
The main viewing area for animals at Jambo House is called Arusha Rock. It is fun to explore and you can usually find a “Safari Guide” around the area who is happy to answer questions and tell you more about the animals.
Most often the guides are from Africa and are on a cultural exchange at AKL for a period of time. Here are some animal pictures from the public viewing areas:
There is also a fire pit surrounded by rocking chairs in the Arusha Rock area. You can roast complimentary marshmallows and listen to campfire tales from African Cultural Ambassadors (read about all of the free resort activities at AKL in this post).
You can also use special night vision goggles to view the animals at night during the early evening hours at Arusha Rock.
There are several areas on the second floor of the resort near the lobby where you can view animals, too.
They contain rocking chairs and offer views from a little higher up, which is often better for picture taking.
There is a similar animal viewing areas at Kidani Village, complete with Safari Guides, binoculars, and a fire pit.
Personally, I have always seen more animals at the Kidani Village viewing areas. The animals are a lot closer than at Jambo House and I have seen a wider variety of animals.
It seems like the Imagineers learned from Jambo House and years later improved upon the animal viewing experience when they designed Kidani Village.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Pool Areas
The pool areas at both resorts are nothing short of spectacular.
Between the two resorts you’ll find two zero-entry pools, three water slides, four hot tubs, two pool bars, three kiddie pools and an interactive water playground.
We spend at least a few days just visiting the pools on each of our stays at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Jambo House features a large zero-entry pool with a 67-foot long water slide. There are two hot tubs around the pool area, one in a bamboo grove and the other right next to an animal viewing area.
There is also a (rather uninspired) kiddie pool. You can order drinks from the Uzima Springs poolside bar (I suggest the Safari Amber beer and the Mango Margarita).
Towels and kids’ life jackets are provided at the pool. You are allowed to bring your own toys into the pool, as long as they aren’t too big.
You’ll find a nice playground and a few more animal viewing spots in the Jambo House pool area as well. I’ve seen cast members wiping down the playground equipment with disinfectant each morning. Only at Disney World.
Kidani Village has a zero-entry pool that is about half the size of the Jambo House pool. However, the main water slide is 128 feet long and really fun!
There is also a kiddie-sized water slide that empties into the main pool. Our little one has loved it since age one. You’ll find two nice-sized hot tubs in the pool area as well.
The large interactive water play area at Kidani Village is called Uwanja Camp and it is really amazing.
There are a few shallow kiddie pools, water blasters, buckets that periodically dump water, a playground area and more. I feel like there is something for toddlers through teenagers in this area. Here are a few more pictures:
Overall, we enjoy both pool areas tremendously and especially enjoy the ability to go to both pools during our stay.
I tend to favor the Kidani Village pool over the Jambo House pool due to the awesome water slide and water play area, especially if you have older kids who will get the most out of these features.
But one of my favorite spots in the world is the Jambo House hot tub by the animals, so there’s that. 😉
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Rooms
As I mentioned, there are two distinct room types at AKL – regular hotel rooms and DVC Villa rooms.
In this section, I’ll explain the differences between these room types, go into more detail about the many room options, and compare costs.
Jambo House contains a huge variety of room types, thanks to the fact that some of its rooms were transitioned into DVC villa rooms around 2009.
A standard resort room at Jambo House is around 350 square feet and contains two queen beds, or one queen and a set of bunk beds. It has a standard bath with two sinks, a little coffee maker, mini fridge, table with two chairs, and a balcony.
There are several types of room views which vary in price – Standard View (view of a rooftop or parking area), Pool View, and Savanna View.
The rack rate for Standard View rooms in the fall season (read why that’s my favorite time of year to travel to Disney World here) is $479 (including tax). However, Disney always has a discount available as long as you book a few months in advance.
The discount for Deluxe resorts is usually around 30%, plus if you book on Orbitz you can get an additional 15% off these prices. These are super expensive rooms, in my opinion. Keep reading to learn how to stay at AKL for far less!
Alternatively, there are several different DVC room types at Jambo House.
Studio Villas (which sleep four) are about 375 sq. feet and feature a queen bed and a full-size sleeper sofa. They also feature a small kitchenette with a microwave, sink, toaster, mini fridge and cabinets with some food preparation items.
In other ways, they are similar to the regular resort rooms – including beautiful artwork and the wildlife preserve theme running throughout all of the details of the room.
As far as cost goes, I always recommend renting DVC points for stays in these rooms, and in the fall season a standard room would cost between $150 -$180 per night. These rooms have a pool view or partial Savannah view. Rooms that guarantee a full Savannah view will be about $50 more per night.
There are also one-bedroom, two bedroom and Grand villas available at AKL Jambo House.
One bedroom villas feature a fully furnished kitchen (including a stove, full refrigerator, dishwasher, etc,) living room with a full size pull-out couch, dining area, separate bedroom with a king bed, washer and dryer, and bathroom with a huge spa tub and tiled shower area.
One important note on staying in the DVC villas at Jambo House: They are very popular and there are far fewer here than at Kidani Village. This means they tend to get booked up quickly, especially during popular times of the year.
I have been unable to book a four-night stay in a Studio Villa at Jambo House seven months prior to our trip because there was no availability. So you must plan WELL in advance of your trip to secure these rooms.
Now there are a few subtle difference between villa rooms at Kidani Village as compared to Jambo House. Kidani Village contains just DVC villas and all of the rooms are slightly larger than their counterparts at Jambo House.
The studio villas are the same except that Kidani rooms have only one sink in the bathroom.
The one bedroom villas have a second full bathroom just inside the entrance to the room. This might make a huge difference for some families! Also, there are “dedicated” two-bedroom villas At Kidani Village, which have two queen beds in the second bedroom, as opposed to the queen bed plus sleeper sofa found in the regular (know as “lock off”) two bedroom villas.
Two bedroom villas are 1,175 sq. ft. and also have that extra bathroom, meaning they have three full bathrooms. I have stayed in one of these dedicated two bedroom villas at Kidani Village and they are downright spacious and spectacular!
One other note about Kidani Village… this place is huge. If you are in the rooms farthest from the lobby, it takes A LOT of walking to get anywhere. This is a common complaint I hear in the elevators. That said, be sure to request a room close to the lobby at check-in!
So to summarize, if you are looking for a standard hotel room (particularly one with bunk beds), then Jambo House is the place for you.
If you are looking for more home-like accommodations or rooms for a larger group, I suggest renting points and staying in a DVC villa.
I have traveled to Disney many times with a small child, and the kitchenette in the studio villas has made this SO much easier, thanks to the microwave, utility sink, and cabinets for storage.
Though none of these rooms are particularly cheap, I think they are a tremendous value when you consider all of the perks and amenities at this resort.
One more question that I am often asked – should you spend the extra money on a savanna view room? That really depends on how much time you will spend in your room and how badly you want to see the animals.
There are many public viewing locations around the resort, so you can check out the animals there. However there is something magical about watching animals while you drink your morning coffee or an evening cocktail.
My family has mostly stayed in standard view rooms, and have even had a partial savanna view on several occasions. So it is really up to your family if it would be worth the extra cost for a full savanna view, or if you’d rather use that money on some other part of your vacation.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort Review: Dining
I can’t believe I made it this long without writing about the incredible dining at Animal Kingdom Lodge!
Between the two properties there are four restaurants, two lounges, and the pool bars I already mentioned. In my experience, they are all excellent. Here’s a quick summary:
- Boma – Flavors of Africa – a buffet at Jambo House that serves breakfast and dinner. Outstanding quality and selection. Though the food is African-inspired and you’ll find some dishes you’ve never heard of, the food appeals to a standard American palate. One of my top three restaurants at Disney World, not to be missed.
- Sanaa – a table service restaurant at Kidani Village that serves African inspired food with some Indian influence. Open for breakfast (fast casual), lunch and dinner (table service). Gorgeous design and themeing and the only restaurant from which you can view animals while you dine. One of the more adventurous menus at Disney World, though you’ll find a standard strip steak and chicken entree. I most recommend the bread and dip platter and samosas served with fresh mango chutney.
- Jiko – The Cooking Place – a high end (Signature) table service restaurant at Jambo House open for dinner only. Boasts wood-burning ovens, seasonal menus, and the largest selection of South African wines outside of Africa. Pricey, but the quality and flavors will knock your socks off. I like to make a meal out the extensive appetizer menu and enjoy a glass of South African wine. A special dining experience.
- The Mara – a quick service restaurant at Jambo House that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Opens for coffee and pastries at 6 am. Great food at reasonable prices (for Disney World). My favorites are the African Stew, Butternut Squash soup, and Zebra Domes for dessert. I love that you can find standard quick service fare (hamburgers, fries, etc.) right alongside food with some African flair. Special cupcakes unique to AKL for you cupcake aficionados.
You’ll find a lounge at both Jambo House and Kidani Village. Victoria Falls Lounge is found on the second floor of Jambo House, below the lobby and above Boma. It is a great place to grab a drink and relax.
There is also a lounge at Kidani Village, found just inside the entrance to Sanaa. It has some nice cozy seating and is a little tucked away from the bustle of the the restaurant. It boasts an impressive wine list featuring African wines.
When comparing the dining options at Jambo House and Kidani Village, Jambo House stands out as the clear winner. In fact, I think the biggest drawback of Kidani Village is that is doesn’t have a quick service restaurant.
We really like having access to breakfast at the Mara at Jambo House, which opens at 6 am (we are early risers). Sanaa now offers a “fast casual” breakfast from 7:00 to 10:00 am every day. This is a much-needed offering – check out the menu here.
I think all three restaurants at Jambo House are some of the best in all of Disney World. They are not to be missed if you are staying at AKL, and are even worth a trip to the Lodge to eat if you are staying elsewhere!
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Fitness Centers & Spa
For those of you who like to work out on vacation (we do – weird, right?), you’ll find fitness centers at both resorts. Jambo House has a large fitness center with treadmills, ellipticals, free weights, weight training machines and more.
The fitness center at Kidani Village is noticeably smaller with fewer options. My husband prefers the larger fitness center at Jambo House, but they both fit my needs just fine.
You can also book massage and spa treatments at the Zahanati Spa at Jambo House, located adjacent to the fitness center. I find the prices here to be outrageous so I save my money for a massage at home.
But if you really want to indulge and spa treatments are your thing, you’ll find them at Jambo House.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Gift Shops & Arcade
Jambo House features Zawadi Marketplace, a huge store that functions as both a gift shop and general store. It has everything from sunscreen to t-shirts to basic groceries. You can buy gallons of milk for not much more than you’d pay at home (thank you for not gouging us on milk, Disney) and groceries for making basic meals.
The gift shop at Kidani Village is about one-tenth the size of Jambo House’s, though you’ll still find all of the same basic groceries there. If you are looking for souvenirs, you are way better off walking over to Jambo House.
You will find a big arcade at Jambo House near the pool area. There’s no arcade at Kidani Village, which could be a good or bad thing, depending.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review: Lobbies and Design
It’s kind of a good thing that pictures don’t do these places justice. There is nothing like experiencing the Jambo House lobby in person for the first time – I remember it literally took my breath away.
The towering ceilings, light fixtures, four-story glass window that looks out onto the savanna… there is truly a majestic feel to the place.
Kidani Village’s lobby is equally gorgeous but scaled down from the Jambo House lobby.
In both lobbies you’ll find check-in desks, concierge, and the Magical Express airline check-in areas.
Overall, Kidani Village has a more home-like feel to it, while Jambo House is more impressive and grand. This might influence your decision about where to stay as well, depending on what you are looking for.
In the lobby and throughout the resorts you’ll find genuine African art on display.
This is another of my favorite parts of visiting these resorts. It is almost like visiting an art museum to boot!
In fact, these resorts hold one of the largest collections of African art in the world outside of Africa. Take some time to notice the artwork when you walk to and from your room and even stroll around the resort to see all that’s there.
Now let’s look at the accommodations available at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
A Few More Thoughts
I have neglected to mention the outstanding hospitality and service ethic of the Cast Members at these resorts.
We have stayed there many times (seven at the time I write this) and we have only had excellent interactions with folks there. On many occasions, they have gone out of their way to help us out, from soothing a sick kid to changing travel plans.
This is one area where Disney excels and something that keeps us coming back year after year.
Both resorts offer in-room babysitting services for ages six months through twelve years old starting at $18 per hour.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Review Summary
A stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge is a special experience, regardless of where you stay. As promised, here is a list of the pros and cons of each resort, to help you decide which one might be right for your family:
- More dining options, including a quick service location that serves breakfast
- Better amenities, such as a larger pool, larger gift shop, arcade, and childcare center
- Spectacular lobby and impressive feel
- Expensive standard hotel rooms
- Popularity makes it difficult to book DVC Villa rooms
- Slightly larger rooms with an extra bathroom in the One- and Two-Bedroom Villas
- Fun interactive water playground
- Better public animal viewing opportunities
- An intimate, homey feel
- Limited options for breakfast and no quick service dining
- No arcade, childcare center, or spa and much smaller gift shop
- Huge and spread out – can take a while to get to lobby from certain rooms
Well, I hope all of this gives you a good idea of what to expect in a visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge and decide which resort might be a better fit for your family.
Any questions about Animal Kingdom Lodge? Please leave a comment below or send me a message on my Facebook page!