Waking up at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge can produce early morning dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in any one of “The Hangover” movies.
“Is that a reticulated giraffe outside our hotel window?
“I don’t know, but where did that white-bearded wildebeest come from?”
Unlike some Vegas bachelor parties, there is no forgetting the sights and sounds at perhaps the most original—and easily the most exotic—of all of Disney’s high-end resort properties.
In the years prior to its April 2001 opening, Disney sent teams to more than 20 African lodges in order to bring some of that flavor back to Lake Buena Vista. The result is a 74-acre resort—including a 45-acre “savanna” with nearly 200 mammals and birds—that replicates the African experience in more ways than one.
The wildlife, viewable from many of the rooms and also from specified areas throughout resort, freely roams the savanna—but don’t worry, a perimeter fence keeps them from wandering onto a first-floor balcony. You’ll find everything from impalas and kudu to zebras and gazelles.
This is Disney at its most exorbitant—with room prices to match. The resort is divided into two sections—Kidani Village and Jambo House, which hosts the major restaurants. A standard room with one king bed and a savanna view (based on June 2013 pricing) is nearly $500 per night.
For those with larger families and the means to handle the tab, check out the deluxe two-bedroom villas, which go for $1,800 per night in June and can sleep eight. The dark woods, African artifacts and stunning attention to interior detail throughout the property may be Disney’s finest hour when it comes to decor and design.
The deluxe rooms also open up a world within a world—the Kilimanjaro Club. Guests in one of the 74 club-level rooms can access the sixth-floor concierge lounge, which keeps the food and beverages flowing all day and into the evening—think breakfast treats, appetizers, wines and cordials, desserts and fresh fruits.
As an added bonus, club-level guests are the only ones who can experience (for another $170 per person) a guided sunset safari tour—inside the animal reserve—that ends with dinner at Jiko, the featured fine dining experience. Jiko’s menu, filled with global cuisine, changes each season. At Sanaa, another outstanding sit-down eatery that overlooks the “savanna,” menu favorites (think slow-cooked meats and creative vegetarian offerings) combine East African cuisine with Indian flourishes.
Families also will enjoy Boma, a 270-seat buffet-style “marketplace” restaurant that rotates some 60 mostly regional offerings—from Côte d’Ivoire seafood gumbo to bobotie (a South African dish of spiced minced meat) to Durban-style roasted chicken. There are enough recognizable dishes to keep any fussy eaters happy, but more adventurous diners will have a field day sampling the many exquisite dishes.
Though many visitors to Disney’s theme parks use their hotels as a pit stop between tram rides, Animal Kingdom Lodge gives its guest plenty of reason to kick back and enjoy the resort. Both the Uzima pool (all 11,000 square feet of it) at Jambo House and Samawati Springs pool at Kidani Village feature mega slides. Each section of the resort also houses state-of-the-art exercise centers (the Jambo House version also includes massage and spa treatments).
As one would expect, buses run from early morning to 2 a.m., transporting hotel guests back and forth from Disney’s theme and water parks.
A few nights at the Lodge and, trust us, you’ll never want to get out of Africa.
IF YOU GO
Where: 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista
Room rates: Starting at $314