Two key reasons for staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas: Phenomenal Dark Continent décor and, top of the list, a view of the (fake) African savannah and a few hundred wild animals from your balcony (though not all rooms have balconies or face the savannah).
No other Disney property offers anything this unique. The Polynesian has a show; Wilderness Lodge has a geyser; Grand Floridian has high tea; but no other resort makes you feel at one with a Disney park – the nearby Animal Kingdom – and no other resort doubles as a zoo. (Officially it’s “Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas,” but the “Villas” part is dropped here.)
The lobby design of Animal Kingdom Lodge mimics that of Wilderness Lodge, with African art substituted for the American West. However, the similarities don’t extend beyond the use of massive space. While the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland has cartoon accents, Animal Kingdom Lodge feels real. It may be cleaner, grander, and more intense than any actual site in Africa, but it still captures the essence of the Dark Continent. Disney did not recreate thatched roofs using yellow plastic – it brought in the same artisans that thatch roofs in Africa. (They’re amazingly resilient.) The same is true for much of the artwork. Brightly colored paintings accent the dark wood and ornate fabric. Electric colors should not fit so easily into earth tones, but they do.
Some Animal Kingdom rooms are part of Disney’s Vacation Club, and the resort has regular hotel rooms and villas with up to three bedrooms. No need to worry about that when booking, however – the reservationist offers only what’s available when you call. While it seems illogical, a balcony or savannah-view room is not mandatory. The hotel has a number of access areas within a short walk of all rooms. Adults who know they’ll sit on a porch, sip cocktails, and watch wildlife should opt for a balcony. Families planning at least five theme park days and lots of pool time may find a non-balcony room adequate. They can still see a zebra munching grass from their front door by walking down the hall. (Animal note: They tend to be active in the morning and late in the day. At high noon, most find a shady spot toward the back and show up as brown shadows in photos.)
The only downside to Animal Kingdom Lodge is its location. Except for Animal Kingdom itself, the resort is farther from other Disney spots – and Orlando for that matter – than any other resort. Only the lower-class All-Star Resorts come close, and even they have a slight distance advantage. While it’s generally preferable to use Disney transportation to get around, Animal Kingdom guests might opt for a car. Eventually they’ll want to get somewhere quickly.
The resort features three restaurants, including a food court, a moderately priced buffet, and a fine-dining restaurant. All feature a selection of African-themed food sprinkled with American fare for those who get burned out on Dark Continent cuisine.
Who should stay here
If you want to get away, Animal Kingdom’s theme takes you farthest. No other Orlando hotel features a savannah, and few hotels offer décor so brilliantly earthy and artsy at the same time. The nature theme makes it easier to decompress after a tough tourist day, even if you’re staying in the main building. Few guests complain after a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Who shouldn’t stay here
Visitors who plan heavy itineraries should consider a resort closer to the other Disney parks or resorts with more transportation options. If you don’t return to your room until 10 p.m. each night, you won’t see the animals anyway. They’ll be asleep, as you will be when your head hits the pillow. Brochures that show a giraffe craning its neck toward an Animal Kingdom balcony look appealing at home, but many visitors don’t have the energy to haul their tired tuckus onto a balcony after two days at a theme park.
All transportation is by Disney bus.
Questions to ask when booking
First, make sure the room overlooks the savannah if that’s important. Second, higher rooms command better views, at least if trying to see animals lazing in the shade. (Take binoculars.) If kids plan to use the pool a lot, keep that in mind and request it. And, of course, decide ahead of time if you want a room or a one-to-three-bedroom villa.
Disney’s website: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/animal-kingdom-lodge