(photo cred: Disney)
Walt Disney World is home to some of the most awe-inspiring resorts in the world. With expansive lobbies to intricate theming, you can easily get lost just wandering around the hotel and before you know it, three hours have passed in a blur. Staying at a Disney resort offers a number of benefits (which we’ll be sure to discuss in another post soon), but one of the main reasons to choose staying on property vs staying off has to be the immersive feeling you get as a guest. Disney resorts offer so many options there is sure to be something for everyone on most budgets. Offering three different “tiers” (value, moderate, and deluxe) you can usually find the perfect fit for you and your family.
As Disney enthusiasts, we are attempting to stay at every resort on property and are pretty close to the goal. And while we can easily find positives at every resort at every level, just like most Disney regulars, we certainly have our favorites. Over our 20+ trips we
have stayed at a wide range of resorts, levels, and so on, but we do tend to stay at the Deluxe level resorts more often being DVC members. Our home resort is Copper Creek, Wilderness Lodge and that hotel is one, if not the number one hotel on our list (we call it “home”) but there are a few contenders right up there with CCWL, Beach Club, Old Key West, the Contemporary all come to mind, but quickly rising the ranks and in the running for our second favorite resort has to be Animal Kingdom Lodge!
The lodge has so much to offer and is one of the best when it comes to feeling immersive. Out of all the hotels it honestly is probably the one that makes you feel like you are on an entirely different vacation than visiting WDW. Staying at AKL, most mornings you’ll probably even wake up thinking or feeling like you are in fact somewhere in Africa! A great aspect of AKL is that you kind of have 2 different options when staying there and while they both offer similar feels, they are unique in their own ways as well. Jambo House, the main part of the resort, offers that awe inspiring lobby and grounds that many people associate with the deluxe resorts and was the original part of the resort. Kidani Village is smaller than Jambo and mostly houses many of the DVC villas offered at the hotel (but remember anyone can book these rooms too)! Today, we’ll be discussing both parts of the resort in this latest edition of “Head to Head.”
Let’s first talk about the “elephant” (haha accidental pun) in the room. Many people when they start looking at what hotel to stay out are put off by “how far AKL is from everything else.” That’s only kinda true. The lodge is farthest from EPCOT at 7.5 miles, then it’s a tie between Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios at about 5 miles, and is of course closest to Animal Kingdom at about 2.5 miles. Most hotels share similar distances to other parks (unless you’re only concerned about being at Magic Kingdom and are staying on “the loop”). So PLEASE, don’t think it’s too far to enjoy! When it comes to Jambo vs Kidani, they are basically right next to each other so no one really “wins” that category. - TIE
Now transportation might be something to consider. Each area of the hotel has its own bus depot to bring you to and from the parks so you don’t have to transfer from one or the other in order to take advantage of the free park transfers. However, most of the two do actually share buses to the parks (meaning they will stop at one and then the other) and this is where an edge comes in. Usually, the buses will stop at Kidani FIRST, and then stop at Jambo, before heading out to parks. Therefore, we have to give the edge to Kidani in this aspect as you have a better chance of getting on the bus (and a seat) before it fills up. Drop off is also usually the same meaning you get “home” a little faster too. However, it does seem that recently (the last time we stayed there last year) they were not “sharing” the buses and our Kidani bus never stopped at Jambo, but that could be due to a number of reasons and not the norm. So, if you’re relying on the Disney buses we’d give this one to Kidani. - KIDANI
(Jambo House lobby from main entrance - Lincoln had the place to himself!)
Now what about the hotel buildings themselves. Jambo, is the flagship building of the resort and is in our opinion, one of the most awe-inspiring lobbies on property! You walk into a massive, multi-story lobby with beautiful hanging lighting fixtures, original African artwork, multiple seating areas, an aerial bridge spanning the lobby above, and at the far end, floor to ceiling windows looking out over the savanna! Simply put, it is beautiful and you’ll find yourself with your mouth agape as you enter. Kidani’s lobby on the other hand is
much smaller, but still well themed. Gone is the massiveness you find over at Jambo. The theming is still original and makes you feel as though you are visiting an authentic African hotel (complete with artwork and relics), just on a much smaller scale. The first time we entered the lobby at Kidani (after staying at Jambo the first time) we
(Kidani's lobby phot0 cred MickeyCentral)
honestly instantly compared the two and almost felt “let down.” That feeling has waned over time as we’ve grown to appreciate Kidani more, but on the instant compare Jambo certainly takes this category. (BONUS - be sure to check out Jambo House at Christmas when their massive Christmas tree is up!) - JAMBO
Once you enter the main buildings of each area and have explored the lobbies, one of the next things many people gravitate towards are the gift shops. Both Kidani and Jambo have their own, but we’re just going to come out and say it, Jambo CRUSHES Kidani in this department! Kidani’s gift shop is very small and found on the right side of the lobby when you enter. You’ll find the typical gift shop items (ranging from t-shirts and magnets, to toys and a few knick-knacks) as well as some convenience and food items. This is also where you’ll find the refillable mugs and coffee (only one station). Honestly, it leaves much to be desired, especially when compared to what you’ll find over at Jambo. Zawadi Marketplace is found to the right upon entering Jambo’s lobby, but unlike Kidani which is really just a narrow outcove along the side of their lobby, Zawadi is a large separated location. Here you’ll find the same stuff over at Kidani, but MUCH more variety. More clothing, collectibles, convenience food/toiletries, and so on. They also have an impressive collection of Disney and African artwork for sale! Again, this one is easy as Jambo house just offers so much more. Even if you’re staying at Kidani, you’re going to want to make a visit to Kawadi! - JAMBO
(Zawadi Marketplace inside Jambo House - phot cred resortsgal)
Now let’s talk about the main reason we’re at the hotel, the rooms. Like we mentioned earlier, Jambo is the more traditional hotel with single rooms and some suites while Jambo is primarily the DVC building with some deluxe studios and then more multi room set ups (e.g. 1,2, and 3 bedroom villas). Those deluxe studios in Kidani are also slightly larger than the rooms in Jambo. If you are going to be in a multi-room villa one of the best advantages can be found in Kidani as even a 1-bedroom villa comes with two (YES TWO) full bathrooms! This is a HUGE upgrade for a family when everyone's trying to get ready in the morning! (2 and 3 bedroom villas come with 3 bathrooms!) Both buildings offer amazing theming in the rooms which are essentially identical to each other so we’ll have to call that aspect a wash. Now, we may be biased as DVC owners who often book at Kidani (but remember even non-DVC members can book a villa at Kidani), but we have to say, we prefer the rooms in Kidani over Jambo. They’re bigger and the extra bathroom in the 1+ bedroom villas is a huge bonus! - KIDANI
(savanna view from outside Sanaa - Kidani Village)
One of the most enticing characteristics of staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge though has to be the savanna AND the fact that many rooms have savanna views! YES, you simply walk out onto your balcony and BAM! … there are giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and so much more roaming around right outside your room! This feature is the primary reason that AKL has become one of our top resorts to stay at. Both Jambo and Kidani offer savanna views, but remember you have to specifically book one of these views as “standard” views are also available at a lower rate. When it comes to savannas, each has multiple ones to offer. At Kidani you’ll find The Pembe (a smaller savannah in front of the resort with some smaller animals) and the Sunset Savannah (the main savanna you’ll see from the rooms). Meanwhile Jambo offers three savannas, as well as, a few other little
areas with different animals like the flamingo pool. At Jambo you’ll find Sunset, Arusha, and Uzima savannas, which all have similar animals (e.g. giraffes). We’ve also found that Jambo offers more overlook areas to enjoy these views when not in a savanna view room. Now which is better? It’s a little difficult to say. Personally, we enjoy both. However, due to having more areas, and a larger selection of animal areas we’ll give the edge to Jambo House on this one. (BONUS - be sure to check out the tours which bring you right out on the savanna. There’s a starlight tour which brings you out as the sun is setting and a savor the savanna tour which also includes some food! AND, check with the front desk to see when their night-vision goggles are available to check the animals out at night!) - JAMBO
One of the other best parts of staying at a Disney Hotel has to be the pools! Visiting central Florida, especially in the summer like we do, you know just how hot it gets (check out our past post on ways to stay cool at WDW). Hitting the pool is the perfect way to relax and cool down either during a “pool day” or if you just stop back in the middle of the day when it’s hottest for a couple hours. The pools at Animal Kingdom Lodge are great and both Jambo and Kidani offer their own unique experiences. Jambo House offers the Uzima Springs Pool which is the larger of the two in overall size (over twice as large actually) However, in our opinion, the size is really the only advantage Jambo has over Kidani in this area. The Samawati Springs Pool found at Kidani, while smaller, does seem to offer more in our opinion. You’ll find the larger water slide here when compared to Jambo and the surrounding area just feels more alive. However, the biggest draw for us, and again we’re probably biased as we travel with our 5 year old son, has to be the kid splash zone called the Uwanja Camp. This isn’t a little bubbling fountain that shoots water out of the ground once in a while, but a rather extensive area with 3 different zones. Complete with water cannons, gurgling fountains, bucket dump, rope bridges, playground, and so much more this is an awesome place for your littles to safely enjoy themselves! Both pools offer a pool bar where you can grab drinks and food, various games like corn-hole, and other CM hosted events throughout the day. Each pool is a great way to relax and cool off, but we have to give the advantage to Kidani. - KIDANI
(kids splash zone at Kidani Village - trying to lure Lincoln under the leaky bucket!)
Alright, the time has come and as the saying goes, we’ve saved the best for last. That’s right folks, it’s time to talk FOOD! We’re going to start off by saying, DO NOT BE AFRAID! We’ve heard from many people that they’ve never gone to AKL for the restaurants because they think they won’t like the food options very much as let’s be honest African cuisine isn’t a major part of the American diet. But we’re here to tell you that you are missing out by passing up AKL when it comes to food. First of all, it’s not all African cuisine and you’ll easily be able to find something for even the most picky eaters. Second, much of the cuisine is very accessible to everyone and VERY good! Both Kidani and Jambo offer food options and as a guest of either you can easily access options in the other (the hotel even offers a shuttle between the two for guests every 15 minutes) so getting from one to the other isn’t difficult. Now if we were basing this solely on the number of options - Jambo House takes the cake (haha a food pun), with 3 main options including the resort's ONLY quick service location, but let's dive into what's available.
At Jambo House, you’ll find: Jiko, BOMA, and the Mara. Jiko is the resort’s signature restaurant, BOMA is a breakfast and dinner buffet, and the Mara is the above-mentioned quick service location. All three offer delicious options at a variety of price ranges. It’s been a while since we’ve visited Jiko and honestly from what we remember it was probably the dining location that was the least “accessible” cuisine wise when compared to the other options. As a signature experience the food quality was of course great and the environment was enjoyable, we personally just weren’t a huge fan of the options (again though the menu has most likely changed since we were last there.) Jiko is only open for dinner. However, literally right across the hallway from Jiko is one of our TOP 10 FAVORITE restaurants in all WDW! BOMA offers a breakfast and dinner buffet that are
both AMAZING! Offering a great combo of traditional African cuisine, as well as, more well-known dishes to American tastes, there is literally something for everyone at both meals. The quality is off the charts and it’s probably our favorite buffet on property! Even when not staying at AKL we make sure to book a visit! DO NOT MISS! Finally, the Mara is the resort's ONLY quick service option and offers a very good and wide selection of plates and snacks for every meal of the day! This is also where the larger mug refill stations are found. At Jambo, you’ll also find the Victoria Falls Lounge in the lobby overlooking BOMA where you enjoy some unique adult beverages.
(inside BOMA! we were lucky enough to be there when they finally reopened!)
Over at Kidani, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll be spending most of your time eating over at Jambo as there is only one dining location here, Sanaa. Here you’ll find a number of African and Indian influenced dishes for all three meals of the day. Perhaps the mostly widely popular dish here though has to be the bread service (definitely check it out). Sanaa also offers a lounge area where you can grab drinks and appetizers (HINT: if you’re only interested in trying the bread service, grab a spot at the lounge instead of Sanaa
which can be harder to get a table at). In our opinion, the menu options at Sanaa are also a little less “accessible” to some, but if you’re feeling adventurous definitely check it out because you’ll LOVE the savanna view from the restaurant! Other than Sanaa and a few grab and go options in the small gift shop there’s really no other place to eat in Kidani (this is most likely due to the fact that most DVC members are staying in villas which come with a complete kitchen). All the main restaurants at AKL are great, but due to having more and BOMA, we’re giving this one to JAMBO! JUST REMEMBER, you can eat at any of these places regardless of where you’re staying and you totally should! - JAMBO
Overall, Animal Kingdom Lodge as a whole is truly one of the best resorts in Walt Disney World and an awe-inspiring experience. If you can, we can’t recommend booking a savanna view and simply enjoying the resort more, it’s honestly one of our favorite things to do in WDW. Head back in the afternoons to cool off and relax or even take a full day to just explore the hotel. We absolutely LOVE waking up and having our coffee on the balcony watching the animals roam or being able to enjoy the savanna while the little one takes a nap in the afternoon. BOMA is one of the BEST locations on property to eat breakfast or dinner (or better yet BOTH) and the pool (especially the kid zone at Kidani) can’t be missed. The overall theme is so immersive you’ll actually forget you're in Disney and not somewhere in Africa.
This was such a CLOSE Head to Head and honestly you can’t lose staying in either location. We do have to mention that staying at either location is great, but we will say, if you’re looking for a villa - Kidani is the place to be, while if you’re just looking for a standard hotel room, Jambo should be your go-to. So since we’ve made our little note where we basically say they’re both winners, we must choose an actual “winner.” Based on everything above, Jambo House has edged Kidani Village out 4-3 winning the building, gift shop, savanna, and dining categories while Kidani takes the transportation, room, and pool categories.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed our breakdown of Animal Kingdom Lodge. We invite you to check out our room walkthrough video on the website and we’ll be sure to share over on FB as well! If you want to know anything about staying at (or just visiting) the resort, please DO NOT HESITATE to shoot us a question and we’ll do our best to help you out!
As always, See Ya Real Soon!