After last week’s adventure to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we’re back with another beastly Best Week Ever that delves into your dwelling options in the neighborhood of Walt Disney World’s newest theme park. Let’s take a trip to the Animal Kingdom area hotels, starting with WDW’s weakest resorts and working our way up to some of its very best!
Disney’s All Star Resorts
Let’s begin at the bottom, and I’ll do my “best week ever” best to be as polite as possible: I’m not a big fan of the three value-priced All Star Resorts.
It’s been a long while since I’ve stayed overnight in one, but I remember them being large, loud, and largely lacking in the Disney magic of the more expensive on-site hotels.
Not much seems to have changed; it’s still eerie how identical the outside of the resorts are.
Deja vu all over again!
The lobbies all have a similar look, with some minor differences in the color palate and layout.
Of the three, I think All Star Movies has the nicest lobby, with this Hollywood Bowl homage mini-movie theater.
Another variation between the three lobbies is found in these electronic “memorabilia” displays (and whether or not they work).
Each All Star resort has its own gift shop…
The biggest difference I found between the three resorts was in at the food court. While All Star Sports and All Star Music have nearly identical restaurant layouts, the World Premiere food court at All Star Movies has an updated design with nicer aesthetics and smoother crowd flow.
The only downside is that All Star Movies’ drink island is currently under refurbishment, leaving guests to use this temporary setup for the moment:
The bar service at all three resorts is similarly limited, but All Star Movies has these electronic tablets to play games on while you get buzzed.
Finally, take a look at the main feature pool at all three resorts.
My pick is the Fantasia pool at Movies. Which one do you prefer?
All three resorts’ pools offer a full schedule of activities, including evening movies (weather permitting):
Even with the above options, I’m guessing most guests at the All Star hotels don’t spend a ton of time hanging around the resort; they’re probably only there while asleep in between park touring marathons.
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Moving onwards and upwards, Coronado Springs is one of the Walt Disney World Resort’s hidden hotel gems. Mostly frequented by convention-goers, some tourists aren’t even aware that it exists. But it sports a luxurious look and feel that is much more in line with a deluxe resort than its moderate classification.
Coronado Springs makes a lovely first impression with its Spanish Colonial-inspired entryway:
Step through the lobby to the main outdoor promenade, and the view across the lake will take your breath away.
Coronado Springs’ main pool and playground is called “The Dig Site,” and may be second only to Stormalong Bay among all the on-site resorts’ water features.
Landscaping around the property is also admirably lush, with some wonderful wild flowers currently in bloom.
Back inside the hotel’s main building, I was struck by how quiet it was compared to other hotels I’d visited. Apparently this property is highly dependent on convention traffic, and can be relatively empty when there isn’t a large meeting booked.
A prime example is Las Ventanas, a table-service restaurant that isn’t even listed on the hotel’s official map. I had nearly declared it dead and gave up looking for it, when I stumbled across it on the way to the restroom.
The room was completely empty, and I felt so sorry for the lone waiter that I sat down for an appetizer, making this my first-ever pity lunch.
While the service was superior — the chef even came out twice to chat — I can’t say I’m surprised that Las Ventanas isn’t more popular. For starters, the menu is a mish-mash of generic dishes with no consistent cultural identity:
The crab cake I ordered was well-seasoned but made from mushy pre-processed backfin meat.
And while they went out of their way to find out-of-stock ingredients for my Jalapeño Margarita, the peppers were so heavy-handed I couldn’t finish it. (La Cava del Tequila this is not.)
I felt bad for the friendly staff, but can’t see myself making a dinner reservation here any time soon.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
We’ve saved the best for last! Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful theme park resort hotels in the state (if not the world), and the only one in Orlando where you can see live African animal strolling the savannah outside your bedroom! That perk alone is enough to make many guests eagerly pony up the deluxe prices, to stay here; if I had the spare cash, I might do the same.
Let’s start at the original Jambo House lobby, which ranks up with the public areas at the Grand Californian and Wilderness Lodge for sheer jaw-dropping awe. All three were designed by the late architect Peter Dominick Jr.
The common areas are also filled with beautiful authentic African artwork.
The pool main pool here is nice, but not as elaborate as some other WDW deluxe resorts.
Jambo House is also home to a couple of WDW’s top restaurants. Everyone loves the buffet at Boma…
…but Jiko is the place to go when you want to celebrate a special occasion.
Just remember to bring something nice to wear!
A short drive (or longish walk) down brings us to the Disney Vacation Club’s Kidani Village.
The common areas here are less overwhelmingly impressive and more welcomingly homey.
Families have left their name on this tapestry, which hangs in a small room of the lobby where organized kids activities are held.
Kidani Village also has its share of priceless cultural artifacts on display.
Of course, the real stars of Animal Kingdom Lodge are…the animals! The public balconies and overlooks at Kidani are often a little less crowded than the popular observation spots at Jambo House.
Animal Kingdom Lodge conducts free tours of the resort’s rich anthropological collection. I’ve taken a similar tour at Disneyland’s Grand Californian, which I found fascinating. Maybe I’ll take this one and document it for a future Best Week Ever?
We’ll end this week with Kidani Village’s main pool complex. While Jambo House’s pool is a bit bland, the DVC’s side’s facilities are phenomenal, ranking among the resort’s very best in terms of theming, shade, and range of recreational features — including a scenic overlook where you can watch wild animals in your wet trunks!
Which Animal Kingdom area resort is your favorite? Share your opinion in the comments below!