Five things you might not know about Animal Kingdom Lodge

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If you’ve never walked through Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, either as a guest or just a visitor, you’re missing some of the Imagineers’ best work on Walt Disney World property.

Yes, the location is a bit further off the beaten path than other Deluxe Resorts, but that could be considered intentional. It’s set apart because it’s unlike any other resort on property, both aesthetically and culturally.  When you enter the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you entering a place where the Disney characters have been pushed to the background and the African continent is front and center.

So in that spirit, here are five things you might not know about the Animal Kingdom Lodge that help make it well worth a stay or visit.

Authentic African art

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is home to the largest collection of African art outside of the African continent. Many of the most impressive pieces, like the 16-foot-tall Igbo Ijele mask, are in the lobby. You can find even more pieces of art just walking the corridors of the resort. Between Jambo House and Kidani Village, more than 800 artifacts are on display, making the entire resort a museum of sorts. Take the time to browse the displays, many of which have descriptions and countries of origins listed.

Igbo Ijele mask in the lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, featuring chandeliers designed to look like Maasai shields.
Igbo Ijele mask in the lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, featuring chandeliers designed to look like Maasai shields.
An African garment adorns a corner in one of the hallways of African Kingdom Lodge.
An African garment adorns a corner in one of the hallways of African Kingdom Lodge.

It’s not just the sights of all the artwork. The sounds of the African background music played throughout the resort transports visitors as well. After returning from a stay at the Lodge, you might just find yourself scouring the Internet for the music you heard. Here’s a listing compiled by the AKL Resort site with links to purchase many of the songs on the resort background loop.

Cultural ambassadors

Even with all the African artwork and decor, what really makes a visit to the Animal Kingdom Lodge an authentic experience is the opportunity to interact with resort cast members from Africa. Every year, Disney recruits about 90 “cultural representatives” from various African countries. These cast members are always eager to share information about their home countries.

Cast members from Africa ready to engage visitors at Jambo House.
Cast members from Africa ready to engage visitors at Jambo House.

When you check in at the Lodge, you’ll get a schedule of “Cultural Immersion” activities. These range from the opportunity to play African instruments and drums to a nightly African folktale storytelling around the fire pit at the Arusha Savanna Overlook. Even while waiting for a bus to the parks, we’ve been engaged by cast members bringing animal activities to keep kids occupied.

Options beyond the savanna

Like all Disney Deluxe Resorts, the Animal Kingdom Lodge can be an expensive proposition. The easiest way to save on your stay is to opt for a pool view or standard view room instead of the more expensive savanna view. Even if you’re not able to see animals from your balcony, the resort is full of overlooks and viewing spaces where you can view the savannas. And now that the trees around the resort have matured, the non-savanna view rooms can still have interesting site lines.

A pool view room on the Giraffe Trail wing.
A pool view room on the Giraffe Trail wing.

Touring Plans has a handy view of the resort’s layout with views from various rooms. My recommendation: if you are going to reserve pool or standard view is to request a room on the Giraffe Trail, which gives guests several advantages. First, it’s closer to the lobby than other wings. Animal Kingdom Lodge can be an expansive resort and the walks can get awfully long. The wing is also an elevator ride away from the pool, which is a short walk to the Mara quick service restaurant. One more tip: the stairwell next to the elevators will lead you to an outside door right next to the bus area without having to walk through the lobby.

Free culinary tours

This is a real treat that won’t cost you a dime. Both Jambo House and Kidani Village host daily tours of their restaurants. At Jambo House, a Culinary Tour is offered daily at 3:45 p.m. African guides will take visitors through Boma and Jiko – The Cooking Place. On the tour, they’ll share personal observations based on their own experiences in Africa and will highlight the symbolism in the restaurants’ design.

A sampling at Jiko - The Cooking Place set up for guests at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Culinary Tour.
A sampling at Jiko – The Cooking Place set up for guests at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Culinary Tour.

Guests will also get a chance to sample the unique flavors in the restaurants. On our tour, we were able to try the delicious butternut squash soup and zebra domes at Boma. Then at Jiko, we were given a sampling of some of the unique sauces and crisp flatbreads used at the restaurant.

Similar to the Culinary Tour, Kidani’s Sanaa Cultural Tour features an African cast member guiding guests through the design and artistic details of the restaurant. Learning the symbolism behind the design choices demonstrates the Imagineers’ attention to detail. And sampling Sanaa’s naan bread and dipping sauces demonstrates why the restaurant’s bread service is one of the signature dishes on WDW property. You can also view animals through the expansive windows of the restaurant, the only one at the resort situated on a savanna.

Animals day and night

Yes, the animals that roam the savanna are the stars of the show at Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you’re just visiting, you can walk straight through the lobby down the steps at the far end, which take you out to Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook. Here, you’ll find displays with information about the animals wandering the grounds. Often, you’ll also encounter cast members who can answer questions.

If you’re coming to the resort at night, you can view the animals in darkness with the help of night vision goggles. Times vary, so you’ll want to find a schedule to see when the night viewing is happening. To get to the night viewing area, go out to the end of the pool and to the left, where you’ll find cast members who will allow you to use the equipment for a clear view of the giraffes and other animals after sunset.

A giraffe feeds on "browse" strategically located to bring animals closer to resort guests.
A giraffe feeds on “browse” strategically located to bring animals closer to resort guests.

One last note: I’ve heard of people concerned that having the animals nearby gives the resort the kind of pungent scent usually associated with zoos. After several stays here, I can tell you that’s not the case. In fact, the resort has a warm aroma with hints of spices and wood-fired oven. Whether that’s the actual oven at Jiko or something that is artificially piped in is a mystery to me, but it’s just another way that Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a feast for the senses.

9 thoughts on “Five things you might not know about Animal Kingdom Lodge

  • September 19, 2016 at 9:24 am
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    We just finished a great stay a couple of weeks ago. It is by far our favorite resort!

    Just a quick note about standard view rooms – we paid standard view, used the Touring Plans room finder to request a specific room (we were 2 doors away from the room we requested), and had a magnificent view of the Sunset savanna with giraffes and a pair of storks who nested at the water feature right outside of our room every night! Couldn’t have asked for better.

    As an added bonus – you know those afternoon and evening showers that mess with your park time? Made for a great viewing opportunity right from our balcony – the animals were so active during the downpour.

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  • September 19, 2016 at 9:58 am
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    Thanks for the post!! We’ll be there one night on NYE this year. That’ll help us figure out what to do some of the day.

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  • September 19, 2016 at 10:02 am
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    Thank you so much for the info our the tours. I wasn’t sure if it was still going on. Are both tours at 3:45 pm daily? Where do we go for each tours?

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    • September 19, 2016 at 12:03 pm
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      The latest update I had was that the Jambo House tour was at 3:45 p.m. and the Kidani tour was at 4 p.m., but you’ll want to double check that. For the Jambo House tour, from the lobby, you go downstairs, past the Victoria Falls lounge, to the ground floor in the area between Jiko and Boma near the bathrooms. You should see cast members there waiting for people to arrive. For the Sanaa tour, you’ll go to Kidani Village and check in at the restaurant waiting area, which is below the main check-in area for Kidani. Enjoy the tours!

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  • September 19, 2016 at 12:45 pm
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    We don’t stay here because of the price tag, but we try to visit every trip. We just did the night safari from Sanaa a couple of weeks ago; it was only recently opened up to people who aren’t guests of the Lodge. It was the best part of our trip. There was a giraffe sleeping and laying on the ground a few feet from the truck. He stood up a couple of minutes after we stopped, and his face was just a few inches from mine. Amazing. You don’t get anything near that close at Animal Kingdom’s Safari.

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  • September 19, 2016 at 2:39 pm
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    We stayed at Kidani Village for the first time in July. We took one of the daily guided tours of the resort with one of the cultural ambassadors. It leaves every afternoon from just outside the gift shop. The day we took it, my son and I were the only guests on the tour, which was supposed to last 30 minutes or so. We so enjoyed talking with and learning from Lebo, our cultural ambassador from South Africa, that we ended up visiting with her for over an hour. It was truly one of the highlights of our vacation! We learned about the cultural significance/symbolism of much of the art in and around the resort lobby area. When we explained it all to my husband and other son later in our vacation, they regretted not taking the tour with us!

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  • September 19, 2016 at 3:08 pm
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    Are you required to be a resort guest for any of the culinary tours? Also is there also a sampling offered on every tour?

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    • September 19, 2016 at 4:00 pm
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      No, there is no requirement that you be a resort guest. As far as I know, there is a sampling on every tour.

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  • September 19, 2016 at 4:44 pm
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    Thanks so much for this information. I’ve eaten at Boma, but never knew that there was a tour. Since I have a free afternoon on my November trip, I’ll definitely be joining one of the tours.

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