The new year is practically here and many of us have already encountered expenses going up in 2017 – the way of the world, especially Walt Disney World. This past year we saw all major theme parks toy with their ticket and pricing structure. This has led to some families changing the way they do things, including some Disney Vacation Club Members opting to not purchase theme park tickets even when they are staying on Walt Disney World property using their vacation points.
Such is the case with my parents. They craved a visit to the Merriest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World, and booked a short stay to gather family together in a three bedroom grand villa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge before Christmas craziness took over. However, because of tiered pricing and annual pass blackouts they decided not to purchase any theme park tickets and just enjoy WDW without the parks. We dined at some of the underrated, but oh-so-good restaurants on Disney property. We enjoyed some of the best Disney Vacation Club resorts. And it turned into one of our best stays ever!
Enjoying being a Disney Vacation Club member at Kidani Village
My parents and aunt and uncle are all retired so while I worked they checked into Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and had the pleasure of walking into the three bedroom grand villa when it was ready in the early afternoon. My workday couldn’t wrap up fast enough. The moment I arrived a sense of peace and contentment washed over me: “welcome home.”
Arriving at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge filled my heart with gratitude. How fortunate I am to be able to even set foot in this place. And for the first time in forever of staying with my family during one of their Disney Vacation Club trips I got my very own bedroom (as opposed to the sleeper sofa in the living area!)
The three bedroom grand villa at Kidani Village is 2,201 square feet! To compare, a Studio at Kidani Village is 366 square feet. At 89 points a night for a Friday and Saturday night, savanna view, during “Choice Season” it’s a decent value for the points, considering the massive amount of space and the atmosphere. I couldn’t stop taking deep breaths of contentment during the stay.
At Kidani Village (or as I like to say Ki-Dani Village) the grand villa is two stories, with the master bedroom and master bathroom, living room, kitchen, dining room, additional bathroom, and panoramic balcony on the first floor. The two guest bedrooms each have their own bathroom and own balcony, it’s like having your own hotel room, and I loved every moment of it. Plus this is a small sitting area with a couch and a TV on the landing between the two guest bedrooms. So much room for activities!
Dining at Il Mulino at Walt Disney World Swan
After showering and getting refreshed from a day at work we headed over to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Time to dine at a family favorite: Il Mulino New York Trattoria. Earlier this year I wrote about what makes this resort a foodies paradise, and Il Mulino is one of the reasons.
We arrived to find a duo performing jazz music in the warmly lit lounge. Although early for our reservation, the hostess escorted us to a table immediately. The dining area is dimly lit with warm copper and chocolate brown accents. We had expected to wait in the lounge first and already had our mind set on a pre-dinner cocktail. Three cocktails featuring St. Augustine spirits caught my eye, all priced at $13.00. I selected the Piano, Piano – a variation on an Aviation – St. Augustine Gin, lavender simple syrup, lemon, and a splash of soda water. Perhaps this is more of a Summer cocktail, tart and light.
My mother went with the Testa Rosa – St. Augustine vodka, Grand Marnier, cranberry juice, strawberries, basil, and a hint of black pepper. This cocktail definitely had more flavor than the Piano, Piano. I might have to go back to try the White Sangria – St. Augustine vodka, orange and pineapple juice, Sauvignon Blanc wine, agave syrup, and elderflower liquer.
We each enjoyed our meals, my aunt raved over the grouper and I devoured the veal saltimbocca (though it was a smidge salty). Although verging on stuffed I decided to indulge in a little dessert. At $6.00 I did not expect the Mixed Berries with Marsala Zabaglione to be such a generous and delicious serving. I’d actually return just for this dessert and a dessert cocktail.
Back at Kidani Village I drifted off to sleep while three giraffe slept just outside my balcony.
Waking up to bliss at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
A good night’s sleep is transformative. I felt incredibly refreshed as I awoke, the sun barely peeking through the sheers. I took a moment and glanced around the room. “I’m here, in my favorite resort,” I nearly pinched myself.
— TouringPlans (@TouringPlans) December 17, 2016
I watched the rest of the sunrise from the balcony, a few animals passing by below me. I returned to the soft, enveloping bed sheets and read on my Kindle. Blissful. Soon the sounds of my family making their morning coffee drifted upwards and I roused myself to join them.
We sat in the living room, the morning sun illuminating the whole space. What a glorious way to start the day. As the animal care team of the lodge made their rounds in the savanna, a veritable parade of African animals strode before us as we gathered on the long balcony. What a memory we made, standing there together in our own space, coffee in hand, with some of the most beautiful creatures on Earth there in front of us.
Lunch with new menu at Sanaa at Kidani Village
We elected to enjoy the grand villa all morning. Since my parents do not have access to the park we could have certainly gone to Disney Springs or played mini golf or taken in some of the other recreational activities around Walt Disney World. Yet, the pull of this magnificent resort and this very spacious villa kept us there.
We headed to lunch at Sanaa, a favorite place among Disney fans. One of the first parties sat for the day we enjoyed a few moments of the dining room being barely occupied, so quiet. A few changes have been made to the menu recently. This includes a pretty major change to the popular “you pick two” option, which used to feature your choice of two slow cooked proteins like shrimp or short ribs with rice. You now choose one protein, which they call “journey” and one “harvest” (vegetable) – $26.00. Honestly, the way the menu is written it is confusing because nothing is labeled as a “journey” or a “harvest”.
We of course started with the bread service and went full monty with all nine dips and all five breads. The presentation for this popular starter has changed, and I prefer this new way. The bread is served on its own plate, making it easier to pass around and share. The dips and sauces are easier to pass around as well.
One of the new items on the menu is Boerewors sausage which is available as an appetizer or as a sandwich ($15.00). I opted to make a meal of two appetizers: the sausage ($10.00) and the salad sampler ($8.00). The pairing turned out to be less than ideal, with the salads being very light and refreshing while the two sausage patties were rich and a little fatty. Though the light and brightness of the salads cut into the heaviness of the sausage.
We returned to our grand villa and relaxed again before my mom and I headed over to Jambo House to participate in one of the many recreational activities offered throughout this massive resort. There is a complimentary internal shuttle that transports guests between Jambo House and Kidani Village. We waited about seven minutes before the van returned from Jambo House, the trip taking about ten minutes total from wait time to arrival at Jambo House.
We took part in an ostrich egg shell ornament decorating activity. It was different than we expected, but we selected our crushed colored ostrich egg shell bits and a print out of an animal of our choice. I went with the “painted dog” in honor of both my doggy and the Painted Wolf Rose wine I enjoyed at lunch. We donated $5.00 each to the Disney Conservation Fund in order to participate in this fun little activity, in the lobby of Jambo House. Having some arts and crafts time, even if we were the only adults at the table, with my mother was a nice moment.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and dinner at Artist Point
The finale of our quiet Walt Disney World getaway took place inside another favorite resort of mine, especially during the holidays. To me, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is the most festive resort on property this time of year. We arrived to the resort an hour before our Artist Point dinner reservations. We wanted to enjoy the festive frivolity of the Lodge.
The towering Christmas tree with its woodsy ornaments and tee pees is a favorite sight to behold. I love that during the holiday weeks a PhotoPass Cast Member can usually be found in the evenings ready to take photos for families. We did not hesitate having a family photo taken in front of the Wilderness Lodge tree; it is already framed and on display in the homes of my parents, aunt & uncle, and my own home.
A small Christmas market set up behind the tree offered a selection of holiday merchandise, packaged holiday treats, and a few premixed specialty beverages. I found it interesting that throughout the lobby I saw signs encouraging guests to order a specialty coffee.
Before dinner we popped into one of my favorite lounges at Walt Disney World, especially during the Fall and Winter. Territory Lounge is a cozy spot located in front of Artist Point. It is draped in Christmas garland and my family immediately warmed up to the place. Although it is on every resort lounge menu, I couldn’t resist the Smoked Turkey cocktail; it is just perfect in this atmosphere. Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon, grenadine and Odwalla lemonade with a hint of hickory, served on the rocks garnished with luxardo cherries; any other place on property and I probably wouldn’t order this drink, but here at Wilderness Lodge it is right at home.
Soon we were seated at Artist Point ready for a lovely dinner together. The new lighter color palate in the interior took a quick moment for me to get used to, but I still marveled at the amazing landscape paintings that adorn the walls. Breathtaking.
I all but demanded that we start our meal with an order of the Farm Egg Pappardelle with Wild Boar Bolognese ($16.00). It was delectable! I will no doubt return just for this dish, even though it is an appetizer. My mother started with the Land Greens Salad ($13.00) with Heirloom Apples, Seed Granola, Radish, Goat’s Milk Cheese, Banyuls Vinaigrette – it is quite possibly the largest salad I’ve ever seen served to a single person!
The Artist Point menu is fairly consistent throughout the year, full of hearty, savory food evoking the love of the wilderness. However, there are a few seasonal items as well. The entree I went with, the Buffalo Shank ($49.00) is considered a seasonal entree. I devoured it! My inner carnivor delighted in the tender, but lean meat. The root vegetables a perfect accompaniment; the lemon grass garnish not so much.
No room was left for dessert after our incredible meal. We waddled out of the restaurant and back into the lobby. Angelic voices filled the rafters as we caught a choir performing Christmas songs for all to enjoy – another great thing about the Walt Disney World resorts during the busy two weeks of the holidays. Turns out this choir traveled from my hometown, Seminole County, just 45 minutes up the road.
It filled me with joy and gratitude that I could enjoy such an incredible, relaxing getaway with my family and yet be close enough to my hometown to run into high school kids from my school district.
I cherished the time I spent with my family. Without Disney Vacation Club we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy such incredible accomodations at one of the most unique resorts on the planet. And even though we didn’t venture into the theme parks, it was still one of our best weekends ever!