Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Is it worth it?

This post contains affiliate links. Learn more.

So you’re thinking of staying at Disney’s famous Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Florida? Here’s the full scoop from a local travel blogger. All the good ,all the bad, and the answer to the most important question – is it worth the hefty price tag?

giraffe at animal kingdom lodge

As a Florida resident, I’ve stayed at nearly all of the Disney hotels in Orlando at one point or another. But Animal Kingdom Lodge is one that has always eluded me! It’s been on my list to try for quite some time, but has never quite made it to the top. So when our visiting family chose to stay there for Spring Break, we jumped at the chance to check it out for ourselves.

Who is writing this review?

We travelled as a family of three and met up with some other family and friends that were there doing the fancy VIP tours of the theme parks. So all in all – we had eleven people in our group, including five kids.

I should also add that we are not what I would call “Disney people”. If you’re a local, you know what I mean. We can appreciate the magic of Disney and enjoy a good day at the theme parks. But we are not groupies that think everything Disney touches is gold. And if you are one of those peeps, you might not love this review. :)

Let’s jump in!

Jambo House vs Kidani Village

Jambo House lobby
Jambo House Lobby

Once you’ve decided to make a trip to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ll have another important decision to make – Should you stay at Jambo House or Kidani Village?

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is split into these two sections – Jambo House and Kidani Village. So how do they differ? Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison, or read on for more details on both lodges:

Jambo House

  • Main lodge with large themed lobby.
  • Mostly standard hotel rooms, with limited number of DVC villas.
  • Bigger pool, with smaller water slide.
  • Small playground.
  • Several restaurants – buffet, grab-and-go, and higher end dining.

Kidani Village

  • All rooms are DVC Villas (apartment style).
  • Smaller pool, with bigger water slide.
  • Larger playground with water features.
  • Few restaurants – one restaurant plus limited food at the pool bar.

Jambo House is the “main” lodge. This is the original building, which has the iconic grand lobby that you’ve probably seen in pictures. This is where you’ll find the larger pool area, most of the restaurants, and it’s the home base for many of the resort activities (like the evening bonfire).

You will mostly find typical hotel rooms at Jambo House, but there are also a small number of rooms that have been converted into apartment style units as part of the Disney Vacation Club. (That’s their timeshare program- but you can also just rent those rooms when they are available.)

Kidani Village is the smaller, but newer area of the lodge that was added on after Jambo House. This area consists entirely of Disney Vacation Club villas. These are apartment style units that range in size from studios to three bedroom apartments with full kitchens. Kidani Village has its own smaller pool area with a larger water slide, and also has a really great playground with water features.

Both Jambo House and Kidani Village have savannas with plenty of animals to see. And guests in either section are welcome to enjoy the amenities on both sides of the resort. But note that they are not connected – you will need to use a walking path (about 10 minutes) or shuttle bus to move between them.

So should you choose Jambo House or Kidani Village? It depends. For most stays, I would choose Jambo House for the convenience of being closer to the main pool and more food options. But you may want to consider Kidani Village if you are travelling with a larger group that could benefit from the apartment style rooms, value having a kitchen to cook your own meals, or have small kids that will spend a lot of time at the nicer playground and quieter pool there.

The Animals (because that’s why you’re coming, right?)

collage of animals we saw at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

There is one reason and one reason alone that you should make a visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge – the animals! The resort is surrounded by “savannas”, where you’ll find a variety of animals typical of an African safari.

Now obviously, there are no big cats wandering around the hotel property. But you’ll find plenty of friendlier fauna like giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and flamingoes. There are several viewing areas where you can get a closer look and it’s really fun to sit back and watch the animals roam around.

informational signs by the savanna

There is educational information posted around the viewing points so you know what you’re looking at, and there are even some staff led tours and activities where you can learn more about the animals and the African continent.

Our Savanna View Room at Jambo House

We opted for a Savanna View room, and I can say that the upgrade here is 100% worth it. In fact, I don’t see much point in staying at this resort at all if you aren’t going to choose a Savanna View. The animals are the main feature of this hotel.

our savanna view room at animal kingdom lodge

The room itself was very spacious, with two Queen beds and plenty of storage space and room to move around. You could also opt for a room with a King bed, if you prefer.

There was a mini fridge, which was perfect for stashing our waters and snacks. There is no mini bar and no bottled water provided in the room, which was a miss for the price point.

mini fridge and alexa device in the room

One unusual (but fun) thing is the Alexa device in the room. You can ask it for help with a variety of things and even request items like extra towels to be sent up. But you won’t be able to use it to order room service – because there is no room service at this hotel.

our bathroom at Animal Kingdom Lodge

The bathroom is well designed with the toilet and shower in a closed off area, and the double sinks in another, making it easy for two people to get ready at the same time. The provided toiletries were actually pretty good, and I ended up using them instead of my own. And there was a real hair dryer – always a plus in my book.

the view from our savanna view room at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Now let’s talk about the savanna view! As I mentioned, this is the real highlight of the hotel and the only real reason to stay here. From our balcony, we could see right into the savanna. We were treated to all kinds of animals throughout the day including giraffes, zebra, ostriches, antelopes, and a variety of birds that I can’t identify.

The Pools & Amenities

Jambo House pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge
The pool at Jambo House.

As I mentioned, there are two pool areas at Animal Kingdom. Let’s start with the larger pool at Jambo House. The pool itself is a pretty nice size. There is even a water slide, although it is sized for younger kids.

The big miss at this pool is the layout. In typical Disney fashion, they have attempted to fence off anything that might be even slightly dangerous to our precious little angels. So the result is a pool with a relatively small number of chairs around it – surrounded by a fence.

If that sounds confusing, take a look at the image below. The red lines show the fenced off areas. See all those chairs outside of it?

terrible pool layout at animal kingdom lodge
Not much seating inside the pool gates.

If you want a seat inside the fence, you are going to need to arrive when the pool opens at 9am and reserve yourself a spot. The rest of the “pool chairs” are outside the fenced pool area – looking at the fence. And if you’re sitting there, you can’t see your kids in the pool because… there is a fence between you.

view from our "pool chairs" at animal kingdom lodge
View from our “pool chairs”.

And then there is the pool bar, which is surrounded by yet another fence. So to go get a drink and go sit back in your chair outside the fence, you need to open a gate four times. And then sit down with your drink (where you can’t watch your kid), because you also can’t have a drink in the pool. It was about this time we remembered why we don’t often stay at Disney resorts anymore. It feels a lot like being babysat.

Oh, and when you’re hungry, there is no food available at the pool bar. You need to head over to the grab-and-go restaurant, Mara, to get snacks or lunch. I will say that the pool bar itself was a gem – the drinks were great and the bartender lady was super nice.

my son on the playground at Jambo House
Playground at Jambo House.

There is a playground adjacent to the pool, which was small but nice. The equipment is geared more towards younger kids, but my nine year old stopped to play for a bit anyway.

Over at Kidani Village, you will find a second pool area. This pool is smaller, but laid out a bit better, with most of the seating actually inside the pool fence. There is a water slide here as well, and it is a bit bigger. And there is a really fantastic play area with water features and climbing structures. The pool here also tends to be quieter, as it is a bit of a trek to get over here from the larger Jambo House side of the resort.

Kidani Village pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Again, you will find that the pool bar is fenced off from the actual pool (and no drinks allowed in the pool). But there is a food menu at this one, which is nice. I assume this is because there is no quick service restaurant at Kidani Village.

Overall, as you can probably tell, I was disappointed in the pool at Jambo House. Especially after spending several days at the Hard Rock Hotel just before this, which has an amazing pool area and a really fun pool scene.

Restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge (and my two cents on each one)

restaurants at animal kingdom lodge

Uzima Springs (in Jambo House): This is the pool bar, located by the main pool at Jambo House. There is a great drink menu here, and the bartenders were really fantastic too. But there is no food offered here at all – you have to leave the pool and go to one of the restaurants below to get lunch or snacks.

Maji Pool Bar (in Kidani Village): This is the pool bar, located by the smaller pool area at Kidani Village. They have a similar drink menu, but this one also offers a small food menu so you can order lunch by the pool.

Mara (in Jambo House) – This restaurant offers up grab-and-go, cafeteria style food. It’s open basically all day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This place is the star in my opinion. They have lots of options, it’s quick service, and the food was pretty decent. You can even order on the app and pick your food up when its ready, to avoid waiting in line.

Sanaa (in Kidani Village) – This sit-down restaurant offers African-Indian fusion dishes. It’s considered one of the better restaurants at the Disney resorts, but we didn’t get a chance to try it on this trip. Maybe next time!

Boma (in Jambo House) – This is the buffet restaurant at Jambo house, which offers up a breakfast or dinner buffet. It’s a buffet… and the food is what you would expect from a buffet feeding a giant group of people. It’s very expensive for what it is, in my opinion.

Jiko (in Jambo House) – This is a higher end restaurant, serving African fusion dishes. We ate here and the food was pretty good, even very good by Disney standards. And yet I’ve had better Ethiopian food in strip malls. But you are in a theme park, so this is as good as it gets really. The service was very disappointing though. They completely blundered our large group reservation, which made it not worth the high price tag to me.

All of the sit down restaurants require reservations for dinner. You can walk up and wait – but you will be waiting a long time in busy season. We waited over 30 minutes even with a reservation. Without a reservation, the only food you’re getting is the cafeteria food at Mara. Plan accordingly.

The Service (spoiler – it’s not great…)

Disney used to be known for impeccable customer service, to the point that I remember seeing them in case studies in business school. But as a Florida local, I’ve watched it deteriorate over the years. Now I can’t say it’s better than any other resort chain, and that really is a shame. Nothing here was bad – but things definitely don’t have the Disney touch that they used to.

When we arrived, the check in person told us that our room wasn’t ready quite yet. Not a big deal, as we planned to go to the pool for a bit anyway. But my husband then asked if there were any other savanna rooms that would be ready now… and after checking the computer there was. So… great. But why didn’t they already know that? I guess they assigned us a room number and were going to wait until that specific room was ready to get us in – instead of looking for an available room when we arrived. So.. not a great plan. Be sure to ask politely about this if your room isn’t ready when you arrive.

Then we ran into trouble with our dinner reservation. We had a large family group meeting there for a special occasion, so we called weeks in advance to make dinner arrangements at Jiko. But when we arrived, it’s like no one was expecting us. They split us into two groups with different servers and tried to seat us at different times. So basically wanted us to split up and eat completely separate meals on different schedules. Meanwhile, there were half a dozen places in the restaurant where tables could have been pushed together to easily fit all of us with a small amount of forethought. They are clearly not equipped to take a large party and should just be upfront about that. Just generally not good service here.

fire pit at Animal Kingdom Lodge
Cute fire pit – open just one hour at night.

After dinner, we thought we could check out the bonfire. But when we walked over there, it turned out the bonfire was only from 6-7pm. One hour. Lol. Insanity. I have never seen a hotel that only lights their fire pits for one hour per night. I guess fire pits must be too dangerous for Disney. There was nothing else to do in the evening.

There was just a general lack of service offered at the hotel. No food or drink servers at the pool. No room service in the rooms. We tried to call ahead to the restaurant to confirm our reservation again (maybe that would have reminded them we were coming!) but the front desk wouldn’t connect us to the restaurant, stating that you had to walk down there (to the other side of the resort) and ask them your question in person. Huh?

Look, we are not snobs. We stay in all kinds of places all the time, from fancy schmancy resorts to bare bones motels. But when the room rates get up to the $700-800/night range like they were for our stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I do kinda expect the service level to be commensurate with that. First world problems, for sure. But it does have a first world price tag.

Was Animal Kingdom Lodge worth it?

Honestly, not really. I will say that since we are local, it was worth staying one night just to see the animals up close from my room balcony. But compared to some of the other Disney and non-Disney resorts we’ve stayed at in the area, it was a pretty poor value for money. So I wouldn’t choose it again in the future. :(

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *