Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge feels like sleeping inside a theme park ⁠— here’s why I’ve booked 4 times and keep going back

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Alyssa Powell/Business Insider

There’s something about the curation, uniqueness, and hints of whimsy in a themed hotel that reaffirms I am indeed on vacation. If well-executed, a themed hotel can offer an out of the box travel experience that can’t be replicated.

I recently stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida for the fourth time and can vouch that the hotel consistently delivers on all of the above. The sprawling resort has quickly become one of my favorite themed hotels for its concept, design, and amenities, all inspired by a continent thousands of miles away. It’s so convincing, I forgot I was staying in central Florida.

While not cheap, the four-star Animal Kingdom Lodge is ideal for families or discerning adults who yearn for something beyond a bed, bathroom, and four walls. The hotel is for the Walt Disney World visitor looking to sprinkle even more magic into their trip and views their hotel choice as part of the entire experience. It’s no surprise then, that it made our list of the 12 best Walt Disney World hotels and resorts.

Indeed, the hotel grounds are filled with over 200 animals and birds from zebras to giraffes and exotic birds. Opt for a Savanna view room and you’ll see them from your bedroom window.

Rooms without the Savanna view are the most affordable, ranging from $300 to $722 a night, depending on the season. Late August when the weather is incredibly hot and humid will allow for the cheapest prices. Christmas week will not: a Savanna room can jump to a range of $573 to $950 during the holiday period. The property also is home to Kidani Village, a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) branded villa collection, which is open to the public and includes perks like kitchens and laundry facilities, and are ideal for families and extended stays.

And, if you find yourself visiting Disney Land, don’t miss our coverage of the best family-friendly hotels in Anaheim.

I’ve stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge four times and think each visit was worth the money. Here’s why I’ll keep going back, and always for a Savanna view.

Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


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Business Insider

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The resort is inspired by buildings in a traditional African kraal, or village. The interior is sprinkled with African art and influence, from the paintings to the food served in on-site restaurants.
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As soon as the large doors slide open at the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s main hub, Jambo House, I’ve been stopped in my tracks in awe. This is not the kind of hotel where you hustle through the lobby; it’s to be savored and posted on your social media platform of choice.

The multi-storied lobby inspired by African lodges is topped with a thatched roof and bathed in a warm amber-like glow. If you’re familiar with other Disney resorts, the set-up may look familiar as the architect was also responsible for Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Since this is a Disney resort, keep an eye out for “hidden Mickeys” in public areas, a tradition where Mickey Mouse’s iconic silhouette is placed in inconspicuous places.

On every one of my visits, the cast members (as Disney calls their employees) at check-in were cheerful, helpful, and informative, providing not just details about the resort, but also park hours and access. Many cast members come from countries like Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

If you’d like to cut down on the walking, consider requesting a room close to the lobby. Some rooms require a long walk, and after hours in the parks, you may not want those extra steps. I’ve had rooms both near and far, and can confidently say that a room closer to the lobby is worth asking for.


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Business Insider

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The room was decorated in earthy hues and sprinkled with authentic touches like hand-carved furniture and African prints and fabrics.
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Disney

I can’t imagine staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge without having a Savanna view room with views of the animal habitat. While I’m sure the other non-view rooms are perfectly fine, being able to peek out your window and see the wildlife is worth the extra money, and probably why you want to book here in the first place.

My sister-in-law accompanied me on my last visit, and when the bellman drew the curtains to unveil our view of the Savanna, she cried. Yes, she cried actual tears of joy.

Right in front of our balcony, a giraffe walked by while a couple of zebras pranced in the distance. I was touched as well; even after staying here multiple times, the view never gets old. The rooms come with a Wildlife Field Guide so you can correctly identify the 30 species of animals that roam the grounds.

While the animals are the star, in all of my stays, I’ve been impressed by how neat, tidy, and clean the room and bathroom were.

They’re also comfortable. I always sleep well at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and found the beds to have the right amount of softness, while still being firm. This is key after a long day in the theme parks. I do pack a pair of earplugs, as the noise from the air conditioner can be a bit loud.

You can expect some changes soon though. Disney is currently renovating some rooms, and will transition to higher bed frames with space to store your luggage underneath. This is a design they utilized on their cruise ships and will now include in many hotels.


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All Walt Disney Resort Hotels stock exclusive H20 products tailored to each property.
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Trip Advisor

The bathrooms were stocked, as are all Walt Disney Resort Hotels, with H20 products created exclusively for Disney and include shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, and bars of facial and body soap. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, they carry the Sea Salt and Sea Marine version, which I always sneak into my luggage. Some Disney resorts are transitioning to refillable containers attached to the wall, however.

These products came in handy on one particular visit when I had the unfortunate luck to be plagued by norovirus. Although I was miserable, I utilized room service and took long showers using the H20 products to ease my aching muscles. To be able to enjoy a hotel stay, even when incredibly sick, speaks highly of the quality of the hotel.

The rooms were also equipped with refrigerators and Keurig coffee makers, though the coffee provided wasn’t the best.

Compare room types and prices for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge here


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The smaller Samawati Springs Pool area includes Uwanja Camp, a water playground that features different zones built just for toddlers and young children.
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Disney

There’s so much to keep you entertained at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you could easily check-in and never leave the resort, and still have a completely satisfying vacation.

All guests are given a program of the day’s events, which includes eclectic offerings such as African folktales, drumming classes, and an informative hotel tour that dives deep into the hotel’s design and artwork. There are also educational opportunities to view animals at night, and safari and dinner tours.

While the pools at the Animal Kingdom Lodge pale in comparison to Disney’s water parks, they do the job, especially if traveling with kids. The Uzima Springs Pool has a subtle slope with a zero-depth entry, similar to a beach, so it’s a great place to wade with little ones. There’s also a 67-foot waterslide, expansive playground, arcade, and poolside activities such as hula hoop contests, chalk art, and bingo. In the evening, I’ve also seen marshmallow roasts and movies under the stars.


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Editor’s note: Jiko: The Cooking Place is one of my all-time favorite Disney restaurants.
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David Roark/Disney

One of the biggest draws of the Animal Kingdom Lodge is its on-site dining, which attracts many Walt Disney World visitors that aren’t even staying on property.

There are three sit down restaurants, Jiko: The Cooking Place, the buffet-style Boma: Flavors of Africa, and Sanna, located in Kidani Village.

All three are fantastic and feature South African wines, homey African-style cooking, as well as options for picky eaters and children. Like most things at Disney, dining can be quite expensive. However, there is also The Mara, a counter service option with far less pomp and circumstance.


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In the Animal Kingdom theme park, make sure to take a ride on the Kilimanjaro Safaris, a journey that will take you through the Animal Kingdom’s animal sanctuary.
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Disney

Beyond the resort are all the amusement parks that are initially the draw to Walt Disney World.

Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Blizzard Beach Water Park, and Hollywood Studios (with the recently opened Galaxy’s Edge) are all just a bus or quick drive away. The closest theme park to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, is, aptly, the Animal Kingdom, with sections not only dedicated to Africa but also Asia.

Some Walt Disney World resorts offer boats and monorails to get to the parks, but the only way to navigate from the Animal Kingdom Lodge is by bus. This can be frustrating, especially if you have a dinner reservation or plans at faraway location. You’ll need to plan ahead if that’s the case and factor in the bus ride.


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The Animal Kingdom Lodge holds a “certificate of excellence” from Trip Advisor, as well as a rating of four-and-a-half out of five stars, plus nearly a nine out of 10 score on Hotels.com.

Visitors seem most impressed with the friendly staff, clean rooms, the animals, and beauty of the hotel. The negative comments have to do with how it takes at least 20 minutes to get to the theme parks and a dislike for the food. The strong African influence may not be for everyone’s palate.

Others noted that the hotel is “overpriced,” while many others seemed to believe it was worth it. Additionally, the Animal Kingdom Lodge has recently undergone some renovations and construction, which can affect the sound quality and access to the animals. There’s no official date for when it will be done, so keep that in mind if you plan on going sooner than later, or make requests with the front desk to avoid such challenges.

Read reviews, compare prices, and book the Animal Kingdom Lodge on Trip Advisor


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Who stays here: Families visiting Walt Disney World, who want their hotel to be a central part of their Disney and vacation experience.

We like: The cultural experience weaved throughout the property, from the staff, to the music, and food.

We love (don’t miss this feature!): The amazing Savanna view rooms. These are what make the higher prices, and this hotel in particular, worth it.

We think you should know: If you’re planning on spending a lot of time at the Disney theme parks and not in your hotel, or don’t want to travel far to get to your room, you may want to consider another property. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is far from most of the theme park action and meant for those who want to spend time on-site and be near the animals.

We’d do this differently next time: We’d spend more time at the hotel rather than at the parks to take advantage of everything on-site and spend more time around the animals.


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The Animal Kingdom Lodge is an exceptional themed hotel experience, especially if you splurge for a Savanna view room.

While the rooms aren’t cheap, they’re far from cookie-cutter and offer a more unique experience than other Disney properties. It’s a place you and your family will never forget and is sure to play a central role in your overall vacation experience.

Book The Animal Kingdom Lodge starting at $300 here