We were fortunate to be able to do a nine-night split stay at Disney World for New Year’s Eve and the marathon. The first half of that stay was spent in Club Level (Savannah View) at Animal Kingdom Lodge. This post reviews that experience. (An aside: we’re not going to review Beach Club because we simply didn’t spend much time at the resort and we passed on all its amenities and restaurants).
The Booking and Cost
We stayed in a Savannah View room. The Savannah was actually a huge part of why we stayed at AKL to begin with. Our four-night stay (with club level) totaled $2,778.77 with taxes and fees. The base rates broke down as follows: Dec 31 - $715, Jan 1 - $733, Jan 2 - $511, Jan 3 - $511. We used 4th night free, so we’re expecting a refund from Citi on that 4th night. It’s worth noting that this is a situation where the 4th Night Free’s upcoming change to 25% off your first four nights would have benefited us to the tune of about $100.
An important note of clarification—we stayed at Jambo House, which is what most people think of and are talking about when they say Animal Kingdom Lodge. Animal Kingdom Lodge comprises two areas—Jambo House and Kidani Village. Buses to and from AKL make two stops (one at each area). Jambo House is both a deluxe resort and home to Disney Vacation Club Villas. Kidani Village is just Disney Vacation Club Villas. Disney does little to clarify this confusion. On their website, you would think there are actually three areas.
Arrival and Lobby
As per our usual plans, we flew in on a morning flight and arrived at the hotel at about noon. Our room wasn’t ready (sort of a disappointment, although check-in wasn’t until 3pm), so we had to change in the restroom (we flew from Chicago) and compose ourselves in the lobby. The Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby is one of the more beautiful ones in Disney World, except for being so dark! I like the specious lobbies of the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Animal Kingdom Lodge much more than the comparably cramped lobbies of the Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Boardwalk.
It was New Year’s Eve, and our plan was to spend the night at Epcot. Magic Kingdom had just hit the first phase closure, but we had no worried about Epcot, and Hollywood Studios had relatively short waits, so we headed over there.
We didn’t get to see our room until we got back from Epcot, but it was great! My only complaint is the size of the desk. There was not much room if you wanted to sit and work. Besides that, the room was perfectly kept. I’m not sure what explains it, but this room was in much better condition than the room we had the second half of the trip at Beach Club. It was cleaned better, it had less chipping paint, it was just better. This room made me think, “Wow. Disney!” The room at Beach Club had me thinking “Well, a hotel is just a place to put your head.”
Our view of the Savannah was amazing. We saw a decent number of animals. Our view was aligned pretty much with the savannah overlook behind the hotel, which meant we had pretty much the same view we would have from down there (but all the time). We had some moments where we got to appreciate the animals, but you’ll probably usually get a better experience from the overlook.
The Pool & Pool Bar
We only spent one afternoon by the pool. Emily notes that the pool was spacious and warm, with spots that got to five feet deep. There were also multiple hot tubs. The lifeguards seemed to spend most of their energy yelling at people not to bring alcohol into the pool.
While Emily was in the pool, I sat at the pool bar and worked. Nothing notable there, it was a small bar with an uninteresting selection. As it happens, I recognized the inside of the roof from a recent post on /r/whereinthedisneyworld.
We have a full review of Club Level here. In short, it was amazing, and not a huge cost over the price of the Savannah view room.
We’re not going to give full restaurant reviews because we’re not foodies and we didn’t take great pictures. I will say that Sanaa and Jiko are both great options for vegetarian eating. The restaurants are also conveniently located. Boma and Jiko are on the bottom floor of Jambo House. To get to Sanaa, you have to walk over to Kidani Village (about a ten-minute walk). Here are some quick notes on the restaurants.
Boma was our least favorite of the restaurants. We’re vegetarians, so the meat offerings (which looked awesome) didn’t appeal to us. The restaurant was also quite busy and loud. Boma is a buffet, and I understand that some people feel servers do more work at buffet’s than at standard table service, but I felt the service was a bit lacking. I had a pretty nice stack of plates by the end, and at a small table. The food was good, but some of it was duplicative with things you could get other places (we noted the samosas were the same as those at Animal Kingdom).
Sanaa was a great experience, I only wish I hadn’t had so many club level appetizers before heading there! The bread plate was everything you’ve heard (that is, fantastic). We had the Cilantro-Coconut Milk Seasonal Vegetables potjie and the Paneer Tikka potjie. These were both amazing and I’m sad we didn’t take pictures (excuse to go back).
Jiko has been one of our favorites for years, and this year was no different. As much as I love Jiko, the service is consistently incredibly slow. If you have some place to be, plan to give your server as much of your order as you can when he or she is around. They have a full vegetarian (and vegan, I believe) menu, just ask the hostess when you’re seated.
I’m a Disney bus soap box critic. I live in Chicago, a city best known for not being able to get anything right, and the transit system is significantly better than Disney’s. I’ve been to several major cities in the U.S. and abroad, and I have not in a decade been as frustrated with transit – even in places where I didn’t speak the language – as I frequently am at Disney.
This obviously made me worry about Animal Kingdom Lodge. AKL is the only deluxe resort without alternative transportation to a park. You have to take the bus. I know, you’ll point out that AKL is right by Animal Kingdom, so the buses between those parks are awesome. I would trust you, except the first time I decided to check out AKL was in August, and I waited over 40 minutes for a bus from Animal Kingdom to Animal Kingdom Lodge. I can’t imagine where the driver went.
All that said, we had great transit this time. We only waited more than ten minutes once, and that bus arrived right at about Disney’s prescribed 20 minutes. Hopefully the bus situation is generally improving at the parks. It sure would be nice if AKL somehow got a transit perk, though.
For all the times I’ve visited Walt Disney World (about 25), my family has stuck mostly to the Yacht or Beach Club. As a result, I’m not really a resort expert. I’ve stayed at 6 of the 8 deluxe resorts (missing Polynesian and Wilderness), and Animal Kingdom Lodge (w/ Club Level, notably) was by far my favorite. I missed the convenience of the Epcot resorts at times, but AKL is just an experience I will not soon forget.