Animal Kingdom Lodge — Jambo House – Part One

Jack Spence Masthead

Animal Kingdom Lodge Sign

The Animal Kingdom Lodge presented the Imagineers with a challenge. You don’t come across too many massive six story buildings out on the Serengeti. So how do you disguise an enormous hotel to look like an authentic, intimate structure that you might actually find someplace in East Africa? The answer to this problem was twofold.

First, you use landscaping to camouflage and conceal. Trees and shrubbery hide most of the building’s outward appearance as you approach the hotel. From the moment you pass the guard shack, you are surrounded by a lush, tropical forest. Your view is completely shrouded in greenery. Even as you near the hotel, if you use self-parking, you will not see the Animal Kingdom Lodge until the Imagineers deem it appropriate. You must first exit your vehicle and take a winding set of stairs through additional jungle before you see your vacation home. In fact, more than 170,000 shrubs and trees have been planted along this route to help set the mood.

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Entering the Animal Kingdom Lodge

If you plan on letting Bell Services take care of your luggage and drive to the resort’s porte-cochère and drop-off area, you only see a fraction of the actual building. And what you do see is deceiving. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a six story building. However, the Imagineers placed the lobby and the main entrance on the third floor. The first and second floors are below ground level on the front side of the building. In addition, the sixth floor, when viewed from the front, resembles a thatched roof. Both of these factors greatly hide the massiveness of the structure.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Main Entrance

Animal Kingdom Lodge Main Entrance

A small hint of the details to come can be seen on the resort’s driveway. “Fire Lane” and “No Parking” signs are painted on the pavement in a freehand, African style.

Fire Lane

The colors of the Animal Kingdom Lodge are that of the earth. Reddish browns, tans, and ochre walls resemble mud that has baked in the sun to create bricks and stucco. Along the pathway that leads to the resort’s bus stop, simple African reliefs adorn the walls.

Walkway to the Bus Stop

African Reliefs

Animal Kingdom Bus Stop

Before I go any further, I should probably mention that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually two resorts in one. Opening on April 16, 2001, the first phase of this resort’s existence featured standard rooms and suites open to all guests. On May 1, 2009, a second resort opened nearby that would offer Disney Vacation Club (DVC) studio units, and 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartment-like homes. With this addition, the respective resorts were given the additional names Jambo House (this blog) and Kidani Village to differentiate between them. Jambo means “hello” in Swahili.

Jambo House Sign

Kidani Village Sign

Although there is a pathway connecting Jambo House and Kidani Village, it is about a half mile long and much of it runs through the parking lots. In my opinion, it’s worth avoiding. At one time, a complicated method of using theme park buses offered transportation between the two. Now, a dedicated shuttle van runs between the resorts from 8am to 10pm. This greatly simplifies the trip.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge was designed by architect Peter Dominick. You might recognize his style as he is also responsible for the designs of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Grand Californian. Vast, open lobbies, surrounded by balconies, create a stunning and impressive first impression.

AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby

The massive chandeliers are designed to look like Maasai shields. Used not only as a defensive weapon by the people of Kenya, these shields are also used to express art and culture. Usually made of buffalo hide, these shields traditionally are painted with only three colors. Black identifies lineage and the red and white denotes the age and geographic location of the owner. The geometric patterns painted on the shields also have special meaning: the ones marked with circles signify the Kisongo province of Kenya, the squares denote the Loita province, and the triangles are used by Ol bruggo province.

African Chandelier

The Animal Kingdom Lodge houses the second largest hotel collection of artwork in the world. Many of these pieces can be seen in the lobby, scattered among the seating areas.

African Art

African Art

African Art

The lobby flooring is made of teak, a tropical hardwood native to Asia but now cultivated in Africa. Embedded in the wood planks are more works of art. Five bronze medallions, designed by West African artist and storyteller, Baba Wague’ Diakite’, depict man and animals and their relation to the earth. The first and largest medallion measures eight feet in diameter. The others measure four feet across.

Bronze Floor Art

I really don’t know anything about this next piece of art, but every time I see it I think of “The Lion King” film where Simba and Nala are raised higher and higher into the air by the various African animals.

African Art

Scene from the Lion King

One of the most impressive lobby works of art is the Ijele mask. This 16 foot high, 240 pound mask is worn on the head of one man and the success of his ceremonial dance brings good luck and prestige to the entire community. This example was the first of its kind ever to leave Nigeria. The entire story of the Ijele mask is told via signboards surrounding the piece.

Ijele Mask

The lobby balconies are adorned with tusk-like braces and antelope railings. At the top of each of the supportive columns which surround the room are Grand Bedu mask which stare down onto the guests below. Bedu masks are found throughout the Bondoukou region of the Ivory Coast. They are associated with New Year’s festivities and symbolize the transfer of one year to the next.

Tusk Support

Antelope Railing

Grand Bedu mask

Grand Bedu mask

A firepit provides a tribe with a means of cooking and staying warm. But it also offers a pleasant venue for community storytelling. In the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, Ogun’s Firepit offers guests its own version of this tribal setting. This is a wonderful spot to plan your day in the morning or recollect about your adventures in the evening. Ogun is an African god who presides over iron working, hunting, politics and war.

Ogun's Firepit

Ogun's Firepit

An updated version of the firepit is available for children as they wait for their parents to check-in. Hand-carved wooden stools from the Ivory Coast surround a 21st century, electronic “firepit.”

Children's TV

One of the most striking features of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby is the fifth floor suspension bridge. This elevated platform provides wonderful views of the Arusha Savanna and the animals that roam just beyond the floor-to-ceiling, vine-covered windows. A note of caution to those of you with acrophobia, you might want to skip this bridge.





In the afternoon, African cast members are on hand in the lobby with additional treasures. Jewelry, wood carvings, flags, skulls, and more are on display and these folk love nothing more than talking about their homeland and sharing bits of trivia with guests. Stop by and pick these cast member’s brains. You’ll be glad you did.

African Cast Member and Artifacts

The lobby furnishings were also chosen with great care. Each of the six seating areas has two shelter sofas and two to four overstuffed chairs upholstered in the muted colors of the savanna. The coffee and end tables are constructed of alder wood and mahogany, their tops covered in lapis, stone and metal. A number of torchères circle the room. These artistic, nine-foot tall lamps resemble bundled branches and their flickering light adds a bit of rustic charm to the lobby.

AKL Lobby

AKL Lobby

The front desk is also quite beautiful and artistically designed. A low ceiling of twigs provides a more intimate feeling than the grand lobby. The back wall is draped with African inspired quilts.

Front Desk

Next to the front desk is Sunset Overlook. When the main lobby gets a bit too hectic and noisy, slip into this mental oasis. Designed to resemble an explorer’s retreat, this spot offers comfortable couches, chairs, and more African artwork. This is the perfect spot for a quiet and relaxed conversation. When you visit, be sure to spend some time examining the photographs and artifacts. A nearby balcony offers views of the Sunset Savanna.

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

Sunset Overlook

On the other side of the lobby is Zawadi Marketplace. Open from 7:30am to 11pm, this is the spot to pick up Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room.

Zawadi Marketplace is also one of my favorite Disney hotel shops. The reason? Because this shop sells more than just Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room. A fantastic collection of African art, jewelry, and clothing is also offered here. Now I’m not really a fan of African art, jewelry, and clothing, but it’s refreshing to have something other than Mickey and princess merchandise to browse through.

Be sure to notice the lion sculpture found behind one of the counters.

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

Zawadi Marketplace

At the back of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby are two staircases that take guests to the Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook. Here at ground level, you can wander through an outcropping of boulders and discover a number of viewing spots ideal for animal encounters. Knowledgeable cast members are often on hand to answer questions about the creatures who call this savanna home. Arusha Rock was named for the volcanic landscape between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru.

Stairway to Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

AKL Exterior

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook

The Arusha Rock Firepit can also be found in this outdoor area. Lit each evening around dusk, this is another wonderful spot to relax and unwind. In addition, storytellers can be found here with folktales of their homelands.

Arusha Rock Firepit

On each side of the lobby are patios that offer shaded overlooks that peer onto the Arusha Savanna and firepit.

Patio Exterior View

Patio Overlook

To give you some idea of the lengths that the Imagineers went to in an effort to create a place where both humans and their animal neighbors would feel at home, let me provide you with a few facts:

“¢ The various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge contain 130 Sand Live Oak trees
“¢ More than 35,000 shrubs and bushes were planted in the savannas
“¢ There are 165 varieties of shrubs and bushes
“¢ Most of the plants came from California, Arizona, and Africa
“¢ A number of plants were grown from seeds brought over from Africa
“¢ Greenery was transplanted from the Caribbean and Pop Century Resorts as well as the Animal Kingdom theme park
“¢ Approximately 24 miles of irrigation pipe was installed
“¢ Approximately 60,000 square feet of artificial rockwork was created

Back in the main building, Victoria Falls is the place to have an evening cocktail. Open from 4pm to midnight, this watering hole is located on the second floor off of the lobby and overlooks Boma – Flavors of Africa. This spot can be reached via stairs from the first and third floors. For those of you in wheelchairs and ECV’s, a ramp is available from the third to the second floor. In addition, a hallway leading from the elevator’s second floor stop leads to this location.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Many people, myself included, believe that Boma – Flavors of Africa (known simply as Boma to most) is the best buffet to be found at Walt Disney World. Located on the first floor of the resort, this establishment serves a wide range of African cuisines at dinner. From all corners of the continent, the chefs have brought together a multitude of flavors, but nothing so exotic as to intimidate the picky eater. The carved meats are sumptuous. And I’ve heard several vegetarians say that no place else on property offers them so many choices. Breakfast presents a more traditional, American meal.

The word “boma” refers to a rural African settlement surrounded by a fence made of sticks and mud. It would often act as a fort and within its boundaries were huts for its human residents and other areas allocated for livestock. At Disney’s Boma, stick fencing can be seen throughout the restaurant as it separates the various dining areas from one another. Beneath the “huts,” guests are offered the tribal selections of the day. A show kitchen and rotisserie fueled by a wood-burning grill add to the atmosphere.

If I had to find something negative to say about Boma it would be that it is crowded and noisy due to its popularity. Also, the wooden chairs are a little hard on the behind. But other than that, I love this place. The positives of Boma far outweigh these minor annoyances.

The restaurant is open for breakfast from 7:30am to 11am. Dinner is offered from 4:30pm to 9:30pm. Although it might be possible to snag a walk-up reservation, you are highly advised to book a table here months in advance. Boma can seat 270 guests. To see current selections and prices, click here.

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Boma Restaurant

Next door to Boma is Jiko – The Cooking Place (known simply as Jiko to most). This signature restaurant is comparable in caliber to The Flying Fish at The Boardwalk and Citricos at The Grand Floridian. Jiko means “cooking place” in Swahili, thus the restaurant’s subtitle “The Cooking Place”.

Jiko serves modern African cuisine infused with flavors of India and the Mediterranean. Two, large wood burning ovens sit in the middle of the restaurant. This prominent location allows guests to witness flatbreads and other menu items be prepared first hand. The restaurant boasts an “all South African” wine list, one of the largest in North America. In addition, all of the servers at Jiko have completed at least their Level I Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

When entering Jiko, a bar can be seen to the right. This is the spot to relax if you arrive before your reservation time. Next to the bar is an imaginative floor to ceiling wine rack. Behind this wall of wine is the private Cape Town Wine Room which can be reserved for special events and parties. The Cape Town Wine Room can seat up to forty guests.

Jiko Bar

Cape Town Wine Room

The restaurant’s décor is simple and clean and uses a warm color pallet. The support columns are adorned with rings which symbolize those worn around women’s necks in some African tribes. The sweeping back wall represents the sky and changes colors during the evening. This color transformation represents the passage of time, sunrise to sunset, and completes this display three times each night. Stylized bird sculptures help set the mood of the Serengeti and can conjure up images of The Lion King movie’s opening scenes.

Jiko Dining Room

Jiko Dining Room

Jiko Dining Room

A number of tables sit next to oversized windows which look onto a pool of water which represents an African watering hole.

Jiko Dining Room

Watering Hole

In an effort to maintain some sort of decorum, Jiko does have a dress code. Resort casual is the requested attire. Not allowed are: Tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs or torn clothing. T-shirts are now permitted however offensive language or graphics are not acceptable.

Jiko is a popular establishment and reservations are highly recommended. These can be arranged by calling 407-WDW-DINE. To see current menu and prices, click here. Jiko can seat 235 guests.

That’s it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

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21 Replies to “Animal Kingdom Lodge — Jambo House – Part One”

  1. Thank you so much for this descriptive blog. It brought us back to our wonderful first trip to the Jambo House. My zen moment will be picturing myself on those peaceful paths. My hobby is scrapbooking and I was thrilled to see I took some of the same pictures of the details. (however, you are a much better photographer) Now with your accurate descriptions I have some words to label those detailed photos of the beautiful artwork.
    Thank you and we love the AKL!
    I enjoy your work.

  2. Hi Jack,

    Many thanks for all the details and photos of the AKL. My husband and I love the Wilderness Lodge, having stayed 3 times in a row during that slow time a few weeks before Christmas. I was afraid we might start to feel less “wonder” and take things in the WL for granted or compare them to previous visits. We were in a rut. So, with a bit of sadness, this year I booked the AKL. We’ve been to Boma but have never stayed. Thanks to your blog post we are more excited than ever to explore this new resort (for us) in detail!
    Thanks again!

  3. So, hopefully I didn’t miss this, but is that a lion face at the back of the lobby, going down to the savanna? (Your picture under the gift shop lion.) I’m sure Disney doesn’t do anything without intent, but I never seem to hear anything about it. I mean, that’s a face, right? Air-vent eyes, ladder-ish nose…

    Great job as always, you’re the best!

  4. Jack,
    I loved your blog as usual! We stayed at AKL for the first time in June and it took our breath away! It became our favorite resort! The staff of club level, our room, the smells, the fell are all so unique to AKL. My 5 year old asks every day “When will we go home to Jambo House?”. LOVE IT!

  5. Hi Jack,
    My husband and I had a wonderful time when we were guests at the AKL. We loved Boma and seeing the animals from your room is such a great experience. One night we came in late and cast members were cleaning the chandeliers. They have a pulley system to get these massive lights down and they asked if we would like to get a picture with one of the
    shields and we didn’t have to be asked twice so we have some nice photos with the shields.

    I noticed that the lights in the rooms seem brighter and I hope this is true because I found it difficult to read in the room.

    I enjoyed your photos and they brought back happy memories.

  6. Jack: I used to love the marketplace because it had African art–period. Hardly any Disney stuff (that you can find in every other store at WDW anyway). On our last visit, I was disappointed. Less and less African art. Not that I’m big on it, but we’ve bought some pieces in the past that are beautiful and remind us of our trips. I wish Disney would take note. There are plenty of places to buy all kinds of Disney stuff, we need more of the other.

    For instance, there used to be a shop in Magic Kingdom years ago (and I’m really dating myself as I remember this shop on my honeymoon 31 years ago) that sold kitchen-related items, and I still have a pitcher and bowl set from that trip in my bedroom and frig magnets and none of these items have any Mickey’s, etc. Now, you can’t find anything non-Disney. It’s such a shame.

  7. Jack,

    Love the photos. This is my second-favorite lobby. AKL at Christmas is my favorite. 🙂

    My brother and I both had the evening off on Monday and felt like having dinner at WDW, there, oddly, was an opening at 6:20 for Boma. We made it over and enjoyed dinner, then sunset on the savannah. Truly a great way to spend an evening.

    – Dan

  8. Jack, Love your blogs, they are always so informative! AKL is my favorite resort. I have been crazy about animals all my life. With a car I found the location to be just fine. I am not a bus fan anyway.

    Here is a tidbit many might not know. There is a piece of art – a shield, I think, between the front doors inside the lobby. A cast member told me to be sure to touch it every time I entered and exited, as this would guarantee I would come back again safely one day. I willingly adopted this fun superstition and indeed I have returned twice since, with my next trip planned for November. I can’t wait to hear “Jambo! Welcome home!”

  9. Thank you so much for this wonderful and thorough overview of Jambo House. I feel like AKL isn’t as popular as the other deluxe resorts because of location and proximity to the parks. This may be on of the reasons we love it so much! After a day a the parks, we love to come back ‘home’ to our calm and cool safari lodge. I think when people say it’s ‘too dark’ they’re missing the point. My husband, who is the most frugal man in the world, needed little convincing to buy into DVC (Kidani) here because we love it so much. We can’t wait to go ‘home’ for Thanksgiving this year!

  10. Jack,

    Another great blog! I do have one question, though. Why did you not talk about the shields on the room doors, and the meaning behind them? Just another way the Imagineers pay attention to detail. Looking forward to reading part two! Thanks, and keep up the great blogs!

    Jack’s Answer:

    I real answer is, I forgot to take a picture of the door shields and I always like to include a photograph of what I’m talking about. And since I had already made two additional trips to the Animal Kingdom Lodge after my stay to do more research and photography, I didn’t feel like making another.

    Now if it was Disney answering this question, they would say, “There are so many unique and wonderful details to explore that we wanted to let you discover some of them on your own.”


  11. Another tremendous article, Jack! You have captured in word and photos the essence of this beautiful resort. AKL is our favorite Deluxe Resort. It is Walt Disney World at its best. The attention to decor inside and out, the service and attention of the cast members and the restaurants that are among the best on property help to make AKL irresistible.

  12. Hi Jack,

    I love this hotel and would definitely like to stay here again. We love Boma and have eaten there several times…the food is great and very different from the standard buffet.

    To echo everyone else I can’t wait for Part II.


  13. Hi Jack

    Thank you for a blog about my favorite Disney resort. My husband and I have stayed at AKL during our last 3 WDW vacations, I almost don’t want to say anything positive because I don’t want the resort to become any more popular than it already is. With great restaurants, atmosphere, wonderful staff and the stars of the resort, THE ANIMALS, its a wonder how anyone could not love this resort. It is the one resort in Disney World where I truly feel transported to another part of the world, how can you not when you’re waking up to giraffe, zebra, ankole cattle and the countless other animals that call the savannas of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge home.
    The only question I have regarding this resort is why the price difference for a room with a view of Arusha Savanna?
    We will be visiting WDW in 47 days but this time staying at the Boardwalk, reading your blog is making me regret my choice to try a new resort this time around. I guess I’ll have to settle for dinner at Boma, there’s always next trip

  14. Hey Jack
    The Animal Kingdom Lodge looks absolutly amazing. There is so much history that can be learned with all that the resort has to offer. With everything that was already shown in part 1 i can’t wait for part 2. keep up the great work.

  15. There is a second floor stop on a elevator… the main lobby elevator. There’s a hallway from that elevator that goes along the backside of Victoria Falls with a passage that leads up to the front.

    Jack’s Comment:

    Thanks for the information. I will update my blog accordingly.

  16. Jack:
    I am sure that someone has mentioned this before, all of your detailed blogs would make a very informative book. The detail that you use would be very helpful to anyone going to WDW. I have only been ten times and I still learn something from your blogs. Thank you for what you do and please keep it up.

  17. Jack,
    We love Animal Kingdom Lodge! We like to stay at various resorts each visit just to experience something different. We always visit Animal Kingdom Lodge each visit just to eat. I agree with what you said about Boma having the best buffet. (Their soups are wonderful!) We do like all their restaurants. My sons always ask about staying there because the last time we stayed there they saw a large snake on the savannah outside our room. (I was not so excited about the snake.)
    That was interesting to hear that Animal Kingdom Lodge has the second largest hotel art collection. Which hotel has the largest collection?
    I am looking forward to Part 2!

  18. Thank you for an extremely detailed blog. As I ‘wandered around’ your description of AKL, it opened up my memory of this fabulous resort. I could smell the different aromas that are unique to it.

    I also remember checking in with my then 4 and half year old daughter. She took around the hotel lobby and asked “Is this Disney?” I confirmed it was and she replied with a lisp “Thith ithn’t Dithney, there are no chawacters!” She came round in the end and was fascinated by the animals who lived in our ‘garden’

    Happy days!

  19. Jack — Great photos and description of Jambo House. My husband and I stayed here for one night at the end of our trip in April, and stayed at the concierge level so that we could experience the Sunrise Safari. We didn’t want to stay for our entire visit because we kept hearing how far it was from everything and we like the convenience of some of the other resorts. After visiting AKL, we will DEFINITELY be returning!!! It was so beautiful and relaxing that we could have stayed at the resort the whole time without even visiting the parks (HA!). Boma was one of our favorite restaurants ever — so many wonderful choices! Having the view of the animals from our balcony was such a fun experience — definitely worth the extra expense.

  20. Good morning, I love all of your blogs and was just curious, do you have a twitter account?

    Thank you,

    Jack’s Answer.

    Nope. I don’t twitter. If you’re wondering about my blog schedule, they are posted every Monday morning.