Animal Kingdom Lodge Opening Week Review

This article appeared in the April 25, 2001 Issue #83 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

As you've probably heard by now, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (DAKL) opened for business on April 16!

ALL EARS editor Deb Wills and her traveling companion, Linda Eckwerth (a recent Disney convert), were there to experience the resort first-hand. Live reports were uploaded to WDWIG throughout last week.

Also at DAKL's opening were Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx from Passporter WDW 2001! Together we now share with you our thoughts about DAKL. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we could write a book on our experience at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

As you may recall reading (ALL EARS, March 30, 2001 -- Issue #79), I was less than enthusiastic about DAKL when I first saw it during the Open House a few weeks ago.

A week's stay there has certainly changed my opinion! I am in love with the place -- can you see my big smile?

As each day passed, I found myself loving the Lodge more and more. Linda and I also found ourselves cancelling park and meal plans outside the DAKL and staying right there. It truly is a resort unto itself, we felt it was a most relaxing and enjoyable week and did not want to leave! It's been a long time since I felt that way at WDW.

Cast Members, Managers, cultural representatives, all did their best during this opening week to have smiles on their faces and make each guest feel as though there was no one else in the world!

Jennifer and Dave read all the preview reports they could find to prepare for their week-long stay at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. "If you've read any of these, you know that some people were disappointed by what they discovered at the Lodge Preview. With this in mind, we were pleasantly surprised by everything we found. The Lodge looked like it had been open for six months already when we arrived on Opening Day. We loved the lobby -- it looked more intimate than intimidating, effectively masking the size of this very large resort. We can't say we were totally blown away by the Lodge on that first day, but we were quite pleased."

Our top reasons for falling in love with this resort:

1. THE ROOM VIEWS: One of the biggest reasons for our enjoyable stay was the positioning of our savannah view room. (Deb and Linda moved to a standard room the last few days of their stay.) When you look out onto the Savannah, you might be treated to wandering wildebeest, or a beautiful sunset or watching 2 impalas frolicking together. You just don't get a view like that at other Disney resorts.

The best way to understand the various views is to compare them to the seating in a theater or stadium. For example, I would equate a Savannah view room to the orchestra and box seats: you have a close and personal view of the event, in which you are totally immersed in the action and sometimes even feel like they are playing just for you. The pool view rooms are similar to the mezzanine or club level: you still have good seating, but you are not as close to the action and are much more aware of your surroundings. And standard view rooms? They would be akin to the upper, upper deck, or the back of the highest balcony. You are there and can enjoy the experience, but you are much further removed both emotionally and physically.

Passporter WDW Tip: - If you're going to stay at the Lodge, splurge on the Savannah view. The standard views aren't really worth the price, as the focus of this resort is the Savannah The pool views are okay, but again, they don't really compare to the experience of getting up in the middle of the night for a drink of water and then going out on your balcony in your bathrobe to see cattle grazing or zebras frolicking.

2. THE FOOD: The restaurants at DAKL are wonderful! We dined at each place at least twice to sample as much of the food as possible. There aren't many places I want to have dinner three times in one week, but Jiko, the full-service restaurant, kept drawing me back, with its unique blend of familiar foods. Jennifer and Dave's impressions de Jiko? "The list of Disney's finest dining rooms has an exciting new member. From inventive food to delightful ambience to brilliant service, Jiko is a winner! Chef Serge Burckel applies his French/Alsatian flair to everything on the menu, and melds African/Moroccan, Asian, and European flavors into a magical experience."

We all highly recommend Mara, the quick service restaurant, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Meal choices are satisfying, freshly prepared, and varied, with large touches of Africa alongside American favorites.

And Boma? Well, this family restaurant, with breakfast and dinner buffets, offers a solid blend of traditional and unique African flavors. I could have eaten breakfast at Boma every morning! It has now surpassed Spoodles as my favorite place for breakfast on Disney property. And while its African-style dishes may be unfamiliar to American palates, we saw few guests complaining or shying away from the offerings, at breakfast or dinner.

There are so many good things to say about the restaurants at DAKL, that I'll be devoting a full issue of ALL EARS in the coming weeks. Please look for it!

All Ears Tip: Have a very early or very late dinner one evening. Go out the front door about 5:15 when the cultural representatives gather for song as they wind their way through the lobby, down the stairs and into Jiko and Boma. Afterwards, go out to the Savannahs until about 7:30pm, spending time at at each of them (Sunset, Arusha, and Uzima). This is one of the best times to see the animals and each Savannah offers a very different look and feel.

3. THE PAMPERING -- DAKL is a deluxe resort, with an emphasis on the *resort.* Consequently, it has most of the little extras I've come to expect at a deluxe Disney resort. The Zahanati Fitness Center, for example, carries a full line of Cybex equipment, as well as Life Fitness Treadmills, Stairmasters and Bicycles (regular and recumbent). (A Family Length of Stay membership is $45!) There are three types of massages offered here: traditional, Swedish and aromatherapy. (Linda and I each enjoyed a massage during our stay -- I had a "standard" 50-minute full body massage, while Linda opted for the aromatherapy full-body massage, also 50 minutes. For an additional fee, they will provide the massage in your room.) A steam room and sauna are also available.

After a long day at the parks you'll be happy to learn (as Jennifer and Dave did) that DAKL has two free-form spas -- Disney lingo for hot tubs. (Both are located behind the one and only pool--Uzima Springs--and within sight of the Uzima Savannah.) We passed up the smaller spa, even though it was closer to our room in Zebra Trail, because it was crowded. Soon enough we discovered the reason, the larger spa (which can hold 18 people) was VERY hot. We stayed to dangle our feet in the soothing waters anyway.

Although concierge service has never quite pushed Jennifer and Dave's buttons, the DAKL concierge lounge is a magnificent space overlooking the grand lobby, with an excellent, attentive staff and tasty offerings on the buffet from 6am-10pm. (On the minus side, only 18 of the guest rooms are on the key-protected sixth floor, all the rest are (admittedly superior) fifth-floor, deluxe rooms, overlooking the Arusha Savannah.)

All Ears Tip: Looking for romantic ideas? Order room service breakfast or go to Mara and bring back coffee and food - watch the Savannah come alive, get a message at Zahiniti Health Center, relax poolside in the warm Florida sun, enjoy the sunset over a savannah, savor dinner at Jiko, walk hand and hand through the Arusha Rock Savannah under the moonglow lighting ala Disney.

4. THE CULTURAL DETAILS: There are SO MANY unique and interesting things about this resort. There are art and artifact exhibits located throughout the expansive lobby area and in the wings. Each time I went down the hallway, I found something new. In the Zawabi marketplace, you can talk to the artisans making African crafts. Each Cast Member you encounter can tell you something unique about the lodge. Ask the cultural guides to tell you a story or maybe they will sing for you.

Each evening at 7:30 there is Storytelling, sometimes outside at the Arusha Rock Firepit, other times at Ogun's Firepit off the main lobby. Children and adults gather around the firepit and listen to the cultural representatives talk about their homelands. (I heard Njoki from Kenya and Thabo from South Africa.)

Passporter WDW Tip: Be sure to chat frequently with the lodge's wildlife guides and cultural representatives. Part of Disney's International program, they offer a wealth of information about the animals and artwork at the lodge, and bridge the cultural and social gap between our two continents.

5. THE POSSIBILITIES: If you're looking for a retreat, DAKL is the perfect getaway. Where else on Disney property can you hear the cultural representatives gather for song? Or look out on three different savannahs watching the animals?

You may have heard that access to this resort is restricted. This is true. To gain admittance, you must either have your name on the list (by holding a reservation for a room or by having a priority seating at Boma or Jiko) or you must know the full name of a registered guest. If you're already a registered guest, you can use your resort ID card for admittance. On the other hand, resort IDs were not being checked before boarding buses bound for Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, so it seems guests at other resorts MAY be able to visit the Lodge without a priority seating arrangement.

Many, of you have written me asking if you should stay at DAKL or switch to a different hotel, based on what you have read or heard from other folks. Please understand it is impossible for me to guess what you might or might not like about a particular place.

I *can* tell you that Linda and I both fell in love with the Lodge and did not want to leave, even after two nights in the less beautiful standard view room. Is the resort perfect? No, but it's close. Include a quiet pool, a jogging path and some boats or bicycles and it'd be pretty darn close to perfect!

All four of us found ourselves either canceling plans to go elsewhere or just hurrying back to the Lodge.

Will I go back? You bet! I can't wait to see how DAKL and its Cast Members mature over the next several months!

Jennifer and Dave were a bit sad leaving too. After lingering on our balcony to watch the giraffes trimming the trees below us, we were on the go--a quick bite in the Concierge lounge, interviews, more research, a satisfying lunch at The Mara, a final shopping spree at the gift shop, and (sob!) it was all over! Why couldn't we stay another week? We've made so many friends among the cast members, and had so many memorable experiences. The Lodge now felt like home. One thing's for sure--we shall return!

There is lots of information on AllEars about the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.