“I want to see giraffes from my window.” That was my six-year-old daughter’s only criteria for selecting our Orlando hotel, which–as you can imagine–somewhat limited our choices. We picked the African-inspired Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge because you can, in fact, see giraffes (and a host of other African wildlife) from your room. That’s the lodge’s main selling point, but fortunately it doesn’t skimp on the other non-animal details, either. Here’s what it’s like to stay there.
Price: 7/10. Regular rates start at just over $300 per night for a basic room, and can soar to nearly $500 for a prime room during peak travel periods. It’s pricey, even for Disney. We stayed for three nights–after visiting family on the Gulf Coast, we’d planned just one day at Magic Kingdom and another at Animal Kingdom before returning to Boston–but if we’d intended to stay longer (say, a week) we probably would have elected for a more budget-friendly hotel.
Location: 10/10. You can’t get closer to the Disney theme parks than the Disney hotels. Animal Kingdom Lodge is just a few minutes by car or free shuttle bus to the Animal Kingdom theme park; all of the other Disney parks are also easily accessible. The lodge is secluded in a wooded area and feels set apart from the rest of Orlando, which lends to the intentional “staying in the heart of Africa” vibe reflected in everything from its design to decor.
Room: 9/10. We stayed on the second floor in a savanna-view room with two queen beds, a mini fridge, a television, a desk, and an open-air porch overlooking the wildlife habitat. The lodge is horseshoe-shaped, with the lobby at the base of the U and the two wings spreading out in opposite directions. A savannah with about 200 animals fills the space between the two wings. My daughter was pleased: We didn’t just have a view of the giraffes; a few came close enough that we could (almost) touch them.
Amenities: 9/10. The amenities at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are decidedly kid-focused: a playground, an 11,000-gallon pool with a water slide and an outdoor movie screen, a video game arcade, and even personalized in-room celebrations. For adults, there’s a fitness center and jogging trails, free in-room Wi-Fi, an ATM, shuttles to the Disney parks, and a gift store that also sells essentials like milk, coffee, and wine. Ostensibly for kids, but really for parents, there’s also “Simba’s Clubhouse,” a place where your kids can play in a supervised area while you and your partner slip away for dinner or a swim. Lastly, as a guest of the lodge you may be entitled to certain crowd-free “extra magic hours” at the Disney theme parks if you time your visit on certain days of the week.
Dining: 8/10. The goal of any resort hotel is to keep you in its ecosystem–everything you need is already here, so why leave? Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is no different. There are more than a half dozen restaurants or food-service areas ranging from the expensive and upscale Boma and Jiko (both African-inspired) to quick grab-and-go fare by the pool (hamburgers and chicken fingers, decidedly American). You’ll want to make reservations for dinner at any of the finer restaurants (or risk missing out), and allow plenty of time for lines at the cheaper restaurants. The food is “resort good,” meaning it generally tastes good and the portions are generous, but it still feels like you’re at a resort. Michelin-starred dining, this is not.
Parking: 10/10. There’s ample free parking within easy walking distance of the front lobby. By staying at one of the Disney hotels, you’re also entitled to free parking at any of the Disney theme parks. We had a rental car and were able to drive to the nearby Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom and park there for free, which gave us the chance to beat the crowds coming in on the shuttle buses and also allowed us to leave the parks on our own schedule. Valet parking is also available at the lodge.
Service: 10/10. When things are running smoothly, you don’t notice the service. That’s generally how it was during our stay–everything ran like a well-tuned machine. One nice touch is that many of the employees hail directly from African nations.
Re-stay value: 9/10. I’d stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge again, although I might be tempted to try another of the Disney resorts as well, just for variety!
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Disney-Inspired Dream Trips
- Disney World vs. Disneyland: Where You Should Go Right Now
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which Is Cheaper?
Josh Roberts received a discounted media rate during his stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.