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Disneys Animal Kingdom

Exotic Excursion to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by Jeff Voth

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba (There comes a lion).

Sithi uhhmm ingonyama (Oh yes it's a lion).

So starts the song, "Circle of Life" from the 1994 feature movie The Lion King, as penned by Sir Elton John and Mr. Tim Rice.

If there is a more fitting song title for a Disney movie, I would be hard pressed to think of it. For many of us, the circle of life takes us back to Disneyland Resort in California or Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, on more than one occasion. This time it would be my pleasure to experience first hand one of the newest resort creations in Orlando, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Opened in the spring of 2001, Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of ten deluxe resorts found at Walt Disney World. The African adventure starts from the moment you arrive. Turning into the driveway, tall, lush foliage masks the awaiting journey, as if challenging you to find the resort from the main entrance.

It's apparent upon reaching the entry gate to Animal Kingdom Lodge, that this is not your average family resort. A guard stops all vehicles attempting to enter, and only those whose names appear on the registry are allowed access. Expectations run high as we await our turn in line. Something unique is about to happen.

Walking under the large canopy covering four-lanes of incoming traffic, the sounds of Africa come alive with the vibrant staccato of birds and the conversations of their Serengeti neighbors. Attendants quickly usher guests into the awaiting sanctuary and out of the hustle and bustle of cars and tour buses.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

Once inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge, I am immediately struck by the immensity of the main lobby and it's seemingly limitless thatched roof. A gigantic mud fireplace and meandering stream dominates the interior landscape. Large, animated shields hang from the rafters on the ceiling.

Traffic flows through the center of the dark hardwood floor lobby, where comfy sofas and chairs rest on area rugs off to the side, creating numerous conversation settings throughout the main floor. African art is interspersed throughout the hotel, providing a kaleidoscope of color and imagery. Rising at the back of the lobby from floor to ceiling, a massive picture window looks out on the inner circle of the African landscape. A large interlocking brick patio and staircase entices guests to spend time in the great outdoors and breathe in the sights and sounds of the wild. At the bottom of the stairs, the elevated kopje, or rock outcropping, ascends from the Serengeti floor. This walk around area puts guests within 15 feet of the animals for an amazing view of the reserve.

Winding our way from the lobby, down the hallway, we arrive at our rooms with bags in tow, exhausted from the anticipation of the daily events that await us in the days ahead.

"Where are the African pack elephants when you need them?" I think to myself. "There is enough luggage here to outfit a small army of adventure seeking tourists!" Of course, my comments fall on deaf ears, as our entourage of four teenage girls has no understanding of what it means to pack light.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Rooms
Disney's Animal Kingdom Rooms

Spacious and colorful, our rooms face one section of the Disney wildlife reserve. Balconies extend the full length of the room, overlooking the grasslands where giraffes, zebras, Thomson's gazelles and ostrich roam freely. At first glance, the wild grasslands seem to extend right up to the resort wall. But looking more closely, I notice security fencing maintains an appropriate distance between resort guests and the animal inhabitants.

Queen size beds fill the room, while an adjacent makeup counter and mirror separate the bathroom from the sleeping quarters. A large African motif entertainment unit, along with two large wooden chairs surrounding a rustic table, completes the décor.
The floor is carpeted in an earth toned, patterned material; the beds decorated in African colors of red, orange and black. Inside the bathroom, large ceramic tiles and subtle lighting give substance to the feeling of staying at a lodge.

The hotel offers 1,293 guestrooms, of which 980 are first class, 294 deluxe, plus 17 one and two bedroom suites. One Presidential suite and one Vice Presidential suite is also available.

There are a total of four restaurants to choose from:

Jiko — The Cooking Place, is open only for dinner. Reservations are required, but still be prepared to come early. Meals are served buffet style, with a wide range of specialty foods, fruits and vegetables, along with more traditional menu items being available.

Bom — Flavors of Africa, offers a self-service, family-style restaurant in a marketplace setting.

With so much to do at the resort and surrounding Walt Disney World, more often than not, we chose to eat at the Mara express restaurant. The menu selection was excellent and reasonably priced. Served in a cafeteria setting, Mara is close to the outdoor pool and offers easy access to the onsite daycare facilities for those parents with small children.

If you're looking for a light snack, or to just relax with a gourmet coffee or tea, the fourth dining choice is Victoria Falls. It also offers an excellent selection of South African wines, international beers and cocktails in a mezzanine lounge.

Disney's Animal Kingdom  Wildlife
Disney's Animal Kingdom Wildlife

Located at the center of the resort is Uzima, the large, outdoor pool and whirlpool. It also happens to have a 67 ft. waterslide and wading pool. Surrounded by lush vegetation and chaise lounges, it calls out for weary Walt Disney World guests to come and get refreshed from a long day spent at one of the many resort parks on the surrounding property.

A trip to a Disney resort wouldn't be complete without a trip to a Disney Park. With so much to choose from, we spent three days bouncing between the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and of course Disney's Animal Kingdom Park. We also had the opportunity to explore Blizzard Beach, one of two water parks located on the Walt Disney World property.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge offers a true taste of the majesty that is Africa. It is a rare treat to have the opportunity of sitting on a balcony, enjoying the sun on my face as the sights and sounds of wildlife caress my mind. For a completely unique experience, unlike anything else at Walt Disney World Orlando, you owe it to yourself and your family to take the adventure.


If You Go:

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Walt Disney World Resort Florida
Front Desk: (407) 938-3000†
Reservations: (407) WDW-MAGIC (939-6244)

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