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Jamie Yadoff

Jamie Yadoff

Wednesday, 13 May 2020 19:17

Animal Kingdom Lodge: The DVC Experience.

image1Personal Background:

Back in 2012, my family bought into DVC; we selected Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL), sight unseen. At the time we were counseled to buy 220 points given our preferences, and we purchased direct. Since then, we have purchased two resale contracts (110 more at AKL, plus 100 at Bay Lake Tower) and another direct contract (Riviera).  We tend to travel in some combination of three adults (husband, wife, grandmother) and two children (now 17 and 13, but obviously much younger when we joined).  We have a total of 3 Use Years.  (As much as some people tell you your Use Year does not matter, it actually matters a lot.  But that's a topic for a different post.)

We book all reservations online, at exactly 11 months. This is especially advantageous at AKL because of the diverse room booking options. I’ll walk you through the resort itself, the room options, and the booking categories below.  This information should help you decide if AKL is the right "home" for you.

About the resort:
Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) is in two parts. Jambo House is the original AKL site and was a deluxe hotel before they added DVC to the property. Kidani is all DVC rooms and was built for that purpose.  Whichever resort your contract is labeled, you get the 11-month booking option at both sites.  The contracts will all end at the end of January in 2057, and the per point "dues" are among the higher dollar amounts per point, with only 7 of the resorts charging more in dues (in 2020).  The higher dues are large because of the cost of animal care.  Note that on the resale market, AKL is among the most affordable when you factor in the length of the contract, dues, and initial buy-in costs.  This resort also offers some tour options on property, some of which are only available to book only if you are staying on-site.  All of them are good, and some of them are SPECTACULAR, so I encourage you to explore them.

Overall, Animal Kingdom Lodge offers an amazing Disney experience but also allows you to rest and relax.  Because there is so much acreage I find the resort never feels crowded or hurried.  Part of why we bought this resort is the luxury and relaxation it offers. Both sides offer animal viewing areas, including loaner night vision goggles.  You'll also find cultural representatives from various African countries on both sides.  Several people have asked me if the resort smells like a zoo.  It does NOT.  In typical Disney fashion, animal waste is promptly cleaned up.  Even in the hottest summer weather, we find that there is no unpleasant odor.  


Lobby to lobby it’s about a 12-minute walk between Jambo and Kidani. The route is in full sun, which can be a bit miserable in peak July/August heat. There is also a free shuttle that travels back and forth between the lobbies.  The drive takes less than 5 minutes and you won’t wait long for a shuttle. Please know that the shuttle does not run 24 hours a day, so ask at the lobby what the current hours are when you check-in.

Overall resort differences:
There are advantages to each of the two AKL sights. Jambo has the more grand lobby, the only full quick-service restaurant (the Mara), a separate bar (Victoria Falls) which has a small plate dining option, a large buffet restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Boma) and the high-end restaurant Jiko, which also has a small bar area. The pool gets a lot of suns but is easy to access from the lobby, has quick access to the Mara, has its own pool bar area, and has plenty of seating.  There is a fitness center and recently renovated spa right near the pool (Massage anyone?).

Kidani has a smaller lobby, but much of the art is in plain view, not behind glass. While there is no quick service restaurant, Sana’a, which serves a sit-down lunch and dinner, offers a quick-service breakfast option that is quite tasty. The pool is slightly less convenient to get to from the lobby but has a nice fitness center, a fantastic splash area for toddlers, and plenty of shade. There is a full bar and they will deliver a limited lunch selection poolside. Kidani also has a Community Hall, which offers a pool table, foosball, movies, arts and crafts, and sporting equipment for the basketball, tennis and shuffleboard courts. I also find the public animal viewing areas on the Kidani side to be more numerous and have better views.
 
Both sides have a store, although the Jambo side is much larger.  Both also offer in-room dining.  
 
image0
Transportation:
  • Buses, cabs, Uber/Lyft/Minnie Van, and cars are the only way to get from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Disney theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs.
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge is closest to Animal Kingdom theme park. I've timed the bus from resort exit to park entrance, and it's a 5-7 minute ride depending on traffic.  
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge to Epcot can be as quick as 15 minutes and as long as 25 minutes if there is a lot of traffic.  
  • Strangely, the trip from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Hollywood Studios seems to be a bit shorter - 13-22 minutes when I've timed it.
  • The longest trips are from Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom, which is never shorter than 20 minutes and has taken upwards of 30 on bad traffic days. Many people think this is because AKL is "far away" but if you look closely at a map, you'll see that the Magic Kingdom is actually off in a corner of Disney property - it's the furthest park from MANY resorts. 
  • Buses pick up at Kidani first, and then Jambo, which means that in peak times if you are staying at Jambo you might not get a seat on the bus.  
  • Parking at Kidani is much easier because it's under the backside of the resort, so you can park under your room, and then take an elevator up, bypassing those looooong hallways.  While there is parking on the Jambo side, it's in full sun and can be a hike from your room. If I have a rental car, I always pick Kidani.
Room specific resort differences:
Jambo and Kidani both offer Studios (sleep 4), 1 Bedroom units (sleep 5, except value rooms which sleep 4), 2 bedroom units (sleep 9, except value rooms which sleep 8) and Grand Villas (3 Bedroom, sleeps 12) [note that the Grand Villa on the Jambo side is 1 floor, while on the Kidani side it is 2 floors. There is a pool table in the Grand Villas on the Jambo side only].  
 
On the Jambo side a studio and 1 BR each offer 1 bathroom, a 2BR has 2 bathrooms and a 3BR has 3 bathrooms.  But on the Kidani side, you'll get the benefit of an extra bathroom in rooms 1BR or larger.   A studio has 1 bathroom, but 1 BR offers 2 bathrooms, a 2BR has 3 bathrooms and a 3BR has 4 bathrooms.  This can be really helpful if you are filling rooms to maximum occupancy.

Jambo offers 4 room categories: Value, Standard, Savanna View, and Kilimanjaro Club Level. In contrast, Kidani only offers Standard and Savanna View options. [There are no value Grand Villas or Club Level Grand Villas.]

If you don’t book at 11 months I can virtually guarantee that you will never be able to book a Value or Club Level room, which is why AKL is such a great resort to have home advantage at.
  • Value rooms (Jambo side only!) were an accident of the transformation from traditional hotel rooms to DVC accommodations - the rooms tend to be a little funky in layout and are smaller than a traditional DVC room; they also do not have a view selection option - most views are mediocre. You need to be online at 8 am the day your 11-month booking window opens in order to get these rooms, but they are MUCH lower points than traditional rooms. This category is great for families who want a larger room but for fewer points. 
  • Kilimanjaro Club Level rooms (Jambo side only!) are on the top floor of the Jambo side, and all DVC club rooms overlook the lobby.  There are only 5 studios and 5 1BRs (which combine to create up to 5 2BR units) available for DVC members.  There are also Club Level rooms available for cash bookings.  I'll talk more about the benefits of Club Bookings later, but like with Value rooms, unless you have AKL as your home resort and book at exactly 8 am at 11 months, don't expect to secure this room level. 
  • Standard rooms (both sides) look out at parking lots, grassy areas, pools, etc. If you don't spend a lot of time in your room, this is a great point-saving booking option.  We book Standard rooms for our short stays since we tend to spend most of those in parks or at pools.  There are many viewing places around both sides of the resorts so you can see animals from the public spaces. 
  • Savanna View rooms (both sides) lookout on one of several savannas.  More on which savannas I prefer to request is covered later.  If you spend a lot of time in the room, I highly consider booking this room level.  Stays of 5 days or longer, we often consider a Savanna view since we tend to have at least 1 resort only day on those trips.
  • A note about "2 bedroom lock-offs".  At Kidani you have a choice of 2 bedrooms - a "dedicated 2 BR" and a "lock-off 2 BR".  On the Jambo side, they only offer a "lock-off 2BR".  A lock-off is a studio and 1BR that adjoin. These rooms have 2 exterior access doors and a door between the living room and 2nd bedroom (studio) that locks.  The studio side will have a queen bed and a sleeper sofa as well as a kitchenette.  In a dedicated 2BR (only on Kidani side), the unit was designed as a 2BR and has only 1 exterior access door.  The 2nd bedroom has 2 queen beds, rather than 1 queen with a sleeper sofa, and does not have a kitchenette.  Remember that this unit will also have three bathrooms (one attached to each bedroom and one off the living room).  If you have young children I highly encourage you to select a dedicated 2BR as there is no exterior access door out of that bedroom.
Savannas:image3
 
There are a total of 4 separate savannas at AKL, two unique to Jambo, 1 unique to Kidani, and one that both resorts share. 
 
On the Jambo side, all three savannas may have giraffes present. You'll see more birds on the Arusha savanna and more small deer-like animals (Kudo, Bongo, Gazelles) on the Uzima savanna.  Sunset savanna, which is common with Kidani, has the most animals of all and is my preferred view.  
 
On the Kidani side, you'll look at either Sunset savanna (see above), or Pembe savanna, which is the only viewing area for the elusive (and adorable!) Okapi.  There are no giraffes in the Pembe savanna area.
 
I know I said this above, but springing for the Savanna view is many more points, so I only encourage you to book this if you plan to spend a lot of time in the room.  Note that after dark the savanna is not lit up, so if you are in the room after dark only, you won't be able to take advantage of the views.
 
Special note for those who seek Club Level bookings:
Club level bookings are a big selling point for people considering AKL as their home resort.  They are the hardest reservation of all to secure because there are so few Club Level DVC rooms.  If you want to be able to stay Club Level using DVC points, AKL is your only option.  
 
FOOD:
Please know that with Covid-19 I would be SHOCKED if some of the Club Level food offerings don't change.  But as of January 2020, these were the food options:
  • Macheo, or "sunrise" offerings from 6:30-7 am, includes light pastries and coffee/tea.
  • Miamko, or breakfast, starts at 7 am and continues to 10:30 am.  You'll find an assortment of mostly cold food options (bagels, muffins, assorted breads, fruit, etc.) but 1-2 hot items, usually oatmeal and an eggy casserole.  This is often an insanely busy time in the lounge - we often can not find seating and have to take plates back to our room.  The lounge is also loud during this time, so if you are a light sleeper, expect this may wake you. 
  • Vitafunio, which is lunch, is served from 11:30 am-3 pm.  This is my favorite offering.  It includes salads, spreads, bread and crackers, lunch meats, fruits and vegetables with dip, and some incredible soup offerings.  It's easy to make a meal of this buffet, and because of the large serving window, it is rarely crowded. 
  • Chai is served from 3-4:30, which includes spiced tea and scones. So yummy but dangerous because sometimes I fill up on scones before a dinner reservation!
  • Kisikusiku, or dinner, is available from 5-7 pm, and it includes many of the same offerings at lunch, with additional small plates served by chefs right in the lounge.  This meal can very crowded or totally empty, depending on the weather.  When it's a rainy evening, expect the lounge to fill up and remain full.
  • Rehema, late-night desserts, is served from 8-10 pm, and there are also cordials, beer, and wine out for self-service.  I find the dessert selection uninspired myself, but people with small kids might like it.  
  • Also note that there is an Espresso machine available all the time, along with a cooler with cold drinks (and yogurt in the morning), and dispensers with iced tea and Jambo juice most of the day.  The waitstaff is also available to get your beer, wine, and cocktails throughout the day.
 
SERVICE
  • If you use Magical Express to get to the resort they will be waiting for you outside when you arrive with a sign bearing your name.  If you come by car, I find they are only ready for you half the time.  If no one is waiting for you you'll need to have the front desk call for you to announce your arrival unless you've checked in online, in which case your Magic Band should work in the elevator.
  • You'll bypass lobby check-in and head up to the 6th floor.  You need to scan your Magic Band for access to Club Level in the elevator (floor 6).  Once there you will find two host stations and someone will offer you a drink (I highly recommend the Jambo Juice Mimosa). You'll get a welcome gift (granola) and be given a tour if you'd like.  If your room isn't ready you can leave your luggage by the desk and relax in the lounge until your room is ready, or head off to parks.  I've never had to wait past 2 pm for my room when staying Club Level.
  • You'll get a special number to text if you need anything during your stay.  They can help you change or make dining reservations, book tours (subject to availability), get directions, and more. One of our favorite benefits is that they will ship items home when you run out of room for all the things you've bought!
  • You can use the pre-planning options to have Club Concierge staff book your dining reservations and your Fastpasses.  At the time of this writing, you could buy 3 extra Fastpasses per day if you were staying Club Level.  The charge was $50 per person per day, a three-day minimum.  Note that they will also book your regular Fastpasses for you, so while it takes time it can be super helpful to use this service.  Some say they will call you to ask if you'd like that done - I always have had to call them.
image0
 
How we use our points:
I always book our trips at 11 months. I know some people don't mind last minute bookings, but for me, I like knowing I have a guaranteed room.  I log in at 7:50 am and confirm availability.  Then I go back to the beginning, select the room I want, and at *exactly* 8 am I click the "book" button.  I only enter 1 person for the reservation so I don't waste time.  Using this method I have been able to book my desired room 100% of the time.  I have booked every room size and every room level, including value and club level.  Note that I don't travel on holidays ever, so that may be a part of my perfect success rate.  The first time you play with the system I highly recommend you go through the booking process as a practice, without clicking the final "confirm" option.  

Overall, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a great home resort option for people who:
  • Want a variety of room types and views
  • Want very low point room booking options
  • Want to stay Club Level on DVC points
  • Want a home resort that is both relaxing and full of opportunities for learning and cultural exploration
  • Enjoy having park free visits to WDW.
  • Have young children
  • Drive to visit WDW and want easy access to their car for the duration of their vacation.

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