Staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village Orlando 2021

Staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Kidani Village (Orlando 2021)

Posted January 28, 2022 by Amber in Around the World / 2 Comments

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Disney’s Walt Disney World resort has a dozen different on-site hotels to choose from and they are all themed and interesting. Growing up, my aunt and uncle were Disney people and they used to stay at the Polynesian Resort next to Magic Kingdom. I was close to my aunt and always wanted to stay there as well. However, they were smart. They got into the Disney Vacation Club years ago (and have since given up). In the interim, prices for the Polynesian have skyrocketed. While I still dream of one day staying in my aunt’s favorite place, we set our sights on a different Disney deluxe resort… one that was a little more affordable.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Before I go any further into talking about this hotel, I’m going to warn you. Disney’s deluxe hotels are obtusely expensive. Animal Kingdom Lodge had been a goal for nearly a decade before we went, and even then, we could only justify four days as an add-on to our planned trip to Universal. Since the Animal Kingdom Resort area is a bit further out than the other hotels, it’s the least expensive deluxe hotel at Disney World Resort. I would also argue that is has some of the coolest features, and not even COVID could put a damper on those.

My goal in this post is to share the resort with you and help you decide if this is a hotel you’d like to stay at, or if you’re better off at a moderate or budget hotel. We aren’t even going to consider the inclusive Galactic Star Cruiser hotel because… even as a Star Wars fan honestly that’s ridiculous. It’s so expensive only the 1% could justify it.

Anyway. On to the Animal Kingdom Lodge!

The Resort

Apologies for the poor photo – I’m working with an iPhone XS (on high zoom, in this case) when I go to Disney because it’s a bit much to lug around a DSLR at the parks.

I’m going to jump right into the good stuff here. I don’t know what reasons other folks have for staying at this relatively remote hotel, but I know what our reason was… the savannah. Animal Kingdom Lodge is built right around the edge of a savannah and redounding on your room, you could open the curtains in the morning and find yourself looking out at a giraffe having breakfast.

Not our room. Staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge was already a major undertaking, so we settled for going down to the observation areas on the first floor to watch the beautiful animals. Instead, our room had a striking view of the parking lot and the swamp beyond. Which was okay, because we didn’t spend too much time in our room, and even just having the balcony was really nice.

The observation areas at this resort are amazing. You can always see an animal somewhere, and it takes your breath away just to watch them. Inside I know – I know – it’s better if they were in their natural habitats. I also know that as far as zoos go, Disney is far from the worst. I very selfish part of me is so enamored by watching these animals that I think I very well could have skipped the parks and just watched the savannah all day.

Animal Kingdom Lodge has a lot of interesting offerings – normally. There are nighttime safaris and rides on the savannah and campfires and more. Since we went while the COVID-19 pandemic was still a concern (and it still is), for the safety of cast members and guests, none of these things were available. That would be piece of advice #1 from me – if you’re planning to go to this hotel and want to get the absolute most it can offer, wait until the pandemic is under better control and these activities are deemed safe enough to resume.

The Room

Now let’s talk about the room itself.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Animal Kingdom Lodge feels outdated. From the tiles in the bathroom to the color choices in the decor to the obvious wear and tear on the wood furniture… this hotel has seen better days. In comparison to Port Orleans Riverside (where we stayed in 2018), it was hard to believe this was a deluxe hotel. I will give a little leniency to COVID for maybe altering a few minor touches, but compared to the Universal hotel we came from and our experience in another Disney resort, this did not meet expectations at all.

Between the general feeling that the hotel was dated and the lack of any of Disney’s signature special touches (not even a Mickey head soap dispenser in the bathroom) I strongly felt as though Animal Kingdom Lodge is not worth its steep price tag. And, yes, I know that it’s the least expensive of the deluxe resort hotels, but there’s only one reason to pay the extra to stay here vs. one of the moderate hotels, especially since it’s so far away from three out of the four parks: it’s the savannah.

If you’re really going to spend the time at the resort itself and take in everything it has to offer (when it is offering those things at all), then Animal Kingdom Lodge may be fun. If it’s more of a stopping place between days at the parks, then save your money and pick a different resort. The room really isn’t worth it.

A Few More Things…

At any special hotel, there are always a few things that make it extra special… or not? I wanted to make sure I touched upon those.

The Cast

Something I noticed frequently not just at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but also at the parks is that the staff is clearly unhappy. Our bellhop was super friendly and lovely, but all the magic was otherwise missing. I don’t blame the staff at all – if the staff at an institution is unhappy, there’s usually a bigger reasons, especially when it’s so universal. The service was prompt, things were communicated clearly, and the room was kept clean (although we had no trash bucket the first day?). Everything was technically fine but for those who’ve been at Disney before, it’s clear that something wasn’t quite right. And I wanted to mention it because I think it’s important – be kind to the staff if you’re heading to Disney right now because either the majority of the guests or the higher ups are not treating them as well as they deserve.

Sanaa

Animal Kingdom Lodge plays host to the restaurant Sanaa, which I’m sure you’ve heard of if you watch Disney experts on YouTube. While we won’t be having dinner there until our trip in February (Disney resort restaurants are open to anyone), the breakfast at Sanaa was delicious – much tastier than I expected. I’ll touch more on this in the food posts, but it’s worth noting that the rumors are true. Yum!

Hotel Benefits

While most Disney hotel benefits have been slowly chipped away over the last two years, there are a few that still remain, and one that is completely exclusive to deluxe resorts.

Booking at a regular Disney hotel gives you the benefit of free transportation two other hotels, the parks, and Disney Springs. Depending on the time of day and your resort, the bus system is either wonderful or frustration – at Animal Kingdom Lodge, it’s fantastic. Buses come on a very regular schedule and there is always plenty of room to sit on them. At this hotel, buses are the only mode of provided transportation, although depending on the hotel there may be transportation by monorail, boat, or skyway as well.

Another benefit of booking a Disney hotel are early park hours. At the time of writing, these are available for any Disney hotel guest. They allow you to get into the park thirty minutes before anyone else. If you’re planning on taking advantage of this, it’s important to note that the entire park may not be open (for example, at Magic Kingdom we were only able to access Tomorrowland and Fantasyland). It’s really surprising how much queue time this can save, depending on who you are and what you want to do. Waits for Seven Dwarfs Mine train were between 20 and 30 minutes for those early arrivers (usually, the wait is two hours). For ourselves, we had a 15min. wait for Peter Pan’s Flight (usually 60min. and up) and walked on to It’s a Small World. Even though it’s not a whole lot of extra time, depending n your park this makes a big difference.

Unique to deluxe hotels, certain nights have extended hours in the parks. While we were there, EPCOT and Magic Kingdom both had extended hours – we took advantage of EPCOT. In the extra two hours after Harmonious ended, we were able to ride Frozen Ever After, Test Track, and Mission Space. We probably could have done more, except we’d been in the park for sixteen hours and our feet hurt. Definitely recommend taking advantage of these free extended hours.

In Conclusion

There are still some good benefits to staying at a Disney hotel – the extended hours are really good if you have the energy to take advantage of them. We’re going to be staying at a Disney resort again in February – this time at Caribbean Beach (a moderate hotel). They are a little pricy, but you save about 30min. in commute time to some of the parks.

That said, I’m pretty sure I will never stay at a Deluxe Hotel again unless something changes. I know they’ve recently remodeled the Polynesian and Contemporary Resorts but honestly… I’m happy staying anywhere on property because I know that technically the resorts are open and available to everyone so unless the room is something you’re really excited about or if you’re a Disney Vacation Club member (we are not), don’t bother with the deluxe hotels. The rooms aren’t that much better than the moderate hotels and I’ll argue the room at Animal Kingdom Lodge was less impressive than Port Orleans Riverside.

The savannah, however, is magical. If you’re in the area, swing by for a close up look at some of the animals, or grab a meal at Sanaa!

send me your thoughts

Have you stayed at a Disney hotel?

If so, which one? And did you enjoy it? If not – would you?

Share with me in the comments!

stay magical amber

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2 responses to “Staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Kidani Village (Orlando 2021)

  1. I’ve always been curious to stay at AKL!! We visited once just to check out the hotel and it’s so stunning with the lobby, restaurants, savannah, etc., but we’ll probably wait to actually stay there until they renovate their rooms! We have stayed at the Wilderness Lodge (also one of the cheaper Deluxe resorts on par with AKL price wise) and we were VERY impressed!

    • Amber

      I’ve been to the Wilderness Lodge for breakfast once! XD I’d say that YES, for now, hold off on AKL because you can get the best of it by just visiting. And the restaurants are tasty, so it’s worth visiting! I think if we stay at a Deluxe resort again, it’ll either be Polynesian or Boardwalk But I also don’t think we spend enough time at the hotel to really justify the cost? Still, I do LOVE the theming!