We were fortunate enough to make another fantastic visit to Walt Disney World recently! If you haven’t already seen them, I’ve blogged several times about Dining at Walt Disney World, Saratoga Springs, the Yacht Club & Polynesian Hotels, and more! I’ve spoken about my love for Animal Kingdom Lodge, and was excited to finally get to stay there this trip and try some new dining destinations as well.
The amazing Animal Kingdom Lodge Savannah
I can’t say enough about the beauty of this hotel… the ambiance is incredible, from the greeters at the door (all who come from different parts of Africa), the tall peaked ceilings in the lobby, the gorgeous pool area, and of course the large savannas where you can view all kinds of animals. We were blessed with a one bedroom villa, which comes with a full living area, kitchen, washer/dryer, and best of all a large balcony with Savannah views! We spent much of our time just enjoying the savanna, where zebras, giraffes, long horned cattle, gazelle, wildebeest, ostriches, storks, and more roamed freely literally yards from us just below our balcony! It was absolutely incredible, and a truly magical addition to our experience. I highly recommend splurging on this type of room – however, I would recommend it for those who do NOT want to spend all their time in the parks, or especially for people who have visited WDW before and are more open to downtime and time at the hotel itself. Alternatively, it’s a place that works great for a split stay – with part of your stay more centrally located amongst 3 of the 4 theme parks that’s more “action packed”, followed with a more low key stay at AKL that has more down time and more time at Animal Kingdom park. The pool has a great little slide, the Ulu Bar is fantastic (love the Cast here), two separate private hot tubs, and a play area nearby – we didn’t even get to Simba’s Playhouse, one of the drop off child activity centers on WDW property, or Pumbaa’s Arcade. It is a great spot for those who want to spend lots of time at the Animal Kingdom Theme Park , only a 5-10 minute bus ride away. However, it’s a good 20-25 minute ride (at minimum, depending on driver switches and detours) to the other theme parks, which can be frustrating.
Love the lobby at AKL!
Kitchen – One Bedroom Villa
Simba is everywhere ❤
Flamingos and Giraffes right across from the pool
Incredible savanna views from the balcony
On the note of transportation, the addition of bus times at the hotel bus stops, as well as the WDW My Disney Experience App, is very handy. The app will tell you the estimated arrival of a next bus to a given theme park, as well as the estimated arrival time at the park itself. Unfortunately, the science is not perfect, as they cannot predict any additional loading time for scooters, driver changes, or occasionally a change in route to a park. On the same note, the same information is not available for those who are returning from the theme parks – if you’re in line at a bus stop at Hollywood Studios, there’s no indication of when the next bus will arrive, and hence when you’ll get back to your resort. We dined up with two bus rides that took almost an hour with waiting/delays and it can be very frustrating. This is not an issue at some of the closer and more central Resorts to the parks, which is again why AKL is ideal for those wanting to stay in that general area as opposed to lots of theme park time. We had a great experience with using a Minnie Van on one of our Return trips, which was easy to request and then meet up with at a designated pick up location. This does let you know their estimated arrival time and estimated drive time to your destination, and is a much less frustrating experience – the cars/vans are clean, the Cast Members are great, and carseats are provided for kids! 🙂 However, it is a $20 charge to use the Minnie Van service, so definitely something that needs to be budgeted and planned for ahead of time. I would recommend using a Minnie Van if you have any urgency to get to your destination whatsoever – including dining, Fast Pass deadlines, etc to avoid stress. Otherwise, budget at good 1-1.5 hours for your bus ride to be safe 😉
Minnie Vans are a great time saver!
So on the note of dining – let’s start with the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot! This was our first time experiencing a “taste” 😉 of this event and it’s fantastic! All of the countries and cuisine represented, not to mention the sweet treats and cocktails/wines – just wow! One could easily spend an entire vacation enjoying this festival and all it has to offer – even the bands and music they bring in are phenomenal! I do advise that there is a bit more of a “party” scene with this event – lots of people with themed T-Shirts (like the clever “Just Keep Drinking” Nemo shirts, or “Hakuna Moscato – it means more wine) that are lots of fun, but definitely increase the intoxication levels not to mention the crowds. There were moments of “whoa, is this Disney or the Vegas strip” during our visit, but we were also there one of the last weekend nights (lots of locals out) – though I’m happy to say things calmed down later in the evening and it was much more pleasant! I’d definitely recommend experiencing this, but perhaps during the week or on a less popular weekend when it’s a bit less of a party scene especially if you have kiddos.
Love the Epcot Food and Wine Festival!
When it comes to sit down dining, we had three great experiences at Sanaa, Restaurant Marakkesh, and Yak ‘n Yeti. All of these are restaurants that are far less competitive to get into than some of the more popular ‘big names’ on the extensive WDW dining list, and they were all really nice meals and good experiences! We started off with Sanaa, located in Kidani Village of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and a great place to have dinner on the night we arrived. This is a hidden treasure in my opinion – less popular than Jiko or Boma, which we also loved, and a different type of cooking style (more Indian than African) but still tasty! The bread appetizer is a meal in itself, with upwards of 8 different toppings/salsas to try, and tons of different native breads and delicacies. The cocktail menu is large as well, though we settled on a flight of 3 South African wines which were all very tasty! For our entrees, I had lamb kabobs which were tasty and some top Mediterranean style cuisine! My husband had butter chicken with coconut curry, which was also delicious. The service was superb and the ambiance, while a bit noisy, was festive and fun. We’d definitely come back here. Jiko is still our favorite of the three AKL restaurants, but Boma and Sanaa come in at close seconds :-).
Bread plate – so good
Our dinner in Epcot could probably have been done at the Food and Wine booths alone, but we wanted to try Restaurant Marakkesh in the beautiful Morocco pavilion. Again, this place is fairy easy to get into, but we think it’s a hidden secret – no really, it is literally quite hidden at the back of the pavilion, and I think many passers by don’t have a clue it’s there. The restaurant was quiet when we arrived around 545, but filled up nicely by the later dinner hours. Again, a great cocktail and wine menu (we went for native Moroccan red wines, very tasty!) and super service. Perhaps the highlight here is the native music and a live belly dancer! What fun – they even bring the kids in on the action! Once again I had kabobs (a theme apparently! 🙂 ) but this time they were beef tenderloin and oh so tasty. My husband had beef cous cous, which came topped with an egg and was also delicious. Once again, a place I’d definitely recommend checking out for something different on your vacation, especially if everything else is crowded.
Our final meal was before heading to the airport, and it was a great lunch at Yak n Yeti inside Animal Kingdom’s Asia area. Yak n’ Yeti is actually a Landry’s restaurant, so if you have a Landry’s card (it’s free to sign up), you get priority seating in the stand by line and also get $25 off your first meal! This is also true at T-Rex in Disney Springs and Rainforest Cafe, so it’s something to keep in mind when planning out your dining! I highly recommend doing this to save some cash and hopefully get in even if all reservations are taken. The cuisine is Asian though definitely a blend of styles, not focusing on any one region. We shared some awesome ahi tuna nachos, and then shared pork-belly as well. It was plenty of food and the perfect way to end a great trip!
Amazing nachos and cocktails at Yak n Yeti
My favorite part about all of these locations is that they were more traditional menus, versus the family style dining that has become very common at WDW – this isn’t bad either, but it’s nice to be able to mix it up 🙂 . Whatever your palate or taste, there’s plenty of dining options at WDW and I’m happy to help you decide and plan your stay! The same goes for your hotel – whether you want something in the center of the action or more set away with the beautiful savannas of the African plains like Animal Kingdom Lodge, I’m here to guide you and help take care of all your planning needs! No matter what, you’ll have a magical time and make some pretty awesome memories! 🙂