Stretch your “three-week safari” into at least a few days by booking your next Disney vacation at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Blending authentic African tribal flavor with majestic East African national-park lodges, the deluxe resort offers warm tones, stunning vistas and lots of magical freebies.
Open Your Eyes
Every single public area (and many of the rooms) in the Lodge offers breathtaking views of the resort’s acre wildlife preserve, home to more than 200 animals. Head to any of the outdoor public areas, and you can take a closer look with the free binoculars provided by Disney or figure out what you’re looking at with the animal viewing guides available in all rooms (or at the front desk). Even better, there are constantly cast members on hand—often visiting from Africa—to talk with you about the animals … or anything else you want to know.
Open Your Mouth
Animal Kingdom Lodge is pretty famous for their delicious—and pricey—restaurants. What’s less well-known is that the resort offers guests an opportunity to explore the flavors of Africa during free tours of Boma, Sanaa and Jiko! In addition to a quick tour of the dining rooms, which are absolutely amazing and well-themed, guests are often treated to a delicious treat from the restaurant (usually bread and dips). Tours start at 4 p.m. most days, but as always, check at Concierge for up-to-the-minute information.
Open Your Mind
The resort offers a variety of other opportunities to learn about the culture of Africa. Just taking a spin around the lobby is a quick, easy way to learn about the art and culture of the continent, but there are other, more organized ways to learn more, too. Each night (check at concierge for times), guests gather around the campfire at Arusha Rock (right outside the main lobby) for storytelling. As I mentioned above, there are also cast members wandering the savanna viewing spots, and they’re more than willing to talk with you about their home. (I remember one evening in particular when my husband and a cast member got into a lengthy conversation about cartoons in Africa. Yes, for real.)
Open Your Wallet
Every Disney resort has a shop, of course, but the Zawadi Marketplace at Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of my all-time favorite places to shop in Disney World. You’ve got your standard Disney-themed trinkets and tee-shirts, but the shop also offers a variety of authentic African artworks, textiles and other souvenirs, like beautiful hand-woven baskets and hand-carved figurines. They’re not “free” to take home, but no one will ever charge you for browsing this museum-quality store.
Melissa Sue works in higher education communications in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband Robert, a secondary school teacher, and her cavapoo George (as in King George). Melissa began visiting Disney World when she was six and today owns a piece of the magic at Bay Lake Tower. She blogs at Mouse on the Mind and tweets @msorrellsgalley. She’ll be contributing money-saving tips to The Affordable Mouse.