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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Review & Rating

Animal Kingdom Lodge for Families with Sensitive & Anxious Kids

Are you considering staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge with your highly sensitive, sensory sensitive, or anxious kids? 

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Figuring out lodging for your Disney World trip is one of the harder (and expensive!) decisions you have to make. And if your kids are anything like mine, it can be a struggle to leave home and be able to sleep well in an unfamiliar place. That really puts the pressure on when it comes to choosing a hotel, doesn’t it?!

If you’re thinking about staying on property, it helps to know that Disney hotels are divided into these categories:
– Deluxe Villas
– Deluxe Resorts
– Moderate Resorts
– Value Resorts

Animal Kingdom Lodge General Information

Animal Kingdom Lodge falls under the “Deluxe” category, and it includes both regular resort rooms (which are like standard hotel rooms), and villas (which are more spacious accommodations and fall under Disney’s timeshare program—Disney Vacation Club). This definitely means you’ll be shelling out a good chunk of change to stay here. 

The African theming and unique savanna views make this a stand-out hotel for many guests. There really isn’t anything else at WDW that compares.

This Disney hotel is located in the Animal Kingdom theme park area, so it’s a short bus ride away for your AK day. 

There are two separate sections of Animal Kingdom Lodge: Jambo House and Kidani Village

AKL Jambo House is the “original” location, which opened first in 2002, and houses a mix of regular hotel rooms and villas. It is known for its spectacular lobby! 

AKL Kidani Village on the other hand is comprised of villas only and opened in 2009. It’s a little smaller and cozier. 

The two sections are walkable, but they also offer an internal shuttle. If you stay here, you have access to amenities in BOTH sections, so don’t forget to take advantage of that! 

With that background info, let’s get into the nitty gritty details. Is it worth it to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge with your sensitive or anxious kids? Let’s look at some factors to help you decide whether or not this hotel is a good choice for your family.

Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Proximity to Parks 3/5

Proximity to the Disney theme parks is important when you have highly sensitive children or especially young children. The parks can be overstimulating and overwhelming. So, there will be some days where it will be 100% necessary for your family’s well-being to go back to the hotel, take a nap, find some quiet, or go for a dip in the pool. Being closer to the parks makes it easier to take that needed midday break.

At the same time, being too close to the parks can make it hard to feel like you’re actually getting away from the hustle and bustle. 

I give this a score of 3, because Animal Kingdom Lodge is NOT walking distance to any parks. This can make it a little more challenging to go back to the hotel for a midday break. 

As mentioned earlier, it is located closest to Animal Kingdom theme park but it is still only accessible by bus. Bus transportation is the only option to get to the other Disney World theme parks as well.

Buses are one of the least ideal modes of Disney transportation for highly sensitive or sensory sensitive kids, since it can be crowded and loud. It’s also less convenient as it usually takes a little longer than other types of Disney transportation.

However, Animal Kingdom Lodge is definitely a quieter resort. While it is fairly close to Animal Kingdom theme park, you don’t have to worry about hearing any nighttime fireworks from your room.

You really get that feeling of reprieve from the craziness of the parks once you get to this resort. That’s a very different experience compared to being at any of the monorail resorts or the Epcot area resorts. 

Uncomfortable Rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge 2/5

When our family travels, I make a conscious effort to create a separate sleeping space for my sensory sensitive kids. Sensory or anxious children thrive off routines, so having their own beds is a priority for us! I even travel with a toddler size inflatable mattress if I know there aren’t enough beds for us all.

As mentioned already, Animal Kingdom Lodge has both Disney Vacation Club villas and regular resort rooms. Disney Vacation Club is Disney’s timeshare program (which we are members of!) but anyone can book rooms in this category. You can also save a little money by renting DVC points directly from DVC members or through a DVC rental agency like David’s.

If its possible with your budget, I highly recommend staying in a DVC villa room. Why? I like to recreate the sense of “home” as much as possible. The DVC 1-bedrooms, 2-bedrooms, and 3-bedroom grand villas provide that home-like atmosphere with in-unit laundry, a full size kitchen, and just a whole lot more space. 

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village in particular has TWO full bathrooms in their 1-bedroom units, and THREE full bathrooms in their 2-bedroom units. If you’ve got multiple potty-trained kids, it is SO helpful to have extra bathrooms. This can make a huge difference if you’ve got sensitive or anxious kids in your family.

Not only can you have dedicated sleeping spaces for your kids, if you’ve got picky eaters, it helps SO much to have a full size refrigerator. We always order some groceries to be delivered and we’ll do a a lot of our breakfasts in our room. It also reduces that feeling of the “morning rush” if you have these kinds of amenities in your room. 

Having this DVC villa option at Animal Kingdom Lodge really makes the rooms feel way more comfortable.

But, the theming could be a little overwhelming for some. The colors used in the rooms and the hotel overall are very dark and earthy, with lots of wood tones. The doors are dark brown, the kitchen appliances are all black, the bed frames are dark wood, etc. If your family prefers a more bright, fresh, or colorful ambiance, this may not be the choice for you.

Crowdedness at Animal Kingdom Lodge 1/5

Animal Kingdom Lodge is definitely not a crowded resort! Because its a little bit off-the-beaten-path, you won’t find swarms of people here.

It definitely feels secluded and quiet, compared to many other Disney World hotels. The Kidani Village section in particular has a cozy feel to it, and besides visitors coming to dine at Sanaa, you’ll only really see other hotel guests. 

The way the rooms are laid out (ie. the long, seemingly endless hallways) also makes Animal Kingdom Lodge feel much less crowded.

There are a lot of animal viewing areas throughout the resort, which are never crowded either. My family totally felt a sense of peacefulness and calm while staying here, and it was especially a big hit for my introverted animal-loving daughter. 

Lack of Amenities at Animal Kingdom Lodge 1/5

As mentioned earlier, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe level resort. So that means you’ll find a LOT of amenities here. I will even say that Animal Kingdom Lodge would be an amazing place to stay if you’re planning to spend a lot of time at at the resort vs. the theme parks. I know there are many folks who plan resort-only visits and stay here for their trips.

Pools

You can find two swimming pools at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Uzima Springs Pool is located on the Jambo House section, and is the larger of the two swimming pools at 11,000 square feet. It got a zero-depth entry area, perfect for the little ones, and 67 foot long water slide. You’ll have plenty of space to spread out, and you don’t have to go far to find food as there’s a pool bar AND you also super close to The Mara (AKL’s quick service restaurant). 

Samawati Springs Pool is found in the Kidani Village part of Animal Kingdom Lodge. While it’s smaller than Uzima Springs (4,700 square feet), it has A LOT going for it! There is a pretty extensive splash pad/water playground called Uwanja Camp, which is beloved by many AKL loyalists. Little ones can climb through cargo crates, and play in gentle bubbling geyser and shallow cistern pool. Slightly bigger kids will enjoy a leaky water tower and sneaky squirting flowers, as well as spraying each other with water cannons. 

Make sure to find your resort recreation schedule, which is updated monthly. It will include events such as pool games, Mickey tie-dye shirts, and trivia time. 

Dining

There is a plethora of dining options as well. 

On the Jambo side, you’ll find Boma—a buffet style restaurant with both African inspired dishes and standard American fare. Jiko is a signature restaurant also in the Jambo House section. Signature dining in Disney-speak means extra “fancy”, fine dining, which tends to be more expensive. While the Disney Dining Plan isn’t in effect yet, signature dining requires two dining credits (vs. one for standard table service restaurants). Jambo House also has The Mara as its quick service dining option. Cape Town Lounge and Victoria Falls Lounge are two bars in Jambo where you can get drinks and small bites.

Your choices are a little more limited in Kidani Village. Sanaa is a table service restaurant where you can actually see the animals roaming the savanna while you eat! The bread service with a variety of dips is VERY popular, and reservations are highly recommended. During our visit in October 2022, Sanaa also offered breakfast in a quick service style—where you order at the counter, you pick any seat, and they bring the food out to you. There are also some simple eats at the Maji Pool Bar, right next to the Samawati Springs Pool. 

Don’t be intimidated by some of the menus here! You will be able to find something for everyone at Animal Kingdom Lodge. From your adventurous eaters to the pickiest little ones. 

Playgrounds

In addition, you’ll find awesome playgrounds for your kiddos. I highly recommend planning a rest day at your hotel. And if you’re staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, make sure you schedule in some time for your kids to let loose in the playground! If your sensitive or anxious child is okay with loud noises and flashing lights, the arcades are another fun option for your non-park day.

Community Hall

Another wonderful amenity you’ll find at many of the Disney Vacation Club resorts is a community hall. You’ll often find these close to the lobby. The one at AKL is located just a few steps away from the Kidani Village lobby. The activities at each community hall may differ slightly. But generally speaking, they will have games, DVDs and board games to borrow, coloring sheets, and crafts (at an additional cost). The one at Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village had a foosball table, a box of MegaBloks and other toddler-friendly toys, and a pool table. It was never too busy when we were there! If coloring, doing a craft, or playing a board game helps your kids decompress, I suggest making a stop at one if the Disney hotel you’re staying at has one!

Other resorts with community halls include:
Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
– Boardwalk Villas
– Old Key West Resort
– Riviera Resort
– Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

Noise Level at Animal Kingdom Lodge 1/5

Another thing to consider when deciding where to stay during your Disney World vacation is the noise level! This is especially true if you’ve got kids who are sensitive to lots of auditory stimulation. 

Animal Kingdom Lodge is such a quiet and peaceful hotel compared to other Disney hotels! Because of all the savannas surrounding the property with animals, there is a lot of effort to make sure the animals are not disturbed. You also don’t have to worry about hearing any nighttime shows or fireworks from your hotel room. AKL is located closest to Animal Kingdom theme park, and they do NOT have any fireworks due to the animals. It is too far from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios to be able to see or hear any of their firework shows.

Some families may WANT to stay closer to the action and be able to watch fireworks from their balcony (read: Contemporary for Magic Kingdom fireworks or Beach Club for Epcot fireworks). But that isn’t always the case if you’ve got sensory sensitive kids who benefit from getting completely away from all the action.

Theming 3/5

Disney is ALL about theming. There is so much thought put into every detail on all the rides and attractions in the parks. The same holds true for their hotels as well!

The theming at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is so unique! It is themed after a South African wildlife reserve lodge. The roof looks like its made from straw, and you’ll see tons of African art and cultural pieces throughout the entire hotel. 

Savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Of course, one of the major draws of Animal Kingdom Lodge is the beautiful savanna. There are over 200 animals that live on these grounds, and there really is no shortage of seeing them throughout your stay. They even provide you with a wildlife field guide so you can learn more about the animals you are seeing! 

There are so many different viewing areas, and even large windows in the long hallways, so that no matter where you are, you can keep an eye out for your favorite animals. Giraffes, zebras, ankole cattle, and gazelles were some of the animals we got to see. 

If you’ve ever watched the documentary series on Disney+ called The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, they had a feature on an Abyssinian ground hornbill named Cassanova. One of our highlights was seeing him from the balcony of room, and a cast member with him chatting with us about him! It felt like we were seeing an (animal) celebrity! 😉

However, the theming might not be for everyone. As mentioned before, the colors throughout the entire resort are very dark, earthy, and filled with wood tones. This is to accurately reflect that African lodge atmosphere. It is possible that it could feel too dark for some sensitive or anxious kids. Some of the African artwork and sculptures displayed throughout could also appear “scary” to kids who scare very easily. You know your child and your family best, so it’s really a personal judgment call!

Total 11/30

How do we understand the rating? A lower score means less sensory overload while staying at this resort, while a higher score means a greater likelihood of being overwhelmed and overstimulated.

If you want a more quiet, secluded experience while at your hotel, Animal Kingdom Lodge would be a GREAT choice for you. It would also be ideal for families who love wildlife and appreciate the unique theming of this hotel. The DVC (Disney Vacation Club) rooms in particular are so spacious and comfortable, and all the dining and pool options can’t be beaten. AKL also tends to be on the more “affordable” end of the spectrum when it comes to deluxe level resorts. 

But if it’s more of a priority to be closer to theme parks so that you can easily take breaks, Animal Kingdom Lodge doesn’t quite fit the bill there. The only Disney transportation offered here is the bus system. While it does the job, there are definitely other hotels with more pleasant or interesting transportation options—the monorail, the boats, the Skyliner, and your own two feet. 

Honestly, I actually LOVED our experience at Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village, and would hands-down stay here again. I feel like we appreciated it more because:
– we’ve got a major animal lover in our family,
– multiple rest days were planned on our trip
– our family opted not to take midday breaks at the hotel (therefore not having to stress about bus transportation)
– we are all pretty adventuresome eaters so the unique food options were a hit!

Image includes text that reads Pros and Cons of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Under pros: quiet and peaceful, unique cultural theming, lots of dining options, animal viewing on the savannas, has DVC (Disney Vacation Club). Under cons: not walking distance to any parks, very dark throughout, menus may seem too adventurous for some, no nighttime shows nearby, expensive compared to value level.

What has YOUR experience been at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge? Are you considering staying there on your trip to Walt Disney World? Do you think Animal Kingdom Lodge will be a good choice for your highly sensitive, sensory sensitive, or anxious kids kids?

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