Saturday, February 28, 2015

Disney Reviews Resort Edition #9: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

Our last trip was scheduled at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but because we added an extra day, we ended up for one night at Port Orleans Riverside. After the fiasco that was Riverside, I was never so happy to see the following:
Before I start, I should warn you that I did a really crappy job taking pictures of AKL. I don't know if it was because we arrived tired, or because it rained the entire trip or what, so please forgive the crappy quality of some of these. I kept them because they show things I wanted to remember. I'm really kicking myself about it now, especially since I probably won't be staying there again.

Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort, albeit a low end deluxe, pretty much on par with my personal favorite, Wilderness Lodge. But, depending on your room choice, it can get extremely pricey at AKL, especially if you want to see the good animals outside your room. We'll get to the room in a minute, but let's first get to the resort. A lot of the deluxes are very well themed, with native plants and decorations scattered everywhere, including outside, and they do a good job of hiding the "uglies" from the resort, such as the parking lot:
There is a lovely walking path through the "bush" to Jambo House (the main building), and as much as I tried to focus on the pretty flowers, I was just paranoid about the snakes that were probably lurking in the bushes:
The walking path is very similar to the one from the parking lot at Wilderness Lodge, which opens up to Jambo, again, a very surreal experience for the WL fan considering the similarities:
Whereas WL is a bit more open when you exit the path, there really isn't a good picture spot to get the entire front of AKL like there is at WL, I had to improvise:
As much as I kept comparing the two resorts, I did try to look for the differences (or at least look at AKL from a different point of view):
It certainly has more light than WL:
There was a lot of artwork scattered throughout the hallways (but so does WL):
and we can't forget about my light fettish:
and the lobby had its fair share:
The room itself was the only place that I didn't feel like I was in an African Wilderness Lodge. I loved the theming even from the door...
all the rooms supposedly have a unique African shield on the door. I didn't test the theory and check every door, but here is ours (and it's a horrible picture, sorry):
Once inside, there were African treasures everywhere!
great wallpaper as per usual:
loved how the bathroom mixed Africa and Mickey:
I kind of wished the mosquito netting covered the beds completely (not that we had mosquitoes, but it would have been cool):
Although we only paid for a standard view, we did get a Savannah one, which I was initially jazzed about, but the buildings on the outside resemble the back side of a zoo (and smelled like one too). Needless to say, I didn't go out on the balcony very much and that is something I usually do a lot at other Disney resorts.
There was the occasional large bird but these guys were pretty much our main animals and were there 24/7:
My biggest complaint would have been the location of the food places. The two restaurants were downstairs from the main lobby and the food court was down the stairs, out the doors:
past the pool:
back inside the building:
into a smallish food court with no entrance back into the resort without going back outside.
The ordering system sucked (although our check-out lady was very nice, she was very vocal about her co-worker's lack of competence and that is always off-putting) and in all my Disney eating years, I have never dealt with such a screwed up system. Instead of walking up to the counter and ordering, there was a person standing there, with an actual paper ticket receipt that took our order, handed it the 10 inches to the people behind the counter who were directly in front of you (not listening to your order but talking amongst themselves), and you stood there and waited for them to call your number on the ticket. Of the four times I ate there, they got the order wrong three times and only the fourth got right because the guy behind the counter was listening that time and he corrected the girl and her little pad. Yes, I'm Southern and have an accent and yes I get accused of talking super-fast sometimes, but how can you screw up "#1" or "#2"? And it wasn't because I changed the orders...if there is something on an item I don't want, I just don't order that item. It's a code I live by even in my day to day life. It was all a big cluster "f" from start to finish. But it was rarely ever crowded and, despite the dark, cave-like feel and the mixed up orders, I kept going back. The flatbread was good and typical:
the Zebra Domes that everyone raves about were kind of nasty...overly dry and too much alcohol:
the burger, on the other hand, was really weird...not the typical Disney burger fare, it was almost school-like in shape and flavor:
I did have another flatbread that I somehow missed getting a picture of, but I do have a picture of the one breakfast I had there (the only order that they got right the first time):
On the subject of food, I do have to admit one of my biggest fears was the ethnic food at AKL. I'm not much on variety and I don't stray outside my comfort zone much, even at home. I might go a bit wild at the Food & Wine Festival, but everything I try (even if it's for the first time) has ingredients I've eaten before. From most of the menus I looked at, it seems African food is a strong mixture of sweet and savory (like Hawaiian, another cuisine I have to be careful with) and I'm not a big fan of that. I want savory for entrees and sweet for dessert. I like either cow, chicken, or pig (preferably cow), I'm not a big fan of veggies, cheese is preferred with every meal, and strange spices need not apply. I'm an extremely picky eater and rarely vary (or else I probably wouldn't have five taco salads from Pecos Bills every trip). After much restaurant flip-flopping, I decided to go with Jiko as our table service, it seemed the least strange of the three (although AKL proper only has two table service restaurants, Jiko and Boma, the adjacent DVC resort has Sanaa, and since they are all connected, I think it's safe to count as three). Here's a quick pic of Jiko...I'll save more of it for a restaurant review:
We also did something I've only ever done at WL, we went to the resort bar, Victoria Falls. It overlooks Boma, but, as per usual, I have very few pictures of it. The drinks weren't bad (although not strong), but the atmosphere was decidedly male, not only was it filled with men, but every TV was blaring a different sports game and the overall vibe felt non-female. The few pictures I did get was on the down-low because I was trying to be subtle...they didn't look like the type of guys that would get the whole touristy picture routine.
I had three white sangrias and not one of them tasted the same (even though the same bartender made two of them):
The gift shop, on the other hand, was quite possibly my favorite place! It had the standard Disney stuff, but it did have more resort specific stuff than the other resorts do and there was tons of original African artwork that ranged from the cheap to the extremely expensive. Every single time I went in there I found something new.
There was also a walking Savannah outside (which I tried to get out to, but it started raining and I never went back), but again, down the stairs, out a door, twisting and turning in all kinds of weird directions. The layout made absolutely no sense to me.

I had read online about wonderful staff, most of which are actually from Africa and filled with stories for the guests, but I can honestly say I rarely encountered more than a couple of CM's and our exchanges were brief and to the point. They were all nice (better than Port Orleans Riverside), just no one went out of their way like they typically do at Wilderness Lodge. It may have been because we weren't travelling with children or it may have been my "stay away from me" vibe that exudes from every pore, who knows. But again, that's the good thing about WL...they don't care that I'm anti-social or that I'm an adult, they are so proud of their resort, they like to show it off and honestly, I really don't mind so much there. It's probably why I feel more attached to WL than to any other resort.

Overall, I did like AKL and it's another check off my Disney resort list. But the strange floor plan layout, the far proximity to everything on property which meant super-long bus rides everywhere, and it's design being so similar to Wilderness Lodge (although it's theming wasn't), isn't enough to drag me back there again (other than to maybe get better pictures and to visit the gift shop). Despite my initial fears though, the food wasn't as big of a crutch as I thought it was going to be. I had the standard food court fare at Mara and Jiko was, although still authentic African cuisine, on the mild side of ethnic. I am an animal person, but more of the puppy variety than the zoo variety, so the animals aren't enough of novelty to draw me back in either (most Asper's have extremely strong senses, and since I don't see very well, my other senses are even more heightened so even the faintest smells can send me into conniptions...animals, as a general rule, stink).

And again, that's it for the resort reviews. I still aim to stay at the Beach Club one day and there are quite a few other deluxe resorts I haven't stayed in, but my heart always wants to go back to Wilderness Lodge. It's what is pulling me so strongly to the Grand Californian at Disneyland...similar WL theming and built by the same architect. I am nothing if not a creature of habit!! If only the Grand Californian was in the same price range as Wilderness Lodge. Once we've stayed at the GCH, I'm gonna do a post comparing the three to see how similar they actually are. I'm curious to see if, when the pictures are side by side, if they are as similar as I think they are. I may never stay in every single Disney World resort, but I intend on trying (well, except for the values)!


Heather said...

We usually do pop century when our family comes. We always figure were never in the room anyway but every once in a while we splurge on port orleans. If I could ever justify spending the money on a deluxe resort we would probably either do akl or poly

Vickie said...

I have always wanted to stay at Grand totally out of my price range but I it is a dream.