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Excited for your next Disney trip? You should be, especially if you’ve chosen to stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Between the unique atmosphere, beautiful décor, and fabulous food options, you may be tempted never to leave the resort!
However, the number one mistake people make before going on a vacation to Walt Disney World is the lack of research ahead of time.
Long gone are the days when you could just show up and wing it, a lot of planning and preparation will go into your trip ahead of time to prevent stress while you’re there.
After all, you’re going on vacation. The last thing you want to do is stress out, waste time, or spend unnecessary money!
These tips will help you as you a guest of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, taking you from a novice to a master in minutes.
From planning ahead, your arrival, during your stay, to your departure, we’ve got all the tips you’ll need for your stay at AKL.
Here’s what you need to know…
Planning & Preparation: Before Your Vacation
1) Not Just for Animal Kingdom Lovers!
There is a misconception that you should only stay at this resort if your park priority is Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
That is not the case at all!
This resort is perfect for any party, with incredible theming, comfortable rooms, and plenty of unique experiences.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is the kind of resort where you could skip the parks and just hang out. Yes, it is definitely closest to the Animal Kingdom, but don’t rule it out for that reason.
2) My Disney Experience app
Make sure everyone in your party with a smartphone downloads the My Disney Experience app.
You cannot believe how much you can accomplish on this app, from booking experiences, managing your FastPasses, getting a coveted Rise of the Resistance boarding pass, to even finding that exact pair of Minnie Ears.
You can even use the app to play games while you wait in line, so make sure you check it out!
You can actually request a room location when you make your reservation, or add it to your reservation by calling (407) 939-5277.
Since the Animal Kingdom Lodge is pretty spread out, this might be something you want to do if you don’t want to have to walk a distance to your room.
Request a top floor, a room close to the elevator, a room near the lobby, whatever you need.
Remember that these types of requests can’t always be honored based on availability, but it is still worth doing.
4) Have Kids? Splurge for More Space
If you want to have some private time while you’re on vacation, you’re going to want a slightly larger space.
While the standard rooms and deluxe studios have enough accommodations to comfortably sleep four people, it’s still all in one room.
Bumping up to the multi-bedroom suites or deluxe villas at Kidani Village gives you the privacy you need and space for everyone in your party.
5) Extended Stay? Try Kidani Village
Did you know you don’t have to be a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member to stay at a DVC resort?
Anyone can pay the nightly rate to stay on DVC property, and Kidani Village is a great DVC option.
Not only do the deluxe villas have multiple bedrooms, but Kidani Village also has one of the highest number of deluxe studios at Walt Disney World.
The studios are an awesome option if you are a party of two or three. The major advantage to DVC are the home amenities like a fridge, microwave, and even laundry and full kitchen in the villas.
6) Rent DVC Points
Speaking of DVC, you can also rent DVC points through multiple third party services.
This can often be cheaper than paying for the room at face value, especially if you are looking at Kidani Village.
7) Tell the Resort about Your Special Celebrations
Let your resort know about any special events or celebrations that will be happening during or in connection to your trip, like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.
The cast members will be sure to make those moments special!
Sometimes the celebrations match the theme of the resort, so be on the lookout for that at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Of course, if something special happens during your trip, like a proposal, let them know about that too for a little extra magic.
8) Plan for Down Time
Another mistake first-timers tend to make (and some veterans) is overbooking their trip.
The last thing you want is to feel like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation!
Give yourself a day off after a day or two at the parks to refresh and enjoy your resort. You paid the big bucks to stay at a Disney resort, you’ll want to take advantage of it!
A resort-like AKL has so much to offer, you’ll be missing out if you don’t take a day just to hang out.
9) 180 Days is the Magic Number
You can start booking your reservations for dining 180 days out, so mark your calendar!
Dining reservations fill up fast, so if you want to make a reservation for a popular restaurant or dining experience, do it on that day.
10) Disney’s Magical Express
USE IT. This holds true if you’re staying at any Disney resort.
If you are flying into Orlando International (MCO), this is without a doubt the easiest way to get on to Disney property.
No matter what time your flight gets in, you can use Disney’s Magical Express to take you directly to your resort…for free.
Yup, this service is complimentary if you’re staying at a Disney resort, so why not use it? You do need to reserve this service ahead of time, so make sure you do!
11) Pack Snacks
Whether it’s for the park, the pool, or just hanging out in the room, make sure you pack your own snacks.
The food options are amazing at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but even though there are picky-eater-friendly foods you might still want to come prepared. The African flair may not be for every palate.
Bringing your own snacks is also a great way to save money, which is always a plus!
12) Scavenger Hunts
Ask for a scavenger hunt sheet at the front desk. There are two hunts to choose from.
Especially if you have energetic kids, this is a great idea to have in your pocket or a resort day or rainy day activity.
With all the cool African art, hidden Mickeys, and other creative touches this would be a fun family bonding time or friendly competition.
13) Bring Your Own Coffee
While complimentary coffee is available, if you are staying more than a few days or have a specific coffee preference you should plan to bring your own.
Every AKL room has a coffee maker (conventional, not Keurig), so you can make your own coffee every morning.
Coffee is TSA approved if you are flying, so no worries there! Bring your own travel mug or plan to buy one there, but you’ll have your own taste of home to get you up and moving.
14) Bring Your Own Straws
This used to be an Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge suggestion, as they pioneered the paper straw, but all of Walt Disney World is now moving to paper or reusable straws rather than plastic.
If you know that you, your child, or someone in your party is going to prefer straws, plan to bring reusable straws with you.
15) Save Space – Don’t Pack a Towel
Unless you are planning on going to a water park during your stay, there’s no need to pack towels.
Even then, towels are available for rental at all the waterparks if you really need to save the suitcase space.
Everywhere else, such as the resort pool, towels are provided for you.
16) Pack Your Sunblock!
Sun intensity in the Sunshine State is no joke.
Even if you are one of those people that “don’t burn,” you will burn if you don’t put on at least some sunblock.
Whether at the parks, the pool, or even just walking around the resort, you will be glad that you packed (and wore!) sunscreen.
It costs a premium on property, so trust us on this one.
Adventure is Out There: During Your Vacation
17) Magical Express Multiple Stops
If you do choose to use Magical Express, just be aware that Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is at the far end of Disney property.
That isn’t really a problem, it just means it will take a bit longer to get to your resort on the motorcoach.
Also, at some points in the day, the Magical Express might make more than one stop at different resorts. AKL is usually last, so just be prepared for that.
18) Driving to the Resort
Did you know there’s multiple entrances to Walt Disney World property?
It might seem tempting to get off the highway at the first Disney World exit you see, but make sure you plan your route ahead of time.
Staying on the highway could save you time and a headache versus trying to navigate Disney property, especially if this is your first trip.
Check the maps ahead of time and plan the most efficient route!
19) Skip the Front Desk!
There’s no need to check-in at the Front Desk, unless you have questions or concerns you would like to address.
Take advantage of online check-in, using the My Disney Experience app.
You can go straight from your transportation to your room, unlocking your door with your Magic Band.
20) Resort Maps
You can also use your My Disney Experience app to help you navigate the resort. Under your resort reservation information in the app, click on “View Resort Map.”
21) Snap a Picture
The rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are beautiful, so take a few minutes and grab a picture of the room while it still is in pristine condition.
Especially if you have kids, the room will not look this nice again at any point during your trip.
Some of the larger rooms or suites will have particular decorative touches for your arrival, so be sure to capture those moments.
Just because you should plan ahead doesn’t mean that every second of your Disney trip needs to be scheduled.
If you have some downtime on your arrival day, explore your resort! Animal Kingdom Lodge is fairly big, and of course, has all of the animal walking trails.
Grab a wildlife guide and see how many animals you can find on the property. If you’re staying in the Jambo House, walk over to Kidani Village and check out the Community Hall.
This exploring will come in handy if you find yourself at the resort on a rainy day and you need activities.
23) Get a Refillable Mug
Even if you aren’t using the Disney Dining Plan, anyone can purchase a refillable mug.
Refillable mugs are available at the Mara for $19.99 and are good for the duration of your stay (so get it the first day there!). If you are a big soda drinker, or any of the beverage options, this will save you a ton of money on drink purchases.
This is also a great coffee option for the morning.
24) Take Tons of Pictures
Disney prides itself on the theming of its resorts, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge is no exception.
In fact, it is one of the best and most authentically themed resorts on property.
You are going to want to take as many pictures as you can to remember your stay and capture all the amazing artwork. That goes double if you are staying at Christmastime!
25) Sit Out on Your Balcony
Especially if you have a savanna view, you want to take advantage of your balcony.
There’s nothing like a few quiet moments sitting outside to watch the exotic animals as they go past.
That is one of the unique features of the resort, so you will want to take advantage of it!
26) Breakfast, Anyone?
Plan out what you are going to do for breakfast.
We do not recommend you do a big character breakfast or buffet on a park day, you want something quick and easy that will get you on your way.
At AKL, Sanaa has grab and go options, while the Mara has excellent counter service meals that will suit your needs.
If you are in a villa or suite, you could even consider making breakfast in your room. Some groceries you can even fly with, like PopTarts, or you could consider a grocery delivery service.
27) Ride Share
The remote nature of the Animal Kingdom Lodge can be an advantage if you want quieter, but it is not ideal for a park day.
While Disney does provide complimentary transportation, the only option that goes to AKL is the busses.
That will get you where you want to go at the time you want to be there.
28) Stay Hydrated
Wherever you are on Disney property, you want to drink plenty of water.
That goes double if you are at the Animal Kingdom or the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The placement of the park (and its resort) is purposefully in the hottest part of Walt Disney World to best mimic the habitats of the animals.
With that in mind, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water!
29) Take a Break
If you are going to the Animal Kingdom for the day, don’t be afraid to take a break back at the resort for a little while.
Especially during the heat of the day, going for a quick dip in the pool to refresh is a good way to make sure you’ll have energy for those fun evening activities you have planned.
30) Kidani Village Bus Stop
Staying at Kidani Village? If you use the Disney buses, don’t get off at the Jambo House!
Kidani Village has its own stop, putting you closer to your home away from home.
With all the walking you’ll be doing in the parks, take advantage of the chance to ride.
31) Shop Till You Drop
We’ve all been in the situation where we want to get a souvenir, but don’t want to carry it around with us all day.
One of the advantages of staying at a Disney resort is you don’t have to! Any purchase you make in the parks can be sent back to your resort for you to pick up at your convenience.
At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you can swing by the Zawadi Marketplace off the Jambo House lobby and grab your goods before heading back to your room.
Chill Day: Relax and Recoup!
32) Get to the Pool Early
Whether you’re at Kidani Village or the Jambo House, both pools at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are fantastic.
However, if this is your chill-out day, plan to get to the pool fairly early if you want to stake out a spot. That also means taking your whole party with you, because chair saving is not a thing.
Also if you want a table or umbrella, those are in short supply, so you want to show up early to get one.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t other shade options, but if that’s what you’re looking for make sure you time it so you can claim one.
33) Explore the Other Side
With the resort split into two sections, you might be tempted just to hang out in the one you’re staying.
However, there is plenty to see in both parts! If you’re just spending time at the resort for the day, take the short walk over to the other side and check out what’s going on over there.
34) Take the Kiddos to Uwanja Camp
Next to the Samawati Springs pool at Kidani Village is Uwanja Camp, a three-zone water playground for kids.
The zones are separated by age, so if you’re worried about your younger kiddos rest assured that they will be playing around children their own age.
There are benches and shade for parents, so you can keep an eye on your kids while they play.
35) Use the Animal Paths
Around the edges of the resort are different walking paths so that you can see all the animals.
Take advantage of this chance to see the animals at your leisure, and make sure to take plenty of pictures!
36) Sign up for a Free Tour
Throughout the day, there are different free tours you can take on the Animal Kingdom Lodge property.
Take a culinary journey through Jiko, Boma, or Sanaa (or all three!).
You could also meet with a cultural representative to learn more about the art at the resort while hearing stories about the history behind the art.
37) Check out the Free Kid’s Activities
There a whole host of free activities just for kids!
Besides the scavenger hunts, kids can decorate cookies in Sanaa, get their faces painted in the Jambo lobby, and take part in a parade from the Zawandi Marketplace through the lobby.
Just as a cast member at the front desk for a schedule so you don’t miss out!
38) Try Something New!
There are so many amazing opportunities to try something out of the norm at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Make a reservation at Jiko or Sanaa to try out some new flavors, or go on an African safari for an up-close look at the animals.
Don’t let these chances go by!
39) Eating at Jiko? Family Photo Shoot!
If you make a reservation for dinner at Jiko, there is a dress code.
Since that is the case, take advantage of your family looking their best and opt for a family photo!
There are plenty of great places to choose from, but outside the large window at the back of the lobby or in front of one of the African sculptures would be our suggestion.
Of course, if you are there for the holidays, make sure you get a picture in front of the gorgeous Christmas tree in the lobby.
40) Try Zebra Domes
One of the most popular treats at the Animal Kingdom, Zebra Domes are made of a decadent chocolate mousse covered in white chocolate and a striped drizzle.
Thoroughly adorable and thoroughly delicious, make sure you stop by the Mara to snag yours!
41) Have the Boma Bread Pudding
If you’re staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge for any length of time, you’ll want to eat at least one meal at Boma (we recommend breakfast for the price, but both buffets are delicious).
When you do, you will want to have the bread pudding.
Served at both breakfast and dinner, this fabulous bread pudding will have you going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths!
42) Have the Sanaa Bread Service
The Indian-style bread service is the signature appetizer at Sanaa, and also part of the overall dining experience.
Five different breads and nine accompaniments made for sharing, pair the breads with all the dips for a variety of flavor experiences!
43) Try at Least One Lounge
There are five different bars and lounges at AKL, all with their own quirks and twists.
Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar is right next to Jiko with access to their menu, while the Victoria Falls Lounge has their own delicious small plates menu.
Even the pool bars have a good mix of food and alcohol selections if you’re looking for a small, relaxed meal.
44) Go to the Jiko Wine Tasting
Every Wednesday, the sommeliers at Jiko host a wine tasting.
About $25 per person, the wine tasting includes selections of South African wines featured at Jiko paired with small plates of cheese, fruit, and other delicacies.
Note that reservations are highly recommended and the Jiko dress code must be observed.
45) Check out the Zawadi Marketplace
Not all gift shops are created equal, as you will find at Zawadi.
Located off the Jambo House lobby, alongside typical Disney souvenirs and t-shirts you will find hand-crafted African trinkets such as wooden statues, drums, and authentic African clothing.
The selection is never exactly the same, so be sure to drop in and take home your own little piece of Africa.
46) Send a Postcard
Many of the resorts, including the Animal Kingdom Lodge, will send postcards from the front desk.
What is so special about this is the postmark will be from Walt Disney World, and sometimes even from the resort itself.
It’s just another fun little touch that makes your message all the more magical.
47) Walk Across the Jambo House Bridge
Stretched across the Jambo House lobby is a fun suspension bridge connected two sides of the fifth floor.
While in all senses it is just a bridge, there’s something so satisfying about walking over the lobby on this decorative feature.
It also makes a fun picture spot, so make sure you strike a pose and snap a shot!
48) Watch the Flamingo Feeding
Daily, animal handlers will come to do a public feeding of the flock of flamingos, located by the Uzima pool at the Jambo House.
While the feeding happens, the animal experts are on hand to answer any questions you might have about the flamingos or any of the animals on the property.
49) Enjoy a Campfire
In the evening, both Kidani Village and Jambo House do small campfires for roasting marshmallows and other family fun.
A sweet way to end your day at the resort!
We’ll See You Real Soon: Departure Day
50) Use the Airline Check-in
While ending your magical vacation is never a joyous occasion, there are ways to make it smoother and less stressful.
Begin by using the Airline Check-in desk at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, located in the Jambo House lobby.
This service lets you check in for your flight, print boarding passes, and other conveniences that will save you time at the airport.
Your entire party does need to be present to use this service.
51) Check Your Luggage
Also at the Airline Check-in desk, you can check your luggage for your flight.
There are several huge advantages to this, the first being you can head straight to security upon arriving at the airport.
This also gets the luggage off your hands, so you can plan one last activity on your last day without having to worry about your suitcases.
Finally, this alleviates the stress of the check-out time if you have a later flight since you no longer have to worry about what you will do with your suitcases in the meantime.
52) One Last Meal!
Grab one last Disney meal before you go!
Whether it’s a Boma or Sanaa breakfast, or if you choose to go to another resort, take advantage of the food one last time before you have to go.
Sanaa also has grab and go options if you really need to hustle.
53) Hitch a Ride
One last time, take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express.
As it’s free, it is far and away the cheapest option to get you to the airport.
They do insist on getting you to the airport three hours before your arrival time, so if that doesn’t work in your time schedule you may want to consider something else.
However, we think it is the most convenient and cost-effective way to get you headed home.
Enjoy Your Trip!
We hope you will find these tips helpful!
Please let us know in the comments if you have any other great Animal Kingdom Lodge tips or tricks, or if you used any of these tips on your Disney vacation.
For additional information on the Animal Kingdom Lodge, check out our other AKL Resort pages!
Written by Grace Hoyos, Staff Writer
Grace is a life-long lover of all things Disney, particularly the parks at Walt Disney World. She is also an avid Disney Cruise Line enthusiast who regularly dreams of the white sands of Castaway Cay. Grace loves the fact that her Disney trips give her time to spend with her family, enjoy incredible food, and try new experiences.