Weekend at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

There’s a backstory here, I debated about sharing it. Four-ish? years ago, we did a family weekend there with my daughter and her now soon to be ex-husband and The Dancer. I fell in love with Animal Kingdom Lodge that weekend, and also got the first clues that my daughter’s marriage was not going to last. Things were…awkward.

Oh, and I broke my toe early on the first morning last time, and was in pain for the rest of the stay, so yeah, it wasn’t the best experience. I adored the resort but was hobbling around, I still loved it. I have wanted a do-over ever since, and as we emerged from the covid lockdown I snagged a passholder discounted Savanna view room months ago, just in case we could make it happen.

We did. Animal Kingdom Lodge is my happy place, and it was a truly fun and fulfilling experience.

As with Animal Kingdom the theme park, it is a mild stretch beyond the comfort level of some people. The restaurants are mildly exotic, the hallways have exhibits of African art, there are giraffes and antelope outside, and in normal times, much of the staff is legit from Africa. They’re truly cultural ambassadors and are happy to chat with kids (or adults) about their countries. There are crafts and music and dancing and animal education experiences. It is an incredible experience, and this weekend reminded me of how wonderful it can be.

One of my favorite things about staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge (henceforth to be called AKL) is staying in a room with a view of one of the savannas. We were on the Sunset Savanna on the second floor, and this was my morning coffee on the balcony view:

At one point there were four giraffes under my balcony. We were on the 2nd floor, so close we could hear them chewing.
Ancole cattle on the move, waiting for breakfast. The spotted one was quite vocal.
The giraffes chased the food truck like kids after the ice cream man.
The ostriches were watching the people watching them from our balconies. I think we were there for their entertainment.

Sadly, the lovely drumming and singing ladies and the charming cultural ambassadors have not returned yet. The Dancer was a tad too young on our previous visit to fully appreciate all the educational offerings, and when we stayed there this weekend those elements had not returned. So, we’ll just have to do it again when they do, because it was fabulous.

It was a lovely, relaxing weekend. We arrived on Friday around noon, left our bags with Bell Services and grabbed lunch while we had a short wait until our room was ready, earlier than 3 p.m. check-in. We headed to the pool.

The weather forecast was dire with high rain chances every day of our visit, but as I keep telling people in the Disney groups on FB, the storm forecasts are not set in stone, or even in whipped cream (which melts instantly in this heat). In summer, Florida rain is a crapshoot. The day before, the forecast was dire, like 70% chance of rain every day.

The reality was one actual, brief but heavy thunderstorm on Friday, after we’d had an hour or so at the pool. We retreated to our room at Jambo House to watch animals and eat snacks brought from home and get cleaned up for dinner at Boma.

The Dancer is ten and is therefore an adult diner by Disney standards. Up until a few months ago this would have worried me, because those buffets are damn pricey. Fortunately this summer she eats like a football player and isn’t afraid of unfamiliar foods, so she did enough damage at the buffet to justify the cost. (She had a lot of opinions, but loved the food and wants to do it again.)

Disney food is notoriously expensive. Disney is expensive, and the truly vast array of dining options from elegant sit-down to buffets to fancy quick-service to your basic burger or a slice of pizza is dizzying. Your opinion about this will depend on your foodie-ness, your appetite, your excitement about the menus, whatever. There’s definitely something for everyone.

My daughter and I love Boma so much we did it last Thanksgiving, so we were totally going to do it at least once this trip. We did it twice, once for dinner on Friday, and then again for breakfast the next day, because my daughter is the Reservations Ninja and snagged one at the perfect time. We did a last minute schedule change and it was all perfect.

When I’d originally planned it, I’d scheduled one sit down buffet a day – Boma dinner on our arrival day, Crystal Palace on our Magic Kingdom late afternoon/evening, then Boma breakfast (which I actually think is superior to dinner) on our departure day.

We rearranged at the last minute to do Boma dinner, then Boma breakfast the next morning, then quick serve meals at The Mara and Columbia Harbor House for lunch/dinner on Saturday, because last year we introduced The Dancer to the glories of the lobster roll. We also indulged in the brownie sundaes at Magic Kingdom:

I took this picture about two minutes after getting the sundae. It was already on its way to being soup. Still delicious.

Even with two adult foodies and a ten year old dancer/swimmer who eats like a linebacker, three buffets felt like too much food. Sunday morning we did online ordering at The Mara and took it back to the room to eat while we packed. I was full until dinner at home, and also exhausted. But damn, this was a fab weekend! Expensive, yes, but I’d planned and saved for it, and it was worth every penny to get quality girl time in such a uniquely wonderful place.

I want to go back. I miss my giraffes.

Happy Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

Though I think this may become the new tradition. A quick backstory: my daughter is getting divorced. That’s all I’ll say about it, because I stay the hell out of my adult children’s marriages. This is a recent development, and the first year we are regrouping and reshaping the holidays.

This year I didn’t have to figure out what I’d do for Thanksgiving, because I was never invited to her in-laws. Thanksgiving at Nana’s was a command performance of sorts, so I’d figure out my own Thanksgiving and really didn’t mind. This year The Dancer went with her dad to Nana’s for Thanksgiving, and my daughter managed to score dinner reservations at our favorite special place, Boma, at Animal Kingdom Lodge. As far as I’m concerned we had the far better experience.

We got there a bit early so we could visit the animals before dark. When you stay in a savanna view room you can sit on your balcony and watch zebras, wildebeast, giraffes, ostriches and various types of antelope hanging out under your balcony, and it is truly very, very cool. (There are viewing areas on every floor where you can take your morning coffee and spend some time animal watching if you don’t have a savanna view room.)

Pro Tip: There are some rooms that are designated as “obstructed view” because there’s a tree or something partially obstructing the view of the savanna. We stayed in “obstructed view” rooms on the top floor and the view was perfectly lovely, but it was cheaper because of the view. Ask what sort of obstruction it is, though. A couple of skinny trees won’t really spoil the view, but an extended shed roof would.

We took these pictures from the outdoor area outside Jambo House.

Dinner for wildebeasts and a lone zebra.
Giraffe dinner.

Those skinny wires in the foreground are a mildly electrified fence to keep the animals, who are wild, away from the outdoor viewing area where we stood, because humans cannot be trusted not to try to hand feed a zebra.

While we were there we spent some time chatting with a delightful and funny young CM named Bea, who had tons of stories about the animals: The giraffes are a mother daughter pair. The zebras will randomly get the zoomies and create a stampede where none of the animals knows why they’re running, but they all join in until someone finally pauses to wonder why they’re running, and eventually everybody stops in confusion. Until the next time.

Her funniest story was about the ostriches and that wire fence. They’ll get determined to eat whatever’s on the other side, and accidentally touch the fence. Munchmunchmunch, OW! What was that?? Shakes it off, does it again, OW?? And repeat.

It is designed as a deterrent and can’t hurt them, but ostriches aren’t overly blessed with brains. (Fun fact: their brain is smaller than their eyes.) The ostriches have concluded an occasional owie is the price for eating those awesome random weeds on the other side of those weird sticks, which is so much better than the specially prepared healthy food they are served.

It got dark and we went inside.

I know the tree appears to be floating, but it actually is four stories tall and standing on a very highly polished floor. As you can see from the random stranger at the lower left, masks are required indoors unless you’re at your table eating in the restaurant (or when you’re in your room, obviously) and everybody complied without bitching. I saw kids at dinner reminding each other about masking on their way to the buffet. It was a very safe and sane experience, and a reminder that most people are not assholes.

Closeups of my favorite ornaments. Seriously, I covet that giraffe mask.

This peaceful space is off the main lobby.

I’m not sure what the room above is called, but they do kids’ crafts and learning experiences in that space. It’s worth exploring, because the historic photos of luxurious safaris of 100 years ago are priceless! Rich white people have always been a bit ridiculous, hauling tea sets and sterling silver toiletry bottles around Africa, and staying in tents the size of small apartments.

I did not take pictures of the food, but the menu was much more extensive than the version posted on the website. Picky eaters had pasta and plainer meat and veggies. Thanksgiving traditionalists could get turkey breast at the carving station, with herbed potatoes, gravies and sauces, green beans, an amazing corn pudding/casserole, etc. They had everybody covered.

We ate ourselves sick, almost literally – we hit nearly everything on the menu, unless it was something ordinary we could find at the supermarket (hummus and pita bread, etc.) We could barely walk by the time we declared ourselves done.

For dessert I found my beloved bread pudding with warm vanilla sauce (theirs is the best), and the other tiny desserts were equally amazing, especially a tiny dark chocolate coffee tart with the creamiest, richest mousse filling. Utterly decadent. No pumpkin pie in sight, which pleased me. We lurched to the car very satisfied.

If this is the new Thanksgiving tradition, I am good with this. We’re already figuring out how we can swing a two night stay here next June.