And Check off a Bucket List Item
My husband is not normally a Disney fan, in fact he avoids “the Mouse” except when young grandchildren are involved, and then only in small doses. However, when he read an article in National Geographic about the bioluminescent rainforest in the Na’vi River Journey ride in Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and said he wanted to see that – I took immediate action. Before he could change his mind, I checked on reservations in Orlando including the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where a room with a Savanna view was available for Father’s Day weekend. Since he was so agreeable, I asked if he would be interested in going on a guided safari through the savannas at the lodge. He has always wanted to go on safari and I pointed out that Orlando was much cheaper than a flight to South Africa. I checked my husband for fever and head injury, when he said “let’s go for it!” He liked the idea of being able to see animals like giraffes and zebras from our balcony. I was excited. A stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge has been on my bucket list since we moved to Florida in 2003.
My mouth dropped when we walked into the lobby of the Animal Kingdom Jambo Lodge, which is actually the third floor of the six-story lodge. The lobby is open to the top floor and is designed with the feel of a South African reserve lodge and is filled with African art and artifacts. At the end of the lobby is a floor to ceiling window that opens out onto the savannas, about 30 acres separate from the Animal Kingdom Park. The hallways have viewing areas that overlook the savannas as well as the expansive pool area.
We had a savanna room with excellent viewing of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and other small antelope right outside our balcony. Since we had a check-in time of 3:30 for the Wanyama Safari and Dinner, we didn’t have time to do much more than gawk for a few minutes. We checked in at the Jiko restaurant located on the first floor of the lodge. The safari and dinner is “family-style” with a limit of 12 people. We were lucky, there were only six of us on this safari. Our traveling companions were a lovely family of four from Pennsylvania, two college-age young women and their parents.
Our adventure started with a “cultural representative” from South Africa who invited us into a private dining room where he told us about his life in his country. There are 11 official languages of which he spoke 3 plus French and English – WOW! On the buffet table, there were some traditional South African snacks – breads, dips, sausage, and Moroccan mint tea – all delicious. The dips were like hummus, cucumber/dill and a tomato based dip plus a dip with a citrus flavor. Then closer to 4:00, Jen, one of our guides, arrived and led us through the lobby to transportation, a flat-bed truck with bench seats around the three sides. It had rained quite a bit earlier in the day, so the foam cushions were a bit damp, but soggy seats didn’t dampen our excitement for a trip into the three savannas. Jen started off in the back of the truck with us. Halfway through, they switched and Jared rode in the back with us and Jen drove the truck and opened the gates. They introduced us to the animals and their personalities. I learned so much on this tour. Both of our guides seemed to love their jobs and the animals. They also talked about the care and feeding, as well as the breeding of some of the animals, in fact one of the opakis is pregnant. During this 90 minute tour, we saw so many animals including giraffes, Thomson’s gazelles, ostriches, wildebeests, East African crowed cranes, vultures, and more that I’m sure I’m missing.
After the ride through the savannas, now back to Jiko for our family-style African inspired four-course dinner, each course with a wine pairing. The first course was a sampling of dips and African breads similar to the reception, but this time there was a delicious special cocktail. The second course was an appetizer sampler that included wanton or spring roll, a salad with apples, and a ravioli type pasta filled with boar and elk. The wine for this course was a crisp, delicious chenin blanc. The third course included multiple entrees and sides including chicken, grouper, short ribs, a macaroni and cheese dish, an African grits-type dish, corn on the cob, and greens. The wine for this course was a robust Cabernet Sauvignon, quite delicious but not overpowering. The dessert course included three cakes: lemon curd cake, a 3 layer cake with a carrot cake base, and chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell. For a foodie with a sweet tooth, this was heaven, though the honey wine was a bit too sweet for me. You could really taste the honey. There was plenty of food for six people. The wait staff was very attentive. They even made a special entrée selection for my husband as he has an onion allergy. This was an absolutely wonderful evening, great food and new friends. Though expensive, the safari and dinner were well worth the price, and the dinner itself could cost more than the safari fee if purchased a la carte. If you are an animal lover and a foodie, this is the tour for you! (There’s also the largest hidden Mickey in this location.)
The next day, we got up early to get to Animal Kingdom Park during the resort only hours. Disney allows guests who are staying the Disney resorts to get an early start before the parks open. We got in line for the Na’vi River Ride about 8:45. The estimated wait time was 30 minutes. The time was quite accurate. We came out and the time was already at 60 minutes. The bioluminescence of the river ride was beautiful. We did not ride the Pandora Flight of Fancy. Though it looks exciting to me, my husband doesn’t like wild rides and when we passed this ride on the way to the river ride, I noticed the estimated wait-time was 60 minutes. When we came out of the river ride, the estimated wait time was already at 150 minutes and people were waiting to get in line along the path almost to Africa. We decided to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride where we also saw a lot of animals including lions and elephants.
It was a hot day, so we decided to go back to our room, relax, and watch the animals from the comfort of our air-conditioned savanna room. We ended our day with a delicious burger in the Victoria Lounge where I had a Godiva Chocolate martini for dessert. (No counting Weight Watcher points this weekend for me!)
I loved our weekend at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is my new favorite Disney resort. Even if you are not staying at this resort, I would recommend taking the time for a visit just to see the lodge, enjoy the art work and artifacts, sit by the fire pit, listen to the cultural representatives’ talk about their countries, and have a drink at the Victoria Lounge. They have a drink that changes colors! You can get to the Animal Kingdom Jambo Lodge by car or via the Disney bus transportation system.
Until next time…..