The Animal Kingdom Lodge presented the Imagineers with a challenge. You don’t come across too many massive six story buildings out on the Serengeti. So how do you disguise an enormous hotel to look like an authentic, intimate structure that you might actually find someplace in East Africa? The answer to this problem was twofold.
First, you use landscaping to camouflage and conceal. Trees and shrubbery hide most of the building’s outward appearance as you approach the hotel. From the moment you pass the guard shack, you are surrounded by a lush, tropical forest. Your view is completely shrouded in greenery. Even as you near the hotel, if you use self-parking, you will not see the Animal Kingdom Lodge until the Imagineers deem it appropriate. You must first exit your vehicle and take a winding set of stairs through additional jungle before you see your vacation home. In fact, more than 170,000 shrubs and trees have been planted along this route to help set the mood.
If you plan on letting Bell Services take care of your luggage and drive to the resort’s porte-cochère and drop-off area, you only see a fraction of the actual building. And what you do see is deceiving. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a six story building. However, the Imagineers placed the lobby and the main entrance on the third floor. The first and second floors are below ground level on the front side of the building. In addition, the sixth floor, when viewed from the front, resembles a thatched roof. Both of these factors greatly hide the massiveness of the structure.
A small hint of the details to come can be seen on the resort’s driveway. “Fire Lane” and “No Parking” signs are painted on the pavement in a freehand, African style.
The colors of the Animal Kingdom Lodge are that of the earth. Reddish browns, tans, and ochre walls resemble mud that has baked in the sun to create bricks and stucco. Along the pathway that leads to the resort’s bus stop, simple African reliefs adorn the walls.
Before I go any further, I should probably mention that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually two resorts in one. Opening on April 16, 2001, the first phase of this resort’s existence featured standard rooms and suites open to all guests. On May 1, 2009, a second resort opened nearby that would offer Disney Vacation Club (DVC) studio units, and 1, 2, and 3 bedroom apartment-like homes. With this addition, the respective resorts were given the additional names Jambo House (this blog) and Kidani Village to differentiate between them. Jambo means "hello" in Swahili.
Although there is a pathway connecting Jambo House and Kidani Village, it is about a half mile long and much of it runs through the parking lots. In my opinion, it’s worth avoiding. At one time, a complicated method of using theme park buses offered transportation between the two. Now, a dedicated shuttle van runs between the resorts from 8am to 10pm. This greatly simplifies the trip.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge was designed by architect Peter Dominick. You might recognize his style as he is also responsible for the designs of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Grand Californian. Vast, open lobbies, surrounded by balconies, create a stunning and impressive first impression.
The massive chandeliers are designed to look like Maasai shields. Used not only as a defensive weapon by the people of Kenya, these shields are also used to express art and culture. Usually made of buffalo hide, these shields traditionally are painted with only three colors. Black identifies lineage and the red and white denotes the age and geographic location of the owner. The geometric patterns painted on the shields also have special meaning: the ones marked with circles signify the Kisongo province of Kenya, the squares denote the Loita province, and the triangles are used by Ol bruggo province.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge houses the second largest hotel collection of artwork in the world. Many of these pieces can be seen in the lobby, scattered among the seating areas.
The lobby flooring is made of teak, a tropical hardwood native to Asia but now cultivated in Africa. Embedded in the wood planks are more works of art. Five bronze medallions, designed by West African artist and storyteller, Baba Wague' Diakite', depict man and animals and their relation to the earth. The first and largest medallion measures eight feet in diameter. The others measure four feet across.
I really don’t know anything about this next piece of art, but every time I see it I think of “The Lion King” film where Simba and Nala are raised higher and higher into the air by the various African animals.
One of the most impressive lobby works of art is the Ijele mask. This 16 foot high, 240 pound mask is worn on the head of one man and the success of his ceremonial dance brings good luck and prestige to the entire community. This example was the first of its kind ever to leave Nigeria. The entire story of the Ijele mask is told via signboards surrounding the piece.
The lobby balconies are adorned with tusk-like braces and antelope railings. At the top of each of the supportive columns which surround the room are Grand Bedu mask which stare down onto the guests below. Bedu masks are found throughout the Bondoukou region of the Ivory Coast. They are associated with New Year’s festivities and symbolize the transfer of one year to the next.
A firepit provides a tribe with a means of cooking and staying warm. But it also offers a pleasant venue for community storytelling. In the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, Ogun's Firepit offers guests its own version of this tribal setting. This is a wonderful spot to plan your day in the morning or recollect about your adventures in the evening. Ogun is an African god who presides over iron working, hunting, politics and war.
An updated version of the firepit is available for children as they wait for their parents to check-in. Hand-carved wooden stools from the Ivory Coast surround a 21st century, electronic “firepit.”
One of the most striking features of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby is the fifth floor suspension bridge. This elevated platform provides wonderful views of the Arusha Savanna and the animals that roam just beyond the floor-to-ceiling, vine-covered windows. A note of caution to those of you with acrophobia, you might want to skip this bridge.
In the afternoon, African cast members are on hand in the lobby with additional treasures. Jewelry, wood carvings, flags, skulls, and more are on display and these folk love nothing more than talking about their homeland and sharing bits of trivia with guests. Stop by and pick these cast member’s brains. You’ll be glad you did.
The lobby furnishings were also chosen with great care. Each of the six seating areas has two shelter sofas and two to four overstuffed chairs upholstered in the muted colors of the savanna. The coffee and end tables are constructed of alder wood and mahogany, their tops covered in lapis, stone and metal. A number of torchères circle the room. These artistic, nine-foot tall lamps resemble bundled branches and their flickering light adds a bit of rustic charm to the lobby.
The front desk is also quite beautiful and artistically designed. A low ceiling of twigs provides a more intimate feeling than the grand lobby. The back wall is draped with African inspired quilts.
Next to the front desk is Sunset Overlook. When the main lobby gets a bit too hectic and noisy, slip into this mental oasis. Designed to resemble an explorer’s retreat, this spot offers comfortable couches, chairs, and more African artwork. This is the perfect spot for a quiet and relaxed conversation. When you visit, be sure to spend some time examining the photographs and artifacts. A nearby balcony offers views of the Sunset Savanna.
On the other side of the lobby is Zawadi Marketplace. Open from 7:30am to 11pm, this is the spot to pick up Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room.
Zawadi Marketplace is also one of my favorite Disney hotel shops. The reason? Because this shop sells more than just Disney souvenirs and a limited selection of food stuffs to take back to your room. A fantastic collection of African art, jewelry, and clothing is also offered here. Now I’m not really a fan of African art, jewelry, and clothing, but it’s refreshing to have something other than Mickey and princess merchandise to browse through.
Be sure to notice the lion sculpture found behind one of the counters.
At the back of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby are two staircases that take guests to the Arusha Rock Savanna Overlook. Here at ground level, you can wander through an outcropping of boulders and discover a number of viewing spots ideal for animal encounters. Knowledgeable cast members are often on hand to answer questions about the creatures who call this savanna home. Arusha Rock was named for the volcanic landscape between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru.
The Arusha Rock Firepit can also be found in this outdoor area. Lit each evening around dusk, this is another wonderful spot to relax and unwind. In addition, storytellers can be found here with folktales of their homelands.
On each side of the lobby are patios that offer shaded overlooks that peer onto the Arusha Savanna and firepit.
To give you some idea of the lengths that the Imagineers went to in an effort to create a place where both humans and their animal neighbors would feel at home, let me provide you with a few facts:
• The various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge contain 130 Sand Live Oak trees
• More than 35,000 shrubs and bushes were planted in the savannas
• There are 165 varieties of shrubs and bushes
• Most of the plants came from California, Arizona, and Africa
• A number of plants were grown from seeds brought over from Africa
• Greenery was transplanted from the Caribbean and Pop Century Resorts as well as the Animal Kingdom theme park
• Approximately 24 miles of irrigation pipe was installed
• Approximately 60,000 square feet of artificial rockwork was created
Back in the main building, Victoria Falls is the place to have an evening cocktail. Open from 4pm to midnight, this watering hole is located on the second floor off of the lobby and overlooks Boma - Flavors of Africa. This spot can be reached via stairs from the first and third floors. For those of you in wheelchairs and ECV’s, a ramp is available from the third to the second floor. In addition, a hallway leading from the elevator’s second floor stop leads to this location.
Many people, myself included, believe that Boma – Flavors of Africa (known simply as Boma to most) is the best buffet to be found at Walt Disney World. Located on the first floor of the resort, this establishment serves a wide range of African cuisines at dinner. From all corners of the continent, the chefs have brought together a multitude of flavors, but nothing so exotic as to intimidate the picky eater. The carved meats are sumptuous. And I’ve heard several vegetarians say that no place else on property offers them so many choices. Breakfast presents a more traditional, American meal.
The word “boma” refers to a rural African settlement surrounded by a fence made of sticks and mud. It would often act as a fort and within its boundaries were huts for its human residents and other areas allocated for livestock. At Disney’s Boma, stick fencing can be seen throughout the restaurant as it separates the various dining areas from one another. Beneath the “huts,” guests are offered the tribal selections of the day. A show kitchen and rotisserie fueled by a wood-burning grill add to the atmosphere.
If I had to find something negative to say about Boma it would be that it is crowded and noisy due to its popularity. Also, the wooden chairs are a little hard on the behind. But other than that, I love this place. The positives of Boma far outweigh these minor annoyances.
The restaurant is open for breakfast from 7:30am to 11am. Dinner is offered from 4:30pm to 9:30pm. Although it might be possible to snag a walk-up reservation, you are highly advised to book a table here months in advance. Boma can seat 270 guests. To see current selections and prices, click here.
Next door to Boma is Jiko – The Cooking Place (known simply as Jiko to most). This signature restaurant is comparable in caliber to The Flying Fish at The Boardwalk and Citricos at The Grand Floridian. Jiko means "cooking place" in Swahili, thus the restaurant's subtitle "The Cooking Place".
Jiko serves modern African cuisine infused with flavors of India and the Mediterranean. Two, large wood burning ovens sit in the middle of the restaurant. This prominent location allows guests to witness flatbreads and other menu items be prepared first hand. The restaurant boasts an “all South African” wine list, one of the largest in North America. In addition, all of the servers at Jiko have completed at least their Level I Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
When entering Jiko, a bar can be seen to the right. This is the spot to relax if you arrive before your reservation time. Next to the bar is an imaginative floor to ceiling wine rack. Behind this wall of wine is the private Cape Town Wine Room which can be reserved for special events and parties. The Cape Town Wine Room can seat up to forty guests.
The restaurant’s décor is simple and clean and uses a warm color pallet. The support columns are adorned with rings which symbolize those worn around women’s necks in some African tribes. The sweeping back wall represents the sky and changes colors during the evening. This color transformation represents the passage of time, sunrise to sunset, and completes this display three times each night. Stylized bird sculptures help set the mood of the Serengeti and can conjure up images of The Lion King movie’s opening scenes.
A number of tables sit next to oversized windows which look onto a pool of water which represents an African watering hole.
In an effort to maintain some sort of decorum, Jiko does have a dress code. Resort casual is the requested attire. Not allowed are: Tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs or torn clothing. T-shirts are now permitted however offensive language or graphics are not acceptable.
Jiko is a popular establishment and reservations are highly recommended. These can be arranged by calling 407-WDW-DINE. To see current menu and prices, click here. Jiko can seat 235 guests.
That’s it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.
The previous post in this blog was Getting a Job at Walt Disney World (Part 3 of 3).
The next post in this blog is Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House - Part Two.