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July 31, 2012

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead


Yesterday I ended my blog with a brief description of Jiko, the Animal Kingdom Lodge's signature restaurant. Today I'll continue my tour of the grounds and amenities of the resort and discuss the attributes of a standard guest room.

The watering hole next to Jiko meanders through the jungle and eventually joins Uzima Pool. Uzima means "clear water" in Swahili. This expansive pool covers 11,000 square feet and has a 67-foot long waterslide. Uzima Pool also features zero entry access. This sloping entrance allows those riding in specially designed wheelchairs to roll directly into the pool. This is also the perfect spot for toddlers to splash and play in shallow water. Remember, diaper-aged children are required to wear swim diapers or rubber pants whenever using any Disney pool.


Uzima Pool

Uzima Pool


Next to the pool is Uzima Springs Watering Hole. This is the spot to order your favorite liquid concoction or try a specialty African libation. Numerous tables, chairs, and lounges are nearby for relaxing in the shade or sun.


Uzima Springs Watering Hole

Uzima Springs Watering Hole

Uzima Springs Watering Hole


Also near the pool is the Hakuna Matata Playground. Parents should have "no worries" when their little ones climb and swing on this modern-day jungle gym. The ground covering is soft and bouncy and will absorb most of the "ouch" when young'uns fall down.


Hakuna Matata Playground


Another savanna overlook can be found next to the playground. Flamingos are a common sight here, but other animals are often seen in the area as well.


Savanna Overlook

Savanna Overlook

Flamingos


When everyone gets tired of fun in the sun, the kids can head over to Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade and the adults can work off that meal enjoyed at Boma at Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center.


Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade

Pumbaa's Fun & Games Arcade

Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center

Zahanati Massage & Fitness Center


Besides Boma and Jiko, the Animal Kingdom Lodge also features a counter service eatery called The Mara. Open from 6am to 11:30 pm, this location offers grab-and-go snacks and cooked-to-order meals. For me, The Mara is perfect for breakfast as this meal is difficult to find within the theme parks unless you're attending a character breakfast. However, many others know this and The Mara can become very busy starting around 8am.

The name "Mara" comes from the Mara River and the Masai Mara National Reserve located in south-western Kenya. The clever mural that lines the walls of the dining room represents this Serengeti ecosystem.

To see the current menu for The Mara, click here. The Mara seats 186 guests.


The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara

The Mara


To see an overview of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, click on the video below.



As with all of the deluxe resorts, the Animal Kingdom Lodge has a special lounge dedicated to those staying in suites or who are willing to pay extra to partake in the services offered at this lounge. Here, this retreat is called Kilimanjaro Club and it is located on the sixth floor of the resort, overlooking the lobby.


Kilimanjaro Club

Kilimanjaro Club


The Kilimanjaro Club offers dedicated concierge services. These cast members will help you plan your vacation as well as make dining, show, and tour reservations. In addition, Kilimanjaro Club Level guests can book a special safari adventure not available to other guests.

The Sunrise Safari lasts approximately two hours and takes guests on a 45 minute tour of the Animal Kingdom's African ecosystem. Along the way, a guide will be on hand to answer questions and provide information not usually disseminated on the regular Kilimanjaro Safaris. Afterwards, a lavish buffet breakfast is presented at Pizzafari. This tour is booked at the Club Level Concierge Desk and is subject to availability.

For those of you not staying in a Club Level room, don't despair. Disney offers another program exclusive to Animal Kingdom Lodge guest only. The Wanyama Safari offers guests a three hour adventure where they will ride in trucks through the various savannas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge. They will also have the opportunity to interact with Animal Program Team members and learn about the various creatures of the Lodge and the attention and care Disney gives them. The adventure concludes with a multi-course dinner at Jiko. This tour is booked at the Main Lobby Concierge Desk and is subject to availability.

This next picture is of the Club Level Concierge Desks.


Club Level Concierge Desks


The Kilimanjaro Club also offers a continental breakfast each morning, cookies, sodas, and other treats in the afternoon, and hot & cold appetizers and wine in the evening. Check with the concierge for times.


Kilimanjaro Club

Kilimanjaro Club


To see a short video of the Kilimanjaro Club, click on the picture below.



Eighty percent of the rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge look out onto one of the resort's four savannas. Those that don't have views of a savanna look over the pool area or parking lot. Room rates are appropriately set. To see current prices, click here.

The resort's basic shape was inspired by a traditional African "kraal" (or corral). This centuries old village design created a circular wall of protection for its inhabitants and animals. This defensive layout can easily be seen on the resort map below.


AKL Map


The resort has four wings, or trails. They are named Ostrich, Giraffe, Zebra, and Kudu. In order to maximize savanna views, the Zebra and Kudu Trails are especially long. If you have mobility issues, be sure to let the cast member know when making your reservation and again when you check in.

Standard rooms are located on floors 1through 4 and measure 344 square feet. Deluxe rooms and converted DVC rooms can be found on floors 5 and 6. I recently stayed in a standard room and will be describing its attributes to you now.

Since the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort, all rooms open onto an inside corridor. Many people prefer this arrangement as it affords more privacy and cuts down on noise.


Trail Corridor


Entering the room brings you into a short hallway. Off of this are a closet, the bathroom, and a door to the adjoining room (should you request connecting rooms.)


Room Hallway


The closet is decent sized. Inside are a luggage rack, a fold-up crib, extra bedding, an iron, and a wall safe big enough to hold a laptop computer. Robes are provided in Club Level rooms.


AKL Room Closet

AKL Room Closet

AKL Room Closet


The sink area of the bathroom is large and well lit. The marble countertop cradles two basins with pewter faucets. A large mirror is framed in dark wood and a hairdryer hangs on a side wall. The wallpaper in this room is especially fun as it displays a stylized colonial African map with steam trains, propeller driven airplanes, and a collection of animals.


AKL Bathroom

AKL Bathroom

AKL Wallpaper


Guests staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are treated to H20+ products such as shampoo and conditioner. An enhanced selection of toiletries is provided to Club Level Room guests. Some of these might include: Collagen Conditioner, Revitalizing Shampoo, Body Wash, Hydrating Body Butter, Foot Rub, and a dental package.


H20+ Products

H20+ Products


The toilet and shower/bath is located in an adjacent room. The wall behind the shower features large, earth-tone colored tiles with one row displaying vividly colored African designs. The shower curtain continues the African theme with tribal patterns and animals. The towels are fluffy and absorbent.


AKL Tub-Shower-Toilet

AKL Tub-Shower-Toilet


The bedroom is large and includes two queen sized beds. The wall color is tan and dark woods make up the bulk of the furniture. Much of this furniture was handmade in Zimbabwe. The carpet hints at an animal pattern.


AKL Bedroom


The beds are comfortable and covered in a brightly colored spread African textile designs. The headboard is intricately carved and inspired by African butterfly masks. The sheer material draped above the headboard symbolizes the mosquito netting so necessary when sleeping outside while on safari. Between the beds is a nightstand with a phone and clock-iPod docking station.


AKL Bed

AKL Headboard

AKL Night Stand


On the wall opposite the beds are the other furnishings of the room. A small chest houses a mini-refrigerator and on top is the coffee maker and ice bucket. Although I don't drink coffee and never used this appliance, I felt its position was a little low for convenient use.


AKL Furniture

AKL Coffee Maker

AKL mini-refrigerator


The flat-screen TV is contained in a handsome chest of drawers. A DVD player and audio/visual connections are located on the open shelf below. If you bring your own cables, you can playback each day's videos on the TV.


AKL Chest of Drawers and TV


A table, two chairs, pole lamp, and mirror are positioned in the corner of the room. Free WiFi is now standard at Disney World resorts and this table doubles nicely as a desk.


AKL Table and Chairs


To see a short video of a Standard Room, click on the picture below.



Of course, the real reason to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is to view the animals. All rooms have a long, narrow balcony with a table and two chairs. Please note, the savannas are under constant camera surveillance. It is possible for these cameras to inadvertently see into your room. To insure privacy, keep your drapes drawn during times of undress.


AKL Balcony

AKL Balcony

AKL Balcony


Here are a couple of pictures taken from my balcony.


AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View

AKL Balcony View


At night, the savannas are bathed in a soft glow that resembles moonlight. Since I often have trouble sleeping, I've been known to step out onto my balcony at two in the morning. Sure enough, I can often see animals sleeping just below me in the peaceful surroundings. This is truly a magical moment.

Disney realizes that guests want to be able to see the animals every time they step out onto their balcony. But this just isn't possible for a number of reasons. After a lot of consideration, it was decided that in the morning, most people are hurriedly getting ready for a day in the parks. They are showering, dressing, and thinking about breakfast. Animals are not the first thing on their minds at this time of day. So it is in the morning that the animals will be most scarce.

Each day at 6am, the animals are encouraged to return to an enclosed area backstage for general care and treatment. And while the vets and other experts are tending to the animals, the horticulturists and groundskeepers use this time to maintain the savannas. By noon, all of the animals are returned to the grounds and will remain available for viewing until 6am the next day. However, the animals are allowed to roam freely and can wander wherever they want within a savanna. Disney employs "tricks" (like placing food all around the savannas) to entice the creatures to venture near your room, but this doesn't always work.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge has its own set of animals. They are not shared with the Animal Kingdom theme park. On occasion, a particular animal might be moved from one location to another, but overall, they call either the Lodge or the Park home.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House & Kidani Village) has four savannas, Uzima, Arusha, Sunset, and Pembe. Each is approximately 10 acres in size. These savannas are a representation of the plains used by migrating herds of the reserves in Zululand. Disney does not specify which animals will be appearing in a given savanna as their location changes frequently. This is done to accommodate the needs of the animals and the vets and to keep the savannas ever changing for the benefit of resort guests.

Here is a list of animals that might be seen while staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge:

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
African Spoonbill
Ankole-Watusi Cattle
Blue Crane
Blue Wildebeest
Common Eland
Common Shelduck
East African Crowned Crane
Egyptian Goose
Giraffe
Grant's Zebra
Greater Flamingo
Greater Kudu
Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
Helmeted Guineafowl
Impala
Marabou Stork
Nyala
Okapi (Pembe Savannah only)
Ostrich
Pink-Backed Pelican
Radiated Tortoise (Found outside of the Sanaa guest waiting area located at Kidani Village)
Red River Hog
Roan Antelope
Sable Antelope
Thomson's Gazelle
Vulture
Vulturine Guineafowl
Waterbuck

Is the Animal Kingdom Lodge right for you?

That depends. If you LOVE animals and are willing to spend the extra money to live among them for a couple of days, then by all means, book a room here. Even the rooms that overlook the parking lot and pool have easy access to several animal overlooks so the creatures are never far away.

But if the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at the Animal Kingdom fulfills your animal needs, then there might be better choices when it comes to a deluxe resort at Disney. The most common complaint I hear about the Animal Kingdom Lodge is that it is so far away from everything. If you don't have a car, you must take a bus everywhere you go. All of the other deluxe resorts offer monorail or boat transportation to at least one park - a far more "romantic" way to travel.

Last month, I wrote an article about Golden Oak, the new community being built at Walt Disney World. For that press event, Disney provided me with free lodging at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I used this opportunity to my advantage and gathered information for this blog while staying there. Disney's generosity did not influence my story and my opinions are my own.

I like the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Whenever I have out-of-town guests visiting, I make sure to book a meal at Boma so they can experience this excellent buffet, see the splendid architecture, and gaze upon the magnificent animals. This is truly a unique resort and it's full of Disney magic.



May 3, 2009

Kidani Village – Final Blog

In this final blog I'm going to try to tie up any loose ends and answer a few more questions.

When I checked into Kidani Village early on May 1st, I was the only guest at the front desk and I had seven eager cast members ready and willing to tell me everything there is to know about Kidani Village. When I mentioned that I had lunch reservations at Sanaa, in unison they said "Try the pork chop."

Yesterday, it was time to put their recommendation to the test. But before I ever arrived at my table, I learned something new about the restaurant. It was designed to look like a stylized outdoor marketplace and all of the waitstaff are referred to as merchants. I realize that this is sort of gimmicky, but it works. Hey, it's Disney and getting lost in our imaginations is what it's all about.

Take a look at the design in the middle of the tables at Sanaa.


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Since I knew I'd be writing a mini-review about lunch at Sanaa, I felt it important to order two different meals. Since Donald and I were both still full from our large dinner the night before, we decided to skip appetizers and desserts and only order entrees. But now the hard decision - who gets the Grilled Port Chop ($17.99)? It was finally decided that Donald would get the recommended selection.

This chop is available at lunch only and is the sole pork item served. Because this meat is not commonly served in Africa or India it was decided to limit its use. In fact, the bacon used on the Club Sandwich is Turkey-Bacon.

The Grilled Pork Chop is glazed with ginger and pickled lime sauce and served with sautéed spinach. However, Donald opted for the stir-fried green beans.


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Donald did allow me a small bite of the pork and we both agreed that the front-desk cast members were right - this dish is a winner. It was tender, moist, and flavorful. Note, I would call the serving size a "lunch" portion, but there was enough food here to satisfy Donald.

For my entrée I tried one of the combination meals ($18.99). Here you can choose two from the following: Chicken With Red Curry Sauce, Paneer Cheese and Spinach, Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, and Beef Short Ribs. I opted for Chicken Curry and Paneer Cheese.


Kidani%20Village%20101.jpg


The Chicken Curry was good; however I wish there had been a few more bites of meat in the bowl. As for the curry, I liked it. Curry is certainly a robust flavor, but it wasn't overpowering. It had a slight tingle, but not so strong as to scare away those of you who don't like spicy-hot food.

The Paneer Cheese and Spinach was interesting. I want tell you more, but I'm really not sure what to say. I finished it all so it must have been good, but words escape me when I try to describe it. Sorry.

Overall, I'm pleased with Sanaa. The menu is diverse and it would take several visits to try everything. And the food is unique. Even though I found it difficult to describe the Paneer Cheese and Spinach, I'm still glad I ordered it. It was fun to try something new. And I love the décor of the restaurant. The designers created one of the most inviting and warm spots at Disney.

Now it's time to move on to some final odds and ends about Kidani Village.

High Speed Internet Access: Each room is equipped with a cable to connect a laptop to the internet. You'll find the cable in a cloth bag hanging in a closet. The price is $9.95 for 24 hours. However members (and their guest) get this service for free. Non-members making general reservations must pay. Also, if you take the cable home with you, you'll be charged $9.95.

Disney is installing WiFi in many of the public rooms of their resorts. It will eventually make it to Kidani Village, but no date has been set for this to happen.

Throughout the resort you will see wonderfully shaped pieces of colorful glass in a number of chandeliers. This glass was crafted by Savoy Studios. For more information, check out their website. http://www.savoystudios.com/


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Take a look at the hidden Mickeys found in the hallway carpet.


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In your room, look for a "Wildlife Field Guide." On it you'll find a list of animals that roam the savanna and a brief description of their habits.

Of course, as nice as the resort is, the real reason anyone would stay here is to see the animals. Greg, Curator in the Animals Program Department, told me that when you see the animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari, it's only for a brief moment. But when you view them from Jambo House or Kidani Village, you can actually watch them behave and interact over a period of time. This gives you a far better understanding of the animals than a quick "drive by" can provide.

All of the pictures below were taken from my room on the third floor.


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May 2, 2009

Kidani Village Part 5

For lunch yesterday we went to the Maji Pool Bar. Disney offers two options for lunch at this location. The first is a more casual menu of premade sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices. These are handled by the bartender and service is immediate.


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Kidani%20Village%20031.jpg


The other option is called Private Dining (in other words, room service). Located at one end of the bar is a phone with a direct line to the kitchen. Just pick up the receiver and you'll be connected to an operator. This menu is more substantial with prices to match.


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Kidani%20Village%20030.jpg


After placing my "Private Dining" order I was told there would be a $3 delivery charge and an automatic 18% gratuity. I was also told there would be a 35-40 minute wait for my food. Located next to the phone were large numbers to place on the table. I was asked to select one so a cast member could find me later. To my surprise, my order arrived in just a little over 10 minutes.

The food is beautifully served in a Bento Box and the display is well worth the extra cost. I ordered the Tandoori Chicken for $14.99. It was served on Naan Bread and it came with a cucumber dressing, a small green salad, and pineapple custard. All of it was extremely good and the chicken a little spicy. In fact, my lips were tingling after each bite. My friend Donald ordered the Club Sandwich on Multi-grain bread for $11.49. It was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, this meal comes with two sandwiches --- enough for a couple to share.


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The Maji Bar is the perfect spot to enjoy a lunch. African music plays in the background and the pool is nearby. And when the Pembe Savanna is completed this fall, animals will be within sight of the bar.


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Also in the pool area is a Walt Disney proverb. But I won't tell you where. You'll have to find it on your own.


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After lunch we headed to the Savanna Overlook that juts out into the Sunset Savanna. Here we spoke with Greg who is a Curator in the Animals Program department. One of the things he wanted me to share with you is the hours that the animals are available for viewing in the Sunset Savanna.


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Kidani%20Village%20042.jpg


Every morning at 6am, the animals are encouraged to return to an enclosed area for general care and treatment. And while the vets and other experts are tending to the animals, the horticulturists and groundskeepers use this time to maintain the savanna. By noon, all of the animals are returned to the grounds and will remain available for viewing until 6am the next day.

The reason this time of day was chosen to care for the animals was that it was thought that the majority of guests would be busy in the morning getting ready to go to the theme parks and interest in viewing them would be at its lowest. Then, in the afternoon when you return from the parks, these magnificent creature would be waiting for you.

My next stop was the sports area. Located next to a small retention pond you'll find a half basketball court, two tennis courts, two shuffleboard courts, and a covered picnic area with tables and four BBQs.


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Here are two Hidden Mickeys for you. All I'll tell you is that both of them are located in the lobby.


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Something I want to warn you about is the resort's size. In order to maximize the number of rooms that have views of the savannas, the buildings needed to be long - extremely long. So if you have a room at the far end of one of the wings, it can be a substantial walk to the lobby, Sanaa Restaurant, or the Samawati Springs pool area. If you have mobility problems you would most certainly want to let Disney know when making your reservation and again when checking in.

Now that I've stayed a night at the Kidani Village, there are a few odds and ends I'd like to share with you.

The exhaust fans in the bathroom are motion activated and remain on for several minutes after leaving the room. Normally I don't see this as a problem, but if you have light sleepers in your group this could wake them at night.

The bathroom vanity is well designed with plenty of space to store your toiletries.


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The clock-radio has a docking port for iPods.


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The balconies are large and reasonably private. However, noise travels and conversations from adjoining balconies are easily heard.


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There are no recycle trash bins in the room. Shame on Disney since I know these are available at other Disney World resorts. Maybe they were just missing because it was opening day and they hadn't arrived yet.

One reader asked me what floor offers the best views of the savanna. After giving this question a bit of thought, here's what I came up with.

The public viewing porches are located on the second floor. Obviously someone thought this would be a good location to watch the animals. However, the Grand Villas, the most expensive rooms, are located on the fourth and fifth floors. So it appears that Disney doesn't have an answer for this question either.


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I found out that Night Vision Viewing of the animals is only available at Jambo House.

The pool's maximum depth is 4'11".

Sanaa


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Each day when the restaurant opens for lunch and dinner (11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.), a number of Sanaa cast members sing an African welcoming song to those guests in the lobby, waiting to be seated. This certainly isn't a "knock-your-socks-off event," but it is a pleasant way to start a dining adventure and it made me glad I had 5 o'clock reservations so I could experience it. Also, the first several guests to enter the restaurant are greeted by additional cast members who carry long, grass-like sticks and they wave them at you as you pass between them. I'm sure there was ceremonial significance to this, but I was so awestruck by my surroundings that I forgot to ask.


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Donald and I were the first party seated on May 1st and thus became the very first guests to have dinner at Sanaa. Our server was James and he epitomized the perfect Disney cast member. He provided us with enough conversation to be friendly, but never intruded. He was also extremely knowledgeable when it came to the menu. And the meal was timed perfectly. There is nothing I hate more than to be in and out of a nice restaurant within 45 minutes. Our meal took two hours as we were allowed the time to enjoy each course before the next was anywhere in sight.


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We started our meal with the Indian-style Bread Service for $8.99 (serves two). Here you can choose three flatbreads (from four) and three dipping sauces (from eight). For the breads we chose Roti, Paratha, and Paneer Paratha and for our dipping sauces we selected Coriander Chutney, Mango Chutney, and Tamarind Chutney.


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To be honest, I really couldn't distinguish a lot of difference between the breads. But the chutneys were a different story. Each had a very distinct taste with the Coriander ranking as our favorite. But please note, while the other two were flavorful, the Coriander was kick-in-the-pants spicy. I would definitely order the bread course on a future visit just for the sauces.

For appetizers we decided on the Sampler for Two ($14.99). This included Roasted Cauliflower, Pulled Duck with Red Curry Sauce, and Potato and Pea Samosas. James left the dipping sauces (from the bread course) on the table just in case we wished to use them with the appetizers. I felt the Cauliflower and Duck held their own, but we both added some sauce to the Potato and Pea. There is a fourth appetizer that is not part of the Sampler. Although we were happy with these selections, we weren't blown away by them either. Good, but not great. I think next time I'll try the stand-alone appetizer of Mustard Seed Crusted Scallops.


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For an entrée, Donald tried one of the combination meals ($18.99). Here you can chose two from the following: Chicken With Red Curry Sauce, Paneer Cheese and Spinach, Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, and Beef Short Ribs. Donald opted for the shrimp and ribs.


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I make short ribs at home and Sanaa's version definitely had that distinctive short rib taste. But there were other subtle flavors infused in the meat that my down-home recipe is lacking. If there had been salt on the table, I would have used it, but the ribs were quite good and extremely tender.

In a way, I would have to describe the shrimp in the same manner. It certainly tasted like shrimp, but there were other flavors playing with my taste buds.

The gentleman at the next table opted for the spinach and cheese selection. He told me that it tasted like nothing he'd ever eaten before. When I asked him if this was good or bad, he said, "Good." But the flavors were so new to him that it took a moment for his palate to become accustomed to the 30 spices used in the dish.

For my entrée I selected the Spice-crusted Cornish Game Hen with Turnips and Cherries ($17.99). I thought this dish was outstanding. I also make game hens at home, but they taste nothing likes this. Sanaa's bird was heaping with flavor. So much so that the chef-selected wine is Pinot Noir (a red wine, not a white). And to be honest, I feel a more flavorful wine should be paired with this dish. Please note, the meal is spicy, not spicy-hot. However, James did tell me that the chef can add some "kick" to any dish if you request it.


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For dessert I ordered the Cardamom-Butter Cake with Orange Supreme and Saffron Syrup for $5.49. This offering has a subtle taste. I did like it, but after my spicy hen the cake seemed mild. I think this dessert would be better suited to follow a less spicy dish.

Donald ordered the Chai Cream with Tea Tuile. This was probably the highlight of the meal. A creamy custard, served in a glass, with a taste that's very difficult to describe, but oh so delicious. I know what I'm getting on my next visit.


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Here is the view from our table.


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I've eaten at Jiko five times and have yet be overly impressed with the food. But I think Sanaa is on the right track. A few dishes might need some fine tuning, but this spot has the beginnings of a unique and fine Disney experience.

For pictures of Sanaa, see Blog 2 in my Kidani Village series.

That is it for this blog. I'll be writing one final entry and it should be up sometime tomorrow.

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