Plan Your Disney Vacation at Animal Kingdom Lodge
A dear friend recently told me that he’s taking his family to Walt Disney World for the first time. He had a lot of questions for me, and they centered on his hotel. He wanted to know how to choose his park visits and restaurants based on where he was staying. And I had the epiphany that all Disney novices wonder the same thing. So, let’s start a new series with that premise, beginning with one of the most interesting Disney properties. Here’s a guide on planning your trip when staying at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
When you visit Walt Disney World, you’ll visit four different theme parks, each of which is phenomenal. At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ll obviously be closest to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and that’s a good thing! This park is the fastest growing one in North America right now and recently became the second-most popular place at Walt Disney World.
The main explanation for the explosive growth is Pandora – The World of Avatar, the most gorgeous and technologically advanced themed land in the world. The park has so many positives beyond this place, though. You’ll love Festival of the Lion King, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and all of the character meetings and photo ops available, especially the new Donald’s Dino-Bash!
Even with Animal Kingdom Lodge as your home base, you won’t spend most of your time at Animal Kingdom. The three other theme parks, two water parks, a sports complex, and Disney Springs will be where you spend much of your vacation. We’ll discuss the transportation situation in the next section, but let’s talk about each entertainment option right now.
The perception of Animal Kingdom Lodge is that it’s far away from the other parks. In reality, Google estimates that all of them are between 10 and 12 minutes from the hotel. The greatest distance is to Magic Kingdom, although that’s still only 6.7 miles away. Since it’s the most trafficked theme park with the most rides, expect to spend a lot of time here.
Epcot is 12 minutes away as well, but it’s only 6 miles in distance. This park does skew older, which means you’ll spend more time here if you’re traveling with older children or without them. Younger kids will prefer the rides at Future World, especially The Seas with Nemo and Friends and the accompanying attraction, Turtle Talk with Crush. Journey into Imagination with Figment is excellent for children as well. And if your kids love Anna and Elsa, Frozen Ever After is a must.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is light on rides right now, but it still has something for everyone. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is arguably the best overall attraction in Orlando, while Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is the most aggressive roller coaster Disney’s ever built. Toy Story Land and Star Tours appeal to kids, and the upcoming themed land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, will appeal to virtually everyone. You can currently do a lot here in just a few hours since this park is smaller to traverse.
Your standard admission ticket will grant access to one park each day. I’m a firm believer that you should upgrade to the Park Hopper pass for a few dollars more per day. Park Hopper allows you to enter and leave all four parks whenever you want. It’s pretty rare when my family doesn’t end up at Magic Kingdom at some point during a Disney day. Without Park Hopper, we couldn’t do this.
The other entertainment options are diverse. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is home to daily athletic competitions. You’ll receive detailed information when you’re participating in one of them. Even if you’re not, you should check the schedule to see if there’s a live sporting event you may want to watch.
The water parks will depend on the weather and your free time. Please understand that your regular admission ticket doesn’t include the water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Upgrade to the Park Hopper Plus feature to give yourself the largest number of entertainment choices. Speak with a MickeyTravels agent to learn about all available admission ticket packages and find the one that best serves your needs.
For now, a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge means that you’ll primarily ride buses throughout your vacation. You do have other options when you want to save some time or indulge a bit. Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services will pick you up near the hotel lobby and transport you anywhere you like. It doesn’t even have to be somewhere on the Disney campus.
Disney fans should try Minnie Vans, too. This ride-sharing service is Disney-managed. You’ll have a cast member chauffeur you to your destination. It’s the most stylish ride at Walt Disney World, although it’s priced that way, too.
When you’re at other places at Disney, you’ll have the ability to ride boats and monorails as well. For my family, a trip without a ride on the monorail feels incomplete. The buses can be a lot of fun, especially at night. Sometimes, the captain will host a Disney singalong, a surprisingly entertaining group activity.
At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’re much closer to Blizzard Beach than Typhoon Lagoon. It’s the better-themed water park, although I slightly prefer the attractions at Typhoon Lagoon. Please do your research to pick the better one for your family. You’re cutting your bus ride in half by choosing Blizzard Beach, though.
As an FYI, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is reasonably close to your hotel. It’s not the most convenient drive due to traffic, though. And you’re staying on the opposite end of the campus from Disney Springs. Expect to need more time on the bus when you visit here. Alternately, try to line up your plans so that you leave Hollywood Studios or Epcot and head to Disney Springs. You’ll cut your travel time with this strategy.
I wrote an entire article about reasons to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge. I want to hit on a few highlights so that you’ll know what to expect at your hotel. First of all, the theming here is immaculate and unexpectedly peaceful. The hotel doubles as a wildlife reserve, with many animals living just beyond your room. To keep these creatures settled, the resort staff has carefully orchestrated daily operations.
Calm and tranquil are the best ways to describe a visit here. The hotel lobby is even a place where many guests, myself included, take a nap. Others happily roam the grounds, spying on the various animals. The photos that you take at your hotel will be some of the best you ever take on vacation.
Similarly, you can eat exceptionally well at your resort. Boma, Jiko – The Cooking Place, The Mara, and Sanaa are all places where you could happily dine. I would even recommend both pool bars, which leads me to a second conversation point about Animal Kingdom Lodge. This resort is actually a combination of two hotels, Jambo House and Kidani Village.
Both of them have their own pools and restaurants. I list them all together because the walk is less than 10 minutes. Uzima Springs and Samawati Springs are two of the best pools at Disney, especially for children. You should build time into your day to swim, at least occasionally. It’ll soothe you.
When you stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, you may surprise yourself. It’s possible that you’ll fall so deeply in love with the amenities here that you spend a lot more time at the hotel than you’d planned. And you’ll get so addicted to those short bus rides to Animal Kingdom that you may spend a disproportionate amount of time there. You’re still close enough to the other parks that you can go anywhere that you like whenever you want, of course. It’s just that the Animal Kingdom area has a certain addictive charm.