Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas
A Brief History of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas
The history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas is much shorter than most of the other Disney Vacation Club (DVC) properties. Vaunted designer Peter Dominick worked on this property at roughly the same time as Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa. One would open in January of 2001 while the other would debut that April. Both properties celebrate the great outdoors and communal nature of lodge visits in their own ways, and so a shared designer for both projects made sense.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge became a pressing need after Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in April of 1998. None of the official Disney resorts in operation at the time were located close enough to the new park. Disney needed to add something nearby. The original property, Jambo House, is only 1.5 miles away from the park. The resort was a needed inclusion, but Disney went all out by extending the conceit of the park to the hotel, something we’ll discuss in the next section.
After a few years in operation, DVC members clamored for villas at Animal Kingdom Lodge. In 2006, Disney ceded to the wishes of its most loyal customers. By July of 2007, the villas were open and selling like hotcakes. Corporate officials recognized this rare opportunity and quickly decided to expand Animal Kingdom Lodge. They built a second facility, Kidani Village, and it opened in 2009. The family-friendly nature of the zoo-like environment at Animal Kingdom Villas has sustained its population for the entire decade that’s followed.
The Style of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas
The theming at Animal Kingdom Lodge is impeccable. You’re staying at a place inspired by lodges in Africa, the kinds of hotels where you’d stay while on safari. And the completionist nature of the premise extends to its best feature. Animals live on the hotel campus. Guests get to see them when the people exit the back of the hotel lobby, and some rooms even come with rare perspectives of animals in their natural habitats.
The African theming is integral to both hotels under the Animal Kingdom Villas umbrella. You’ll see authentic items imported from the continent, and Dominick went out of his way to honor the culture as much as possible. Here’s an applicable quote:
“The design challenge was to translate the African mythic traditions of animal and landscape into a built form and an understandable art, to create the effect of Africa’s topography and log views on a relatively flat site, to meet building code requirements while honoring the authenticity of jungle materials, to separate guests and wildlife for the security and safety of both, and to create an intimate eco-tourism experience at a vacation venue on a commercial scale.”
This attention to detail explains why Animal Kingdom Lodge is frequently listed as one of the best themed resorts in the entire Disney collection. To learn more and gain a deeper appreciation of this hallmark achievement in hotel design, I strongly encourage you to read the full article linked above.
The DVC Aspects
Animal Kingdom Villas is the toughest DVC facility to evaluate in that the resort includes twin facilities. They’re fraternal twins, though. Jambo House and Kidani Village floorplans aren’t exactly the same, and some of the room types aren’t available at both resorts. Also, the DVC community is a bit divided about some of the finer points of each place. Everyone seems to have a favorite, and they’re passionate about it to the expense of the other twin.
DVC members who prefer the standard level of hotel rooms won’t even have an easy call here. In addition to the studios available at all DVC properties, Animal Kingdom Villas has “Value Accommodations. These are converted hotel rooms rather than ones originally designed to be villas. As such, they’re smaller. They’re also cheaper in terms of points. A weekday stay during Adventure or Choice Season costs only nine points!
Animal Kingdom Deluxe Studio:
Since DVC members can book this room tier at great savings, the Value accommodations tend to sell quickly. They’re only available at Jambo House, also. This leads us to the oddity of Jambo House vs. Kidani Village. The later add-on has only two room tiers, Standard View and Savannah View.
Jambo House has an additional pair of tiers, Value Accommodations and Kilimanjaro Club Concierge. The later rooms cost the most in each tier, but you receive an exceptional benefit. You get access to the concierge floor of Jambo House.
This access includes the Concierge Lounge that serves free food and beverages throughout the day, and one of those beverages is often the beloved Jungle Juice from Tusker House. It’s so popular that it autofills on Google for the drink recipe. You enjoy all of the other benefits of concierge service as well if you’re so inclined.
The catch is the points cost. Whereas Value Accommodations cost nine points, the Concierge room type is 17, and that skew continues for other seasons. During Premier Season, Value Accommodations are 16-19 points while Concierge is 29-33 points.
The second cheapest points cost is the Standard View room. Booking this type gives you a 50/50 chance of Kidani Village vs. Jambo House. By selecting one of the tiers above, you’re locked into Jambo House. Standard View is exactly what it sounds like, but I must mention it in combination with Savannah View, the most important room type at this DVC resort.
When you book Savannah View, your room will overlook the animals that live in the natural habitats at Animal Kingdom Villas. It’s like having a zoo outside your window. Many DVC members happily spend hours out on the patio, reveling in the unprecedented view of animals frolicking. During all the seasons except Premier, the nightly difference in points between Standard View and Savannah View is either three or four points. Splurge on the points and treat yourself. You deserve it!
The room size of a standard studio is 365 square feet at Jambo House vs. 366 square feet at Kidani Village. The Value Accommodations are 316 square feet. So, the regular rooms have adequate size, and even the smallest DVC option is still larger than a regular hotel room.
Animal Kingdom Villas provides DVC members with suite options, too. For one- and two-bedroom suites, you should favor Kidani Village due to the extra space. Jambo House one-bedrooms are 629-710 square feet, while two-bedrooms are 945-1,075 square feet. The explanation for the size discrepancy is that the Value Accommodations option is available with suites, also.
Animal Kingdom One-Bedroom:
Animal Kingdom Two-Bedroom:
Kidani Village one-bedrooms are 807 square feet while two-bedrooms are 1,173 square feet. That’s enough of a difference to justify staying at Kidani Village over Jambo House. Oddly, the situation flips for the Grand Villas. Kidani Village is a spacious 2,201 square feet, but Jambo House’s Grand Villas are even larger at 2,349 square feet. Even these gigantic suites have Standard Views vs. Savannah Views. When you’re spending that many points per night, I’m not sure why you’d settle for a Standard View, though.
Animal Kingdom Grand Villa (Kidani Village):
Animal Kingdom Grand Villa (Jambo House):
I can summarize the amenities at Animal Kingdom Villas as: the lobby, the pool, the zoo, and the restaurants. Anyone familiar with the resort is shaking their head in confirmation. It’s not a hard list to populate since the selections are so obvious.
The lobbies of the Animal Kingdom Villas resorts mimic the style of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. They’re awe-inspiring, serene locales that are thematically impeccable. Kidani Village is the more modest of the two. At Jambo House, the multi-level façade and seating area in the middle of the lobby elevate it into the upper echelons of best Disney resort lobbies. I have fond memories of an early visit where I felt so completely at peace that I fell asleep. I was in a completely blissful state when I awakened, and that’s how I perceive Jambo House.
Just beyond the lobbies, guests will find the most memorable component of these twin resorts. Animal habitats reside just beyond the hotel walls. Since these beasts have lived here for most of if not their entire lives, they’re perfect comfortable with the setting. The novelty of humans eyeing them has long since worn off. Sure, they’ll stare back if you stare too long, but they’re mainly there to eat, play, and pass the days happily. Only Disney could comfortably place animals and humans in the same lodgings without incident. It’s a historic amenity that rivals anything else at any hotel anywhere on the planet. And that’s not hyperbole.
The pools at Animal Kingdom Villas are another hotly contested topic. Samawati Springs Pool at Kidani Village is undeniably smaller and more intimate as a setting. Since both resorts are wildly popular with families with young children, however, the intimacy still includes lots of loud noises and kinetic behavior.
Uzima Springs Pool is decadently large at 11,000 square feet, and it’s an exercise in chaos overall. A lot of the action at Jambo House is centralized at or near this pool, making it the functional epicenter of the hotel grounds. Frankly, it’s wonderful and I love it and I wish I were there right now. It’s in the conversation for best pool at any Walt Disney World DVC resort.
The food at Animal Kingdom Villas rivals anything at the World Showcase at Epcot. I’m not even joking. Boma and Jiko are among the best reviewed restaurants in all of Orlando, and The Mara offers one of the best resort breakfasts you will find at Walt Disney World. Frankly, this entire article could be an extended discussion of the resort’s amenities. After 1,500 appreciative words, you’d be ready to buy an Animal Kingdom Villas contract. Everything listed here is an A+ feature. Even when you’re not staying at one of these resorts, you should still visit during your Disney vacation just to eat at Boma or Jiko.
Resort Pros and Cons
Had I written this description a couple of years ago, it would read much differently. The biggest con of Animal Kingdom Villas historically is now one of its strongest pros. It’s kind of on an island on the Disney campus (figuratively, not literally) as the hotel closest to Animal Kingdom. Its proximity to the other three parks isn’t ideal.
Since the debut of Pandora – The World of Avatar, however, this park is the hottest place at Walt Disney World. Attendance increased so dramatically since the themed land opened that Animal Kingdom overtook Epcot in attendance in 2017. When you want to explore the world from James Cameron’s movie in a lavishly Imagineered setting, Animal Kingdom Villas is the place to stay. You’re only a five minute bus ride away.
The other huge pros are the ones discussed in the amenities section. The food here is life-changing in its quality and diversity. You’ll eat things that you’ve never had before, and you WILL get addicted to them. The onsite zoo is the type of blue sky idea that’s only possible thanks to the genius of Disney cast members. And the primary resort pool is among the best in the DVC lineup, too. Seasons DVC veterans can stretch the points chart here, too.
The con from 2016 is still a con as well. Disney fans who love Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Hollywood Studios will hate the logistics here. You’ll spend a lot of time waiting on buses. Even the ride-sharing services are reticent to service this area since other parts of the Disney campus are more lucrative. You’ll spend a lot of time traveling that you’d rather use at the parks and Disney Springs. When Animal Kingdom is your primary destination, however, this DVC resort is a grand slam of convenience, amenities, and ambiance.