Savoring the senses of Africa
Arusha. Uzima. Kudu. The sounds of these words transport you into an exotic world before you’ve even found the hallway that will take you to your villa at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House. And if you weren’t too rushed to check in, you might have paused as you first set foot into the soaring lobby to absorb the cool dark wood purpose-built to shield your eyes from the blazing sun outside. A similar experience awaits you if you are checking in at Kidani Village. Both properties which welcome DVC members home are treasure troves of sensory experiences…IF you make the time for them. And that is hard to do when you are juggling kids and luggage and groceries and project managing transportation, dining reservations, and fast pass return times, so it needs a boost to float up on the list of priorities!
It’s a fair argument that the Animal Kingdom Lodges of Jambo House and Kidani Village showcase Disney theming at its best. After all, theming here goes way beyond décor and wall art and includes “props” of live giraffes, impala and zebra! Not to mention cultural ambassadors from a host of African nations who are always willing to share stories about where they came from. Both Jambo House and Kidani Village provide a feast of color, sound, scents, textures and flavors. Not all of them are obvious, but many are so powerful, carving out a portion of a day or an evening to experience them away from the chaos of the parks may just become the most memorable part of your stay. Even if you’ve stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge multiple times, it is easy to miss its more subtle wonders. So here’s a Sensory Spotting Guide to Animal Kingdom Lodge!
Unquestionably the focal point of Jambo House, the lobby is decorated with brightly colored light fixtures, furniture, area rugs and sculptures which contrast with the dark, soothing wood. A suspension bridge and floor-to-ceiling windows draw you in from the main entry. On either side of those great glass windows are unobtrusive doors that lead to a covered balcony with rocking chairs overlooking the vista from a bird’s eye perch. There are hardly ever any other people there. In fact, you usually only notice them when you are outside by the storytelling fire pit, looking up. And speaking of looking up, don’t forget to! The architectural details at the roofline are fascinating, as well as the materials that make up the roof and ceilings. Look up when you are in the pool area, too. There are real bananas growing on the trees!
Kidani Village has its own brand of eye candy. It scales things down due its much smaller lobby area, but is still alive with color and contrast. The lantern wall just outside the entrance offers a glowing welcome by day and is positively enchanting at night.
In both resort buildings, African art is spread not just in the main public areas of the lobby, but also down the hallways to guest rooms. Glass cases in elevator bays display items like tribal headdresses and ceremonial costumes. Stop and take a look…they are 100% authentic. If you are hauling luggage down those long hallways, it’s a good excuse to stop and rest while you admire the display! After dark, find a pair of the night vision goggles available at select animal overlooks. You’ll get a whole different perspective on the savannahs at night which may look empty but are still full of life.
The Scents and Flavors
Since the main restaurants of Boma and Jiko are in the very heart of Jambo House’s lobby, the mouth-watering smells of meats cooking and sauces simmering are ever-present. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample all kinds of foods deliciously foreign to most American and European palates at Boma’s buffet. Full-service Jiko is equally exotic and steeped in quiet elegance, but there’s something to be said about being able to take small portions of the many, many tantalizing offerings that make a Boma meal an adventure! Leave room for the wildly popular Zebra Dome desserts (and don’t worry if you couldn’t get to Boma, you can pick up a pack of Zebra Domes to go in the Mara quick-serve!)
You can enjoy the aura of Boma without necessarily having a meal there by taking some time for a cocktail (the Magic Star ones light up!) at Victoria Falls Lounge, overlooking the restaurant. Upholstered chairs as well as bistro tables for two offer an immersive location to drink in the atmosphere while you drink in an African wine or beer. At Kidani, Sanaa’s lounge is where you can enjoy a similar kind of relaxing, in a bit quieter environment. Don’t forget to listen!
The primal beat of drums can be heard before you’ve even entered the lobbies of either resort. The recorded soundtrack played in the resorts is available on YouTube.com and evokes the spirit of the many tribal peoples of Africa. You sometimes have to work to listen around the lodges because of the number of people you are sharing it with, but with a bit of focus you can start to hear what is always running in the background. Probably the best place to listen is your own guest room at night if you are lucky enough to have a savannah view. Far from the commotion of the lobby and restaurants, you can hear the animals grazing, snuffling through branches, and occasionally even running through the savannah. You can also hear what sounds like a far-off celebration by villagers with music and chanting. If you don’t have a savannah view room, you can still have the experience of sound at any one of the many overlooks (it’s just a bit nicer to do this in your pajamas!)
The savannahs themselves, night or day, are full of the sounds of the birds and animals who live there. Don’t miss the squawking frenzy the flamingoes work themselves into near feeding time, the clacking together of horns of sparring antelope or the flapping wings of perching birds arguing over the best spot at the watering hole.
A favorite sound is the accent in the voices of the cultural ambassadors who can be found in several places inside and out, and particularly near the animal overlooks. They will gladly share interesting facts about the animals, but equally fascinating is to get them to talk about how they were recruited to their job at the lodge, what their life was like back home, what their experience has been living in Florida, and what they hope to do when their tenure at Disney is over. For fanciful stories, find out when the storytelling sessions are by the fire pit and grab a chair early. Sitting by the fire listening to someone from Nairobi tell stories of gullible lions and sly hyenas is nothing short of magical.
Natural textures abound at the lodges…scraggly branches framing savannah views, cascades of flowers, camouflage netting, tall grasses, stones, carefully conserved water features, animal carvings on the rocks. In your guest room the wispy fabrics over beds and curtains are reminiscent of the mosquito netting at safari camps (which you happily don’t need). Wrought iron light fixtures resemble lanterns and provide muted light. In baths and kitchens, you can trace Simba’s outline on the cool tiles. Colors of the earth are woven into the fabrics and the carved shield on the door. So much to touch!
Experiencing the sensory amenities at Animal Kingdom Lodge can be done accidentally, but is best done intentionally. Whittle out some time to do nothing but look, listen, smell and touch…you won’t regret it.