Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas
The next stop in our Christmas-time hotel tour takes us to Animal Kingdom Lodge, a resort few guests will visit, at least if they aren’t staying there. That’s a shame, as it’s arguably the best resort at Walt Disney World.
This continues as we attempt to expand upon our Free Self-Guided Walt Disney World Yuletide Resort Tour with a series of individual resort posts. That Self-Guided “Yuletide Resort Tour” is what we suggest doing the morning before attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party so you don’t waste a park day of your normal tickets.
However, when it comes to visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas, we do not recommend going on your Magic Kingdom day. Walt Disney World transportation is too convoluted, and if you drive yourself, you risk being turned away at busier times (although that’s not as likely at Animal Kingdom Lodge as it is at the Epcot or Magic Kingdom area resorts).
Instead, do Animal Kingdom Lodge in the evening after your Animal Kingdom day. Even with Pandora now keeping that park open later, it still regularly closes at 8 p.m., which is perfect timing for a relaxing night at Animal Kingdom Lodge, perhaps with a romantic dinner at Jiko or Sanaa, or an all-you-can-eat affair at Boma.
We make a point of visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge every holiday season, and this year was no exception. Rather than doing table service, we opted for an (excellent) dinner at the Mara, and enjoyed a couple of hours decompressing in the lobby after a busy day at Disney Springs.
At the top of the post, we asserted that Animal Kingdom Lodge is “arguably” the best resort at Walt Disney World. When viewed objectively, I think that’s the case.
Thematically, Animal Kingdom Lodge is on par with Wilderness Lodge, sharing similar bloodlines and the same basic design sensibilities.
On top of that, Animal Kingdom Lodge has superior dining, rooms, and pools. Then there’s the savanna, the ultimate “amenity” at any Walt Disney World resort, period.
We cover all of this in more depth in our Animal Kingdom Lodge v. Wilderness Lodge post, so I won’t fixate on it here.
There are also a lot of similarities between the two resorts at Christmas. Both have large ‘icon’ Christmas trees, a variety of garland, and wreaths around the resorts, plus soothing background music loops. On paper, they are very evenly-matched.
However, after spending a good amount of time at each this Christmas season, my unequivocal favorite is Wilderness Lodge. For one, I think there’s a lot more depth and diversity to Wilderness Lodge’s decorations. There’s simply more, and a wider range of decor, at Wilderness Lodge.
While Christmas is celebrated in Africa as both a religious and secular holiday, it isn’t as prominent or all-encompassing.
This is likely why the decor is largely muted throughout Animal Kingdom, with small wreaths made of found-materials and other additions that mostly blend-in with the existing details of the park.
Then there’s undoubtedly the matter of my bias as an American. My subjective interpretation of Christmas more closely squares with Wilderness Lodge’s Pacific Northwest-inspired theme.
I dedicated much of our Wilderness Lodge at Christmas post to discussing how Christmas in Florida isn’t “real” as my preconceived notion of the holiday is what I experienced as a kid in Michigan.
If that’s how I view Florida–a place I’ve spent a ton of time in the winter–I’m sure you can imagine my view of Christmas in Africa.
Fair or not, Animal Kingdom Lodge is right there with the Polynesian as having a base theme that, in my mind, is pretty much the antithesis of winter and, by extension, Christmas.
This is entirely on me, and shouldn’t be construed as a value judgment about the quality of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Christmas decor. My failure to fully “connect” with Animal Kingdom Lodge during the holidays is mostly rooted in my own sentimentality and preferences.
I mention all of this, though, because there’s a decent chance those reading this will have similar biases. (Walt Disney World’s largest markets outside of Florida are the Chicago and New York metro areas–two places with “real” winters.)
That Animal Kingdom Lodge manages to get into the festive spirit to the degree that it does is really a testament to the creative team that designed the holiday overlay package.
The icon tree is one of the best in all of Walt Disney World, the warm Christmas lights shine brilliantly against the resort’s color scheme, and the background music is a sleeper contender for best Christmas loop at Walt Disney World.
Overall, this is all a very round-about way of saying that Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas is very good when viewed objectively, but it doesn’t quite have the charm or sense of nostalgia that puts Wilderness Lodge totally over the top for me. This is totally a personal thing, and I’d still rank Animal Kingdom Lodge as one of Walt Disney World’s top 5 resorts during the holidays, but despite its similarities, it cannot touch Wilderness Lodge at Christmas-time…for me.
Finally, a few plugs. First, our free Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is now available for download! This free eBook is 90 pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
What do you think of Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas? Do you find Animal Kingdom Lodge every bit as charming as Wilderness Lodge at Christmas, or do you agree with me? What do you think of the Christmas tree and background music at Animal Kingdom Lodge? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Hey, has anyone heard about this? Bringing back OSBORNE FAMILY LIGHTS, but move them to a different part of the old MGM? I have heard a rumour about them going to Disney Springs (which would be awesome, as well), but haven’t heard so much about that lately. This idea of them being in the Muppet area next to Pixar & Star Wars, could be nice. I just miss it. Thanks to losing both THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE and OSBORNE FAMILY LIGHTS, there isn’t much reason to go there anymore. I can’t even go have a picture of the family in front of the Sorcerer Mickey hat. 🙁 At this point, with so much closed- unless I’m going to see the CANDLELIGHT PROCESSIONAL, there isn’t a lot of reason to go. New stuff is so crowded (Assuming you’re interested, I like STAR WARS but that little Tattooine Trading Post was more than enough Star Wars for me, and I didn’t even like the movie AVATAR, let alone an entire portion of the park dedicated to it), older stuff is down for maintenance or has been removed altogether, and attractions have been deleted from the line up….then they jack up the prices and you can’t get a room on-site because everyone is using their Hawaii points to stay at Boardwalk or Old Key.
If they brought back the OSBORNE FAMILY LIGHTS, that would be great. I’d go even if I had to stay at some cheap motel near Disney, just to see those lights.
PS: And while Disney is worried about attracting people, how about (a)making more rooms pet-friend at the pet-friendly hotels, (b)making more hotels have pet-friendly rooms to begin with (Old Key & Saratoga would be perfect!), and (c)have Emotional Support/Seizure/etc. dogs classified as genuine service animals [when I called, a little over a year ago to inquire, I was told Seeing Dogs, Hearing Dogs, and Dogs trained to get things for a disabled person were the only dogs they recognizes for the parks AND hotels, anything else is a ‘pet’.] because dogs who detect diabetic issues, who help veterans get a good night sleep, and the like are as much a vital part of a person’s life as a Hearing dog.
My husband and I stayed here at the beginning of the month to celebrate our honeymoon (we got married in June)- he had never visited at Christmas and I had never stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge during Christmas (last christmas trip was before I was a DVC owner at AKL). We loved everything about the decorations throughout Jambo house, noted the differences in the different restaurants (I liked the subtle Christmas touches in Jiko when we had our “fancy dinner”) and went over to Kidani on our last day after breakfast at Boma (another first! We don’t usually do buffets but mannnnnn that was good!). Kidani’s decorations were more artsy, incorporating more beads and craft objects compared to Jambo, but still pretty! I have to say, I greatly preferred going back to AKL Jambo to relax with a cup of cocoa or tea in the lobby in front of the great tree compared to the craziness that was the tree and gingerbread house at Grand Floridian. GF was NUTS- I can’t remember EVER seeing that many people there in general, let alone to see the tree and gingerbread house. We have decided if we go back at Christmas time and stay elsewhere, we will definitely be making sure we stop by AKL for some Zebra Dome snack time by the tree.
I’m still hoping to make it to WDW some day for my December birthday and AKL is definitely my pick of where to stay. It may have to do with location. I could drive just a couple of hours to Yosemite and see an actual NP lodge decorated for Christmas. Where else am I going to see a more exotic take on the holiday? (Or a giraffe sleep, as Janis mentioned in her comment?)
That said, I fully intend to spend time at WL when I am there. (Thinking to do dinner at Territory Lounge) I also sent your article on Christmas there to a friend that moved to Orlando last year; with the advice that if he wanted to forget for a while that he was in Florida for Christmas it was a great choice. He was really excited as he had no idea the resort hotels had that kind of theming and decoration going on. Thanks again Tom!
I know a lot of the decorations at DAK are made out of recycled materials. I wonder if it’s the same for DAK Lodge.
Absolutely agree with your review. Our all time favorite resort is Animal Kingdom Lodge for so many reasons. As annual pass holders we frequent the parks/resorts several times each year. At Christmas there is no contest as WL is outstanding and embodies the National Park-I love America spirit. But except at Christmas, the ambience, imagineering and detail at AKL is pretty awesome. AND of course, where else can you see a giraffe sleep? From your balcony on a mild Spring night? Did you know they use their back as their pillow? I did not know that until I saw it for myself. They rarely sleep like that in the wild as they would be vulnerable to predators Truly amazing experiences at AKL.
We ate at jikos last year and your right all is such a beautiful resort especially at Christmas. We did go after our animal kingdom theme park day got there at 9 am. To be honest it was my favorite night of the week, and yes we did gf, wl, and the contemporary. Thanks for the reminder and the memories. I will be there in 2 weeks hope they will have some remnants of decorations then.we did disneyland in September so didn’t have time this month. Glad I did disneyland though it took me 50 years to get there .