The Mara is a counter service restaurant in Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World. It’s one of the reasons Jambo House is considered one of the premier resorts for dining at WDW. The Mara is a solid option if you’re in a hurry, or want a taste of Africa without breaking the bank. In this post, we’ll review the Mara, sharing some food photos and thoughts on this restaurant.
We’ve dined at the Mara at least a half-dozen times, yet this is the first we’re reviewing it…for reasons I can’t quite explain. It’s a must-do for us each time we stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s also a popular dinner option for us when we go around the resorts at Christmas-time to check out their trees.
Located on the ground floor of Jambo House, the Mara is conveniently located by Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Uzima Springs Pool. The restaurant is accessed via covered walkway entrance near Jambo House’s table service restaurants, Boma and Jiko. The Mara has both indoor and outdoor seating, with resort guests often opting to take their food back to their room, too.
The Mara is named for the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, which is home to over 400 species of creatures, including hundreds of different birds and lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and hippos. The Mara’s landscape has well-watered grassy plains and rolling hills, and is crossed by the Mara and Talek rivers.
Cues for the restaurant’s theme are taken from the Masai Mara National Reserve’s natural environments, with colorful murals painted on the walls and a canopy of trees overhead. To be entirely honest, the design feels a bit like an elementary school art room. It’s simple and fairly rudimentary, but also largely pleasant. The cool colors and low lighting makes it a relaxing setting.
For this particular meal, Sarah’s mom and brother were in town for Christmas, and rather than being “good” family and taking them to Boma or Jiko, we kept on walking to the Mara…
First up is the Oak-fired Rotisserie Chicken Dinner served with Marrakesh Cous Cous and Kulcha Bread. This is only served at dinner.
This was a definite winner. The chicken was perfectly-grilled; tender and juicy with only a few ‘dry’ bites. The sides were the real highlight, and gave this the African twist we were looking for.
Next is the Slow-Roasted Barbeque Ribs served with Mealie Bread, Kool Slaai, and French Fries. Another dinner-only item.
These were good as far as ribs at Walt Disney World go, so no complaints in that regard. I was a bit disappointed that there was no African flair (at least that I could ascertain) to the dish. Nevertheless, they compared well to Flame Tree BBQ.
The Vegetarian Falafel Bites with Hummus, Garlic Yoghurt, Cucumber and Kulcha Bread has become Sarah’s go-to at the Mara.
She loves the quality of the falafel, which is always crisp on the outside with a warm, almost doughy center. The generous portions of fresh sides make this a healthy and very filling dish.
Here’s the Braai Chicken Flatbread: “Oak-fired Chicken, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Bacon, Red Onion, Mozzarella and Sag Dahl Ranch.”
I’m getting to the point where I’m about ready to stop ordering flatbreads altogether. Even the good ones (like this) suffer from a terrible distribution of ingredients, and large swaths of bread being uncovered. The properly-distributed bites here were a great mix of flavors, but too many had about half the list of items, at best. (The cupcake was disgusting.)
Here’s one from a different visit: the African Potjie. This hearty stew includes beef, turkey, ham, vegetables, basmati rice and kulcha bread.
This is usually what I order at the Mara. I consider this a cheap, incredibly flavorful, and filling “taste of Africa.” The semi-sweet and mildly spiced flavor profile reminds me of a couple dishes I’ve had at Boma; it’s a real winner.
We also stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge earlier this month, scoring elusive Kilimanjaro Club reservations via DVC points. Despite all the free coffee our hearts could possibly desire, Sarah wanted to grab this “cute” Simba latte art from the Mara one morning.
The coffee tasted disgusting (no amount of cute lions can change the fact that this is Joffrey’s) but at least it was photogenic…I guess? If you do opt to order this for the sake of photos (because why else would you…remember, it’s Joffrey’s) be sure to specify ‘for here’ as they’ll otherwise try to serve it in a to-go cup, and the lion will look more like an octopus.
Finally, any discussion of the Mara would be remiss not to mention the beloved Zebra Domes.
We didn’t order any this trip (what were we thinking?!), but they’re in the grab and go case. If you’ve never had these at Boma, this should unquestionably be the dessert you get at the Mara.
Overall, we love the Mara. It’s very difficult to recommend making a special trip to any Walt Disney World resort for a counter service restaurant, but if you’ve never been inside Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House, it’s absolutely worth it. While the menu might look pretty unassuming, and the seating area is a far cry from the ornately-detailed environments around Animal Kingdom Lodge, this is one of the best counter service restaurants in all of Walt Disney World.
Have you dined at the Mara? Which dishes have you tried? Do you agree or disagree with our take on the Mara? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!