The Mara Review
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.
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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!
I read this with great interest. My other half and I absolutely love AKL. We stayed for the first time last June and plan on staying again this coming June. We also really loved Boma and Sanaa (we haven’t made it to Jiko yet) and tend to appreciate the restaurants which feature more interesting food items. But, we didn’t really care for the Mara. Other than the one stew item, we didn’t find much on the menu that was all that interesting and the overall menus were far more limited than what we had experienced in our multiple stays at Port Orleans (both Riverside and French Quarter). We also really love the hand scooped ice cream at Riverside for a late night snack, and there was nothing comparable.
Further, the decor was lacking–I liked the way you described it. Perhaps if they had taller ceilings and no white ceiling panels, but I’ve seen better illusions of trees inside restaurants in my local town. Again, Riverside and French Quarter just do a much better job of having interiors that carry forward a specific theme.
We may just be too spoiled by Port Orleans….we have also been similarly disappointed by the food courts at the Contemporary, Poly, and Fort Wilderness.
Again, in our minds AKL is one of the best resorts at WDW–the Mara, however, is something we will skip next time.
Deluxe resorts don’t have food courts like the value and moderate resorts since they usually offer one or two table service dining facilities. Their counter service dining is not a food court by any means and they really can’t be compared to a food court like at the values where there usually isn’t any other dining facility or moderates which might have a limited service table service.
I’m really surprised by the number of negative comments here – this is, hands down, our favorite resort quick service location. It works well for us, as we are usually traveling with our own kids in addition to grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, etc, and we find that the Mara carries all of the theme park staples for the picky eaters while providing some more interesting options for the adventurous eaters. On top of that – ZEBRA DOMES. In our minds, it can’t be beat!
For the money we did not like that Animal Kingdom Lodge. We paid extra to have a savana view and we were really disappointed. We actually have a better time staying at the “cheap” places. I think that Pop Century was the best. We are normally out of the room to be at the park when it opens and don’t come back until the parks are closed. All we really use the room for is to sleep and shower.
I’m sorry, but NOTHING will come close to AOA’s food court, OMG, the choices, cooked to order, AMAZING!
I agree with a lot of the comments. Very dirty which is crazy for a deluxe resort. Super long waits for food and then to pay. We stayed at all star music right before and I totally preferred their food court!
We stayed in November and the vegetarian options are disappointing. Did room service twice instead. Port orleans and art of animation much better choices. Fot all the hype i didnt see it. Very few choices compared to other resorts. We have season pass and are really weighing on not staying here due to our quick service choice
I just have a question. We where there in September and there was no gourmet popcorn in Epcot the buffalo blue cheese . Do you know if they have that cart and if it’s working yet? It’s near Figment . We will be there in August and my husband really wants this popcorn. Thank you.
Oh and I agree with others about the theme in the food. After a while, you have to leave to get something different and the tables are messy. I thought POR did the best job for quick service dining in offering a variety while Coronado Springs was horrible for a week long stay, even if the food was good. I couldn’t take the theme of Mexican style food anymore. Anyway, the remote location of AKL does make it hard to mix it up. Just saying.
I love sweets, chocolate and cake. However, zebra domes just don’t do it for me. I’m very picky when it comes to chocolate and like the finer chocolates and some of the less expensive ones, but somehow, Zebra domes are just a no thank you. I don’t know if it’s all the hype or what, maybe I was expecting too much. Jiko had the best food for sure, but if I’m paying that kind of price, I’m going to the GF or the Beach/Yacht Club area. I don’t know if they have yet to add character dining here, but they need too= for the kiddos and adults who really think breakfast tastes better with characters nearby, lol. I’m still hoping they will add a breakfast buffet at the character dining at the WL as it sounds fun, but I looked at the dinner menu and thought, no thanks. Reminds me too much of the Garden Grill, just whatever.
I’m very nervous, we have a 10 day stay in July and 3 of the 4 of us are picky eaters. That, plus the limited seating at The Mara has me nervous. Any specific recommendations on how to best handle having the Mara as our only on-site QS restaurant during our stay?
We’re planning to hit Disney Springs for a counter service meal arrival day; Boardwalk for a counter service meal on our “off” day; and thought about maybe Ubering to Port Orleans FQ to try Sassagoula on our departure day.
(And in case you’re wondering, I couldn’t get my husband to agree to go back to Disney until I mentioned AKL — he has always really wanted to stay there 🙂
There are poolside bars at both Jambo House and Kidani Village with decent midday menus, and the Victoria Falls Lounge in Jambo House has a few options too.
No lounges or bars accept meal credits for anything they sell, while food and service MAY be better, your paying cash for high price items. No deals found there!
What counter service/quick service do you normally like? I think you’ll find enough generic stuff at the Mara to be just fine. Same with Boma’s buffet.
Great, now I am thinking about the AKL and want to be there now.
Elisabeth, I haven’t been to Mara, but I can highly recommend Boma breakfast. I have picky eater kids with different food allergies/intolerances. Lots and lots to choose from. Veggies, meats, unusual, less unusual, pastry, waffles. Staff and chef also very helpful.
You can actually head over to the Kidani Village area of AKL (a short walk away) for a quick service breakfast – check out the menu here – http://allears.net/dining/menu/sanaa/breakfast/
Sanaa is a table service credit for lunch and dinner, but the prices are some of the most reasonable (by Disney standards) on property, so you might consider trying that as well. My family is pretty evenly split between picky and adventurous, and we all love it there. Tom has a great review of Sanaa lunch and dinner if you are curious.
That looks great! Didn’t know Sanaa served breakfast.
The AKL is amazing. I have stayed there numerous times, savanna view and not view. Always great service at front desk, food at the Mara is great. A lot of choices, never disappointed. Pool is large, love the walk in access, two hot tubs in great settings. One near the flamingos. Pool bar is very good as well. I would love to stay there 10 days. Yes, it is far out, but oh well, that is where the animals are. Lobby not as loud at the Wilderness Lodge so thats good. Gift shop has a large selection of many items. AKL related and disney related. Lots of activities by the animals, in the lobby area and pool for kids. I definitely recommend this lodge.
You’re right about flatbread at WDW. It’s all gross (including that one from the Mara). The rest of the food I’ve eaten there is great (but agree – long lines).
We love staying at the AKL but the Mara always seems so crowded especially in the evening. There is only one line and it takes forever to get to the front to order and then wait for the food. You even get a pager most of the time. And a lot of times the tables are a mess as well as the drink and condiment station because there are so many people. For counter service at a resort I feel like there aren’t enough choices. I am a picky eater and won’t do African cuisine so I try not to eat lunch or dinner here more than twice during the week. I’ll go over to one of the value resorts since they have a lot more items to choose from.
I remember eating the flatbread pictured at The Mara (after dining on previous consecutive days at Jiko, Boma and Sanaa) and absolutely longing for a different flavor profile by that point. While this is an issue at other themed WDW resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge’s remoteness compounds the problem. A car is a must over a longer stay, if you want something different to eat, and you don’t plan on eating other meals at the theme parks. Even with a car, any distance travelled to get where you are going is longer than from anywhere else in ‘The World. A slight gripe for an amazing resort.
New to your site, and it’s a huge help as we prep for our first visit! So, you mention joffreys coffee is terrible. I am a sugar free Caramel latte girl, and trying to figure out the best Plan for finding decent coffee before venturing to MK with a 4 yr old. We’re staying in a suite at Art of Animation, and do have dining plan. Any suggestions?
I typically drink coffee each morning, when at home, but while in Disney, we stop at Starbucks in each of the parks. We use a snack credit & can order the biggest size. This isn’t our first place we go, & I’m not sure if you’re willling to wait til you arrive, but I enjoy getting something that I don’t buy often at home.
I had an iced Vanilla Latte from a Joffrey’s cart and I liked it. I would try one, it was a snack credit. And like another poster said, you can use snack credits at all the Starbucks. Have fun!
Art of Animation’s food court is pretty well stocked. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but the coffee drinkers in my party last time got some decent stuff out of AoA’s food court before tackling the parks.
Last February we stayed at Jambo house for a weekend and we found that the gluten free flatbreads are SO much better than the regular ones at the Mara. One person in our party has a gluten allergy and so some of us compared the regular flatbread to the GF one. They take a little bit longer to come out but are well worth the wait. Freshly made and baked perfectly. Try it next time!
‘Elementary school art room’ is a perfect description. It would be a very nice school though,..
We were transfering on a split stay from Pop Century to AKL and had Free Dining counter service credits left over so tried the Mara. Man in the line kindly advised the African Potjie but we both totally ignored him as we wanted value-for-money off of the credits and ordered the most expensive thing available that was covered.
I think it is fair to say we should have tried the Potije and that bang for buck should not always be the driving factor.
Great counter service restaurant though, nice ambience. Should not be compared with the other three table service at AKL though as they are exceptional.
I would love to see The Mara offer ONE more veg-friendly dish…maybe an Ethiopian-inspired sampler or something. Fish would be great too. But I’m a pescatarian outlier, I realize.
Last time we ate at the Mara we had a hard time finding a table that was clean. So many guests just left their trash on the table they were using instead of clearing it off for the next guest.
You disparage Joffreys as if you never had the Nescafe at WDW! 🙂
When we’ve journeyed to AKl it’s usually for Saana(or Jiko for a special occasion). Some day I’ll have to try the Mara.
It’s funny–I’m sure you could dig into this site’s archives and find praise for Joffrey’s, as it definitely is an improvement over Nescafe and I was quite happy when it first arrived.
Compared to pretty much any other coffee, Joffrey’s is not so good (at least whatever standard blends they’re serving in the resorts and parks–some of the signature lines are pretty good).