Disney World Hits Home Run with New Hotel Rooms

We just finished another Walt Disney World hotel stay, and couldn’t wait to get back to share our latest ‘new room’ update. This is because we have some surprisingly good news to report: Walt Disney World’s first home run room redesign! Before we offer play by play on that, let’s set the backdrop for this, and why it comes as such a surprise.

In the last couple of years, Walt Disney World has been overhauling its guest rooms at pretty much every resort. The results have been decidedly mixed, with longtime Disney fans (us included) being disappointed by scaled-back designs in many cases. Here’s a list of our ‘new rooms’ posts from Walt Disney World, along with how each has performed at the proverbial plate:

This is far from an exhaustive list. For some hotels and DVC resorts, I updated old reviews rather than creating special ‘new room’ posts. Some of these–like the BoardWalk and Beach Club Villas–have also been strikeouts. Others, have been singles or doubles. In another rare case, the “Poly Lite” rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort were a triple. Well, we finally have our first home run among new rooms at Walt Disney World…

Unsurprisingly, these surprisingly good new rooms are at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House. We say “unsurprisingly” because if anywhere at Walt Disney World were going to receive a good room redesign, it’s Jambo House. Animal Kingdom and its adjacent resort are two of the last bastions of consistency and integrity in themed design at Walt Disney World.

From a thematic perspective, these are arguably the strongest park and resort in Florida. I don’t know if this is just in my head, or if Jambo House and Animal Kingdom have a ‘guardian angel’ high up in Imagineering (perhaps having a name rhyming with Bro Bologna). When it comes to Animal Kingdom, it seems like even the thematically incongruous projects (like Pandora – World of Avatar) are done with a deft hand and thematic integrity.

Before we get into the good of the new rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House, let’s start with the bad. There are some things that we’re guessing many of you won’t like, including us. The first is our obligatory complaint about the lack of a bed runner. This “industry standard” move was to be expected, even though a handful of Disney Vacation Club resorts have somehow managed to elude the bed runner police.

Next is the laminate floors that are meant to give the look of hard wood flooring. We are torn on this–when done nicely and properly maintained, carpeting is my preference. However, it gets worn too easily and quickly at Walt Disney World, so I’m fine with this change.

Finally, walk-in showers instead of bathtubs. I’m 100% on board with this change but, then again, we don’t have kids. In any case, all of these changes were inevitable, so it’s hard to fault Animal Kingdom Lodge too much for changes happening everywhere else.

Okay, now the big changes unique to Jambo House’s new rooms, almost all of which are good…

Headboards previously were quite similar to the current carved design, but lower to the head and with linens draped from the ceiling behind them. The new look maintains the authentic African look, but is more robust and substantial.

They’re also an upgrade in terms of lighting. Now, in addition to the bedside sconces, there’s also uplighting from the headboard itself and ceiling lighting along the (also new) ceiling trim.

It’s tough to adequately convey the lighting via photos, but here’s how the room looks with all of the lights off except for the uplighting and ceiling.

I’m a total sucker for moody lighting, so this scratches me right where I itch. It’s wonderful. Perfect for late nights while watching television or if someone is (trying to) see animals on the safari from the balcony.

Here’s a wider view of the room, once again with all of the lights on.

There is a lot going on here, both in terms of texture and design, but it’s never too much. (Imagine that–our concern with a new room design is whether it’s too much instead of too little!)

On the right is the dresser, television, and a small table with two chairs.

On the left above is a themed luggage stand, which to my knowledge is a Walt Disney World first. There’s also a mini-fridge, which now is connected to the closets and has shelving above it. This is a practical improvement.

This area is a mix of old and new.

The dresser, chairs, and television are all new. The wall decor is not new, nor is the table.

Most of pieces of furniture are upgrades over their predecessors, while the chairs are a lateral move. As for the mirror…it depends.

The previous mirror here had a jagged look to it, and was a bit more fun (this same mirror is still in the King guest rooms), but it didn’t have any lighting.

I’d say the square mirror plus the light fixture are an upgrade. Where you stand on this probably depends upon whether you want another light fixture.

The new mirror also has more splashes of color. I think this is a good thing here, as Jambo House’s old rooms could be accused of not being sufficiently vibrant.

One thing we appreciate about the room reimagining at Animal Kingdom Lodge is that they’ve managed to incorporate Lion King details in a tasteful manner.

The above Simba in the dresser (which is also new) is one example. Another is here:

We are fairly indifferent to rooms featuring Disney characters. If it works with the theme, great. If not, a lack of characters is also totally fine. (Say it with us: Disney characters do not equal theme.)

With that said, it’s nice to see the authentic African style mesh well with subtle Lion King touches here. The two don’t clash, and neither feels forced or awkward. Best of both worlds.

The one exception to this is arguably the Hakuna Matata art in the bathroom; I’d personally prefer some authentic art, but whatever. It’s not a huge deal.

That aside, these new bathrooms are nice. This is pretty similar to the old bathroom, but with the patterned (and overly-busy) wallpaper removed, plus better lighting and more storage space. The mirror is also different and the new rectangular sinks are more on-trend, but those are lateral changes.

I also like the new light fixtures and curtains.

The curtains are colorful and nicely patterned (and have some hidden Mickeys, if you’re into that). The design of the sconce lighting also adds more texture to the rooms.

It’s hard to convey the full appeal of these new rooms, and if anything, I feel like I’m underselling them here.

We both liked the old rooms in Jambo House, finding them thematically rich and pure, but also a bit on the drab side. These new rooms remedy our prior complaints with some pops of color, plus more texture, and design that is as (or more) thematically rich.

At the same time, some problem areas (like the busy look of the bathrooms) and dated styles have been freshened up. There’s also a litany of practical improvements like USB ports, luggage storage, and the wonderful new moody lighting options. The end result is a new room that strikes pretty much the perfect balance of theme, luxury, and practicality.

There are potentially some minor quibbles to be had with the new rooms in Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but all things considered, these are a home run. We would take these in an instant and without any second thoughts over the old rooms. That’s not something I can say for any of the previous Deluxe Resort redesigns at Walt Disney World.

Imagineering did an incredible job with these, and whomever designed them should also be tasked with the room reimagining at Wilderness Lodge. Speaking of which, between this and the New Rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, we’re now not quite as scared about the inevitable renovations at our beloved Wilderness Lodge.

Those are the two Disney hotels in the United States most like Wilderness Lodge, so it would certainly make sense to go a similar, thematically-rich route. Whether they do is another story entirely, but at least now we know that the template for success does exist. 

Finally, you might be wondering what rooms or area of Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House to request if you want (or want to avoid) a renovated room. As of our stay in mid-August 2019, no work was observed occurring on the Kudu Trail rooms. As the reimagining began with these rooms and equipment is gone, our assumption is that they are now done. We did observe cranes around the pool, working on the Zebra Trail rooms. Nothing was observed on Ostrich or Giraffe Trails.

Given all of these, Kudu Trail is your best bet for a room request if you’re visiting in the next couple of months. Given the current pace of work, we’d expect Zebra Trail to be finished later this year, with the smaller Ostrich and Giraffe Trails being last up, and likely stretching the project into 2020.

That wraps up our review of the new rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House. I have a ton more thoughts from our recent stay at AKL, but with this post already growing pretty long, I’m thinking about doing a separate ‘resort report’ from our stay here. Even outside of the new room, this stay was a great experience–but I’ll cover all of that in a separate post…

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of the new rooms at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Do you prefer the look of the old or new rooms? 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!


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