Why Stay at a Disney Resort Hotel?

This post comes partly from the many times I’ve been asked this question from friends, family members, and potential clients and partly because of the recent release of a video from Disney Parks. There are so many perks of staying on property that it definitely makes up for any cost savings you might incur (or may not in the long run if you take other factors into account). This post will serve as an overview of all the benefits of staying on property and how that may translate into possible cost savings and a better overall experience.

First… the Video!

Before we begin, take a few moments to watch the video released by Disney Parks that provides a brief overview of the benefits with a little “flare.”

 

Now a Bit More Detail….

A bit cheeky, I know, but hey! That’s Disney! Now that you’ve got the gist, let’s talk about each point the video makes in a bit more detail.

“With more than twenty fun hotels you get to pick your theme…”

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While theming may not be at the top of your mind on other vacations, at Disney theming is top notch and can completely transform your stay into your own “disney dream.” Experience the tropics of Hawaii with a pool overlooking the “beach” at the Polynesian, the relaxing ambiance of the Louisiana Bayou at Port Orleans Riverside, or watch animals right outside your window in savannah view rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s basically a real life “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

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The thing to drive home here is there are MANY choices of all different price ranges from Deluxe and Villa Accommodations to Moderate Level priced rooms and even Value resorts, each with their own distinct theme and ambiance.

“There are water sports all kinds and sorts that fill the seven seas..”

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There are so many different recreation options to enjoy at Walt Disney World resorts. Well themed pools with waterslides (moderate and deluxe) and sometimes whirl pools, are just the start! At the various resorts (depending on location) you can find boats for rent, fishing, fishing excursions, parasailing, archery, horse back riding, horse drawn carriage rides, bike riding (regular and surrey bikes), and more (all for various fees).

Looking for FREE things to fill your non park days? There are plenty of those too! Many resorts (depending on location) offer planned activities by the pool, outdoor movies, theming tours, and campfires as well as other children’s activities in the various recreation areas. Some places have specialized free activities as well like borrowing night vision goggles to watch the animals after dark at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or sitting on the beach for the Electric Water Pageant (and Magic Kingdom Fireworks) at the Magic Kingdom Area resorts.

There is definitely enough to do at the resorts to fill a couple days without setting foot inside the park. This can allow for a more relaxing vacation and help you save money on ticket costs.

 “… Restaurants for beauvivants, such fine amenities..”

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You can always find great meals in the parks if you know where to look… but some of the BEST restaurants are at the resorts on Disney property. There are so many options from counter service to fine dining and everything in between. Some of the quick service locations have more options than those in the parks and seating is often less crowded. If fine dining is what you’re after, there are many signature restaurants at the resorts to choose from including the creme de la creme Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian!

You can find a variety of cuisines for just about anyone’s palate by doing a little resort hopping. African and Indian flavors abound at the Animal Kingdom Lodge while Hawaiian and Asian fusion can be found at the Polynesian. Don’t worry though there are plenty for pickier eaters to! Steakhouses, Italian dishes, American pub style restaurants, barbecue, and more. Many places have kids menus and all can make accommodations for dietary needs or allergies.

Remember, with free in resort transportation you can easily hop to a resort other than your own for dinner, lunch, or some sightseeing!

“Since your resort hotel can be so near a Disney Park, you can play all day with Mickey and see fireworks at dark.”

This is a big one, especially for those with children. By staying at a Disney resort you can easily go back to the resort to take a break and recharge before watching the fireworks. Even with base tickets (without the hopper option) you are welcome to come and go freely from the same park each day. It is a great option to go back to the resort for a midday nap, swim, and lunch/snack break before returning for the fireworks. This allows you to avoid the hottest part of the day and typically the longest lines of the day.

In order to do this while staying off property you’d probably need to rent a car (which can add a huge cost to the total of your trip). Some off property resorts have shuttle services but they are typically few and far between and can be inconvenient to locate which adds to the “commute” time. Driving yourself can also be a hassle in having to locate and get back to your car, driving a considerable distance back to the resort and doing the process in reverse when returning. As I will talk about a little later, Disney makes this process relatively painless with their free in resort transportation system.

“Stay right here with us and then you’ll get some magic powers. Extra time inside the parks we call it extra magic hours.”

For those guests going on adults only trips or trips with older children and/or teenagers this is probably the biggest perk. Each day at least one park either opens an hour earlier or stays open up to three hours later ONLY for Walt Disney World Resort guests. A schedule of these hours can be found on Disney’s Park Hours Calendar.

During these hours, lines are considerably shorter allowing resort guests to get in a lot of their favorite rides with lower wait times. By utilizing extra magic hours well, you are more likely to hit all of your “must do” attractions and leave time to enjoy the pool! You may also be able to fit more in a day and, if you wish save on the added costs of an extra day on park tickets.

“We’ll give you each a magic band, wear it on your favorite hand.”

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Magic Bands are your key to EVERYTHING while at the Disney resort. They become your room key, your park tickets, your fastpass+, your photopass,  and even your credit card (should you wish to allow for charging privileges to the one linked to your account). If you wanted to, you could walk around with just your Magic Band and be completely prepared!

Non- resort guests can buy these on property should they wish (with no charging privileges or access to resorts) but again an added expense.

“To cut down on your wait, make a fastpass date, we’ll help you get on through.”

Fastpass+ is another great perk for resort guests. Fastpass+ allows resort guests to make reservations for  attractions per day of their stay up to 60 days in advance of their check in date. Non-Resort guests can still make these reservations, but not until 30 days before the day they’d like their Fastpass+ reservations.

This is especially important for the most popular attractions, shows, and character meet and greets. Fastpass+ for rides like Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Toy Story Midway Mania, shows like Fireworks and Parades, and character meet and greets like Anna and Elsa may no longer be available at 30 days. These attractions can have wait times upward of 2 hours at times so the Fastpass+ reservations can make a huge difference in your day. Time spent standing in these lines could be time spent on other attractions, beating the heat in the pool, or relaxing in the air conditioning.

“We can pick you up with our airport bus. Drop your bags and you at your doorstep PLUS with the drive off your mind leave your worries behind. Transportation it’s on us!”

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Alright, we all know that traveling is the least fun part of the trip. You may have to get up at the crack of dawn to get to the airport hours before the flight to get through security. There may be long lines in checkin bags or getting through TSA. The airport food isn’t great, flights are cramped, sometimes bumpy. When you arrive at Orlando airport, you then have to wait in baggage claim, maneuver around with your bags, figure out how to get to the hotel and pay an expensive fare to do so… Wait. Rewind!

When staying at a Walt Disney World resort, Disney takes care of you once you touch down at MCO. All you need to do is navigate your way to the Magical Express area. If you arrive before 10pm Disney can even grab your bags off of the carousel and deliver them to your room (please allow up to three hours for this process after check in). Once at the Magical Express desk, all you need to do is tap your Magic Band and the cast member will point you in the right direction for a bus to your resort. With the new  online check in process, you may be eligible to get your room number sent to you via text message allowing you to go directly to the room once it is ready and skip any check in lines.

Flight got delayed? No problem, Disney provides this service round the clock (minus the bag service after 10pm). You do not even have to call to change your transportation, it will be there waiting for you!

Though some other offsite hotels may have shuttle transportation to and from the airport, most do not. The last time I took a cab (in 2008 to meet a friend) it cost $68 one way from the airport to Downtown Disney (and has probably gone up). Other methods may be cheaper but may require additional coordination particularly when you have flight delays or other interruptions. Here, Disney can save you money, time, and frustration.

“Take a monorail or a boat or bus. There’s no fee, no charge, there’s no mess, no fuss! With the drive off your mind leave your worries behind. Transportation it’s on us!”

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Not only is transportation provided free of charge to and from the airport, it is also provided throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. You can get from any resort to any park, water park, or Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) by taking either a bus, boat, or monorail. You can also get from park to park, and from resort to resort (though it may involve a transfer at another destination). There is no need for the added cost of a rental car or parking costs at the parks or your resort. If you do, however, bring or rent a car parking is free to all resort guests at all parks, Disney springs, and the resort.

While some non-Disney resorts offer some shuttles to and from the parks, they are typically (again) few and far between. You may not have opportunities to go back and forth from your resort easily during the day. Disney makes this process, along with park hopping, getting meals at another location, and checking out different recreation opportunities at the resort easy!

Now that you know all the great benefits of staying on property at the Walt Disney World Resort, it’s time to begin planning your next trip!

Let me help you plan the most magical vacation possible! I’ll work with you to find the best possible price for your vacation, continue to look for promotions that can be applied, take care of your dining reservations, help you with Fastpass+ recommendations and more all free of charge to you! Contact me today for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com!

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Finding the Right Hotel for Your Family or Party

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Finding the Right Hotel for Your Family or Party

With so many choices offered by Disney, how do you make a decision on what hotel to choose or even what type? When deciding on a hotel, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. What’s my baseline budget?

Disney offers a three main tiers of hotels according to budget: value, moderate, and deluxe. Within those tiers there are further breakdowns by room type, view, and proximity to amenities. Within the deluxe resorts there is also an additional category called the “Deluxe Villas” which offer additional amenities in the room (including multiple bedrooms and kitchens).

To get a rough estimate, depending on travel dates (and without promotions or tax):

  • Standard rooms in value resorts run approximately $96-$199 per night; preferred rooms run approximately $118-217 per night; (family suites are an additional cost)
  • Standard rooms in moderate resorts run approximately $182-$290 per night; (rooms with better views, closer proximity to amenities, and king beds have additional costs per night)
  • Standard rooms in deluxe (non-villa) rooms run approximately $320-856 per night (which varies quiet considerably between resorts and seasons): (rooms with better views, king beds, bunk beds, closer proximity to amenities, or club level access have additional costs per night)

2. When do I want to travel?

Travel dates can effect costs per night and availability of rooms in each hotel differently. Value seasons like the majority of January (after the New Year season) and the majority of September (before Food and Wine begins) are generally the times when the cheapest rates are available and the most room types can be found. Holiday times (especially surrounding Christmas and New Years) have the highest rates and tend to have much less availability unless booked far in advance. Special events like EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival may decrease availability in certain resorts in close proximity of the event (in this example Yacht and Beach Club and the Boardwalk in particular) or certain types of rooms (like value resorts during Cheerleading competitions).

3. Will the size of my party fit in a standard room?

Most rooms fit 4 people with the option for an additional infant in a Pack ‘n Play. Some resorts allow 5 people in the room with an additional fee. For families larger than this, deciding between 2 standard rooms, joined rooms, a family suite, or a deluxe villa can be difficult. What you should choose depends on your budget, how comfortable family members are in sharing beds, how important the ability to cook/eat in the room is to your family, and the ratio of adults to kids (especially since you need at least one adult in each room).

4. How important is theming?

Disney resorts have the ability to completely immerse you in an alternate reality with their theming. Each resort has a very different theme to choose from. From a laid back stay immersed in the culture of New Orleans at Port Orleans French Quarter to an adventurous stay on the savannah at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, to the active and colorful atmosphere of the All Star Resorts; the right theme for just about anyone can be found. Perhaps there’s a certain style of theming or atmosphere you prefer that can make your stay at Walt Disney World that much more magical. It may be worth splurging on a moderate or deluxe resort to have that ambience.However, don’t feel that you’ll completely sacrifice theming at a value resort! From giant bowling pins, to larger than life Disney characters the All Star Resorts have surprises around every corner!

There are also specifically themed rooms in some Disney resorts. At the Art of Animation resort, family suites can be reserved with Finding Nemo, Cars, the Lion King, or the Little Mermaid themes. At Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort, families can stay in Pirate rooms complete with ship themed beds and at Port Orleans Riverside the prince or princess of your family will feel at home in the Royal Guest Rooms.

5. What about the pool?

If you plan on spending a good portion of time by the pool, it may be a determining factor in your hotel decision. Pools vary greatly by resort in terms of size, atmosphere, and additional offerings (like splash zones, playgrounds, food/drinks close by, and waterslides). Some pools have zero entry available for guests with mobility concerns, others have additional quiet pools for relaxations, and some have hot tubs by the pool.

Generally speaking, the pools at the moderates are more elaborate than those at the values and pools at the deluxe resorts are more elaborate than those at the moderates. Value resorts do not have waterslides or hot tubs and (with the exception of Art of Animation) are not zero-entry (but can accommodate guests with mobility issues with chair lifts). Looking at pools individually to see what has the amenities your family is looking for is the best way to ensure your needs are met.

6. How close do I want to be to the parks?

Proximity to the parks can be extremely important for those wanting to take afternoon breaks or head straight home after the fireworks. There is a huge difference between hopping on a 5 minute monorail ride and a 20-25 minute completely packed bus ride making multiple stops with over tired children. Keep in mind, many buses stop at multiple resorts and others may make only one (possibly very popular stop). When leaving parks at peak times (i.e. after the fireworks) you may have to wait for a bus to be able to accommodate you.

After a long day Food-ing and Wine-ing at the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival a short walk to the Beach Club or Boardwalk may be just what you need.

For those planning on hitting the ground running and getting to “rope drop” each morning, the shorter the transportation to the parks, the later you can sleep!

However, with kids who can sleep through anything, older children, or no children at all; you may be absolutely fine taking a leisurely drive to and from the parks. It’s a decision only you can make for your family!

7. Am I driving/planning on renting a car?

Some resorts; like Port Orleans Riverside, Caribbean Beach, Fort Wilderness Campground, and Old Key West; are pretty expansive and spread out. In some places, you may have to take a bus to get to the main bus stop which may be cumbersome particularly with those carrying strollers, small children and diaper bags or those guests with limited mobility. Those who plan on driving to the parks may have less issues here than those that plan on relying solely on Disney transportation.

This is also true for resorts like Animal Kingdom Lodge that may not require internal transportation but that transportation to and from the parks may be particularly lengthy. These things may not be troublesome for young couples, families with older children, or families used to public transportation (here’s looking at you, New Yorkers) but may be a consideration for other families or parties.

Still unsure of what resort would be best for your family? Contact me at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com for more information or to quote your next trip!

Disney Magic Trip Report Day 1: Wilderness Lodge and Monorail Loop Resort Fun

Trip Report

Ohana Means Family: The Disney Difference

Day 1: Wilderness Lodge and Monorail Loop Resort Fun


 The weeks leading up to our trip were extremely hectic. Just days before Christmas, I had finished my child life internship and coursework for the semester. As much as I loved my placement, it was such a load off not to have to commute so far (2 to 2.5 hours each way by subways and buses) and to not have to worry about assignments during the holidays. Then of course there were the holidays. It was seriously a mad dash to get all of our gifts ready to take up to my family in Connecticut. When we got up there, we were able to spend a good amount of time visiting my family and some friends. We came back to the city, celebrated New Years with some friends and my brother, and then I headed back up to Connecticut on New Years day for an interview on Friday. After my interview, I took the last possible train home to New York to fly out to Orlando the next morning! It was seriously a whirlwind!

The Flight to Orlando

Living in the city, it makes getting to the airport both easy and difficult. We took the subway which took about 1.5 hours, not so bad. Luckily it was a Saturday and 5:30 in the morning so the trains were not packed! We were also lucky to time our arrival at the subway stop to get right on a train and leave as sometimes they run much slower earlier in the morning and especially on weekends.

We usually fly JetBlue to Orlando, but this time had elected for Delta because it was oddly much cheaper. However, after our flight, comparing the two we will stick with JetBlue any day. The service is so much better, the seats are more comfortable, not having to pay for a first checked bag is awesome, and  I’m not going to lie, it’s really nice to get a full sized drink and snack. Delta was fine of course, I’m not complaining, but we really did miss the service and experience we get at JetBlue. Allowing Disney to pick up our bags at baggage claim, we headed onto Disney’s Magical Express to the Wilderness Lodge!

Wilderness Lodge

Now there will be more pictures, I promise! We got to Wilderness Lodge and I went to go check in while Dave wandered around the lobby. It was his first time at this resort, and within 10 minutes decided it was his favorite one. I had stayed there a few years back, but with all the Christmas decorations up it looked like a completely different resort!2015-01-03 13.55.02

Christmas tree in the main lobby of the Wilderness Lodge.

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Christmas tree in the entrance to the villas.

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My favorite Wildnerness Lodge decoration, but please ignore the scaffolding in the background!

All checked in and with our room already ready for us, we went to check it out. We would be staying in a studio villa in the vacation club area. This villa sleeps 5 (one queen sized bed, one pull out couch, and a twin sized murphy bed) and has a kitchenette with a mini fridge, toaster, microwave, and coffee maker. We love staying in the villas and being able to have breakfast in the room in the morning and a balcony to eat it on!

Here are just a couple pictures of the room:

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From there we went out to grab some lunch at the Roaring Fork quick service. We tend to share meals at least for lunch at Disney because the portions are usually pretty big so we split the Grilled Northwest Chicken Sandwich which I highly recommend. It does have Canadian bacon on it for those that do not eat pork, but otherwise it is delicious and has a very tasty sauce. After eating by the pool and exploring the resort a bit, we decided it was time for a rest. We spent longer than we meant to in the room but, hey, we were on vacation!

Monorail Resort Loop Fun

We didn’t have park tickets or any reservations for that night, we weren’t really sure what we were going to be in the mood for after an early flight. So after our rest we decided to go resort hop a bit through the Magic Kingdom resort loop to see some of their Christmas decorations. We hopped on the boat from Wilderness Lodge to the Magic Kingdom. We tried to make up elaborate plans that would get us into Magic Kingdom for the night, since they were open to 1:00 am, but knowing they were completely ridiculous sighed a bit and moved on to the resort monorail.

Our first stop was the Grand Floridian to see the gingerbread house and their tree in the lobby. Neither of us have ever been to Disney during Christmas and after seeing pictures of the gingerbread  house I really wanted to see it in person. You can actually smell it when you walk into the resort, it’s pretty wonderful. Here are some pictures of the Grand Floridian decorations:

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From there it was on to the Polynesian. We skipped the Contemporary mostly because it is our least favorite resort (though we’ve never stayed there) but also because they had a HUGE line of people trying to get to Magic Kingdom on their monorail. It just didn’t seem worth it. Instead of jumping back on the monorail, we walked along the water. If you are ever at Disney World without tickets or a plan (I know, a rarity if you aren’t a Floridian) definitely check out this walk at night. It was so peaceful and a very pretty walk!

We grabbed dinner at Cap’n Cooks at the Polynesian: a spicy shrimp sushi roll and the pulled pork nachos. Both were so-so. We used to be huge fans of the pulled pork nachos but they seemed to have changed the recipe and added a whole lot of mayo that neither of us remember them having on them at all before. They used to be one of our favorite quick service meals (we could get one and split them for dinner) but we probably won’t be getting them again.

We took our meals out to the beach and watched Winnie the Pooh on the outdoor movie screen and waited for Wishes and the Electrical Water Pageant. We made sure we got one of the few seats that wasn’t blocked by construction or the new bungalows and had a great view. Unfortunately, though, they weren’t pumping in the music that night. Hopefully once construction is done they will begin doing that again, or maybe it was just that night?

We considered stopping at the Tambu lounge for drinks before heading back, but figured we’d have enough fun and fruity drinks on the cruise. Our favorite drink, the Backscratcher, would just have to wait for our next trip. But we did stop through the lobby to take some pictures of the decorations before heading back to Wilderness Lodge:

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Time for Bed!

When we got back to our resort we did a few quick changes between our checked bags and carry ons. Disney allows guests to bring alcohol onto the cruise, but it must be in your carry on luggage. We bought one bottle of rum with us knowing we could stop in port if we needed anything more. We also made sure we had swim suits and dinner clothes for the first night in our carry ons so that we could change before dinner.

We also received a letter in our rooms giving us a time for pick-up because we would be using Disney transfers. For a family of four it might be cheaper and easier to rent a car, but for us it was cheaper to go with Disney and not have to worry about our bags! We were told to meet in the lobby at 11:00 for an 11:15 departure and were told to have our bags inside the room by the door by 8:00 the next morning. We put them there in preparation before going to sleep and hit the hay. We were in for an exciting day the next morning!

Next Up: Embarkation, Sail Away, and Meeting the Table Mates

Enjoying this trip report? Looking to plan your own trip on the Disney Cruise Line or to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or Aulani? Contact me at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com to let me help you plan your next magical and memorable vacation. I can help take the hassle out of reservations, give you information and recommendations, and book everything including dining so that you don’t have to wake up early or spend time on hold! All at NO ADDITIONAL COST to you! Contact me today for a FREE no obligation quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com!

Spotlight on: Animal Kingdom Lodge

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What’s so special about the Animal Kingdom Lodge?

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of my very favorite resorts. Those of you who know me may attribute this to my love for giraffes, but it goes very far beyond that. When I step into the Animal Kingdom Lodge for the first time during my vacation I feel a sense of escape into a whole new reality for a week. There is a beautiful mixture of serenity and adventure when you walk into the lobby knowing just beyond the next wall there is an entire Savannah full of animals to observe and experience up closer than you would have in any other setting.

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For the Kids

The theming at the Animal Kingdom lodge is done just so there is a mixture of fantasy and reality presented. There is the of fantasy of being on an African safari where you can wake up in the morning, step out on a balcony, and watch giraffes grazing from trees and zebras chasing each other across a savannah. It’s not something they ever imagined was possible. However, there’s a sense of concrete reality here. The animals are REAL and are animals they can connect back to experiences they’ve had in zoos or on television. Despite being at the same hotel, every day is a novel experience. Each time you look out at the outpost or on your balcony there’s a different scene with different animals.

There are also many different engaging activities for kids to enjoy while staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. If your kids are able to stay up past dusk, they can borrow night vision goggles at the outpost and look at the animals roaming around in the darkness (for free). It’s a completely different experience than

observing animals during the day. Kids can learn from employees who act as cultural ambassadors of their home countries in Africa about the animals and everyday life on a completely different continent. There are drum circles, campfires, and craft sessions all available without stepping foot outside your hotel.

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For Adults

For adults, the Animal Kingdom Lodge also provides a tranquil setting for your vacation. Personally, I can feel myself letting go of the tension and stress built up in my shoulders as I step into the lodge and take in the beautiful surroundings and ambiance. The rooms are cozy and rustic in the best possible way and if you are lucky enough to have a savannah view balcony, there’s nothing more romantic than sharing a glass of wine on your balcony while you watch the sunset over the savannah.

The Food

Onto the food. It’s delicious. Boma is a buffet style restaurant that has something to offer for everyone from the adventurous to the pickiest eaters. It’s a mixture of African flavor, carved meats, and a kids section with American staples. Don’t foget the zebra domes for dessert, you’ll find them here! Jiko is a signature dining experience with steaks (among other choices) that simply melts in your mouth. I don’t know much about the kids offerings here, but if you are lucky enough to have an adults only trip or night it’s a great choice! Sanaa is more for an adventurous eater but has the right amount of spice and flavor to excite your palate but allow you to feel comfortable in trying new things. It also has a view of the Savannah, which makes it a perfect choice for a sunset meal. What I like best about the food at Animal Kingdom Lodge is that even as a New Yorker it offers options I can’t easily find at home. Another form of escape from the day to day.