Today we begin carrying Bill Burke’s column dedicated to fans of Walt Disney World. Whether you are making your first foray to Disney, or you are a regular visitor, Bill’s columns can give you good advice. The column will appear in Englewood Voices and in the Leisure section, and does not require a subscription.
By Bill Burke
Q: We’re going to Walt Disney World in a few months, and I am wondering if we would be happier staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge rather than the Tree House Villas. Can you offer any insight or thoughts? — Karen Munt, Virginia
A: There are a lot of elements to take into account when choosing where to lay your head at Walt Disney World, but this is an easy one.
If you’ve got it narrowed down to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Treehouse Villas — which are technically part of the Saratoga Springs Resort — there’s only one answer: Choose Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Both resorts are nice, but offer totally different experiences. The Treehouse Villas are newly constructed, octagonal structures elevated 10 feet off the ground that sleep up to nine people. They are wonderfully appointed with top-notch furnishings and sit unobtrusively in natural wooded surroundings along the Sassagoula River near Downtown Disney.
Here’s the problem: If you’re into people-watching or taking part in any resort activities, the Treehouse Villas are not the answer. They’re quiet, with no community feel, and they’re situated pretty far away from the main building at Saratoga Springs. The transportation can be complicated. Taking a shuttle to a bus stop that will eventually get you to where you’re going is not my idea of efficient transport. For as much as $700 a night if you’re paying cash, or a pile of points if you’re a member of Disney Vacation Club, this just isn’t a wise choice. Access to the Turf Club restaurant or the Artist’s Palette quick-serve restaurant is less than convenient. (Read: I’m not marching my butt half-way to Downtown Disney in the crushing humidity for a breakfast pizza every morning.)
Animal Kingdom Lodge, however, offers wonderful accommodations with convenience. As one of Disney’s most beautiful resorts, its massive lobby transports guests to Africa with breathtaking décor, music and lighting. Savanna-facing rooms provide guests with the opportunity to share their morning coffee with giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, ostriches and a clutch of other animals. In this case, believe the marketing hype: an African wildlife preserve sits just beyond your balcony. It’s an experience that’ll shape your entire vacation.
Cast Members from all over Africa tend to any needs you may have, and are always more than happy to talk to you about their homeland. On a warm fall afternoon recently our party parked our butts in the oversized wooden rocking chairs overlooking the savanna and fired questions at the Cast Members who rotated through our area every 20 minutes. They were, without exception, intelligent, enthusiastic and enjoyed sharing their stories with us.
Here’s an insider’s tip: There’s a bartender named Seth at the Kidani pool bar who pours with an exceptionally heavy hand and will keep you entertained for hours.
Try that at the Treehouse Villas.
The resort offers African folk tales told around a campfire every night, craft activities throughout the day, a pool dance party each afternoon, and an opportunity to view the wildlife after dark through night-vision goggles. This is one resort I could stay at and never give a thought to the crowded theme parks just a bus ride away. Point me to the pool bar, put a frozen drink in my hand and I’ll be asking “Mickey who?” within minutes.
That said, the only drawback is that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a little remote. While Disney’s internal bus transportation is normally quite predictable and convenient, it is a little bit of a longer ride to get anywhere. When we stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, we rent a car.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge also offers several dining options right on-site: There’s Boma, an African-inspired buffet; Jiko, an upscale restaurant with a few more adventurous choices, and the Mara — a counter service option.
To book a room, call (407)-WDISNEY.
Bill Burke is the author of “Mousejunkies: Tips, Tales and Tricks for a Disney World Fix.” His follow-up guide to Walt Disney World is due out this spring. Visit Mousejunkies.com.
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