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The History of Animal Kingdom Lodge - Jambo Everyone!

On today’s show Chad and Sandy, have a blast chatting with Safari Mike from Radio Harambe, about the fascinating history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Their discussion will meander its way through the founding and design elements of the resort – delving into some of the underlying Imagineering concepts that make this resort so unique, enveloping its guests with incredible theming each step further across its threshold. Expect discussions not only about the Animals of the resorts but the layers of cultural elements that really make this resort sing. Episode 181

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Founding of the Resort

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge first opened its doors on April 16, 2001. Planning and design of the lodge took place from 1997-98 and construction took two and a half years.  The original building of the lodge is now known as Jambo House, with the addition of the resort’s second pavilion known as Kidani Village in 2009. Today, it is one of Walt Disney World’s most spectacular and most authentic-feeling hotels – a favorite amongst most DVC members.

Concept & Design

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge concept was based on the idea of recreating the feel of an African Reserve Lodge for its guests, without having to travel to the African continent.  Its core design goals were to bring guests to the savanna, immersing them with knowledge of African wildlife, African art, and sharing the cultures of the peoples of Africa.  Achieved through architecture, interior design, landscaping, and cultural ambassadors – the lodge also focuses on concepts of the interconnectivity of people and the planet. 

Architect Peter Dominick was tasked with developing this concept into the built form.  Dominick had previously worked with Disney on the creation of Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Californian in Disneyland.  In close collaboration with Imagineering (championed by Joe Rhode), the design development would focus on the core element of story-telling.

Among some of Dominick’s signature design elements that can be seen here,  are a grand lobby and a stream flowing throughout.  The design’s authenticity was the result of five years of design development, as architectural and Imagineering teams toured several places in South Africa to draw inspiration. They especially focussed on safari game parks. They then incorporated native architecture, culture, arts, and storytelling of the places they visited into the design of the Lodge.  

Kidani Village

The addition of Kidani Village to the Resort was completed in 2009.  Built to the west of the original lodge building – now guests could enjoy the addition of more than 300 villas. Just as with Jambo House, every detail including the shape of the building in horseshoe was meticulously planned to create the most authentic of experiences for guests.  The expansion with Kidani allowed for the Sunset Savanna to be extended to the new structure and for more species of animals to be introduced. A new pool was also built, featuring water slides and an aquatic playground for little ones.  With its inauguration on May 1, 2009, the existing lodge building was renamed Jambo House. 

Deeper Dive

Among those design elements discussed by Chad, Sandy, and Safari Mike today, are the guiding principles of the resort, its architectural details, its art, interior design details, its natural and cultural elements.  Just as each of these elements interlaces with one another to create a full, and enchanting experience – so too do the discussions of these topics mesh and circle back to one another throughout the show.  Here are just a few covered on today’s show.

Guiding principles:

  • wanted guests to become part of “the journey.”
  • experience a magical & mysterious safari expedition
  • create an authentic experience during guests’ safari trip 
    • textiles, 
    • art, and 
    • artifacts 

Architectural details:

  • Horseshoe shape
  • Thatched roof
  • Balcony railings running to the savannah
  • Choice of building materials
  • Firepit in the lobby
  • Focus on natural light and interior lighting
  • Location of the lobby on floor 3 for proper scaling and intimacy

Art & Interior Design details;

  • 2nd largest African art collection outside of Africa
  • Zulu shields for lighting
  • Choice of soft goods in the lobby – textiles
  • Floor medallions
  • Victoria falls

Natural Elements:

  • Savannas
  • overlook
  • Animal / ecological education through conservationists

Cultural elements

  • Cultural ambassadors
  • Music & musicians
  • Food
  • Art
  • Folkloric storytelling

It is no surprise that Animal Kingdom Lodge is among most DVC Members’ favorite resorts – one that they are happy to enjoy staying at time and time again.  It might just be worth building in a few resort days your next resort so you too, can peel back and explore the many, many layers and facets of this marvelous resort. And, if all things Animal Kingdom are your thing, we cannot say enough great things about the amazing research and topic discussions that Safari Mike and the Radio Harambe team produce for their listeners!  You can find them on most podcast feeds searching for Radio Harambe and online at

Mike's Animal Kingdom Merchandise Shop

Today's show was produced by Sandy Symianick. Show notes by Sandy and Jill Creighton. Audio editing by David Kluver and audio mastering by Chad Pennycuff.

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