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Daffy Does Disney – Experiencing Sanaa

The last big event of my weekend with friends at Walt Disney World was a new dining experience (for me) at Kidani Village in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, called “Sanaa.” It is a fusion restaurant that incorporates elements of both Indian and African cuisine and has the added bonus of being directly adjacent to the savannah, where animals like giraffes roam freely. If you eat at Sanaa early enough in the day you’re pretty likely to get a glimpse of these animals while you dine. Our reservation time changed a few times, both during the planning phase of our trip and in the days and hours leading up to the actual meal. We had very little trouble in making this happen because for some reason Sanaa just isn’t as widely popular as you’d think it would be. Maybe people are intimidated by the exotic menu or maybe they just don’t want to hitch it all the way over to Kidani Village for their meal. Whatever the reason is, their loss can be your gain, because this is easily in the top third of table service restaurants I’ve experienced at Walt Disney World. Check it out if you can!

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Posted on October 14, 2016, in Animal Kingdom, Daffy Does Disney, theme parks, travel, Trip Report and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Looks delish. When we stayed at AKL, the DVC expansion wasn’t built yet so Sanaa wasn’t there. We did eat at Boma and Jiko which were very good, but I have heard good things about Sanaa. I don’t recall having that nice of a view at either of the other restaurants, but it was so long ago who can remember. I’d have had to order a different dessert though. I am not a fan of tapioca. It’s a texture thing.

    My main question would be, was it worth taking the time out of your day to leave the park and travel to AKL. I know AKL is relatively close, but any time you leave the park you sacrifice some efficiency. Now that AK has built up their table service restaurants, would you recommend giving up park time to make the trip to Sanaa?

    As your video ended, you were going through the My Vacation Is Ending Blues? As you know, I tend to take less frequent and longer trips to Disney. The reason for that is efficiency (a very important consideration when traveling to WDW.) Since all of my expenses are multiplied by a factor of 4, it’s preferable to get as much mileage as possible out of each plane ticket and park ticket.

    With the MYW pricing, a seven-day base ticket is $394.05 and a three-day ticket is $308.85. So obviously, you’re better off spending a week at the parks consecutively if you can swing it than going down for two long weekends. The price of two three-day base tickets is $617.70. Then you add in additional travel expenses. For me, multiple by a factor of four.

    The downside is that even the most ardent Disney fan can find themselves burning out after multiple consecutive days at the parks (especially with kids). While I’m always a little sad that a vacation is ending, I am usually more than ready to go back home by the time our trip is ended. I will be interested to hear your thoughts should you decide to extend your stay in the future.

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    • You are right that park ticket expenses fade way down the longer your trip is. The same cannot be said for additional resort days, which ends up being a bigger expense than park tickets even on a short stay for a single person. That changes as you add people to your party, of course, which is one reason these friends trips are appealing.

      I will admit to more ‘end of vacation blues’ this time around than in the past. I crammed a lot into 2 full days and 2 half days and my video projects were a part of that. If this was a ‘once in a lifetime’ or even ‘once every 5-10 years’ trip the top attractions I missed would be completely unacceptable. These included Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, Test Track, Mission: Space, Muppets 3D, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunder Mountain (Dinosaur and BTMRR were both down for refurbishment). I had a lot of fun and have loved the post-vacation enjoyment of putting together these videos, so I’m not super disappointed about missing those things, but instead have my appetite whetted for another trip.

      I would probably recommend Sanaa for people who are taking longer trips or who have been to the parks so many times that losing a little bit of time there is not a big deal. I was really looking forward to it and I’m glad I got to experience it. I have two Indian restaurants here in the Triangle area of NC where I like the food better than at Sanaa, but both the bread service and the dessert I had were excellent, and neither of those local places has interior theming close to that of Sanaa, never mind the African animals hanging out just outside of the windows. My entree was good, but not amazing.

      Thus far, it’s definitely in my top 5 Disney World table service spots based on the strengths I mentioned. Based only on my own specific experiences, it still comes in behind both ‘Ohana and Restaurant Marrakesh and is somewhere in the second tier with the Brown Derby and Be Our Guest (where our seating in the West Wing and my excellent steak motivated a bit of a boost in my estimation of it this time). Excellent food and theme are the 2 most important things when judging a Disney World restaurant. Sanaa gets top marks for theme for obvious reasons while the food is generally in the same range as Be Our Guest. The food at Brown Derby and The Wave is better, but theme at those places is really just ‘fancy.’

      Okay, let’s do a full ranking of the TS places I’ve experienced with the caveat that some of these might switch spots on a different day. But generally this is where I’d rank them:

      1. ‘Ohana
      2. Restaurant Marrakesh
      3. Be Our Guest
      4. Sanaa
      5. The Brown Derby
      6. The Wave…of American Flavors
      7. Chefs de France
      8. Liberty Tree Tavern
      9. Yak & Yeti
      10. Mama Melrose
      11. San Angel Inn
      12. 50’s Prime Time Cafe
      13. Sci-Fi Dine-In
      14. The Plaza
      15. The Crystal Palace

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      • The thing about resort days is that while they don’t get less expensive, they are going to cost the same whether you split the trip into two or not. If you take two weekend trips, it will actually cost more because weekends are more expensive than week days. But you still run into that “consecutive days burn-out” factor where you are paying for days in which you might not feel all that excited about going to the parks anymore. The first day or two of a trip is usually when everyone is enjoying it the most. Day five or six, the party tends to be dragging. Even at the minimal ticket price, you’re still paying for an expensive room and meals. That’s where the value of a longer trip becomes questionable.

        You brought up something I thought about watching the videos. This sort of thing has to impact the efficiency of your touring. Of course you go often enough that squeezing in a repeat of some of these attractions isn’t all that big of a concern. I experience some of that just taking pictures for trip reports, but my level of commitment is much, much lower than yours. Early on, I’m trying to get pictures of every meal. But that quickly gets tossed aside as the trip progresses. By the end of the trip, I’m thoughtlessly snapping pictures as a form of note-taking.

        You had mentioned at some point that you were going to Sanaa to try something new. That’s kind of the rally cry of frequent WDW guests. another ride on Dinosaur can be less appealing than checking a box off your Disney experience chart. The atmosphere looks pretty amazing. If I were staying at AKL or resort hopping on a non-park day, I’d definitely consider it.

        Did you have a bad experience at The Crystal Palace? Breakfast, lunch or dinner? We had dinner at TCP and found the food to be pretty high quality for a buffet. Of course it was way over-priced. Our single sit-down experience at Be Our Guest was very much like yours. I ordered the steak which was good. We were seated in the West Wing which is desirable for most, but it scared my youngest so I would have gladly switched tables with someone else. We had a very strange/irritating server that day who actually offended both Mindy and myself. Hard to hold that against the restaurant as a whole, but if I am ranking experiences Be Our Guest takes a tumble for that reason.

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        • The Crystal Palace is beautiful on its outside, but a little less so on the inside. My experience with the dinner buffet was very unimpressive. It cost something like $50 a person at the time and the food was pretty unremarkable. The characters there are from Winnie the Pooh. I like those characters in their books and movies and would maybe enjoy seeing them at breakfast or lunch, but there was something about getting them in the evening that seemed less appropriate – especially when the meal was overpriced and underwhelming. Buffets generally don’t appeal to me, and why they should cost me more than a decent sit-down meal with an actual waiter is beyond me. The building seems to promise an upper-tier dining experience, but just doesn’t deliver.

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        • The pricing is absurd, but it’s typical of a character buffet. Your list includes relatively few of them whereas my dining experience includes quite a few. It may not be fair to compare these meals against proper sit-down meals (non-buffets). The primary appeal of these experiences is the characters. Disney knows this which is why they can get away with jacking up the prices year after year. Comparing apples to apples, the food at Crystal Palace was significantly better than the dinner buffet at Chef Mickey’s. Better interior atmosphere as well. The question is, do you want to meet the Fab 5 or the 1000 Acres Gang? Do you want to hop a monorail to the Contemporary or eat inside the MK.

          Let’s look at the prices. These are the adult price ranges listed on Allears.net. (Dinner only, so I am leaving out O’Hana.) Ranked from cheapest to most expensive:

          Tusker House Restaurant: $37-$43
          Garden Grill: $37.97-$44.72
          Crystal Palace: $37.99-$43.66
          1900 Park Fare: $39.33-$55.50
          Chef Mickey’s: $45.53-$52.05
          Hollywood & Vine: $46.99
          Cape May Cafe: $47.99-$51.59
          Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: $48.85-$55.37
          Cinderella’s Royal Table: $67.96-$75.83

          Good lord, I have eaten at almost all of these! The exceptions being Tusker House, Cape May Cafe and 1900 Park Fare. The food is comparable at all of the character buffets, but I give the edge to Crystal Palace and Garden Grill (ironically, two of the least expensive options). Cinderella’s Royal Table and Hollywood & Vine are probably the weakest food-wise. The key to these buffets is to identify the dishes you enjoy and stick to them. You can’t be afraid to let the weaker dishes sit on the plate. There are always enough good choices that I can find something I like, but no it doesn’t usually compare to a plated meal ordered off a menu. (Although with those meals sitting under heat lamps, the distinction is becoming less noticeable.)

          The first word in “character meal” is “character” which tells you what the primary appeal is. You pay extra for the convenience of having these characters come to your table. Is it worth it? It really depends. Truth is, outside of the princess meals (which are among the most expensive) you can see most of the characters available without much of a wait. And a lot of people could live without seeing them at all. But obviously, there’s a strong demand for the character meal experience. For us, I think we’re probably ready to move on from them for the most part. But I will say, we have had a lot of fun at some of these meals.

          A couple other considerations: If you’re on the dining plan, the price is largely irrelevant which probably accounts for the success of the meal plan and character meals. The big exception is Cindy’s Palace which is over-priced no matter how you are paying (If you must do it, go for breakfast and pay in cash.) Earlier meals can be cheaper, but for most of these, Disney has eliminated lunch pricing. Bad Disney. You can do character meals for breakfast, but unless you do it before the park opens, you are sacrificing prime touring time for a long, underwhelming sit-down meal.

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        • Yeah, the character buffets just aren’t particularly appealing to me. I’ve warmed to characters in general over the years. It was fun to be able to meet them in passing at Disneyland and the short waits we experienced on this trip to meet Kylo Ren and Mexican Donald Duck were paid back hugely with the video we got with them. Seeing them in parades is nice too. But I never heard a single member of my party make any noise about getting in the long lines to meet Jack Skellington and Sally or the 7 Dwarfs at the Halloween party or to meet Anna and Elsa in the Norway pavilion at Epcot. Those meet and greet opportunities kind of didn’t exist for us.

          A buffet is actually less appealing to me than a counter service meal because it requires carrying my food multiple times instead of just once. I want to sit down and relax and enjoy talking to my party when I’m having a meal. Walking away to do something else in the middle of the experience is something I only want to do if it is completely necessary.

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        • Walking away from your table at a character meal is a risky proposition! If you miss a character because you were getting food, they won’t be back until they have completed the cycle all over again which may take an hour. If you want to see every character (and you paid for it, so you definitely want to), you could end up waiting around even after everyone has finished their meal. For this reason, a “family style” meal or a meal with a plated entree is preferable. You will find these at Cinderella’s Royal Table, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and Garden Grill.

          Of them all, I would argue Garden Grill is a bit of a hidden gem. The food is served family style, the characters overlap with those at Chef Mickey’s and the restaurant is a revolving set-up with a view of Living With the Land. If one were inclined to do a character meal, GG would rank pretty high among my recommendations.

          As far as counter service goes, I find the multiple stations, tray balancing and table stalking to be among the most stressful experiences in all of Walt Disney World. As with travel expenses, multiply everything you have experienced at a busy counter service lunch by 4. Because I’m usually gathering all the meals (which are never from just one station) and making multiple trips to a table (assuming we can find one which isn’t always a safe assumption.) We aren’t even allowed to say the words “Cosmic Rays” in our house after two nightmare experiences on two consecutive trips out of a total of two attempts at eating there. Comparatively, Chef Mickey’s is a relatively relaxing prospect.

          I wouldn’t begrudge anyone from meeting a Disney character in the parks. But I will admit that I get mildly irritated when adults without kids are waiting in a long line for a meet and greet. In my pre-kids days, I recall stepping out of line to make sure the kids behind me got to see the character before the line was shut down. I mean, if meeting Anna and Elsa is your thing, more power to you. But I think it means a lot more to the dozens of little princesses in Elsa dresses standing in line behind you. I know, it’s not their concern and it probably shouldn’t be. But without kids, I’d never visit a character with a wait time of more than 5 minutes or risk a kid missing a meet and greet because I was in line first. That’s just me.

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        • I can absolutely understand why many counter service locations are stressful for a family of four with two school-aged children. The only mildly annoying counter service experience we had this time around was when we went over to Backlot Express in Hollywood Studios to get a little something to tide us over until our 3:50pm reservation at 50s Prime Time Cafe. Most of us got the child-sized chicken and waffles which was actually pretty tasty and accomplished exactly what we wanted it to. Finding a table was a little difficult, however, and we had people jump into tables less than 5 yards away from us at least twice before we found a reasonably shady outdoor table. That was with four adults who were carrying their own food. I can imagine how frustrating it would be if you were carrying food for two or three people and managing little people who are less independent and absolutely your responsibility.

          I’m going to have to disagree with you when it comes to stepping aside for the children of strangers. I certainly wouldn’t do it in a queue for a ride. Mexican Donald went on break while we were waiting for him, but he came back in something like 5 minutes. If anybody was stressed about it nobody said anything. As you know, I’m not a big character or parades guy, but if I get in line, that’s my spot in line. Sure, if a character is going to go away for the rest of the day after one more meet and there’s a little kid dressed as that character standing beside me I’d let that kid go ahead. But I have heard complaints that adults without kids are in line AT ALL, and that strikes me as a “tough titties” situation. Do we want to suggest to Disney that they can try to handle a long line differently by maybe providing more “friends”? Sure. But if adults want to meet characters, then they should be allowed to. It’s like the parents who rush up to a parade at the last minute and want people who staked out good viewing spots an hour in advance to give those spots up to their kids. Sorry lady, but I don’t know your kid and I’ve been here for an hour. It’s not happening. Plan your day better.

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        • I certainly wouldn’t want Disney to police that sort of thing, but I tend to step aside if I can add a little magic to a kid’s day at the parks, even if it’s a kid I don’t know. I have done it in lines for m&g and I have also done it at parades. Like I said before, that’s just me. I don’t expect others to make the same decision, but especially when it comes to m&gs I can get annoyed. I don’t express it in any way, but I have to wonder what they are thinking. I certainly wouldn’t be standing in that line if I didn’t have kids with me.

          On our last trip, I recall things getting a little testy by the Tea Cups where Alice and the White Rabbit were meeting. They were only out for about 20 minutes. Yes, they were going to have another scheduled session, but the break was much longer than 5 minutes. I think they alternated 20 minutes of meeting with 20 minutes of break. Without kids, I wouldn’t get in that line. I want as many kids as possible to take advantage of those 20 minute sessions.

          I am with you that adults without kids have as much of a right to the characters as anyone else who bought a ticket. But if I’m being honest, I can’t help being a bit judgmental about some of them. Especially the ones who seem to care a bit too much. I know Disney is supposed to be for everyone, but meet and greets in particular seem to me to be more heavily target to kids. Not saying that adults shouldn’t get in line, but… I may sometimes be thinking it… even if I’m conflicted.

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        • As someone who grew up reading comic books and playing D & D and had lots of friends who were really into Tolkein or Star Trek or some other thing I remember what it was like to be judged for liking something. I’m certainly guilty of being a snob over pop culture, but there’s something about Disney fans that reminds me of my days with comics fans or Trekkies. I’m not likely to judge unless they’re the ones being actively rude. Standing in line is not rude.

          I do think you have to be thoughtful in how much time you spend with a character. You are an adult. Know what you want to say or do. Do that, get your photo taken, smile, and move on. Little kids are more likely to take a little time with the interaction, so you should balance that out by being more efficient. You saw probably 85-90% of our interaction with Mexican Donald in that video. We told him what we wanted to do, did it, got a hug, and split.

          During this trip I motioned in people to a table I was going to leave soon on more than one occasion. I also gladly waved in a family with kids to a table when I was by myself and moved on to looking elsewhere. But I really want these friendly gestures to be my doing and not something that was expected by the other person. That parent who just assumes you’ll give up your viewing spot because they managed to procreate annoys me. Strike up a friendly conversation with me. Maybe I’ll offer on my own. Maybe I won’t. But you sure as heck shouldn’t expect it.

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        • There’s not a single thing in this comment that I disagree with.

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    • Well, I went ahead and booked my next visit to WDW. I’ll be staying at the Art of Animation for 5 nights in mid April. I know you guys stayed there a few years ago and you reported being happy with the food court there. I would probably only eat there for breakfast, but it’s good to know the place does good things. The parks will be very crowded at that time of year, but I’m thinking a longer stay combined with touring on my own will help to mitigate that a bit.

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      • At some point you might want to consider an annual pass. I know the prices got hiked up something fierce this year. But with hotel discounts, the math might work out if you continue to go this frequently.

        We have been in April and it is indeed busy. There really isn’t a slow season any more as you know. The Spring Break season is busier than usual, but with proper planning it is easily manageable. We never waited in any long lines during our Spring Break visits. Where you felt it was parades, fireworks, shuttles and counter service meals. But all in all, not too painful. Solo travel will likely mitigate that as you say.

        You have stayed at Pop Century before, so you know what to expect. AoA was originally the second phase of that hotel and aside from theme, the two hotels have a lot in common. The pool is bigger and fancier, but I doubt you will take advantage of that. One thing I liked about AoA compared to the moderate resorts was that it was relatively compact. At Port Orleans or Coronado Springs, you might have a 10 minute hike to the food court or bus station. At AoA, everything is pretty close together. I imagine you will stay in a single room in the Little Mermaid section instead of one of the suites. Unfortunately, those rooms are in the most remote part of the hotel. But even that isn’t too bad.

        The food court was decent. I hear Pop had an upgrade to be on about the same level as AoA. We had breakfast there a few times. I remember having the steak and eggs sandwich which was basically a cheeseburger with a fried egg on it. I wouldn’t eat like that every day, but it made for a hearty breakfast on vacation. The kids ordered chocolate chip pancakes off the adult menu and they were a hit. If you wanted either of those items, you either had to wait in a long line or get their early. They also had a smoothie station if you want to drink your breakfast on the bus ride to the parks. It’s all pretty typical Disney food court stuff, just maybe a bit better than what you will find at the All Star food court. As with anything at Disney, I recommend getting their ahead of the rush.

        At the end of a long day, I enjoyed a gelato, but we were on the dining plan that trip. It was a good use of a snack credit, but pricey paying out of pocket.

        Any hints on what you are looking to see in April?

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        • I wasn’t anticipating doing this second trip so soon until after I was home from my first for a couple of weeks. If I had I definitely would have looked into an annual pass. The general wisdom is that if you have two trips that add up to 10 park days it is probably cheaper to go ahead and buy the pass. Only once before have I come close to that number within 12 months, and that gap was pretty big. Heck, it had been 2 years between WDW visits before this autumn. We’ll see how things shake out.

          I actually went on line and looked up information about how far the Little Mermaid room is going to be from the buses. What I found was a youtube video that was labeled something very on-the-nose like “walking from Little Mermaid room to buses” and was shown at more than 13 minutes. -GULP- So I watched it. What I found was that the person shooting the video was A) wasting a lot of time rubbernecking at the sights along the way and B) apparently carrying something really heavy. I’m guessing I can make the walk in question in 5 minutes easy.

          One thing I definitely want to do in April is to investigate the pavilions of World Showcase more thoroughly rather than just seeing the movies/rides and eating something. I want to see some more of the live entertainment and other events. I also want to do the Wilderness Explorers activities at Animal Kingdom. Of course there will be new places to eat as well. At the moment I’ve got reservations at Via Napoli, Kona, Teppan Edo, the Skipper Canteen, and Biergarten but some of that might change. I’m not making any time for Disney Springs in April, so I might try to run over there again this /christmas when I’m in the Tampa area with family.

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        • The conventional wisdom is 10 days over two trips and you’re probably better off with the pass. It’s been several years since I actually did the math for myself. Hotel discounts can cut some time off that if you stay in the deluxe or moderate accommodations, but I hear the discounts aren’t what they used to be.

          Five minutes sounds about right for the walk to the bus station. We didn’t make that walk, but I know they have a bus station at the back of the hotel for those guests. The longest walk was from the main building to the Mermaid rooms and I think that was aroind 12 minutes with kids. We were in the Lion King suites which are the next farthest out and none of the walks bothered us in any way.

          One hopes River of Light is operating by April. I don’t guess Avland is likely that early? The dining reservations all sound promising. I haven’t eaten at any of those places but have heard good things.

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