Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

We took a quick weekend trip down to San Antonio last August to celebrate my son’s 13th birthday and to have a sort of “last hurrah” before the start of the school year.  I was working for Hyatt at the time so the obvious choice was to stay at a Hyatt brand property.  Spoiled by the numerous Disney resorts we have stayed at in the past, we decided on the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa since it was the closest match we could agree on.

The resort is large.  It has a main building in the middle of the property and is surrounded by lush, tree covered landscaping.  The resort backs up to a golf course.  This is a view from the back of the main house and the community lawn where they host daily family oriented activities.

Inside the main building is where the check-in area is located.  The decor has an old southern theme to it and was very eye pleasing.  Not quite Disney but was reminiscent of the Disney Port Orleans Riverside Resort.

Texas summers feel like we are living on the equator so the main reason we picked this resort was for their pool area.  There are two main pools and a lazy river that circles around the back of the resort.  In the middle of the lazy river route you float through a sandy “beach” area where you can pull up your float and from there, enjoy the nightly movies on the lawn.  I can’t tell you how many times the kids went around in the river, but it had to have been in the hundreds.  I did suffer a few motherly panic attacks as the current would wisk my 4 foot nothing daughter away and it would be a few minutes before we were reunited again.  I’m sure other guests were hearing me yell “Amber!” in their dreams that night.  There are not the best pictures but I didn’t want to bring my camera into the pool area.

Our room was on the first floor and backed up to the wooded trails area of the resort.  The room itself was tiny and with three kids (my son brought his friend along) we had a very interesting sleeping arrangement. A few evening fights broke out but eventually we got it taken care of.  Below is the view from our patio.  Is that a donkey?  Yes, it’s a donkey.  A local farm owner brought her animals there for a visit and pony rides.  My daughter and I spent a while talking to the lady there and enjoyed petting the animals.  My personal favorite was her potbellied pig…Mr. Baron VonSwine.

There are a few dining options at the hotel.  We took advantage of my employee food and beverage discount and enjoyed a really good dinner and breakfast buffet.  The kids ate to their hearts’ intent…as you can see here:

They also have a good pizza place right off of the pool area where we were all able to eat for under $20.

On our second day we braved the Texas heat and went to visit the Alamo since the boys were begging to see it.  Once inside and after 2 minutes they said “Ok, we’re done and ready to go”.  I visited the Alamo years ago however it seems so much smaller to me now.

We took a walk along the Riverwalk and after a couple of hours were nice a sweaty just in time to return to the resort for an evening swim.

It was a nice get away weekend and I think the kids enjoyed it.  They’ve been asking to go back to the lazy river so we’ll see what kind of a travel agent discount I can get next time!



Animal Kingdom Lodge Review

Last summer we took a trip to Walt Disney World with my parents and stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  AKL is classified under Disney Resorts as a “Deluxe Resort” meaning that it is more of a full service resort rather than a limited service that you would find at one of the Value resorts.  The main theme of the AKL is the African experience.  From the minute you walk through the doors it is like you have been transported to Africa as you are surrounded with authentic African art and decor.

The resort itself is huge.  It is broken down into different buildings and also houses one of Disney’s vacation resorts on property which are condo-like timeshares.  The main draw of the resort is the fact that it sits upon a 43-acre wildlife preserve.  If you reserve a Savannah view room, you will be waking up to the sights of giraffe and wilder beast eating their breakfast right outside your balcony!

The rooms themselves are small, which is common for Disney resorts.  I suppose they assume most people won’t be spending much time in the rooms anyway so you are paying the big bucks for all of the extras that the resort offers, rather than an extravagant room.  We had a room with two double beds however the resort also offers a room with one king bed and a set of bunk beds for those with smaller children.  These usually are a bit more money and considered an upgrade. All of the rooms offer an in-room safe and a small refrigerator.

View from our room (partial savannah view)

On hotel property there are several options for dining.  They have what Disney calls “counter service” at Mara, which is accessible through the pool area.  This is the quick service food-court like option which offers things like pizza, sandwiches, bakery items, yogurt, pasta…etc… You grab a tray and then order up what you want.  Mara is also where you would purchase your Disney mug.  Disney mugs are available at all of the WDW resort properties.  These are around $15 each however they are good for unlimited free refills at your resort for the duration of your stay. When individual drinks cost about $3 each, depending on how long you stay this can save you a bunch of money!  We have a nice collection of Disney mugs at our house.  This is the most recent design from last summer:

Disney changes out the design of the mugs each year because you are not “allowed” to re-use your mugs on subsequent visits.  I doubt that Disney is highly enforcing this rule but beware the die hard Disney goers….they are watching you and they WILL tattle!

Along with the quick service option, there area few higher-end dining options as well.  We were able to experience “Boma – Flavors of Africa” during our stay.  I had booked it for a buffet breakfast as one of our sit-down meals for the trip.  Boma prides itself on its extensive buffet with over 50 offerings, several of which are native African cuisine.  The buffet is pricey, be prepared….it is around $36 per adult and $27 per child.  Make sure you come hungry!  Now, I kind of wish we would’ve done the dinner buffet, as the breakfast was pretty typical of any breakfast buffet.  There were a few “different” dishes but all in all, it was pretty standard….eggs, bacon, waffles etc.  The juice however, is amazing.  It is called “Jungle Juice” and is a mixture of different juices….orange, mango, pineapple and lemonade.  Yum!

Another mid-priced sit down restaurant, Sana, can be located in the Villas area of the resort in the  Kidani Village building.  Featuring African cuisine, it is priced $15-$35 per person serving lunch and dinner.  If it is fine dining you are craving then seek out Jiko – the Cooking Place located at Jambo House.  It features….yup, you guessed it….African cuisine and offers an impressive wine list.  Priced at $30-$60 per person.

For those of you able to steal some time away from the kids, there are two lounges on property as well, Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar and also the Victoria Falls Lounge.

Besides the savannah, the outdoor and pool area is a huge draw and center of excitement for kids young and old.  The Samawati Springs pool is a 4,700 sq foot zero-entry pool that features a 128 ft water slide.  There are a couple of hot tubs strategically placed around the pool as well.  During busy months, even this gigantic pool can get pretty crowded.  I suggest taking an early morning swim before jaunting off to the parks or a late night swim which everyone else is watching fireworks at the Magic Kingdom!

View of hot tub from our room

There are several look out areas in which you can go and view the animals.  Sometimes at night they light a bonfire or do movies under the stars.  Also on property are jogging trails, bike rentals, a playground, a children’s activity program and a video arcade.  There are fitness centers at both Jambo House and Kidani Village however Jambo House also offers a salon and spa where you can enjoy a relaxing massage or salon appointment.  Here is a picture of one of the savannah look out areas with comfy rocker seating:

We caught a glimpse of these guys at one of the lookout areas

One thing that we always take advantage of at every Disney resort is the coin-operated laundry facilities.  If you are staying for longer than 5 days you might find that your clothes need a good washing mid-week thanks to the sweltering Florida heat and crowded theme parks.  It costs around $1-$3 per load.  **Packing Tip** Before you leave home, purchase a package of those Purex laundry all-in-one sheets and put a few in a plastic bag.  Stuff it in your suitcase and viola!  You no longer need to buy that expensive (and tiny) box of detergent in the laundry room.

My kiddos had a good time walking around in the gift shop.  They had a bunch of the standard Disney gift shop offerings such as stuffed animals, Disney keychains, shirts, hats etc… However they also had some items you would only be able to find at AKL.  There are several hand-made, authentic African items for sale including jewelry, paintings and little animal statues.  Of course, if you forgot any travel essentials such as pain reliever, band aids, nail files etc… you can find it all here.  **Travelin Tip** As in any hotel, it is cheaper to buy wine and beer from the gift shop coolers than at the bar.  So if you don’t mind enjoying it in your room (not allowed publically or poolside) then sae a buck and buy from the gift shop!

We had a fabulous time at Animal Kingdom Lodge from the time we surprised the kids while we pulled up into the front drive until we packed up the car to go home that sad, Saturday morning.  It was nice to stay at a Deluxe Disney resort thanks to a nice discount we were able to get.  I can’t say if we will stay here again, possibly if the price is right.  There is so much to do at AKL you really need to spend an entire day at the resort, just to experience everything it has to offer!

For more information on AKL or other Disney Resorts visit:http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts

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