I’m happy to welcome back Bill Iadonisi with another enlightening review. This time he explores the counter-service eatery, The Mara, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House. Take it away, Bill!
Hello Disney Food Blog fans! I know it’s been long between reviews, so let’s get started on this month’s eatery! I have always said that Disney’s resorts hold some of the best places to eat on property. Usually much quieter and less hectic then the restaurants in the parks, and many times you can just walk in and sit down.
Today we are going to the dark continent of Africa for this review. Well, maybe a quick safari trip to Disney’s Jambo house is what we’ll do. The main attractions at this beautiful resort are the breathtaking views of the African Savanna from select rooms. But it’s also home to some of Disney’s finest restaurants.
Although not a five-star eatery, Jambo House’s counter-service establishment, The Mara (named after the Mara River in Africa) is a wonderful place for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it does all three equally well.
So before we explore the eats, let’s take a look at the décor.
Inside is a spacious dining area with a colorful mural of African flora and fauna on the two back walls.
The tables and chairs are plain and Spartan, but overhead are metallic cut-outs that resemble tree leaves, and several support posts that have large wooden beams resembling tree limbs make it appear as though you are under the jungle canopy. In fact all the support beams are made to look like trees.
But other than that, the area looks like a standard cafeteria. In the rear corner is a monitor that displays Disney Cartoon Shorts. However, the dining area is large and the tables are not crowded together, so you are not in your neighbor’s lap. Even during the busy times, you do not get that “claustrophobic” feeling.
Ordering is easy. When you come in for breakfast, simply walk up to the food counter and a Cast Member will put your choices on plates. You’ll then proceed to the registers to pay.
For lunch and dinner, a Cast Member will fill out an order form with your selections, then hand you a “Buzzer” that will alert you when your order is ready. You’ll then pay at the register. Your drink order is taken at the register.
Bakery, Grab and Go, Kids Grab and Go, Snacks
When you enter the restaurant, the Bakery is on the left. The Mara has a respectable bakery also. Here you will find bagels, muffins, coffee rolls, bread, cookies, and croissants; and there is a freezer with some of your favorite ice cream treats. Next to the bakery is a wine rack and a wall of snacks.
Straight ahead is the Kids’ Picks and the “Grab N’ Go” cooler where you can get a quick sandwich, salad, dessert, fruit cup, or beverage if you are anxious to get to the parks (you can even get the resort’s famous Zebra Domes or Hummus, which are served at Boma upstairs)!
Drinks and Condiments
Right around the corner from the registers (in the main dining room) are the condiment and drink stations. A microwave and toaster are available, as are all of the “fixings” — cream cheese, salt, pepper etc.
Now that you know the process, let’s talk about the menus!
The Mara has a substantial menu for counter-service. I have dined here several times and found the food a notch above your standard burgers and chicken nuggets. As you might expect, many items on the menu are African-inspired, as in Jiko the Cooking Place and Boma.
Again joining me for Breakfast and Lunch (yes, we did both!) was my wife Donna, and my friend John (AKA Chef BigFatPanda).
We arrived around 10:30am because John and I wanted breakfast and Donna is more of a lunch person.
What we like about the Mara is that you can customize your breakfast platter. For example, I am a health nut and avoid carbs. If you order the Bounty Platter, it usually comes with scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, biscuit, small Mickey waffle, and sausage and bacon for $8.29. But I just wanted the eggs, bacon and sausage, which I got for $6.79.
John ordered just the potatoes, scrambled eggs, and bacon for the same price.
The kids also have their own menu: Breakfast platter ($4.99), a Mickey Shaped Waffle ($4.99), and choice of sides…Bacon, sausage, or potatoes ($2.49).
I believe breakfast for any establishment is a challenge. With so many options to prepare your food, i.e. bacon extra crispy, eggs over easy, well done, scrambled dry, wet; it becomes hard to please. Mara does a wonderful job. The scrambled eggs were flavorful with a nice hint of butter — moist but not runny and not dry, middle of the road perfection.
The same goes for the potatoes, sausage, and bacon. The sausage had a nice crisp skin, but was juicy and moist inside; and they were the big links — not those skinny breakfast sausages many places offer.
I also highly recommend the “Bobotie.” This tasty item has ground turkey, red and green bell peppers, zucchini and raisins all blended with egg custard, served as a round “cupcake.” It is accompanied by “Chakalaka” if desired — a spicy tomato sauce with jalapenos, onions, and cilantro. Try it; it is not as spicy as it sounds!
Another item I applaud is the African Inspired Breakfast Platter ($6.79). This dish includes roasted tomatoes, scrambled eggs, Pap (A porridge made with white cornmeal), Chakalaka and Merguez sausage (mutton or beef based). It is excellent.
In addition to the diverse selection of beverages, the bakery, and menu choices — and that you can customize your meal — breakfast at The Mara is a delightful experience.
Lunch and Dinner
For lunch and dinner, the menu is even more enticing. Between flatbreads, stew, hand-carved sandwiches, and Angus burgers, there is something for everyone.
Donna chose the Chicken Pita ($8.99). This has roasted chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, spring mix, sun dried hummus, mint yogurt sauce, and lemon vinaigrette.
I stole a little taste (all Carbs can’t be bad!). The Pita was fresh and soft, and the chicken had a nice balance of flavors and was moist. The mint sauce was in the background, but did not overwhelm, and the rest of the ingredients melded perfectly. Donna was very pleased with her choice.
If you enjoy a good stew, I highly recommend the African Stew ($7.99) this dish is full of flavor with beef, turkey, and ham, red and green peppers, potatoes, onions, and more — it’s served over basmati rice. Another selection that I have enjoyed in the past is the 1/3 Angus Bacon Cheeseburger ($8.79). This hefty burger is full of flavor and the Mara cooks it just right.
The Mara also has daily dinner specials and of course a Kids’ menu (9 and under) with all their favorit — Mac and cheese, hot dogs, chicken strips, and Rotisserie chicken, all served with applesauce and two sides. Kid’s meals also include a beverage, i.e. juice, soda, water, milk, apple or orange juice, or chocolate milk.
The adults also can choose to purchase a bottle of wine to enjoy with their meal.
We find The Mara a refreshing change of pace from the standard counter-service fare. The food is right out there for all to see, it is made fresh, and it even has a carving station. The menu is even more extensive than some table service eateries.
The restaurant is conveniently located by the pool and has a nice outdoor eating area. I have never seen it overcrowded, and with its bakery, large choice of beverages, and even a wine rack, it is another “hidden gem” here at the world.
If there was one complaint, I wish it was a little more “themed.” At least the tables and chairs could have looked more rustic. But that’s just my opinion. We will return again.
The Mara is open for Breakfast from 7am to 11am. Lunch and Dinner is from 11am to 11:30pm. The bakery is open from 6:30am to 11:30pm. It does not take Tables in Wonderland or DVC (Disney Vacation Club) discounts. It is on the Disney Dining Plan for a counter-service credit. No reservations are needed. For further information, call Disney Dining at 407-939-3463.