When comparing Deluxe Lodges at Walt Disney World, there are two hotel choices: Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge. One is a Magic Kingdom resort, the other an Animal Kingdom one. Our goal with this post is to offer a head-to-head smackdown between the two and settle once and for all the epic debate as to which WDW Lodge offers better lodging. (After our Polynesian v. Grand Floridian post proved really popular–with 63 comments and counting–we’ll plan to do a new one of these versus posts every Monday for the foreseeable future.)
Aside from both having “lodge” in the name, you might wonder why we’re comparing these two Walt Disney World resorts. Our last ‘smackdown’ between the Grand Floridian and Polynesian made sense: the two most expensive hotels, both on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop, literally right next to one another. By contrast, the lodges are miles apart. (Do you notice that if you say the word ‘lodge’ over and over, it sounds really funny and begins to lose all meaning? No? Just me? Okay…)
With these lodges, not only are there stylistic commonalities, but both are on the lowest end of the ‘Deluxe’ price spectrum, offer a similar level of thematic immersion, and are going to appeal to the same type of guests. At least, that’s what we think. These are two of our absolute favorite Walt Disney World resort hotels (evidenced by taking the #1 & #3 spots on our Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts Rankings), and even though they are on opposite ends of property, the comparison makes sense. (Again, we think.)
As with our last comparison, in this posts, we use 6 elements of two different Walt Disney World hotels to determine which is “the best.” (We’ve supplemented transportation with location this time, due to the differences between these lodges.) Okay, with that, it’s time to compare and contrast…
Theme: Animal Kingdom Lodge – When you’re comparing the thematic creme de la creme, there really can be no loser. Actually, I feel guilty about not calling this one a push, because I really do find these to be the #1 and #2 themed resorts at Walt Disney World. With both, it’s not just about the grandeur of the cavernous lobbies, either. Both hotels have myriad quiet corners where you can escape the hustle of Walt Disney World and be transported to another time and place.
However, there are things that elevate Animal Kingdom Lodge. First and most obvious is the expansive savanna outside the lobby, where 30 species of animals roam in the view of guests. Now, I realize this doesn’t have the most legit animals, like mountain goats, pygmy goats, angora goats, condors, manatees, and ALF, but it’s still pretty amazing. I can’t think of any other hotel in the United States that offers an experience like this. Granted, Wilderness Lodge has the geyser, a peaceful creek, and other brilliant little touches, but until Wilderness Lodge adds a herd of bison (the topiaries out front don’t count), the savanna is the ultimate trump card. Beyond that, Animal Kingdom Lodge has an exquisite art collection and detail-work that give it an aura of authenticity that place it a notch above Wilderness Lodge.
Rooms: Animal Kingdom Lodge – Both of these hotels have love ’em or hate ’em room styles. I love both, finding the rustic decor to be perfectly in keeping with the spirit of each resort. Sarah is not such a fan, finding these styles to be dark and drab, and not the kind of environment where you’d want to spend a lot of time. Chances are, you’re going to fall on one end or the other of that spectrum, and like both or dislike both.
With that said, as someone who does like both, I think there’s a bit more to like about Animal Kingdom Lodge’s rooms. From a style perspective, I think they feature more and better details, and balance quality and theme very well. On the other hand, I really like Wilderness Lodge’s rooms after their recent refurbishment toned down the volume on their previously-loud decor, but can’t help but feel that they were ever-so-slightly overcorrected. In a near-tie, I’d give Animal Kingdom Lodge the edge, and this is before even accounting for the fact that you can see live animals from the balconies of some rooms. Not an inherent characteristic of the rooms, themselves, but something that could give a decisive advantage on balance.
Dining: Animal Kingdom Lodge – This is one category that is not even a remotely close call. With The Mara, Victoria Falls Lounge, Boma, and Jiko, Animal Kingdom Lodge has a well-rounded dining lineup that offers a near best-in-class option at every level. If you add Sanaa to the mix (which we think is appropriate), it’s almost unfair. As a result, Animal Kingdom Lodge has the best dining lineup in all of Walt Disney World. (Top quality would go to Grand Floridian, but this lineup is way more well-rounded.)
Wilderness Lodge is no slouch in its own right, with Artist Point, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Territory Lounge, and Roaring Fork all being formidable options, but we think each of them is inferior to its respective counterpart at Animal Kingdom Lodge. (Arguably with the exception of Territory Lounge.) If anyone can make a case for Wilderness Lodge being better in terms of dining, we’d love to hear it!
Transportation/Location: Wilderness Lodge – This one was probably a foregone conclusion, right? After all, location is commonly the downfall of Animal Kingdom Lodge in any comparison like this. It could win every other head-to-head battle, but for so many guests, this is the deal-breaker.
It thus might come as a surprise to learn that Animal Kingdom Lodge is closer to more parks than Wilderness Lodge. In fact, once you get past the boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom Lodge is more convenient to each of the 3 other parks and Disney Springs. Yet, the myth about Animal Kingdom Lodge being inconvenient/isolated persists, probably at least in part due to perception. (I didn’t believe this until actually running the numbers.) You have to take a bus to every park from Animal Kingdom, and this can get…exhausting, even if it takes 2-3 minutes less time per trip. So, while the location of Animal Kingdom Lodge might not be nearly as bad as you think, Wilderness Lodge’s proximity to Magic Kingdom and being able to take a serene boat ride there still gives it the edge.
Pools: Animal Kingdom Lodge – On our list of the Top 10 Pools at Walt Disney World, the two lodges rank rather modestly, at numbers 5 and 6. While we give the edge of Animal Kingdom Lodge in that post (that post explicitly ranked Kidani Village’s pool #5, but left off Uzima Pool–which would’ve ranked about the same–to avoid redundancy), it is worth noting that construction on Boulder Ridge Cove at Wilderness Lodge remains ongoing, and with its completion in Summer 2017, it should give Wilderness Lodge a bump. I still don’t think it would be enough to bump it past Animal Kingdom Lodge, especially if you count Kidani Village’s pool, too.
Cost: Push – These are the two least-expensive Deluxe Resorts in all of Walt Disney World, and while prices are never identical between the two, there seems to be about a 50/50 split in terms of which costs more/less. Predictably, Wilderness Lodge is more expensive around Christmas season, but even then, it’s not by much. Other times of the year, Animal Kingdom Lodge is more expensive. The important takeaway here should be that each offers exceptional value for money relative to other Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts.
Verdict: Animal Kingdom Lodge – This is not nearly as easy as it looks if you’re just glancing at which lodge won each category. In fact, this is the most challenging face-off of any Walt Disney World resorts, and one where you should trust your gut more than any other criteria. (Aren’t you glad I made you read 1,000+ words before basically nullifying all of that with a single sentence?)
Even with these objective factors in mind, I have a tough time deciding. Today, I might tell you I want to book my next trip at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Tomorrow, my feelings might change and I’d rather do Wilderness Lodge. Just as likely, I might consider the nature of the visit: are we looking for a December trip that feels Christmasy? Wilderness Lodge is the easy pick. Are we taking a relaxed, resort-centric week? Can’t beat sitting on a rocking chair watching animals pass at Animal Kingdom Lodge while recovering from a food coma from a glorious meal at Boma. So, while I can anoint Animal Kingdom Lodge the champion based on the criteria laid out, the “truth” of this one is that I think it’s a too-close-to-call judgment call. And really, you cannot go wrong either way.
Now, I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks. As promised after our last versus post, here’s a poll so you can vote for your favorite of the two:
My guess is that Wilderness Lodge will capture a slight victory (not nearly as decisive as the Poly’s over Grand Floridian) and that will at least be in part based upon Christmas and proximity to Magic Kingdom. If you prefer one or the other, I’m curious to hear your rationale, and I think others will be too, so please make your case in the comments. Or, if like me, it’s too close to call, share that. This is a really tough decision, and I think a variety of opinions might help others who are on the fence.
We want to know your preference because other factors will obviously come into play when deciding between these two lodges. Or, you might weigh our factors differently. While we hope this post is helpful in offering a head-to-head comparison of the most crucial elements of each Walt Disney World resort experience, we know it’s not definitive or the final word for every guest. In addition to reading the comments before making your own decision, we suggest supplementing this with our full review of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and our Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Review (we only have Kidani Village done at this point, but will post Jambo House later this week). With that said, what do you think…did we choose the correct lodge?