The next stop in our Christmas-time hotel tour takes us to Animal Kingdom Lodge, a resort few guests will visit, at least if they aren’t staying there. That’s a shame, as it’s arguably the best resort at Walt Disney World.
However, when it comes to visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas, we do not recommend going on your Magic Kingdom day. Walt Disney World transportation is too convoluted, and if you drive yourself, you risk being turned away at busier times (although that’s not as likely at Animal Kingdom Lodge as it is at the Epcot or Magic Kingdom area resorts).
Instead, do Animal Kingdom Lodge in the evening after your Animal Kingdom day. Even with Pandora now keeping that park open later, it still regularly closes at 8 p.m., which is perfect timing for a relaxing night at Animal Kingdom Lodge, perhaps with a romantic dinner at Jiko or Sanaa, or an all-you-can-eat affair at Boma.
We make a point of visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge every holiday season, and this year was no exception. Rather than doing table service, we opted for an (excellent) dinner at the Mara, and enjoyed a couple of hours decompressing in the lobby after a busy day at Disney Springs.
At the top of the post, we asserted that Animal Kingdom Lodge is “arguably” the best resort at Walt Disney World. When viewed objectively, I think that’s the case.
Thematically, Animal Kingdom Lodge is on par with Wilderness Lodge, sharing similar bloodlines and the same basic design sensibilities.
On top of that, Animal Kingdom Lodge has superior dining, rooms, and pools. Then there’s the savanna, the ultimate “amenity” at any Walt Disney World resort, period.
There are also a lot of similarities between the two resorts at Christmas. Both have large ‘icon’ Christmas trees, a variety of garland, and wreaths around the resorts, plus soothing background music loops. On paper, they are very evenly-matched.
However, after spending a good amount of time at each this Christmas season, my unequivocal favorite is Wilderness Lodge. For one, I think there’s a lot more depth and diversity to Wilderness Lodge’s decorations. There’s simply more, and a wider range of decor, at Wilderness Lodge.
While Christmas is celebrated in Africa as both a religious and secular holiday, it isn’t as prominent or all-encompassing.
This is likely why the decor is largely muted throughout Animal Kingdom, with small wreaths made of found-materials and other additions that mostly blend-in with the existing details of the park.
Then there’s undoubtedly the matter of my bias as an American. My subjective interpretation of Christmas more closely squares with Wilderness Lodge’s Pacific Northwest-inspired theme.
I dedicated much of our Wilderness Lodge at Christmas post to discussing how Christmas in Florida isn’t “real” as my preconceived notion of the holiday is what I experienced as a kid in Michigan.
If that’s how I view Florida–a place I’ve spent a ton of time in the winter–I’m sure you can imagine my view of Christmas in Africa.
Fair or not, Animal Kingdom Lodge is right there with the Polynesian as having a base theme that, in my mind, is pretty much the antithesis of winter and, by extension, Christmas.
This is entirely on me, and shouldn’t be construed as a value judgment about the quality of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Christmas decor. My failure to fully “connect” with Animal Kingdom Lodge during the holidays is mostly rooted in my own sentimentality and preferences.
I mention all of this, though, because there’s a decent chance those reading this will have similar biases. (Walt Disney World’s largest markets outside of Florida are the Chicago and New York metro areas–two places with “real” winters.)
That Animal Kingdom Lodge manages to get into the festive spirit to the degree that it does is really a testament to the creative team that designed the holiday overlay package.
The icon tree is one of the best in all of Walt Disney World, the warm Christmas lights shine brilliantly against the resort’s color scheme, and the background music is a sleeper contender for best Christmas loop at Walt Disney World.
Overall, this is all a very round-about way of saying that Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas is very good when viewed objectively, but it doesn’t quite have the charm or sense of nostalgia that puts Wilderness Lodge totally over the top for me. This is totally a personal thing, and I’d still rank Animal Kingdom Lodge as one of Walt Disney World’s top 5 resorts during the holidays, but despite its similarities, it cannot touch Wilderness Lodge at Christmas-time…for me.
Finally, a few plugs. First, the 2018 edition of our freeVacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is now available for download! This free eBook is 90 pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉
What do you think of Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas? Do you find Animal Kingdom Lodge every bit as charming as Wilderness Lodge at Christmas, or do you agree with me? What do you think of the Christmas tree and background music at Animal Kingdom Lodge? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!