Wilderness Lodge v. Animal Kingdom Lodge
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. (Updated May 1, 2022.)
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. (Sorry, had to do it.) In so doing, we’ll compare theme, dining, pools, guest rooms, location & transportation, and a variety of other variables.
Aside from both having “lodge” in the name, there are actually a ton of differences between two Walt Disney World resorts. To be fair, there are also many similarities. While the lobbies look somewhat similar, the lodges are miles apart. Literally. One is a short boat ride from Magic Kingdom, and the other is on the opposite side of property near Animal Kingdom.
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.” 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. However, both have also been updated in the last few years to address the biggest complaints about them being overly dark and dreary. The rooms at each of the two lodges now better balance theme and modernity, with styles that meld form and function.
I love both, finding the rustic decor to be perfectly in keeping with the spirit of each resort. With that said, as someone who is a fan of both, I think there’s a bit more to like about Animal Kingdom Lodge’s new 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 new rooms. Their recent refurbishment lost the wood carvings and lost some other quirky details, while also toning down the volume on their previously-loud decor. I 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 – 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 given that it’s a short walk away in Kidani Village), it’s almost unfair. As a result, Animal Kingdom Lodge has the best dining lineup in all of Walt Disney World. Its only real competition is Grand Floridian, which has the superior fine dining scene.
Wilderness Lodge is no slouch in its own right, with Artist Point, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Territory Lounge, Geyser Point Bar & Grill, and Roaring Fork all being formidable options, but we think each of them is objectively inferior to its respective counterpart at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
With that said, Wilderness Lodge has made tremendous strides in recent years. The addition of Story Book Dining at Artist Point gives it one of the best and most popular character meals in all of Walt Disney World. Geyser Point Bar & Grill is home to one of the best burgers anywhere, and its relaxed waterfront setting is one of our favorite dining spots in all of Walt Disney World. Even if it’s “objectively inferior,” we find ourselves eating at Wilderness Lodge more often.
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 9. We give the edge of Animal Kingdom Lodge in that post, but that post explicitly ranked Kidani Village’s pool #5, and left off Uzima Pool to avoid redundancy.
It’s true that Animal Kingdom Lodge has the single superior pool over at Kidani Village, and also that the totality of the shared slate of pool areas at AKL is better than those at Wilderness Lodge. However, the gap isn’t quite as wide as those rankings suggest. Both lodges have a formidable pool lineup, with strong supporting players in addition to great feature pools. And if you’re staying at Wilderness Lodge, you don’t have to walk over to its DVC wing to use the best pool, and there’s definitely something to be said for that.
Cost: Animal Kingdom Lodge – 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 has the lower rack rate. Because of that, this category used to be “push.”
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.
In the last couple of years, the gap has grown due to discount disparities. We’re seeing an increase in discount availability and rate for Animal Kingdom Lodge, especially Jambo House. It’s frequently in the highest tier of discount levels, with rates 20% to 30% off, depending upon the deal. By contrast, Wilderness Lodge has been totally excluded from several recent special offers. We’ll revisit this category if that changes in the near future, but with much less room inventory, it’s possible that Wilderness Lodge prices are going up for good.
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 1,500+ 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.
I love both and think Animal Kingdom Lodge is objectively the better pick thanks in large part to the savanna, which no other hotel at Walt Disney World–or anywhere in the United States can match. However, Wilderness Lodge is still my sentimental favorite, and where I would personally choose to stay 8 times out of 10 if given the option to pick between the two. That doesn’t make it better–just my favorite of the two.
Ultimately, these are my two favorite resorts at Walt Disney World. It might seem like they’re very comparable–and almost interchangeable, like Yacht & Beach Club. After all, both are lodges and they share superficial similarities. That’s certainly true to an extent. Some guests will love the aesthetics and atmosphere at both because they have the same general vibe. Others will dislike both for the very same reasons.
However, once you dig a little deeper, there are actually a lot of differences. They’re on opposite ends of property at Walt Disney World, each nearer different ‘Kingdoms.’ The dining scenes are dramatically different. Same goes for pools, transportation, amenities. Notably, Wilderness Lodge does not have any wildlife, save for squirrels and the occasional armadillo or turkey. Hopefully this helped you determine which of Walt Disney World’s two lodges is right for you…and didn’t make an already difficult decision even tougher!
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. With that said, what do you think…did we choose the correct lodge?
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Now, I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks. 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. Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
While we haven’t stayed at Wilderness Lodge, we’ve spent lots of time there admiring the lobby at Christmas time and eating at Geyser Point. In February we stayed at AKL, and I have to say that every moment there was a pure delight. Our room overlooked the smaller savanna (not Arusha), and I could barely tear myself away from watching the animals. The lobby was stunning and the room (a 4th floor king) was filled with beautiful details. It was just me and my husband, and we found it to be incredibly romantic. We’re on our way to Orlando now, and we’d planned to stay at Wilderness Lodge, but at over $700/nt we just couldn’t justify the expense. Instead, we’re staying at Universal’s Portofino Bay for half the price with our AP discount. AK in February was also reasonably priced with an AP discount, and we plan to return there next winter.
As usual, thanks for a great write up. We are fans of both and try to stay at each at least once per year. Of course WLV during Christmas. AKV… you can’t beat the savanna view.
We’ve stayed at both, and while we loved Wilderness, AKL is still our favorite Disney resort. Between the two, I have to give AKL the win for transportation because I’m mobility impaired. The boats from Wilderness to Magic Kingdom don’t have ramps, so handicapped people can’t ride them. Yes, the bus will be closer than from AKL, but the bus system at Wilderness isn’t as reliable & it has to stop at Contemporary. So if you’re in a wheelchair or ECV, the boat at Wilderness isn’t an advantage.
Also, did you know that AKL (both Jambo & Kidani) has the largest collection of African art in the world, outside the continent of Africa? Also, pre-pandemic (and hopefully returning soon), it also had cast members from Africa who help children and adults about African culture. What kid doesn’t like banging on a drum around a hotel lobby?
BISON!!! Send in the Bison!!
Just drive anywhere in Wyoming/South Dakota plains, and you’ll see Bison. But stay in your car – as they can get aggressive if you Look at them from too close ( me too) and can charge at 40 mph (not me)…
This article came at the perfect time. We’re staying at AKL in October and WL in December. We’ve eaten many times at WL and twice at Boma so this will be our first time actually staying at the resorts. Our children love AKL because of the savanna and my wife and I love WL during Christmas for the decorations. We’re looking forward to our visits this year!
Im planning a trip this upcoming summer…thanks for all yhe advice!
I am staying in May. Does anyone know if the chances of better view would be AKL- Jambo House Deluxe Studio (standard view), or AKL-Jambo House Value Studio. My only two options given my time frame and cost. Thanks.
I will always say AKL. Biggest reason –transportation. At wilderness, we were sharing our bus service with the camping side (this might not be a regular thing) but it made a big difference for our stay. AKL seemed better managed on the transportation side.
AKL is the best. Love WL but the truth is the truth. From the wonderful dining options to the artwork and savannah, it is incredible. And the ambience is more peaceful too
I think you are correct when you say that these two resorts appeal to the same type of people. With their natural woods and wide open spaces, I love that these resorts still maintain a sense of the natural world despite being located somewhere that is inherently man made.
An interesting survey would be one that compares people’s favourite Disney Resorts to their other travel preferences. I suspect that there would be a relationship there somewhere.
My next trip involves a stay in the Wilderness Resort before flying down to Costa Rica to spend Christmas in a rustic eco resort in the jungle.
I’m not sure which stay I’m looking forward to more.
We have a reservation at POR (royal room) in middle September. Hoping for free dining, so considering an upgrade. I can’t decide whether to do it or not. Help!
We stayed at AKL it’s decor is nice but I felt the noise from other rooms or the hall was excessive. For the category of hotel rooms it’s not worth the money
First timer at Disney. Me, wife, 13 yr old son, 6 yr old daughter. We booked Port Orleans Riverside for 5 nights but called Disney the day of and upgraded to Animal Kingdom Lodge for only $300 extra. We’re fools if we don’t take that offer, right?
I am not impressed at all with AKL. We drove to POR today to see what the place we were supposed to stay at was like, and it looked great. Wish I would have just kept the original reservation and stayed at Riverside.
IMO, don’t pay extra for Animal Kingdom. Stay at one of the Port Orleans resorts. Much better value for the money.
I won’t go as far as to say that your comment is absurd, but you can’t compare the two resorts. Since I have stayed a few times at BOTH resorts, I can definitively say that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a better place to stay overall.
However, the original poster of this comment raises the point that when you compare these two Disney World Resorts from a standpoint of value than the scales could be tipped in the favor of Port Orleans Riverside which has a unique charm of it’s own. If you are a first time visitor with young children who are excited about going to the parks than the AK Lodge would represent a poor value for roughly $150-$200 more per night.
If on-site dining options and a detail oriented resort is not a high priority, than the moderate resort can be a good Disney experience without breaking the bank.
I’ve always wondered if everyone at AKL has the use of both pools. If you are staying at Jambo House can you use the Kidani Village pool also?
We have used the pool at Kidani while staying at Jambo; I would assume the reverse is also allowed.
My wife, my son and I stayed at AKL in 2016 and loved it, and last year we had a larger group that stayed at OKW. During the Old Key West stay we went for breakfast at Wilderness Lodge and were blown away by the beauty of that resort and knew we had to stay for a future trip! So low and behold, we booked a Wilderness Lodge stay for late February 2018 and simply cannot wait. I will admit, we loved everything about AKL Jamba House, the place is amazing, the animals incredible, the restaurants fabulous, the pool was great, and even the location by bus was not too bad. For us it was about trying something new each visit…Wilderness Lodge will be all done construction in 2018 and we wanted to give it a try. The lobby, the pools, the geyser and the location all were just breathtaking at WL…but for me that view of the lake, the serene beauty of the location of the resort just takes you away from the madness of the theme parks. You simply cannot go wrong at AKL…but I must admit we are over the moon excited to stay for a week at Wilderness Lodge!
We stayed at Wilderness Lodge last November, and this November we have booked Animal kingdom Lodge. I’ve been a little worried we won’t love it as much, but this review has made me feel a little better 🙂
I (we) have stayed at both AKL and WL twice and both have in my opinion equal merits. My son worked at AKL on the college program but we didn’t go while he was working, timing was bad. I agree that deciding on which resort will depend on the mood I am in when booking my trip. We have stayed at Poly, Beach Club and Caribbean Beach but I feel most at “home” at either WL or AKL. I do tend to lean toward WL as I love the north woods feel. The first time we stayed at AKL I did not like the transportation, seemed to take too long for the buses. The last time we stayed though seemed like buses were better timed. Another plus for WL that you didn’t mention is taking a boat to MK then the ability to catch the monorail to the TTC and to EPCOT. We did this all the time. Once at EPCOT we then could walk to Studios. We always get park hopper so for us this works and we like to walk. This was a great read and reflected a lot of my thoughts regarding the two resorts. My vote thought, without overthinking, would be Wilderness Lodge.
First let me gush about your blog… I read it compulsively before my trip. I find it to be the most helpful info out there! Ok now I’m really confused as to which one for my next family trip with 2 littles age 4 and 2! I know you don’t have much knowledge on tots but possibly someone can help me choose wl or akl? Last year did studio at poly it was great! Want to try something different!