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.
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?
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!