So, you’re planning a trip to Disney World, and you’re looking for something a little outside the traditional hotel vibe.
Choosing between the Polynesian Village and the Animal Kingdom Lodge, is like choosing a favorite child, a favorite Disney cupcake, or between a Dole Whip or a Mickey Pretzel — there’s enough love to go around! But just like cupcakes and classic Disney snacks (and maybe your kids, too…only you know your family dynamic…😂), there’s a certain flavor that might just hit the spot for what you’re looking for.
There’s no doubt that Disney vacations are expensive, and no one wants buyer’s remorse when it comes to what can usually be the most EXPENSIVE part of your Disney trip. We’re approaching this chaos-agent of a decision with as much logic as possible, so we’re breaking it down into five categories:
- Common Ground
We’re putting each resort through these paces to see where they stand and which one may be speaking to you for your Disney trip.
Before we start down the rabbit hole into the Wonderland of their differences, let’s review the similarities of these resorts. These resorts are both Disney Deluxe Resorts, so they will be at a similar price point, with similar room sizes, and the same perks. And both offer Disney Vacation Club Villas as additional accommodations.
For the Polynesian Village Resort, that means that for the cheapest room at the cheapest time to visit, you can expect to pay around $662 per night (not accounting for any tax or current discounts), and it goes up to $5,492 per night (not accounting for any tax or current discounts) for the most expensive rooms at the most expensive time to visit. (Based on 2023 rates)
For the Animal Kingdom Lodge, that means that for the cheapest room at the cheapest time to visit, you can expect to pay around $469 per night (not accounting for any tax or current discounts), and it goes up to $3,792 per night (not accounting for any tax or current discounts) for the most expensive rooms at the most expensive time to visit. (Based on 2023 rates)
Wow. Animal Kingdom Lodge is about 30% cheaper than the Polynesian, whether you’re looking for the cheap room/cheap season option, or the lap of luxury.
These are not your standard hotels. You can venture deep into the South Pacific at the Polynesian, or head out to Africa at Animal Kingdom Lodge. But whether your stay takes you to the tropics or to the savanna, you’ll find that both of these warm woods and natural light to emphasize the tie to the nature they embrace.
The Polynesian celebrates tiki culture, and offers a nostalgic image of Pacific island vacations, but isn’t necessarily a literal representation of those environments. It’s filled with dark woods, symbols, and tropical flowers. The Polynesian is one of Walt Disney World’s opening day hotels, it has a rich history, and a large following among Disney fans. It really does embrace its name of “village” as its layout is comprised of 11 longhouses plus the over-the-water Bora Bora-like Bungalows, which branch out from the Great Ceremonial House.
All of the rooms have recently been renovated and updated with a Moana-inspired theme, and Kona Cafe, a table service restaurant in the Great Ceremonial House, has also recently reopened with a new look and refreshed menu. So even though this beauty is 50 years old, she’s gotten some TLC and looks better than ever!
But with renovations and updates comes construction, like over at the old Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show location, which is currently an active construction zone as it will be the site for a new DVC tower. Though it shares the same white sand beaches as the Grand Floridian, the island vibe here just makes them pop. Sunsets on the Poly beach are just superior to the other Disney World “beaches.”
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Jambo! And welcome to Animal Kingdom Lodge! This is more than your typical hotel, and honestly, it’s beyond the standard of a typical Disney hotel. This resort offers a few things that none of the resorts do. First, live animals right out your window! Definitely, the only Disney resort where you can wake up and view some giraffes out your window, and drink coffee or snack on some Zebra Domes on your balcony while watching real-live zebras. Disney also brings in Cultural Representatives from countries around Africa to share the unique stories, culture, art, and history of their countries. Off of the lobby, there is an observation room where guests can appreciate artifacts from African exploration or just sit and enjoy the animals on the safari.
And the lobby delivers on that jaw-dropping “oh wow” moment (especially around the holidays).
The Animal Kingdom Lodge standard rooms received a little facelift, like the Contemporary and Polynesian rooms have. So, when you stay here, you’ll get to experience a bit more streamlined and updated decor that is both modern and rustic.
Animal Kingdom Lodge also has Disney Vacation Club accommodations over at Kidani Village, with villas ranging from basic studio rooms all the way up to multi-room villas overlooking their own animal savanna.
Kidani Village rooms look out onto the Sunset Savanna, and Jambo House rooms look out onto the Uzima and Arusha Savannas. All the savannas have giraffes and zebras, and a plethora of other beautiful animals.
This could boil down to your preference. Polynesian invites guests to find the nearest hammock and chill on the beach, while Animal Kingdom Lodge invites guests to explore the adventure of the African savannas. Are you looking for a casual, island theme and feeling welcome to wander through the lobby in bathing suits and flip-flops? Or do you want to grab the nearest binoculars and observe wild animals or learn how to drum on traditional tribal instruments? Are you looking for an island bungalow or an exotic safari? Both resorts deliver beautifully on their themes and have recently refurbished rooms. So this really could be down to what type of vibe you want on your vacation, tropical or adventurous?
Pools, splash pads, hot tubs, and lounge chairs, a vacation just doesn’t feel completed without spending some time by the pool. Which of these resorts is the aquatic champion of water lounging? Only one way to find out…
The Polynesian’s whole vibe is stepping into a tropical oasis, so the pool game is strong with this one!
There are two pools at the Polynesian: the Lava Pool and the Oasis Pool. However, the Lava Pool is the showstopper here — because it’s a volcano! Ok, not a for-real volcano, obvi, but it has a waterslide from the top of the volcano’s peak, which is pretty epic.
Even if you’re not looking to swoosh down a volcano waterslide, the lounge area at these pools and the pool bars (which definitely enhance the atmosphere), the Barefoot Pool Bar, and the Oasis Bar & Grill. And Capt. Cook’s and Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace are also so close they could be considered pool area enhancements, too.
There are lots of drink options and plenty of food options for your day by the pool. You can even try a DFB Dole Whip drink hack that became a permanent menu item on the Barefoot Pool Bar menu!
Animal Kingdom Lodge
AKL (as we like to call it) is not to be outdone in the pool category; it hosts two pools as well: the Samawati Springs Pool and the Uzima Springs Pool. Both pools have the natural feel of swimming in a natural spring. Uzima Springs pool is smashing. This oasis is 11,000 square feet. It includes a large free-form, zero-entry swimming pool (gradual like a beach, you can take one centimeter at a time getting in).
Samawati Springs Pool has a 67-foot water slide, a children’s wading pool, and kids’ life jackets in several sizes. There are two private hot tubs, tons of seating in comfy loungers, tables and umbrellas, and unlimited towels. You can build a herd of towel animals if you want. Oh, and of course, the Uzima Springs Pool Bar is for hydration purposes.
Both have two pools, and both have pool bars, lounge chairs, and splash areas. Again, it might boil down to just what your style is. Do you want to soak in a zero-entry oasis surrounded in the middle of an African savanna? Or something a bit more casual and with that island vibe? These two really make the choice difficult! The Poly has a volcano at the pool; Animal Kingdom Lodge has a nearby flamingo pond. Poly has Dole Whips and Pulled Pork Nachos at close proximity; Animal Kingdom Lodge is just steps away from Zebra Domes!
There’s no real loser in this category if you’ve found relaxation and joy!
Because we are Disney FOOD Blog, we take food seriously. Very. Seriously. And we love it all. We love the cheap, comfort of plastic cheese, and we love the high-brow sophistication of a wine flight or a multi-course pre-fixe meal. We don’t discriminate; we are a lover of all foods. Since food is SO important, let’s see how these resorts stack up against each other in the restaurant category.
Polynesian Village has ten (10!) dining options, including lounges and pool bars (because those count!)!
Barefoot Pool Bar is the perfect place to grab a specialty cocktail to enjoy while lounging by the Lava Pool. Oasis Pool Bar & Grill serves up Polynesian-themed food and specialty cocktails to guests enjoying the Oasis Pool.
Captain Cook’s is a quick-service location, popular for being the place you can grab Tonga Toast for breakfast in the morning, and island-inspired dishes like the Pulled Pork Nachos and Thai Coconut Meatballs for lunch and dinner.
The recently renovated and reopened Kona Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual setting. The sweet Tonga Toast makes breakfast at Kona is a guest favorite. Kona Island conveniently sits right off the second-floor monorail entrance. In the morning, this location serves Kona coffee and pastries, while at night, it becomes a sushi bar with cocktails.
‘Ohana has an oak wood fire pit that flavors the grilled meats served at an all-you-care-to-enjoy meal each evening. In the morning, Lilo and Stitch entertain guests during an Island-style character breakfast. Hawaiian side dishes complement each meal. Tambu Lounge is a relaxing bar where you can enjoy a drink prior to your dinner at ‘Ohana or Kona Cafe. The Lapu Lapu (a rum concoction served in a pineapple) is its claim to fame.
Pineapple Lanai is where you can find the famous Dole Whip! This is a Polynesian Village Resort claim to fame, as it was the first Disney World Resort where Dole Whip was served outside of the parks. The Polynesian remains the only Resort with its own spot dedicated to the treat.
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is a unique tiki bar located in the Great Ceremonial House, complete with an interactive room (elements react based on the ordering of certain drinks) and wacky hijinks from your servers, the Skippers! Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace is the more relaxed (but still entertaining) outdoor counterpart to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom Lodge has nine(ish) dining spots for you to nibble and nosh your way through the wilderness.
Maji Pool Bar is located near the Samawati Springs Pool at Kidani Village, and Uzima Springs Pool Bar is over at the Jambo House pool. — and both are a pretty standard pool bars, but with some unique African beers and some tasty nibbles, but nothing truly destination-worthy.
The Mara is named after the Masai Mara National Reserve in Africa, this quick service restaurant located in Jambo House is sure to please all appetites with a taste of Africa, as well as American favorites. It is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is located next to the Resort’s Uzima Springs pool area. Guests can dine indoors or take their meals poolside, or to a small area offering shaded tables outside.
Unique items, including Bobotie and Breakfast Quinoa are served alongside classic Disney dishes like Mickey Waffles and more for Breakfast. Lunch and Dinner feature the truly tasty African Potjie (a flavorful stew) among the options, which also include counter service favorites like Chicken Nuggets, Burgers, and Flatbreads. The “Grab & Go” market area features snacks, desserts (including the spot’s famous Zebra Domes!), bottled drinks, breakfast pastries, specialty coffees, and fruit. The Mara also offers a selection of African and international wines, beers, cocktails, and even choose-your-own-flavor smoothies.
Victoria Falls and Cape Town Lounge are cozy lounges in Jambo House near Boma and Jiko. Enjoy a glass of South African wine, or indulge in your favorite martini, beer, or mixed drink. It’s a great place to hang while waiting for a table at Boma or Jiko. Or just stop in before you head to (or after you return from) the parks to grab a quick bite from the unique appetizer menu, including crisp breads and African dips, marinated olives, and more.
Cape Town Lounge serves appetizers and pairings of African wines along with hand-crafted cocktails, dessert wines, and more. Guests may also order from the full Jiko menu and dine at the bar.
Tucked into the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village, Sanaa, which means “Work of Art” in Swahili, is a beautiful restaurant serving a fusion of African and Indian cuisine made with authentic cooking methods like slow-roasting and tandoori oven cooking. While Sanaa is a table service restaurant serving lunch and dinner, the spot offers the Sanaa Kuamsha Breakfast in the mornings — a quick-service experience for which reservations are not required.
The best part: the view from the restaurant is of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sunset Savanna — enjoy the ever-changing scenery of some of the most beautiful African plains animals you’ve ever seen.
P.S. Don’t miss Sanaa’s Indian-style Bread Service, served with NINE different dipping accompaniments!
The other Table Service option at the Jambo House is Boma. Boma continually emerges on the “favorite restaurants” lists of many Disney guests! The popular buffet at Boma gives visitors the opportunity to sample flavorful African dishes while also dining on some American favorites during breakfast or dinner.
We always give two thumbs up to this restaurant, and we always find something new to try here!
And the pièce de résistance: Jiko. Jiko — The Cooking Place is a Signature Dining Experience (which is Disney-speakfor fancy, schmancy), hands-down, one of the most romantic and delicious restaurants on Disney World property. We can highly recommend this one if you enjoy excellent, gourmet food and a lovely and tranquil atmosphere.
Sharing tastes of Africa with a special Jiko flourish, this restaurant doesn’t offer a great view or any characters, but it does offer truly beautiful food — and the Animal Kingdom Lodge savanna is right outside…
It’s so hard to designate a clear winner for food — because we love it all! Both resorts offer unique, cultural twists on some classic favorites and even some new foods you may have never tried before! The Polynesian menus are influenced by island flavors, and though not bizarre or untraditional, you’ll definitely find some creative takes on your familiar favorites.
Animal Kingdom Lodge menus feature some African spices that you won’t find in every cupboard and may invite you to expand your culinary horizons. Animal Kingdom Lodge also has a Signature Dining Experience at Jiko that provides a more elevated experience for a nice date night and some really amazing entrees that will have you planning an excuse to return as soon as you can.
Do these Deluxe resorts offer anything different when it comes to transportation? Let’s see!!
Polynesian Village is on the Monorail loop. It’s the first stop after the Transportation & Ticketing Center (TTC) on the way to the Magic Kingdom. If Magic Kingdom is your destination, there is also a boat option to sail across Seven Seas Lagoon to the front steps of the Magic Kingdom. You can also get your steps in by strolling the walkway over to Magic Kingdom, but it’s not for the faint of heart as it is about a 20-25 minute walk.
If Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or Disney Springs is your destination, then you can board one of Disney’s busses to transport you over to these parks.
But if EPCOT is your park for the day, here is where the difference sets in. Because the Poly is so close to the Transportation & Ticketing Center, if you don’t mind a brief 5-10 minute walk, you can waltz over to the TTC and board a Monorail to whiz you off to EPCOT. This may give the Poly the edge over the Grand Floridian as it does provide relatively easy access to that EPCOT Monorail loop.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom Lodge is not on the Monorail loop. Or the Skyliner Route. Or even boat access. If you want to visit any of the Disney Parks (even the nearby Animal Kingdom), you’re only option for free Disney transportation is a bus.
Now, Animal Kingdom Lodge is already the furthest resort from the Disney Parks (except Animal Kingdom), and having to rely solely on bus transportation sure makes it feel every inch of that distance. And no one really looks forward to having to wrestle to get their stroller on and off the bus, or standing in those lines at the end of a park day to be packed in like sardines with your fellow Animal Kingdom Lodgers once that bus does arrive.
These Deluxe Resorts are pretty much a tie when it comes to food, pools, and rooms. You can dine with Mickey, Lilo, and Stitch at Ohana, or have an epic date night at Jiko. The Polynesian has the perk of being on the monorail loop and is close to the Transportation & Ticket Center, which gives it closer access to the EPCOT Monorail loop, as well.
The Polynesian really has the edge when it comes to proximity to the Magic Kingdom (and even EPCOT). But Animal Kingdom Lodge is significantly cheaper and offers so much more in terms of theming with the live animal savanna, artistic displays and Cultural Representatives. So, which one is the clear winner?
So, who is the ultimate winner in the Polynesian vs. Animal Kingdom Lodge battle? We hate to say it, but it depends! The Polynesian is an amazing choice for those who want that close proximity to Magic Kingdom, but that price tag can be daunting when compared to Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you’re looking for that serene escape from the stimulation of Disney parks while staying in the magic and being immersed in the sense of adventure, Animal Kingdom Lodge might be the oasis you seek.
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What do you think? Is Polynesian Village or Animal Kingdom Lodge better? Let us know in the comments!