So, you’re planning a trip to Disney World, and you know you want to stay close to Magic Kingdom, but might want something a little outside a more traditional hotel vibe.
Choosing between the Polynesian Village and the Wilderness 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. They both have the same resort layout with a central lobby building and outer buildings with rooms, and they are both considered Magic Kingdom area resorts, offering transportation to Magic Kingdom and the other resorts. 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 Wilderness Lodge, that means that for the cheapest room at the cheapest time to visit, you can expect to pay around $453 per night (not accounting for any tax or current discounts), and it goes up to $1,740 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. In the cheapest room, during the cheapest season, Wilderness Lodge is about 30% less than the Polynesian. And for those more expensive options, it’s about 70% less than the Polynesian! Let’s dig a little deeper to see what you can get for the money at these resorts!
These are not your standard hotels. You can venture deep into the South Pacific at the Polynesian, or “rough it” in the woods of this Pacific Northwest-styled Wilderness Lodge. But whether your stay takes you to the tropics or to the forest, 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.”
Welcome to the beauty and grandeur of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Towering redwoods, pristine free-flowing creeks, artifacts, and monuments to American history and its inhabitants. The inspiration for this resort is pulled from various lodges and resorts of the national parks like Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park and Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite National Park. Guests feel the full majesty of nature once they enter the grand lobby, soaring ceilings, the massive 82-foot tall Grand Canyon-inspired fireplace, and 55-foot totem poles.
And the lobby delivers on that jaw-dropping “oh wow” moment (especially around the holidays).
The Wilderness 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.
Wilderness Lodge also has two different Disney Vacation Club accommodations, Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek, which include villas ranging from basic studio rooms all the way up to multi-room cabins overlooking Bay Lake.
Some of these cabins face the Contemporary Resort and may provide some obstructed views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
This could boil down to your preference. Polynesian seems to embrace all things tropical and “summery,” while Wilderness Lodge is cozier and “wintery.” 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 snuggle up in some plaid flannel next to a roaring fireplace? Are you looking for an island bungalow or a cabin in the woods? 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 woodsy?
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!
The Wilderness is not to be outdone in the pool category; it hosts two pools as well: the Copper Creek Pool and the Boulder Ridge Pool. Both pools have the natural feel of swimming in a natural spring. Copper Creek is the main pool, complete with a water slide and the Copper Creek splash area.
Copper Creek pool overlooks the serene Bay Lake and resort-iconic geyser, Fire Rock Geyser, which spouts off every hour on the hour between 7am and 10pm. But they will turn it off for inclement weather or on particularly windy days. Boulder Ridge pool is a quieter pool closer to the Boulder Ridge section of the resort with rusticly themed cabanas, and close proximity to the Geyser Point Bar & Grill. And don’t sleep on Geyser Point, it’s a destination-worthy eatery with amazing burgers, queso, and unique cocktails, all in a serene atmosphere.
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 natural spring with lakeside views, a majestic geyser, and surrounded by serene wooded trails? 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; Wilderness Lodge has a geyser. Poly has Dole Whips and Pulled Pork Nachos at close proximity; Wilderness Lodge has one of the best burgers on property and unique cocktails close by.
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.
Wilderness Lodge has five dining spots for you to nibble and nosh your way through the wilderness.
Geyser Point Bar & Grill is located near the Copper Creek Springs Pool at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge — is a unique space in that it offers two different kinds of service for guests… all in one cozy and lovely setting.
It blends two different dining styles (a Table Service lounge and a Quick Service walk-up counter) and two different menus. The Featured Cocktail list at the lounge boasts beverages unique to Geyser Point, featuring spirits from Northwest distilleries in keeping with the theme of the Resort. Hearty appetizers can be ordered from the lounge as well, while full entrees are available at the connected Counter Service.
The open-air restaurant offers gorgeous waterfront views and a fireplace for cool evenings.
Formerly a signature restaurant, Artist Point’s setting and menu have been entirely transformed with a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs theme for a different experience. Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White is a Character Meal at Disney World’s beautiful Wilderness Lodge! Guests enjoy a prix-fixe meal and can look forward to Snow White, Dopey, and Grumpy stopping by throughout the dinner. And The Evil Queen is even present for a unique photo opportunity.
Shhh…..don’t tell anyone our secret. Territory Lounge is one of our favorite hidden gems at Disney World! If your idea of a good lounge is one with cozy seating, specialty cocktails (as well as beer and even wine flights), and some of the best lounge eats on Walt Disney World property, then Territory Lounge is your place.
Boasting its own unique menu of lounge noshes, the Disney Food Blog gives it a hearty thumbs-up. You’ll enjoy items like Artisanal Cheese and Charcuterie, Oregon Chardonnay Fondue, and even a Cobbler if you’re in the mood for dessert. The Territory Lounge is a great place to grab a light dinner and drinks with friends in an atmosphere that’s warm and inviting.
Hearty comfort food in a warm, rustic setting…. Welcome to Roaring Fork! Roaring Fork offers a variety of hearty entrees and counter service basics (along with grab-and-go options) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a serene atmosphere, with seating both indoors and out.
Guests will even find specialty coffee drinks available, and fans of Disney cupcakes will often find some really fun and unique options here that change with the seasons.
The other Table Service option at the Wilderness Lodge is Whispering Canyon. Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge is one of Disney World’s “funnest” restaurants ! With a crew of wayward servers with their minds made up to make you laugh and all-you-can-eat down home grub served skillet-style (guests may also choose from a la carte selections), this restaurant is a great one to book for a casual good time — especially if you’re with a group!
Whispering Canyon is renowned for its raucous hijinks like wooden pony races, massive straw drops, and tables overloaded with ketchup bottles. It is one of Disney’s dining options that put the fun front-and-center, and also provides some consistently tasty eats.
It’s so hard to designate a clear winner for food — because we love it all! If you and your family love some more “unique” food, and options that vary away from the traditional comfort food of fried chicken, steak, seafood, burgers, and chicken nuggets, then the Polynesian might be your jam! All of its menus are influenced by island flavors, and though not bizarre or untraditional, you’ll definitely find some creative takes on your familiar favorites.
The Wilderness Lodge really delivers on some classic comfort food but done really well! You’ll find quality at both locations, and while the Polynesian vibe is island-casual and upbeat, the Wilderness Lodge is definitely more relaxed, serene, and overall chill.
Do these Magic Kingdom area 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.
The Wilderness Lodge is not on the Monorail loop. If Magic Kingdom is your destination, there is boat transportation that sails through Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon to the front steps of the Magic Kingdom. There is also a bus option at peak times or when the weather doesn’t permit boat travel.
If EPCOT, 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.
Guests staying at the Wilderness Lodge will have to rely primarily on bus transportation for the free option to navigate around Disney property, though ride share, taxis, and Minnie Vans are also available at an extra cost in case you find yourself in a hurry.
These Magic Kingdom area resorts are pretty much a tie when it comes to theme, pools, and rooms. You can dine with Mickey, Lilo, and Stitch at Ohana, or with Snow White, Grumpy, Dopey, and the Evil Queen at Wilderness Lodge. 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 dining options and transportation around Disney property. But the Wilderness Lodge is significantly cheaper! So, which one is the clear winner?
So, who is the ultimate winner in the Polynesian vs. Wilderness Lodge battle? We hate to say it, but it depends! The Polynesian may seem like a clear choice because of its theming and popularity with Disney fans, but that price tag can be daunting when compared to Wilderness 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 tranquility of nature, the Wilderness Lodge might be the oasis you seek.
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What do you think? Is Polynesian Village or Wilderness Lodge better? Let us know in the comments!
The post Polynesian Village vs. Wilderness Lodge Resort Guide 2023 first appeared on the disney food blog.