This is the best dilemma to have! These are 2 of my favorite resorts at Disney World and choosing between them is like choosing a flavor of ice cream—you really can’t make a bad choice. Here’s the ins and outs based on our experiences staying at each. Let’s take a closer look at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort. Research Tip: Disney also has a cabin offering called Ft. Wilderness. This is different than the main resort that I’ll be discussing below.
This is the wow factor when you walk in that is, hopefully, carried over to the outdoor spaces.
Disney’s Polynesian Resort features a South Pacific/Hawaiian theme. It makes you feel like you're in a tropical destination instead of Central Florida. It smells like coconuts and flowers and happiness. You can have a magical resort day here if you choose because of its ability to remove you from the hustle and bustle of the parks. I love the theming here, but prior to the renovations this theming wasn’t very well executed in the actual rooms.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort is a nature-themed paradise based on the Pacific Northwest. It has an indoor/outdoor flowing “river” that begins inside the main building and flows out into the pool area. The cabin-like environment makes this cozy and inviting. The rock structures outside make it feel as if you hiked there instead of drove. It transports you into the outdoors of your dreams.
Winner: Polynesian Resort (by less than you would think)
This is the setup and arrangement of the resort, its buildings, lobby/transportation area, and outdoor areas.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: This property is really spread out. I get that it is supposed to be set up like a village perhaps, but you know what I do not want to do after spending a full day walking in theme parks? Walk around an entire village just to be able to sit down! We walked so so so far just to get to the main building from our room that it took a bit of the "magic" away. The pool was far away. The monorail was far away. Everything was far away.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort: The layout of this resort makes everything easily accessible in the best way possible. You know from my take above that I'm not a fan of overly spread-out resorts like the Polynesian and Port Orleans Riverside. This makes the single main building of Wilderness Lodge a huge plus for me. This means you actually get to walk into a resort like it's a nice hotel and have a true interior entry to your room vs. the motel-like exterior entry many Disney hotels have.
Winner: Wilderness Lodge
In my opinion there is absolutely no reason to pay for a deluxe resort if it is not within walking or boating distance from a park. If you will just be taking other forms of transportation, then I would opt for a more budget-friendly resort. I won’t be discussing busses here.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: You have the monorail and boat right at the resort and you can walk to ticket/transportation center. There are so many transportation options at the Polynesian. Sounds good, right? Well, maybe. Let’s start with the monorail. The monorail stop at the Polynesian is on the Hotel Loop which means it stops at 4 hotels and THEN Magic Kingdom. As you can imagine, stopping that many times does not make for a quick trip. This is not an efficient option and I rarely would advise taking it if getting to the Magic Kingdom quickly is your goal. Next, we have the boat. The Polynesian is on the Gold Flag Launch meaning that it shares a boat with the Grand Floridian and Wilderness Lodge and there can be a bit of wait between boats. If heading to Epcot or another monorail stop, you also have the option of just walking to the Ticket & Transportation Center which is the hub of the monorail system. They come and go pretty frequently.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort: It has an exclusive direct boat to Magic Kingdom. Yay! This is my very favorite way to travel in Disney World. This is easily accessible right by the pool area and such a relaxing way to start or end your day. They have the Red Flag Launch which is ONLY for the Wilderness Lodge. It’s a fast direct route to/from Magic Kingdom and is about 8-10 minutes long. This is the primary option, but you just missed it? No problem! Wilderness Lodge is also on the Gold Flag Launch route which stops at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian. The boat dock is very close to all of the rooms in the main building so you shouldn’t have to allow for additional walking time.
Winner Overall: Polynesian Resort
Boat Transportation Winner: Wilderness Lodge Resort
Any pool at a deluxe resort will be a cut above the other levels of resorts. It’s one thing that you can count on being a bit more involved. Both of these pools feature small waterslides. Both are right by Seven Seas Lagoon.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: This is my favorite pool at Disney World. The tropical theming carries over into the pool area. There’s a large kid adventure zone to play on in addition to the waterslide into the pool. If I am staying at the Polynesian, it’s because of this pool.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort: The pool at Wilderness Lodge blends well with the PNW theming. It’s surrounded by rock structures. The kids loved the waterslide here. It’s a top pool at Disney World, but doesn’t quite beat the Polynesian.
Winner: Polynesian Resort
This is where a matter of personal preference comes in. I’ll discuss the overall vibe we felt and you can decide what fits your family.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: It’s the extras here that really make it special. The beach (near the pool) is absolutely magical. While it maybe more of a sandy patch than a beach you would get into the water from, it is the BEST place to view Magic Kingdom fireworks. I have teared up standing on the beach watching the fireworks more than once. Plus, you can just walk away when they end instead of starting to wade through thousands of people like you would if you’re in the parks. With that aside, the resort is so expansive that it never seems particularly well staffed. There’s never a cast member around to ask a quick question to. Things were frequently too far away to even make the effort worth it. There’s lots of “you have to be in the know” type of stuff here which made it feel a bit cliquey. But, hey, they serve Dole pineapple whips so does that even matter?
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort: The vibe here is very relaxed. The nicest staff we have ever had at a Disney World hotel was here. They are accommodating and friendly. It’s just a more chill place than the Polynesian. They have an indoor/outdoor flowing “river” which provides incredible ambience in the outdoor area. Their quick service restaurant (Roaring Forks) offers an outdoor seating option where you can relax in a shaded area, listening to the river and sounds of “nature.” Everything is close by, so you’re never overtired. You can pop downstairs for a cup of coffee which I have never been able to do in any other Disney resort. Usually, it’s too far to make it worth it. We can grab a slice of pizza on the way up to our room for a quick snack without feeling like we have to solve riddles in order find the place and then wait in line and then trek for 20 minutes back to our room. The cozy atmosphere and ease of use of the amenities makes this more appealing to our family.
Winner: it depends
This is the most important thing in my opinion. Is the price worth it?
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: This resort is often pricier than every other resort at Disney. It is quite literally the most expensive place to stay on property (much of the time). It turns out this expensive price tag is not due to it being a more luxurious offering, but rather the additional transportation options I mentioned above. I once sat next to a cast member on our flight to Disney who let me in on all the secrets of the Polynesian Resort. He said that it is pricier than the other deluxe resorts not because it is "nicer" as many people assume, but because it has the monorail stop AND a boat AND is walking distance to the ticket/transportation center. I can't say that the monorail was a huge benefit for us as it's on the hotel loop. It doesn’t have a dedicated boat just for it as the Wilderness Lodge does which makes wait times add up during busy seasons. So am I willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more to stay here?
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort: This is a better value in my opinion. It is always (knock on wood) cheaper than the Polynesian and wins in several of the categories above (layout, boats, vibe) and is just a hair lower than the Polynesian on the others (pool, overall transportation, theme). Am I willing to sacrifice less theming and no monorail stop to save hundreds or thousands of dollars?
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