The Wilderness Lodge and the Contemporary Resort are two of Disney World’s most popular Deluxe Resorts. They are in extremely close proximity to one another and both are part of the Magic Kingdom Resort Area, but they really couldn’t be more different in every other way.
This is the first of the Magic Insiders Head-to-Head Resort Series. I’ve heard from a lot of folks trying to decide between the Wilderness Lodge and the Contemporary this year, so I decided to start with them.
I’ve broken each resort’s features into categories to make it easier to draw a comparison (and easier to read). Each category has a winner.
Wilderness Lodge or Contemporary Resort – The Short Answer
The Wilderness Lodge is best for guests who would prefer a rustic, yet elegant resort that feels a little more disconnected from the hustle and bustle of Disney World. The Contemporary Resort is best for guests who would prefer a more modern, upscale resort with access to the Monorail Loop.
That’s the oversimplified answer, but it’s the shortest summary I could possibly make between them.
Now, I’ll get into the real nitty-gritty details to fully compare the two.
Theme & Atmosphere
Winner: Wilderness Lodge
Even though I love the Contemporary, the Wilderness Lodge gets the nod when it comes to theme. And I do love the Contemporary, but its theme is more akin to a traditional luxury hotel you’d find in a major urban area. The Wilderness Lodge just has a more immersive, uniquely “Disney” feel to it.
Wilderness Lodge – Theme & Atmosphere
Personally, I’ve always found the Wilderness Lodge to have one of the most immersive themes at Disney World. The Imagineers really nailed the details to make the whole resort really feel like the Pacific Northwest. The Florida heat is an obvious reminder that you’re nowhere close to the Pacific Northwest. But still, aside from that pesky weather, it’s very convincing!
This is one of those resorts that instantly transports you somewhere else the moment that you drive through the gate. Even from Wilderness Lodge parking lot, you’ll get the feeling that you are far from any typical Florida resort when you’re looking up at the main building.
It’s hard to get a great view of the front of some Disney Resorts, but the Wilderness Lodge is laid out so that you can really get a good view as soon as you reach the parking lot. I love the layout.
Probably my favorite thing about Deluxe Resorts are the lobbies and the Wilderness Lodge lobby absolutely does not disappoint. You’ll definitely feel the effect from that elusive “wow” factor when you walk through the front doors.
Standing in the lobby, you’re looking up at 5-floors of cozy, rustic Disney magic. The log beams, floor-to-ceiling fireplace, and Native American-influenced decorations do a great job of setting the tone for the whole resort. There’s even a little stream with a geyser that flows from the lobby to the resort’s outdoor area. It’s one of my favorite places at Disney World to sit and relax, especially with the rocking chairs by the fireplace.
The Wilderness Lodge’s outdoor areas are also some of the best you’ll find on a Disney property. The resort is situated on Bay Lake, so there are some really cool views in certain places. There’s even a working geyser down by the waterfront that erupts every hour.
One of the most important ways that the Wilderness Lodge achieves its high level of immersion is its use of trees. The area around the resort is densely forested to block out most of the outside world. The first time you visit, you’ll probably be surprised when you walk down to the waterfront and see how close you actually are to the Contemporary Resort.
The pool areas are nothing spectacular, but they’re safely mid-tier for a Deluxe Resort.
Contemporary Resort – Theme & Atmosphere
The Contemporary Resort may not have as unique of a theme as the Wilderness Lodge, but it’s still a great place to be. The modern design and layout is preferred by plenty of guests who are looking for a more luxurious “hotel” feel.
The defining characteristic of the Contemporary Resort is that the majority of the resorts’ accommodations, dining, and amenities are contained within one massive A-frame building. It’s seriously gigantic.
It’s likely that the first thing you’ll notice on the Contemporary’s main floor is that the Monorail runs right through the middle of the building. It’s one of the coolest features of any Disney Resort. You can walk right outside of your room (if the room is located in the main building) and watch the monorail zip by throughout the day. It’s a quintessential “Disney” experience.
The big shops and restaurants on the Contemporary’s main floor don’t have ceilings, so it’s pretty cool to be able to look down on a bustling resort building from the front door of your room. You definitely feel like you’re in the middle of the action if you stay in within the main A-frame building.
The outdoor portion of the Contemporary is nice, but a bit lackluster compared to most other Deluxe Resorts. The pool areas are nice and the grounds are well kept, but again, the theme and feel of the resort isn’t going to knock your socks off. It’s great if you’re looking for a big hotel feel, but not quite as great if you want to get lost in the “Disney Bubble”. The resort’s beach area is surprisingly good though because it overlooks Bay Lake.
By the way- We also have a head-to-head comparison of the Contemporary and the Polynesian.
Winner: Contemporary Resort
When it comes to restaurants, the Contemporary Resort is on another level from the Wilderness Lodge. The Contemporary nails resort dining with a combination of Signature dining and quick-service options that are both top-tier for a Deluxe Resort.
Contemporary Resort – Dining
The Contemporary Resort is arguably the gold standard of resort dining. It strikes such a good balance with high-quality table-service and quick-service that’s really hard to beat. It also just so happens that the Contemporary is home to my favorite Disney World restaurant.
On the very top floor of the Contemporary Resort is California Grill, a Signature restaurant with the best view of any Disney World restaurant. It directly overlooks Magic Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon. There are private observation decks outside of the restaurant that are considered by some (including me) to be the best spot at Disney for watching fireworks. The view, the food, and the overall ambiance all combine to make this a special place and my favorite spot to eat.
Fun fact- I actually got engaged at California Grill during the Christmas Wishes fireworks show in 2016.
Moving on, the other dining highlights at the Contemporary are Chef Mickey’s, Steakhouse 71, and Contempo Cafe. Chef Mickey’s is a Signature character dining restaurant with Mickey himself. Steakhouse 71 is a stylish, modern American restaurant that has a good menu with just about everything on it. Contempo Cafe is the resort’s primary quick-service spot and one of the best of its kind at any resort.
Wilderness Lodge – Dining
Most guests don’t think of the Wilderness Lodge as a culinary paradise, but it’s definitely underrated in this regard. Its dining may not be on the same level as what you’ll find at the Contemporary but, it’s still very good, if a bit top-heavy.
First and foremost, the Wilderness Lodge is home to Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White, a Character Dining experience. Artist Point was recently renovated from a Pacific Northwest signature dining location to a character dining location with upscale food and whimsical ambiance. The theme is set around Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie and with great Snow White themed food. The menu is prix fixe with nice options like Steaks and Seafood and your choice of starter and dessert.
During the meal, your table will be visited by Snow White, Dopey and Grumpy and a photo-op station is set in the center of the restaurant for you to get pictures with the Evil Queen. Children are encouraged to dance with Snow White and the dwarfs once every hour.
My other go-to Wilderness Lodge restaurant is Geyser Point Bar & Grill. Geyser Point is an open-air restaurant/bar right on the edge of Bay Lake. The food is good and it’s one of the best spots to hang out. You can see some amazing sunsets here from the comfort of a cozy chair with a drink and a burger.
Quick-service at Roaring Fork is good, but nothing to write home about. Whispering Canyon is located in the main lobby area. It’s the resort’s other table-service restaurant and it’s pretty good for how easy it is to get a reservation, especially for large parties as the food is served family style.
Convenience & Transportation
Winner: Contemporary Resort
This is one area that isn’t really close. The Contemporary Resort is probably the most convenient resort at Disney World. Food and shopping are right about as accessible as they possibly could be and the same is true for transportation.
Contemporary Resort – Convenience & Transportation
It really can’t get any more convenient than the Contemporary. First off, the Monorail literally runs through the interior of the building. Second, Magic Kingdom is walking distance from your resort room. Third, some of Disney World’s best food and resort shops are all under one roof in a big open space.
Wilderness Lodge – Convenience & Transportation
The Wilderness Lodge is the only Magic Kingdom Area Resort that isn’t located on the Monorail Loop. Naturally, this makes it less convenient for transportation than the Contemporary. It’s not exactly inconvenient though. There is a Wilderness Lodge boat launch that will ferry you to the front of Magic Kingdom. Honestly, this is one of the most scenic, relaxing boat rides at Disney. If you’re not in a major rush to get to Magic Kingdom every day, it could in truth be considered a plus.
Winner: Contemporary Resort
The Contemporary’s rooms have a fairly sizable advantage over the Wilderness Lodge’s rooms. The Contemporary rooms are some of the largest at Disney World and they’re very well appointed. Personally, my room preference between almost all Deluxe resorts varies depending on what mood I’m in. But, objectively, the Contemporary has great rooms.
Contemporary Resort – Rooms
Contemporary rooms are, well, contemporary. They are spacious, they have a clean design, and they are well appointed. I’m not necessarily a big believer in choosing a Disney Resort for the room, but the Contemporary is pretty hard to beat if the room is among your biggest priorities.
Wilderness Lodge – Rooms
Compared to Contemporary Resort rooms, Wilderness Lodge rooms feel no-frills. The Lodge rooms are still Deluxe rooms, but they are on the lower end of the Deluxe spectrum. However, I know plenty of folks who would choose the Wilderness Lodge rooms every time based on theme alone. On paper, they’re not up to Contemporary standards, but that’s a moot point if you prefer the rustic style over modern luxury.
Price & Value
Winner: Wilderness Lodge
The Wilderness Lodge is a pretty easy pick here. It’s the most affordable of Disney’s Deluxe Resorts and it’s a big step up from a Moderate Resort. You get a whole lot of bang for your buck.
Wilderness Lodge – Price & Value
Wilderness Lodge rooms start at just over $330, making them the cheapest of any Deluxe Resort. The rooms aren’t the biggest, but they still benefit from the Deluxe categorization with decor and feel.
Factoring in the Wilderness Lodge’s theme and amenities, it’s a no-brainer to say that the resort offers up some of the best value at Disney. No, you’re not on the Monorail track, but the savings make that a worthy compromise.
Contemporary Resort – Price & Value
Contemporary Resort rooms start at around $410. That price puts them in the upper-middle price range for a Deluxe resort. The rooms are big and the resort’s convenience level is unrivaled, so you definitely get something for your money. Still, paying $400+ a night isn’t chump change for any resort that isn’t considered to be a bonafide luxury location.
It’s really a matter of deciding whether or not the larger rooms and the uber convenient location are worth the premium. In my opinion, the Contemporary is accurately priced for a Disney property for what you get, but it’s not worth paying for if it cuts into another part of your trip budget. If you like the style and you’ve got a comfortable budget, go for it. Just don’t miss out on an extra day in the parks or a few extra nights of good eating to book a room here.
Winner: Wilderness Lodge
Wilderness Lodge is my pick for the majority of families. Even though it doesn’t have the rooms, convenience, or dining that the Contemporary has, it does have two of the most important things- an outstanding theme and great value for a Deluxe Resort. The rustic details and the more cozy, immersive atmosphere make the Lodge a really good change of pace during a fast-paced Disney vacation. Bonus points if you’re visiting during Christmastime. The Wilderness Lodge is incredible during the holidays.
The Contemporary is still the top choice for guests who aren’t keen on the rustic wilderness vibe or guests who simply prefer a more traditional, luxurious hotel experience. It’s more expensive than the Wilderness Lodge, but it’s still not the most expensive Deluxe Resort. When you stay at the Contemporary, you’re constantly reminded (in a good way) that you’re right in the middle of the Disney action. I recommend to almost anyone considering staying at the Contemporary to make the leap up in price to stay within the main building. It’s by far the best way to experience the Contemporary.
That covers the most important details and my opinion on different areas of the two resorts. Both have their pros and cons, but I think that most people will find themselves leaning more toward the charm of the Wilderness Lodge. It’s always hard for me to pick between Deluxe Resorts, because they are fairly close in quality and it really comes down to preference or mood.
Which of these two resorts is your family’s pick? Or maybe you’re a regular and one of these resorts is your go-to. Let me know which one you choose and why!