Art of Animation vs. Polynesian: Which Disney Hotel is Best?

Lobby of Polynesian” by Frank Phillips licensed under CC BY 2.0

Staying on Disney World property ensures that you and your family will be fully immersed in the magical experience from the moment you arrive. With tons of resort options varying in theme and price, there is truly a Disney World accommodation for everyone!

But let’s face it—some hotels are just better than others.  Some hotels offer more perks to guests, or better dining or amenities, or simply give you a bigger bang for your buck.  

Case in point—the Art of Animation vs Polynesian resort—which should you choose and why?  Well, in this article, I’m going to help answer that question for you!

What Disney’s Art of Animation Offers Guests

If you’re curious about the theming at the Art of Animation resort, look no further than the name of the resort itself. The Art of Animation celebrates the visual artistry and creation process of classic Disney films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King and Disney•Pixar’s Cars and Finding Nemo

Art of Animation is fairly new, as far as Disney resorts are concerned, having opened in 2012. It’s considered a Value Plus resort, the second lowest price tier of the hotels on Disney World property, with regular Value resorts being the cheapest. Rooms start at around $200 per night and, considering this value resort has arguably the most to offer guests out of all of the more budget-friendly options, it’s a real steal.

Art of Animation Resort” by HarshLight licensed under CC BY 2.0

The main building is called Animation Hall and its lobby is brightly colored and decorated with drawing room sketches. The silhouettes of the furniture and decor overall are slightly retro, with an emphasis on color and fun! 

Upon a closer look after checking in, maybe you’ll start to notice these simpler black and white sketches of some of your favorite animated Disney movies start to move into pigmented drawings, nearly resembling the on-screen ones we know and love. 

Welcome to Art of Animation, the hotel for lovers of Disney cartoons. 

There’s lots to explore in the main building and beyond, like dining options, pools, and unique transportation. The hotel is situated on the Hourglass Lake, right across from the Pop Century Value Resort and not too far from Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. 

There are ten buildings with a total of 1,984 rooms across the property. Throughout the resort, guests will come across larger-than-life scenes with statues of characters ranging from Ariel and Sebastian to Simba and Lightning McQueen. 

These are definitely not for climbing, as the signs point out, but make for awesome pictures and visually stimulating walks to and from your room. There are four sections of the resort themed around each of the four movies highlighted. Three of those four areas have pools with uniquely themed scenes that launch you right into their animated worlds. 

Every detail—even down to the plant life is—is specifically chosen! At Art of Animation, walk 10 minutes in any direction and you’re under the deep blue sea with Nemo and Ariel, out on the savannah near Pride Rock, or cruising through the American West as depicted in Cars. 

The key word for this place is “family-friendly.” The rooms are very accommodating for large groups and the dense amount of Disney characters make the whole experience of staying here very eye-catching and exciting for children. From the start to the finish of your day, you feel that you’re not only on vacation but on a Disney vacation.   

What Disney’s Polynesian Resort Offers Guests

So, what more could you want? Well, there are, of course, many other tempting Disney resort options out there, including some luxurious options like the renowned Polynesian Village. 

Built in 1971, the Polynesian Village is one of Disney World’s original three hotels. Along with the Grand Floridian and Contemporary resorts, it is situated on the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon and the famous Disney monorail track. 

The Polynesian (sometimes nicknamed “Poly”) is themed after the lush tropical landscapes of the South Pacific islands. The decor is heavily influenced by the mid-century modern period that slightly predated the hotel’s construction. The color palette here is very warm, much like the place it is inspired by; rich oranges, browns, turquoise blue, and lots and lots of green dominate the property and beckon you into a true escape from the outside world. 

Longhouse in HDR” by Frank Phillips licensed under CC BY 2.0

Upon arriving at the front door you are welcomed by waterfalls and an abundance of plants. The Polynesian Village is also known for having such a particularly good smell that the Disney company and independent retailers have tried to capture and sell it in the form of room sprays and candles.

The hotel has received various upgrades over the last fifty years but still maintains its original charm. The most recent of these refurbishments has been dubbed the “Moana Makeover.” Prior to these changes, the main Disney characters featured were Lilo and Stitch after the movie of the same name. 

Soon after Lilo & Stitch became a hit, Disney sprinkled the Polynesian with references to the movie, which takes place in Hawaii. But aside from featuring these characters at the O’hana character meet-and-greet meals (currently paused during the pandemic) and selling branded merchandise in the gift shop, there wasn’t anything close to a takeover. 

Now it has recently reopened to reveal a heavier dosage of character references, mostly in the hotel rooms themselves. So far there are strongly mixed opinions from fans of the “Poly.” 

Aside from the Ceremonial House, the Polynesian has 10 buildings with rooms, all named after different Pacific islands. Considered one of Disney’s top-tier, deluxe resorts, rooms at the Polynesian Village are going at a current rate of about $600 per night. This is quite steep, especially in comparison to Art of Animation, which is literally a fraction of the cost. But, as we dive deeper into the amenities offered at each hotel, hopefully you’ll start to see which is more right for your trip. 

Checking Out the Rooms of Each Hotel

The Art of Animation rooms are available as standard rooms or suites. Besides the large scale statues decorating the resort, the suites are probably what Art of Animation is best known for. In fact, there is only one other value resort offering suites: Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Out of the nearly two thousand rooms, more than half are suites. 

The suites range in theme amongst The Lion King, Finding Nemo, or Cars depending on what you request and what is available at the time of your stay. These all feature one queen bed, one double “Murphy” or table bed, and a one double sleeper sofa. The suites also have kitchenettes which can be useful if you’re traveling with small children, those with dietary restrictions, or just would like a bit more homey-ness while on vacation. 

The suites fit up to six adults, making these rooms wonderfully affordable options for larger groups. The standard rooms are all Little Mermaid-themed, house either one king-sized or two queen-sized beds, and sleep up to four adults. The views for all rooms can range from overlooking one of the three pools to the less picturesque parking lot landscape. You can request a particular view but they are not guaranteed.

The buildings themselves are decorated along with their section and the themes carry into the room effortlessly. Everything from the light fixtures to the shower tiles is incorporated into the whimsy Art of Animation celebrates. They feature outdoor hallways leading to the rooms and are all accessible by elevator. 

As previously mentioned, the hotel rooms at the Polynesian village have recently undergone the somewhat controversial “Moana Makeover.” The main parts of the hotel don’t seem to be altered in any way, but the rooms have been overhauled. Significant changes in the Moana-fication include wallpaper, accent pillows and blankets, the flooring, and the bathroom. The changes are neither revolutionary nor amazing. They’re cute and probably very exciting for children who are swept up in the Moana craze.

Changes like these are another reminder that the Disney company sometimes seems to care less about retaining elements of their classic favorites and more about what’s trendy (e.g. the Marvel franchise, newer Princess movies like Frozen and Moana) in order to make more money and stay relevant. 

With all recent additions/changes in both Disney World and Disneyland, some feel refreshing and others feel unnecessary. The Moana rooms seem harmless but they do change this hotel’s overall brand from a timeless oasis to more of a hotel for kids, but after all, this is a theme park. 

The Polynesian offers suites like Animation, but there is a greater variety in price and amenities. The suites are less about fitting more guests than they are about having a more luxurious vacationing experience, although they do accommodate more people. There are 479 rooms in total, with an entire building dedicated to suites. These rooms can accommodate four to nine guests depending on the room itself and the prices range from about $1,300 to $2,000. The suite options are: 

1) The one-bedroom, two-bed Concierge Suite facing the marina

2) The One Bedroom Suite with one bedroom, two queen size beds, a separate parlor, bathroom, dressing area off-set from the bathroom, and views of the garden

3) The two-bedroom, four-bed Princess Suite with a parlor, two full bathrooms, a small kitchenette, and marina views

4) The Ambassador Suite with a master bedroom, secondary bedroom with two queen size beds, another Murphy bed in the living area, three bathrooms, a kitchenette, and garden views.

Lastly, the two-story King Kamehameha Suite, with a living room, full-sized kitchen, three bathrooms, a master bedroom, and a secondary bedroom with queen size beds, and marina views.

Like at Art of Animation, room views vary greatly. For a slightly higher nightly rate, you can have an unobstructed “theme park view” of the Magic Kingdom or the Seven Seas Lagoon. The other rooms with the standard views overlook the pool, the marina, random foliage (not too bad for “standard”), or the dreaded parking lot. All standard views can be requested upon reservation but not guaranteed. 

Aside from the theming, unless you’re staying in one of the hyper deluxe suites at the Polynesian, there are very subtle differences in the room amenities when comparing these two resorts. Both have TVs with local news channels and all of the Disney networks, one dresser and one closet per room, irons and ironing boards, mini fridges, towels, hair dryers, and complimentary bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and body wash. 

The Polynesian rooms have Keurig coffee makers, which the standard rooms at Animation do not. However, the Animation suites have coffee pots and microwaves in their kitchenettes. Both have a table and chairs. The other major difference between the standard rooms at these two resorts is that the Polynesian has an additional day bed which can be used for lounging or sleeping another guest. Both provide guests with cribs. 

The standard rooms at the Polynesian are also slightly larger than that of Animation, with the ability to fit up to five guests instead of four . Finally, the Polynesian hotel buildings are completely enclosed unlike the open (albeit covered) outdoor hallways of Animation. 

Art of Animation Dining 

Dining at the Art of Animation is modest but offers more than just a burger and fries. The main event is a cafeteria-style quick service restaurant called “Landscape of Flavors” which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast includes various egg options, the famous Mickey (and other character) waffles, and even some plant-based options like a tofu scramble and vegan waffles. 

Besides burgers, fries, and chicken fingers, lunch and dinner consists of seasonal varieties like Asian chicken bowls and shrimp and grits. There are plant-based offerings during these mealtimes as well. Keep in mind the baked goods at Landscape of Flavors do not skimp on deliciousness. 

The Drop Off Pool Bar is located near the Big Blue Pool and features drink offerings such as frozen alcoholic and virgin beverages, draft and bottled beer, smoothies, and sodas.

The resort also offers in-house pizza delivery to your room. 

Polynesian Village Resort Dining

Unlike Art of Animation, the Polynesian Village Resort has a wider range of sit-down restaurants, bars, and quick service restaurants to choose from. First up, there’s Captain Cook’s, arguably one of the nicest quick service restaurants on property. 

Visit for a shorter breakfast or dinner on your way to the parks or a great lunch you can take to eat by the pool. With meals at about $15 and under, the quality of fare and prices are similar to that at Animation’s Landscape of Flavors but with the focus being more on the tastes of the Hawaiian isles rather than a pan-“exotic” approach. Highlights of this menu include a pulled pork sandwich and nachos, cold noodles, and even some solid plant-based options. 

Then upstairs there’s the Kona Cafe, which serves all three meals throughout the day, but truly shines at breakfast. If you’re a fan of sweets, you have to try their Tonga Toast (also served at Captain Cook’s) while you’re in Disney World. It’s an indulgent French toast dish, stuffed with bananas, then fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar.

Untitled” by Theme Park Tourist licensed under CC BY 2.0

The berry sauce will send you to heaven and back. There’s also O’hana, which offers a family-style affair of breakfast and dinner in a slightly more formal dining room; the “Spirit of Aloha” dinner show featuring traditional Hawaiian performance and luau-style buffet fare; and the Kona Island coffee and sushi bar, located near the upper entrance of the Polynesian. 

This resort also has five bars: Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, the Poolside Oasis Bar & Grill, the Tambu Lounge and the Barefoot Pool bar. Some, like the Tambu Lounge, serve food as well.

Finally there is Pineapple Lanai, home of the incredible Dole Whip. For the not-yet-Dole-Whip-obsessed, it’s a refreshing and light soft-serve pineapple sorbet.  Supposedly there are only a select number of places in the world where you can have a true Dole Whip, and this is one of them. They are also served in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland and on the Dole pineapples farms in Hawaii.  

It’s a bit staggering to even compare the Art of Animation versus the Polynesian in terms of the dining options offered. How could Animation’s humble “Landscape of Flavors” even compare to the delight Tonga Toast brings all who order it?! While this is undeniably true, don’t forget that all guests can book reservations at deluxe resort restaurants and stop by any of the quick service spots or bars for a bite to eat or a tiki drink to sip. 

Disney’s Art of Animation Pool

The  Art of Animation boasts three pools:

1) The  “Big Blue” Pool. Themed after Finding Nemo, this is the biggest pool in all of the Disney World hotels. It’s centrally located near the pool bar and closest to Animation Hall. There are lots of optional poolside games for children and teens to participate in, as well as playing in the Schoolyard Sprayground and Squirt’s Righteous Reef. 

2) The “Cozy Cone” Pool. Themed after Cars, this is the smallest pool at Art of Animation and t’s a bit more relaxed than “Big Blue.” The major draw to this area are its traffic cone-snapped cabanas which offer first-come-first serve shade. 

3) The “Flippin’ Fins” Pool. Themed around the “Under the Sea” scene in The Little Mermaid, this pool offers a sweet middle-ground option.

4) Art of Animation has a nice gift shop called the Ink and Paint Shop.  This shop houses themed merchandise like original artist sketches, mugs, and plushies alongside many classic souvenirs and toys. A cool feature of this gift shop is the “Package Pick-Up” service in which Animation guests can have merchandise purchased in the park delivered to the hotel. 

Animation also happens to be one of the most eco-friendly resorts on Disney World property. Off the top, portion of the profits made here go to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. The Landscape of Flavors food court also provides guests with regular plates, silverware, and cups rather than disposable ones like most other quick service restaurants in Disney World. 

Moreover, the floors in the food court are made of recycled plastic and the entire resort has more recycling bins than any other. Another unique amenity offered at Animation is that it’s dog-friendly! For an extra fee, up to two pups can come along on your stay. 

Polynesian Village Resort pool

The Polynesian Village does offer more overall hotel amenities for all guests to enjoy, and rightly so, when you consider the steeper price tag. 

There are two pools:

The Lava Pool, which is centrally located and looks out onto the Seven Seas Lagoon. The highlights of this pool are a water-powered volcano, waterfall, and water slide. It’s also sloped like the ocean, an extremely relaxing and resort-appropriate feature. This makes getting in and out of the pool easy breezy and allows for younger kids to have safer, more age-appropriate pool time.

The Oasis Pool, which is the more tranquil and relaxing option of the two pools. Children are not prohibited but the lack of any kid-friendly activities here suggests a separation. This pool is located next to the Oasis Patio, where there are private cabanas available to rent for six or less guests, and the Oasis Bar & Grill.

More island-themed activities include boat rentals for cruising around the Seven Seas Lagoon, fishing, beach volleyball, and “campfire activities” which is mostly just roasting marshmallows. The campfire fun is in accompaniment with the Disney hotels’ “Movies Under the Stars” events, which are at all of the resorts on Disney World property. 

There are two different stores at the Polynesian, one on each floor of the hotel’s main Ceremonial House. Bou-Tiki is the larger of the gift shops and sells a variety of themed merchandise including home decor, clothing, toys and more! Moana Mercantile upstairs has mostly toys, costumes, candy and some more children’s clothes. 

The Polynesian also offers a full room service menu. 

Both resorts we’re comparing today have jogging trails for the sportier guests and old-school arcades. 

Transportation for Art of Animation, Polynesian Guests

As mentioned above, the Polynesian Village is one of the three hotels with direct access to the monorail trains. 

The monorail moves in a circle around the Seven Seas Lagoon and also stops at the Magic Kingdom, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Contemporary Resort, and the Ticket and Transportation Center. All hotels are available for guests to visit and are definitely worth exploring in terms of atmosphere, dining, and shopping. 

Guests of the Polynesian can ride the monorail or walk to the Ticket and Transportation Center, where a separate monorail line stops outside the Future World section of Epcot. The Polynesian also offers a scenic boat service across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom as well as the other two hotels in that section. 

The only way to get to any of the other parks (i.e. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and Disney Springs) is to take the corresponding bus. With service only being convenient, and the most fun, to the Magic Kingdom, guests considering a stay at the Polynesian should keep in mind that they’ll often be taking a bus or visiting the Magic Kingdom most often. 

The Art of Animation does offer a wider range of choices when it comes to transportation. In 2019, the Disney Skyliner was introduced, providing service to Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and Riviera Resorts to travel to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. 

Not only does this add a much-needed break from an otherwise bus-exclusive transportation system in this section of Disney World, but the Skyliner is super picturesque and exciting to ride. It’s basically a gondola lift that moves slowly enough to avoid motion sickness while still being an efficient mode of transportation. 

Each lift’s exterior is decorated in a bright rainbow color with images of different Disney characters  ranging from the Haunted Mansion’s Hitch-Hiking Ghosts to Buzz and Woody enjoying their ride. They hold up to 10 people per lift. 

Depending on the size of your group and the volume of guests waiting to board, you could be traveling exclusively with your party or another small group. These are wheel-chair and stroller accessible, kept cool by reflective panels, and have gondola-specific on-board audio. Trips from one end of the route to the other shouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes, and that’s generous. Overall, this is such a fun and unique way to travel to the parks!

When it comes to comparing the Art of Animation vs Polynesian Village, there is a lot to consider. Number one has to be cost: what are you able and willing to spend on an already expensive vacation? Deluxe resorts like the Polynesian Village offer a lot for their guests, but Art of Animation’s value allows you to save money on your stay and still enjoy the finer dining options and shopping at the other resorts and parks. 

Your choice also depends on the needs of your group. If you’re traveling with small children, a super colorful and character-heavy resort like Animation would probably be a better fit, whereas a trip with mostly adults might be better suited to the kind of “tropical getaway” atmosphere found at the Polynesian. When it comes to selecting which of the over two dozen hotels for your stay, it can be tricky but honestly, you can’t go wrong. 

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