Saratoga Springs vs Animal Kingdom Lodge: Best Resort?

Saratoga Springs Resort” by Jeff Kays licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’re heading to Disney World, you know it can be both a daunting and exciting experience.  You have a lot of things to prepare for in your plate, including which resort on Disney property you’ll want to stay at.  So, in this Saratoga Springs vs Animal Kingdom Lodge comparison, we’ll have these two resorts duke it in hopes of revealing which Disney hotel offers you the best experience for your money.

Saratoga Springs Overview

Designed to evoke the exclusive horse-racing New York locale of the same name, Saratoga Springs is designed with tranquility in mind. The sprawling grounds invite you to take a healthy stroll, and the pools are inspired by the “healing springs” of its namesake. 

Disney’s Saratoga Springs is made up of five guest areas (six if you count the Treehouse Villas, which I am not covering in this article) spread out over 16 acres. One of the big draws to Saratoga Springs is that it is connected via a walking path or boat to the Disney Springs entertainment and dining district.  

Animal Kingdom Lodge Overview

First of all, Animal Kingdom Lodge issurrounded by a savannah full of animals! From the Savannah-View rooms you can watch assorted African wildlife from the comfort of your own balcony. The animals are fed at strategic locations, so you are never too long without something interesting ambling by. My favorite part of the day is coffee and gazing at zebra! Most of the common areas are also overlooking the savannah. 

So let’s dive much deeper into what each resort has to offer guests in terms of rooms and amenities.  

Saratoga Springs Rooms and Amenities

Saratoga Springs was planned as a Disney Vacation Club Resort, therefore the rooms are designed with their signature “Welcome Home” villa layouts as opposed to a traditional hotel room. For Saratoga Springs you can choose either a Standard or Preferred location. The Preferred buildings are The Springs (close to the main pool and lobby) or Congress Park (close to the Disney Springs walkway). 

Saratoga Springs has the three main room layouts at all DVC properties:

Deluxe Studio: These are similar in size to larger hotel rooms. They feature a queen-size bed, sleeper sofa, kitchenette with microwave, sink, refrigerator, toaster, and coffee maker. These rooms comfortably sleep two, and can work for a group of four (or five if you are able to snag a 5-person room) if you’re not planning to spend too much time in the room. These rooms run approximately $450 – $750 depending on the season and your room location. 

1 Bedroom Villa: There is quite a jump from the Deluxe Studio to the 1 Bedroom Villas. These can sleep five people (two in the bedroom and three in the living room) and include a full kitchen. They have one full bathroom with shower and a separate toilet room (accessed through the shower room) and a large jetted tub in the master suite. A 1 Bedroom Villa runs between $600 and $1160 per night.

2 Bedroom Villa: There are two options for 2 bedroom villas at most DVC properties. You can choose a “Dedicated 2 Bedroom Villa” or a “2 Bedroom Villa – Lockoff.” To put it simply, a Lockoff is just a 1 Bedroom Villa that has an interior connecting door to a Deluxe Studio. In contrast, a “Dedicated” 2 Bedroom Villa is designed with only one exterior door, an extra bathroom, and two queen beds in the second bedroom (instead of the bed and sleeper sofa).

The second bedroom gives up the kitchenette in exchange for a generous closet. Your preference for these two rooms will depend on your traveling companions and traveling style. If you have varying morning & evening routines, you might want the extra exterior door that the Lockoff offers. 

Note: You may need to call if you want a choice between Lockoff or Dedicated. DVC members can choose from their booking portal, but this option is not available as a choice when booking through the main site. A 2 Bedroom Villa runs $860 to $1890.

Grand Villa: If you’re looking for a very large space for multiple families, the Grand Villa will be the way to go. They are not cheap (the nightly rate is $1850 to nearly $3300) but they are gorgeous. At Saratoga Springs, the Grand Villa is a two-story layout. The first floor hosts the master suite, living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a full kitchen and a formal dining room. The open staircase to the second floor leads to an overlooking loft area, and two more bedrooms, each with two queen-sized beds. There are total of three full bathrooms and one half-bath. The second floor also has its own entrance. Disney says these can sleep 12 if you utilize the sleeper sofa.

Treehouse Villas (unique to Saratoga Springs): While not part of the main resort area, Saratoga Springs also offers a Treehouse Villa option. Disney describes them with room for nine people. They offer a full kitchen and range from $1070-2010 per night. While I have not personally experienced the treehouses, I have been told that they are awesome.

The caveat is that you will want a car. The bus system requires a transfer at the main Saratoga Springs stop (The Springs) which will add a considerable amount of time at the end of a long park day. The Treehouse Villas do include their own pool area and would be a great option for a more resort-centric trip.

Animal Kingdom Rooms and Amenities

Animal Kingdom Lodge is comprised of two buildings, Jambo House and Kidani Village. When booking a room, you will see Animal Kingdom Lodge as three different listings:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Choosing this option will give you access to the “regular” hotel rooms as well as the Disney Vacation Club Villas.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House: Part of Jambo House was converted into Disney Vacation Club Villas in 2007. Choosing this will give you only the villas within Jambo House as an option.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village: This is the smaller of the two buildings. All of these rooms are Disney Vacation Club Villas.

You can book any of these rooms, regardless of whether it is listed as a DVC room or standard room. Since there are so many options, I recommend checking out this price breakdown by room layout, view, and season for an idea of prices. Generally speaking, Animal Kingdom Lodge prices are similar to Saratoga Springs prices when comparing Standard View rooms and prices are higher for the better views. 

The room layouts and amenities at Animal Kingdom Lodge are the same as described for Saratoga Springs. The major difference here is the view from your room. Within each layout you will find four options:

Value: These rooms overlook landscape or the parking area. These rooms may also be slightly smaller.

Standard: Also views of the landscape or parking area.

Pool: Views of the Uzima or Samawati Springs pools.

Savannah: If you can, these rooms are worth splurging for. There are four savannahs surrounding the Animal Kingdom Lodge resort and this room category will put you right over the action.    

You will also find an option for Club Level. Animal Kingdom Lodge’s concierge offering is the Kilimanjaro Club.  Animal Kingdom Lodge also offers the Royal Asante Presidential Suite. 

Saratoga Springs vs Animal Kingdom Lodge: Location

To put it delicately, neither of these resorts is in a convenient location. If you’re relying on Disney transportation, you are restricted to the bus system. Both resorts (kind of) share buses with other resorts. Saratoga Springs often shares with Old Key West, and Animal Kingdom splits the bus stops between Jambo House and Kidani Village. Saratoga Springs has a bus stop for each of the five guest areas, so it can take quite a while to get back to your room.

I usually decide to rent a car when I am staying at either of these resorts,. Yes, you do need to pay for parking ($24 per night as of this writing; Disney Vacation Club members staying on points do not pay this fee) but having control over my own transportation is worth it to me. Plus, if my kid melts down on the way back, at least we’re not on a crowded bus full of other hot, cranky people. 

As mentioned above, one major benefit of Saratoga Springs is the ability to walk to Disney Springs. If you are into the shopping or dining venues that Disney Springs offers, then that might be the most compelling reason to choose Saratoga Springs over Animal Kingdom Lodge.   

  • Location Winner: Saratoga Springs

Animal Kingdom Lodge Pools and Activities

So you’re taking a resort day. You’ve spent enough on your lodging (both are considered Deluxe resorts and range from $400-$700 for a studio) and you want to get your money’s worth! But which resort offers the best lineup? 

I’ll just come out and say it. It’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Seriously, there are giraffes right outside the window. In addition to marveling at the wonders of nature, Animal Kingdom Lodge has a plethora of activities for the entire family. 

Jambo House has an evening campfire and movies under the stars at the Uzima pool. On select Wednesdays, you can participate in a Paint Night at Jiko – The Cooking Place. There’s also a video game arcade and a playground for the kids. 

Animal Kingdom Lodge has two pools to choose from. Jambo House hosts Uzima Springs Pool, the larger of the two, while Kidani Village has Samawati Springs Pool. Uzima Springs was closed on my last trip so I have not yet experienced it. 

For Samawati Springs, the thing that surprised me the most was the lushness of the poolside areas. I was there in July and there were plenty of shaded places to sit. Guests of either building can use either pool.

But honestly, my favorite part about Animal Kingdom Lodge is the meandering. Between Jambo House and Kidani Village, you will find the largest collection of African art outside of Africa. The museum-quality pieces were all curated with an eye towards cultural sensitivity and sustainability and are respectfully presented. 

Before you walk into the main lobby of Jambo House, take a moment to prepare. The interior is breathtaking. Kidani Village is smaller and more intimate, and is also a beautiful space to just sit down and absorb the scenery.

Saratoga Springs Pools and Activities

I do want to give some time to the activities at Saratoga Springs. If African art is not your thing, then perhaps a surrey ride is more up your alley? You can rent surrey bikes for 2 or 4 people and explore the expansive grounds. Saratoga Springs also offers guided fishing excursions, the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, tennis courts, basketball courts, and jogging trails. They’re really promoting the “healthy living” aspect of the original Saratoga Springs! 

There are also multiple pools scattered at the different guest areas. Check your travel dates – Saratoga Springs has multiple pool refurbishments scheduled for 2022 and 2023. 

  • Activities Winner: Animal Kingdom Lodge

Saratoga Springs Restaurants

I live with a family of picky eaters, and only two of them are kids. So when I am at Walt Disney World, one of my priorities is food. Especially food with flavors and spices I can’t pronounce. The difference between the type of food offerings at Saratoga Springs and Animal Kingdom Lodge is quite vast, but the quality of both is excellent. 

Saratoga Springs boasts the Turf Club Bar and Grill for the sit-down crowd, and The Artist’s Palette for quick-service options. I have not eaten at the Turf Club, but every time I stay at Saratoga Springs, I go back to the Artist’s Palette for the same thing: the Margherita Pizza. 

I am embarrassed to admit that I have eaten that pizza twice in the same day (I had also just finished running a 10k and a Half Marathon over two days—don’t judge me). 

The rest of the quick service lineup is delightful, and not what you’re going to find at every other location. The breakfast offerings are pretty standard, with a few unique dishes thrown in. Either way, you’ll be able to find something you enjoy on any of the menus. 

Animal Kingdom Lodge Restaurants

Animal Kingdom Lodge has a leg up on the gastronomic competition due to the presence of four unique dining options. The quick-service restaurant is The Mara and has a nice variety of foods that even my kids might try. We’ll see how that goes on our trip next month. 

The next option is the buffet at Boma – Flavors of Africa. Located next to the main lobby, it emerges from under the roots beneath Jambo House. The effect is seriously cool. The pathway meanders down to the bar area before depositing you at the host desk, where the restaurant opens into an African marketplace. Take your time as you descend! 

The food at Boma is a fantastic mix of different regional African dishes. It’s not so far out that your picky eaters will starve (they do have chicken strips!) but there is definitely a twist on the classics. The ribs are phenomenal – make sure to slather on the tamarind BBQ sauce!

If you’re staying on the Kidani Village side, head downstairs to Sanaa. This table-service restaurant (and the only restaurant at Kidani Village) is inspired by the African-Arabian-Indian fusion of East Africa. I’ve not eaten there during the day, but the windows look out into the Sunset Savannah and I’ve heard it is a fantastic view. The food is delicious and I simply plan on the fact that I will overeat and regret it later!

Finally, the crown jewel of Animal Kingdom Lodge dining venues is Jiko – The Cooking Place. This is a Signature Dining location (make sure you’re dressed appropriately) with a seasonal menu. You’ll also want to make sure you have a reservation.

  • Dining Winner: Animal Kingdom Lodge

Saratoga Springs vs Animal Kingdom Lodge: Relaxation

Park days at Walt Disney World are exhausting. It feels like you never get to just stop and recover. For me, returning to the resort at the end of a long day is the best part. Once we get the kids down, take a shower to rinse off a day’s accumulation of Florida, and step out onto the balcony, I can finally breathe. 

So which resort is the most relaxing?

Relaxing at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Not to be redundant, but Animal Kingdom Lodge has animals. But, you can’t really see them at night. Lighting is installed at strategic locations to maintain a beautiful atmosphere, but the savannah itself is quiet. Also, if you don’t have a savanna-view room, you’re overlooking another part of the resort. It’s not bad, but it’s not the savannah. 

Unfortunately, my Animal Kingdom Lodge stay was not pleasant in terms of relaxing evenings. I was in a studio with an adjoining door, and I was able to hear every word of my neighbors’ conversations. It didn’t help that they were from a particular east coast state that is known for colorful vocabularies and a propensity for yelling at each other to show affection—but I digress. 

I attempted to escape to the balcony, only to find that the U-shaped building (I was staying at Kidani Village) caused noises to echo across the savannah. Every time a kid saw an impala, we all heard about it. 

Relaxing at the Saratoga Springs

In contrast, Saratoga Springs is delightfully dead. There is hardly anyone around in the evenings. The resort could be full, and based on the number of cars I know that there are actually people there, but you wouldn’t know it by the number of passers-by. I love it. 

After a day at the parks, all I want to have is quiet time alone with my thoughts. And a drink, but that’s beside the point. I thoroughly enjoy the solitude of an evening at Saratoga Springs, and for that it gets my vote. 

  • Relaxation Winner: Saratoga Springs

How to Get the Best Disney World Resort Hotel Price?

When looking at price, pay attention to both the booking season as well as the room location,  as peak season Preferred rooms will cost considerably more than low season Standard rooms. Also, the prices listed here are the published rates. Deals are released periodically throughout the year (starting three to six months out). 

You can also book through an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner – you will NEVER be charged for this service, as they receive a commission from Disney directly. They will monitor deals as they are available and save you the time!   You might even want to consider looking into a Disney World travel agent for better guidance.

A third option is renting Disney Vacation Club points. If you’re flexible with your time and resorts, this is the option that will save you the most money when staying at a Deluxe Disney resort. One DVC point is worth $19 on average, so use that amount when comparing prices. I have successfully used David’s Vacation Club Rentals multiple times.

The Best Disney World Resort Hotel?

Let’s see, what do we have so far? 

Location: Saratoga Springs 

Activities: Animal Kingdom Lodge 

Food: Animal Kingdom Lodge

Relaxation: Saratoga Springs.

Well, that doesn’t help. Let’s add a couple more criteria into the mix and see if we can find a winner. 

Traveling with kids: Animal Kingdom Lodge—mostly due to the animals.

Traveling with adults: Saratoga Springs. Can’t beat the proximity to Disney Springs for post-park libations. And if you like peace and quiet, this resort is probably a much better bet.

Resort theming: Animal Kingdom Lodge. Every detail is intentional and pays homage to the source material.

Oh good, there we go. In all honesty, I love both resorts. But if I had only one trip to do as much as I can, I would hands-down pick Animal Kingdom Lodge, and I’d splurge for a savannah-view room. But keep in mind, if you’re a frequent guest who travels alone or with goes to Disney World without kids, you actually might prefer Saratoga Springs. 

Hopefully, you’ve found this Saratoga Springs vs Animal Kingdom Lodge comparison guide to be extremely helpful in helping you determine which resort most fits your needs. I hope you have an awesome trip!

  • This article was written by Shelley and edited by Michael.  

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