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By Carol Garcia
Many Disney veterans will tell you that there is no bad Disney resort, but there is a Disney resort to fit every person’s tastes. For my family, the resort that fits that bill is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. We have vacationed there numerous times and are always eagerly awaiting our return. So what is it about the Lodge that holds a special place with our family? There are many aspects that we love, so let me see if I can share a few.
First off, we live in the Midwest. Flat, lots of fields. We love traveling to Florida with the beaches and tropical feel. However, the Wilderness Lodge is none of that. It is something truly unique for us. As we pass through the gates to the Magic Kingdom, we make a sharp right to another world. The grounds are thick and lush, much like a forest in the Northwest part of this country. The Lodge is a log cabin of sorts. Well, a log cabin like no other. It is reminiscent of the hotel at Yellowstone National Park. In fact, as guests pull in their cars (or busses, or limos), the bell staff are dressed as park rangers.
Once the luggage and car are taken, guests are off to experience one of the best features–the lobby. In my opinion, the grandeur of the lobby is not matched on Disney property (although some may argue Animal Kingdom Lodge is just as grand and the two were, in fact, designed by the same architect). The split log lobby is an eight-story, jaw-dropping marvel. There are seating areas to just take it all in and a bevy of rocking chairs to cozy up to the 80-foot fireplace. It is a nice place to rest, even in the heat of the summer. The colors of the stone in the fireplace mirror those of the Grand Canyon, except, of course, there is a hidden Mickey to be found in the fireplace if you look close. The lights are made to look like teepees, there are carvings atop many of the log poles and totems within the lobby. One of our rituals is to take a picture in front of the frog, a character at the bottom of the totem near the front desk, to see how the kids have changed since the last trip. There is also a corner with a television showing non-stop Disney cartoons to entertain the young ones.
Another amazing feature of the lobby is a hot spring that starts in the far end. My kids love walking over the arched footbridge over the water. The spring doesn’t just stay in the lobby. It flows under the windows to the courtyard. A quick trip outside allows guests to follow what is now a stream through the lush courtyard and into the main pool. Back to the pool in a minute, since we still have to follow that stream. On the other side of the pool, the stream continues under another bridge, past hot tubs, and empties into Bay Lake. Right next to the stream at this end is the geyser, a replica of Old Faithful that erupts every hour during the day happily spraying kids in the kiddie pool.
And back to the pool. There are actually two pools at this resort. The main pool, which we saw when following the stream, is found in the courtyard of the resort. There is a one-foot pool for the tots nearby. The main pool boasts a water slide, which passes through boulders. Music and animal sounds are piped in to complete the theming. Lifeguards host children’s activities in the afternoons and a hair wrap station is always popular. If this isn’t enough, there is also a “quiet” pool, so named not for the volume level but for the fact that there are no lifeguards at this smaller pool. This is better located for the DVC villas.
If two pools and a water slide still leave you wanting more fun near water, a quick walk to Bay Lake and the marina may help. There is a sand beach, but as with all beaches on Disney property, there is no swimming in the lake. There are plenty of lounge chairs, though, and even a playground area for the kids. This is also a great spot for viewing the Electric Water Pageant, which passes the resort each night around 9:35 pm. Right next to the beach is the marina and Teton Boat and Bike Rentals. Here guests can rent SeaRaycers (those small boats you see zipping around in front of the Magic Kingdom) or pontoon boats. For those who prefer to stay on dry land, regular and tandem bikes are also available to rent. There is a wooded trail that connects Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, perfect for a bike ride or a stroll.
After all of this activity, a family sure can get hungry. There are three options for your dining pleasure right there at the resort. The first and most casual is Roaring Forks. This is the place to purchase and refill your refillable mugs, pick up a sandwich or salad or grab a quick snack. The full-service restaurant, open to the lobby is the Whispering Canyon. There is no whispering done in this restaurant. It is a loud, fun, western-style place for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For the more reserved, there is Artist Point. This upscale, but still family-friendly restaurant is perfect for a special night out. There is also the Territory Lounge, where the adults can grab a beverage. While out at the pool, those similar adult beverages (and some good for everyone) can be found at Trout Pass. If you truly don’t want to venture out, Ms. Jenny’s will deliver breakfast or dinner to your room. There is also pizza available during dinner hours.
As with all Disney resorts, there is a gift shop located off of the lobby. Right at the entrance is a 10-foot tall totem of Disney characters, including Humphrey Bear, the Wilderness Lodge’s “mascot.” This shop is a bit larger than some, and since this is also a Disney Vacation Club property, there is a selection of food and drinks. Many of the items here are themed to the Northwest, not just Disney. There is a cart full of polished rocks that attract my kids every time. They just love returning home with a small bag of these treasures. There are also other woods items, like potpourri, relaxation tapes, and many items bearing with resort’s logo and totem.
Oh, and there are rooms here, too! 728 of them to be exact. The standard room has two queen beds, a bath a table with two chairs, and a nightstand. Other room amenities include a hairdryer, refrigerator, small wall safe, iron and ironing board, and coffee maker. One feature that initially attracted us is that most rooms have balconies (a great place for Mom and Dad to relax while the kids are falling asleep). There are also a limited number of bunk bedrooms, in which one queen bed is replaced by a set of bunk beds with rails. There is an even smaller number of king rooms. There are three views in this hotel. The standard generally overlooks a parking lot or rooftops; the lodge view is of forested areas; and the courtyard view of the pool or the lake. There is some price difference in the views, and the choice to pay for a better view depends on how much you will be looking out at it (my family loved the courtyard view).
Aside from the standard rooms, there are other types as well. There are also concierge rooms on the private 7th floor. Guests booking these rooms also receive the services of a private concierge, even before the trip, and food and drink spread throughout the day. There are honeymoon suites complete with a king-size bed and large marble tub. There are also junior suites, which sleep six, although I’m not sure for how long. We tried this with five once, and it was rather pricey for not nearly as much room. Although if we could, we would book it with fewer people and have the luxury of a separate sitting room. For a truly luxurious stay, there are Yosemite and Yellowstone suites.
This is, of course, a deluxe hotel. And from the amenities listed, it is easy to see why. The standard rooms, though, are a bit smaller than those in other resorts of the same category (with the exception of Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is the same). The price, however, is correspondingly lower. So guests who don’t mind a bit of a smaller room (i.e. there is no separate sitting area or day bed), but want the other amenities will find this a much more affordable resort.
Adjacent to the Lodge itself is the building housing the Disney Vacation Club villas. There are studio, one and two-bedroom villas found here. Although this is part of DVC, guests can also reserve these rooms for cash either from Disney or by renting points from a member (although the details of this are beyond the scope of this article). This building, which was actually built after the Lodge, is supposed to look older, and the story goes that this was the building where the workers who build the lodge lived (as I said, there is theming everywhere). Also in this building is Sturdy Branches, the health club for both DVC members and Lodge guests.
There are a few other offerings that I need to mention. For the game lover, there is an arcade. Although it isn’t the largest on property, it should tide over your gaming needs. Another is the Cub’s Den. This is onsite child care for children ages 4-12. Fireworks cruises depart from the dock at the marina. Although the fireworks themselves can not really be seen from the Lodge due to the trees.
Transportation to the parks is mostly by bus. There are busses to all parks and a boat to the Magic Kingdom. This boat, which also stops at Fort Wilderness Campground is accessible to those guests in wheelchairs. A big plus for those families with strollers is that also means that strollers can be wheeled right onto the boat without having to close them or remove the sleeping Prince or Princess. There is also a smaller boat that travels to the Contemporary, although this one requires guests to descend a few stairs to enter. For those wanting more knowledge, there is a guided tour every afternoon that will explain more detail about the architecture and a self-guided hidden Mickey hunt available from Bell Services.
One parting point to make is when to visit the Lodge. If you enjoy holiday decorations, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge puts on one of the more amazing displays. The rustic beauty of the lodge year-round just enhances the warmth and coziness of the holidays. The Christmas tree is absolutely amazing. I can’t even begin to describe how large it is and no photo could do it justice. There are wreaths with “moose antlers” and displays throughout the ground. The Villas also has quite an impressive tree. During this time there is also a carriage ride available in the evenings.
It is not too hard to see why we feel so strongly about this resort. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a wonderful resort with much to offer in the middle of our favorite vacation destination. The kids love it, the adults love it. What more could we ask for?
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