Inspired by turn-of-the-century national park lodges, Disney's Wilderness Lodge combines rustic charm with a contemporary flair on the shore of Bay Lake at Walt Disney World Resort. The 727-room hideaway features a spectacular six-story lobby, replete with teepee-topped chandeliers, totem poles, an 82-foot-tall stone fireplace and a bubbling hot spring that expands outside the building into a roaring waterfall. Walt Disney World Resort is located in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Disney)
Have you ever spent a day at Walt Disney World without a park ticket? Many guests fail to realize Disney magic can be found outside the parks, particularly at the Walt Disney World Resorts. Even those who aren’t staying at a Disney Resort are free to visit and enjoy some of what the different resorts have to offer. For today’s installment of this series, we’re trading the palm trees for the pines as we experience Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a deluxe resort, meaning it falls in the most expensive resort category. Situated on the shores of Bay Lake, it’s only a short boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom and the other deluxe resorts in the area. However, unlike these resorts, it doesn’t offer park views or Monorail access.
But don’t let that deter you! Wilderness Lodge is a breathtaking resort which beautifully captures the majesty of the Pacific Northwest and U.S. National Parks with Disney’s standard of quality, luxury, and touch of magic. It’s the best of the Great Outdoors but with A/C!
Check Out What Makes Wilderness Lodge Unique:
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge first opened to guests in 1994, largely inspired by the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. Much like the Contemporary Resort, the guest rooms at Wilderness Lodge and Copper Creek Villas are located either in or connected to the main resort building. This is a huge, but often overlooked, perk as a guest never has to go outside to get to the lobby to shop, dine, or hang out.
Now the Disney deluxe resorts are renowned for their gorgeous lobbies; but personally, Wilderness Lodge’s is my favorite. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I always have to pick my jaw off the floor when I walk in.
For starters, giant teepee-shaped chandeliers hang from the lofty log rafters while towering carved totem poles stand guard. There’s a Grand Canyon-inspired fireplace with rows of rocking chairs, a literal bubbling spring and stream running under a bridge inside the building, as well as various balconies and cozy alcoves hidden through the different floors.
The stream which runs under the bridge flows outside and down waterfalls before eventually dumping into the pool! Just a stone throw’s away from the pool is Bay Lake and the resort’s Fire Rock Geyser. It erupts every hour, just like Old Faithful!
Something incredibly unique, yet confusing, about Wilderness Lodge is its two Disney Vacation Club (DVC) wings. The Boulder Ridge Villas, formerly known as The Villas of Wilderness Lodge, has a separate building with its own mini-lobby and slightly more rustic, vintage vibe. It is, however, connected to the main lobby by a covered walkway, a very handy feature in Florida. The resort’s newest DVC addition is the Copper Creek Villas, boasting a slightly more modern vibe, new pool area, and the large and luxurious Cascade Cabins lining the shore of Bay Lake. This means there are technically three themed areas to stay at when vacationing at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge!
Stuff Your Face:
All that fresh mountain can make you hungry! Eat right out of a skillet at the not-so Whispering Canyon Cafe or grab something on the go at Roaring Fork. A new favorite of mine is Geyser Point Bar & Grill. This waterfront lounge by the Copper Creek Villas offers yummy appetizers and for a casual lunch or dinner options. At night, it offers a picture-perfect view of the nightly Electrical Water Pageant and a decent view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Artist Point, the Wilderness Lodge’s signature restaurant, is set to transform into Storybook Dining with Snow White on December 16th. Disney promises guests will get to meet Snow White and other characters, including The Queen! I love the opportunity to meet Disney princesses and character outside the parks sans ticket. I’m also excited about its themed menu. I’m talking about soup served up in cauldrons and a poison apple dessert!
Next door to Artist Point is Territory Lounge, another hidden gem in my book. I love the cozy, rustic atmosphere of this place and that ceiling! Now I personally don’t drink, but I love this lounge as several items from Artist Point are available here with no need for an advanced dining reservation. Also, many of the Disney lounges offer great non-alcoholic drinks too. This is also where my family tends to go to catch the big game or make our plans for the rest of our trip.
Take a Hike:
Haven’t walked enough during your Disney World Vacation? Determined to stick to your work out routine even on vacation? A .75 walking/biking path connects Wilderness Lodge with Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. This wooded trail offers an escape from the bustling park crowds. You may even forget you’re in Florida! What I especially appreciate about this trail is it’s ideal for resort hopping.
If you’re familiar with Fort Wilderness, you know the struggle associated with the resort’s extensive grounds and internal bus loop. Well, the path from Wilderness Lodge leads guests directly to The Settlement, the area of Fort Wilderness home to the marina, Pioneer Hall’s Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, the Trail’s End Restaurant, and more.
Explore the Great Indoors:
This resort is filled with nooks and alcoves, artwork and artifacts, thematic details, and Hidden Mickeys! For some Disney fun that doesn’t require a ticket, visit the front desk for a Hidden Mickey Scavenger Hunt or for the times when the free resort tour is being offered. It’s great for history buffs, and for those eager to learn more about this gorgeous resort.
Whether you take the tour or not, do some exploring on your own to see the historical displays, artwork, and all the hidden sitting areas. It’s tradition in my family to grab a snack at Roaring Fork and retreat to one of the hidden alcoves with our own private fireplace to play cards. It’s a great way to bond and recharge away from the crowds.
Don’t forget to take the covered walkway just off the lobby and venture to the lobby of the Boulder Ridge Villas. It’s somewhat of a miniature version of the main resort lobby, but a bit more rustic and quaint. Just off the lobby is the Carolwood Pacific Railroad room. It’s a mini-museum celebrating Walt Disney’s love of trains. It also offers a cozy setting to relax in, plus game tables for some fun with the family. It’s a great place to hang out and learn some Disney history without a park ticket.
Stock Up on Supplies:
Wilderness Lodge has only one store, the Wilderness Lodge Mercantile. Here guests can find resort themed merchandise and DVC merchandise, as well as your standard selection of pins, plush, home goods, and the like. Towards the back of the store is a selection of grocery items and a freezer section, particularly for those staying in a DVC Villas.
Do It for the Gram:
Where do I start? The resort grounds are gorgeous with waterfalls, bridges, rock tunnels, wildflowers, and a totem pole including Mickey and the gang. However, a warning to fellow photographers: the lighting in the resort can be tricky. I also recommend visiting Roaring Fork for Disney’s specialty cupcakes, particularly the Campfire Cupcake with it’s a mini-roasting marshmallow over a candy rock fire!
Have you ever spent a day at Walt Disney World without a park ticket? Have you ever experienced Disney’s Wilderness Lodge? What is your favorite thing about this resort?