Magical Stay in the Forest: A Review of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
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When you pull up to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, you’ll feel like you’ve left Central Florida for a national park filled with tall trees and ample shade. To be more precise, you feel like you’ve been transported to the historic Old Faithful Inn inside Yellowstone National Park.
While the real Old Faithful Inn is completely different experience that is absolutely worth a visit, staying at the Disney version is a bit easier, a bit more upscale and a lot more attainable, with significantly more rooms and year-round operations.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge opened in 1994 along Disney’s Bay Lake, a boat ride away from Disney’s Magic Kingdom and was indeed inspired by the national park lodges of the American West. Walt Disney World gives families a couple dozen themed resorts to choose from when planning a Disney World vacation (not to mention the array of off-site options). Some resorts have more immersive themes than others, and Wilderness Lodge is undeniably one of the most heavily themed resorts, and we were thrilled to try it for the first time on a recent spring break visit.
Before we get into the details, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is not to be confused with the entirely separate Disney’s Fort Wilderness or other similar-sounding resorts that are actually located on the larger Wilderness Lodge grounds, including Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and the Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Those two properties, on the same grounds as Wilderness Lodge, are Disney Vacation Club properties that are distinct from the lodge itself but still solid options for families looking to have a similar overall experience.
While at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a short Christmas visit to Disney World last year, we saw an offer in our room to book a future Disney stay with a 30% discount. Between trips to the parks, I called up the number on the flyer and booked a spring-break stay at Wilderness Lodge for $373 per night in a room with one queen bed and bunk beds. Wilderness Lodge is historically one of the least expensive of the deluxe Disney resorts.
You can book Walt Disney World Resort hotels using some types of points (such Citi ThankYou points from the Citi Premier Card via the Citi Travel Center), but we paid cash for this stay at Wilderness Lodge by booking directly with Disney to score the 30% discount.
Rack rates for entry-level rooms at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge usually range from about $300 to $500 per night, but Disney sales and discounts can drop that price to under $300 per night certain times of the year.
To stay at one of the on-site Disney Vacation Club properties (Copper Creek or Boulder Ridge) you could rent Disney Vacation Club points and potentially pay less. Not only does this spare you from the $24-per-day parking fee but, as outlined here, you can pretty easily save 50% on the retail price of the stay at Wilderness Lodge. There are trade-offs (such as the lack of daily housekeeping), but stays in the least busy season of the year in studios at those properties start at 15 points per night. Disney Vacation Club points rented from David’s Vacation Club typically cost $17 per point, resulting in an all-in cost of $255 per night.
Those with a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card could price Disney Resorts via Hotels.com to earn up to 20% in rewards on the stay (you’ll earn 10x miles when paying with your card and booking via Hotels.com/venture through Jan. 31, 2020). You could also use Discover it® Miles or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to book your Disney stay and then use the miles from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per mile to cover the charge.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is on Bay Lake, just a short boat ride of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We found the boat rides to take less than 10 minutes from dock to dock. Often, within 30 minutes of walking out of our room on the eighth floor at Wilderness Lodge, we were strolling into the Magic Kingdom.
It helped that you cleared security on the dock of the Magic Kingdom rather than in the regular security lines (so try to be one of the first off the boat if every minute counts).
For one early morning start, we instead utilized the on-property Minnie Vans, and that joyful door-to-door ride took 11 minutes and cost $22, including a $5 tip. However, the wait for the Minnie Van was noticeably longer than on all previous trips to Disney World, so factor in some buffer time before assuming that it’s faster.
The grandness of the lobby at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge was rivaled only by Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which was designed by the very same architect a few years after Wilderness Lodge.
We entered Wilderness Lodge as a tired group of four travelers around 1pm, and there was no line to check in. We were hoping for early check-in to jump straight into afternoon naps, even though normal check-in doesn’t come until about 3pm. However, pretty quickly, there was an issue. The lady working the desk seemed shocked that there were two adults and two children in our group, as the room was apparently only booked for one person on her end. Normally, I might just take the blame and say I probably sailed through the online booking too quickly and didn’t add everyone, but I booked this over the phone with Disney and highly doubted that I just told them the room was for one person — especially because I specifically booked a room with bunk beds.
I’m not sure why it was such a big problem to simply add the additional people at check-in (maybe we had been changed to a room with just one king?), but it was an issue. After 10 to 15 minutes of typing and phone calls, the agent gave me a sly smile. While I never understood the full issue with our reservation, she said she had good news: We had now been upgraded to a club-level room with two queen beds. The bunk beds were apparently not meant to be, but I didn’t press, as this was way better. Disney’s club level is a real treat that often adds about $200 a night to the price if you book it outright (though you should always inquire at check-in about upgrade prices, if you are interested).
Our room was ultimately not ready until the 3pm check-in time, but we were immediately escorted to the Old Faithful Club on the eighth floor to complete check-in and grab a round of snacks and drinks. Once our room was truly ready, it was accessible with our Magic Bands without further human contact required.
Still on a bit of a pixie-dust high over our free upgrade (our first at Disney), we entered the room happy and impressed. Now, this is a good time to explain that we are used to grading on a Disney curve. A $374 room at Disney is probably highly themed and accompanied by solid service, but not necessarily as luxurious as you might expect for the price almost anywhere else.
Such was the case at Wilderness Lodge, where the standard room was around 340 square feet with a balcony, two queen beds, elaborately carved-wood headboards, Native American accents and an overall log-cabin feel (cabin not included).
But we didn’t find luxurious amenities or lots of USB outlets and the like. But I was totally capable of working all the old-fashioned light switches and the air-conditioning panel, which isn’t always true in some high-tech, fancier rooms.
The log-cabin style carried through to the desk, dresser and TV cabinet.
My one complaint about the room was in the bathroom, with a somewhat awkward vanity.
The vanity had good counter space and two sinks, but washing makeup off was a daunting task, as the shelf above the sinks protruded to such a degree that I was constantly worried I would bang my forehead as I washed my face in the sink. Otherwise, the room more than met our needs, and housekeeping came twice per day — once to clean the room and in the evenings for turndown service.
Food and Beverage
If you stay on Disney’s club level in the Old Faithful Club at Wilderness Lodge (as we lucked into at check-in), you have access to snacks and drinks throughout the day and evening. The posted schedule is:
- 6:30am: Coffee service
- 7:00am to 10:30am: Continental breakfast
- 11:00pm to 4:00pm: Snacks and drinks
- 5:00pm to 7:00pm: Hors d’oeuvres (you could make a dinner out of this if you wanted)
- 8:00pm to 10:00pm: Cordials & desserts
We found the breakfast to be totally sufficient for a quick meal before hitting the parks (though it doesn’t start early enough for some predawn Disney starts).
Throwing water bottles and juice boxes from the club in our backpack before visiting the parks was a real money saver.
The midday snacks on club level weren’t worth the effort of trekking back to the hotel just for a quick bite, but they were more substantial than when we stayed on the club level of the Contemporary last year.
If you wanted to make a dinner out of the evening offers, you easily could, as long as you were OK with eating early and weren’t too picky. Dinner (or hors d’oeuvres, as they are called) is technically available until 7pm, but when we arrived to the lounge a few minutes before 7pm, what was left didn’t look great. There is a posted menu each day, so you can get a sense of whether the items will work for you.
The scene was likely much better earlier, but not ideal just before closing time.
My favorite part of club-level access was the evening desserts and drinks. Who doesn’t want sweets and sparkling wine to end their Disney day?
I especially like when you are at a Disney club lounge, such as this one, and, as the day ends, the music to go along with the evening fireworks is piped in. Here, the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom were viewable over the trees from the lounge’s two balconies.
Outside of the lounge were a number of other dining options at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, ranging from casual to character dining. On the casual end of things was the counter-service restaurant, Roaring Fork, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (they delivered items to your table after you ordered). On this menu were items such as chili, burgers, pulled-pork sandwiches and french fries. A lunch for the four of us here usually rang in around $40 and was heartily enjoyed.
An outdoor casual option at Wilderness Lodge was Geyser Point Bar and Grill. When the weather was nice, this looked like a great spot for an evening cocktail by the lake. To go along with the cocktails, such as Huckleberry Punch, they served lunch and dinner items including a bison burger, grilled portobello salad and a children’s finger-food sampler with a side of lakeside views.
On the sit-down side of things, there was the Whispering Canyon Cafe in the main portion of the lodge, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu included maple-chipotle barbecue, slow-smoked pork ribs, barbecue pulled pork and citrus-herb chicken and the like. Most I’ve talked to have recommended the all-you-can-eat platter with various barbecued meats and sides.
While we haven’t dined there ourselves, I’ve heard that Whispering Canyon a pretty fun and interactive dinner with sassy servers, gags, games and more. In other words, maybe don’t come here for a romantic dinner for two, but bring the family for a fun (and rowdy?) meal.
For a quieter adult moment, we could’ve grabbed a drink in the Territory Lounge, which had a dark and cozy atmosphere.
At the pricey end of the spectrum, the restaurant Artist Point was recently transformed into the home of Storybook Dining at Artist Point. Open only for dinner, it had a fixed menu while Snow White and some of the dwarfs mingle and dance about. But they weren’t the highlight.
The highlight of Artist Point was undeniably meeting the Evil Queen, followed closely by the food. We had a wicked shrimp cocktail, slow-roasted veal shank, butter-poached snapper and a finale of a trio of shared desserts in the three-course line-up.
Seriously, come hungry and you absolutely want to meet the Evil Queen. Prices for the three-course meal were $55 for adults and $33 for children 3 to 9. It was a real treat to have access to a calm but engaging character meal in our own hotel. You can check out the full review of that dining experience here.
There are some rooms at Disney resorts that I love spending time in beyond just sleeping hours (savannah-view rooms at Animal Kingdom come to mind), but for the most part, you stay at a deluxe Disney resort for the location and amenities, not the room. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge was pretty rich in amenities, though perhaps not quite to the degree that I had hoped.
On the amenities side of things were two pools and one toddler splash play structure. The main pool, the heated Copper Creek Springs Pool, was simply breathtaking, fed by a stream that flowed from the massive waterfall in the back of the hotel. Truly, it was a picturesque scene.
It was not the most extravagant pool in Disney’s line-up, but there was a 67-foot waterslide and some theming with the boulders around the pool’s edges. There was also a small hot tub, but it was always full of guests on my visits to the pool area, so I wasn’t able to snap a good photo.
There were two additional toddler-friendly slides in the splash area adjacent to the main pool.
At Wilderness Lodge was the Boulder Ridge Cove pool, with a zero-entry area near the Boulder Ridge villas and where guests rented fishing boats. This pool was open later than the main pool during our visit, but there were no lifeguards present during our nighttime swim.
The website lists bike rentals as an amenity at Wilderness Lodge, but they were not available during our stay, reportedly because of construction on the pathways.
Frankly, there were fewer amenities and activities on the whole at Wilderness Lodge than I expected. Most of the outdoorsy amenities like horseback riding, pony rides, archery, etc. were a boat ride away at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. If you want all those activities at your immediate disposal, look at Fort Wilderness instead of Wilderness Lodge. Or just plan on taking a boat ride in the opposite direction from the Magic Kingdom.
However, there were boat rentals and fishing charters that appeared to be available at the dock at Wilderness Lodge, along with a few outdoor games.
For indoor activities, there was a Buttons and Bells Arcade.
In the evening, Wilderness Lodge was home to a campfire and complimentary outdoor movie, just as at many of the moderate and deluxe Disney resorts.
We truly enjoyed our two nights at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, as it is close to Magic Kingdom yet still serves as a calm refuge after frenetic park days, with great service and a nod to wilderness cabins (without all the unpleasant parts of camping). While I would not hesitate to return to Wilderness Lodge, I think we will try Disney’s Fort Wilderness on our next camp-themed stay at Disney World, because having a few more activities at our fingertips would make for some fun days outside the park.
Though they are already strong in the dining department, it would be nice to see Wilderness Lodge add a few additional on-site activities or amenities (similar to the daily line-up at Animal Kingdom Lodge) to take full advantage of its gorgeous location, theme and surroundings. Some kind of Disney junior-ranger program would be a perfect match for the in-lobby geyser!
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Bay Lake Tower (three-bedroom villa)
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation
- Disney Pop Century Resort
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs
- TPG Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World
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