Here it is: my last post about the Florida leg of our Disney Global Tour! Better late than never!
AJ’s plan when envisioning this trip was to stay in the Disneyland Hotel at every stop along the way. But there isn’t a Disneyland Hotel in Florida. He researched the different options and wondered what the equivalent would be at Walt Disney World. He thought maybe the Contemporary Resort would be the closest thing, having been built around the same time as the Magic Kingdom.
After looking at all the properties, AJ and I agreed that Wilderness Lodge definitely looked like the coolest hotel and the one we’d both love to stay at the most, regardless of when it was built. But, although it’s not quite as expensive as the Contemporary or the Grand Floridian, it’s still a Deluxe Resort. In the end, we opted to be a bit more frugal and booked the mid-range Port Orleans Riverside Resort, which also looked great.
Unbeknownst to me, AJ kept checking periodically for deals even after we booked. When he saw a good one for a room at the Wilderness Lodge, he switched our reservation. He planned to surprise me when we got there, but I found out a couple of weeks ahead of time. I told him we needed hotel information in order to get our Chinese visas, and he thought I meant for the whole trip. Oops! But it was a great surprise anyway!
We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time at the hotel as we would have liked, but we ended up with a little more time than originally planned. We’d booked breakfast at Cinderella Castle for our last day in Florida, but we were so wiped out by that point that we cancelled and opted to hang out in the hotel and go swimming instead. It was really nice to have a few hours to just enjoy the amenities and wander around the grounds.
So, without further ado, here is our guide to Wilderness Lodge…
Wilderness Lodge is modeled after the National Park lodges of the American West. As with any park or hotel we encountered, Disney really took the idea and ran with it. There are too many details to list in one blog post. I’ll highlight the main ones here.
The lobby is gargantuan, with rustic wooden balustrades, chandeliers made to look like teepees with shadow buffalos, rocking chairs in front of a grand fireplace, totem poles, and clusters of oversized sofas and chairs. Everything’s bigger out West, after all.
I really wanted to sit in the tall red and white print chairs all week, and when I finally did sit in them while AJ was checking out of the hotel, they were, sadly, not that comfortable.
At the far end of the lobby, a bridge crosses over a creek of real running water, which looks like it continues outside of the building to a waterfall, which in turn looks like it flows into one of the pools. In reality, I believe they’re three separate water systems.
The cast members wear clothing that’s reminiscent of pioneer days while still maintaining a uniform vibe. The women have on poofy blouses with long skirts. Neither of us can remember what the men were wearing – men’s fashion hasn’t changed nearly as much as women’s has since the pioneer days!
Perhaps the most noteworthy detail in all of Wilderness Lodge is the geyser on the grounds near the lake. It’s modeled after Old Faithful, but Disney’s Fire Rock Geyser is even more faithful, going off every hour on the hour. The biggest difference between the two is that Disney can conveniently turn this one off overnight so as not to disturb the guests while they’re sleeping. It erupts between 7:00am and 10:00pm.
The thing we both liked best about this resort is that it really felt like a vacation when we were there. It’s set apart from the craziness of the parks while still being easily accessible. The grounds have many paths to explore and bridges to cross. The lake reminded me a bit of Minnesota, where I grew up. For me, lake time means relaxation time. More about lake activities in the Amenities section below.
Despite its laid-back atmosphere, there’s no doubt that this is a Disney resort. Like I said before, it’s really the little things – the carefully placed animal tracks in the concrete of the sidewalks, the beaver characters holding up the elevator railings, and the carefully maintained “wildflower” beds and greenery.
AJ booked the lowest-priced Standard View room with two queen beds in the main part of the lodge. In addition to multiple room types in the main lodge, there are also multi-bedroom lakeside villas and Disney Vacation Club lodging on the property.
After checking in, we were very surprised to find that we had a balcony that overlooked the Magic Kingdom fireworks, which started, as if on cue, the minute we entered the room after dinner at Artist Point. We think they must have upgraded us to a Nature Fireworks View room. It was pretty sweet!
The room was quite small without being cramped. It was a fine size for us but not palatial by any means. In addition to the two beds, there was room enough for our suitcases, a table and two chairs, the TV entertainment center with dresser drawers, nightstands, and the little cabinet with the fridge.
There was a sink vanity outside of the bathroom, which had a toilet and bathtub/shower combo. I was glad that there was a bathtub and not only a shower, because I had a bath bomb to use. My friends Samus and Adam stayed with us for a night early in the week, and Samus bought me the bath bomb for me from Basin in Disney Springs as a thank you. It smelled like the Flight of Passage ride in Animal Kingdom – amazing!
It was in this room that I started to really appreciate and understand Disney theming in general. Sure, there were pictures of characters, but they were on muted-colored bathroom tiles or little wooden carvings in a coat rack. It wasn’t just bright cartoons plastered everywhere, which is kind of what I would have expected before researching or staying in a Disney hotel. The decorations were definitely a couple of fantastical notches above a real National Park lodge, but they were still restrained.
We had two complaints about the room. One was that the light in the bathroom was very dim. That’s great when you get up in the middle of the night and don’t want to be blinded, but otherwise it’s a little annoying.
The other complaint was that there was no microwave. It would have been nice to have for warming up leftovers from restaurants. Luckily the breakfast I’d had delivered from Instacart was instant oatmeal, so it cooked up fine with the hot water from the coffee pot. I guess if I had looked closely at the amenities list, I would have seen that there isn’t a microwave listed. I just assumed all hotels (at least ones that cost that much money) had microwaves!
We ate at Artist Point on the very first night of our trip, and we LOVED it. We loved it so much that it has its own blog post. Read about it here!
This is the one eatery that we never made it to. Situated right next door to Artist Point, Territory Lounge is a rustically-decorated bar that serves small plates and desserts, in addition to a variety of drink selections.
Whispering Canyon Cafe
This is the mid-range restaurant at Wilderness Lodge that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We were able to snag a last-minute reservation here on the second night of our stay with Becky, Jason, Samus and Adam. It’s a sit-down restaurant that’s not nearly as fancy as Artist Point. The food was good. AJ and I, by this time feeling that our six-week trip was going to be tough if we kept choosing the richest dishes on the menu, both ordered the healthy-sounding Cedar Plank Salmon.
The most memorable part of this restaurant for us is what I like to call the “ketchup incident.” Becky and Jason had ordered some fries and/or onion rings (something requiring ketchup), and they asked our waitress for ketchup. She informed them that the way to get ketchup was for the whole table to yell “We want ketchup!” So all six of us yelled, and not long after, a group of little kids started shuttling over the ketchup from their table. They had to make several trips, because there were a ridiculous number of bottles of ketchup.
The last table to have the ketchup has to bring it to the next table. Right when we were about to leave, we heard another table yell. We were shooed along by the waitstaff to bring the ketchup over. Very quirky!
Roaring Fork is the quick service restaurant at this property. AJ and I had breakfast with Samus and Adam there before they had to head home. I wasn’t super impressed with the food – rubbery instant eggs, soggy bacon, etc. It’s about what you’d expect quick service food to be but what you always hope it won’t be. It was fast and cheap, though, so it’s a good option if those are your priorities.
We had a quick lunch at Geyser Point after we checked out of the hotel on our last day in Florida. It’s down close to the lake (near the geyser, naturally), and also sits close to one of the pools. It has a somewhat limited menu that is meant to compliment the bar/lounge atmosphere. The really nice thing is that you can chose between dining in or quick service. The quick service counter will even deliver your food poolside! This is also where you buy s’mores fixings for your marshmallows. More on that below.
Here are a few of the amenities you can expect when staying at Wilderness Lodge. Some are specific to that property, and some apply to all Disney properties.
There’s a 24-hour self-service laundry room located on the property. We didn’t need to use it, since we had two weeks’ worth of clothes with us and planned our first laundry day for Tokyo. However, it’s an important amenity and worth noting!
There are two pool areas at Wilderness Lodge – Copper Creek Springs and Boulder Ridge Cove. The former has a deeper adult pool plus a kids’ play area and is manned by lifeguards. The latter has no lifeguards but has covered cabanas. There are plenty of hot tubs, and there’s also supposedly a “cool tub,” although we didn’t find it. Even aside from the cabanas, there are plenty of umbrella-covered areas to lounge. Towels are provided for free. There are also shower facilities with toiletries and towels, meaning you could use the pool on the day you check out and not have to worry about having a place to clean up afterward.
When you check in, you’ll be given a schedule of that week’s family-friendly activities. There are tons of things to do if you’re staying at the hotel for the day. The activities typically take place starting at noon. There’s trivia, hula hoop games, dance parties, and Mickey Tie-Dye, among other things. A different movie plays every night down by Teton Boat & Bike Rentals, and you can watch the Electrical Water Pageant on Bay Lake.
This technically falls under “Resort Experiences,” but I thought it deserved its own paragraph. Every evening between 7:00 and 8:00, cast members oversee a little campfire down near the geyser with free marshmallows to roast. It is such a great addition to the camping and wilderness theme. You can also purchase s’mores supplies for your marshmallows at the nearby Geyser Point.
Sturdy Branches Health Club
Remember how I really wanted to stay at a property with a gym because I thought I would use it? Well, I never set foot in the gym. Not once. We had next to zero time for that and were walking around all day every day anyway. AJ went to have a look, though, and he said it was pretty nice. It’s located at the Boulder Ridge Villas. They have cardio and weight machines, free weights, showers, and lockers. It’s open 24 hours a day, so those who are more committed than I was could totally make it work. Guests have to be 14 or older to use the equipment, and those under 18 have to be accompanied by an adult.
Sunrise Yoga and Jogging Trails
For those who like to get their exercise outdoors, Wilderness Lodge offers Sunrise Yoga at 7:30am on Mondays and Wednesdays. If our park schedule hadn’t been so hectic, I would have loved to do this. There are also jogging trails available. Just ask the concierge for a map.
Salon by the Springs
We only saw this from the outside. They offer typical salon services – various hair services, manicures, and pedicures.
Teton Boat & Bike Rental
They have a variety of different boats with which you can cruise around the lake. You could even go all the way past the Magic Kingdom if you wanted, just like the shuttle boat does. The boat rentals are a little on the pricey side – check out the current rates here. You can also pay for a Fireworks Cruise.
As of writing, bike rentals aren’t available at Wilderness Lodge due to construction. However, I’m sure they’ll be back soon and would be a nice activity for the Disney “wilderness.”
Buttons and Bells Game Arcade
I can’t say too much about this, other than to let you know that it exists! We only ever glanced in while walking by.
Wilderness Lodge Mercantile
If you’re looking for a little souvenir that is Wilderness Lodge-specific, this is the best place to get it. They also have a variety of essentials, such as snacks, sunscreen, and pain reliever.
We only really noticed this because I was still icing my knee injury every day. It was very convenient to have an ice machine on our floor.
WiFi should be a foregone conclusion these days, but some hotels still charge extra for it. Luckily, the Disney properties all offer complimentary WiFi for guests, and Wilderness Lodge is no exception.
Driving to the parks can be nice and allow you to run completely on your own schedule. However, it is totally possible to get by without a car and just take the buses or boats to the various parks. Wilderness Lodge offers buses to all parks, which depart approximately every 20 minutes. If you’re going to the Magic Kingdom, you also have the option of taking the boat across Bay Lake. The only problem is that there isn’t really a boat schedule, at least not that we could find. More than once, we found ourselves trying to decide which one would come first. You kind of just have to pick one and commit to it.
In March of 2018, Disney started charging a nightly parking fee to park at the hotels, even if you’re staying there. The cost per night depends on the cost of the hotel. More expensive hotels have more expensive parking. Since we booked our hotel before that, we were grandfathered into free parking. In any case, parking at the parks is free for those who are staying on property.
Magic Band Integration
This one goes for all Disney properties in Florida. Your Magic Band is your room key, your credit card, your park ticket, and your FastPass gateway. It’s exceptionally convenient. Even when your Magic Band falls off on Splash Mountain, which may or may not have happened to me, they’ll give you a new one.
Free Towels at Water Parks
This was a convenient perk when we visited both water parks. When you walk up to the towel counter, just tell them which hotel you’re staying at, and they’ll give you towels! No need to carry that extra bulk around with you.
Extra Magic Hours
This is probably the biggest reason anyone stays on property. You can get into the parks before the general public, which is awesome for breezing through the lines on some of the more popular rides. Be sure to check the website or app for up-to-date information about what the Extra Magic Hours are at any given park on any given day.
Staying on property is certainly more expensive than staying off property, but if you can swing it, I’d highly recommend it for the convenience and perks. We loved Wilderness Lodge specifically for the way it made us feel – like we were really on vacation, in a world apart. We loved the details and the variety of amenities. Although it would be great to check out other Disney properties, I have a feeling we’ll be back at Wilderness Lodge soon.