Wilderness Lodge is a Deluxe resort-hotel at Walt Disney World that is themed to…the wilderness. More specifically, to the Pacific Northwest and the National Park lodges of the early 20th century. While this review covers everything from amenities and common areas (with a heavy focus on Christmas) to the rooms, it should mostly be used for its discussion of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas and those amenities.
In terms of the rooms, consider this post superseded by our new Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Review. That review is more specific to the Disney Vacation Club wing of Wilderness Lodge (although the hotel rooms in the main lodge are similar), and also has an extended discussion about the significant refurbishment and expansion that will be occurring at Wilderness Lodge in 2016 & 2017. If you are thinking about booking Wilderness Lodge, you should definitely read that before you do, as construction will likely impact your stay.
With that said, let’s continue on with our original review here. Having seen a few National Park lodges in similar style, I think Disney hit the nail on the head as far as theme and design go. Wilderness Lodge is a bit larger than the lodges I’ve seen, which actually helps better convey the cavernous and domineering feel of the lodge.
We have stayed at Wilderness Lodge several times. We fell in love with it the first time we stayed here during the Christmas season, and have returned for another Christmas trip and then during the summer. Because Wilderness Lodge is one of the cheaper Deluxe resorts, offers great location, and has quite possibly the best design and best-executed theme of any of the Walt Disney World hotels, it’s an option we almost always consider when booking a trip.
We stayed for the first time as part of our whirlwind tour trying to capture the Magic of Christmas at Disneyland and Walt Disney World (unfortunately, we only captured a talking otter named Emmet), at which time we realized it’s the perfect place to stay at Christmas. We were hooked from the get-go.
It’s hardly a secret that Wilderness Lodge is incredible at Christmas. Just about every other Disney blogger and fan has already anointed it as such, so I won’t insult your intelligence by calling it the “sleeper hit” hotel for Christmas visits.
I don’t gush over a lot of things that are over-hyped by the Disney community (I’m looking at you, Le Cellier), and things seem to snowball from there until something merely good is deemed the greatest thing ever by fans. Wilderness Lodge at Christmas is not one of those things that’s over-hyped. No amount of hype here could be too much.
It’s the absolute best resort for a Christmas visit, and is not nearly as expensive as many other Deluxe resorts. Granted, it lacks the life-size edible creations found in many of the other Deluxe Resorts, but it makes up for that with the second prettiest Christmas tree in all of Walt Disney World. (I’ll give the “top tree” nod to Animal Kingdom…for those keeping score at home, Magic Kingdom comes in last place with its garish circa-1980s tree).
At first blush, this tree is the heart of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas. Upon closer inspection, the true charm of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas is its rustic ambiance and tranquil feel, which is conveyed through little decorative touches around the resort, roaring fireplaces, and the most relaxing background music known to man.
Being from Michigan, I really appreciated these details and this relaxing ambiance. They remind me of winter in the Upper Peninsula or in a cabin along one of our small inland lakes.
Although not all Michiganders utilize antlers so heavy-handedly in decorating (state law only requires that we use at least 4 racks per house), but it is a nice nod to a Northern-woods Christmas.
It’s deceptively simple, but that’s the true success of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas. During the winter months it just oozes that Christmas feeling. Unlike the other hotels, it could be 80 degrees outside, but it just feels right rocking back and forth in a quiet alcove near a fireplace as the soft sounds of the Christmas loop envelope your ears at Wilderness Lodge.
You are transported away from the hustle and bustle of a theme park complex in Florida to a quiet lodge in the snowy mountains of the Pacific Northwest. For this experience at its most authentic, head to the third floor alcove at around 1am after a long day in the parks while wearing some flannel pajamas. Just be sure you don’t fall asleep in one of the comfy chairs like a certain author also did not do. Wilderness Lodge at Christmas is Disney escapism at its finest.
Of course, this is a review of Wilderness Lodge: the hotel, not Wilderness Lodge: awesome Christmas fun zone. My point, though, is that you should stay in Wilderness Lodge at Christmas. It’s better than the circus that is Grand Floridian around Christmas, and it’s better than every resort with edible displays.
It’s closest competitor is Animal Kingdom Lodge, but it just fails to capture the same charm. You should still check out all of these hotels at Christmas, but instead of staying at them, do what Sarah and I do, and take a (free!) self-guided Christmas resort tour and visit the others for an hour or so one day during your trip.
Anyway, I assume the rest of you probably sleep in your rooms rather than random rocking chairs near hotel fireplaces, let’s talk rooms. It should come as no shock that the rooms at Wilderness Lodge have the same type of woodsy theming found in the rest of the resort. Despite the theme, the rooms are modern and generally look nice. I know I harped on this in my review of the Grand Californian, but in the case of Wilderness Lodge, I’m more accepting of this style, simply because the rooms are substantially less expensive than those you’ll find at a flagship resort.
Wilderness Lodge is in the process of refreshing its rooms, so expect them to look different during your visit.
This style isn’t for everyone, but chances are that you’ll know whether the Wilderness Lodge rooms will appeal to you simply by looking at the lobby of the Lodge. If you don’t like that, you won’t like the rooms. If you do like that, chances are that you will like the rooms. I would place them a rung below Animal Kingdom Lodge’s rooms, and they could probably use a slight refresh, but I still enjoyed our room.
Transportation at Wilderness Lodge seemed solid while we were there. Although it’s not on the monorail loop, it is a Magic Kingdom area hotel, and there is boat service to the park. This is, by far, my favorite way of getting from Wilderness Lodge to the Magic Kingdom, and I highly recommend this mode of transportation. There’s also bus service, and I’ve heard that sometimes Wilderness Lodge shares buses with Fort Wilderness, but we did not experience that when we stayed at Wilderness Lodge, nor have we ever experienced that when we’ve visited Wilderness Lodge. Perhaps during slower seasons this shared transportation scheme goes into effect.
With regard to restaurants, Wilderness Lodge is also similar to Animal Kingdom Lodge. With Artist Point, Whispering Canyon Cafe, and the underrated Roaring Forks (click to read our dining reviews), Wilderness Lodge has great dining options and great variety of options (excellent counter service, great moderately priced table service, and a signature restaurant).
These restaurants don’t quite stack up to Jiko, Boma, Mara, and Sanaa, but no other resort-hotel has restaurants as good as Animal Kingdom Lodge. We still haven’t tried Territory Lounge at Wilderness Lodge, which I’ve heard is one of the best lounges on property.
It gets high marks for interior design of the common areas and dining, but the most important aspect of Wilderness Lodge that is sometimes overlooked or taken for granted is its beautiful outdoor areas. The pool is nice (but nothing special), but it’s the trails, trees, and little touches out there that really make the resort. Albeit to a lesser degree than Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge feels like its lightyears away from the chaos of the Magic Kingdom…despite being only a short boat ride away.
The highlight of this, for me, is that Wilderness Lodge actually has a (man-made) geyser modeled after Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful. Via these trails that meander around the Lodge, you can walk all the way to Fort Wilderness if you want to do some serious exploring. These two resorts feel like some of the last vestiges of undeveloped land (at least that is easily accessible for guests) in what is otherwise a growing and developed vacation complex.
As is the case with all Walt Disney World on-site hotels, Wilderness Lodge is fully integrated in the MyMagic+ system, which means that guests receive MagicBands and can make FastPass+ reservations. Learn more about this in our MyMagic+ FAQ. Wilderness Lodge has the standard amenities of other Deluxe resorts, like a playground, health club, babysitting, bike rental, etc. We aren’t exactly avid playground enthusiasts, nor did we test these other amenities. I guess you get what you pay for with this review! 😉
Overall, Wilderness Lodge is one of our favorite resorts at Walt Disney World. At ~$300 night (rack rate), it’s pricey, but still much less expensive than some other Deluxe Resorts. Plus, after discounts, it’s not uncommon to score rooms for around $180-200/night here, which is a lot more palatable. Still pricey, but not bad all things considered. The theme of Wilderness Lodge is wonderfully executed year-round, but at Christmas, it really shines, when it’s the best resort at Walt Disney World. This theme won’t appeal to everyone, but those to whom it does appeal are sure to love Wilderness Lodge. While other resorts make trips more convenient (Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Disney’s Contemporary Resort), the only other resort that offers a comparable combination of theme, quality, and value is Animal Kingdom Lodge (or Port Orleans Riverside if you weight value more heavily). It’s an all-around great resort, and one that we highly recommend. Even if Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Wilderness Lodge were priced the same, I’d recommend Wilderness Lodge. That’s high praise.
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What do you think of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge? Do you enjoy the back-woods Pacific Northwest theme, or is it not your style? Share your thoughts in the comments!