Wilderness Lodge: Disney World’s Best Christmas Spot
Wilderness Lodge is the best hotel at Christmas. Not just in Walt Disney World, but anywhere. The decorations, music, and tree are all gorgeous and rife with detail, but this is truly a matter of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. This post showcases the beauty of Wilderness Lodge decked out for the holiday season. (Updated November 14, 2021.)
Walt Disney World has decorated for Christmas 2021 at the resorts, and Wilderness Lodge was among the first hotels to transform for the holidays. As a reminder, this resort has now fully reopened (minus Artist Point, which should return in 2022), with the new-look hotel rooms at Wilderness Lodge debuting a few months ago. That’s in addition to both Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek Disney Vacation Club villa units, which were open last holiday season, too.
The one big loss is Humphrey the Bear’s Holiday Gingerbread Cabin. This debuted two years ago, but didn’t make a comeback last year due to Walt Disney World suspending all gingerbread houses temporarily due to physical distancing requirements. We were hopeful it would thus return for Christmas 2021 (Grand Floridian’s Gingerbread House is Back!), but it appears that Walt Disney World has reduced the slate of life-size edible creations this year. Other than that, Wilderness Lodge is decked out for the holidays like normal!
What makes Wilderness Lodge so great during the holidays is the way all of this melds together to create an environment that’s fully transportive. Imagineering’s best work excels at taking guests to a different time and place, as well as suspending disbelief. Year round, this is something that Wilderness Lodge accomplishes, removing guests from the Florida swamps and dropping them into a grand lodge in the Pacific Northwest.
At Christmas, that feat is even more impressive. Not only are guests transported to another time and place, but they are moved to another season. When you visit Wilderness Lodge during November or December, you aren’t just entering a turn of the century National Parks lodge set in the Pacific Northwest–you’re doing so on a cold and snowy winter day. (Editor’s Note: much of what follows can best be described as ‘old man yells at cloud’ nonsense; please do yourself a favor and enjoy the photos while ignoring the text.)
Look, I’m not going to be the one to tell Floridians that their version of Christmas isn’t real; that the entire premise of the holiday in this state sits on a throne of lies. I’ve found that Floridians are sensitive about their state’s image, which is understandable given the number of headlines with the words “Florida man,” “naked,” and some unprecedented form of weird crime.
Actually, I will. Christmas in Florida is a lie. No disrespect to palm tress, sunshine, and the many summer-time things at which Florida excels, but your winters are phony. You probably already know that, though, as the lack of all things “winter” is part of Florida’s appeal.
Regardless, for many of us, winter is synonymous with Christmas; there’s a reason Walt Disney World resorts to spraying soap on guests during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. That’s because things like snow, ice skating, and fireplaces are all crucial secondary signifiers of Christmas. For the most part, these things are not ‘naturally’ occurring in Florida.
As a native Michigander, there are a few things that I will defend to my death. First, the argument that the Detroit Lions have been a marquee running back away from the Super Bowl for the last decade. Second, Tim Allen’s sometimes dubious career choices. Finally, that my childhood version of Christmas is the “right” one. You can probably glean as much from the sorry nature of that list, but Michiganders don’t have much in the way of bragging rights, so please just give me this Christmas thing.
I’m no geographer, but even I realize that Michigan is not in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, much of what Wilderness Lodge evokes would be equally at home in the Upper Peninsula, so this isn’t a totally crazy tangent.
The point that I’m getting to in a very roundabout manner is that Wilderness Lodge offers a twist on Christmas that will strike many guests from northern states and Canada as a more traditional Christmas.
The build-up might read long and rambling, but it’s to underscore an important point: when you enter the front doors of Wilderness Lodge, you leave Florida in every regard. It doesn’t matter if it’s 95Âº with oppressive humidity. Entering the Lodge is like flipping a switch, and within minutes you can be cozied up by the fireplace, toasting your feet and warming up with a cup of hot cocoa, certain that it’s cold and snowy outside rather than hot and humid.
Suffice to say, Wilderness Lodge is the quintessential Walt Disney World Christmas resort because it’s the only one that feels like Christmas. (It is the season of the spirit.)
Beyond the ambiance, the details are exquisite and really evoke the spirit of a Northwoods Christmas. There are a variety of charming items in the towering Christmas tree, from flickering teepees to crafted woodland critters.
The range of these items is interesting. There are respectful nods to indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, as well as simpler items with folksy charm, like a squirrel made of twigs. Deer lanterns, wooden owls perched on tree branches, and carved moose are just a handful of other specific items that can be found in the iconic Christmas tree in Wilderness Lodge’s lobby.
Speaking of moose, my absolute favorite detail of Wilderness Lodge’s Christmas decorations is the wreaths adorned with moose antlers. “Adorned” is probably the wrong word, as the antler is the centerpiece with some evergreen trim around it. Regardless, I’ve always found moose to be one of nature’s most majestic creatures, and the wide spread of their antlers is a big reason why.
One of my many terrible ideas for an HGTV home makeover show is me going around and “enhancing” homes by using moose antlers in all of my decorating. If you think that would get old fast, apparently you’ve never watched HGTV. I have–often and against my will. It’s all “open concept” this and “crown molding” that. Quite frankly, a show injecting antlers into everything would be a breath of fresh air.
Another things that impresses me about the Christmas decorations at Wilderness Lodge is the variety of them. What you’ll see in Whispering Canyon differs totally from Artist Point which differs totally from Territory Lounge, and so on and so forth.
The little details within each area of the resort reinforce particular nuances of that location’s theme, which is a really nice touch, and makes the already ornate decorations throughout Wilderness Lodge take on yet another layer.
My favorite Wilderness Lodge activity during the holidays (or whenever, for that matter) is sitting.
A round-up of my ‘favorite sits’ at Wilderness Lodge includes the rows of rocking chairs in front of the 82-foot fireplace modeled after the rock strata of the Grand Canyon, the high-back chairs by the bubbling hot spring, and the comfy couch of the fourth floor alcove fireplace.
The last of these is my favorite out of the way lounging locale, but if there are people in it, pretty much any of the alcoves overlooking the seven-story lobby will suffice.
Each of these spots is great because you’ll have ambient noise–either the crackling fireplace or bubbling water–to mix with the relaxing background music for a tranquil holiday experience.
This sense of tranquility is key. Christmas has become the busiest season at Walt Disney World’s resorts, partly in terms of occupancy, but more so in terms of visitors and guests enjoying holiday meals.
While you’re definitely not getting a quiet, no-crowds experience during the middle of the day when Whispering Canyon is hopping and guests are checking in and out, it’s still a far cry from the circus at the Grand Floridian.
Later in the evening, the ambiance at Wilderness Lodge is pure bliss. The relaxed background music that is muffled by midday crowds is clear and every little detail is ascertainable.
After about 11 p.m., the lobby clears out, and you have the place almost entirely to yourself.
If you’re doing our Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World Hotels at Christmas, you unfortunately will not see Wilderness Lodge at its best. Not only will you encounter midday crowds, but your photos of the Christmas tree will have a blue color cast due to the natural light coming in through the atrium windows.
Wilderness Lodge is so good at Christmas that we recommend a separate, evening trip to visit it. Consider doing dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe, which is the perfect holiday feast with an open-air setting that allows you to enjoy the lobby Christmas Tree.
From around 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. is my favorite time at Wilderness Lodge. I’ll usually start up in the alcoves earlier at night, working my way down as Wilderness Lodge clears of guests.
I’ve found myself practically alone in the lobby after midnight, an experience I absolutely love. Think about how perpetually busy Walt Disney World is, and how rare it is to have any place devoid of guests…it’s a special experience.
Here are more photos that more succinctly “explain” why Wilderness Lodge is Walt Disney World’s best place at Christmas:
Anyway, I could wax sentimental about Wilderness Lodge for a few thousand more words, but if my words (or, more likely, photos) haven’t already conveyed what a special place this hotel is at Christmas-time, no amount of rambling is going to do the trick.
Suffice to say, Wilderness Lodge is not just the best resort during the holidays–it’s my favorite place in all of Walt Disney World during the Christmas season. Only Main Street with the “snow” falling during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is close, and I’ll still take Wilderness Lodge.
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas trip to Walt Disney World, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
What do you think of Wilderness Lodge at Christmas? Is it the absolute best place at Walt Disney World during the holiday season? What is your favorite thing about Wilderness Lodge this time of year? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
We are doing a self guided tour. Can you get to Wilderness Lodge from the transportation center?
Monorail from Transportation Center to MK. Transfer to bus to Winderness Lodge
Take the monorail or boat to Magic Kingdom than transfer to Wilderness Lodge boat.
We are not staying at Ft Wilderness at Christmas time. We are staying at Animal Kingdom first 6 nights (Feb) and Fort Wilderness next 2 night (Mar). Will try to get more nights at Ft. Wilderness. Will the views in the lobby be just as beautiful as they are at Christmas time
Thanks for the GREAT article on the Wilderness Lodge!!! Already have my Christmas 2022 reservation in place for the Wilderness Lodge. As a fellow Michigander, yes, it is so Northern Upper Michigan to say the least, the best!!! SO relaxing and serine when you re in the lobby:) Can’t wait for my 2022 trip to the Wilderness Lodge:)
We love the wilderness lodge at Christmas. We are staying at a different Disney DVC place. Any advice on how to visit this December?
HGTV – shiplath (sp?) never heard of it before
We just got back from our first ever stay at Wilderness Lodge and I just can’t stop thinking about how incredibly gorgeous it was! #1 on our Disney bucket list for a reason, that’s for sure! I loved all the little hidden spots around the resort and how even though it was a lodge of a grand scale, it wasn’t overwhelming. Definitely ready to go back!
Our first family stay at WDW was Wilderness Lodge in early December 1994 (6 months after the resort opened). We are from Oregon and I am in the lumber business so due to “industry” magazine articles, I was aware of and followed the construction of the resort down to the minute details such as what area the big logs in the lobby were harvested from. Most if not all of the material was sourced from the Great Northwest. The attention to NW detail doesn’t stop there as the restaurants feature cheese produced at Tillamook Cheese on the north Oregon coast. Artist Point also had a strong representation of top drawer Oregon wines (many came from wineries within 50 miles of our house). While the Christmas decorations at WL are still the best, they were downsized a bit approx 20 years ago. The first 4 or 5 years the decorations were stunning including 6 to 7 foot wreaths in each window in Whispering Canyon. Some of the cast members working there at the time lamented the reduction in decorations but I guess it’s all relative……….no better place to stay and to relax as Tom has stated…
So glad to see your post, Tom, on Wilderness Lodge at Christmas. I, too, am from a north central state and agree with your comments 100 percent. While lounging in the quiet of the lobby at the end of a fun-filled (albeit fast-paced) adventure through the Magic Kingdom, I personally imagine the composers of “Let It Snow” and “The Christmas Song” must have had Wilderness Lodge in their dreams when they penned their cherished lyrics. For me, an evening at Wilderness Lodge is like being Home For the Holidays!
“It’s all “open concept” this and “crown molding” that.”
AND…don’t forget that every HGTV home will be “great for entertaining”!
We have always stayed at the WLV for Christmas since 2001, usually the first 2 weeks. As you described, it doesn’t get much better! I am originally from New England, Maine, but station in Michigan UP, Sault Ste Marie and recall all the lake effect snow… stying in WLV really does bring back a lot of memories.
Any ideas how long this will stay up? We check in on Dec 31 and I’m REALLY hoping to see this!
Christmas time in Michigan IS the best. I moved to Texas from there and it’s probably the thing I miss the most.
We bought WL as our DVC home back in 2005. The advice was then “if you want to stay at WL at Christmas you must be an owner” This has never been more true. We absolutely love it and never tire.
“Wilderness Lodge is not just the best resort during the holidays—it’s my favorite place in all of Walt Disney World during the Christmas season.” Hole heartedly agree. My one exception would be the Osborn Christmas Lights after a six year absence caused by life getting in your way. That was nine years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday.