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. In this post, we’ll make our case for this via words and, more importantly, 30+ photos of Wilderness Lodge decked out for the holiday season.
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 95º 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 if time allows. We’d recommend doing the new Storybook Dining at Artist Point, a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs character meal we recently reviewed.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, grab a bite at Whispering Canyon Cafe, Territory Lounge, or Roaring Fork. You can read reviews by clicking those links, but we enjoy each for different reasons.
This time of year, Roaring Fork serves the Holiday Turkey Sandwich pictured above, which is festive and surprisingly tasty.
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.
Finally, a few plugs. First, the 2018 edition of our free Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is now available for download! This free eBook is 90 pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉
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!