For our next Walt Disney World construction update, we head to Fort Wilderness to see the latest progress on Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, the next Disney Vacation Club property to debut after Riviera Resort. We’ll also look at the work around the Settlement, and how this will impact campground guests.
We’ve been putting this off for a while, in large part because accessing this area of Fort Wilderness is something of a hassle if you’re not staying there. However, we had a stay booked at Wilderness Lodge for the last day of Extra, Extra Magic Hours (you will be missed!), which made things a lot easier.
Walt Disney World announced Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge almost exactly one year ago, and provided additional info about the Princess and the Frog-themed restaurant and A-frame accommodations at the D23 Expo over the summer. You can read both of those posts for our analysis of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge. Suffice to say, we’re more than a little apprehensive about this project–both its design ambition and placement adjacent to Fort Wilderness…
Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge is not set to open until 2022, meaning we’re in for a relatively drawn out project. Demolition of the abandoned River Country water park began early this year, and the original incarnation of Tri-Circle-D Ranch closed in August to make way for a new Draft Horse Barn and Pony Farm that will open in Spring 2020.
With the proper background established, let’s take a look at work on Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge thus far…
We’ll start with an elevated vantage from Disney’s Contemporary Resort. We were in the neighborhood for the installation of the Gingerbread House (which is now open!), so we headed up to an elevated vantage for an “aerial” view of the Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge construction site.
Most of the land-clearing is on the former River Country water park (immediately below the Four Seasons Orlando tower in the photo above), although this is starting to spill out onto an area beyond that, more towards Wilderness Lodge.
Prior to doing this update, we were also at Disney’s Contemporary Resort last week to watch testing for Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks when the construction caught our eyes.
Above is how the site looks at night.
Returning for another daytime view, you can see some vertical construction in addition to the land clearing. This is for the new Tri-Circle-D Ranch building.
It would make sense that this is much further along given that it’s slated to open in Spring 2020, as opposed to sometime in 2022 when Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge will make its debut.
Above is the official concept art released by Walt Disney World of the new Tri-Circle-D Ranch building.
Per Disney, Imagineers have redesigned the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, which will offer a modern stable and updated outdoor spaces and facilities. The new ranch will maintain the history and spirit of the original Tri-Circle-D, welcoming guests to explore exhibits of classic Disney equestrian artifacts, some of which date back to the 1950s.
After taking a boat from Contemporary over to Fort Wilderness, you can see this concept art for yourself on a display board in the Settlement.
This previews the future of Fort Wilderness, and also quashes some rumors, fears, and speculation. Most notably, it offers confirmation that Pioneer Hall and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue will survive all of this. That’s great news, as both are Walt Disney World institutions.
We also have a view of Tri-Circle-D Ranch construction as it starts to rise about the Settlement Bus Depot.
I have zero concept of how long a fancy barn takes to build, but it’s good to see this going vertical already. Hopefully it’ll be operational sooner rather than later.
What was most shocking to me about this construction is how it has opened up the Settlement, and not in a good way.
The razing of River Country is one thing; this was overdue and it’s nice to no longer seeing it rotting in plain sight. However, a huge parcel of land has also been cleared–which has basically meant the removal of a ton of trees. What used to be a thick canopy is now open air.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fort Wilderness, these images may not be that striking.
However, if you are familiar with it, you know what’s missing. It’s almost surreal to walk around and see this in person.
Heading back to the Bay Lake dock, you can see that the playground, picnic tables, and Clementine Beach are all now behind construction walls.
If the concept art that flashed on-screen (which hasn’t yet been published online by Disney) during the D23 Expo is accurate, this is where the treehouse villas for Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge will be located.
When we kicked off our Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs construction updates a couple of years ago, we did so with stays at those hotels in order to answer the question of whether we recommend avoiding them during construction. That seemed less necessary here, as the whole point of Fort Wilderness for us is its serenity and seclusion.
My view is that construction will have an outsize impact on Fort Wilderness guests, which is why we didn’t book a stay at Fort Wilderness. Construction blight and noise eliminate the main appeal of Fort Wilderness for us in the first place. We simply would rather sit out the next few years there will this work is ongoing.
However, after wandering around a bit, I’m already getting the sense that this will be another “it depends” scenario. For one, Fort Wilderness is a huge campground, and this project is occurring near the Settlement. Without an overnight stay, it’s hard to say to what degree work impacts other guests. Second, guests book Fort Wilderness for a variety of different reasons. If you’re staying closer to the Outpost and will primarily be at your campsite/cabin and using the Meadow’s facilities more than the Settlement, you’d probably be less inclined to notice.
Accordingly, we intend upon booking a campsite at Fort Wilderness in the near future and returning to offer a more thorough and concrete assessment of how this work impacts guests based upon our firsthand experience. We’ll cover that in another update within the next few months. For now, we’d consider looking elsewhere if you’re not dead-set on camping or a cabin. If you’re a Walt Disney World regular and are just looking for a different way to do WDW, perhaps hold off on a stay at Fort Wilderness for the time being.
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What do you think of the construction at Fort Wilderness to make way for Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge? Are you apprehensive of staying at the Fort for the next few years? Thoughts on guest impact if you’ve stayed here recently? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!