We’re back at Walt Disney World again, this time from Wilderness Lodge for a look at the resort hotel after a couple weeks of operations, on the eve of Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopening to guests. In this quasi-trip report, we’ll share photos, dining details, and commentary about the vexing nature of the visit.
It’s been over two weeks since Our Surreal Stay at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Suffice to say, a lot has changed since then. At that point, new daily cases were on an upward trajectory, but as much was to be expected with businesses reopening. With more people venturing beyond their homes, an increase was a predictable inevitability. However, two weeks later the daily case numbers are between double and triple their previous numbers.
That moved this visit from “surreal” to “unsettling” territory. Erring on the side of caution, we didn’t go out in the roughly two weeks following our previous stay (or do anything for Fourth of July weekend), save for dining outdoors at the All-Star McDonald’s and a quick visit to Target earlier this week. Nevertheless, all of this still leaves us conflicted–it truly is surreal being in Central Florida right now.
We previously addressed this in our Should Walt Disney World Stay Closed? post, and if you were one of the 4 people who read that before commenting, you already know our perspective is “it’s complicated.” We’re not going to rehash all of that here, but the challenges facing Florida are multifaceted. Too much of the discussion has been myopic, reductionist, and devoid of nuance, offering simple solutions to a complex problem.
Our view remains one of risk mitigation and harm reduction, making reasonably informed and responsible decisions while trying to strike the right balance between staying home and venturing out for our sanity. We continue to read studies, daily numbers, and commentary from epidemiologists to keep apprised of changes. More than anything, we’re trying to avoid making what turns out to be the wrong decision in hindsight. Like everyone else, we feel overwhelmed, uncertain, and just plain tired.
Escaping to the Wilderness (Lodge) was a nice reprieve from all of that, even if the real world contrast felt more pronounced this time…
Upon arrival at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, we’re greeted by a health liability disclaimer and quick rundown of the temporary rules and protocol.
For those keeping score at home, Wilderness Lodge adopted the “BoardWalk approach” (as opposed to the Riviera style) of the health liability disclaimer on the left. Safe to assume this is a matter of American versus European sensibilities.
We’re not going to fixate on all the warning signs and protocol here. For photos of that, see our Health & Safety Protocol at Walt Disney World Resorts post. Same idea here, but transposed to Wilderness Lodge.
About the only interesting difference was this liability disclaimer affixed to one of the support beams. Definitely the most ‘organic’ appearance of this that we’ve seen. Not sure if that’s a good thing, though. I like the other signage having a very temporary look as it suggests it’ll be gone at some point in the not too distant future.
Also on a ‘things are different’ note, here’s a look at the closed entrance to Artist Point and Territory Lounge. No word on when these will reopen.
Otherwise, we’re going to focus on the ‘familiar feeling‘ of Wilderness Lodge here. After all, we are visiting as a break from the real world, so it’d be self-defeating to obsess over the temporary abnormal aspects.
Inside Wilderness Lodge, we’re greeted with a largely empty lobby. There’s no Photoshop trickery here nor were the photos taken late at night. These were captured mostly during what would be the dinner rush.
The lobby seating area is totally devoid of people–and was pretty much our entire time at Wilderness Lodge.
Whispering Canyon Cafe was the primary exception to this, and it was reasonably busy. We didn’t dine there, so I didn’t capture photos of the seating area for obvious reasons, but Whispering Canyon was close to half capacity (or nearly full temporary capacity).
While it smelled as delicious as always, Whispering Canyon was much quieter than normal. I hadn’t thought of this before, but it would make sense for the hijinks to be temporarily suspended. Servers can’t exactly go bananas while wearing masks and keeping a safe distance.
The pools were also fairly hoppin. (Busy enough that I didn’t feel comfortable taking a photo…hence this walkway shot.)
Not crowded to regular summer levels, but they also not abnormally low. Let’s call it a comfortable level, all things considered.
I love this hallway leading up from Roaring Fork to the main lobby. The light fixtures, rock walls, windows, overhead beams, gentle incline–it’s all just pitch perfect.
I’ll take this over the Red Hallway at the Overlook Hotel any day.
One thing that really captivated me on this particular visit was the carpet.
It was poppin.’
Maybe it’s the lack of people around, but I’m guessing it received a deep cleaning (or several) prior to the reopening.
It looks really clean and crisp, and kept catching my eye.
Some more sweet, sweet carpet action.
Isn’t this what keeps us all coming back to Walt Disney World?!
Joking aside (it wasn’t really a joke), the atmosphere in the lobby of Wilderness Lodge was exquisite.
While there was a mildly eerie Overlook Hotel vibe in some of the quieter spots, there were just enough people around to keep it from being downright surreal, plus a good guest to Cast Member ratio. Still quiet enough that the background music was clear, with the bubbling brook and crackling fireplaces providing a layer of ambient noise.
These rocking chairs are among the most serene seats at Walt Disney World.
This also exemplifies the discordance between Walt Disney World and real world Florida. Our brief forays into stores over the last month-plus have been stressful and uncomfortable, with crowds and non-compliance. By contrast, nothing of the sort at Walt Disney World (or Universal, for that matter).
It’s easy to sit at home and armchair quarterback what’s happening with Walt Disney World and what shouldn’t occur–it’s another to experience it as compared to other things in Central Florida. The contrast is stark.
Again, this is not meant to actively encourage visiting from out of state right now. We’d caution against that for a number of reasons that we’ve previously discussed in detail.
However, for locals wanting to do staycations, nearby Disney Vacation Club members needing to use their points or lose them, and others, it’s a nice escape that offers a temporary reprieve and certainly feels much safer than literally anywhere else we’ve been.
Obviously, there is no magical pixie dust bubble that makes Walt Disney World completely safe. It is absolutely not.
It’s also fair to say that unless you’re prepared to sequester at home for the next year-plus, you are not going to be completely safe. (And doing so is likewise unhealthy for its own reasons.)
Conversely, this doesn’t mean we should throw our arms up in the air and do whatever. It’s not an exercise in all or nothing futility. Hence our risk mitigation and harm reduction perspective.
To that end, we’re now only dining outdoors. With the exception of Topolino’s Terrace, which we quickly came to regret, this has been our approach with restaurants.
While not yet conclusive, there’s plenty to corroborate the belief that bars and indoor dining are one of the key differences between outbreaks in America’s Sunbelt and a lack thereof in Europe (here’s an interesting new-ish WSJ article on the topic).
Prolonged indoor exposure–as opposed to more fleeting encounters or outdoor activity–is more conducive to transmission. That’s why we put together this List of Outdoor Dining Options at Walt Disney World.
We won’t rehash everything covered there, but thought it was worth reiterating this in case you missed it.
We also don’t want to sugarcoat it and pretend outdoor dining in Florida during the middle of summer is pleasant.
Evening at Geyser Point Bar & Grill is probably the biggest exception to that. A nice breeze and lovely views of Bay Lake. The only thing that could’ve made it better? Electrical Water Pageant.
Another thing we won’t sugarcoat is the ‘pleasantness’ of wearing masks. However, they are effective. As much has been shown by incredibly low daily case numbers from democracies such as Japan, the Czech Republic, and Hong Kong.
Those success stories are predicated on masks, as those countries did next to nothing else differently or better than the United States. That’s the closest to a case study as you’ll get on real world efficacy of masks.
We’ve touched upon this before and it’s not our intent to be preachy about it. Unfortunately, public health messaging has been so poor on the topic throughout this that even intelligent and informed people have been confused. (It’s not just a matter of ‘evolving knowledge and research’ here–the CDC and WHO have repeatedly bungled communications.)
Masks reduce the distance of exhaled aerosolized particles by the wearer, which in turn reduces spread. For visualizations, click here and here. As illustrated there, my mask helps protect you and yours helps protect me. This coupled with asymptomatic transmission should convey why mandatory mask policies are being enacted throughout the United States.
Anyway, bringing this back to the fun stuff, we had an exceptional meal.
We’ve updated our Geyser Point Bar & Grill Review with items from this visit. Suffice to say, this is one of the best spots to eat at Walt Disney World right now.
On another positive note, construction walls! Okay, so normally construction during your resort stay would not be a positive, but this could explain why the hotel side of Wilderness Lodge does not yet have a reopening date.
With the Old Faithful Club Level being out of commission (and the only floor finished) plus two more floors currently under construction, it makes sense that the hotel side of Wilderness Lodge would simply remain closed until this work is finished. Hopefully this means the reopening date for Wilderness Lodge is simply TBD based upon construction progress, and not ‘closed indefinitely’ until demand picks back up.
In other news, here’s a look inside the gift shop. There were a couple of new-to-us items, including an awesome canteen (bottom middle), coffee cup (top middle), and a leather-billed hat (not pictured).
Everything else (including a lot more that’s not pictured) is just the same stuff covered in our Wilderness Lodge Update: New Rooms, Merchandise & Photos.
Ultimately, it was a great visit to Wilderness Lodge that, like BoardWalk Inn before it, was a chance for relaxation and hitting reset. With more guests at the resort, it was less surreal, but still far from crowded or discomforting. Quite simply, it was peaceful–which is hardly surprising given that serenity and tranquility are Wilderness Lodge’s normal strong suits. Those assets are especially appreciated right now!
Finally, a brief note. This post ended up focusing more on our frame of mind, justifications, and safety philosophies than initially intended. Going forward, we’re going to try getting away from that. As is, our middle ground perspective is probably alienating the vocal voices at each end of the spectrum–but this is how we feel and hopefully at least some of that is worth sharing. We’ve stressed that no one is going to change anyone else’s mind on controversial or polarizing topics via the comments section of a Disney blog…and that’s probably true of the body text, too.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What are your thoughts on visiting Walt Disney World right now? Are you eagerly awaiting your next vacation ‘escape’ to Walt Disney World, or still apprehensive about everything going on right now? Think Wilderness Lodge would be a good place to stay? Do you have any questions about the current resort experience at Walt Disney World? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? 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!