During the 2019 D23 Expo, new details were announced about Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge that will be a new Walt Disney World hotel and DVC accommodations. In this post, we’ll share details and offer commentary, with an emphasis on the commentary.
While little new information about Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge has been released on the Disney Parks Blog or Disney Vacation Club news sites, Bob Chapek, Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Products for the Walt Disney Company actually spent a good amount of time on it during his Parks & Resorts presentation.
In addition to the concept art above that Disney has officially released, which is fairly similar to previously-released art from when Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge was first announced, several other pieces of art were flashed on the screen at the D23 Expo…
On the accommodations front, Walt Disney World has revealed that Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge will feature both treehouse suites and A-frame accommodations. (Concept art was shared on-screen at the D23 Expo, but has yet to be released online.)
Based on a combination of concept art and permits, it’s safe to assume that the A-frames will be waterfront bungalows on the Wilderness Lodge side of Reflections and the treehouse suites will be situated on the Fort Wilderness side, with some along the water and others facing the woods.
Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge will also feature a restaurant inspired by Princess and the Frog. The restaurant will be located “along the bayou of Bay Lake” according to Bob Chapek. He also believes that Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge will be one of the most unique resorts that Disney has ever built.
I disagree. In fact, before going any further, I’d encourage you to read the commentary to our Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge Announcement post, which I won’t rehash here. I’m pretty critical of the Reflections Lodge project in that post, and I stand by all of that.
I have a range of new thoughts about Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge that I’ve felt since seeing photos of the natural destruction (I still haven’t visited the area yet myself) as site prep work has begun, along with reactions to the concept art, what Bob Chapek had to say about the resort, etc. I’ll mostly direct my commentary towards what was covered at the D23 Expo…
At least superficially, the design here appears to be modern meets rustic with some exposed wood, rock walls, and what appears to be use of sustainable design trends. The supposed theme of the resort will “be a celebration of Walt Disney’s lifelong love and respect for nature.” (That’s not actually a theme, hence the ‘supposed.’)
The “Walt Loved Nature” artwork is an easy way to decorate the resort, and give it the pretense of a wilderness theme. We’ve seen the same thing at Disney’s Riviera Resort. One could argue the supposed theme will be “Walt Loved the Riviera,” which is easier to accomplish than theming the resort to the actual Italian or French Riviera and the ornate and lavishly-detailed architecture that typifies those regions.
Beyond using photos and art of Walt Disney as a crutch in place of substantive design that honors his philosophies, it also appears that Disney is going to ‘go hard’ with characters at this resort. We’d expect art in rooms from Pocahontas, Moana, Jungle Book, and maybe photos from the True-Life Adventures.
In the new concept art out showing the front entrance, Bambi and friends are visible. Princess and the Frog will be represented with a restaurant. Other characters are highly likely to appear in the lobby. Reflections is likely to be to nature what Jungle Cruise is to safaris.
Speaking of the Princess and the Frog restaurant, don’t get too excited. Concept art was shown for this at the D23 Expo, and it takes literally no visual cues from the movie. That’s arguably for the best, since this resort has zilch to do with the bayou or New Orleans.
At least the generic modern interior of the waterfront restaurant located on the shore of Bay Lake leaves the door open for a well-done Tiana’s Place Restaurant at Walt Disney World down the road. Perhaps it could be built in the unused dining space that already exists at Port Orleans French Quarter, where it would actually make sense. (The photos above and below are from Tiana’s Place Restaurant on Disney Cruise Line, which is actually excellent.)
It’s safe to assume this Princess and the Frog dining at Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge will actually be a character meal featuring Tiana, Prince Naveen, Louie the Alligator, and maybe Dr. Facilier set in a mixed-use Signature Restaurant. This is what’s happening with Topolino’s Terrace and both seem to be following the formula created last year with Storybook Dining at Artist Point.
Even with the new concept art, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge looks uninspired. The core design of the hotel tower is pretty simplistic, not really all that much different from the SpringHill Suites by Marriott at Flamingo Crossings (currently $88 per night for select dates in September!).
If you’re more familiar with Anaheim hotels, the exterior of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge resembles literally all of the new cookie-cutter boxy family suite hotel buildings popping up all around the city (the easiest to spot examples are, again, the SpringHill Suites and Hyatt House at the Katella and Harbor intersection).
This boring style is hardly unique to newer hotels popping up–the current boom of apartment buildings and other boxy structures is likewise being derided as McUrbanism or fast-casual architecture. (Here’s an interesting read on the topic from Curbed.)
Now, it would seem that Disney is following the lead of mainstream, contemporary developers in building resorts that likewise appear to be leaning heavily on computer-aided drafting over humans to maximize usable interior space, feature formulaic styles, and cut costs. As with fast-casual architecture, it would appear Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge is being designed more by accountants than architects.
With all of that said, will Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge be a total dud? I don’t necessarily think so. Imagineers were able to do just enough with Gran Destino to give its boxy casino building some redeeming design value. Disney’s Riviera Resort looks like it’ll be a similar story with enough flourishes, amenities, and details to at least make it interesting.
Even though we’ve seen so little of it, the obvious direction they’re going with Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge is organic modern, indoor-outdoor living, and natural minimalist architecture. Those might all sound like trendy buzzwords (and they are!), but there’s also real value in each of the concepts.
To varying degrees, these represent forward-looking design principles, much like the Contemporary did back in the 1970s. It’s just a matter of how much budget the Imagineers are given to flesh out these principles versus how much they’re empty, surface level fluff.
I’m also a total sucker for A-frame housing, which I think is an exemplar of all of those principles (just look at these gems). A-frames are a distinct and eye-catching canvas, offering Imagineers a lot of creative latitude in doing interesting things. (If they’re given the freedom for it.)
Doing A-frame accommodations over cabins is actually really savvy on Disney Vacation Club’s part. I’d expect those to feature heavily in the marketing of Reflections, as cool A-frames will sell DVC memberships much easier than a SpringHill Suites big-box. (Never mind the reality that most DVC members won’t ever stay in the A-frames.)
Ultimately, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge has a few insurmountable problems that make this project a non-starter for me. First, Reflections still appears to be doing the bare minimum in terms of design, and the ‘minimalist’ look is arguably less of a deliberate design choice and more a matter of what’s easiest. Second, it’s an odd thematic fit for this area, “nestled” between the uber-themed Wilderness Lodge and the rustic beauty of Fort Wilderness. These might seem similar to Reflections, but they’re not.
Finally and most significantly, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge is decimating the natural beauty and wilderness between Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. This is an area that has already taken a big hit in recent years thanks to other DVC expansion, and it’s sad to see even more of this disappearing. For how much Walt Disney World hypes up its ‘blessing of size’ and conservation efforts, choosing this location is at odds with that. (We didn’t focus much on that here, primarily because we intend upon doing a Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge construction update with illustrative visuals in the near future.)
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Do you think I’m being too hard on Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge? Are you interested in buying here? Think the A-frame and treehouse accommodations will be enough to make this interesting? Bothered by the location of this resort? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? If you’re an existing Member, what do you think? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!