Reflections Lakeside Lodge on River Country Site at Disney World
After years of rumors, Walt Disney World announced Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, a new “nature-inspired” resort for the former River Country water park location along the shore of Bay Lake between Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. (Updated June 14, 2020.)
Set to open in 2022, this Deluxe Resort will “be a celebration of Walt Disney’s lifelong love and respect for nature” with more than 900 hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club villas. The resort is slated to be the 16th Disney Vacation Club property, and is part of a significant expansion currently underway on the hotel side of Walt Disney World, which will add around 1,700 new hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club villas at four different resorts.
Disney’s press release goes on to discuss the “value” and “flexibility” of a Disney Vacation Club membership, along with other fluff you’d expect in a press release of this nature. My favorite little gem was this one: “fun and even surprising accommodation types that families will find irresistible.” So get yourselves hyped for some irresistible accommodations! (Note: prices may be very resistible.)
June 14, 2020 Update: Three months after the parks closed and all construction stopped at Walt Disney World, a new rumor has emerged via WDWMagic that Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge has been cancelled and construction crews have been on site removing concrete and rebar.
Additionally, in a recent aerial photo of the Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge site on Twitter from @bioreconstruct, shows a noticeable absence of construction equipment, which is despite other projects around Walt Disney World starting to resume work. Perhaps more significantly, grass seed has also been sprayed over a large area of the Reflections site–not exactly something that would happen if work to resume imminently. Here’s a look at that:
Apologies for the skid in this aerial. A nearly straight down view of Discovery Island and site of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge. Zoom in at arrows to see where a refurbishment is underway of the waterside nature trail. pic.twitter.com/PPbNP0vPhA
– bioreconstruct (@bioreconstruct) June 13, 2020
We cannot speak to the veracity of these rumors, but find them to pass the smell test. Back in our All Construction Has Stopped at Walt Disney World from a few months ago, we assessed the likelihood of particular projects being shelved or delayed. We viewed Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge as “the project most likely to be outright cancelled or at least postponed indefinitely. At minimum, I’d be surprised if Reflections — A Disney Lakeside Lodge opens before 2023.”
It has yet to go vertical, meaning it’s not even as far along as Pop Century’s Legendary Years was when that project hit the pause button for nearly a decade. Disney Vacation Club already has a lot of unsold points, and a recession makes those more difficult to sell. On top of that, there’s a strong possibility that foreclosures will outpace new sales, meaning that DVC’s point inventory will start increasing. Then there’s the possibility that DVC will need to exercise right of first refusal to buoy resale values.
I don’t normally get excited about things not happening, but I’m personally ecstatic about Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge being (potentially) cancelled. I cover the why of that in full detail below, and feel even more strongly about this after being utterly underwhelmed and disappointed by Disney’s Riviera Resort.
With that said, I’d still expect the River Country site to be developed at some point down the road. Even before this announcement, the River Country plot was rumored to be the “next” Disney Vacation Club resort several times, and actual plans for previous incarnations of the project leaked about a decade ago. Those were all subsequently put on hold for expansion at existing Walt Disney World resorts, and it seemed like the defunct water park’s time had finally come with Reflections.
That now may not be the case, but this area will eventually be developed. Probably not this year or next, but likely within the next decade. Here’s hoping it’s with a concept superior to what was announced and shown for Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge! Now, for my original commentary on the project…
I love Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. I’m a Disney Vacation Club member. In theory, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge seems perfectly tailored to some of my favorite things about Walt Disney World. I want to love the idea of the River Country parcel finally being redeveloped, instead of rotting in plain sight. I’m truly hopeful for the best here.
Unfortunately, like pretty much every Fort Wilderness fan, I’m very apprehensive about this Disney Vacation Club project (well, mixed-use, but presumably mostly DVC). Part of what makes Fort Wilderness special is that it’s been relatively undisturbed by time, and is one of the last bastions of “Vacation Kingdom of the World” era of WDW.
It’s almost remarkable how different Fort Wilderness feels from the rest of Walt Disney World—even its neighbor, Wilderness Lodge. It’s almost as if Walt Disney World leadership has forgotten about Fort Wilderness, and it hasn’t seen the same fiscal mandates, changes in emphasis, or character as every other resort over the last couple decades. In large part, it’s been doing its thing, more or less unchanged since the 1990s.
There’s a very legitimate concern, especially after seeing how the Copper Creek and Boulder Ridge projects at Wilderness Lodge unfolded, that any expansion at or around Fort Wilderness will destroy the primitive and secluded characteristics of the campground that give it so much appeal. After all, this is a campground with wilderness right in the name–the environment is the heart and soul of Fort Wilderness.
The development of Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge doesn’t necessarily have to destroy the tranquil and secluded atmosphere of Fort Wilderness, but that seems like a very distinct possibility. Disney’s recent approach to developing hotels adjacent to existing resorts doesn’t inspire much confidence, and if there’s a ham-fisted approach when clearing land or an overzealous mentality when it comes to the size or proximity of the resort to the campground, it will be incredibly detrimental to Fort Wilderness.
As for the design, only one piece of concept art has been released, and it’s nothing special. I don’t want to rush to judgment here, as I think there is potential for this to end up being interesting once more is released, but right now it looks like a generic airport hotel with some modern rustic flourishes.
On the plus side, Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG) is the lead designer for Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, and they have a very good track record with Disney. They designed the original Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, along with Disney hotels in Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.
If this were a decade or two ago, I might be more deferential to Disney with regard to this concept art. However, the last several years have shown that Walt Disney World is very hit or miss with resort development and redesigns, skewing towards boring designs. It seems the approach is to choose the most middle-of-the-road offerings as possible so as to not alienate those with bland tastes.
When you compare Walt Disney World resorts built before the mid-1990s to ones built or redesigned in the last few years, there’s generally a clear division. Contemporary projects are often interchangeable with real world Holiday Inns or other mid-tier chained brand hotels.
Look at the difference between BoardWalk Inn or Beach Club and the new casino tower at Coronado or the Fairfield Inn Des Moines Airport Riviera Resort. One explanation is that Disney wants to make things as crowd-pleasing as possible so as to not alienate any potential customers. (The thing about this approach is that when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one.)
Another explanation is that Imagineering’s talents are spread too thin. I know some readers might only follow the projects at Walt Disney World, but every single property (except Shanghai Disneyland) around the world has huge projects–many larger in scope and scale than Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge–in various stages of development or construction.
In the past when less was occurring simultaneously, maybe some top-tier Imagineering talent who “got” Disney’s distinct approach to hotels worked on a resort project. Now? Maybe they’re mostly designers who view working for WDI as “just another job” no different than Best Western or IHG.
Along those same lines, with so many projects in development, it’s entirely possible–if not probable–that leadership in the Parks & Resorts division is trying to trim the budget from each one, cutting aspects or details viewed as superfluous. We’ve commented on this before with regard to the Skyliner stations and their utilitarian styles that don’t match the surrounding architecture (most notably the International Gateway station), but it’s also evident in recent hotel concept art.
The problem is that those leaders are note creatives, and their experience is often in consumer products or other division of the company. They have absolutely no insight into what details are actually superfluous, and what are necessary for reinforcing theme or creating a sense of immersion.
In the end, more concept art could be released that’s really good. The project could employ a deft hand when developing around Fort Wilderness in a way that doesn’t damage that landscape. (Disney, just think of how much you could pat yourselves on the back by utilizing eco-friendly and sustainable construction practices–it’d be worth it in the PR alone!) It could end up being really good–a true tribute to both Walt Disney’s love of nature, but the spirit of River Country, which was never coming back anyway.
Color me skeptical. I think it’s far more likely that we’ll get a generically modern and vaguely rustic design that would be at home in Holiday Inn’s portfolio. It’s also more likely that instead of eco-friendly construction that preserves the natural beauty and wilderness of the area, we get excessive tree clearing for the construction, and an end product akin to Copper Creek and Boulder Ridge in terms of wide walkways and bare grounds. But don’t worry! It’s likely that the interior will be decorated with photos of Walt in nature, nods to the True–Life Adventures, and perhaps a clever reference to River Country…and fans who don’t know the difference between superficial decorations and actual theme will eat it all up.
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Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge? What do you think of the potential of this and other new hotels at Walt Disney World? Any other questions or comments? Hearing your feedback is part of the fun, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I honestly believe Walt Disney World should build a Memorial site for all those who have lost there lives at WDW Parks, Resorts, and all properties included inside there extensive compounds! Not only for the victims? But also for the families of those who lost there loved ones over many of years since the park’s inception… “Remembrance Of Those We Loved Memorial “ It’s certainly not morbid, but truly a way of remembering our love ones and keeping there memories within our Hearts as we do with all memories we and others make at WDW
You grand slammed this one, Tom!!! Could not agree with you more! At almost 47 years old, I’m a life long Walt Disney World fan boy and while it’s always great to see new and exiting attractions and resorts………..there are certain areas that should be 100% HANDS OFF, one of those is Fort Wilderness. This original WDW resort is timeless and as you eloquently put, is unlike any other resort on property. Both guests and cast members have remarked on this over the decades that I visited. Even when not staying at Fort Wilderness, I always make a point of stopping by, making a few purchases and stop in for a beverage at Crockett’s Tavern. The cookie cutter art of Reflections didn’t spark childhood imagination catering to a wilderness surrounding that is the essence of the Walt Disney World experience. Hopefully in the future, they will redesign it with truth Disney Magic.
I would like to see another small water park concept for the campground and not be over priced. make it free to campers and charge the outsiders. We need to go back to old school the way it was when it was special/exciting to go to Fort Wilderness. I grew up going to WDW since day one when it opened. Camping was fun and the memories of river country can’t be replaced.
Worst UGLIEST renovations I’ve ever seen. None of this is going to stop unless the people feeding them stop supporting it /stop doing business untill they do restorations rather than renovation. Bottom line, the people the supported these properties existance would all concur the original architects renditions are the only viable option and that they destroyed them with their hypercommercialized business plans. Stop supporting it. Who remembers the way the Grand Floridian and Polynesian used to smell when you walked in, the architects detailing and the quality of the staff that are not there at all anymore. No one in their right mind would condone what they’ve done if they remember how it was before it was destroyed. The only way theyll care is if it effects their bottom line, as that’s the reason they destroyed it in the first place (stock price growth at any and all cost)
Disney needs another THEME PARK not another hotel. This is another corporate money making decision that is destroying the original mission statement of Disney. They need to build Disney Extreme, a theme park to compete with the Tampa and Orlando intense rollercoaster parks, if they don’t Disney will start to loose monster market share, problem with most corporate thinking nowadays is it is just short sighted.
Cancel it completely and bring back Mickeys Backyard BBQ
Yes yes yes. Mickey s Back Yard Barbecue was one of Disney’s best. The interaction with the characters and the food was excellent. Walt would be so hurt by what his magical world is like today. As I have said before —- bring back the magic and imagineers. Our families favorite saying was—- Is it real or is it Disney??? Love Disney , Hate what it is becoming. So sad that upcoming generations will not know Disney magic. Greed has taken over.
My adult children still talk about River Country and their faces light up! What great memories. Putting a resort that size on the old RC site will absolutely ruin the atmosphere of Fort Wilderness that has been there since the 70’s. Can you imagine transporting all the additional people back and forth to the Magic Kingdom? The additional crowds at the Hoo Dee Do Review area? It may become an area to avoid. We own two DVC properties. The first was in 1996. The changes have been dramatic. DVC owners don’t get the perks they use to get and all the discounts available like free dinning when you book a full package. Oh well.
I got one was looking forward to the new resort. My aunt is DVC at Saratoga and Copper Creek. I like Riviera but wasn’t sold on it to be my home. I could buy into Copper Creek but I wanted something newer. I do love the new look of the resorts. It brings the resorts into a modern era. They could perhaps do a bit more theming. But as someone from Chicago who has stayed at the Peninsula and Four Seasons, I think the theming is right on trend and updated. I hope they start up the construction again and get a move on.
I hope the cancellation is true! We camped at FW last week and the construction site is so intrusive to the wilderness experience. Also agree that the hotels under Eisner were themed in a fuller/more-complete way than under Iger. That said, I’d love to be a DVC owner at FW!!
Leave Fort Wilderness as a wilderness! Restore the trees and walking trails! Do not place a hotel in top of the campground! I have been coming here since it opened with my parents and then with my children and now my grandchild. The wonderful world of Disney is feeling like each area is separated from the world and immersive in each area’s own character. Keep Fort Wilderness as it is and somehow restore the wonderful lost feel of tall cypress trees and wildlife to enjoy as we rock on the porches of the settlement away from the world.
Tom I could not agree with you more. Good riddance! As a long time DVC member with WL as our home and huge FW fans this was just a travesty. Horrible design and concept . I love the idea of another resort on this property but not this design!
Alright Disney, now it is time to restore the area to it’s former self. You need to bring back the nature trail with it’s canopy of trees and open it back up so that we can walk to the lodge. Due to the beauty of the area this project should never have been considered in the first place. It’s bad enough to have the homes and the Four Seasons in the area.
I am glad that the project has been stopped. We had camped at Fort Wilderness many times and enjoyed the time there. Even thou we are not able to afford staying there anymore, I think that they could take the money allocated for the Reflections and increase and improve the camping sites to accommodate the bigger units. We still like to walk in the campground but was so sadden to see that River Country area was just going to be another hotel.
I am a DVC member and love Fort Wilderness asa member it is to many points to stay at Fort Wilderness so I was really looking forward to the new DVC hotel so we could stay there again!
I was excited for the hotel, disappointed at more DVC spaces. I think there is more than enough of DVC. They should have gone with the rumored Villains Park from years ago. So many people staying on property at once an not enough room for them in the parks. Build another park instead of more hotels!
Yes! Would love another park. 🙂
My wife & I are filled with renewed optimism regarding the rumor that Reflections will be cancelled. We spend 3 to 4 months each winter in Ft. Wilderness Campground. We’ve been hooked since 1975 but have been seriously shocked by the new Disney mindset (if you build it they will come) The Reflections development was devastating to the area & the image. Please restore the area to nature & restore the exercise walkway to Wilderness Lodge. Think preservation–not devastation.
I am weirdly happy that the construction has stopped, as I hated the idea of such an “unwilderness” looking building on the site. WL/camp is one of my fav places to visit. I’ve only stayed there for one night but it was fantastic. Every time I visit Disney, my fav thing to do is walk around the hotels on site, poly to grand fl then monorail to contemporary and finally a boat to wilderness camp, it’s pure Disney magic without feeling like your at Disney. But my absolutely favourite thing was the walking path from the camp to the lodge. It was lovely being in the wild like that and in the peace and quiet. Finding out they took the path away almost killed me! It was devastating, so I really hope that with the grass seed being put down that they put the trees back and open up the path again connecting the two sites. Fingers crossed!
I am very disappointed with the look and design of the new resorts being built. They are bland and and sterile like Tom suggests. But I must point out something that is not discussed as one of the reasons we are getting these tall plain buildings. But first the obvious. It’s obviously less expensive to cut down on theme. It’s also cheaper to have one large pool, and centralized housekeeping all in one large tall building. One bus stop, no paths to maintain, fewer gardens and less land to maintain and mow. Easier to secure, no golf carts running to far away buildings. Now the not so obvious that I want to mention: the people demanded these types of buildings and resorts. The Unofficial Guide spends pages and pages alerting (and worrying) guests about bad rooms and good rooms. This blog even ranks OKW at the bottom of a DVC ranking even though it’s top choice has no 1 and 2 bedroom units. His wife, Sarah, listing one of reasons she dislikes it as it being too spread out and large. She loves Bay Lake Tower, incidentally a tall bland tower with no theme, just a great location. The dozen FB sites dedicated to DVC, the Poly, Port Orleans, and Old Key West are constantly getting posts by people worked up over what is the best building, best room, closest to the pool, etc. I bet Tom, Tikiman, and the other famous bloggers are asked a thousand times a year, “what’s the best room”? “ What is the best building”? The front desk is of Port Orleans, Old Key West, Caribbean Beach, etc. are probably badgered by guest complaining and wanting to be moved because there room is too far and takes 2 minutes more to get to a pool. We/they are culpable and are one of the reasons for the bland towers. Now everyone can be in one tall tower, an elevator ride away from that coveted front desk, food court, or gift shop. Because heaven forbid, it takes an extra 5 minutes to walk there or 10 minutes longer to ride the free bus that has a few stops before leaving the resort to get to the park.
@KenR -That is true. I wish they would keep the theming and keep resorts size down. Keeping resorts small would alleviate the my room is too far away complaint of POR and CBR , etc. But alas, “the pack em’ in like sardines and charge them lots” is not good for small size with extravagant theming nor social distancing. That’s why my favorite resorts are Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Floridian – smaller and themed nicely imho. (If I knew the Covid19 pandemic was going to hit, would’ve taken that dream vacay to GF last year instead of waiting until who knows when now.
Great point! I remember when we were going on our first family trip, we wanted to stay at all stars because it was a quick trip and had no intentions of being in the room except to sleep. Mind you this was years before the recent Reno’s….and sooooo many people made SUCH a big deal about rooms being so far from the parking lot/food court/pool/busses. I could care less about that stuff lol. And at ft.wilderness nothing is really “close” but that’s part of what makes it fun….golf cart rides everywhere!!! If I wanted to stay in one of these huge tower hotels I guess I could but I think so many people are just used to that now. But I think the type of people that prefer ft.wilderness campground are the type of people that appreciate that space….we are a rare breed it seems lol.