Wilderness Lodge Resort - Review

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It is difficult to give a review of a place you absolutely love.

Wilderness Lodge has a very special place in my heart. It takes your breath away when you step into the cavernous lobby and yet, it still somehow feels cozy and welcoming. It is the work of architect Peter Dominick, Jr who also designed the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland and the Animal Kingdom Lodge at WDW. It is no surprise that our brief time at Animal Kingdom Lodge has me inspired to consider it for another trip. Inspiration so clearly comes from the National Parks and Native American traditions of the Northwest and the Grand Canyon. It is gorgeous and the detail is absolutely amazing without being completely overwhelming.

It was a stop on my shuttle from Vista Way to MK back in the day. The hotel was practically brand new back then at just four years old. My shuttle also stopped at the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian, but it was the Wilderness Lodge that left me awestruck, without ever stepping foot inside.

This was just after our arrival. Could my kids BE any different. One running maniac and one exploring every nook and cranny.

The Wilderness Lodge is like the non-monorail monorail resort. It has the pleasure to sit behind the welcome gates to the Magic Kingdom, but lacks the actual resort loop capabilities. Or does it?

Transportation options are unique and easy. From the lobby elevators, a left takes you down a corridor to the bus stops, a right takes you past the pool and along a wooden path to the boat launches. Those boat launches bring you speedily to either the Contemporary (access to monorail or a short walk to MK) or direct to the Magic Kingdom. There was not a morning where we were waiting for a boat that we did not get on the very next one and there was not a ride to Magic Kingdom that took more than fifteen minutes. The boats were such a pleasant experience, even on cooler mornings or in misty weather. PLEASANT. Somehow even our bus rides were lovely and there was something special about passing through the gates to the Magic Kingdom and feeling like we were back home. It was the kids' touch point that we would soon be back at the Lodge. (For my Western Ma crew, it was the Friendly's sign in Wilbraham.)

The resort is very well rated by guests and it is clear why. At the low end of the deluxe category, I sometimes hear it referred to as "moderate plus." The square footage is a bit less than other resorts in this category, but you get a corridor instead of a walk out door and the amenities of a deluxe stay.  It is very well priced for what it offers and not once during this trip did I think, hmmm, are we really getting a deluxe experience? Don't call this a moderate plus. It's definitely Deluxe. Caroline loved our nightly turn down service with chocolates on the pillows. She more than once told me how much she loved our hotel, especially the super soft blankets and that they made her bed each day.

Our room (5166) was at the very end of the left side of the "horseshoe" of the hotel with a straight on view of bay lake (hello Electric Water Pageant!). Our view also included the main courtyard pool, Red Rock Geyser, the boat launches and (as we learned late into our trip) a view of the fireworks at Magic Kingdom through the windows of the living area or from either of our two balconies. Yes, we did hear the boat horns early in the morning and late at night and yes, we did hear the geyser until it stopped each night at 10PM. This did not bother us one bit. It reminded us where we were and how lucky we were. The room was well-appointed with plenty of space for not only our stuff, but for all four bodies and a huge double stroller. We landed in a Deluxe room (!) with a separate sleeping and living area. We easily could have had another couple or small family with us in this space. There was plenty of storage (hall closet, dresser, and large armoire in addition to plentiful space in the bathroom area) and a wet bar in the main living area which came in handy for snack stashing and hand washing. We wanted to have a balcony to escape to at bedtime and we had that and then some with this space. We fell in love with the Wilderness Lodge and our upgrade to deluxe accommodations might have had something to do with that, but it is easy to love this place.  The following photos were taken from the Old Faithful Club (!) which we also had access to. It provided a picture perfect view of the lobby below and the architectural details that make this place so special.

See those stairs over yonder? They go to the roof. I know this because we went all the way up at the end of day 2. It was the absolute highlight of our trip. I can't wait to tell you about it. 
Steve's take: He liked it better than the moderate we stayed at last time because it had more of a hotel feel. He liked the boat, which felt like an added perk and something different because you didn't have to wait for and ride on the bus. He liked the pool and the grounds. The highlight for him was the lobby. He wishes we had spent more time there.  

Last time, Caroline was most sad about leaving our rented stroller. This time, it may have been a tie between the pool and the resort itself. It's hard to leave such a wonderful place, but it makes it all the more fun to plan the next trip.
In reflection, I wish we had a whole day to spend at the resort. I could have curled up in the lobby with a cocoa or cocktail and been quite happy watching the kids play games with the Activities Team. We never made it to Whispering Canyon, not even for breakfast! I'm sure that is a punishable offense! I didn't eat nearly enough Magic Cookie Bars. I should have walked to Fort Wilderness. We should have rented those little boats and tooled around the lagoon. We should have spent more time on that balcony (maybe if it had not dropped below 50 at night?).

Isn't that always the way? That's the amazing thing about Disney World, you cannot possibly do it all. There is always something to save for next time. A mid trip resort day would be a break from the rush and it would let me fall more in love with this perfect resort. I am already angling for a longer trip next time to try to make all of those things happen. Even then, there will surely be another long list of things we missed, but another trip at the Lodge sounds heavenly.

This last video is from our last walk back to our room after the Amazing Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise.


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