Free Tour Series: Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge

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Wilderness Lodge Lobby

Beetle-eaten (already dead) wood is used throughout the resort.

There are over 20 tours available at Walt Disney World, and many of them come with hefty price tags (such as the $199 Holiday D-Lights tour). However, what many guests don’t realize is that there are also several free tours on property. I’m going to spend my next few reviews focusing on these complimentary tours, starting with my all-time favorite – Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge.

Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge is a free, 1-hour tour which helps guests learn about the design and backstory of the Wilderness Lodge Resort and the neighboring Wilderness Lodge Villas. You do not need to be a guest of the resort to take the tour; everyone is welcome.

One of the major differentiators between Disney resorts and offsite hotels is theming – those special Imagineering touches that help immerse guests in their home away from home. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is one of (if not the) most heavily themed resorts in Disney’s collection worldwide, making it the perfect setting for a tour.

The morning of my recent Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge tour, my friend and I showed up thinking we were old pros. We’d both done the tour before, but I wanted to experience it again to make sure it was still worth recommending. After standing in the wrong place for 10 minutes, we quickly discovered a re-review was certainly warranted – times they are a-changin’! Apparently, tour guests now meet in front of the Grand Canyon Fireplace in the Lodge’s Lobby at 9am.

Carolwood Pacific Room

The Wilderness Lodge Villas were inspired by the railroad hotels built out west during the 1940s Gold Rush.

Our tour group consisted of only us and one other lady who left halfway through, leaving us with a private tour. I’ve found this to be par for the course for the free resort tours, since mosts guests aren’t aware they exist. I personally love small groups because it gives me more opportunity to ask questions.

We were lucky enough to have the main tour guide, Jack, who returned to leading the tour in Spring 2011 after spending several years working on the Concierge Floor. Jack is one of the two Cast Members who lead the tour. He was trained by the late, great Ranger Stan, who led the tour before retiring in 2010.

We started off with a brief history of the Lodge and how it was inspired by Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn and other National Park lodges. From the lobby, we headed over to the Wilderness Lodge Villas to visit the Carolwood Pacific Room. This room is dedicated to Walt’s fascination with steam trains. (If you want to know more about Walt Disney and trains, I highly recommend the Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour at Magic Kingdom.)

Carolwood Pacific Room

Next, we walked back to the Wilderness Lodge lobby to the Territory Lounge. The Territory Lounge is home to one of my favorite items on display in Disney World – a U.S. flag from 1861. President Abraham Lincoln was the only president to serve under this 34-star flag.

We also went into the Artist Point restaurant – which doesn’t open until much later in the day. The restaurant overlooks the Lodge’s outdoor waterfall as well as Bay Lake. Here we learned about the restaurant’s furnishings and the large mural set above the main dining area, which includes a Hidden Mickey.

To wrap up, we made our way up to the 5th floor to get an aerial view of both the main lobby and the pool. Our tour ended promptly at 10am with a viewing of a Fire Rock Geyser eruption, which can be seen throughout the day, on the hour, near the shore of Bay Lake.

Grand Canyon Fireplace

This fireplace's stone is designed to reflect the strata of the Grand Canyon.

While a bit out of the way, I truly believe all Disney World visitors should take the time to experience this tour for themselves. The Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge tour’s content rivals that of any of the paid tours, and it manages to do so within an hour and for free. Free! This just might be the best deal on property. You don’t even need a park ticket!

At first, I was a bit hesitant about this tour because I knew the resort’s theme was strongly tied to American history, which I find painfully boring. However, it does a wonderful job of appealing to a wide variety of people. This tour is great for anyone interested in learning more about the Wilderness Lodge, Imagineering, architecture, or the history of the American West.

This tour is also a perfect way to spend a quiet morning away from the hustle and bustle of the parks. I love following it up with a late breakfast at Whispering Canyon Cafe, but you could also take a boat or hike over to Fort Wilderness for an early lunch at Trail’s End. Walt Disney World is so much more than the parks; little experiences like the Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge make it a truly unique vacation destination worth visiting over and over.

While this tour is open to all ages, I would not recommend it for children. You don’t walk very far, but there is a good bit of standing still and listening to facts. If your kids fall asleep in the American Adventure – they’re not going to appreciate having to stand for an hour-long history lesson without even seeing any smoking audio-animatronics. (Every time I take this tour, I have flashbacks to the American Adventure. Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir both came up in our discussion.)

Territory Lounge Light Box

The Territory Lounge is lined with light boxes, including this one representing Teddy Roosevelt.

Have you already tried the tour? Try it again! I’ve been on this tour twice with the same guide and learned at least 60% new information the second time around. I didn’t even think that was possible. We didn’t mention we had done the tour before, but the guide knows so much about the resort – there is always something new. However, it is worth noting that if you go during the holidays, the tour does not discuss the seasonal decorations at either the Lodge or the Villas.

Overall, I can’t recommend this tour enough. It is definitely worth the time and effort to get to the Wilderness Lodge, which is worthy of a visit even without the tour. I took my non-Disney fan sister on the tour a few months ago, and even she agreed that it was one of the best tours we’ve done to date.

The Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge tour is currently offered at 9 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday in the lobby.  No reservations are accepted, guests need only to show up to attend. The tour is open to all ages and lasts 1 hour. As resort activities can change monthly, check the Wilderness Lodge Resort Activites Calendar or call (407) 824-3200 to confirm the tour schedule.

Have you tried the Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge tour?  Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!

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Posted on February 17, 2012

16 Responses to “Free Tour Series: Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge”

  • Excellent review!! I did not know this existed. I’m all about free and unique thigns to do in the resort areas. Please keep them coming!

  • Do they offer these free tours at any other resorts like the Grand Floridian? Thanks for a great post too!

    • They actually used to offer a lobby tour at the Grand Floridian, but they have phased it out. At Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House, there is a free Culinary Tour of Boma and Jiko. They also offer a Cultural Tour of Sanaa at Kidani Village. Bother are offered at 4pm daily. We’ll be reviewing these tours soon!

  • Thank you for this wonderful review! I have been on this tour a couple of times and it has always been excellent. I wish every deluxe resort offered a tour of this quality. (Since this post is titled “Free Tour Series”, does this mean there are more reviews coming? Yes, please!)

  • We were just at the Wilderness Lodge and we did not take this tour but did sign up to be the Flag Family for the day. What a fun and also free experience!! I highly recommend it. I’ll have to check out the tour when we go back in May :)

  • My mom and I had the pleasure of taking the tour with Ranger Stan back in the late 1990s. It is one of our favorite WDW memories! Back then, they also offered a tour (perhaps two hours long?) in the afternoon, during which they took the group all around the resort, inside and out. The group got to visit the “shack” where they smoke the meat for the Whispering Canyon, and yes they did give samples. :) They also took us up to Artist Point before opening, where we had another sample. :) I don’t remember if there was a cost for this tour, if so it was minimal. We enjoyed this experience on our arrival day, and it was really special. I wish they still offered that tour as well.

    Thanks for the updated review. My son is very interested in American History, especially the Civil War era, and I will be sure to take him to see the 1861 flag the next time we are at the World.

  • I love the Wilderness Lodge and had no idea they did this. Never in my wildest dream did I think Disney had a free… well… anything! I’m going to fit this in on my next trip. Keep the awesome tour reviews coming, Lindsay! They’re great!

  • Another awesome post, Lindsay!

  • Hi Lindsay,

    Do I need to sign up for this tour, or can we just show up in front of the fireplace at 9am?

    • Just show up! I would always double check the Wilderness Lodge Resort Activities Calendar (available at Guest Services) or call (407) 824-3200 to make extra sure the tour is running the morning you plan on attending. I would hate for anyone to set aside precious vacation time to take the tour if there was a last minute change in resort activities.

  • Thanks for sharing this. Like other comments I did not realize there were free tours. Definitely add to the list of must do’s on next trip.