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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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!
First of all, I’m so sorry I haven’t finished my trip report sooner. I got home a week ago and have been sick, trying to get back into the swing of things at the office (and life in general), and have had illness in the family. It’s been one of those weeks. On Monday, I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled programming. So without further ado here’s an overview of the rest of my trip.
On Wednesday we checked out of Wilderness Lodge, moved back to Pop Century, and headed to the Animal Kingdom. Have you ever noticed how hot this park feels? As the day progressed we became more and more miserably hot! We hit most of the headliner attractions and had lunch at Flame Tree Barbeque. Julie had to go back to North Carolina that afternoon so Tom and I decided to take a break and go to the pool at Pop when she left. I now understand why the Unofficial Guide recommends doing this! It was exactly what we needed. That evening we headed to Downtown Disney to have dinner, ice cream at Ghirardelli’s (yum!), and do a bit of shopping.
Thursday we finally got to sleep in! Tom got up just in time to still grab breakfast at Everything Pop. It was such a nice break! When we finally got going we parked at DHS and took to boat over to Epcot’s International Gateway. We spent the afternoon finishing up our drinking around the world and exploring some of the countries we often overlook. We grabbed drinks in Morocco, Italy, and Japan to conclude our expedition. We had dinner at Biergarten in Germany which is climbing up my list of favorite places to eat in WDW. Later we headed back to DHS to try to hit up a few attractions before calling it a night. We didn’t realize it was Fantasmic! was running that night, making it pretty crowded. We decided to skip out early since we weren’t in the mood for the mob.
On our last full day of vacation we grabbed a breakfast ADR at Whispering Canyon Café. After eating far too much we hopped on the boat to visit Magic Kingdom. After wandering around Frontierland and Adventureland for a while we headed back to Pop for a pool break. After our break we went to Epcot to hang out in Future World. We tried some of the activities in Innoventions since I had never spent much time in there. Later, our friend Don came to join us after he was finished with work for the day. We capped off a good day in the parks with some drinks at Petals at Pop.
Saturday was departure day. I was planning on meeting up with Don at Magic Kingdom for a while before making my way to the airport, but I woke up sick. The idea of walking around MK in 95 degree weather not feeling well was not appealing. I called Jetblue and was able to snag a seat on an earlier flight. So my last day was sort of a bust, but luckily it didn’t spoil the trip.
Thanks for following along on twitter and my few blogs about my trip! It was another great trip with great friends. Stay tuned to future blogs to hear more detailed reports on some of my activities.
Next week I’ll give my review of Disney’s newest restaurant Sanaa…
One of the great things about traveling as a 20-something is traveling with good friends. Even better is splitting the hotel fees! When selecting a resort you have to ask yourself what you can afford and what you really need from the accommodations during your stay. A lot of times we just go for the cheapest option, allowing us to make multiple WDW trips per year. Plus, we usually are up and at ‘em early in the morning and down return to our room until the wee hours so it doesn’t make sense for us pay for fancy accommodations. But our little posse has grown this year and now we have to consider where we can get a room that will comfortably fit three adults or get a second room. Having three of us to split the bill has allowed us to stay at some deluxe resorts all in one room. So with all of that in mind, where did we decide to stay this time?
Since this upcoming trip is going to be so long we decided to split it up among a value resort and a deluxe resort. The plot gets a bit confusing, but try to stay with me. The first three nights we’re stay at Pop Century with another friend of ours, Don. The next three nights we’re going to enjoy some Pacific Northwest atmosphere at the Wilderness Lodge. Then, Julie has to leave us and Tom and I will head back to Pop since there will only be two of us.
We decided to get two rooms at Pop the first few nights because with Disney’s Hollywood Studios 20th anniversary festivities we’ll only been in the room to sleep and we had a fourth friend so share the second room. Since we can make use of either annual pass or UK resident discounts (thanks, Tom!) we decided to splurge on the Wilderness Lodge for a few nights. We were able to book a bunk bed room since WL doesn’t offer a day bed. This is one of Julie’s favorites, but Tom and I have never stayed here before (just got harassed by the CMs at Whispering Canyon Café). We’ll probably spend a lot of time in the Magic Kingdom during this stay since we’ll have access to the Lodge’s boat. And since Julie is leaving us Tom and I decided to cheap out and go back to Pop after she takes off.
I hope our plans might give you some ideas for your own upcoming trip! Be sure to weigh all of the options for your group and get the best deal you can. Good luck and happy travels!
Next week: To rent a car or not to rent a car, that is the question.