Dani’s Best Week Ever May 26, 2016: Exploring Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and construction update

by on May 26, 2016 8 Comments

Filed under: Best Week Ever, Resorts

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a wonder to behold. It is one of the few Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts that feels far removed from the theme parks and yet it is just a few moments away from the most attended theme park of them all: the Magic Kingdom. When I set out to enjoy this week’s “fun day”, a visit to Wilderness Lodge was not in the original plans. But the best laid plans sometimes fall apart when real life responsibilities pop up. Faced with less time than I’d hoped, I decided to give into the nagging need to visit Wilderness Lodge that had been pulling at me for quite some time. My visit rekindled my love and appreciation for this resort and allowed me to explore some of the construction taking place at this resort as it prepares to expand its Disney Vacation Club inventory.

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The transition into the world of the wilderness begins the moment you turn right onto Timberline Drive and pass under the archway leading to the Security shack. The tall pines tower above, flanking either side of the drive. Wildflowers add pops of color along the way.

The lodge stands proud and majestic. It is an impressive sight to behold. No matter how many times I’ve visited this resort that first sight of the lobby never fails to make me grow wide eyed and wide grinned. The towering totems, the tee-pee light fixtures, the view all the way to the top floor, it’s all so warm and inviting.

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Check out the hoof prints in the walkway!

Check out the hoof prints in the walkway!

 

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Many guests compare Wilderness Lodge to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and / or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. I have a hard time accept the comparison to the Grand Californian because the theme and style is actually very different than Wilderness Lodge. Grand Californian represents the Arts and Crafts movement of California with a tinge of Art Nouveau. Some of the rich colors such as deep wood tones and rich evergreen are repeated at both resorts, but if you are attuned to details you can clearly see the difference in the two themes.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge were born from the same architect. The entrances and lobbies are very similar. Both resorts have grand and vast lobbies, my eyes always gaze upward. The openness of the lobby does lend itself to a noisy and kinetic atmosphere in the peak of the morning and evening, especially once Whispering Canyon Cafe gets going. But this is contrasted by peaceful quiet moments in lovely seating areas throughout the resort when everyone is in the parks or asleep in their beds.

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After taking in my first gazes of the Lodge I headed across the lobby to the grand fireplace. There are actually multiple fireplaces throughout the lodge, but the most impressive one is in the back left corner. The mantel and chimney resemble the Grand Canyon. Comfortable chairs make for an ideal place to read, relax, or catch up with friends and family. You may even spot a hidden Mickey!

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Just behind the fireplace is a collection of rocks typically found in the Pacific Northwest. This is a great learning moment for kids and kids at heart. Plus the railroad handcar is a fun photo opportunity. Just across the way is another lovely seating area overlooking a bubbling water feature. I love how the water begins in the lobby, flows outside to a peaceful creek, then becomes a roaring waterfall near the pool. Following the entire path of the water and noticing it’s gradual transformation is almost meditative to me.

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Before following the water’s path, however, I decided to browse around the Mercantile shop. The entrance to this shop is marked by a beloved Disney character totem with Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Humphrey the Bear. This totem is so popular there are a few merchandise items themed after it.

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Wilderness Lodge Mercantile is unique in a few ways. It has a small fireplace inside, there is a wide selection of merchandise that is produced by a third party and labeled as such, and since it is a Disney Vacation Club resort there is a decent selection of grocery items, including a few wines that fit the Western theme of the Lodge.

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After browsing through the shop I headed out the automatic doors to walk down the covered walkway to the original Disney Vacation Club Villas building. These units opened in 2000. I absolutely love this walkway. Although the bus transportation and bike trail are nearby, the wooden walkway does feel like you’re strolling through a heavily wooded area. This walkways is especially magical during the holiday season.

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These original villas are being renamed to Boulder Ridge villas. Personally I would prefer a name that incorporates the steam train references in this building, particularly in the beloved Carolwood Pacific Room (which I still call the Iron Spike Room – anyone else remember that name?).  As I strolled down the walkway something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I could just barely see the construction of the new Copper Creek Villas & Cabins. And so I sought out a little investigation and headed in that direction.

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Before I headed down the sidewalk, towards the water and the construction fence something else caught my eye: a small tree with an oval shaped plaque in front of it. I walked over to see that this tree was planted in honor of Disney Vacation Club’s 25th anniversary. This is a sweet gesture, though the plaque is not really engraved but instead is plastic. Perhaps the plaque is still being finished.

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Now back on the exploration trail, the fencing is covered in a printed scrim, making it difficult to see the construction. Though if you have a DVC villa on an upper floor you’ll be to see the construction just fine. I did find a gap in the fence wide enough to snap a few photos. (I did find a better angle later in my visit – stay tuned).

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The guest rooms to the left of this photo are being converted into DVC villas

Part of the plans for Copper Creek Villas & Cabins include a new quiet / Disney Vacation Club pool as well as lakeside dining. Much of the focus of the new construction is on the lakeside cabins, inspired by the Bora Bora Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village. However, it is important to note that the Cooper Creek Villas include converting one wing of exist Wilderness Lodge guest rooms, much in the same way that guest rooms at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge were converted back in 2006.

It was another lovely Central Florida day, a great day for further exploration. A bike ride through the wooded area and over to Fort Wilderness sounded lovely, but alas a sign posted where the bike rental used to be housed now explains that only registered guests of the resort are allowed to rent bikes.

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I headed back through the lobby and noticed that the elevator bank that resides in the wing that is being converted to villas is closed (not surprising). Walking across to the back of the lobby I headed down the ramp to check to see if any new menu items have been added to the Lodge’s quick service outlet: Roaring Fork. The menu is pretty limited considering this is a Deluxe resort. I headed outside toward the pool and noticed the cute signs themed to Timon and Pumbaa advising guests not to give yummies to the birds since they are bad for their tummies.

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The pool welcomed may guests as they basked in the sun. I journeyed further out, toward Bay Lake. What a beautiful scene at the boat dock. Despite a large number of guests coming and going from the boat dock (there is boat transportation to Magic Kingdom as well as over to Fort Wilderness) the scene was quite serene.

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It neared 6:00 PM when I heard it, the geyser began to spurt and sputter. This Disney-made geyser goes off on the hour every hour. There is a computer system that monitors the wind speed and adjusts the geyser’s spray so that guests aren’t drenched.

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In front of the geyser is the Silver Creek Springs water play area which opened in January 2015. This water play area follows the new tradition of Deluxe, and some Moderate, resorts adding a water playground for kids to the feature pool area. As I passed by it I wished I was staying at the hotel, and a kid again, so I could splish splash with the best of them.

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I followed the pathway along the back of the pool area, behind the pool bar. And there it was… a much better view of the construction. As I approached the area it was entertaining to hear various guests remarking on what they believed was being built.

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Word on the street, and from my bartender at Territory Lounge, the building that I viewed (see below) will be home to a new restaurant and lounge. The waterside cabins will take a while to build and there isn’t much visible evidence of their soon-to-be existence.

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As I headed back up the pathway past the crest of the Silver Creek Falls, I noticed the signs of construction on the wing that is being converted to villas. Plastic tarps covered every glass door. Bright work lights hung from the ceiling. It must be interesting to be a construction person working in such a space.

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A tarp covers the entrance to the under-construction wing

All this exploration made me thirsty and hungry. Thankfully my friend was on his way to meet me at the Territory Lounge. This lounge is considered a hidden gem by many. It doesn’t receive quite the amount of buzz as other Disney resort lounges, but it is large, and well themed. It used to be themed even better than it is now because the background music recently changed from scores from Copland and other frontier music to an unfitting smooth jazz collection. Weird music aside the decor is great and the territory map ceiling always garners a few upward glances.

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Exploration artifacts adorn the walls as a guest gazes upward at the map ceiling

As I pulled up a chair, I reluctantly grabbed the menu. I am not pleased that all the Walt Disney World Resorts’ lounges have the same drink menu. I miss the days when there were unique drinks to fit each location. I decided that the Smoked Turkey cocktail ($11.50) would fit well with the atmosphere. This drink is a mix of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon, grenadine and Odwalla lemonade, garnished with three delectable cherries. The flavor is quite sweet, but a hint of smoke adds some complexity.

Smoked Turkey ($11.50)

Smoked Turkey ($11.50)

As I waited on my friend, my hunger could not be ignored. I was tempted by the Pork Nachos or the Pinot Gris Fondue, but for some reason I ordered the popcorn that is topped with spices ($5.00). The serving was large, and was easily shared once my friend arrived, but with so many other yummy things on the menu there appear to be better options.

Once my friend arrived we decided to split the Gourmet Burger ($18.00). I debated ordering a red wine, few things I like better than red meat with red wine, but I opted for a Red Hook beer ($8.25), a refreshing draft with just the right amount of hoppiness.

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The Gourmet Burger was absolutely delicious. The chef was kind enough to split the burger and curly fries for us before serving the food, I appreciate when restaurants do that for their guests. At $18.00 it is a bit of an indulgence, but since we split it, we felt better about the price tag. We ordered it “medium” but felt it was a little overdone, no pink at all. So I’d order it “medium rare” next time. The meat was seasoned well, though I wish the patty was just a bit bigger. The crisp lettuce and juicy heirloom tomatoes were fresh and flavorful, and I loved the sweet tang of the house made pickles – a very delicious choice overall.

After a satisfying experience at Territory Lounge, I had one last bit of exploration to do. My friend, who like so many of us is a fan of Disney history, had never set foot inside the Carolwood Pacific Room (insert shocked emoji here). So it was back over to the soon-to-be-named Boulder Ridge villas building!

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The Carolwood Pacific Room is a little piece of Walt Disney fandom paradise. Anyone who is a fan of Walt Disney the man himself knows of his love of steam trains. I won’t go into the full history lesson, but suffice to say that Walt was such a train fan that once he had earned a wealthy living he built a one-eighth scale railroad in the backyard of his home. The street his home resided on was named Carolwood, hence the railroad’s name Carolwood Pacific.

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This room is meant for DVC Members to relax in as well as enjoy a few recreational activities. There are also occasional presentations about Disney history put on in this room. The crown jewel of this room, however, are the two rail cars from Walt’s actual Carolwood Pacific train! It’s near impossible not to feel the history pulsate from these cars.

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Sharing this special room with someone who truly appreciates Walt’s history and legacy was an absolute treat. In fact, it would be difficult to top such a moment, and so we ended my exploration of Wilderness Lodge here. It is exciting to see this resort get some enhancements. Soon more guests than ever before will be welcomed to the Lodge and I hope these guests and DVC Members will love this resort as much as I do. When looking for a peaceful, rustic, and embracing resort, Wilderness Lodge just might be one of the best ever!

 

Posted on May 26, 2016

8 Responses to “Dani’s Best Week Ever May 26, 2016: Exploring Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and construction update”

  • Is the *entire* south wing of the WL building being converted to DVC, or just a couple floors? That would be almost half the Lodge!

    By the way Dani, the Grand Californian was *also* designed by Peter Dominick, the designer of WL and AKL. I’m sure you know this, but it wasn’t clear from the way the graph was written. The similarity with all three is in their wide, high, open lobby areas, which is then accented by the three distinct themes. So the comparison between WL and GC is indeed a fair one.

  • Great post! Any idea of whether the new bicycle rental restrictions at Wilderness are due to the construction or whether it’s a permanent policy change?

    • I think it is a policy change, but I’ll see if I can verify further.

    • Hope that doesn’t apply to boat rentals as well. WL is one of the best spots to rent Sea Raycers.

      • There currently aren’t any boat rentals at WL as the beach and marina are closed during construction of the cabins. I would assume rentals will be back to normal in 2017.

  • by Sue from Ontario on May 31, 2016, at 10:42 pm EST

    Thank you for a great post. Our family is considering a visit to WL in Nov 16. Wondering if we should consider staying elsewhere with all of the construction? If the pathways and marina are closed, this would limit some of the on-site activities we could do. Looking also at Boardwalk. Don’t know if the pros still outweigh the cons during construction? thx for any advice you may have

    • Hi Sue,

      Most of the pathways are open. It is just one section toward the back, behind the existing DVC villas, along the water that is closed. The marina is not open, but bikes are still available for rent. Hopefully that helps answer your question.