Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Big, kid-focused, 727-room Disney resort that offers complete theme-park-style immersion in the American West
Disney's Wilderness Lodge makes an all-out push to enthrall young imaginations and make the entire resort experience as easy on parents as possible. On the whole, it succeeds -- so much so that anyone without kids might be a tad overwhelmed (or annoyed) by all the childish diversions, like the incessantly banged cowbells outsi de the video arcade.
Modeled after the giant log cabins found in the national parks of the American West, the resort has a striking array of imaginative decorative features. The behemoth five-story lobby has giant totem poles, pillars made of timber, and display cases with Native American and fossils from the Grand Canyon. The grounds boast a man-made river that empties via waterfall into a large, kid-friendly swimming pool and a man-made geyser erupts at intervals throughout the day. The rooms carry the wilderness theme even further, with woodland creatures carved into the bedposts and desks and chairs that look like they've been fashioned out of tree branches.
But visuals aren't the only things that contribute to the Oregon Trail fantasy. As the automatic lobby doors open, guests are greeted by adventure music (like that of an Indiana Jones movie). At the on-site restaurant, Whispering Canyon Cafe, "cast members" (what Disney calls all its staff members) serve soda in jam jars and periodically interrupt meals to invite the entire restaurant to join them in singing "Happy Birthday" to a very special boy or girl. The hotel completely immerses its guests in the fantasy, and the kids love it.
Overall, the Wilderness Lodge is a fine choice for the price. It is one of Disney's "Deluxe" resorts -- the highest-tier cateogry of the conventional (non-villa) resorts -- but it's still about in the middle of the Disney resort price range and significantly more affordable than other Deluxe-level properties like the Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. While the safari-themed Animal Kingdom Lodge is another attractive option in this price range, it's also quite a bit farther from the Magic Kingdom and other resorts than the Wilderness Lodge. Sure, there are cheaper hotels within Walt Disney World that still offer free shuttles, free parking, and extra hours to tour the Magic Kingdom and other parks without the heavy crowds. But these lesser-category resorts also lack the incredible features and variety of restaurants found at the Wilderness Lodge.,
Service can feel a bit bureaucratic and impersonal, but the staff still tries to be fun and friendly in the Disney tradition.
At the Wilderness Lodge, service is a bit of a mixed bag. The "cast members" are all sure to ask, "How may I assist you?" and, notably, the wait staff at Whispering Canyon Cafe engages and entertains children. On the other hand, like most Disney resorts, especially can form at the concierge and registration desks.
While the service varies greatly from one Disney resort category to the next, just about every hotel gears its offerings toward families with small children. It's a different approach than what one finds at most other hotels, where kids are mainly an afterthought.
Inside Walt Disney World Resort, right next to the Magic Kingdom
The enormous Wilderness Lodge is only a small part of the massive Disney World compound. It borders Bay Lake, which connects it via boat to the Magic Kingdom. Like many Disney resorts, it's set back from the main roads, so traffic and noise aren't much of an issue, but there are not any off-site dining options within walking distance.
Fun, thematic decor and modern (but not exactly luxurious) amenities
The rooms at the Wilderness Lodge don't win many points for luxury trappings -- the beds have patterned bed spreads, not duvets, the sheets aren't exceptional. Still, the rooms are a good size -- much bigger than the All Star resorts' rooms, about the same size as the rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but smaller than the rooms at other Deluxe-cateogry properties -- and kids will enjoy the playful wilderness accents, like bas-relief nature scenes in the beds' wooden headboards.
The large number of high-quality features cater primarily to young children, although the fitness center (like the one at the Animal Kingdom Lodge) is excellent. However, as its primarily a leisure destination, there are scant business facilities.
The Wilderness Lodge is one of the closest hotels to Disney's Magic Kingdom, but it's a great choice for families for many other reasons -- rooms with bunk beds available, a great pool and waterslide, a man-made geyser that goes off every hour during the day, and more.
Moderately clean; some odor issues in bathrooms
While the hotel, overall, is kept clean, I did have to change rooms once because the drain in the shower smelled strongly of mildew. In my second room, the smell wasn't as powerful, but still present.
All the restaurants at Disney's Wilderness lodge cater to families. Even the highest-end place, Artist Point, has a kids' menu, and the other options range from the cafeteria-style Roaring Fork to the loud, frontier-themed Whispering Canyon Cafe.
It's not exactly luxurious -- subpar bedding; constant crowds; long lines -- but the 727-room Wilderness Lodge is still a superb family resort. Lake access, hiking trails, a standout pool and waterslide, free daily kids' activities, a great gym, and elaborate, Western frontier decor (including an explosive geyser) to keep kids enthralled -- all just five minutes from the Magic Kingdom.