I recently revisited Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in Orlando, Florida, a fine masculine specimen of Disney’s attention to detail and dedication to a theme. If you’re planning a Disney World vacation, this might be the place to start and end your day. It’s designed to resemble the National Parks lodges built decades ago and the only detail the replication lacks is an authentic location in the Pacific Northwest.
While I entered the building to cool off from the hot, humid air of central Florida rather than to warm up by the fireside away from a blizzard, I nonetheless enjoyed my reprieve at the Wilderness Lodge.
DESIGN AND DECORATION
“I have antlers in all my decoration!”
Since Disney is renowned for its storytelling and beautiful art, their dedication to detail also reflects in their park resorts. And what’s impressive about the Pacific Northwest?
Giant forests, looming mountains, a vast ocean. Forget Texas, everything the northwest has is big. I felt so small when I walked into the main entrance. All I wanted to do was look up and marvel at all the space! Four or five stories visible from the entrance, but if you look at any photo, you’ll see there’s more than just the main entrance.
It strikes a masculine edge, trying to be big and impressive. And it was. It’s open and large, seemingly crafted by the huge timber from the Pacific Northwest. The columns were crafted to look like half a dozen logs tied together. Some logs didn’t reach the ceiling and were in fact more aesthetic – the tops were carved to look like different animals. Some of my favorites:
- Howling wolf
- Majestic elk
- Grizzly bear
- Adorable raccoons
- Stoic buffalo
My absolute favorite part of the design is the buffalo skin chandeliers. I’m not sure if they were real or very well-done fiberglass, but they were so beautiful and cool that I’m impressed either way. There were stitches and natural flaws in the skin, and the metalwork had the outline of men on horseback and wild buffalo.
And remember—go to the fireplace. You can’t miss it, as it takes up the corner all the way to the ceiling in an impressive display of rock layers.
On display are many authentic Native American headdresses form all different tribes. And by the fireplace, there was a display that identified the layers of rocks as well as common rocks collected in the expansion West.
The only part of the design I didn’t like were the colors. The wood seemed a shade off from the real trees of the Pacific Northwest, and much of the decor was a shade or two away from the mustard yellow, puke green, and burnt orange of the 70s. For people nostalgic of that decor, it’s great, but I never much liked that era of design. That color scheme follows through to the rooms, so beware.
FOOD AND DRINKS
I tend to save a lot of my meals for the parks, but I did manage to eat breakfast here one morning. I went to the Whispering Canyon Café.
The restaurant name is a misleading lie. If you whisper, you will not be heard! The café is connected to the open entrance, but that’s not what makes all the noise. It’s the staff! (and the families with children, of course, but that’s to be expected.)
I’ll cover the serving experience a little more later. Food comes first. I absolutely love food.
The restaurant was great. The food was spectacular. If you’re a coffee addict like myself, get the Alto Mayo Protected Forest Coffee roasted by Joffrey’s Coffee. It serves two, so make sure you bring another addict with you.
It was the smoothest, sweetest cup of French press coffee I have ever had. I don’t even think I can make it at home ever again, because that cup wouldn’t compare. Plus, some of the money goes to the Conservations International’s Mayo Protected Forest project in Peru which is all about sustainability! Drinking it feels good and tastes good.
I had the House-made Banana Bread French Toast, and it was genuinely like eating dessert for breakfast. I could barely finish it. On others’ tables, I saw the All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Breakfast Skillet, and it looks might fine. Filled with eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, cheddar buttermilk biscuits and those cute Mickey Mouse shaped waffles. Other special food and drink items for breakfast that I wished I had tried:
- Mimosas (for adults)
- All-you-care-to-enjoy milkshakes (bottomless! Milkshakes!!)
- Doc Willis’ Egg White Omelet (a healthy option, so I could feel good about a bottomless milkshake)
- All-you-care-to-enjoy skillet (I was eyeing it pretty hard, but also knew I needed to be hungry to fully appreciate it.)
- Chad’s Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Flapjacks (At Disney, everyone’s a kid again.)
And I was almost sad because I wished I had one there for lunch instead of breakfast — there was an all you can eat lazy platter with ribs, cornbread, and baked beans and my heart tried to convince me I’d be hungry in one or two more hours and could come right back. Thankfully, we had a Fast Pass reservation to get to, so logic won over desire.
The skillets were bottomless, as well as the milkshakes! The more I talk about this, the more I want to go again. If you’re wondering where to stay in Disney World with kids, this might be the place.
And if you take them here for breakfast? Kids are going to have a blast.
All the normal rules of restaurant eating are out the window – like I said, napkins get tossed on the table from the air, milkshakes are bottomless, you can go to “jail” for asking for too many straws, and more. I watched my server eat someone else’s birthday cupcake! And the run away!
There are more options than just the Whispering Canyon, and further details are available at the Disney website. For fine dining, Artist Point looked particularly wonderful, so I may try them out for a future visit. There are two quick service restaurants and, of course, room service for when you just want to relax in your own space.
Most of my interaction with cast members at the Lodge was at Whispering Canyons. If you’re introverted or have social anxiety, it might be overwhelming to eat there and I’d recommend going to a quick service spot inside or even the fine dining if you’ve got the pocket money for it.
I’m a little bit introverted and a little bit extroverted, so with some companions it managed to be an absolute treat barring one or two moments. The cast members who wait on you are always up to some sort of antics! Whether it’s the familial teasing, throwing napkins in the air, or singing “Frère Jacques” while they push your French press coffee down. They call you “brother” or “sister” and continuously make friendly conversation, so I felt very welcome if occasionally overwhelmed.
Granted a whole experience in Disney is overwhelming. I’m indecisive sometimes (especially when I want to make the best choice) and when our waiter Dustin asked me what I wanted, I panicked and froze. The jokes and extra attention hindered my ability to choose rather than helped. There may be a way to let the waiter know you’re shyer about the antics, so if the food sounds too great to miss, ask about it before you’re seated.
I got full fast (I don’t have as much of a black hole for a stomach like I used to), and when my server Dustin stopped by to check on my table, he was joke-insulted I still had food on my plate! So, loudly and with gusto, he insisted he would have to feed me like one of his kids and proceeded to try three different methods of feeds: air-o-plane, choo-choo train, and Disney’s own monorail. It was hilarious.
Outside of just the restaurant, everyone at the Wilderness Lodge is incredibly nice. When you drive up, there are people waiting to help you into the resort, and plenty of them so even in a rush they were going strong. When I ate breakfast, absolutely everyone was playing their part with a genuine yet practiced joyfulness. It was delightful.
What I liked about the cast member’s service was their focus on home and family. They are obviously there to make this trip as comfortable and easy as they can, but this gang of cast members are focused on hominess. On friendliness and familiarity. They don’t seem stuck up or posh, which I really appreciated. You’re at Disney World! It’s like exploring a thousand different places at once, all with your favorite animated character.
One little thing that you’ll see at all the parks and resorts, even behind-the-scenes folk, are the cast members name tags. Under their names are their home towns! It makes the world feel big and small all at the same time, just like the lodge itself. You can see a local Floridian, someone from California, or across the pond from Glasgow, Scotland! Or anywhere else in the world!
You put all this together, and what do you get? Someplace filled with warmth, coziness, and friendliness. The rustic atmosphere is charming and detailed. While it sometimes felt a little outdated because of the 1970s or 1950s coloring, but that might not be reflected in their newest addictions in the cabins or simply in someone else’s opinion.
The garden and the pool were pleasant and a lot of fun. There was a butterfly conservatory, which added to the charm. All the plants were chosen to go along with the Wilderness theme, but of course were all plants that would do well in Florida.
Strolling down to the pool, I passed a small butterfly conservatory – basically a bunch of beautiful pink and yellow flowers meant to attract and sustain the butterflies. And it works! One or two of the brightly colored bugs fluttered past me on my walk.
It’s nature! It’s America! It’s strength and warmth and welcome! All of this and more. The atmosphere is spot-on at this the Wilderness Lodge Resort.
IS IT AFFORDABLE?
While it’s not one of the value resorts or even moderate resorts, it is a cheaper option among the deluxe resorts – which means a standard room ranges from $345 to $600+ depending on the day of the week, holiday, or season.
If you can choose your vacation time, you just might save a few bucks by picking a slow season or properly prepare by spending those extra bucks for the perfect place during a busy season. You don’t want to be stuck in a value resort during Spring Break, Christmas, or large school trips if you enjoy peace and relaxation away from the parks.
What I like about the Wilderness Lodge is it feels like more of an experience than the value or moderate options, but it’s not so impeccably fancy like the Floridian or busy and modern like the Contemporary. It’s comfortable, handsome, and homey.
If you are a Floridian yourself, it helps you get a break from the bounty of beach-themed resorts. (I, for one, am always happy for something different.) If you’re from another state or even another country, it will give you a preview of another corner of United States. It can be worth spending more money for a resort like this.
Relax in the main entrance, chill in your porch if you have one. Follow the water from the water fall to the pool, see the evergreen trees. Notice the moose tracks in the concrete. Most of the enjoyment is in the details. Going to Disney on vacation is exhausting, so I love taking the time to see and experience, even at the hotel.
Unfortunately, my most recent trip was short, so I didn’t get to see it all. I loved the theme and the cast members, but I was mildly overwhelmed by the antics in Whispering Canyons (despite loving the food.). Overall, I would give the Wilderness Lodge 4 out of 5 stars.
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