Several years ago, a Disney rookie uttered those words to his wife. She had just returned from a trip to Disney with her parents and her first stay at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. She was detailing her stay, going on and on about all the terrific things she had experienced. At some point during her lengthy praising, the rookie interjected, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a hotel. How good could it be?”
I’ll spare you the suspense. The uneducated, naive, foolish rookie was yours truly. Outside of a trip in the early 1970’s when I was a wee lad, I had only been to Disney one other time, in 2000, and we stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter. I enjoyed that stay well enough. But I figured all the hotels were fairly similar, no big deal.
Fast forward to today, about a dozen or so WDW visits now under my belt and a handful of stays at Wilderness Lodge, and the facts are indisputable. My wife was right. The Wilderness Lodge is arguably the most amazing, awe-inspiring resort on Disney property.
Opened in 1994 and inspired by the Pacific Northwest national park lodges of the early 1900’s, the Lodge is truly a sight to see, an experience to be had. Details abound throughout the resort. But nothing symbolizes the Lodge more than the jaw-dropping, head-tilting, goose-bump causing lobby. Adorned with detailed tepee chandeliers, giant totem poles, intricate wood carvings of various animals, and hard-to-find hidden Mickeys, the cavernous lobby is by no means your run-of-the-mill check-in. It is a must-see, one-of-a-kind destination whether you’re staying at the Lodge or just visiting. It is another one of Disney’s many examples of a place where you should afford yourself the time to experience all that it offers. The sights, sounds, and details that can be found in just the lobby alone make it worth the trip to the Lodge.
But wait. There’s more. Much, much more.
Accompanying you on your stay at or visit to the Lodge is the wide-ranging selection of Western-themed music played throughout. Tracks from various soundtracks such as Dances With Wolves, The Magnificent Seven, and The Last of the Mohicans, just to name a few, fill not only the bustling lobby but also the quiet, tucked-away spaces found within the Lodge. This charging music adds to the overall atmosphere and transports you to a world of cattle drives, camp fires, and cross country horse rides. The inspiring music adds an entire extra layer of theming to the overall experience. Words cannot do it justice. If you take nothing out of this entire article, please believe me when I tell you that the moment you approach the Lodge, its front doors slide open, the powerful music first surrounds you and envelopes you, and you get your first views of the wondrous lobby, that one single moment of your trip will stay with you forever. And when I say forever, I mean forever.
Accentuating the lobby is the grand fireplace. Built to represent the Grand Canyon, the fireplace is the cornerstone of the lobby. Each layer of rock is painstakingly detailed to mirror the Grand Canyon’s strata layers. Imagineers spent countless hours and nearly a hundred different colors in creating this work of art. Not to mention the numerous plant and animal fossils, accurate to the time period of the strata layer in which they are located, placed throughout. The architectural aspects notwithstanding, the most rewarding aspect of the fireplace can be experienced in one simple action…taking a seat in front of it in one of the wooden rocking chairs. Whether at the beginning of the day with a cup of coffee while preparing for a full slate of park activity or at the end of the day with a refreshing beverage recounting the day’s events, if you’re lucky enough to find a vacancy, be sure to take advantage and have a seat for a quick rest bit.
In addition to the main fireplace, another hidden gem for some quiet time can be found at a second smaller fireplace on one of the upper levels of the Lodge above the lobby entrance. A few comfortable chairs and couches in front of a normal sized fireplace make for quite a cozy atmosphere. I can personally attest to the wonderful solitude of this tucked-away spot as my wife’s mother has written out her Christmas cards in front of this lesser-known warm fire. Now that’s my idea of yuletide greetings.
Another relatively unknown treasure of the Lodge is the flag family experience. If you’re lucky enough to be selected as a flag family, you will get to experience one of the most memorable experiences of your Disney vacation. In a nutshell, upon check-in simply ask if there is any availability to be a flag family. If so, by all means sign up. What does being a flag family entail? Very little effort, but a lifetime of memories. Twice each day, once in the morning when the Lodge’s flags are raised and once in the evening when they are lowered, a flag family gets to accompany the Lodge ranger up to the roof to raise or lower the various flags that adorn the Lodge’s roof. It is a very moving and impactful experience as the ranger explains what the various flags represent. And to say that the views from atop the Lodge, both inside at the very top of the lobby as you make your trek upwards and then outside on the roof itself, are breathtaking would be a vast understatement. There are no Fast Passes, no wait times, and no character meet & greets, but if you’re lucky enough to experience this “attraction”, the memories you experience will assuredly last a lifetime.
As this is a blog and not a novel, I’ll need to wrap it up unfortunately. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more wonderful little attribute of the Lodge. And that would be Humphrey the bear. One of the lesser-known Disney animated characters, Humphrey is a very special and prominent character at the Wilderness Lodge. Aside from the various merchandise which he graces, he holds down the fort at the base of the character totem pole in front of the Mercantile gift shop along with Mickey, Goofy, and Donald. The lovable bear is a must-see every time we visit the Lodge. And even more importantly, it is a must-do good luck charm to always rub Humphrey’s nose as you pass by the totem pole. Don’t believe me? Well, I’ll just say this…I’ve been a Seattle Seahawks fan for over 30 years. Not a ton of success, I know. But my wife and I were lucky enough to watch them play the Steelers in Super Bowl XL while at WDW, enjoying the game at The Turf Club at Saratoga Springs. Things didn’t turn out so well and the Seahawks lost the game. But 2 years ago in Super Bowl XLVIII, we were again fortunate enough to be at WDW during the big game, and made plans to watch it at the Territory Lounge at the Lodge. Just prior to kickoff, I made a point to pay Humphrey a visit and rub his nose for good luck. The Seahawks went on to win the game for their first Super Bowl victory ever. Coincidence? I think not. So trust me, give Humphrey’s nose a rub whenever you pass by. I guarantee you’ll feel a little bit of magic inside, wondering where your bit of good luck will pop up.
So I’ll again ask the same question I asked so many years ago. What’s the big deal about Wilderness Lodge? Pull up a rocking chair and I’ll tell you.
A lifelong resident of Pennsylvania & relatively new to the World of Disney, Matt has been an avid Disney fanatic since the early 2000’s and has done more than his share of catching up for lost time. Some of the various accomplishments on his Magical resume include DVC owner, Annual Passholder, and even former Cast Member. While his list of Disney Favorites is quite lengthy, the top of that list includes World Showcase, Wilderness Lodge, and the TTA. Matt’s next Disney goal? His own personal Florida resident annual pass.