By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor

The Theming of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

By Dave Shute

For the first page of this review of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, click here.


Entry Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.netDisney’s Wilderness Lodge opened in 1994, and its last renovation was completed in 2012.  It is officially described on Walt Disney World’s website as

“…inspired by the Great American Northwest National Park lodges from the turn of the 20th century…an architecturally grand Disney Deluxe Resort hotel honoring American craftsmanship and artistry, and celebrating the majesty of the unspoiled wilderness.

“The theme of being in harmony with nature winds through the lodge—inside and out. Authentic decor and genuine artifacts pay homage to ancient Native American cultures and the pioneering spirit of early American explorers.

“From its stunning 7-story lobby, built from 85 loads of Lodgepole Pine, to its 82-foot-tall lobby fireplace, the Resort is as beautiful as it is impressive. Its 727 Guest rooms offer themes of wildlife, nature and Native American designs, and include Honeymoon Suites featuring marble whirlpool tubs.

“On the Resort grounds, look for the bubbling spring that flows into a creek, tumbles over a sparkling waterfall and empties into the swimming pool. Catch the eruption of Fire Rock Geyser, fashioned after Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful, with its plume of water jetting 120 feet into the air.”

The description of the Wilderness Lodge as being “inspired by the great American Northwest,” though presented by Disney itself, and widely repeated in guidebooks and the internet, is a bit of a crock.

Lobby Totem Pole Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.netThe Wilderness Lodge does have elements from the American Northwest–Washington and Oregon–ranging from the stunning totem poles in the main lobby to the menu provenance of its signature restaurant, Artist Point.

And it also celebrates other remarkable western areas, such as the Grand Canyon in the southwest.

Old Faithful at Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.netThat said, the Wilderness Lodge is in fact largely inspired by, and is in homage to, the Mountain West–the basic architecture, the look of the lobby, and the “Fire Rock Geyser” area are all based on Yellowstone, which is not part of America’s Northwest by a long shot.

Yellowstone is principally in Wyoming, but also in Montana and Idaho.  This area is best described as the “Mountain West,” not the Northwest.

Native American Art Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (683x1024)The second most significant influence on Wilderness Lodge theming after Yellowstone is the art and artifacts of Native Americans.

Native American Art at Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (683x1024)Tribes represented in the Lodge cross the country from the southwest (the Navajo and Apache) to the northwest to the great plains to the southeast (Cherokee.)

Lobby Fireplace at Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.netThe third most significant influence is the Grand Canyon in general, and in particular Mary Colter’s masterwork Bright Angel Lodge there, from which the lobby fireplace was adapted and expanded (to 82 feet!!).

(I have always thought that Colter’s work at the Grand Canyon made her the first Imagineer…years before Walt Disney ever thought of the term!)

Painting Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (670x1024)Additional theme influences include the great vernacular styles associated with westward expansion and its later re-interpretations–ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright to Thomas Molesworth to the Mission style.

The simplest, but still largely accurate, description of the Wilderness Lodge’s theme would be that it honors the mountain west; a longer but more accurate description would be that it is based on the great National Park Lodges of the early 1900s, and honors the Native Americans who first lived in this land, as well as later explorers and their descendants–hunters, trappers, guides, woodsmen, cowboys, etc.

The Lodge greatly repays exploring.  In the upper floor spaces around the main lobby, you’ll find wonderful nooks and crannies.

Fireplace Nook Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (1024x683)On the part above the entrance, you’ll find several little fireplace nooks…

Overlook Nook Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (1024x683)…and in the area facing the pool courtyard, there’s multiple levels of seating nooks.

Spring-Fed Stream Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.netThere’s also a subtle theming to this courtyard itself, in that it is all unified by a stream that begins at a spring inside the Lodge itself…

At the Wilderness Lodge…meanders down the center of the courtyard…

Waterfall at Disney's Wilderness Lodge from…goes over a waterfall down to the pool…

Downstream Disney's Wilderness Lodge from…and continues past the pool to Bay Lake.

Lobby Teepee Lights Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (1024x683)Even the light fixtures are worth noting–from the spectacular teepee lights in the main lobby…

Light Detail Disney's Wilderness Lodge from (1024x683)…to the darling lights illuminating the hallways that lead to the rooms.

The Wilderness Lodge was designed by Peter Dominick, who also designed the next-most stunning Disney resort, the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

In an obituary of Dominick (he died in 2009), it was noted that Dominick “understood the building traditions of the Rocky Mountain West…his specialty was wonderful buildings that celebrated the landscape he loved.”

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