Review: Boulder Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
By Dave Shute
OVERVIEW: BOULDER RIDGE VILLAS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS
NOTE MARCH 2017: The Wilderness Lodge refurb should be complete by mid-summer 2017. See this.
I can’t really recommend these Villas until the impact of this construction is clearer. See this for more.
Most (but not all…) room options at Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (a Disney Vacation Club resort) are wonderful places for returning visitors to Walt Disney World to stay.
For typical first-time visitors, I don’t recommend the Disney Vacation Club resorts.
Among the Disney Vacation Club resorts, the Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge ranks first overall for first-time visitors, but specifics vary a little for larger families.
THE DISNEY VACATION CLUB RESORTS
You can have a spectacular visit at any Walt Disney World resort. However, this site recommends that typical first time visitors to Walt Disney World avoid the Disney Vacation Club resorts, while noting that these resorts are wonderful for visits after the first. (You can find extensive detail on the DVC resorts here.)
The recommendation comes from the simple fact that the distinguishing feature of these resorts–extra space and full kitchens–will not be of much value to first-time visitors following one of the itineraries on this site, as they won’t be used much.
However, the Disney Vacation Club resorts represent more than 10% of Walt Disney World’s total rooms, and are very appropriate for first time visitors with large families, needing extra sleeping spaces, or looking for a more comfortable place to stay.
Because of this, I’m providing a series of up-to-date reviews. This review is based on my half-dozen stays at the Boulder Ridge Villas at the Wilderness Lodge, and in particular stays in a Two Bedroom Villa in December 2013 and in a newly-refurbed Studio and One Bedroom Villa in August 2014.
THE BOULDER RIDGE VILLAS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE
On this basis, The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge comes in first overall of the Disney Vacation Club resorts. (See this for resort rankings.) However, there’s a little variability here for larger families:
- Studios and One Bedroom Villas at The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are the best choice among the DVC resorts. Studios here, after the 2014 refurb, are one of only three such options that can sleep 5–the fifth on a small Murphy Bed. (Studios at the Villas at the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Villas and Bungalows can also sleep five.)
- There are some problems with the size and layout of Two Bedroom Villas at The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (which problems are mostly shared with Two Bedroom Villas at the Beach Club, BoardWalk Villas, and Saratoga Springs)
- These problems suggest that for families who can’t fit into two queens and a king–that is, into the bedrooms themselves–Two Bedroom Villas at Kidani Village are the best choice. Kidani Village Two Bedrooms can sleep up to 9
- For families that can fit into two queens and a king, the Two Bedroom Villas at the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge are the best choice among the DVC options
- The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are one of only three DVC resorts that don’t offer Grand Villas (The Polynesian and Beach Club Villas are the others), so for families seeking such space–they sleep 12–the Grand Villas at Jambo House are the best choice.
Kid Appeal. The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge share the services, resources and lobby of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, plus compatible theming. The spectacular kid appeal of the Wilderness Lodge, especially its lobby, makes it number one on the kid appeal list, and the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge share this ranking. (For more on the Wilderness Lodge, see this.)
OTHER DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF THE VILLAS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE
The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge has a number of very strong positives.
- The strongest positive is the spectacular theming of it and its partner resort Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Other shared positives include the nice variety of dining options in the Lodge, and the theming of the main pool
- On its own, positives include the architecture of its lobby (see photo above), the new five person capacity of Studios, and the collection of railroad memorabilia in its first floor Carolwood Room–named after Walt Disney’s outdoor model railroad, the Carolwood Pacific (photo below)
The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge also has some distinctive negatives.
Most significant of these is the layout of the Two Bedroom Villa when used by larger families.
The shared living/dining/kitchen space is in the center.
The shared living space is about a foot too narrow to be functional when the sofa bed in it is unfolded. The effect is to make the living area almost unusable when the sofa bed is open, and, given that the connecting door to the room with two queens is on the balcony side of the sofa bed, access to and from this room is limited as well.
Moreover, the dining table only seats two.
More chairs can be grabbed from elsewhere in the villa, and there’s also a small breakfast bar between the kitchen and living room, but really?
This is awkward enough that I would advise a family so large that is cannot fit into the six sleeping spaces of the two bedrooms to stay in a Two Bedroom at Kidani Village instead.
The floor plans for these Kidani Village rooms (above) provide much more living space when the sofa bed is unfolded than that available in the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge, and a larger dining table.
Why is the Villa at the Wilderness Lodge’s living room so narrow?
The short version is that Disney has gone through three stages of design in its DVC villas.
When designing the first to be opened, Old Key West, Disney was not sure if it was designing a vacation home or a hotel suite, so it split the difference, and created much more shared living space than probably it needed to.
In the next group of DVC properties to be opened, Disney made the shared space progressively smaller, until it hit the absolute limit of smallness–and maybe even went beyond–at Saratoga Springs.
You can see the shrinkage since Old Key West, and the expansion since Saratoga Springs.
BEST AND WORST ROOMS AT THE VILLAS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE
See the map. The Wilderness Lodge itself is the larger block on the top left; the villas the smaller block at the bottom right.
Bay Lake is at the top right.
The villas connect to the bus stop and the Wilderness Lodge lobby through a curved covered wooden walkway.
Best places to stay at the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge
The most convenient rooms are 1501-1505 and 1507.
- These rooms are the closest to the Wilderness Lodge lobby, and accessible by an entry door that serves only first floor rooms, making for the shortest walk both there and back, and also the shortest walk to the bus stops.
- They are a mix of studios and one bedrooms; the one bedrooms can be combined with a studio into a two bedroom.
- As first floor rooms, they have patios, not balconies. Note: avoid 1509—though well-located for convenience, it abuts the ice machine and guest laundry and may be subject to noise from these.
Rooms with the best view:
- Odd numbered fifth floor rooms 5533 and up have great views of Bay Lake. The lower numbered of these are more convenient, because they are closer to the elevator. One of these is a one bedroom; the rest are two bedrooms.
- Fourth floor odd numbered rooms 4531 and higher also have good views, but with more studios and one-bedrooms available. The lower numbered of these are closer to the elevator.
Best mix of view and convenience:
- 4511, a two bedroom, has a moderately good view of Bay Lake, and is equidistant between the elevators and a stairwell that presents the shortest walk to the lobby of the Lodge and the bus stops. You can’t use this stairwell coming back, but need to go to the elevator instead.
- 4507, also a two-bedroom, is the next best.
Worst Places to Stay at the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge
All first floor rooms have patios, not balconies.
A certain group of even numbered rooms are in the shorter wing of the Villas, and overlook the walkway between it and the Lodge.
This walkway is planked in such a way to in effect create corrugations. The roar of the wheels of rolling bags over these planks will keep some up at night.
Rooms with such problems include even numbers 1506-1516, 2508-2514, 3506-3514, and 4508 to 4514.
Disney’s room request form for these villas won’t let you get anywhere near this specific…so you’d need to communicate over the phone.
Especially large families looking for a two-bedroom villa for 7 or 8 people (with the exceptions noted above), families on a budget.
PHOTO TOUR OF A STUDIO ROOM AT THE VILLAS AT THE WILDERNESS LODGE
This review continues here!