Extensive Refurb at Wilderness Lodge Gives Me Pause In Recommending It
By Dave Shute
EXTENSIVE REFURB AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE
Based on what I saw in this great disboards thread, I spent a lot of time Thursday and Friday at the Wilderness Lodge to check out the impact of a broader refurb than I had been expecting, especially on its stunning lobby.
More follows, but here’s the short version:
For repeat visitors who had been planning the Wilderness Lodge for their next trip, I’d just put off staying there until this refurb is complete. Stay somewhere else on your bucket list, and return to the Wilderness Lodge after the lobby comes back to normal
For first-timers with their heart set on the Wilderness Lodge,
- If you have any concerns at all, stay someplace else. The potential to be disappointed isn’t worth it.
- If you don’t have concerns, stay at the Lodge. The refurb to the lobby mars it, but it does not ruin it. I would say that the lobby retains more than 80% of its prior beauty, grandeur, and sublimity. Since the prior level was really high, 80% of that level is really high too!
THE REFURB AT THE WILDERNESS LODGE
In October 2015, as part of a redo of the Disney Vacation Club offerings at the Wilderness Lodge, several amenities were taken out and extensive construction in the outer verges of the Wilderness Lodge proper began.
There’s much more on this topic here, but essentially the Wilderness Lodge lost for construction the smaller of its two pools, its beach, and some other minor amenities.
While views from the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge were quite marred from this work, I thought that those getting Courtyard views in the main Lodge would be largely un-affected.
Not so fast. Earlier this month, Disney essentially closed off the half of the Wilderness Lodge on the Villas side, took the elevators serving this wing out of service, and put up construction walls out to the edge of the lobby over the check-in area and extending a bit around each corner of that wall.
Here’s a bunch of photos of the lobby (as always on this site, click them to enlarge them):
April 2016 update: the scaffolding is gone.
Moreover, scaffolding now covers much of the south (Villa-facing) side, and goes around the corner to a bit of the Courtyard side of this wing. I’d imagine that over time this scaffolding likely will extend further into the courtyard:
So what does this all mean?
First, on the positive side–
- With about half the rooms taken out of circulation, crowds will be lower in the Roaring Fork quick service location, the wonderful main pool, and the boats and buses
- The vast majority of what leads to the lobby’s impact remains–the grandeur and sublimity of the large space, the large decorative features of the carved columns, totem poles, teepee lights and the Grand Canyon fireplace, and most of the subtle detailing
- For construction walls, the walls themselves aren’t bad. Had they been on the other side of the railings, the balance of details would be much worse.
- Many north wing rooms have better Magic Kingdom views, thanks to the scalping of a number of trees in this area preparatory to construction.
So I think the refurb is not only not a disaster, but also that the lobby is on the order of 80% as good as it used to be, or will be in the future.
On the other hand, at the same time the lobby, which is the glory of the Wilderness Lodge, is in fact not as good as it used to be, or will be in the future, other construction mars views and creates noise, and some of the amenities are gone.
Hence my recommendations:
- For first timers who are not troubled by all this, by all means stay at the Lodge–it will still be a great experience, just not as good as it was or will be.
- Repeat visitors should hold their visit to the Wilderness Lodge until the refurb is complete
- First timers who are concerned should stay elsewhere.
Where else to stay depends on why you picked the Wilderness Lodge in the first place.
- If it was for its stunning kid appeal, then stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- If it was for a lower-priced deluxe option convenient to the Magic Kingdom, then stay in a Garden Wing room at the Contemporary.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE REFURBED WILDERNESS LODGE ROOMS?
The short answer is I don’t know, but am willing to guess.
I think that some/many/all of these rooms are being converted into Disney Vacation Club Studios, for a number of reasons
- The Bungalows that are being constructed along the Bay Lake shore will be offered as a new DVC contract, it is rumored, and I’d think that such a new contract needs studio options as well for enough people to buy it.
- Disney has gotten used to the major earnings increase that comes from selling DVC contracts, and nothing else is in the pipeline right now.
On the other hand, Wilderness Lodge studios would be really small, comparable to the not-so-wildly popular “value” studios at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The best evidence that these are in fact DVC conversions comes from the fact that nobody–nobody–among the cast members was willing to talk to me about the substance of the refurb. DVC falls under Florida’s complex timeshare laws, which among other things puts major restrictions on marketing ahead of regulatory release.
Of course, you can take this logic too far…the fact that Disney is not talking about DVC plans on Mars does not mean it is putting DVC there…