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Extensive Refurb at Wilderness Lodge Gives Me Pause In Recommending It



By Dave Shute

EXTENSIVE REFURB AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

Wilderness Lodge Refurb More Extensive Than I Had ThoughtBased 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.

Wilderness Lodge Refurb 8 from yourfirstvisit.net

View from the Bay Lake side of the Villas

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):

Wilderness Lodge Refurb 5 from yourfirstvisit.net

The unaffected side

 

Wall at the second floor landing of the stairs

Construction wall at the second floor landing of the stairs

 

Wilderness Lodge Refurb 3 from yourfirstvisit.net

Construction wall from the second floor–near

 

Construction wall from the second floor, far

Construction wall from the second floor, far

 

Wilderness Lodge Refurb 7 from yourfirstvisit.net

Construction wall going around corner, from lobby

 

Wilderness Lodge Refurb 6 from yourfirstvisit.net

Principal construction wall above check-in, from lobby

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:

DSC00166 (800x533)

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.

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…

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30 comments

1 Dayna { 01.31.16 at 3:38 pm }

Thanks so much for the update, Dave! Our trip is too soon to be able to make any changes (without down grading) so I guess we will hope for the best. If we have a courtyard view and want to be further away from construction, what should I request? We already did online check in and asked to be close to elevator….should I change that? Thanks again!!

2 Marissa { 01.31.16 at 8:08 pm }

Hi, We’re staying in the Villas the first week of March for just a couple of days. We don’t plan on being in our room very much. Mostly just for sleeping. Do you suggest I try and call and request a certain area of the Villas to stay in or will it not really be worth the trouble since we’ll be gone most of the day anyway? If so what side of building should a try to request?

3 Christy { 02.01.16 at 11:41 am }

Hi Dave, do you think the construction will run into 2017? We are looking at WL for an April 2017 trip, but we would probably not stay there if the construction was ongoing since it will be our first time staying onsite. Thanks!

4 Dave { 02.02.16 at 7:06 am }

Dayna, I think that’s just fine…

5 Dave { 02.02.16 at 7:07 am }

Marissa, the side of the Villas that does not face Bay Lake is best–but pretty much everyone will be asking for that, so it’ll be hard to get.

6 Dave { 02.02.16 at 7:22 am }

Christy, yes I do.

7 helen { 02.04.16 at 9:50 am }

My husband, pregnant daughter son-in-law and three small grandchildren ages 5, 3 and 2 will be staying at the Wilderness Lodge for the first time from April 18th through the 25th. We have booked two courtyard view rooms and requested the 7th floor in building C or D. At the time I spoke with Disney I was told that the construction affected the Hiddne Springs poool, beach marina and playground and the Villas. Is this a bad choice? I know we are not guaranteed specific requests. I would just like to know how much we will be impacted as far as noise and elevators during that time. TY

8 Dave { 02.05.16 at 7:49 am }

Honestly, Helen, I’d move your reservation if you can–call and be a squeaky wheel. Kids that age (and perhaps your daughter) will need naps, and while there may be no daytime noise near your rooms, there’s no guarantees.

9 Laura { 02.09.16 at 5:29 pm }

Thank you so much for the updates! Do you have an estimate for when the lobby construction will be finished? My husband and I are planning to stay there this September, and I don’t think we’ll mind outdoor construction so much, but the lobby would bother us more.

10 Dave { 02.10.16 at 4:50 pm }

Laura, nobody knows…sorry!

11 Susan M { 02.22.16 at 7:12 pm }

We are planning a stay in a deluxe room/club level at the end of April, first part of May. Is the Club Level affected by the construction inside the lodge?

12 Dave { 02.23.16 at 8:34 am }

Absolutely, Susan. You face all the other construction issues, plus the club lounge is down, and replaced by a temporary space. Note that most deluxe rooms are not physically on the club level, but rather have club privileges.

13 Sarah { 02.28.16 at 11:26 pm }

We were just at WL in early January. At that time, all the balcony railings were still “open” and none of the interior construction walls were visible. There was a great deal of construction activity around the outside, of course, with many dark green scrims hiding (or at least trying to) the work.

We stayed down on the first floor, north wing, facing the Otter pond. The good news is that even first floor rooms have re-gained visibility for MK fireworks with the thinning of the tree line. And during the day, you can now see the boats that ply the canal (heading to the dock from MK) as they glide up towards the WL dock.

From what we were told by both front desk CM’s and Concierge staff, there is no refurbishment of the rooms per se. There is outside maintenance work (think paint, caulking, replacement of timbers, etc.) and there are some rooms that being “worked on” (all we could get from staff LOL) but the furnishings and soft goods in the rooms are not expected to be changed out at this time.

We love WL – it is our Disney home away from home, and we stayed there even knowing that we would see and experience construction. I am glad to know that Disney is still investing in the Resort hotels, keeping them fresh, new and if it takes adding more DVC to keep things going, that’s OK too.

Don’t forget to mention to folks on your Wilderness Lodge pages that many of the rooms have bunk beds for the little nuggets! Our daughter is all “grown up” now, but she still gets a kick out of sleeping in the top bunk at WL!

Thanks for sharing such a great resource with everyone. :)

14 Dave { 02.29.16 at 8:27 am }

Thanks, Sarah!!

15 Eric { 03.18.16 at 5:19 pm }

Dave,
Any new word/pictures on the work being done at Wilderness Lodge? We (avid DVC members)are taking my wife’s family for their first Disney experience in December. I know nothing is being given by cast members but with the current progress, would the construction seem to be expected to be relatively minimal by the end of the year?

16 Dave { 03.19.16 at 1:00 pm }

Eric, I have no news, but plan to wander by during my visit to WDW in later April. Josh may have an update before then.

I do expect that the construction on the new pool, restaurant and bungalows will extend into 2017.

17 Eric { 05.02.16 at 11:02 am }

Dave,
Eric here again. Any news about the construction on Wilderness Lodge or progress. We are changing our Resort tomorrow morning and would love a more informed decision before blowing off Wilderness Lodge as a contender for December Disney vacation.

18 Dave { 05.02.16 at 11:38 am }

Eric, as noted briefly here, the scaffolding is down (making courtyard views again a good choice) but the lobby walls remain up.

The impact of the walls is mixed. One person who was there the same day I took the photos (4/20) didn’t even notice them and denied they were up!

19 Jen { 06.27.16 at 8:58 am }

Hi,
We are planning a Disney trip for Early July 2017. Do you think construction will still be going on? If so do you know if there is any plans to close down main pool for updates? I have a 9 and 6 year and we like to come back mid day for a swim. We have never stayed at WL or any deluxe….we wanted to spurlge a little during this trip. I have always loved the look of WL and it’s convenient to MK. Do you think we should take a chance?

20 Dave { 06.28.16 at 6:51 am }

Jen, about the general construction, I don’t know, but the main pool just had a refurb so it is highly unlikely to close.

21 Lisa { 06.28.16 at 2:55 pm }

I chatted with a WDW employee the other day about the construction since we are planning on going in April next year and she told me that everything will be open BUT the Nature Trail. Hope that helps

22 Dave { 06.29.16 at 12:24 pm }

Thanks, Lisa!

23 Amanda { 09.13.16 at 2:17 pm }

Hi Dave! I was just wondering if you have any information about the childcare services offered at Wilderness Lodge? When I booked my vacation (which is in April of 2017) I saw that they had a location there, but now I can no longer find it listed anywhere on the site. Do you know if they’ve just removed it completely, or if maybe it’s just temporarily closed? Being a single mother I was hoping to utilize it while treating myself to a massage! Thanks in advance!

24 Dave { 09.14.16 at 10:49 am }

Amanda, it’s closed during the renovation. It may be reopened by April.

25 Kristy { 09.27.16 at 8:52 pm }

Hi Dave. We are scheduled to arrive at Wilderness Lodge Villas on October 18th for 10 days. Can you tell me what rooms would be the best to request. Fireworks view for the kids? Top floor I would assume for better views? Near elevators as I hear the walk is long? Hoping not as long as Animal Kingdom Lodge…..yikes that was a hike carrying small kids at night haha

26 Dave { 09.28.16 at 2:42 pm }

Kristy, there’s no view of the fireworks from the villas-only from the lodge itself. Walks are pretty short here compared to most other DVC hotels.

27 Jill { 11.01.16 at 2:45 pm }

Hi Dave, My family and I will be staying at the WL in mid December. It will be our first stay at WL, we always stay at Poly. We wanted a change and I heard Christmas time at WL is great. We have a courtyard view. Do you think we should go back to Poly? Or give WL a try? We received a letter today from Disney about the construction.

28 Dave { 11.02.16 at 7:07 am }

Jill, my general advice for repeat visitors is to defer their WL visit until the refurb is done. That said, with a courtyard view you’ll notice it little, and it is pretty nice at Xmas!!

29 Claire Laggan { 01.13.17 at 1:04 am }

Any other updates for 2017 please?

30 Dave { 01.13.17 at 3:34 pm }

Hi Claire, I’ll be stopping by in late January so will have more of a sense then. The expectation is phased opening in 2017–with the new quick service opening as early as February.

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