By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



Category — q. Reviews

Review: The Fantasmic! Dessert and VIP Viewing Experience

In August 2017 Disney World announced the new Fantasmic! Dessert and VIP Viewing Experience offering. This “Experience” offers some nice snacks, a souvenir mug, and—at least on my visit to it in late September 2017, more on this point below—first come, first served seating in the “Dining Package” reserved area of the Fantasmic! amphitheater.

The cost, including tax, is $39 for those ten and older, and $19 for those aged three to nine.

Fantasmic! is an evening show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Combining a cast of more than 50 people, huge puppets, water effects, live action, projections, and a boat show (well, sorta), it touches on more or less every great Disney animated film through The Lion King and Pocahontas, with a few interludes with more recent characters.

I’ve seen it more than a dozen times, and while it is getting a little old—the projections, on water screens, are particularly in need of both technical and substantive updates—it is among my top five Disney World attractions, and on all of this site’s Disney World itineraries. There’s more on Fantasmic! here.

Two showings of Fantasmic! a night used to be fairly common, but with the introduction of the new evening show Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, one Fantasmic! show a night is now much more typical—so it’s not unusual for there to be more people who want to see Fantasmic! than there is capacity.

There’s now five ways to get a seat for Fantasmic!

  • One is to use one of your pre-booked FastPass+, which on a one-day visit to the Studios is not a great use of FastPass+. The late timing of the show means you probably won’t be able to book any additional FastPass+ at the Studios that day. Also, Fantasmic! FastPass+ are Tier One FastPass+, and frankly on a one day visit your Tier One FastPass+ is better spent on Toy Story Mania or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. (Most of my itineraires have two visits to the Studios, partly for this reason, partly so that you can see both evening shows, and partly as prep for Toy Story Land and Star Wars.)
  • Second is to keep looking for Fantasmic! as a 4th, 5th or whatever day-of FastPass+. This works most days, but comes with no guarantee of success.
  • Third is to get in line for Fantasmic! really early—like more than an hour before show start. This works quite well, but this site isn’t really designed to tell you how to wait longer in line…
  • Fourth is to purchase a Fantasmic! Dinner Package at The Hollywood Brown Derby, Mama Melrose, or Hollywood and Vine. Traditionally the problem with this—other than cost—has been the choice of restaurants. The Brown Derby is terrific, but not exactly fun. Mama Melrose is pedestrian. Hollywood and Vine traditionally focused on the Disney Junior characters, which put it right in the wheelhouse of kids for whom Fantasmic! might be too scary (it has lots of villains, including large dragon and serpent puppets). Recently lunch and dinner at Hollywood and Vine has shifted to a more broadly appealing character line-up of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy, making it a more viable option. But at Hollywood and Vine lunch Fantasmic! package (after tax and tip) is around $63/39 per person, and the dinner package around $70/43. Mama Melrose is a bit less, and Brown Derby much more.

The Fantasmic! Dessert and VIP Viewing Experience presents potentially a money and time-saving fifth alternative–to the dining package in particular. At $39 for those ten and older, and $19 for those aged three to nine (tax included, no tip), it is cheaper than a dining package—although not by much–and it saves you the time you would otherwise spend at the sit-down restaurant.

The way it works is you make your reservations online here (or of course you can call 407 939-3463).

Then at the Studios you enter the FastPass+ line at Fantasmic! When you enter is a little screwball. Disney’s promotional material—and the paperwork I got from them—indicates that seating is in a dedicated part of the amphitheater “in the first couple of rows of the theater.”

“Dedicated” would seem to mean that you don’t need to arrive early to get good seats.

However, on our visit (I went with my imaginary internet friend Steve Bell of MilitaryDisneyTips.com), seating was first-come first served in the Dining Package area of the amphitheater. This matters if you want a specific location. Up close is best for viewing; mid-way gives you an adequate view and avoids the water spray you will get up close; toward the back is best for an easy exit. If there’s not a dedicated seating area on your visit, the earlier you arrive, the more seating choices you will have. If there is a dedicated seating area, then you will be up close, and will get misted.

We purposely got up close, as I’d sat pretty much everywhere at Fantasmic! except front and center in the first few rows. Can’t really complain about how close and centered our seats were. And the mist, frankly, was welcome, as it was a hot and humid night. On cooler nights, the mist would be a bug, not a feature.

Anyway, back to the process, a bit after you enter the FastPass+ line you’ll see a sign heading you off the line…

…and a kiosk off to the side.

Here you get a lanyard that identifies you to cast members further in as a possessor of this Experience, a drink in a special cup (we got blue margaritas), a small bottle of water, and a boxed set of desserts and savory snacks.

Then you go in and sit and drink and snack and wait for the show.

There was nothing special about the margarita—there’s also a non-alcoholic punch for the kids, and of course the water bottles—but the mug was fun. It has settings for fast and slow flashing, plus steady lights. The image is of the steady lights.

The snack box has both more and better food than I’d expected. The three cupcakey looking things are an apple crisp, cheesecake, and a chocolate cupcake. Each was delightful. The two chocolate-covered strawberries were large and perfectly ripened. The cheese cubes are typical, and in the cute little paper bag are some nice salty tortilla chips. The small jar—you are seeing its lid–includes a trail mix that was the only offering not particularly to my taste, but trail mix preferences do vary (my fave is M&Ms, peanuts, and golden raisins).

The menu (click it to enlarge it).

Here’s the full set of loot, with one exception There’s a knife-fork-spoon-napkin set up at the bottom of your bag, somewhat hidden by a printed “Fantasmic! Fun Facts” flyer. Some people might not find these, and hence complain about difficulties in eating the cupcakes in particular. Not that you would have this problem. Because you’ve been warned. But we got a little messy…

In total, while not what you’d call a healthy meal, there’s a fair amount of food here. If you had a heavy lunch, and a snack after, it might substitute for dinner—or come pretty close to doing so.

So for your $39/$19, you get a large and varied snack, a drink, a bottle of water, and a fun mug. (Kids get more kid-appropriate snacks, e.g. gummy bears.) In addition, you get as good a seat at Fantasmic! as you are willing to come early for, without using a FastPass+, and without the time and expense that a sit-down dining package dinner would cost. (The dining package saves you no time at Fantasmic! itself, as it also has first-come-first served seating in the dining package section.)

At this price, the Fantasmic! Dessert and VIP Viewing Experience is clearly not for everyone, and is an even worse deal for those whose dining earlier in the day makes the snacks largely superfluous. The drink is nice, but no one ever goes to the Studios yearning for a blue margarita.

That said, it is a legit approach to seeing Fantasmic! for those who can afford it, especially if the rest of their dining this day lets the snacks substitute for dinner.

There’s lots of good seats for Fantasmic!, but so long as the seats for this experience remain where they are, the seating location is hard to beat. You are near the center of the show, but can pick how close to the water you want to be. If the event does convert to dedicated seats by the water, you will get misted, but the vantage point from up close is really nice…

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September 27, 2017   11 Comments

The Rivers of Light Dining Package at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

RIVERS OF LIGHT DINNER PACKAGE AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

Rivers of Light is the new evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that debuted in February 2017. While it opened to mixed reviews, I think it a must-see.

Rivers of Light (full review here) takes place most nights. Early on, it saw some weeks where it showed only four nights a week (Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesday and Thursdays), but since the summer has been scheduled for every night, for one to three times a night.

On nights when it shows once, more have wanted to see it than it can accommodate. You can book an advance FastPass+ for it, but this means that you will be unlikely to be able to add 4th or following FastPass+ to your Animal Kingdom visit that day.

Another option—though more expensive—is to book a Rivers of Light Dining Package. This package, which is available at the character buffet Tusker House and the high-end dining venue Tiffins, gives you either a fun or exceptional meal—depending on which you pick—and seats in a dedicated seating area in the Rivers of Light viewing area.

The package costs one or two table service credits, depending on the restaurant, if you are on the dining plan. For cash, current pricing of the Rivers of Light package at Tusker House is $52 for adults and $ 32 for children at lunch or dinner, and breakfast is $39/24. Lunch or dinner at Tiffins is $67/26.

Note that the dedicated Rivers of Light viewing area does not have individually reserved spots. Seating here is first come, first served, and those who get the package most commonly are those who are really dedicated to seeing this show. As a result, the seating area fills up quickly, and you want to get to it no later than 30 minutes before show start.

Because I think Rivers of Light is a must see but that there are better ways to manage your FastPass+, I’ve added the Rivers of Light Dining Package at Tusker House to all of my itineraries. In every case it replaces a previously suggested sit-down character meal (most commonly the princess meal at Akershus, as Cinderella’s Royal Table is already in the itineraries) so there’s not much extra cost.

THE RIVERS OF LIGHT DINNER PACKAGE AT TUSKER HOUSE

Tusker House is a character buffet in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Here’s the review from The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit:

Tusker House includes an interesting village market theming…

Multiple rooms to dine in…

…with fun art…

…and visits from Mickey…

…Donald…

..and Goofy and Daisy.

The buffet is extensive and includes a carving station (salmon and pork at my visit) of which my images were either terrible or off-putting. The online menu is here.

Here’s few other representative shots from our last meal here:

For many more images and details on the offerings, my co-author Josh has an extensive review with a comprehensive set of photos, all of which are better than mine, here.

THE RIVERS OF LIGHT DINNER PACKAGE AT TIFFINS

Tiffins opened in 2016 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a “signature” fine dining venue.

A favorite among bloggers, it also appeals to normal people looking for fine dining and an interesting, imagination filled setting.

Here’s the review from The easy Guide:

The online menu is here.

The physical menu (click it to enlarge it) and some other shots, several in focus, from my last meal here:

You need to see Rivers of Light; you need to eat, and specifically you need to either dine well or eat with Mickey Mouse. Either way, a Rivers of Light dining package can be an effective way to both do that—at Tiffins or Tusker House.

Note that as Disney experiments with how frequently and at what times it will show Rivers of Light, the package is not available to book six months ahead like regular Disney dining—it’s been three months or so lately. Check your dates here.

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September 20, 2017   2 Comments

Review: The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness

HOOP-DEE-DOO MUSICAL REVUE…REVIEW

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a musical comedy dinner show that plays three times a night in Pioneer Hall in Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Simply put, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a hoot, and among the best experiences at Walt Disney World.

I’ve seen Hoop-Dee-Doo a half dozen times, most recently in July 2017. Not everyone is a fan; you can love Disney World and not find Hoop-Dee-Doo bearable; but if you love Hoop-Dee-Doo, you’ll find that you have exactly the right degree of silliness and child-like delight to enjoy everything else Walt Disney World has to offer.

For this reason it’s one of the quintessential Disney World experiences, and is included in all of my first-timer Disney World itineraries except the very shortest.

The best short description of the show at Hoop-Dee-Doo I’ve seen was in a history of the show published a few years ago on the D23 website: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a “goofball western vaudeville dinner show.”

Jim Korkis wrote about the history of Hoop-Dee-Doo for this site here. An excerpt:

The premise of the show is that a stagecoach of performers on their way to another engagement (and an actual stagecoach used to be positioned outside of Pioneer Hall to support that storyline) had broken down.

They come inside the dining hall to entertain while their stagecoach is being repaired and the guests enjoy an all-you-can-eat meal of fried chicken, ribs, strawberry shortcake and more between the corn-pone vaudeville acts. [Read more →]

September 10, 2017   3 Comments

Review: The Happily Ever After Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom

THE FIREWORKS DESSERT PARTY AT MAGIC KINGDOM

Happily Ever After is the new projection and fireworks show at Magic Kingdom that replaced Wishes in May 2017.

Like Wishes, Happily Ever After was explicitly designed to be seen from the axis between the Main Street train station and the Castle.

Unlike Wishes, Happily Ever After has projections. Because its projections can be small and–more to the point–are only on the Main Street side of the castle, even more so than Wishes, first-timers should see it from this axis, and from further away from the station than could work well for Wishes.

Since all locals, repeat visitors and readers of sound sources of advice have caught on to this, the area between the Casey’s Corner end of Main Street and the Castle is more mobbed than ever—which will surprise those who had thought it could not be more packed. It can—and it is.

Although it is pricey, I had thought of adding the Plaza Garden variant of the Happily Ever After dessert party to my itineraries as a way of creating great, uncrowded spots to view the show. So I attended it in July 2017 to see what the value was.


The short version is that for anyone who can afford it and does not like crowds, the value is there.

There are two different parties, both of which start in the Tomorrowland Terrace.

  • One is less expensive (about $63 adults/$37 kids, after tax) and has better propinquity and sightlines, but no rain protection during the viewing. This is the “Plaza Garden” party
  • The other, the “Tomorrowland Terrace” party is more expensive (about $84 adults/$50 kids, after tax), more distant, and with off-center sight lines, but has rain protection during the viewing.

(Both have rain protection during the “dessert party” part of the evening, which takes place in the Tomorrowland Terrace.)

There are multiple potential sources of value here:

The food and non-alcoholic drinks at the party, mostly desserts…

…lotsa desserts…

…but also cheese and fruit

The very nice viewing location at the less expensive Plaza Garden viewing variant. The Terrace viewing is not bad, especially for those who have already seen Happily Ever After before, but it is a little more distant, and much more off center, than the Plaza Garden option. On the image above, the best spots overall are in gold, the Plaza Garden spot in green, and the Tomorrowland Terrace spot is marked by a red “X.”

The lack of crowding at either spot. You will have crowds once you leave, but the show itself will not feature the jostling mobs you’ll see everywhere else nearby.

The rain protection you will get during the show from the Tomorrowland Terrace location. (Both locations dine out of the rain.)

The key sources of value will vary depending on what matters to you. For me, it is seeing a great show from a close spot with a great angle without having to show up early. Add to this the absence of crowds and jostling—a value you can achieve no other way—and it’s well worth it.

For me the food is of little value. There are ways I would much rather spend my time at Magic Kingdom than hang around in Tomorrowland Terrace for 90 minutes eating cupcakes, and even if I were in the mood for junk food—which, face it, at Disney World I usually am—there’s other junk I much prefer.

Note that while you have to check in at Tomorrowland Terrace and get your credentials, you don’t have to hang around and eat and drink. Check in, get your stuff, and return about 15-20 minutes before the show to be escorted over to the viewing area.

For others the food—and/or the opportunity to sit and rest for a bit–has much more value. Moreover, unless you will be at Disney World for weeks, there’s not much need to obsess over the caliber of your diet, so conceivably cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, fruit and cheese could pass for dinner.

Since I spend the equivalent of a month or two in the parks every year (I have the somewhat rare notion that those advising others about Disney World ought to base that on personal, recent, deep experience) I am quite used to Disney World in the rain, so see little value to the covered viewing location compared to how off-center—and slightly more distant—it is, so can’t advise paying for the more expensive party.

Happily Ever After is the best evening show at Disney World. Seeing it from a good spot requires a long wait and involves much jostling and crowding. The Plaza Garden version of the dessert party is a way to make these negatives go away.

And scarf a cupcake or two while you are at it…

You can book the party on Disney’s website here, and my co-author Josh has even more on the party here.

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September 2, 2017   1 Comment

Review: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

OVERVIEW: DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

In July 2017 Disney’s Wilderness Lodge completed a major refurb.  Half of its rooms–those in the southeast wing–were converted into Copper Creek Villas. The old quiet pool was completely redone into the delightful new Boulder Ridge Cove pool. The old quick service, Roaring Fork, was refurbed, and a lovely new counter service option and bar, Geyser Point, opened.

The overall impact is that Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, already a great option, gained upgraded and additional amenities, but lost capacity–so fewer people are using the better amenities. In other words, it’s an even better choice than before.

Details follow…

Our most recent stay (our twelfth here–four in the main Lodge, six at Boulder Ridge, and two in Copper Creek) in July 2017 confirms that Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is the second best deluxe resort at Disney World for first time family visitors.

You can have a wonderful visit at any Walt Disney World resort hotel.

However, this site recommends that first time visitors to Walt Disney World who can afford it should stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, a deluxe resort, and that those who can’t should stay at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, a value resort.

(It also suggests that first time visitors should avoid the moderate resorts, while noting that these resorts are wonderful for visits after the first. See this for why.)

Compared to other Walt Disney World owned and operated resorts, the deluxe resorts are distinguished by having (on average) the most amenities, nicest views, best dining options, best transport options, largest rooms, best service, and highest prices.

Among the deluxe resorts, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge stands out for having the most stunning kid appeal, moderate convenience, smallest rooms, and lowest prices.

(See this for much more on resort distinctions by price class–value, moderate, deluxe, etc.)

In addition to the standard accommodations in the northwest wing of the Wilderness Lodge, the Wilderness Lodge also has additional room types in the two Disney Vacation Club offerings associated with it–Copper Creek Villas in the southeast wing of the main Lodge, and Boulder Ridge Villas in its own building outside Copper Creek. These areas are available to anyone to rent–you don’t have to be a member of the Vacation Club. These Villas have their own detailed reviews, at the links.

This review of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge has seven pages:

ACCOMMODATIONS AT THE WILDERNESS LODGE

Floor Plan Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

Standard rooms at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are tied with those at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge as the smallest deluxe rooms on property.

Bed Side Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

The bedroom component of these rooms is smaller than even those at the moderate resorts, being almost a foot narrower and, on the long side, 2.5 feet shorter. See this for more on comparative Disney resort room sizes.

Bunk Beds at Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

Most of these rooms sleep four–two each in two queens.  Rooms with a queen and two bunk beds are also available.  The bunk bed mattresses are 5’9″ long, and 39″ wide.  (In real life they are not so blurry.) Rooms with one king bed are also available.

You can add to this capacity of four a child younger than three who sleeps in a crib.  A crib fits well between the closet and dresser.

Partly because of these room sizes, and partly because it is not directly accessible from a theme park, the Wilderness Lodge is also typically the least expensive of the deluxe resorts.

For more on accommodations at the Lodge, see this, and for a photo tour of a standard room, see this.

(The Copper Creek Villas and Boulder Ridge Villas at the Wilderness Lodge are reviewed separately.)

THE POOLS AT THE WILDERNESS LODGE

The main Copper Creek Springs pool at the Wilderness Lodge was refurbed in 2014 and remains one of the most delightful pools at Disney World. (It was renamed in 2017, from “Silver Creek Springs.”) For more on the Copper Creek Springs pool, see this.

The second pool re-opened in July 2017. Now named Boulder Ridge Cove pool, it has been transformed into a delightful themed space that adults will particularly like. For more on the Boulder Ridge Cove pool, see this.

DINING AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

The Wilderness Lodge has four or four and a half principal dining venues that collectively make it above average among the Disney deluxes for dining.

  • Whispering Canyon Cafe is a raucous and fun setting for family dining
  • The more sophisticated and expensive Artist’s Point is perfect for couples dining
  • The old quick-service option, Roaring Fork, has been renovated, and remains among the best of its kind among the deluxes, but can easily become over-pressed
  • The new Geyser Point combines an upscale waterside bar with new quick service options, one set from the bar menu and one set from a walk-up window, that’s particularly convenient to both pools

Whispering-Canyon-Disneys-Wilderness-Lodge-from-yourfirstvisit.net_1

There’s also easy access via a boat to more great dining options at the Contemporary Resort and Fort Wilderness.

For more on dining at the Wilderness Lodge, see this.

KID APPEAL AND CONVENIENCE AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

Resorts are ranked on this site for first time visitors based first on their kid appeal, and then on their convenience.

On this basis, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is the second-best resort for first time family visitors to Walt Disney World.

Kid Appeal.

Whispering Canyon Across the Lobby Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

The kid appeal of the Wilderness Lodge comes from its stunning re-creation of the grandeur of America’s great national park lodges–both inside…

At the Wilderness Lodge

…and outside.

Other wonderful elements both big and small continue the theme of the mountain west and of other western national parks, with some elements recalling the Pacific Northwest.

This is Lewis and Clark country, of great drama, history–and adventure!

The main building and lobby of the Wilderness Lodge–modeled on the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, and featuring totem poles from Duane Pasco–set the stage.  This lobby is jaw-dropping to kids, and also to most adults.

Convenience. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is much less convenient than the Polynesian Resort in carrying out the itineraries for first-time family visitors on this site.

Transport to the Magic Kingdom is by boat and by bus. The buses begin earlier, and are more reliable for scooters and wheelchairs–not all boats can take these.

Transport to the other theme parks is by bus, each of which is shared by at least one other resort.

Boat service is also available to Fort Wilderness (convenient for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue) and the Contemporary Resort (convenient for Chef Mickey’s). These boats begin much earlier than the Magic Kingdom boats, so many families seeking an early start take the boat to the Contemporary, and then walk to the Magic Kingdom.

BEST PLACES TO STAY AT THE WILDERNESS LODGE

 This site suggests that first time visitors stay in standard rooms, not preferred rooms.

This is because they won’t be spending much time in their rooms.

The single exception is visitors to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, who should always pay for savanna views.

On the map, the Lodge is the green-roofed connected set of six to seven story high buildings, in a “Y” (or “U”) shape.

The main lodge buildings are in the upper left northwest wing of the Lodge. The new Copper Creek Villas are in the southeast wing.  The  Boulder Ridge Villas  are in the separate orange-roofed building.

More so than most Disney resorts, there are no bad rooms at the Wilderness Lodge.

Those furthest from the main lobby, restaurants, and bus stops are closest to the pools, Geyser Point, and boat dock to the Magic Kingdom, and vice-versa.

Disney is currently booking two room types–Courtyard views and Standard views.

Courtyard view rooms look into the middle area of the Lodge–overlooking either the Copper Creek Springs pool, the stream and waterfall that leads to it, or Bay Lake itself. The opening of the “Y” (or “U”!) as it approaches the pool means pool noise tends not to be an issue, and noise surprisingly isn’t really as much of a problem as you’d think for the rooms that open onto the main lobby.

Standard view room overlook anything else–but because so many trees were cut down on the northwest side of the Lodge for the Cascade Cabins here…

…a vast number of them now have truncated and distant views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Truncated and distant means this is no substitute for seeing these fireworks in the park…but it is pretty cool!

However, not all standard rooms have this view–some are too low, some blocked by trees, and some are just unlucky…

So pick the view you want–or hope for–most, and request an upper floor room (quieter, and better views).

BEST FOR:

Any first time family visitors who can afford it, but can’t get into or can’t afford Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

WORST FOR:

Families too large to fit its 4 person rooms.   See this for more on large families at Walt Disney World.

THEMING AND ACCOMMODATIONS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

This review continues here.

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August 13, 2017   2 Comments

Theming and Accommodations at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

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

THE THEMING OF DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

Entry Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge opened in 1994, and its standard rooms were last renovated in 2012. A major refurb and redo that ended in 2017 shifted half of its old rooms into Disney Vacation Club rooms, and added many amenities. A redo of its standard rooms is rumored to start in 2018.

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.

The 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.

That 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 yourfirstvisit.net (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 yourfirstvisit.net (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.)

The 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 yourfirstvisit.net (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 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.”

ACCOMMODATIONS AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

Upstream at Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

All Disney deluxe resorts have standard rooms; concierge rooms, which Disney calls “club” rooms; and suites. (See this for more on suites at Walt Disney World.)  The Wilderness Lodge has, in addition to these, club-level “deluxe rooms.”

All the Disney deluxes except the Yacht Club also have one or more Disney Vacation Club offerings on property, offering even more room types. These Vacation Club rooms can be booked by anyone just like any other Disney World room–you don’t have to be a member of the Club to do so. I have separate detailed reviews of the two at the Wilderness Lodge, Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek, elsewhere on this site, but will also comment a bit on them below.

Rooms in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are in a connected set of six and seven story high buildings, in a “Y” shape. On the map, the Wilderness Lodge is the green-roofed building at the top center.  Standard rooms are in the wing at the left; accommodations on the right wing of the main Lodge are part of the Copper Creek Villas. The red-roofed area below and to the right is the Boulder Ridge Villas.

At Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, standard and club/ concierge rooms sleep four, in two queen beds, or a queen and bunk beds. The floor plan above is for a two-queen standard or club room.

There’s a photo tour of one of these rooms here.

(See photo for an old view of the bunks, the mattresses of which I measured as 5’9″ long and 39″ wide.)

A few standard rooms with a king, sleeping two, are also available.

Standard rooms are sold with “standard” and “courtyard” views.

Courtyard views look into the center of the Y–to the waterfall, pool, or Bay Lake. Standard views–less expensive–look to something else…e.g. a parking lot.

However, a number of standard view rooms on the northwest side of the Lodge look across the new Cascade Cabins and a few trees towards the Magic Kingdom.

All but the lowest or most unlucky of these rooms have a limited but fun view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks. This image from July 2017 shows folk watching the Happily Ever After fireworks show from their balconies.

Some shots taken from the third floor of this wing of the Magic Kingdom fireworks:

Though these standard rooms are tied with the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s rooms as the smallest standard deluxe rooms on property, the space rarely feels cramped; it just has no more space than it absolutely needs.

Club rooms–which the rest of the world calls concierge rooms–all on the key-access 7th floor of the northwest side of the Lodge, have the same layout as standard rooms but have various services and amenities added on, as well as a substantial extra cost.

Here’s the club lounge from across the lobby.

The outside balcony half-wall in many of these rooms (as well as other top-floor rooms in other areas of the Lodge) is solid, not railed–limiting views except for standing adults.  Some of these rooms also have sloped ceilings.

Club rooms are not worth the extra cost for most first time family visitors. However, they may be well worth it for families intending to spend more time at the Wilderness Lodge than implied by this site’s itineraries. TikimanPages.com has a great discussion of the value of concierge rooms here. Though focused on the Polynesian, it applies to any deluxe resort.

Deluxe rooms (which used to be called “junior suites”) are suite-like club rooms, although they are found on many floors, not just the 7th.  They sleep 6–four in two queens in the bedroom, and two in a fold-out couch in the sitting room. (See floor plan at right.)  For an ancient review of these rooms, click here.

Suites sleeping 2 to 4 people are available for families seeking a particularly comfortable visit–see this for more on suites at Walt Disney World.  The Yosemite Vice Presidential suite, with 885 square feet, sleeps 4–two in the bedroom in a king, and 2 in a queen sleeper sofa in the parlor. The Yellowstone Presidential Suite has the same sleeping arrangements in 1000 square feet.

There are also many more room types in Copper Creek Villas and Boulder Ridge Villas, sleeping from four to twelve, many with full kitchens. Among them, “Studios” are most comparable to Wilderness Lodge standard rooms. Copper Creek Studios sleep four, and Boulder Ridge Studios sleep five.

(To each of the capacity figures above, you can add one more kid under 3 at time of check in who sleeps in a crib.)

The Wilderness Lodge inspires devotion among its fans–of which I am one.

Families who have stayed at it once will have difficulty understanding why they should ever go to a different Walt Disney World resort hotel.

The Wilderness Lodge’s strengths for first time visitors are its unsurpassed kid appeal and its reasonable prices.

The Wilderness Lodge’s principal negatives compared to other deluxes are its small rooms and relative inconvenience for parks other than the Magic Kingdom.

…and speaking of the rooms:

PHOTO TOUR OF A STANDARD ROOM AT DISNEY’S WILDERNESS LODGE

This review continues here.

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August 8, 2017   No Comments