Villas at
Wilderness Lodge Review


This review was originally published
in the November 28, 2000 issue (#61) of ALL EARS®.

The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge


PREFACE

I stood quietly, my eyes wide and drinking in the magnificent structure in front of me. Slowly, I started up the walkway to the lobby. The sound of crickets off in the distance enhanced the feeling that I had been transported to one of our National Parks. I immediately felt like I had arrived... home. It had that kind of warmth as I opened the door.

These are my recollections of how I felt upon my first visit to Disney's Wilderness Lodge in December 1995. Now, almost five years and many visits later, standing in the atrium of the newly opened Villas at (Disney's) Wilderness Lodge, I'm reminded of the first time I set foot in the original resort's cavernous lobby with the 82'tall, three-sided fireplace and the 55' hand-carved totem poles. These memories increase my excitement for the upcoming adventure that will allow me to explore the latest chapter in this rustic resort's story.

Joining me for this opening weekend are three friends; Eureka, aka the Czarina, from New York City, WDWIG's Restaurant Reviewer Extraordinaire, Gloria from Miami and her daughter Kelly from Philadelphia.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT

On Aug. 27, 1998, Disney Vacation Development, Inc., operators of Disney Vacation Club (DVC), announced an expansion of its timeshare presence at the Walt Disney World Resort with a third resort, The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, consisting of 136 units, including studios and one- and two-bedroom villas.

The newest DVC resort shares a number of facilities with the Wilderness Lodge, which opened May 28, 1984, including: the front desk and bell services, Artist Point Restaurant, Whispering Canyon Restaurant, Roaring Forks food court, the Mercantile, Buttons and Bells Arcade, Territory Lounge, Disney transportation, the Cubs Den (child activity center), and the Silver Creek Springs Pool.

The brand new facilities opening with the Villas include a quiet pool and hot tub, the Iron Spike Room, and the Sturdy Branches Health Club. Sturdy Branches is adjacent to the Villa's atrium and features stacked and free weights, cardiovascular equipment, massage and sauna.

According to a Disney Press Release: "Adjacent to Disney's Wilderness Lodge a team of railroad workers discovers a spectacular property -- complete with lakes, trees and majestic mountains rising in the distance (Splash Mountain and Space Mountain, that is!). These intrepid explorers decide this is the spot -- the perfect spot to set up camp as they build the transcontinental railway. They build themselves a new homestead and when it's time to move on, they leave it behind to be ``re-discovered'' by Disney Vacation Club... and so the story goes!"

The architecture of the Villas actually pre-dates the Wilderness Lodge and is reminiscent of late 19th century hotels built by railroad workers in the Old West. The railroad theming provides a perfect tie-in to Walt Disney's love of trains. Disney Imagineers designed the Iron Spike Room, located next to the lobby, which has a collection of railroad memorabilia and artwork.

CHECKING IN

As you drive down Timberline Drive and pass under the massive stone arch that welcomes you to the lodge grounds you realize you aren't in Florida any more. There isn't a palm tree in sight and there is nothing tropical about any of the landscaping materials that include pine, cypress and oak trees. In the time it takes to turn a corner, you are literally transported to a totally different part of the country, the Pacific Northwest. Of all the Disney resorts, the attention to details in both landscaping and architecture is unparalleled.

The first time you see the Lodge it takes your breath away! Take time to really examine the details, like the patterns in the stone and wood floors. All the color variations in both the stone and wood are natural, no stains, no dyes. The check-in counters are 6-inch thick slabs of black granite and under them (at a child's eye level) are beautiful bronze animal sculptures. Bend down a little and have a look.

OPENING DAY

Jim and Eureka (the Czar and Czarina) were invited to be DVC guest representatives from the Boardwalk Villas at the opening of the Villas at Wilderness Lodge.

Eureka writes: "We arrived on the chilly morning of November 15 and walked down the wood-planked covered walkway leading from the Lodge itself to the new Villas. The first thing we saw was the familiar "Welcome Home Members" sign and a topiary Mickey, leading to the beautiful five-story building with its red roof. In front of the main entrance is a cozy porch with comfortable Bentwood rockers. A small crowd of Guests, Cast Members and various 'bigwigs' was gathering in the lobby. We went inside and began our tour.

The lobby itself is a scaled-down version of the main Wilderness Lodge lobby but without the totem poles. It does have wonderful animal carvings in the rafters (including a very cute Hidden Mickey), and and twelve Native American 'moons' painted in a circle around the middle of the atrium. There are cozy nooks off to the sides with big armchairs and tables for sitting around. In one direction an alcove contains the elevators, a definite "Wow"! Their highly polished brass doors are etched, a different animal design for each floor.

On the other side is the Iron Spike Room, a sitting room with a marvelous fireplace sporting a whimsical train on the fire screen. This would be a great place for cold days and I predict that the pillow-strewn window nook will not often be empty. The big thrill in this room is a couple of railroad cars (a gondola and a cattle car) and a piece of the original track from the Carrolwood Pacific Railway -- Walt's original home train. They are displayed under glass, and have a touchingly worn and well-used look. The Iron Spike Room has photos of Walt with his backyard railroad train, game tables and a seating area.

We were ushered outside to the Villas pool, where two Native American couples were performing a blessing ceremony on the new resort. They burned some sage (smelled great!) and spoke about the tradition of purifying a new site, then led us back to the lobby for the rest of the ceremony.

Once indoors, one of the Native American women, Regina Quicksilver, spoke of the beauty of the Villas, and also noted that due to the placement of the moons and the animal spirit carvings, this would be a "healing place." Then a haunting flute solo was played by one of the others. It really was a very moving experience, and I saw many people wiping away tears.

After the ceremony, many pictures were taken (including large group shots of the staff) and we were sent on our way with gift bags of train whistles and Wilderness Lodge Villa pins. A nice, low-key, very fitting way of opening the lovely Villas."

THE ROOMS

Adorned in dark heavy woods, colors of rustic red and forest green highlight the hallways and rooms at the new villas. The detailing is wonderfully Disney, from the wilderness sketches on the polished brass elevator doors to joints at the ceiling of the atrium. The floor plan is almost identical to that of the Boardwalk Villas. A one-bedroom villa will easily accommodate 4 persons (even 4 adults) and the 2 bedroom can easily accommodate 6 and 8 if you get along well :)

When you enter the room, your eyes need a few seconds to adjust to the low lighting. All the doors are made of very dark wood, as if you were in a log cabin. All that,combined with the forest green kitchen, does little to create a light, airy feeling, although the border is a light green and cream color.

The master bedroom, with its king-sized bed, has cream colored walls, rustic red plaid curtains, and a rustic red and forest green bedspread adorned with pine cones. Be sure to look for the Hidden Mickeys in the bedspread - there are several different ones throughout the pattern. There is an armoire with a TV and drawer space as well as a ceiling fan.

The master bedroom has a huge walk-in closet that also is the home to the iron and ironing board, portable crib, as well as extra pillows, blankets and the safe. I had hoped with the new resorts that Disney would change the safes from a keyed entry to one activated by your room key. The Disney Cruise line stateroom safes operate on your room card making them much easier to manage. Other amenities include a VCR in the living room (not available in the Studio), clock radio and vacuum.

A large vanity just outside the closet has more than ample room for toiletries, and there is a hairdryer on the wall also. To your right of the vanity is the jacuzzi tub. Ours got plenty of use and everyone LOVED it, especially after a long day in the parks. One of the negatives of the room, which I found in the Boardwalk Villas also, is a significant lack of drawer space. A washer and dryer is stacked in the closet.

The lamps throughout the villa are themed as well with pine cone tops and tree trunks for the base. Carpets match the bedspreads in color.

The master bathroom is predominantly white tile with rustic icons of leaves and deer in the maroon and forest green contrasting squares. The shower is large with lots of ledge space both inside and out. In fact, there is a nice little ledge in the back of the shower for items like glasses.

The living room and kitchen area is a bit smaller than Old Key West, but because of the layout, you never feel cramped. The breakfast ledge is the perfect height for children and the table is very comfortable to the adults. In the kitchen some of the upper cabinets have glass doors, a really nice touch. The kitchen is fully equipped with most all the conveniences of home. The refrigerator is a welcome storage area for water, juice and breakfast items.

The living room has a queen size sleeping sofa that was very comfortable to both sleep and sit on and a big plaid easy chair that makes you want to curl up with a good book and stay forever. Of course, there is a TV, but I don't remember it ever being turned on during our stay.

The second bedroom of the two-bedroom suite (this room is the studio villa) has two queen-sized beds. Some studios may have one queen-sized bed and one full sized pull out sofa. The headboards are wonderfully massive and have a carved oval in the center with a woodlands scene. Each bed has a reading light mounted on the posts on each side of the headboard. Draperies are plaid. The bed skirt looks like pillow ticking and the comforters are a dark blue bandanna print. Be sure to look for the Hidden Mickeys on the pillow shams.

Also in the studio (or second bedroom) is a table with two chairs, a ceiling fan and an armoire with the TV and drawer space. The front of the armoire is pierced tin and really carries through the theme of the villas. This bedroom is also blessed with a small balcony (which the master suite lacks). It's the perfect place for that morning cup of coffee or a quiet afternoon retreat.

The vanity area is very spacious, only one sink but lots and lots of vanity space. There are also drawers and storage under the vanity. The dressing area is gigantic, complete with full-length mirror; and the walk-in closet is as big as ones found in most new homes ...plenty of hanging space, shelf space and space to stow the luggage out of the way.

IMPRESSIONS

GLORIA -The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge have been seamlessly incorporated into the "Great Northwest." The attention to detail is every bit as evident as it is in the Wilderness Lodge itself. The elevator doors alone are worth the visit.

I thought the "feel" of the interior was just a bit more rustic than that of the main lodge. Colors seemed a bit darker, wood a little more rough-hewn and fabrics a little more "homespun" ...just the feeling you want when you "come home."

Since I love the "brightness" of the Old Key West units, I found the interior colors (paint, fabrics, carpeting, etc.) to be a bit dark for my taste. However, the others with whom I shared the unit loved the colors and found them very calming and relaxing. That's the great thing about Disney! There's something for everyone.

Pros of staying at the Villas at Wilderness Lodge
1. You are at the Wilderness Lodge!!! The best-themed of all the resorts
2. Close to the bus transportation
3. Units are spacious and well-equipped
4. Health Club ...a needed addition to the Wilderness Lodge complex. My daughter Kelly felt the massage therapist on duty was a wonder for sore achy legs. She enjoyed such a massage and gave him high marks.
5. Seamless check-in procedure at Wilderness Lodge desk, complete with valet and luggage service (See, I'm spoiled!!!)
6. Easy access to the Wilderness Lodge eateries and gift shop
7. Covered walkways between the Villas, Wilderness Lodge, the Arcade and bus transportation make hot, sunny days and rainy days a lot more tolerable.

Cons
1. Long walk to boat transportation to Magic Kingdom (but a very short walk to the bus stop)
2. Smaller living room/kitchen area than Old Key West units
3. Room decor a bit on the dark side

EUREKA - Kudos, respect, admiration to Peter Dominick, Jr. who has once again created a perfectly themed, totally convincing place which is both grand and scaled for humans. Every little detail, from the brass handrails in the elevators to the pine tree cutouts in the dinette chairs in the rooms, is perfectly thought out. They have even managed to "fix" some of the problem areas in the other DVC resorts -- for instance, bigger showers and more towel racks in the bathrooms. Some of the other favorites, forest green cabinetry and 'fiestaware' plates and cups, punched tin "pie safe" detailing on the armoires in the bedrooms, oak leaves carved around the mirrors, stags and pine trees in relief on the shower tiles. Woodland views from the small balconies seem entirely appropriate.

The pool, which features several "geyser" bubbling jets, is freeform-shaped and fairly small; I predict it, like the main WL pool, will soon be overwhelmed by lots of swimmers. Supposedly it's dedicated-use for DVC guests, but since it can clearly be seen from many Lodge rooms and isn't fenced in, I don't see how that can be enforced.

It should be emphasized that there is no restaurant or food court in the Villas themselves, though the Lodge, with its food options, is a short walk away. Neither is there a convenience shop or a Guest Relations desk. All that is handled in the main Lodge. For the park-weary and hungry, there is an extensive in-room dining menu, and we were told that food may be ordered from the Artist Point menu, also -- a nice addition.

The Czar loved the Villas, took off his shoes and felt right at home in the somewhat "masculine" color scheme, and is now clamoring to buy Wilderness Lodge Villas points as soon as he can.

One member of our party felt the rooms were dark and claustrophobic, but I found them lighter than the WL rooms, and of course they are larger. They are laid out almost exactly like the Boardwalk rooms, but of course they have a totally different feel.

All in all, I really think the Villas are a triumph. I'm sure reservations will be hard to come by for a while; but make one! You'll be glad you did.

DEB - The Villas are a perfect addition to the Wilderness Lodge as evidenced by the detail and theming. I invited several friends to tour the villas during the weekend and everyone loved them. Each of the DVC folks who visited looked at me and said, "Well, we are going to have to buy points here!"

Throughout the course of the weekend, I found myself sitting in the various rockers both inside and outside the Villas and the Lodge. There is a certain peacefulness about the whole area that appeals to me, like camping in luxury. In addition to the path through the woods to Ft. Wilderness, there is now an additional path called the Nature Trail that goes between the two areas closer to the water. I rented a bicycle one morning and rode both trails. Not once did I feel like I was in the midst of Walt Disney World! Exploring the nooks and crannies of the campground was great fun too!

The four of us, all adults, had ample room to move around in the two bedroom. The only drawback I can see to the Villas is the potential strain on the already somewhat taxed Wilderness Lodge facilities (Roaring Forks, Bus Transportation, swimming pool). It's probably a good thing that you can't walk directly to one of the theme parks from the Wilderness Lodge Villas because if you could, it might be the only place I'd want to stay.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

We could go on and on about the Wilderness Lodge and the Villas at Wilderness Lodge, but there are some things you'll just have to discover for yourself.

As of January 14, 2001, the Wilderness Lodge joined the other Deluxe Disney hotels and added concierge service.

There are many activities to participate in while staying at the Villas at Wilderness Lodge including the Lodge tours that run twice daily. Be sure to read all about them at in the Wilderness Lodge FAQ

There are over 35 photos of the Villas in the Resort Photo Gallery