Normally, a log cabin in the woods would have been our last choice for a resort experience. In fact, anything in the woods would have been highly ranked on the “last choice for a resort experience” list. But of course, these were no ordinary woods we were talking about: they were Disney woods. And this was no ordinary log cabin, but a hotel worthy of an exquisite setting at a National Park–Yellowstone, in fact, as the inspiration for the Wilderness Lodge is none other than the Yellowstone Inn. All that, plus it’s the least expensive of all the Disney resorts. We kept an open mind, therefore, and decided it was worth the risk.
The drive from the security gate to the hotel held promise for what was to come: Manicured lawns and lifesize topiaries of indigenous wildlife edged the road (the indigenous woods stayed at a safe distance). As we neared, the wildflowers became prolific as the hotel grew prominent in our view.
It was impossible to be anything other than excited as we rolled up to the valet. Clearly this was no log cabin with dirt floors needin’ a sweepin’, but a palace of an homage to the Deluxe set of Lincoln Logs. The “welcome home” greeting we got on arrival was pure Disney and it was only just the beginning.
The light poured into the lobby from a bank of windows that tapered from ground floor to top floor, culminating in a gothic arrowhead with craftsman styling. The spacious lobby is made intimate by livingroom-style sitting areas punctuated by log-cluster columns topped with wildlife carvings best appreciated from the higher floors. No two are alike so you’ll want to collect them all.
Two totem poles depicting figures familiar to native-American tribes of the Northwest flank the lobby, each with an accompanying plaque explaining the significance of each figure; and a five-story fireplace is an education in the strata of the land, should one be so interested: each layer of stone is identified by a legend on the first floor, right beside the awe inspiring structure that invites all in need of warmth to come and set a spell.
One of the many unique aspects of the hotel is the treehouse philosophy of the floor plan: unexpected nooks and lounge areas reward the explorer, particularly in the colder months when cozy alcoves with lit fireplaces and rocking chairs nestled in extended balconies overlooking the warm lobby compensate for the less desirable outdoor balconies.
Walk outside and you’ll find yourself in a Disney animation cell that might have been a backdrop for Bambi or Brother Bear. Winding paths offer a variety of sights from bucolic landscapes of winding streams and dramatic waterfalls to shallow pools and a geyser that erupts every hour.
The organically shaped Silver Springs pool is the culmination of a turgid stream that originates in the lobby near the elevators, and a winding water slide from a stone overlook is appealing to any age, including the occasional duck. Take the pathway of steps through the rock formation on a warm evening and you may just make out a tree frog camouflaged to the rock.
Mallard ducks and bunnies of the cuticus flufficus variety are hotel regulars, depending on season, as are lizards, herons and egrets. An armadillo even made its presence known on one particular visit, and deer can be spotted foraging in the deeper woods.
Given the hotels seclusion, it’s comforting to know that your dietary needs and wants can all be met without leaving the premises. For a hooting’-hollerin’ meal of cozy comfort on a plate, the Whispering Canyon Café is the loudest spot in the lobby, yet it still manages not to drown out the iconic themes of Elmer Bernstein’s “Magnificent Seven” or Bruce Broughton’s “Silverado” that maintain the romantically robust pioneering spirit of the wilderness.
Artist Point is the hotel’s signature restaurant, immersing the diner in a peaceful reverence for the great lodges of the National Parks circa the turn of the century. Replete with magnificent murals depicting the resplendence of Lewis & Clark’s American wilderness and stunning views of forrest and lake, Artist Point offers an unparalleled experience in its idyllic theming and modern menu whose every dish and wine pairing is a nod to the great outdoors and the majestic wildlife that inhabits it.
Luxurious, no, not unless two sinks are enough to constitute as luxury. What it is is a good room with an air of cozy comfort and a perfect balance of Disney-esque whimsy and wilderness-esque authenticity. If cocktails and nightcaps on a balcony looking out at a panoramic view of natural beauty with a bit of Disney landscaping magic as flourish is a priority, make sure you request a courtyard, pool, or lake view. The room is best enjoyed when outside, unless you’re off-season enough to not hear the family of four next door.
THE ROMANTIC TRUTH
It’s possible the room might inspire and unleash all your rustically themed intimacy—particularly if the abutting room is vacant—but if not, the hotel proper offers plenty of little hideaways and peaceful paths that beckon discovery and provide a sense of serene seclusion completely separate from the park experience. For Us, the Wilderness Lodge achieves the perfect balance between the romantic adventure of a camping trip and the romantic retreat of a resort.