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Are you longing for a winter wonderland?

Published on: January 6, 2016

A wilderness retreat within your reach

By LISA STARK

Visitors to Wilderness Lodge enjoy views of giant boulders, pine trees and waterfalls. Lisa Stark photos.

Visitors to Wilderness Lodge enjoy views of giant boulders, pine trees and waterfalls. Lisa Stark photos.

If you’re missing the wintry terrain of Christmas in the Northern states, consider visiting this rustic holiday oasis right in the middle of Florida. Decorated with towering Christmas pines, totem poles and murals depicting scenes from the American frontier, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge reflects the untamed wilderness of America’s Northwest — without the snow, ice, and frigid temperatures.

If you’re a nature lover, you’ve probably spent time in the Pacific Northwest and are familiar with the popular wilderness areas in the National Forest system. In Washington and Oregon, there are 40 wilderness areas totaling 5,233,337 acres where people seek nature’s seclusion and serenity. But for those who aren’t able to escape to these great authentic places, the Wilderness Lodge at Disney offers a nearby alternative. Inspired by turn-of-the-century National Park lodges, it is perhaps the next best thing to being there.

Visitors to the lodge enjoy views of Bay Lake and Silver Creek Falls, as well as a replica of the famous Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park. As you breathe in the scent of pine forests and listen to the bubbling spring that begins in the Lodge’s lobby and ends in a waterfall plunging into Silver Creek Springs Pool, you are almost persuaded that you’re in the great outdoors.

A tall Christmas pine decorated with Indian tepees, tomahawks and tom-toms graces the lobby of Wilderness Lodge.

A tall Christmas pine decorated with Indian tepees, tomahawks and tom-toms graces the lobby of Wilderness Lodge.

Inside the lodge are towering totem poles, headdresses, tepees and leather armchairs in front of a roaring fireplace. There are several dining experiences offered, each of them celebrating the culinary heritage of the Pacific Northwest with signature dishes and waterfront views. Wall paintings capture the romance of the early American frontier, and ornate iron lanterns are suspended from rugged timber columns.

As the photographer Ansel Adams said 44 years ago, “In truth, ‘Wilderness’ is a state of mind and heart; very little exists now in actuality.” Yet people will always long for the peace and solitude found only in nature, and will continue to recreate America’s wild places even in urbanized areas.

Fifty years ago, efforts were made to preserve America’s wilderness areas when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act on Sept. 3, 1964. It set aside nine million acres of American land that was to remain protected and unspoiled — areas that represented the vast and beautiful diversity of this country’s natural world.

Today, there are 110 million acres across 44 states that contain crystal-clear alpine lakes, deep valleys, vast grasslands and ancient forests that are home to a host of endangered species like manatees, polar bears, woodland caribou and gray wolves.

Sure, you can get into your car and brave inclement weather to visit one of the cherished wilderness areas in America. Or you can get into the “wilderness state of mind” by visiting the Wilderness Lodge in Orlando.

Towering totem pole inside the Wilderness Lodge lobby.

Towering totem pole inside the Wilderness Lodge lobby.

Fireplace built with a variety of natural rock samples.

Fireplace built with a variety of natural rock samples.

It’s true that the food and amenities are typically “Disney-pricey,” but there are many opportunities to enjoy the homespun holiday atmosphere without breaking the bank. You can do a day visit, stopping in for a satisfying lunch, dinner or glass of wine without actually becoming an overnight guest. You can browse the gift shops, sit in a comfortable rocking chair, and be entertained by a holiday chorus or caricature artist.

The complimentary monorail is free, as are the ferry boats that offer an easy ride to the Magic Kingdom or to one of the other Disney Resorts, including the Polynesian and The Grand Floridian. You may want to hop on a ferry to the Fort Wilderness Campground, where you can sit down to a hearty feast of country fried chicken while being entertained by the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue. Each night there is a holiday parade of lights on Bay Lake, which can be viewed from the dock at The Wilderness Lodge.

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is at 901 Timberline Drive in Lake Buena Vista. For more information, go to www.disneyworld.com or call 407-824-3200.

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