Courtesy of the Imagineers, Walt Disney World features some of the most magnificently themed resort hotels on the continent. Each is carefully curated to transport its guests to whatever destination the Imagineers transplanted into central Florida. Not all lobbies are created equal, though, so check out my top 5 WDW lobbies here.
As someone who frequently traveled for business throughout the years, I have come to the sad realization that most hotels are essentially carbon copies of each other. Sure, the angular layouts and free continental breakfast are inoffensive, but they really leave something to be desired. Disney World is quite the opposite (and not just because there is no such thing as free continental breakfast). Its breathtaking resorts and whimsical theming are a refreshing counterpoint to the drab and dreary “free toast, please most” style found elsewhere.
The theming in these Disney hotels is present throughout. From guestrooms to restaurants to swimming pools, the Imagineers leave no stone unturned when it comes to design. Most of all, though, it is the resort lobbies that showcase the theming. From the moment you step into a Disney resort hotel, you are whisked away from Florida to another environment entirely—the Pacific northwest, New England, Africa, or elsewhere.
5. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Arguably my favorite resort of the Crescent Lake trio, the Yacht Club features a lobby of any seafarer’s dreams. At its center is a large globe, and there are regal blue and yellow hues throughout. The dark woods and nautical pieces (my favorite of which is the big steering wheel on the second floor overlooking the lobby below) certainly can make you feel like a captain in early twentieth century New England. As with most of the Disney lobbies, the attention to detail is exquisite—carefully selected antiques, compass-shaped carpets, and ship-themed engravings round out a beautiful but admittedly formal lobby.
Why hasn’t Beach Club made this top 5 WDW lobbies list, you ask? First, I have found the Yacht Club lobby to be a bit more peaceful with less hustle and bustle. Second, I like the darker colors and more formal design of the Yacht Club. Third, the Yacht Club has a globe at its center while the Beach Club has, well, a table with some flowers. Families with younger kids might prefer the Beach Club, but I certainly don’t think the Yacht Club is overly formal. If given a choice between the two, I’d take Yacht Club any day.
4. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Ah, the flagship property of Walt Disney World. Themed to the Victorian era seaside resorts, with a definitive Mary Poppins touch, the Grand Floridian is a stunning property. Towering several stories above ground level, the lobby features formal furniture, ornate chandeliers, and a grand piano (which is played by a pianist a few times a day). The lobby is bright during the daytime with its white wood, but it takes on a lovely golden yellow hue in the evening when lit by the many lamps and chandeliers.
A couple of years ago, I had arranged for my new fiancée (now wife) to enjoy a massage treatment at the spa at Grand Floridian (I’m a good husband, right?). While I waited, I enjoyed a peppermint hot chocolate and sat listening to live jazz. While I’m a sucker for good jazz, the mere presence of classy live music of any genre puts this lobby over the top. Is it a bit formal? Sure. Even so, it’s a pleasant place to spend a few minutes relaxing, especially if you’re a jazz fan like me. Cocoa optional, but highly recommended.
3. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
I have never stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge before, but I made a point of visiting the lobby on one of our trips a couple of years ago. Built like an African kraal, the resort itself has a horseshoe-like shape that surrounds various grassy areas where animals roam freely. In the middle of the horseshoe curve is the Jambo House lobby, which is appointed with African designs, dark wood, and detailed chandeliers. At the far end of the lobby, the large glass wall offers stunning views of the interior of the horseshoe below and the animals meandering on the savannah.
Like the Grand Floridian and Wilderness Lodge lobbies, this multi-storied lobby offers fabulous views and is highly immersive. I do think that this lobby is best in the evening, when the dark wood is illuminated by the yellow hues of the chandeliers and creates a cozier feel. In daylight, I found the lobby to look a bit washed out and its colors to be a bit duller than in the evening. But, that is a small price to pay for an otherwise bold and beautiful lobby.
2. Disney’s Contemporary Resort
The classic love-it-or-hate-it deluxe resort, the Contemporary features a retro futuristic style and an A-frame structure. The front desk area on the first floor is modern yet unremarkable. A few floors up is the much more striking concourse that features Chef Mickey’s, the Fantasia gift shop, and (most importantly) the monorail. Unlike the Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village where the monorail is on the outer part of the main building, the Contemporary uniquely has the monorail run right through its main concourse. For me, at least, the novelty of watching the monorail quietly zip in and out of the hotel never really wears off. That alone is enough to earn the Contemporary its spot on this top 5 WDW lobbies list.
The towering lobby also features a 90-foot-tall mural by Mary Blair that is an artistic masterpiece in its own right with a southwestern Grand Canyon theme. At the end of the day, the Contemporary is a Disney classic. I distinctly remember visiting the lobby as a young boy, and it has not lost its charm nearly two decades later. The monorail, Chef Mickey’s, and the distinctive A-frame of the hotel are all what I would call iconic and quintessential Disney.
1. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Beating out the Contemporary lobby by a small margin is that of the Wilderness Lodge. The moment you step into the lobby at the Wilderness Lodge, you are transported to the grand lodges of the Pacific northwest. With gigantic beams and unique teepee chandeliers, the seven-story lobby towers above its guests and evokes an undeniable sense of grandeur. At its best in the evening when it absolutely glows, the lobby is an Imagineering masterpiece.
Size aside, the lobby sports a massive fireplace, bubbling hot spring, and numerous totem poles—one of which features Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Humphrey the Bear. This lobby (and resort, really) can’t be beat in winter. With its rocking chairs, fireplaces, and numerous little nooks, it is remarkably cozy in the colder months. It’s also a great place to ask someone to marry you—just ask my wife! (Based on my limited data, there’s a 100% chance she’ll say yes. Results may vary.)
Whether from the ground looking up, or from the upper levels looking down, the Wilderness Lodge offers the most stunning views of any lobby. It can get a bit noisy with the Whispering Canyon Café located right off the lobby, but the sound is never overwhelming. I have spent hours looking around the lobby over the years, and each time I discover new details. The Wilderness Lodge is Imagineering at its finest and deserving of the number 1 spot on this top 5 WDW lobbies list.
Did your favorite make the list? You can read a bit about each of Disney’s resorts here, but the best way to really experience each lobby is to set aside a day for resort-hopping. Let me know which lobby is your favorite in the comments below!