Disney Puts its Signature on More Than Theme Parks

Copper Creek Cabins at Wilderness Lodge
Copper Creek Cabins at Wilderness Lodge

By Eileen Ogintz

WALT DISNEY WORLD, FL (Day 1) — Cocktail anyone?

I’m at what’s called Reunion Station, learning how to juice, muddle and strain two cocktails I’ve never heard of.

Who knew Tequila and Scotch could taste so good? It certainly does in a Cascadian Fog when mixed with two kinds of bitters, agave sweetener, orange oil and served up in a glass with a slow-melting ice sphere.

Maybe you’d prefer a Lemonade on the Rails with Bourbon — fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juice, simple syrup, smashed fresh mint and finished with sparkling water.

Welcome to Walt Disney World. Actually, welcome to a newly branded Signature Disney Experience. The Reunion Lounge is kind of a concierge level space for Disney Vacation Club guests at the Wilderness Lodge, themed after such iconic national park lodges as the Awhanee at Yosemite National Park. We are getting a sample of the popular two hour craft-cocktail class, complete with crudités including salami and prosciutto.

Signature Disney topiary at the Wilderness Lodge
Signature Disney topiary at the Wilderness Lodge

There are also photography classes and art classes, among others. And at $40 per person for two hours, it seems a good deal.

Disney is expanding its theme park offerings at a great clip—Toy Story Land just opened with great fanfare at Disney’s Hollywood Studies and Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim with the much anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge slated for 2019 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The company is anxious to make sure fans appreciate that there is a lot more than theme parks for vacationers to enjoy.

“We’re bringing stories of the real world to life,” explained spokesman Amanda Adler. That includes luxe far flung adventures with Adventures by Disney, adult-only river cruises with a master sommelier on the Rhine, Disney sea cruises in Alaska and the Mediterranean as well as in the Caribbean and Disney Resorts outside of Florida including the popular Aulani in Hawaii.

Copper Creek cabins at Wilderness Lodge - Disney Vacation Club
Copper Creek cabins at Wilderness Lodge – Disney Vacation Club

I’m sitting in an upscale two-bedroom log cabin surrounded by greenery with a big stone fireplace, one of 26 Copper Creek Villas and Cabins here at Wilderness Lodge.  Guests have all the advantages of being on Disney property—complimentary airport transportation, resort transportation, extra magic hours (including daily summer early-morning magic hours to Toy Story Land). But there is more space, a full kitchen and a washer and drier. This doesn’t come cheap—upwards of $1500 a night–but it can sleep eight comfortably.

“People don’t realize that you can rent a Disney Vacation Club property,” said Jennifer Bruner, a manager of marketing strategy for Walt Disney Parks resorts.

Of course, you have your choice of 28,000 rooms at Disney with more to come. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort is adding a new 15-foot tower next summer as well as the new Disney Riviera, a Star Wars-themed hotel, and a new Skyliner gondola system that will connect Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and the new Disney Riviera Resort to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

The idea, said Bruner, is to give guests at resorts that until now only had bus service a fun way to get from place to place. At the same time, recognizing that it can sometimes be problematic to get from resort to resort for dinner, Disney has introduced Minnie Vans, distinctive red and white polka dot vans that you can order with your Lyft app for $25 a ride—a bargain when it can sometimes take two hours to get around the vast park. And although the complimentary “Magical Express” bus service is offered back and forth from the Orlando International Airport to the resorts, some guests are opting to pay for Minnie Vans to get where they are going more quickly, complete with two car seats, as is required by Florida law for children six and under.

Bruner added that resorts are being renovated to make better use of the space—beds that come out over the dining table in the family suites at the Art of Animation, for example.

And while some guests want the theme park experience from the time they wake up till they go to sleep, others don’t whether they transport themselves to the African Savanah at Wilderness Lodge where giraffes may be grazing outside their windows or to the Pacific Northwest t Wilderness Lodge like me. There’s not a theme park character in site as I look out to our private hot tub, screened porch and the lake beyond.

Another Cascadian Fog, please. I’ll have it in front of the fire in my cabin.

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