Best Resort Lobbies at Walt Disney World
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as the maxim goes. At Walt Disney World, you’ll witness this theory play out each time you enter a hotel lobby. That’s the moment when you truly enter the Disney Bubble and start your vacation. The sights, sounds, and even smells of Disney resorts signal that you’re at the Most Magical Place on Earth. But which ones are the best? Well, everyone has their favorites, but here are my favorite six Disney hotel lobbies.
6) Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Steps away from the lobby of Wilderness Lodge, the most chaotic restaurant at Walt Disney World, Whispering Canyon Café, delivers buckets of ketchup to unsuspecting guests. I love the incongruity of the placement of that eatery right beside one of the most impressive construction feats at Disney.
Prior to building Wilderness Lodge, Imagineers researched some of the great lodges connected to national parks. These hotels had woodsy elements that Disney wanted to imitate but also surpass. They acquired dead pine poles as support structures and then proceeded to carve the spectacular designs into the façade. Later, they added the multi-story lobby fireplace that is the showstopper of the area.
If you’ve ever walked through the lobby of Wilderness Lodge, you’ve felt small and insignificant. You’ve also looked up in awe at the giant wood structures that comprise the area. Frankly, it says a lot about the greatness of Disney that five lobbies are (arguably) better than Wilderness Lodge. If this place is the hurdle that everything else has to clear, that’s a high bar indeed.
5) Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter
The French Quarter in New Orleans is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the south. Disney takes that same look and style and brings it to Orlando. So, you get a Cajun vibe at your Walt Disney World resort.
The lobby of Port Orleans French Quarter exemplifies the New Orleans theme. You’ll see classic French elements plus some unmistakable Mardi Gras goofiness. I especially love the giant jesters above the doors and the coin-filled fountain in the middle of the lobby.
What distinguishes this area for me is its incongruity. The classic portion is elegant French style with high-end finishes used in the floors, walls, and tables. The rest of the lobby is Mardi Gras silliness, with ridiculous giant plates. You’ll even find parade masks and giant beads in parts of the building. The mismatched pieces only add to the undeniable charm of the lobby.
4) Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
I’d originally placed Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort here, as I love the bright themes and the movie theater seating area. It’s one of my favorite photo ops at Walt Disney World. After reconsidering, however, I appreciated that the glitz and glamor of Hollywood simply cannot compete with the animation cells that adorn the lobby of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
This lobby is a loving tribute to Walt Disney animated movies, the preferred medium of the company’s namesake founder. When he created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Uncle Walt couldn’t have imagined the ripple effects of his work 80 years later. Art of Animation is a functional compendium of all that came to pass because he wanted to make a movie back then. It shows brightly colored paintings of some of Disney’s most famous films.
The lobby also offers a counterbalance by showing the black and white cells that were the basis for these productions. When you walk through Art of Animation’s lobby, you better appreciate the labor of love that is a Disney animated movie.
3) Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House
Two of the entrants on this list share a commonality. I’ve already discussed the majestic lobby of Wilderness Lodge. It actually inspired the interior of Animal Kingdom Lodge. Disney Imagineers took many of the same concepts and expanded them. Jambo House ditches the rustic themes in favor of more international ones, and the zoological elements somehow elevate something that’s already basically perfect at Wilderness Lodge.
I struggle to explain this in words, a rarity for me, but there’s an inimitable serenity in the lobby of Jambo House. Something about the symmetrical ceiling lights, the balconies overlooking the animals, and those uber-comfy chairs causes me to zone out. I’ve fallen asleep in this lobby at least once each time I’ve stayed here…and I’m not someone who naps as a rule. To me, the Jambo House lobby is the most tranquil place on the Disney campus.
2) Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
As you approach Disney’s signature property, a handsome elderly gentleman in a white suit and matching hat greets you. Maids with white parasols sometimes wander the grounds. And when you enter the building, the multi-leveled splendor awes you. The overwhelming sensation may confuse you enough that you’re not sure where to look first.
You have your choice of the centerpiece chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the classic two-story elevator, the piano in the center (possibly with accompanying pianist), or the dome at the back of the room. The interior of the Grand Floridian humbles everyone with its greatness. To many people, it’s easily the most impressive lobby ever built. Alas, this writer has a bias…
1) Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Oh, that smell. I love the fragrance of the Polynesian so much that I’ve purchased countless Spireside candles for my home. These candles recreate the treat to the olfactory senses that is the lobby of the Polynesian. It’s the scent of hibiscus flowers and fruits that signal you’ve entered a tropical paradise.
The lobby of Polynesian is also a celebration of family. A longtime cast member hands out leis to arriving guests, and a calming garden centerpiece has water cascading down rocks in the middle of the shrubs. Everything here is about soothing the senses. You’re on a relaxing visit to a South Pacific island, after all!
What I love about the lobby is the open space. Disney redesigned this area in 2015, and they removed some of the (beloved) features that cluttered the lobby. Today, you’ll find comfortable sitting areas with couches and chairs that would seem right at home on a Polynesian beach.
The lobby of the Polynesian is my happy place and unmistakably the best one at Walt Disney World. And yes, I know that many of you will disagree. That’s the beauty of Disney’s themed resorts. Everyone has a strong emotional trigger to a certain property.
Interested in planning a trip to Disney to see these lobbies firsthand? Contact our friends at MickeyTravels for a free quote!