I never lived in the south, but I know enough to realize that when someone from the south tells you, “Bless your heart”, you might be doing something foolish. In my case, that was the reaction on more than one occasion after mentioning my plans to tent camp at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. I started to worry whether it was a bad idea. Surely it couldn’t be that bad, or the resort wouldn’t have lasted this long, right? Well, thankfully, I stuck to my plans, and believe it or not, I had a fantastic time! Roughing it Disney style wasn’t so bad, and I’d love to share the experience of what it’s like to tent camp at Disney with you.
I’ll preface this by saying it wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. I grew up camping in the northeast and camp regularly for fun (gasp, I know!). I camped in the Florida Keys a couple years ago, so I was somewhat prepared for the heat and bugs. Keep all that in mind if you’re reading this and wondering whether camping is right for you. If the mere thought of camping makes you sweat, then maybe Fort Wilderness is better experienced through a visit to Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue or an RV rental in your case.
However, if you’ve never been camping and aren’t scared off by the thought of it, Fort Wilderness is a great place for first timers (and regulars too). For starters, it feels safe. I don’t suggest letting your guard down just because you’re in the Disney bubble. But as a solo female camper, it was comforting to be surrounded by families and to see the cast members driving through the campsite loops regularly.
Camping at Disney is also a great experience for first timers because you’re still so close to civilization. Forgot something? There’s a store within walking distance that will more than likely have what you need for most basics. Don’t want to deal with cooking while camping? Plenty of restaurants at Disney. Pouring rain? Lots of other places to go with indoor activities.
So now that we’ve got the whole why you should even consider it part out of the way, let’s talk about the resort basics:
Disney offers four types of sites (from least to most expensive, prices vary by season):
- Tent or Pop-Up Campsite ($60-$145 per night) – Room for a pop-up camper or a camper van-type vehicle, and up to 2 tents
- Full Hook-Up Campsite ($90-$175 per night) – Room for an RV plus a tent
- Preferred Campsite ($100-$190 per night) – Room for an RV plus a small tent and close to the Marina
- Premium Campsite ($105-$200 per night) – Room for larger-style RV
Each one has different size restrictions for equipment, so make sure you book one that will work for you. For simple tent camping in my case, that meant the first one. Tent or Pop-up campsites have an area for paved parking and a softer area to pitch the tent. All sites include electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, and a charcoal grill. Some campsites are pet friendly, so keep that in mind if you’re bringing a pet or hoping to avoid other guests’ pets.
When you first pull in to Fort Wilderness, the guard at the gate should direct you. In my case, I excitedly thought I’d get to experience one of the many drive-up check-in windows. When the guard heard it was my first visit though, he sent me to the main building to check in. If you’ve stayed there before, I’d love to hear what your experience was with whether you got to do the drive through or the check-in desk. After the fact, I was glad he sent me to the lobby because I got my first taste of Fort Wilderness: Log cabin-style buildings, a warm and cozy fireplace, and rustic chairs for relaxing. Even the soda machines are themed!
Check-in begins the same as any other resort. They review your reservation details and tell you about the resort. Then, they’ll mention that wild animals are present, so don’t leave food or scented items out. They’ll also remind you to drive slowly through the resort and be aware of pedestrians and golf carts, which some people rent to travel around the resort. At that point, I received a map, an information packet, and a complimentary pack of bug repellent wipes and went on my way.
Fort Wilderness is a sprawling resort of over 700 forested acres. While it’s great theming for a wilderness retreat, it complicates the transportation a bit. We have a great post on the transportation situation here, but I do want to give a quick summary. If you have a car, you can only park it at your own site. To get around within the resort, you can either walk, bike, rent a golf cart, or take the internal bus system. Any of those options can get you to the main transportation hubs, where you can then transfer to theme park transportation. It’s such a peaceful resort that I enjoyed walking everywhere unless a bus happened to drive by, but the golf carts were tempting. They have parking areas for them throughout the resort, and they looked like fun, especially the decorated ones.
You didn’t think the blog that ranked The Best Bathrooms at Walt Disney World would skimp on the bath house details, did you? Comfort Stations, as Disney calls them, are spread throughout the resort, so you’re never too far from at least one of them. The women’s room includes sinks with mirrors, bathroom stalls, and shower stalls with attached changing areas. I assume the men’s is similar, but I wasn’t willing to risk a peek, even for you guys.
No matter what time I went to use the facilities, everything was surprisingly clean. Hooks and benches are conveniently placed, and shower curtains are provided for privacy. Unlike other resorts, you need to bring your own supplies (toiletries, body towels, etc.), but they do have paper towels available for drying your hands after using the restroom. I only experienced one morning where all three shower stalls were full, and one shower became available within a few minutes of waiting.
In between the men’s and women’s rooms is a separate area for laundry, and detergent is available for purchase from a vending machine. Notice boards show park and campground information. Ice machines are available at each comfort station as well.
Entertainment & Recreation
One of the perks of walking everywhere is that you really get a feel for the resort and available activities. I couldn’t believe how much Fort Wilderness had to offer. I saw lots of playgrounds throughout the resort, and they have two swimming pools for cooling off. The onsite ranch provides pony rides, carriage and wagon rides, and horseback riding. Sporting areas throughout the resort include tennis courts, running trails, volleyball nets, shuffleboard games, basketball courts, and a tether-ball pole. Rentals are available for fishing, kayaking, bicycling, and boating. You can even work on your archery skills.
Even with the lower price point, Fort Wilderness guests receive the same perks as other onsite resort guests like free transportation, early FastPass+ access, and extra magic hours. But there’s even more available for guests at Fort Wilderness:
- No parking fee – Fort Wilderness guests can park one car at their campsite for free. Disney recently added the fee at other resorts, so this is a definite perk at Fort Wilderness.
- Convenient for larger groups – Each campsite can accommodate up to ten guests.
- Easy access to nature and wildlife – Setting up my tent was a slow process because I couldn’t stop admiring all the colorful birds that stopped by my site. I joked (to myself, don’t judge) that it was truly the Disney princess experience with the way wildlife flocked to my side. Now for some people, this will be a big negative, especially if a pesky squirrel or raccoon show up instead of inquisitive little birds. For me though, it was the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle while still staying within a short drive of the parks.
- So many activities!
Obviously, camping comes with some downsides though too:
- Exposure to the elements – You never know what the Florida weather will bring. I was lucky that it didn’t rain much on my trip. I’ve camped in rain no problem, and you can prepare for it with the right gear. But if I encountered any thunder or lightning, I’m pretty sure I would have evacuated to my car.
- No temperature control – Similar to the first downside I listed, you’re at the mercy of the weather. You can’t turn the temperature up or down in your tent like you can in the room. This ended up being my only issue with the resort. I’m a nap-oholic, and it was almost impossible to get any sleep in the heat of the day with the sun shining through the tent.
- Lack of security – I mentioned earlier that I felt safe, but I also didn’t let my guard down. I didn’t leave any valuables in the tent. I locked the car and took the keys with me even when running over to the bathroom. Securing valuables here requires more thought and effort than just closing your resort door on your way out to the parks.
- Complex transportation – Since the resort is so spread out, the transportation system can be a downer for some. Most people won’t enjoy taking a bus just to get to another bus to take you to the parks. Depending on where you’re located, it’s also a long walk or ride to the pool, restaurants, and mug refills.
- Shared bathrooms – You won’t have your own private bathroom five steps away from your bed like you would at every other resort.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at the resort and can’t wait to get back. What do you think about camping at Fort Wilderness? Are you a regular visitor to the resort, or someone who looks at it and thinks, “No way, that’s not a vacation!”? Let us know in the comments below!