On the shores of Bay Lake, sitting on 750 acres of pine and cypress, Fort Wilderness is often the forgotten resort among its Magic Kingdom brethren. Many times it is overlooked, or dismissed altogether, simply because it is a campground, and the idea of “roughing it” can make many trip planners cringe. But passing by the most unique place in Walt Disney World based on perception would be a mistake. Give it a try, and your Disney World trip might go something like this:
Your Fort Wilderness experience begins as most Walt Disney World vacations do, with check-in. Instead of a walk in lobby, there is a set of tall, drive thru bays where you will be greeted by a Cast Member. Much like the other resort hotels, Fort Wilderness has different options for your stay. If camping in a tent, a pop-up, or a small trailer with no slide out, you can book a tent/pop-up campsite (loops 2000 and 1500). These sites have a paved area for you to park your car on, and a shell rock area on which to homestead. Each site is equipped with water, electric, and cable hook ups, as well as a charcoal grill and a picnic table. Though these sites are the cheapest—a nightly cost ranging anywhere between $49 and $105, depending on the season—they are also far enough away from the swimming pools and waterfront area that you will need to consider a mode of transportation (we will get to the different transportation options shortly).
If camping in a larger apparatus, you are left with three options for your stay: full hook up sites, preferred sites, or premium sites. The full hook up sites (loops 1600 – 1900) are the next in line on the affordability scale, ranging in price from $66 to $124. In addition to the amenities and hook ups provided in the tent/pop-up sites, these sites include sewer and have a longer paved area to park your rig on. They are still a good distance from where the action is, however, and a transportation option will still need to be considered.
The preferred sites are next in line as far as cost, ranging from $75 to $133. These sites are basically identical to the full hook up sites with the exception of their location. Located in 100, 200, and 300 loops, these sites are within a short walk to both the main pool and the waterfront area. TIP: If staying in the preferred sites, request your location in numerical order (start with the 100 loop, then the 200, etc.). The 100 loop is a prime location, located in the waterfront area, a very short distance from the Settlement Trading Post. Loop 300 is the largest of the three preferred loops and is in an awkward location within the campground as far walking to the pool or waterfront.
Lastly, the premium sites range in cost from $81 to $137. Whereas the preferred sites are limited to three loops, the premium sites are the most abundant (loops 400 – 1400). Premium sites are nearly completely paved, with only a small shell rock section in the back or to the side. Also, they boast an upgraded charcoal BBQ grill, which is really nothing more than adding a lid to the existing grill you would find in any of the other sites. While most of the loops in the premium classification are close to the pool and waterfront, some (loops 1100 – 1300) will still require transportation. TIP: If staying in the premium sites, request your site in loops 400 – 700. These sites are centrally located between the pool and waterfront. Our favorite is the 700 loop. Also, being that the cost difference between a preferred and a premium site is negligible (no more than $6 at any given time), we always opt for the premium. Having a completely paved site is a huge bonus with little kids, as shell rock can get tracked very easily into the camper.
The last option available for your stay is a cabin. Each cabin comfortably sleeps six people, has a full kitchen and a bathroom, flat screen TV, a large deck equipped with a picnic table for outdoor living, and a charcoal BBQ grill. Possibly the best thing about the cabins, however, is that housekeeping will attend to your cabin just as if it were a room at any of the resorts. And this includes your dirty dishes (dishes are provided in the cabins). The cabins (loops 2100 – 2800) are the farthest from the main pool and waterfront areas, however, the much smaller (and less crowded) Wilderness Swimmin’ Pool is located near the 2500 loop. The cabins are the most expensive option in Fort Wilderness, starting at $294.
Once you have decided which option is best for you and have your site assignment, you are pointed in the right direction and sent on your way. As you head out of the check-In area you may see a group of riders on horseback following their guide as they head out from the Trail Blaze Corral. Horseback trail rides are a great activity for campers nine years of age or older and more than 48 inches tall. There is also a cost for the 45 minute ride of $46.
Soon you will be at your designated site, unpacking your gear and settling in for an enjoyable vacation. Though you’ve worked hard to get your living quarters squared away, you will no doubt want to explore what the campground has to offer as soon as possible. The activities at Fort Wilderness mostly take place in two locations: the waterfront marina area and the Meadow Recreation area. As discussed earlier, you may need transportation to get to one or both. One great option—and one we frequently use—is bicycles. They are something that can be brought from home or rented from the Bike Barn for a small fee.
Another free option is to take the internal bus service offered by Fort Wilderness. Each loop has a stop nearby where you can hop a bus that will take you anywhere you will need to go within Fort Wilderness. Of course, with this option comes the caveat that, like all Walt Disney World bus transportation, this can take some time, and you will rarely get from point A to point B directly. This is my least favorite transportation option anywhere on Walt Disney World property, and Fort Wilderness is no exception.
Another option is to travel by golf cart. If you are fortunate enough to have your own and are able to transport it with your rig then congratulations, this is by far the best option for transportation in Fort Wilderness, not to mention the most fun. Don’t have a personal golf cart? No problem, you can rent one to the tune of $62 per night, including tax. TIP: If transport is all you are looking for from a golf cart, why not consider upgrading your site instead? Even if you are camping with a tent you can upgrade to a premium or preferred site and be able to walk to any activity you choose. The cost of upgrading from a tent/pop up site to a premium site is no more than $43 at any given time of year. This gives you a savings of $19 per night by upgrading and walking instead of renting a golf cart.
Now that you have your mode of transportation you can head out and explore. A great first stop on your tour might be the Meadow Trading Post and Recreation area. The Meadow Trading Post is the larger of the two general stores and has a plethora of Fort Wilderness apparel, camping supplies, and, of course, the typical Disney commemorative merchandise.
Once through the backdoor of the Meadow Trading Post you will cross a stream, but only if you want to. This stream is a flood with activity, from fishing (catch and release, of course) to canoeing, and you could easily spend an afternoon enjoying these calm waters.
More activities await as you enter the Meadow Recreation Area. A snack bar has all the usual suspects to satisfy your appetite or quench your thirst, and Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Arcade has your gaming needs covered. But, of course, the main draw to this area is the Meadow Swimmin’ Pool. Complete with a children’s pool, a children’s splash area, large hot tub, and a corkscrew slide stemming from an oversized barrel that once adorned neighboring River Country, the pool area would be the envy of any moderate resort. Surrounding the pool are tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, volleyball courts, a playground, and enough open grass to toss around the old horsehide.
Your next stop is the Bike Barn, just a short walk from the pool area. Here is where you will set up most of your activities for the trip. Fishing, canoeing, archery, Segway tours, all can be arranged here for a fee. They also offer activities unique to each day of the week, such as Mickey Tie-Dye and Build-A-Button. Be sure to check the Recreation Activities calendar given to you at check-in for the days and times of these, and other, activities.
Perhaps you’ve brought man’s best friend with you for the trip—yet another perk of camping at Fort Wilderness. Now might be a good time to head back to your rig and give Fido some attention. Tip: While there will be several designated dog walking trails throughout the campground, if you have a small dog it may be beneficial to stay off of them. The trails typically wind through thickets of pine trees and can get covered in pine needles which, in turn, will attach themselves to your pal’s coat and find their way into your camper. Instead, try Waggin’ Trails Dog Park. Located next to the 300 loop, there is plenty of space for your dog to roam free and take care of business.
With Rover settled and dusk approaching, you decided to head down to the waterfront for a bite to eat. As you reach the end of Fort Wilderness Trail you will find a path only accessible by bike, golf cart, or on foot. Traveling under the Spanish moss covered oaks, you will hear banjo music seamlessly piped in, and you may even see a deer or wild turkeys strutting around. Coming to the clearing at the end of the path, you will notice the Settlement Trading Post on your right. This is the smaller of the two general stores, though it still has most of the supplies you will need for your stay.
Heading away from the trading post, your next stop will be Pioneer Hall. Pioneer Hall has three locations for food and drink: Crockett’s Tavern, Trail’s End Restaurant, and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. With a sweeping porch around its exterior, Crockett’s Tavern is a quaint bar inside of Trail’s End. Drinks can be ordered without ever setting foot inside of the tavern as a drink window will provide you access to a server. Drink in hand, you can relax in a wooden rocker and enjoy your beverage on the porch as you take in the expertly themed scenery.
If you are hungry for a good, all-you-care-to-enjoy meal, then Trail’s End is your place. Trail’s End has a full buffet of country favorites for both breakfast and dinner, and an a la carte menu for lunch. It is the most affordable buffet on Disney property, averaging a cost of $25 for dinner and $18 for breakfast (per adult, the average cost for children is $14 for dinner, $11 for breakfast). For Trail’s End menu information and more, click here. Tip: Trail’s End has a Take Out entrance where you can order most items off the buffet for both breakfast and dinner. We utilize this when in a hurry or trying to save some cash. Our favorite is the biscuits and gravy. One order comes with two oversized biscuits smothered in gravy for only $3.69, including tax.
In the mood for dinner and a show? Then head next door to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. One of the longest running dinner shows in the country, Hoop-Dee-Doo has three shows per night: 4:00 PM, 6:15 PM, and 8:30 PM. Mixed in with the slapstick comedy and country western songs is an all-you-care-to-enjoy meal that consists of buckets of fried chicken, ribs, mashed potatoes, and other BBQ fare brought right to your table. Also, this is one of the only places on Disney property in which alcoholic beverages are included with your meal. TIP: Though Hoop-Dee-Doo is a fan favorite, you can read my thoughts on why I decided to skip it here.
None of those dining options strike your fancy? How about a character interaction? Just behind Pioneer Hall is Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. This open-air pavilion has dozens of picnic tables for you to sit, and a full buffet of BBQ favorites. As with Hoop-Dee-Doo, beer and wine is also included in your cost. The big draw here, of course, are the Disney characters. Though subject to change, on most nights you will find Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip, and Dale dancing around the dance floor or passing by the tables. This is not a typical character meal, however, and the characters do not come to each table, so you are not guaranteed to see each one. But, during the ninety minute experience you will have ample time to seek out your favorites for a dance, photo, or even an autograph.
While in the area, why not stop by the Tri-Circle-D Ranch? Home to draft horses and Cinderella’s ponies, there is even a working blacksmith shop here. This is a great place for the kids, who can enjoy a ride on one of the ponies or miniature horses, provided they are at least two years old, weigh no more than eighty pounds, and are no more than 48 inches tall, for $5 cash.
Still in the mood for some equine fun? Why not take a private carriage or a wagon ride? Advanced reservations can be made for a carriage ride, which is a 25 minute intimate excursion through the woods. The rides start at 6:00 PM and run until 9:30 PM, weather permitting. The cost is $45 for your group.
Wagon rides are first come, first serve, and also depart nightly from the front of Pioneer Hall, but begin at 7:00 PM. This 45 minute tour of Fort Wilderness only costs $8 for adults, and $5 for children. A fireworks ride can also be scheduled, complete with audio from Wishes, provided that Wishes is running that evening, of course.
With your evening almost over, it is time to enjoy the night time activities Fort Wilderness has to offer. Possibly the best choice, not only at Fort Wilderness, but on any resort property, is Chip ‘N Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long. Located near the Bike Barn, things kick off in the outdoor arena filled with benches and bleacher seats when one, or both, of the giant fire pits are lit. Feel free to roast marshmallows, hot dogs, or most whatever you like here while you wait for the entertainment to start. As the fire roars, the sing-a-long will begin on a stage in the front of the arena with a Cast Member playing guitar and singing campfire favorites. Shortly after the music begins, Chip and Dale make an appearance on stage, then quickly separate to meet their guests. Then, as Chip and Dale wave goodbye, the movie du jour begins on the drive-in style screen. Times of this event will vary based on the season, so check your Recreation Calendar. TIP: Though the Chuck Wagon sells marshmallows and kits for roasting, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own. This is a fantastic activity if trying to stick to a budget as it provides you with a character interaction, snack, and a movie all at no cost!
Finally, your evening is coming to a close, but before you head back to your bunk, you make your way back to the waterfront one last time. This time, you head to the Bay Lake shores and find a good spot to settle in. It won’t be long until the Electric Water Pageant cruises in your direction, and stops in front of the marina for your viewing pleasure. As the floating parade finally departs, the main event begins and Magic Kingdom’s Wishes Nighttime Spectacular explodes into sky. Tip: A lot of people will try to obtain a lounge chair on the beach to enjoy the show, but I prefer to be on the marina dock. The Wishes audio is piped in using speakers located on the dock, near the marina office, and most locations on the beach are too far away to hear it.
Your night is finally complete and you can head back to your camper, fully exhausted and ready to rest. However, as the crowds dissipate, you look down the marina dock and see two boats. One waiting to take you to Magic Kingdom, the other waiting to take you to the Wilderness Lodge or Contemporary Resort. Maybe tomorrow you will venture out of the campground. Maybe.
Please welcome John Scanlan to the TouringPlans blog team. John lives in Palm Beach, FL, and runs The Fort Wilderness Blog.