Theme park view. Room service. Fresh linen. Who needs it! Amy Bashor takes you for a down-home tour of Walt Disney World's Fort Wilderness, where you can rent a cabin, pitch a tent, or even hole up in an RV, with the Magic Kingdom just a short boat ride away.
Despite all that it has to offer, Fort Wilderness remains a mystery to many Disney World guests. From dinner shows and campfires, to water sports, Segway tours, and golf cart expeditions, the Fort is a "mini park" unto itself, equally suitable for a day trip or a rustic residence unlike any other Disney World resort.
Sit a spell with Amy and hear all about her numerous magical experiences at Fort Wilderness, plus:
PITCH YOUR TENT AMID THE PIXIE DUST!
Chapter 1: What’s Where at Fort Wilderness?
Chapter 2: Pitching a Tent
Chapter 3: Little House in the Campground
Chapter 4: A Mobile Home at Disney World
Chapter 5: Day Tripping Fort Wilderness
Chapter 6: Backwoods Trail on a Solo Trip
Chapter 7: Fort Wilderness Holidays
Chapter 8: Fort Wilderness History
Chapter 9: Fort Wilderness and the Future
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, my friend Maureen and I decided to do a non-park day at Walt Disney World. We wanted to do something different. After tossing around a couple of ideas, we decided to take a boat over to Fort Wilderness and see how Disney would do a campground. Nestled a short boat ride away from the energy and fantasy of Magic Kingdom is an oasis of peace. Fort Wilderness, which could be considered an extension of FrontierLand, is how Disney does a campground. And it is quite a campground! Some have suggested it is the best campground in the country. I can say that Fort Wilderness is certainly the best campground we have ever visited.
Hello. My name is Amy. I am a Disney fan. This is my second book on our adventures traveling to Walt Disney World. We—my husband, myself, and our daughter—are lucky enough to live in Savannah, GA, which puts us about a four-hour drive away from the magic. We have taken advantage of our proximity to visit Disney World often. After spending many days in the parks, we now enjoy doing some of the lesser-known attractions. Recently, that has meant spending a fair bit of time at Fort Wilderness. In fact, in the past twelve months we have camped at the Fort in a tent, a cabin, and a rental RV, in addition to several day trips to the campground. This book is all about our adventures in Disney’s Fort Wilderness. Along the way, we have made more than our share of mistakes and learned a lot. That’s all in the book, which might save others from repeating the same mistakes. All of our Fort Wilderness fun started with that one moment when we decided to take the boat over from the Magic Kingdom to explore.
What makes Fort Wilderness so great? For Disney fans, it has to start with access to the Disney parks. Fort Wilderness is one of the Magic Kingdom area resorts. Boats take you directly to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. And Fort Wilderness is a wonderful “bridge over troubled waters” for split families. In this context, split families are those that have one (or more) Disney fans and one (or more) who are not yet Disney fans. We are a split family. Our daughter and I love Disney. My husband is less of a fan.
There is more than enough to do at Fort Wilderness to keep any family, even those who are not exactly Disney fans, happily entertained. In fact, we have spent many days here without ever stepping foot inside the four theme parks at Disney World. For our family, sometimes avoiding the theme parks for at least one day of the visit is important for overall happiness.
At Fort Wilderness, park fans have easy access to the parks. Family members looking for rest and relaxation can chill at the campground. Families looking to make memories together have more options here than at any other resort. Sure, Fort Wilderness includes pools, boats, shopping, dining, theater, characters, campfires, and movies under the stars. Then again, so do many of the deluxe resorts around Disney World. But the Fort also has carriage rides, pony rides, Segway tours, characters at the campfire, tennis courts, ball courts, and so much more.
In addition to the sheer love of the great outdoors or even placating family members who would rather be in the national parks than at Disney, there is another reason to consider staying at Fort Wilderness: cost. There are nights during the year when you can sleep ten people at a campsite in Fort Wilderness for around $50 per night. While that may be on the high side if you compare it to state parks, it is remarkably inexpensive for a Disney property.
Now, I’ll say it loud and clear. Do Not Start Camping at Fort Wilderness for the Very First Time. There are a couple of reasons why you should not. First, camping is much smoother when you do it enough to get good at things like setting up and taking down the tent. I have tent-camped a lot and I still would not go without my husband to be the one primarily in charge of the tent. Second, if this is your first trip to Disney World, you want it to be as easy as possible. Splurge and stay at either the Animal Kingdom Lodge where you can watch exotic animals from your balcony or at one of the resorts where you can walk to a theme park. Walt Disney World is larger and more complex than most first-time visitors imagine. Make it easy so that it is also fun. There is another compelling reason not to start your family camping experiences at Fort Wilderness. When you start at the best campground available, nothing else is really going to compare.
Fort Wilderness takes camping to a whole new level. To start, there are three levels of camping to choose from. You can go with the basic pitch a tent on a campsite. You can upgrade a bit and enjoy a midlevel campsite with a preferred or premium campsite. These work well for RV camping. You can haul in or rent anything from a basic pop-up to a drop-your-jaw fancy camper. To go all-out at Fort Wilderness, try renting the one-bedroom cabin that sleeps six and has a bedroom, bathroom, full kitchen, and separate living area, plus a private deck, picnic table, and grill. Perhaps best of all, the cabins come with daily housekeeping. Each of these Fort Wilderness camping options include a two-car drive right at your campsite or cabin. This is fantastic if you happen to over-pack as much as I do.
There are also primitive camping sites at Fort Wilderness for groups such as Boy Scouts. We did not try staying in these campsites. I will sleep on the ground, but I want electricity and easy access to hot running water. Perhaps one day when our daughter is a Girl Scout we will try these primitive campgrounds. More likely, we will go visit during Thanksgiving week. I don’t want to let that cat out of the hat too early, but there is something extra special at the campground then.
On the basic camping side, there is a lot that Fort Wilderness has in common with any well-run state campground. There are campsites for rent. At many public campgrounds, there are limits on how many tents may be put in a campsite. At Disney, the limit is a total of 10 people staying at the same campsite. You can do that in one tent or several tents, just as long as all your stuff stays in your designated area. Do not camp on grass or other undesignated areas. You’ll be told to move.
Much like public campgrounds, Fort Wilderness features bathhouses for guests. Actually, I take that back. The comfort stations at Fort Wilderness are not at all like those at the other campgrounds we visit. For one thing, they are always clean. And they smell good. And there is toilet paper. And hot water. And they have well-lit areas, suitable for applying makeup. And shower stalls large enough that a mom can help her kid(s) get clean. And they are climate controlled. And, well, I could just keep going, but that comes in the chapter on tent camping! Suffice it to say that the comfort stations at Fort Wilderness really are about comfort.
Stepping up a notch and a price point are the campsites meant to accommodate recreational vehicles. We have seen everything from some extremely cute “tiny house” versions of RVs that can be (and were) towed by a motorcycle to the super deluxe, better-sell-your-house-to-afford-it mobile palaces on these campsites. There are at least two companies in the Orlando area who will rent you an RV to use at Fort Wilderness. These services include delivery, RV set up, and picking up the RV at the end of your trip. As we are currently between RVs, we used one of these services to rent an RV for a week at Fort Wilderness. I may never buy another RV now. It was so easy to have someone else take care of all the details and just walk in with it all set up and ready to go.
Tongue-in-check, I will suggest that you beware the cabins. More than one person has referred to these cabins, complete with their separate bedroom and full kitchen, as the “Disney Vacation Club Gateway Drug”. It may be true. Once you experience the delight of separate spaces for the kids and the freedom to cook (or not) as you wish on vacation, it may be hard to go back to a standard hotel room. More than one Disney family has stayed in the cabins only to decide that it might be worth investing in the Disney Vacation Club in order to stay in one-bedroom villas on future trips. However, if you have a larger family and want an alternative to requesting connecting rooms or trying to rent points for a DVC one bedroom, the cabin may be a good alternative. They are well designed and the one we rented felt like a lot of space for the three of us.
And I haven’t even started on some of my actual favorite things at Fort Wilderness. As I mentioned, in recent months we have tried just about every level of camping here. Come along and join the fun while I share what we learned about how to conquer tent camping, rent a campsite complete with RV, and indulge in one of the best hotel rooms at Disney World—a Fort Wilderness cabin. Oh, and of course share more about all the wonderful things your family might love to do at the Fort!
Amy Bashor is a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World. Her previous book, A Year of Disney, chronicled her monthly visits (each with a unique theme and purpose) to the park over the course of a year. This is her second book.
Perhaps the most unique (and also challenging) accommodations at Walt Disney World is the one you bring yourself: a tent. Amy explains how to pick the right tent and the essential accessories, how to master pitching your tent at Fort Wilderness, and the ins and outs of "roughing it" at Disney World.
There are so many types of tents available today that almost everyone should be able to find something suitable and affordable. We went with one of the Easy-Up models by Coleman after going tent camping with different friends and checking out their gear. The Easy-Up models are heavier. They are only for car camping, where you will pull the tent out of the trunk and set it up within feet of the car. However, they go up and come down in just a few minutes. It is well worth the extra weight for us.
There are a few camping tricks that we have not tried yet. Any of these seem like they might work well for a tent camping experience at Fort Wilderness. The first is adding padding to your tent floor. Now, this is not really needed at Fort Wilderness as the tent camping areas are generally on sand. But I don’t see how they could hurt, and we have camped in some non-Disney campgrounds where they were essential. The snap-together, foam-style padding was recommended to us by several friends. Like us, you might have purchased some of these with alphabets, numbers, or something else educational on them for your child. The one we bought is currently sitting on a shelf in our daughter’s closet, so taking it along on a future trip seems reasonable. That is, of course, as long as we remember to bring it. Since my memory is not at all reliable, I put together a list of things for Fort Wilderness trips.
Since there will be several things you might want to bring along for a tent camping trip to Fort Wilderness that just would not be part of a standard hotel stay, packing lists are a good idea. Remember how we forgot the anti-mosquito supplies on this trip? Forgetting something like that is all too likely to happen with Fort Wilderness camping trips planned on the fly. Instead, camping trip lists are a great way to make sure all the essentials make it to the campground. There are several good lists readily available by googling “Disney Fort Wilderness packing list”.
After checking out several of the online packing lists, we found we didn’t need some things, but wanted some other things. Here is the Fort Wilderness camping list we put together after our first tent-camping weekend. There are a few items on here I wish we had brought on that first visit. And it seems like we tweak the list a bit after every visit as something new comes up. You’ll never make a perfect list, but you can come close, as I think we have:
Continued in "Camping Disney"!
Fort Wilderness has a surprisingly number of activities available for campers, lodgers, or just plain visitors. Among these activities: a Segway tour!
On our tour, Ron had the speaking part. He shared interesting bits of Fort Wilderness history as we went along. For example, there is a bat house that you see early in the tour. He pointed out that it houses a million and a half bats. These bats are part of the natural methods used in the campground to keep the mosquito population under control. That’s a whole lot of bats. Based on how mosquitos love to visit my husband, perhaps we should consider how we could entice some of those bats to hang out near our campsite on our next trip to Fort Wilderness.
I was familiar with the golf cart and bus paths to the marina before the tour. However, I did not know about the lovely and extremely secluded area just past the store at the Settlement. This is a really wonderful grass area with a great view of the lake. Through the lake, there is a good view of the Contemporary. I asked our guide if day guests were allowed in this area or if it was restricted to tours only. He said that it was okay for campers or day guests to come here. It is a wide open area, easily large enough for my daughter to run around in while we enjoy a picnic. It’s now on my list for a future trip back to Fort Wilderness.
This was also the first time we had the green light to get out and play in the Segways. As I mentioned above, Matt’s main role on the tour was safety. When Ron said it was okay to stop and play, I forgot all of the safety instructions and stepped off the machine. Actually, that part was okay. The problem was that I forgot about not dragging the machine with me. Matt saw me and stepped in to quickly disarm the safety system before it could let out the screeching signal that something was wrong. That was embarrassing, but Matt just smiled and said it happened to at least one person on every tour.
I got back up on the machine and followed after the other two guys to play in the meadow on the Segway. All three of us went off the trail and up, down, and around. It was fun to see what the machines could do. Before we left, our guides offered to take photos for us. We all said yes.
I’m not sure if this stop is included in every tour. When one of the cast member suggested it, the other seemed caught off guard. So it could be that it’s only offered on tours with very few guests. Only ten guests are allowed on any individual backwoods Segway tour at Fort Wilderness. Based on what I’ve seen, the earlier 8:30am session tends to be much smaller. If you think you might like to try the Segway tour, trying to get in for the first session of the day is the way to go for the most time and attention.
After cruising through the Settlement area, we headed up to the barn behind the pony riding area. Here, we stopped and parked our Segways. As we got off, I saw more deer. Actually, we saw deer at every stop along the journey. Our guide said that this time of year it is typical for guests on the first tour of the morning to see lots of deer. It was fun to see these animals running around the campground. Also, as happy as I was to see the deer, I was equally happy not to see any slithering reptiles. We went off trail a couple of times and I know there are snakes in Fort Wilderness. I have yet to see one, but much like the alligators, I know they are there.
Once we stopped at the barn, we went in to look around. It felt good to get off the Segway and walk around normally for a bit. While riding one is a lot of fun, it uses muscles to balance in a way that feels different than the normal balance I use for standing and walking. I should add that I’ve always been that kid who would be the last one chosen for any sport. Coordination or athletic ability is just not my thing. Even with that, once I got over myself, the Segway was fun. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
Back at the barn, our guides shared information about the different items inside. For example, in the trophy room we learned that the sketch of a young boy and horse is intended to represent the time in Walt Disney’s life when he earned his first payment for drawing. The story goes that he earned a nickel for a drawing of a neighbor’s horse.
The wall closest to the door holds different awards the Disney horse teams have won over time. Evidently, these horses compete on occasion. The dates on the awards all struck me as being at least a decade or more in the past, so it may not happen any more. Photos show the work that horses currently do at Walt Disney World. There is a cool photo of John, the horse that carries the headless horseman in the Boo to You parade at Mickey’s Not So Scary Party in the Magic Kingdom. John has a stall right beside the trophy room. However, he was not in his stall while we were there. Our guide suggested he might be over at the Magic Kingdom working.
Continued in "Camping Disney"!