Are you looking for a change of pace in your Disney vacation? Do you find that you’re spending less time running from one thrill ride to the next . . . and spending more and more time just enjoying the magical atmosphere at Walt Disney World?
Maybe it’s time for you to consider a trip to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground! My wife Carol and I have stayed in almost all of the Disney resorts and Fort Wilderness is clearly our favourite!
What makes it our favourite? Why is a stay at Fort Wilderness so different from all those other resorts?
When I try to explain it to people, I begin by saying, “It’s like stepping back in time. Back to an era when people stopped to say hello to their neighbours. Back to a time when things weren’t always so rushed and hectic.”
When we stay at one of the Disney hotels our attention is always focused on the theme parks, no matter how nice the resort is we’re always in a rush to get away from it. When we’re at the campground it’s much different . . . we enjoy just being there!
Every morning at Fort Wilderness you will wake up to the gentle sound of boat whistles in the distance. As you sit in a lawn chair outside your camper and sip your first coffee of the day don’t be surprised when a flock of wild turkeys wanders past. Squirrels and cardinals scamper and flit in the nearby trees and bushes and other campers, many of them out for a walk with their dogs, often stop to say good morning. Sometimes you will hear the clip-clop of hooves as a horse-drawn carriage or a hay-wagon ride passes your camp site. Although it’s located right in the heart of all that Disney magic and excitement, ‘The Fort’ is a serene place; a place to relax and unwind. There seems to be a real sense of community among the campers at Fort Wilderness.
Imagine seeing this beautiful heron when you’re out walking your dogs in the morning. How cool is that?
The campground is huge; it covers about 750 acres of pine and cypress forest. To put that in perspective, Fort Wilderness is about seven times the size of the Magic Kingdom. There are approximately 799 campsites plus 409 wilderness cabins arranged in 21 campsite loops and 8 cabin loops. Up to 10 people can stay at each campsite and up to 6 in each cabin.
For Carol and I the magic begins as we enter Fort Wilderness and pull up to the security gate. The cast member manning the rustic-looking gate-house gives us a warm greeting and a “Welcome home!” This is where we begin to feel the serenity! I am sure that many years ago, when Walt and the Imagineers were designing the Magic Kingdom, Walt said, “Build me a campground that duplicates a fort from the days of the pioneers on the western frontier.” And that’s exactly what they built. Carol and I are quickly transported to another world, in another time, and that’s where we make our vacation home.
From the security gate it’s take a short drive to ‘The Outpost’, a log and timber drive-through registration area that replicates the main gate of that old western fort. The theming is consistent throughout the resort, winding tree-lined roads, wooden-rail fences, wood footbridges; even the shelters at the bus stops are rustic log structures.
Once campers have registered and been assigned their campsite it’s time to get set-up. It doesn’t take long for each family to transform a campsite into their unique home. Almost all of the 799 sites have a level concrete pad, water, sewer, cable-TV and electric connections with a clean, modern “comfort station” nearby. The comfort stations contain restrooms, showers, a laundry, an ice vending machine, soda machine, house phone and a posted list of daily activities.
When we arrived in our RV the first chore was the utility connections, then we began to unload our barbecue, lawn chairs, doo-dads and decorations . . . “Aaaah – now we’re home!” The last thing to set up was our Mickey Mouse lamppost. Every avid Disney camper just has to have one of these!
What is there to do at ‘The Fort’? The short answer is “Plenty”. There are three main roads through the campground and two large areas for shopping and recreation. You enter the campground by passing through the area called ‘The Outpost’ and follow Fort Wilderness Trail toward ‘The Settlement.’ Along the way, in the middle of the campground, you pass ‘The Meadow.’
At ‘The Meadow’ you will find a trading post, the bike rental barn, swimming pool, water slide, kiddie splash zone, hot tub, tennis courts and Chip & Dale’s Theatre where the free nightly campfire and sing-along is followed by a marshmallow roast and a movie under the stars.
It’s about one mile from ‘The Outpost’, where you enter the campground, to ‘The Settlement’. At The Settlement you will find another trading post. Each of the trading posts carries a variety of basic groceries, camping supplies and, of course, Disney souvenirs. The Trail’s End Buffet offers both dine-in and take-out options and Pioneer Hall is the home of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.
In front of Pioneer Hall you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or hay-wagon. Crockett’s Tavern serves frosty beverages which you can enjoy in the comfort of a rocking chair on the veranda! The Tri-Circle-D Ranch is just a few steps away. This is where all the horses that work in the Magic Kingdom are stabled. The ranch will be moving to a new location at Fort Wilderness in the autumn of 2019 as construction of the new Reflections Resort progresses next door.
Just a few steps beyond Pioneer Hall you find the beach and marina on Bay Lake. At the marina you can rent a SeaRaycer or a pontoon boat or charter a fishing boat for some ‘catch and release’ fun. At the dock you can take advantage of free transportation; board a cruiser or a launch and enjoy a scenic ride to the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort or the Wilderness Lodge Resort. The boats run every 20 minutes.
At the Outpost you will find the main office where you can rent a golf cart or visit the Guest Services desk to make dining reservations. A few steps away is the Trail Blaze Corral where you can pick out your horse and take a trail ride. The main bus stop is also located near The Outpost; people arriving from the theme parks or Disney Springs transfer from the “park bus” to a “campground bus” to return to their campsites. There are three different bus routes within the campground with bus service every 20 minutes and convenient bus stops close to all of the camping and cabin loops.
Those Wilderness Cabins I mentioned earlier, well, they’re not really all that wild! They look like a rustic log cabin on the outside but inside they have all the amenities of regular resort guest rooms plus a fully equipped kitchen. They each sleep up to six people in complete comfort.
The campground has a number of rivers, streams and canals running through it and you will often see people fishing along the shore. Just remember, it’s ‘catch and release’ only and there is no fishing from docks or bridges.
With so much to do at the campground and with the theme parks and water parks so close by, you are probably wondering, “How do they ever relax?” Well, we do! Believe it or not, there are days where we don’t visit a theme park, we simply stay and enjoy the campground. Our neighbours are all certified Disney nuts just like us, so there’s always someone to chat with. We take our bicycles along with us and often take a leisurely ride around the grounds. We like to explore and there are some very interesting spots to see if you go looking for them. There are plenty of walking trails and lots of designated “dog walk” areas, many of them along the rivers and canals.
Our Shelties enjoy the dog walk trails where they often see deer, rabbits, turkeys, armadillos and, of course, squirrels, which are their favourites. Near the entrance to the 300 loop is a children’s playground and beside it is Waggin’ Tails, the off-leash dog park where pets can run free. Our shelties always look forward to their golf cart ride – they know that it takes them to the off-leash park for some exercise!
On a typical day in paradise we begin with a light breakfast in the camper before we head off to one of the parks. Sometimes we have lunch at the park before we head back to The Fort, or sometimes we eat at our campsite, but we always head back to be with the dogs for the afternoon. We walk the shelties, ride our bikes, go to the pool or take a nap – whatever we feel like at the time. We often head back to a park for the evening and take in the different atmosphere the parks seem to take on at night. When we have the dogs with us, it forces us to head “back home” in the afternoon and we have come to relish the slower pace that comes with this pattern.
I haven’t mentioned the decor at The Fort. Sometimes it is simply amazing! I’m not talking here about Disney decor; I’m referring to what we, the campers, do. Many of the campers take great delight in decorating their campsites for the season. Our first trip to The Fort was in December and the Christmas decorations absolutely astounded us. The subtropical forest is transformed into a Christmas panorama. Lights are strung everywhere, inflatable displays twirl, trees are hung with stars, lights and of course Hidden Mickeys.
Some campsites are even covered with snow — it is truly spectacular! But it’s not only at Christmas; they also decorate for Halloween, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, almost any excuse will do. We enjoy going in the spring for the EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival and Carol decorates our campsite with flowers — lots and lots of flowers!
I suspect that the decorations have caused the activity frequent campers at The Fort refer to as ‘looping.’ This simply means walking, riding your bikes or driving your golf cart around the camping loops to admire the decorations. The other campers are almost always ready to chat about their displays and before you know it, they will probably be going past your campsite on one of their looping treks. ‘Looping’ is one of the activities that really adds to the sense of community at The Fort.
There are also some ‘extra special’ things to do at The Fort that you will probably not read about in any of the guidebooks. For example, just before the Magic Kingdom fireworks are scheduled go to the take-out window at Crockett’s Tavern and pick up your favourite adult beverage. Take it with you to the beach beside the marina and find a comfy spot to sit. You will have a great view of the Happily Ever After fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom; the soundtrack is piped in. Then be sure to be back in the same spot at 9:45 for another treat; the Electrical Water Pageant passes in front of you. Disney magic at its finest.
Stop at the Bike Barn, near the pool, and ask about archery lessons or a Segway tour!
And my last suggestion, stop at the Outpost and enjoy the gardens surrounding the main office beside the entry gate. This garden was designed to attract butterflies and you will see them flitting and fluttering everywhere. If you’re lucky you might see a Disney horticultural specialist tending the gardens. They’ll often take time to show you around and point out some Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a chrysalis or two. They can even tell you how to attract butterflies to your gardens at home!
Carol and I sold our motor home about two years ago and it wasn’t very long before we were missing Fort Wilderness. The solution was simple, we contacted one of several companies that rent fully equipped travel trailers and deliver them to “The Fort”. Before long we had the dogs loaded in our SUV and were on our way. Everything we needed was there waiting for us! We just moved in, the same as we would in a hotel room. As quickly as you can say ‘Disney magic’ we were sitting in lawn chairs on our patio enjoying the ambiance!
That first rental experience worked out so well for us that we did it again. As I sit writing this we have only been home about a week after a 22 night stay in a rented travel trailer at “The Fort” and we’re booked for another 22 nights in early 2020. Fort Wilderness really is our favourite Disney resort!
So, if you haven’t been to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground & Resort, head on over for a visit. Walk around the campground, do some ‘looping!’ Sit for a few minutes in a rocking chair on the veranda at Crockett’s Tavern and quietly absorb the serenity. Carol and I think it’s the best resort on earth and you might enjoy it too!