Recently I got back to my roots – my Disney roots, of course – by reacquainting myself with one of the original Walt Disney World Resorts, Fort Wilderness. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground wasn’t ready on the theme park’s opening day in October of 1971, but it opened a scant month later, in November. My family had a camper, and for many years, this was the only way we could afford to stay on property. I have fond childhood memories of this resort, but my parents sold the camper after I went to college, and I was never able to stay there again. Fast forward to this summer, when my husband’s family wanted to go to Disney with our family. Affordable on-property options for a group of 10 are few and far between. Then I discovered that we could rent a luxurious 38-foot camper that could sleep all of us. And so I headed back to Fort Wilderness, my childhood “happy place” at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
The first thing to know about Fort Wilderness is that it is HUGE. When it opened in 1971, there were only 250 sites. Now there are a whopping 799 sites and 409 cabins spread out over 750 acres. The resort is so sprawling that there are *three* internal bus loops that run from the front of the resort all the way to the lake and back.
The campground is so big, in fact, that many people either bring (or rent) bikes or golf carts to get around. Parking is pretty much nonexistent inside the resort — typically, you park your car at your site or cabin and leave it there — but there are plenty of golf cart and bike parking areas.
Tip: You can save some money by renting golf carts from off-site vendors. It’s a bit of a hassle to coordinate, but we saved about 40% on our six-day rental and we were able to guarantee a six-seater cart beforehand, something you can’t do when you rent from Disney itself.
The resort has a rustic, woodsy feel. There is plenty of wildlife roaming freely. During our stay, we encountered numerous deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, ducks, and an armadillo.Even if you are only visiting the campground to take a look around or eat at one of the restaurants, you won’t be able to just drive around the resort. You will park your car in the front lot near the Outpost (reception area) and take an internal bus to your destination. Alternatively, you can take a boat from the Magic Kingdom, Contemporary, or Wilderness Lodge to the marina at the campground. Either way, there are no real internal parking lots for guests or visitors.
This is one resort where it pays to study the map beforehand and request a specific “loop.” Some of the loops are closer to the marina area, some of them are in the center near the Meadow Trading Post, close to many of the activities, and some of them are at the front, where the buses to the theme parks and Disney Springs are. There are two “trading posts,” gift shops with some groceries and other sundries, two pools, a dog park, restaurants, arcades, a stable…the list goes on and on.
The cabins are closer to the front of the resort, the aforementioned Outpost, which is where check in and bell services are located. There is also a drive through check-in. This resort does participate in online check-in, but it did not work for me (an ongoing problem for me, it appears!), so I ended up calling the front desk to find out our campsite ahead of time since we had to tell the camper rental company where to set up.
Tip: You can call the front desk at Fort Wilderness at 407-824-2727
Disney divides its campsites into four types: tent or pop up sites, full hook-up, preferred, and premium. The premium sites are the most expensive and located in the more desired areas. They feature large asphalt pads suitable for large RVs. The asphalt takes up most of the site. Most of the pop up and tent sites will have a smaller asphalt area and a large sand pad (easier for pitching a tent). The full hook up and preferred sites strike more of a balance – while they have a large asphalt strip, they also have sizeable tent pad as well, with the preferred sites being closer to hubs of activity.
There are “comfort stations” spread throughout the loops. These are super clean bathrooms with showers. Very handy when you have 10 people trying to shower and a tiny RV water heater. They lock at night and you must use your magic band to enter. There are also laundry facilities and ice available at each comfort station.
Tip: While the Trading Posts do carry basic items, they are limited and pricey. If you need groceries or other items, consider ordering from Prime Now,
Amazon’s grocery delivery service. They will deliver to bell services at the front of the resort.
We didn’t stay at the cabins, but they looked very similar to the cabins at the Davy Crockett Ranch in Disneyland Paris: essentially a mobile home that has been fitted out to resemble a log cabin. A really nice log cabin, as you can see here.
One of the things that sets this resort apart is that pets are allowed in most loops (A few other Disney resorts began welcoming pets in October, but they charge a much higher fee). For $5 a day per pet, you can bring along Fido (or Pluto!). There’s even a small dog park on site. You cannot have pets in the cabins or in a tent/pop up, however. And pets are not allowed in most public areas, like the pool or the beach.
Another thing that sets this resort apart is the laid-back feel of it. While guests are, of course, heading to the parks, they are also just relaxing and hanging out. Campers decorate their sites and their golf carts, sometimes lavishly. They make elaborate chalk drawings on their asphalt pads. There are Disney-sponsored cart parades on holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Fourth of July. We ran into several fellow campers who are actually local residents, but come stay at the Fort once a month just because they find it so much fun.
In Part 2, I will describe some of the many activities available at the Fort.
If you want help planning your stay at Fort Wilderness, contact our FREE Disney Diva travel agent Patricia Payne at All For Dreams Travel!