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Published: August 10th 2019
We have been having the best
time at Disney Fort Wilderness. When we arrived, I knew almost right away that I wanted to write a blog post just about our resort. The kids played checkers on oak barrels when we arrived and waited to check in, and then we sat out on the porch outside of check-in and rocked in rocking chairs while we waited for the afternoon sun shower to ease up. It felt wonderful!
There is so much to share that I don't know where to begin! Perhaps it's best to start with general info and then move into our experiences.
First, there are over two dozen resorts at Disney World. Each one has a different theme and different amenities. Andrew and I had enough SPG points to stay at Disney Swan for free for five nights (fifth night is free after using four nights of points!). The Swan and The Dolphin are sister hotels, and they are the only hotels in Walt Disney World not owned by Disney. However, they have some sort of partnership with Disney, and so there are still many Disney perks, including Disney shuttles and ferries that come to these hotels and
take guests to the parks every 15-20 minutes. Even though you get almost all of the Disney perks when staying at the Swan and Dolphin, they still don't have quite the same level of themeing that most Disney resorts have. To me, part of staying at Disney is experiencing some of that immersive theme. So, before our stay at the Swan, we decided to try a new-to-us Disney resort. We reserved a cabin at Fort Wilderness for two nights.
Fort Wilderness is one of the original Disney World resorts (along with the Contemporary and Polynesian). It's technically considered a moderate level resort at Disney (between value and deluxe). However, it doesn't really fit into a category well. There are some primitive, walk-in, tent-only campsites at Fort Wilderness. There are also many, many campsites (over 800) for campers and tent campers who want electricity and water. Lastly, there are cabins. The cabins are different from most rooms at Disney resorts in that they have a full-sized kitchen, a full-sized bathroom, a separate bedroom (which has a double bed and bunk beds), a dining area, large porch with a picnic table and grill (next to the porch), and a living room
with a pull-out bed. We also learned that Fort Wilderness is the only resort at Disney World where you can park your car for free (you can park at your campsite). For smokers, it's also the only resort where you can smoke on your porch. At other Disney resorts, including those with balconies, you can't smoke there and must leave the building and hike to a smoking section. Throughout the resort are comfort stations, perfect for tent campers, that have restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.
The first thing we learned when we reserved our cabin is that Fort Wilderness is huge! For example, it's over a mile from our cabin to The Settlement where most of the dining and the ferries are located. Imagine hiking over a mile each way for coffee refills! Disney solves this "problem" by having a handful of buses run throughout the resort. Every camping and cabin loop has a bus stop, and the buses do loops around the resort. Some people find it tedious to wait for a bus every time they want to go to the pool and what not, so many campers bring bikes. You can usually rent bikes there as well,
but bike rentals have been temporarily halted at Fort Wilderness due to construction nearby (Disney is building a new resort called the Riveria).
There is no car parking anywhere in the resort except at your campsite and at the Outpost where you check in (located 1.3 miles from The Settlement). So, another option for those who don't bring their own bikes or have family members who can't ride bikes confidently is a golf cart rental. For $59/night (the price we reserved in August of last year), you can rent a golf cart that can be parked at your cabin or campsite, The Outpost (for buses to parks and Tri-Circle Ranch), The Meadow (for the pool and campfire sing along), and The Settlement (for the playground, restaurants, carriages, and ferries to other resorts and Magic Kingdom).
The golf carts are a lot of fun to drive! I think the whole family thoroughly enjoyed hopping in the golf cart to go to the pool and go to breakfast. And, because there are so many golf carts around, many people decorate theirs so they can easily find it later. Some people's golf carts were all decked out in twinkle lights and
signs. Apparently, if you go during Halloween, many campers go all out with the golf cart decorations. It's turned into an event, where you can put your golf cart in an annual Halloween parade around the resort. I guess people come from all over Disney property to see the golf cart parade at Fort Wilderness, with golf carts decorated by guests. Campers also decorate their sites for Halloween and Christmas. It sounds so cute.
One thing I love about camping is how much you feel like a community with your fellow campers at a campground. Everyone is outside, everyone is using the shared facilities, and you start getting more comfortable talking and waving to the people around you. Disney's Fort Wilderness has this feel, too. It's like a "next level" campground. Everything is just so meticulously kept.
Disney also does an amazing job creating what you'd expect and hope for from a down-home, rustic campground (while still maintaining a high standard and fantastic amenities). For example, there are large wooden checkerboards inside or just outside of almost every building. My kids loved sitting on the porch and playing checkers at the trading post at the Settlement. There are
also rocking chairs outside of almost every building. There's a tavern called Crockett's that has a huge porch with dozens of rocking chairs. You can grab a snack or a drink and sit out on the porch, rocking, while your kids run around the playground that's across from the porch.
Almost every public area on property is playing banjo music. It's even on some of the golf cart paths. It's not obnoxiously loud. It's simply fun and adds to the theme. Our cabin was also woodsy with a large porch. Disney adds to the theme by having pine trees everywhere and even the bear-proof garbage cans that you see at campgrounds in bear country.
The restaurants are also on point with the theme. I mentioned Crockett's. There's also Trail's End and Hoop-De-Doo Revue.
We did the breakfast buffet at Trail's End early this morning. Trail's End is next door to Crockett's Tavern. The buffet costs Disney prices: $25 for an adult and $14 for a child ages 3-9 (August 2019 prices). We got 10% off from using a Disney Visa, but it still felt expensive for breakfast. Yet, it also felt worth it. The whole restaurant is
rustic and charming. Next to the classic Mickey waffles are warm urns of maple syrup, fruit compote, and candied walnuts, all served with a ladle. I loathe fake eggs that are served at breakfast buffets at hotels all over, but these eggs were real. I helped myself to an vegetable egg casserole that was out-of-this world. Andrew adored the cheesy potatoes and the warm pecan rolls. Oliver ate two bowls of oatmeal. Joanna gobbled down $14 worth of grapes and strawberries and also enjoyed the pastries. When I asked if a dish was vegetarian, our server also brought out a tofu scramble for me (no extra charge). Although none of us ate meat (the kids don't like breakfast meats, and Andrew and I don't eat meat), there seemed to be a plentiful selection of whole sausages and bacon.
Last night, we did the dinner show, Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue. I read that this dinner show is considered to be the longest continuously running musical in US history. Apparently, a lot of people are nostalgic for this show, having seen it when they were children and going now as adults. We don't have that nostalgia, so I wasn't sure what to think.
There's a hefty price tag for this experience, but we used our dining credits and didn't have to worry. One nice thing about using the dining plan for this experience is that the gratuity is included with your dining credits (that isn't the case at most Disney restaurants).
Let me tell you: Hoop-Dee-Doo is so much fun! We were considered Category 2. We were seated on the main floor, close to the stage but off to the side. The chairs swivel so you can easily turn from your meal to the stage. There was a guy who played the piano and another who played the banjo. They were playing almost immediately. We started with salad and corn bread, and both were good. The actors then ran through and got the show started. They move through the audience and ask people where they're from, and then they use that information in their bits. It was funny and entertaining. After a couple songs, they end with dishes being dropped on each table, metal pans banging on metal plates, and then the current falls so people can eat. Let me tell you: there is so much food! It was unbelievable. Everything is
family style and unlimited. There is fried chicken, which our children devoured, and barbecue ribs, which our kids wouldn't touch. There are mashed potatoes (vegetarian), corn (vegetarian), macaroni and cheese (vegetarian), and beans (with pork). They also brought out some pasta with veggies and sauce as a vegetarian entree. Everything was phenomenal except the pasta. There is so much food that we really didn't even need the vegetarian entree. We were all so, so full by the end of the meal. When most people were finished eating, the show started again. They were singing some classic songs with a twist, like Oh My Darling Clementine, but they also added in some humor that even kids could appreciate (my kids loved the fart jokes). The audience got involved a couple times with waving their gingham napkins in the air, and playing a washboard with a spoon as a percussion instrument. They paused the show again for dessert (strawberry shortcake, which was delicious, but we could each only take a bite for taste, as we were so full). After dessert, they did a couple more songs and asked for volunteers from the audience. It was so entertaining to see some of the
audience members in roles. They did an excellent job and had us all laughing. By the time we walked out, we felt so thoroughly entertained and fed that I don't think we would have complained even if we had paid $80/person out of pocket.
Believe it or not, even after all I've written about Fort Wilderness, I'm still not done. The resort is just so incredible. There are multiple pools around the resort, but most of them are ordinary. At The Meadow (located in the middle of the resort), there is a fun pool that includes a splash area for kids. My kids loved playing here. Every night in this area, they also have a free/included event called Chip & Dale's Campfire Sing Along. During our stay, this event was at 8pm. It's outdoors, so it's weather-permitting. We did the early showing of Hoop-Dee-Doo at 4pm, got out at 5:45pm, and then went to the sing along at 8pm. Thankfully, at this time, dinner was more or less digested, and we were ready for s'mores!
When we arrived, we found that the area was an outdoor amphitheater. There were two fire pits with wood burning fires. Off to
the side was a camper thing called the "chuck wagon" that served little snacks. They also sold s'mores kits. They were pricey at $9, but it came with sticks for roasting marshmallows in addition to plenty of marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for a family. Our kids made s'mores, and then we gave the rest of our kit to another family. At 8, a man came out with a banjo. He had us practice singing along, urging us to sing louder and reminding us we'd never see these other people again. The songs were fun and silly. For example, he sang "Brown Eyed Girl" but changed the lyrics to "Brown Eyed Squirrel." He really only sang the chorus part, and he'd sing one line and stop for us to sing the next line. A woman in front of me wasn't singing along and kept turning around to glare at us and other people who were singing (I wanted to ask her if she understood she was at a sing along, but I decided to just ignore her). Then, he introduced Chip and Dale, who came out on stage for an appearance before moving to the back. A short line formed
with kids waiting to meet Chip and Dale. They allow parents to take pictures, but they ask people only take 1 photo per family. When everyone got to meet Chip and Dale, the musician called them up to the front. Chip and Dale danced with the kids to a couple songs, including the Hokey Pokey. There aren't many free experiences at Disney World, but this one is, and it's a great one. When it was over, it was dark, and a movie started. There's a different Disney movie that plays there each day of the week, and I think it was Cars that night. We didn't stay for the movie.
I wouldn't be finished with this post about Fort Wilderness if I failed to mention the ferries. Ferries takes guests from Fort Wilderness to Magic Kingdom, and the captains are amazing. There are other ferries that do loops to other resorts on the lake, so you can easily go check out Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary. I'm sure, in the future, this will also include the new Riviera. We never waited long for a ferry, and the captains and staff at the docks were phenomenal.
Oh! Speaking of
the docks! The docks are at The Settlement, and along the docks is a sand beach. Now, the water is roped off with rope fencing to help prevent encounters with alligators. However, you can still see from the beach, and it's a lovely place to hang out. At night, you can see the fireworks from Magic Kingdom. You can also see the electrical water pageant parade.
There were so many other things I'd hoped to do while were were staying at Fort Wilderness. I wanted to visit Disney's horses, which are kept there. I'd also wanted to take the kids fishing or kayaking. There are also carriage rides, scavenger hunts, craft experiences, and more. It was simply too much to hope to do in two days at Fort Wilderness.
We loved our stay here so much that I want to come back and plan some whole days to enjoy at the resort. It was tough to leave, but it'll feel great to be back one day!
There are more pictures of Fort Wilderness below!
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