Loving the Great Outdoors the Disney Way - The Non-Camper's Guide to Enjoying Fort Wilderness

by Rod Wheaton, contributing writer

For months now, I've talked about the treasures and joys of staying at Fort Wilderness. But what if you're not a camper? What if you can't set up a tent, don't have an recreational vehicle (RV), or don't know left from right when it comes to the camping lifestyle? What if the closest you ever came to camping was buying Girl Scout cookies? Are you just left out? No, you don't have to be.

One of the appeals to so many people about the Fort—in addition to its community feel and "close to nature experience"—is the sense of being somewhere else. It just doesn't feel like you're a mile from the world's most famous (and busiest) theme parks. Some say the Fort's atmosphere conveys the "old west" to them. I see a bit of that, but surrounded by palm trees and palmetto plants, I think it's more than an "old West" vibe. I feel more like I've entered an outdoor wilderness experience. That is what brings me to a way people who are non-campers can enjoy the Fort: try a cabin.

The Fort Wilderness Cabin Experience

The cabins sit tucked away back in loops 2100 thru 2800 and wind their way from just past the check-in area through the green pines of this secluded end of the Fort. If you go look at a map of Fort Wilderness, you can see you're a good distance from the Settlement Depot and the boat dock to the Magic Kingdom, but if your family is like mine and enjoys biking then it won't be a problem. If biking isn't quite your thing, you can rent a golf cart down by the Bike Barn to use for sightseeing and getting around. Depending on what time of year you go, there are golf cart "parades" in the evenings that Fort denizens put on for fun. Golf carts are popular enough that some guests from other resorts even come over to take one for a relaxing evening ride through the loops of the campground.

The space and privacy of the cabins is ahead of any other moderate resort. Photo by Jon Wheaton.

The cabins are a way to enjoy all the rustic charm of the Fort while still staying in a space that most closely resembles a "moderate" resort. In fact, equating the cabins with a "moderate" resort may even be shortchanging the cabins a bit. For one thing, inside they are very roomy and have plenty of space even for a larger family. Every cabin has a set of bunk beds and a pullout couch in addition to the main bedroom. The couch could come in handy if you have an extra guest as much as we do. They also have sizable, well stocked kitchens in case you'd like to enjoy staying in on an evening, or even taking a meal out on your deck. You just don't get that kind of privacy staying in any of the hotels. Because each cabin is a stand alone, self contained building, you also have the luxury of space around you on all sides. On our last trip my little niece and nephew had big adventures "exploring" in the pines surrounding the cabin.

Bunk Beds and pullouts give plenty of space even for a large family. Photo by Jon Wheaton.

Some consider the distance away from other parts of the resort as one of the very few negatives about staying in the cabins, but if you look on the bright side, a little distance means it's nice and quiet, and you can just relax. My brother is not an RV'er, and so on our family trips together his family can still stay at the Fort with all of us by getting a cabin. They've enjoyed it so much he's now a long time patron of the cabins at Fort Wilderness. He enjoys just sitting on the deck with his coffee each morning, listening to the birds wake up. It's also great for littler kids to sit out and eat on the deck; when its time for a nap the cabin is a quiet and peaceful place. Since it's vacation time, if a grown-up wants to take a nap or just sit on the porch and enjoy a good cold one you're in the perfect spot.

Each cabin provides a porch to relax away the afternoon. Photo by Jon Wheaton.

Have you wanted to try out the whole Fort Wilderness experience at Walt Disney World? If you've visited and enjoyed the atmosphere, but aren't a camper by nature, the cabins are a great way to try it on your camping "training wheels," so to speak. You can have the atmosphere and take advantage of all the activities—like the outdoor movies, s'mores, carriage rides, birds, and other Florida wildlife—without commiting to a camping vacation. But maybe you really want to try the full-on Fort Wilderness experience complete with camping. Perrhaps while walking along the loops you've wondered what it would be like to camp right in the middle of all those brightly lit and decorated RVs and truly be part of it, even more so than the cabins? There's one more great alternative for the non-camper who wants to give it a try.…

Carriage rides are just one option for nighttime fun. Photo by Jon Wheaton.

Rent an RV

Over the years, the Fort's popularity among Walt Disney World visitors has actually kept growing. Lots of people come to visit for the day and express a desire to stay in the campground. The demand has gotten big enough that several local businesses has sprung up to help people do exactly that. These businesses will bring an RV onsite and set it up for you with everything right down to the dishes, sheets, and camp chairs. All you have to add is yourself and your family.

I've sometimes made the joke that I can sound like a Fort Wilderness evangelist, and it's true that it is my favorite place to stay and experience the Disney "magic." Even if you've managed to stay in most of the other Walt Disney World resorts over the years, staying at the Fort is still something special. If you're willing to give it a try—from the cabins to an RV experience—even a never-camped-before newbie can bring a really special twist for his or her whole family by experiencing a little extra "pixie dust" of a Fort Wilderness stay.