Nights at the Fortby Rod Wheaton, contributing writer
Throughout this series of articles I've had the chance to talk about some of the features that stand out about Fort Wilderness Resort and what makes it such a unique place and way to experience Walt Disney World. From its very beginning there are reasons it came to be truly unique in WDW. It was designed and built by a man who was taking environmental classes long before "environmental" was a household word. It was the only resort in all WDW to have its own attraction, and it had two: the Fort Wilderness Railroad and River Country, WDW's first waterpark (and arguably, the entire world's first themed waterpark). It's home to the longest running dinner show in the country, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. It was the "host" resort to the just-offshore Discovery Island. It was the first resort to show movies out under the stars and the only one where kids could ride ponies and guests could experience Florida wildlife in a natural setting. The list could go on.…
As interesting and fun as it may be to look back on the storied history of one of the original (and most beloved) resorts though, none of those really addresses why the Fort is a place that is close to the hearts of so many. It has less to do with its history than it has to do with the overall feeling from the atmosphere that surrounds guests, and one of the best times to experience the Fort even as a casual guest is at night.
Nighttime at the Fort has always been special
Back in the early years, there was a night time excursion called the Marshmallow Marsh. You boarded a canoe similar to the Davy Crockett Explorer canoes and paddled your way through the resort to a spot on the beach where you roasted marshmallows, sang songs with a guitar-playing cast member, and watched the Electrical Water Pageant as it passed by on Bay Lake.
While the Marshmallow Marsh has been gone for decades, the Fort has continued to highlight nighttime activities. Nearly everyone has heard of the nightly sing-along and campfire movies—which are so popular that they are now offered at several of the other resorts as well. Guests come early and gather around large campfires to roast hot dogs and marshmallows, then join in the music and singing prior to the start of the night's movie.
As you watch the movie you will often hear the fireworks in the distance from the parks, along with kids running through the gravel and chatter that’s a lot louder than a movie house. There are easier ways to watch a movie, yet it somehow still manages to be a great experience hanging out together as a family and is something my kids never want to miss.
As busy as the parks can be, evenings at the Fort are an opportunity to have fun in a far less crowded environment. The Fort is still one of the best places at WDW to go biking, day or night. A bike ride as the heat of the afternoon leaves and the cool of evening settles in is a great way to end the day. My wife and I spent many a night bike riding and towing the kids in the bike trailer until they fell asleep.
We would hit Crockett’s Tavern and sit in the rockers overlooking Bay Lake. For a bit more excitement there is a trail that goes all the way down to the Wilderness Lodge. At night the trail is a much bigger adventure than during the day. The trail is largely unlit for much of the way, but a bike light will help you see deer, armadillos, and the occasional raccoon as you head along through the forest.
Another nighttime activity unique to the Fort is the wagon ride. Not to be confused with carriage rides, the nighttime wagon rides use western-style buckboard wagons that load guests in the back and take them through several of the campground loops. This is especially fun for kids, and during certain times of the year the rides are themed to the season; Halloween rides are a little spookier. For a more romantic turn, carriage rides are available to take for smaller groups.
One of the most popular nighttime activities, though, is heading down to the beach to catch the Electrical Water Pageant as it passes the beach each evening. Fort Wilderness is the show’s last destination of the evening, and guests line up all along the dock to watch the nightly spectacle of sea monsters, octopus, and assorted sea creatures both real and whimsical.
It’s no secret I’m very partial to the Fort as a place to stay—it’s my favorite in all WDW, even more so than the deluxe resorts. Some of my best WDW memories are the evenings spent here doing the things above. Even if you are just a Fort visitor, try the Fort at night and see what new experiences it has to offer you.