Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground: A Photo Tourby Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer
Did you know that there's a way to visit Walt Disney World and stay on property inexpensively? While the word "inexpensively" is a relative term, it's true. All that's required is that you have a love for the outdoors and for at least some, a willingness to try something new. We're talking about the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, located along the southeastern shore of Disney's Bay Lake.
For many families, this is not really a stretch. According to a report prepared by Coleman Corporation for the Outdoor foundation, 15% of all Americans participated in some kind of camping activity during 2011. In 2015, a report chartered by Kampgrounds of America (KOA) indicated that a full 44% of Americans go camping at least once a year. While that's a relatively large number of people, it still leaves a staggering number of folks who have yet to experience this exciting and rewarding activity.
Camping at Fort Wilderness is about as safe and clean as it gets. There are nearly 800 campsites that range from simple tent sites to full hookup RV sites. There are also over 400 fully furnished, air conditioned cabins in case camping is not exactly what you had in mind. And in case you want to camp but lack the equipment, there is a service from Disney that lets you rent a tent and cots. You'll need to bring the rest of your equipment yourself. To learn more about this service, you can call Campground Guest Services at 407-824-2900.
A typical tent camping site at Fort Wilderness includes water, power, and sometimes cable television. Wifi was recently installed throughout the entire campground. While the Wifi is reliable at all the settlements, we've found that so far it's a work in progress in other areas. Some of the loops have good signal. Others, not so much. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Staying at Fort Wilderness is not just a place to stay while you visit the parks. It can be used as a destination of its own. With activities like boat rentals, campfire movies complete with s'mores, swimming pools, and fishing you can stay entertained all within the 700 acres of the campground.
Fort Wilderness is organized around three basic areas
When you first arrive at Fort Wilderness, you'll be at the Outpost. This is where you initially check in, and where you'll catch the buses that take you to most of the parks and Disney Springs. The exception is that buses don't normally run from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom. Transportation to the Magic Kingdom is usually via the boat service located at the Settlement.
In the center of the campgound is the Meadows, where you'll find a well stocked trading post, a fishing venue, canoe rentals, and a large swimming pool.
Finally, there's the Settlement which is located along the shore of Bay Lake. Here you'll find another well stocked trading post, a great restaurant, takeout food, a bar, and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue; a dinner show that is one of the best shows in Orlando. A favorite among young campers is Mickey's Backyard Barbecue which is also located at the Settlement. There are also power boat rentals and water transportation that takes you to the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, and the Wilderness Lodge, plus many other activities.
The main way to get around Walt Disney World from Fort Wilderness Campground is via Disney's extensive bus system. The main depot is located at the Outpost, near the main entrance. Here you can catch buses to all the theme parks except Magic Kingdom as well as Disney Springs, and there's an internal system dedicated to moving guests around the campground. Photo by Donald Fink.
Inside the campground, there are three bus lines that can take you around the property. Many people rent golf carts for a more personal form of easy transportation, and still more people bring their own carts. It's interesting to see that many of these carts are individually decorated around a Disney theme, suggesting that their only purpose is to come to fort Wilderness.
Wildlife is part of the experience at Fort Wilderness, and it's part of the reason to be there
When you visit Florida, it's surprising how much wildlife you can find, and at Fort Wilderness, this is probably more true than many other locations. Being basically a wilderness area, it's common to find most of Florida's normal fauna, including deer, turkeys, and many other species of birds. There's even an occasional alligator, or so we're told. While we've seen alligators on Disney property, we've stayed at Fort Wilderness many times and have never encountered one there. Of course, we didn't go looking for one either.
Is it worth it?
What's the cost, and is it worth it? Those questions are not easy to answer. First, camping at Fort wilderness can be the most expensive camping experience you'll encounter. The prices will vary quite a bit depending on the season, but they remain among the highest priced campsites you can find. Keep in mind, however, that the expense is a relative term. If your goal is to stay on Disney property, it turns out to be one of the least expensive options available. If you're looking to have a camping experience that's safe and rich in outdoor activities, then again, it's probably one of the least expensive options you can find, with some of the most value.
We're Disney people, so anytime we're on Disney property is a good day for us. Before we were full time residents of Florida, we made many trips to Fort Wilderness, staying in our fifth wheel trailer for up to two months at a time, and enjoyed every minute of it. While we did need to save money for a two month stay, it's easy to understand that two months at one of the hotels simply was out of the question. Of course, we enjoyed our times at Fort Wilderness so much that even now, living a mere eight miles away, we still find time to come over and camp for a few days each year, especially when friends come to stay at the campground.
Staying at Fort Wilderness has given us access to Walt Disney World in a way that we could never afford by any other means. It's also given us a perspective that wouldn't have been possible any other way. After all, it's hard to beat playing at the parks all day and returning to the campsite at night to take in a movie under the stars around a campfire, eating s'mores.
Whether you're a seasoned camper or just want to give this a try, Fort Wilderness has got a lot to offer. Whatever your experience or comfort level in camping, we think Fort Wilderness is worth every penny.
Now please, enjoy some of the images from around Fort Wilderness Campground.
There's an extensive waterway system throughout Walt Disney World. This one, behind The Meadows Trading Post, is needed to keep the waterways flowing smoothly, but it also adds to the wilderness scenery in the campground. Photo by Donald Fink.
The Settlement Trading Post is a general merchandise store located near the lake at the Settlement. You can find items including basic food and camping supplies and clothing, and of course the usual Disney memorabilia too. Photo by Donald Fink.
Disney keeps 89 horses on property, including 16 small white ponys used to pull Cinderella's Coach. They all live here at the Settlement, in the Tri-Circle D Farm. You can walk among the various corrals and through much of the barn where the large horses are kept. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
One of the best dinner shows in Orlando is right here at Fort Wilderness Resort. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is housed in Pioneer Hall, near the lake. There are three shows a night and they're usually sold out. Photo by Donald Fink.
A surprising treat at the Settlement is the Trail's End Restaurant. This restaurant serves a buffet-style breakfast and dinner, with lunch from a menu. The food is excellent. After 4:30 PM, you can get takeout food too. Photo by Donald Fink.
The setting for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is that of an old west traveling theater troupe. There's a live piano and banjo and six performers, making up the characters. There's Six Bits Slocum and Dolly Drew (comic relief), Jim Handy and Flora Long (the singers), and Johnny Ringo and Claire de Lune (the dancers). Photo by Donald Fink.
In addition to bus transportation, there's boat transportation located at the docks at the settlement. Boats carry guests to The Magic Kingdom as well as The Contemporary Resort and Wilderness Lodge. Photo by Donald Fink.
If you're interested in reading more about Fort Wilderness, Ron Wheaton has written a series of articles related to visiting and staying at Fort Wilderness, and they're posted here.
Jim Korkis has posted an article describing the history of the Fort Wilderness Railroad that's a good read too.