Fort Wilderness

by Sue Holland, contributing writer

In November 1971, just one month after the Magic Kingdom opened, Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground opened on a 700-acre site on Bay Lake. Consisting of 788 campsites and 407 Wilderness Cabins, although the cabins are themed to look rustic, they are air conditioned, fully outfitted, and come with daily housekeeping service. Although I am not a camper, I repeatedly hear that Fort Wilderness is by far the nicest campground most people have stayed at. And whether you book a campsite or a cabin, you have a comfortable distance from your neighbors.

Registration building at the entrance and main parking lot.

Upon entering the resort, people staying in a campsite can do a drive-through, check-in process. Those staying in a cabin check in indoors. Check-in time for campsites is 1 p.m. and for cabins it's 3 p.m.

The front desk of Fort Wilderness.

The check-in area is relatively small, which means there can be a somewhat lengthy wait to get through the process. When checking in, guests are given a copy of the Gazette, which contains information about the resort, maps for recreation and accommodations, and information on Disney transportation.

Although there are paved paths throughout the resort, someone staying at one end would probably not want to walk everywhere within as it is a very big place. Buses circulate within the resort and drop people off at Outpost Depot near the main parking lot, or at Settlement Depot near Pioneer Hall. From there, guests transfer to a theme park bus or if going to the Magic Kingdom can take the water ferry that is shared with Wilderness Lodge.

All of the campsites have electricity and water, and 695 of them also have sewer. Most sites are fairly secluded from neighbors, thanks to trees and bushes between the sites. The campsites closest to Pioneer Hall are considered preferred, and also include cable TV hook-up, for which there is an additional cost of $5 to $10 per day depending on the season. Only one vehicle is allowed at each campsite, but parties with more than one can park the extras in the main parking lot near the registration building.

A campsite is decorated for Christmas, making this a home away from home.

It's not uncommon to find “snowbirds” — retired people who live up north but come to Florida from December to April to escape the cold weather — spending weeks or months camping in their motor homes in Fort Wilderness. Some actually work as cast members on a part-time basis. During the Christmas season, many people decorate their campsites just as if it was their regular home, with lights strung and lawn ornaments in place.

Fort Wilderness is the only resort that permits pets to stay with their owners, although only in the campsites. Pets are not allowed in any of the Wilderness Cabins. The only loops that currently allow pets are 1600-1900 and 300, and there is an additional charge of $5 per day. People choosing to not stay in one of those loops can board their pet at the kennel.

Comfort station, open 24 hours a day, provides showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities for tent campers.

There are 15 air-conditioned comfort stations located conveniently throughout the campsites. These contain private showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities. Although open 24 hours a day, a resort identification card is usually required between midnight and 6 a.m. How busy these stations are really depend on how many tent campers versus RV campers are staying on any particular loop.

For people who do not bring their accommodations with them and prefer not to sleep in a tent, the Wilderness Cabins are an excellent option. With a cabin, you can enjoy the resort but not really have to “rough it.” Each cabin is approximately 12 feet by 42 feet, and sleeps six people plus an infant in a crib. With just a single bathroom though, it would be pretty crowded if the six people were all adult-sized. There are no comfort stations in the loops containing the cabins.

A view of a Wilderness Cabin from its driveway.

Front view of cabin and deck of a Wilderness Cabin.

The cabins look like log cabins, although they really are not. They are awfully cute, and fit the theming well. Each has parking for one car and a nice-sized outdoor deck. A charcoal grill is located at each site — and cooking steaks on the grill then eating out on your deck is a nice relaxing way to have dinner. Charcoal is available to purchase at the resort, so it's unnecessary to bring it from home — although if you are driving, it'll almost certainly be cheaper to bring your own.

A fully equipped kitchen in a Wilderness Cabin.

The main cabin door enters into the kitchen, with the living room off to your right and the bathroom and bedroom down the hall to your left. The kitchen contains all the usual appliances — full refrigerator, dishwasher, stove/oven, microwave and coffee maker. Dishes and utensils are provided to serve six people, and a wide variety of cookware is also present. If you forget to load up the dishwasher after breakfast, chances are your housekeeper will do this while cleaning the cabin.

The cozy living room in a Wilderness Cabin.

The Murphy bed folds down from the wall to provide sleeping space.

The living room is decorated in hues of forest green and dark red, and fits the wilderness theming. It's not a large area, but with all there is to do in Fort Wilderness and the rest of Walt Disney World, the space should be adequate for most families. There is a sofa, chair, and a TV with VCR. In addition, there is a double Murphy bed that folds down from the wall. The room is definitely cramped when the bed is down, but as long as the rest of the party has gone to the bedroom, it'll be fine.

The bedroom in a Wilderness Cabin.

The bedroom contains a double bed and a set of twin bunkbeds. Space is pretty tight, but doable for a family with small children. There used to be a TV in the bedroom as well, but when the old Wilderness Homes were replaced with the cabins, the TV was removed. It's sad, because the space is there for it, including the cable hookup, but there is no TV.

There is plenty of closet and drawer space and having a separate vanity sink in the bedroom is a nice touch. It will certainly speed up the morning routine for families of more than one or two people.

The Wilderness Cabin provides a small but complete bathroom.

The bathroom is not terribly large but it contains all the basic items you need. There is a window in the bathroom, which is a nice feature to release steam when showering so you can still see in the mirror.

Guests with mobility limitations can reserve one of the 13 accessible cabins located on loop 2800. To stay in the other cabins, a person would need to be able to climb a few stairs and not require a wheelchair to get around.

One of the accessible cabins, with a ramp in place of steps.

Fort Wilderness is the resort with the most recreational opportunities, and as such it's possible to vacation here for a week or so without ever visiting one of the theme parks. In the next article, I'll talk about some of the recreation available to guests at this resort — some of which are open to guests at any Walt Disney World Resort.