The Many Adventures of Fort Wilderness

From the magical mind of Real Disney Mom Janie GD!

Pioneer Hall. Notice in the tree the dangly, hanging "old man's beard" aka Spanish Moss.

With the Pioneer Players “Hoop Dee Doo!” still a-ringin’ in my ears, I thought that I would take you on a little ramble around it’s home; Fort Wilderness, which is one of the original Walt Disney World resorts opening in 1971 along with the rest of The World.
The peaceful rustic charm of Disney’s Resort and Campground at Fort Wilderness has kept me returning for a visit (even if just for a peek) for decades now.  Not many things have changed in that time, although sadly you can no longer ride on the Fort Wilderness Railway, which ran out of steam in 1980, or take a dip at River Country, which saw it’s last hurrah in 2001.  The railway transported guests around the resort much like the buses of today do; only with a few more bells & whistles!  Even today in the furthest reaches of wilderness territory, a keen eye can spot the old railway lines zigzagging about.  The first water park I ever caused a splash in was River Country; it was a naturalistic homespun styled swimming hole, the type of place you would imagine Huckleberry Finn and his pals to frequent!!  You can still see the River Country harbour from the ferry boats taking you across Bay Lake; you never know, it may just be re-imagined one day!!  Sadly, both attractions were closed due to costs, health, and maintenance issues.

The forlorn looking, abandoned River Country.

The 400 plus guest quarters are modelled on prospector’s log cabins from the 1880’s. They snugly sleep a party of six; on a double, and large bunk in the bedroom, and a pull down murphy bed found in the lounge.  This being Disney, you won’t have to rough it pioneer style  as your cabin is an air conditioned “home sweet home”.  Everything is thoughtfully anticipated for what any family on vacation may need with the themed decor carried on throughout.  The bathroom contains all the usual facilities, and will seem in constant use if the cabin has a full quota of guests!  The kitchen has all modern appliances, and if you wish to rattle those pots and pans whilst on vacation you’ll find plenty to choose from in the well stocked cupboards – you can even host a cook out on your own private deck using the charcoal grill provided!  Worried about cleaning up the mess?  Fear not……daily mousekeeping is included!!  Another major bonus is that you are able to park your vehicle right outside your front porch, although you are not permitted to drive around on site (just on entry & exiting) unless of course you hire one of the merry looking electric golf carts that are omni present.  If I can liken the resort as a whole for any British readers, it’s like Centre Parcs on steroids!!

Your "home sweet home" cabin. (2710 Heron Hollow)

The cabins are set out in neat loops, all aptly called country names like “Heron Hollow”, “Arrow Head Way”, “Shawnee Bend” etc…….my children found it highly amusing to recite the bus route perfectly when riding the resort buses!!  And talking of buses, I cannot speak too highly of this transit service!  Fort Wilderness covers a whopping 750 acres, and is served by three internal bus routes, which connect to the Out Post, which connects to the rest of The World. Sound complex?  It isn’t, trust me, if I can work it out so can you!  You are never placed too far away from a bus stop on site either, which is great news for your World weary feet!  A hot tip is to strike up a conversation with your bus driver (use your judgement for when it is safe to do so), they are such friendly and knowledgeable folk, with a mountain of information to impart with us pilgrims!  Another mode of transport are the ferry boats.  These jolly little crafts call at the marina, then connect you to the Magic Kingdom, the Wilderness Lodge, and the Contemporary Hotel. Bon Voyage!
Camping at Fort Wilderness is also wildly popular, and I can see why…..there are almost 800 pitches to be found set amongst the majestic Cypress and Pine trees with their dangly hanging Spanish Mosses  which I jokingly refer to as “old mans beard”! How wonderful it must be to camp in such an enchanted place, and only ever a stones throw from one of the superbly chilled and well kitted out comfort stations!  I like to call it “glamping”; like camping, but glamourous.You get the big woods experience, but without ever leaving civilisation!  We Brits you know, find it fascinating to look around at all the huge recreation vehicles; as we don’t have anything like them back home!
If you happen to run out of provisions then you won’t be disappointed with either of the little merchandise/convenience  stores in your neighbourhood. You will find the Settlement Trading Post near the marina, and the more centrally located Meadow Trading Post by the main swimming pool.  Both are well stocked with select every day food, drink and camping sundries, and of course WDW souvenirs!
A favourite pastime of mine is dining, and I can thoroughly recommend that you mosey along down to the ‘Trails End Restaurant’.  You will find the three square meals of the day are served here “without end”, in bounteous buffet style. “Crocket’s Tavern” is right next door, where one can purchase libations.  A super way to end a hectic Disney day I find, is to grab yourself a cold drink, pull up a rocking chair on the Tavern’s porch and people watch!  Hopefully while you’re resting your aching bones, your effervescent little darlings can let off yet more steam (under your watchful gaze), on the considerately placed children’s play area, or on my boys favourite, the beach swing ball!
As if there isn’t enough already to amuse and entertain else where in The World, Fort Wilderness has it’s own seemingly endless list of fun things to do!  There are two dinner shows; as we know, one is the famous Hoop Dee Doo Revue, and the other is Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue, which as the name suggests is hosted by none other than the big cheese himself!  You can also join Chip’n’ Dale for a nightly camp fire and sing-a-long with a “bring your own” marshmallow roast, followed by an outdoor Disney movie, and best of all, this gathering costs my favourite price; free!  A visit to the Tri Circle D Ranch is always a crowd pleaser, it’s where all the park and resort working horses call home. The ranch offers pony, guided trail, carriage and hay rides; something for every budding gaucho!  If you still have any time or energy left…..other activities are plentiful, like two wonderful swimming pools, the beach, a games arcade, bike hire, jogging trails, tennis, segway tours, various boats for hire, volleyball, shuffle ball, horseshoes, both pole and line, and BASS fishing and so on and so on…….and for the the finale, be absolutely sure to NOT miss taking in the quirky and nostalgic Electrical Water Pageant, or the Magic Kingdom’s “Wishes” Firework display, both perfectly viewed from the beach!  There’s truly a winning combination of good old fashioned family fun to be found here.
After reading this, my rural round up, you’re probably thinking the same as me; Fort Wilderness is an adventure destination all in it’s own right! And you’re correct, it sure is.  Yeehaw!

Getting There; Planes, Trains and Automobiles!

From the practically perfect personality of Real Disney Mom Jewelz P!

Photo Credit: Joe Penniston

Well there are a few choices from California that we could have taken. Auto was out of the question due to having to stop very frequently for the baby and finding a hotel each night possibly, and too expensive; fuel was pushing over $4.00 a gallon…

We looked at trains but after Hurricane Katrina, there was too much damage to the train tracks after New Orleans towards Orlando. My parents did take the train to New Orleans then rented a car to drive on to Florida. They chose a cabin with its own bathroom which made it very convenient. But being on a train for two days just was not my style even with the amenities. When you are on your way to Walt Disney World time is of the essence!!

So plane here we come!! I had racked up enough frequent flier miles to get my ticket for free. (sales and marketing in a previous life) Alexis was only 8 or 9 months at the time so she was on our lap. The husband’s ticket came out of our pocket. We opted for non-stop due to baby on board and my husband’s inability to fly much. After searching everywhere; Orbitz, Expedia…we went with United. 

Now if you have never flown with a baby here is the scoop for flying out of LAX; due to the fact that we were staying 7 days, that’s a lot of supplies for an infant and even more for Mommy and Daddy trying to make the room comfortable enough to call home. I was going to avoid BAGGAGE FEES as much as possible.  One bag alone was to carry Alexis’ things, and chances are it was going to be empty on the way back. I decided to ship 5 days of diapers (65), a large can of formula, teething items, burp cloths, some infant clothes, shampoo and body wash, Dawn (to wash her bottles out in the sink), and laundry detergent from a local Laundromat (cheaper than on WDW properties). With a baby I knew that we were going to do laundry. You can ship up to 70Lbs through the USPS. Just under $27.00 for two boxes! I had sent it to the Caribbean Beach Resort with a delivery confirmation so I that I could track it. Once I knew that our package arrived then I knew what to actually pack. I mailed on Monday and it arrived that Friday and we were leaving on Sunday.  Heed of caution; one box was crushed but the contents were fine. I also decided to rent a rocking chair and a stroller in Orlando for Alexis.

Prior to all the packing research, I had to look into the TSA rules. I knew that my baby gear would be scanned. Now having to deal with a 9 month old and a husband who hated to fly, it was all on me to make the security check point as painless as possible. I had Chase hold Alexis and I took out all the identification necessary to pass through. I needed a copy of Alexis’ birth certificate and our driver’s licenses. Meanwhile I had a carry-on bag, diaper bag and a baby carrier. My diaper bag was considered a carry-on bag!  I almost rolled my eyes but then reconsidered;  could have been as bad as saying the “B” word on a plane.

Some tips:

 

  • Get there at LEAST 90 minutes before your plane departs
  • WEAR slip-on shoes or flip-flops. Do not put shoes on a baby they will ask you to remove them as well; just keep socks on them.
  • DO NOT prepare a bottle of formula before passing the X-Ray; they may test for explosive gases (found that out the hard way).
  • Try to keep baby happy…change the diaper 20 minutes before boarding.
  • When changing a diaper on the plane, keep a few gallon size Ziplocs to put the used diapers in; remember the diapers do not flush and you don’t want the diaper to smell up the cabin.
  • Have a bottle ready for baby during take off ; cabin pressure build up can be painful for the little one; suckling will help pop the ears.
  • For other Travel Smarts – Please check out my page  http:/​/​www.citystrollerrentals.com/​Travel-Smarts.html

We had chosen to take the Magical Express from the airport with our WDW reservation. Approximately 3 weeks prior to your departure you will receive the ME boarding passes to and from the airport. You will also be receiving a luggage strip tag per person for your checked bags. If you decide to use them your bags will avoid baggage claim completely and will arrive in your room about 2 to 3 hours after you land.

Very helpful when you land and are a little exhausted from a 5 hour flight not to mention travel time to the airport.  Next thing to do is follow the path to the Magical Express!