I grew up road tripping to Disney World with my family and we always looked forward to our stays at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground aka the Disney campground. Camping at Disney World is such a fantastic way to spend your vacation that we even visited when we didn’t have park tickets just to enjoy the campground and hop a few boat rides and monorails. With far nicer amenities than any other campground I’ve ever been to, and quiet, tree-lined sites, you won’t even realize that you’re within sight of the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. And best of all, it comes with all the perks of staying on site at a Disney resort – Magical Express (through the end of 2021), discounted Magic Bands, early FastPass+ booking – without the hefty price tag you’ll find at most of the hotels. Keep on reading to find out why I love Disney camping so much or use the table of contents to hop to what interests you the most!
- 1 Wait, you can go camping at Disney World?
- 2 What makes Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground so awesome?
- 3 What was that about those Fort Wilderness cabins?
- 4 Things to do at Fort Wilderness Campground
- 5 Dining at Fort Wilderness
- 6 How to make Fort Wilderness reservations
- 7 Getting to and from Fort Wilderness
- 8 Things to pack for camping at Disney World
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Wait, you can go camping at Disney World?
Yup. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground wasn’t one of the opening day resorts, but it did open the following month. I’ve probably spent more nights camping at Disney World than anywhere else in the world. With 799 campsites and 409 cabins, it stretches for 740 acres. Guests can camp in tents, campers, and RVs, or stay at the gorgeous little “log” cabins. Fort Wilderness is located along the shores of Bay Lake in the Magic Kingdom resort area. It used to be the site of Disney’s first water park (RIP, River Country), but it was permanently closed several years ago – but don’t despair, the site is being turned into a brand new resort hotel, though there is no word yet on what, if any, impact that will have on Fort Wilderness.
With two trading posts – one at the boat docks by the lake, and one centrally located in the campground – better dining options than any of the value resorts, and a pool with a waterslide (I’m still a little bitter that Disney waited until I was an adult to install the waterslide), you’ll have all the amenities you’ve come to expect from a Disney resort while feeling like you’re out in the country. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stayed there, and every time I go back it feels like coming home.
What makes Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground so awesome?
A lot of things, really. First of all, it’s the most affordable option to stay on property at Disney World. You get all the same benefits as a guest at a deluxe resort like the Animal Kingdom Lodge without shelling out hundreds of dollars a night. This includes the free Magical Express shuttle from Orlando MCO (through the end of 2021), booking your FastPasses 60 days ahead of your stay (essential if you want to snag one of the hard to get ones like Flight of Passage or Slinky Dog Dash), booking your dining reservations early, discounted Magic Bands – including a new option to upgrade the plain, solid color ones now, Extra Magic Hours where the parks open early or stay open late for resort guests only, and transportation to all of the parks and Disney Springs. Campsite reservations start as low as $60/night for a tent/pop-up site and $82 for a full hook up site that can accommodate an RV, though they can still top $100 for peak seasons.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground is also great for large families and groups because the sites can hold up to 10 adults. Can you imagine paying for a regular hotel room that would fit that many people? (I’ve checked. It’s a lot. Rooms for our group of ten during Christmas were starting at $1500/night which is pretty far outside of my budget range.) One of the reasons we hauled our pop-up camper all the way from Michigan (approximately 1200 miles each way) to camp at Disney World was because with two adults and four kids, my family was too big to fit in a standard Disney hotel room during the years we visited most frequently. Even now with family suites at the All Stars and Art of Animation, those rooms start around $300/night. You can fit six people at a campsite for less than $100/night though and have all the Disney magic associated with a WDW trip.
Some people like to cook on vacation (I don’t even cook when I’m not on vacation, so this is baffling to me), and camping at Fort Wilderness gives you the opportunity to cook for yourself or grill up a storm. We would almost always cook breakfast at the camper before hitting the parks for the day, and you can save yourself a small fortune doing this. If you’re not into cooking, don’t worry – there are restaurants on site, including a pretty amazing hidden gem of a breakfast buffet at Trail’s End.
As a frequent camper, I’m pretty used to gross bathrooms with bugs, cobwebs, and mildew all over. Not so in Fort Wilderness. The showers are pristine, all of the sinks work, and there’s none of that funky campground bathroom smell. It’s a real treat.
Campers who visit for Christmas traditionally go all-out to decorate their sites. Even if you’re not staying at Fort Wilderness, it’s worth a visit at night just to see the decorations. People will load up their sites with inflatables and adorn every available inch of trees with twinkling lights. It’s quite a sight to see, and even Halloween is starting to be quite popular for decorating. It is, however, exceptionally hard to snag a reservation at these times so if you want to camp at Fort Wilderness during these times, plan on booking more than a year in advance. Seriously.
What was that about those Fort Wilderness cabins?
Well, in the late ’90s, Fort Wilderness started adding family “log” cabins. They’re super cute inside and have their own bathrooms. They also can accommodate a larger party (up to 6) than your average hotel room, and as kids, we loved the bunk beds when we stayed in one. Starting at $333/night, they’re priced like deluxe resorts, but you get a lot of bang for your buck. You also get a full kitchen and a charcoal grill – and housekeeping service that includes dishwashing. These are great for guests who fly to Orlando but still want to stay at the Fort since it’s hard to lug all kinds of camping gear on a plane.
Things to do at Fort Wilderness Campground
Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from the hustle and bustle of days at the theme parks. We would always schedule non-park days on our trips, and Fort Wilderness is a great way to spend a day like that. You could truly spend a whole vacation just hanging out around the campground without even needing to buy park tickets – and we definitely did that at least once during my childhood. I’ve camped all around the country, and have yet to find a campground that could even come close to Fort Wilderness.
Fort Wilderness has two pools, and the one located near the Meadows Trading Post, now features a small waterslide – it didn’t for most of my childhood visits – and pool time is a great way to spend an afternoon. The Wilderness pool, tucked away closer to the front of the resort, is quieter and more out of the way, but just as refreshing. Since the waterslide pool at Meadows tends to draw more kids to it, this one is a nice place for adults to relax.
Chip ‘N Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long
Every night, Chip ‘N Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long gives guests a chance to hang out around the campfire with Chip and Dale. It’s one of the few ways to meet Disney characters without a park ticket or expensive dining reservation, and one of my favorite free things to do at Disney World. If you have s’more ingredients, you can roast your own over the fire (you can grab what you need at one of the trading posts too). After the sing along, stick around for the free showing of a Disney classic movie. You don’t have to be staying at Fort Wilderness to participate, so it’s a great evening activity even if you’re staying at one of the hotels.
Electrical Water Pageant
The Electrical Water Pageant, like Fort Wilderness itself, didn’t quite debut when Disney World opened, but it began within a few weeks of opening day and has continued with some modifications since then. The concept is simple – every night (assuming the weather cooperates) – a chain of floats parades around Bay Lake with simple, light-up screens with colorful creatures like seahorses, dolphins, and crocodiles while playing music (you’ll recognize some of The Little Mermaid’s iconic soundtrack. The floats stop at the other Bay Lake resorts like the Polynesian and Wilderness Lodge (separate from the campground) and the Magic Kingdom (the park doesn’t always get a show, so check the schedule) so you can catch it elsewhere too. The show is short – it’s really just a few minutes long – but it’s a nice little evening activity. Depending on the schedule, you can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks right from the docks.
Back Trail Segway ride
If you’ve ever wanted to ride a Segway, you can take an off-road tour on them at Fort Wilderness. Their fleet of Segways features rugged tires designed to handle more types of terrain than traditional ones (though any kind of Segway is super fun to ride) and you can explore Fort Wilderness on a two-hour Back Trail Adventure. Note that guests must be at least 16 and weigh between 100-250 pounds. Make sure you check the Fort Wilderness website for additional information and shoe requirements.
If four-legged tours are more your thing, check out the Tri-Circle-D Ranch (If you don’t get the name, think about the famous character whose silhouette can be made by three circles.), which houses and cares for all of the horses at Disney World, including Cinderella’s ponies and the horses that work on Main Street. It’s also home to a horse-powered musical instrument that was originally purchased for Disneyland. Guests over the age of 9 can take 45-minute long guided horseback rides through the campground. Younger guests can take pony rides. If you’re not confident on horseback, try an evening wagon ride, horse-drawn carriage ride, or sleigh ride (offered seasonally). Check out all of the options here.
Fort Wilderness also offers a variety of rentals, from bikes to boats. My favorites are the Sea Raycers, little speedboats that seat two guests and zip around Bay Lake. You can also rent larger pontoon boats, kayaks, and canoes. Bike rentals include child (with or without training wheels), adult, and surrey bikes. Golf cart rentals are also super popular here as people rent them to explore around the loops of the campground, especially during Christmas season with all the decorations.
Other recreation options include two arcades, playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, archery, and a paved trail that wraps around Bay Lake to the Wilderness Lodge (currently blocked by construction). I used to roller blade that trail a lot when I was a Cast Member and there were almost always deer right along the pathway. There are also two trading posts aka stores – one at the Settlement and one at the Meadows – and a beautiful front lobby. In addition to Disney souvenirs, the trading posts have basic food items to prepare if you’d like.
Dining at Fort Wilderness
Sure, you can always cook at your campsite, but if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of great options for dining at Fort Wilderness. You definitely won’t go hungry during your stay.
Hoop Dee Doo Revue
The Hoop Dee Doo Revue is one of my favorite things to do on property. It’s full of cheesy humor and stars one of my childhood crushes, Jim Handy. I’ve seen it enough times that I could probably fill in as an emergency understudy if one of the Cast Members fell ill during the performance. Why is it under the dining category? Well, it’s a dinner show so you get a hearty meal with your entertainment. You start off with some of the most amazing cornbread I’ve ever had and it only gets better from there. Buckets of ribs, fried chicken, beans, veggies, and strawberry shortcake (the dessert gets its own dance number, so if you were wondering why I love this show so much, that’s part of it). Grown-ups even get sangria and beer included – and if your group is big enough, they’ll bring it to you by the pitcher.
The Hoop Dee Doo is performed three times a night at Pioneer Hall in the Settlement area, and you’ll definitely want reservations. Unlike most Disney World dining reservations, this one requires pre-payment. Click here for the booking website. There are three categories of seating, though the difference between Category 1 and Category 3 is less than $10 and the quality of the view is way better in Category 1, so I’d pay the extra few bucks to sit closer to the stage. The dining plan can be used for it, but it requires two sit-down credits.
Trail’s End Restaurant
If you’re looking for dining at Fort Wilderness without all the hoopla, try the hidden gem buffet located at the Settlement along Bay Lake. It serves breakfast and dinner daily and does a weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Their breakfast buffet is heavenly, and with its location right by the boat docks leading to the Magic Kingdom, it’s a perfect pre-park meal. Reservations and menus can be found here.
P&J’s Southern Takeout
If you’re looking for a lighter (or faster) breakfast at Fort Wilderness, try this quick-service takeout option located in the same Settlement building as Trail’s End. You can get quick breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for those days when you’re on the go. Hours and menus can be found here.
Crockett’s Tavern shares the same building as Trail’s End, but it has a much smaller menu (think appetizers) and offers a full bar. They used to serve up some amazing pizza, but something changed and I’d no longer recommend it. Hours and menu can be found here.
Meadow Snack Bar
This quick-service spot at the Meadow pool serves up sandwiches, pizza, and salad. It’s your standard Disney quick-service food, but it’s handy for pool time lunches. It doesn’t serve breakfast, but you can get lunch and dinner here. Hours and menu can be found here.
The Chuck Wagon
Food trucks are everywhere these days, and you can even find one at Fort Wilderness. Serving up sandwiches, snacks, desserts, and moonshine, you can grab a quick dinner on the run here. Menus and more information can be found here.
How to make Fort Wilderness reservations
You can book campsites and cabins at Fort Wilderness on the official Disney World website (UK link here). You should also check Undercover Tourist as they occasionally offer discounts on Fort Wilderness cabin rentals. You can also get discounted park tickets there (They’re an official partner so the tickets are legit and I saved $40 on mine for my most recent trip), and I’ve used them for my last several trips (boy do I miss getting free admission as a Cast Member).
Getting to and from Fort Wilderness
Fort Wilderness is part of the Magic Kingdom resort area, so if you’re driving, you should follow the signs for that area and then look out for the one pointing you toward the campground. At the entry gate, you’ll tell security that you’re checking in. Only cars belonging to registered guests are allowed into the campground, so if you’re only visiting for a meal or dinner show, you’ll have to park in the overflow lot and rely on the special buses that run throughout the campground. Magical Express is also available for Fort Wilderness.
Fort Wilderness can be accessed by Disney’s bus service to the four theme parks, two water parks, Disney Springs, and the Wilderness Lodge. Buses will drop you off at either the entrance or the settlement, and you can hop an internal Fort Wilderness bus route from there. Boats also run regularly to the Magic Kingdom from the Settlement Outpost.
Things to pack for camping at Disney World
(Other than that awesome Daisy hat I’m rocking in the picture above, of course.) You can check out my full camping packing list, but here are a few essentials for camping at Fort Wilderness:
- Reflective blankets: Our old camper didn’t have air conditioning and it gets super hot in Florida. We used reflective blankets to cover the cloth bunk ends and reflect some of the sunlight. The temperature difference inside was dramatic and these are great for either tents or pop-ups.
- Bug spray: Fort Wilderness is wooded and lush so naturally it’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes. As much as I love the place, all of my fond childhood memories also involve mosquito bites. Protect yourself with some bug spray.
- Tent: If you’re packing a tent, I’d recommend a nice Coleman one. This type has dark panels that block some of the sunlight so you can sleep in a little if you want to and stay a bit cooler.
- Towels: Unlike hotels, you have to provide your own towels if you’re camping. Even if you’re not swimming, you’ll need them to shower. I like to get in the Disney spirit with themed towels. How pretty is this rainbow Mickey one?
- Bathing suit: You’ll definitely want to hit the pool while you’re there. Do it in style with a Disney themed bathing suit. You can get kids’ bathing suits anywhere, but ones for adults are harder to find. I’m a fan of going all out in this Little Mermaid one.
- String lights: The campground is pretty well-lit overall, but we always travel with these to liven up our site and throw a little extra light at night. The mason jar style is perfect for Fort Wilderness.
- Extension cord: Whether you’re in a tent or a camper, you’ll definitely have some electronics that you want to plug in. A hearty, all-weather extension cord like this is perfect.
Check out these other Disney posts with my insider tips from my time as a Cast Member:
- How to Save Money at Disney World
- What to Pack for Disney World
- How to Save Time at Disney World Using Your Smartphone
- The Most Important FastPass+ at Every Disney World Park
- The Grown-Up’s Guide to Disney World
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