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An Extraordinarily Uninformed Review of the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness

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As you know if you’ve been watching the Daffy Does Disney videos I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks, I visited Walt Disney World with friends for a long weekend recently. What some of you might not have realized, because I included very little footage that would have tipped you off, is that my friends and I stayed in one of the cabins in Disney’s Fort Wilderness resort. Because I was there for just three nights and spent most of my time either in the parks or asleep there is plenty about the resort that I didn’t get to experience firsthand (hence the title of this article), but I will try to share with you what I did find and some other stuff that is important to know about the resort.

Fort Wilderness Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida was one of the original resorts that was planned to open with the entire Disney World vacation kingdom. In fact, when Disney aired a television special about its new Florida theme park and the surrounding amenities, funnyman Jonathan Winters was featured with a fictional family in a series of bits about staying at Fort Wilderness. For whatever reason, the campsite was not ready to receive guests on opening day in October of 1971 along with the Contemporary and the Polynesian, but it did begin operations on November 19th of that same year.

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At the time, the resort was only populated by plots for tent or recreational vehicle camping. The cabins like the one where we stayed were not added until 1986. The resort features an even wider range of entertainments and amenities than most spots at Disney World. These continue to include horseback riding, bicycle and kayak rentals, and tennis or archery. A nightly campfire and sing-along with Chip ‘n’ Dale is offered with a marshmallow roast, meet and greet with the friendly chipmunks, and an outdoor kids movie afterward. If your family enjoys camping and outdoor activities in general, you could probably fill a few days doing mostly that without ever going to the theme parks.

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thanks to WDWinfo for the photo

You can also see a very popular dinner show featuring lively songs and jokes called the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, but if that’s what you want to do you should be sure to get your reservations as soon as possible. You should also be prepared to pay a pretty penny, because this show is not included in your resort fee like the campfire sing-along is.

In early years, Fort Wilderness featured a small-scale railroad which was used for transportation around the different campgrounds and to River Country U.S.A., an “old swimmin’ hole” themed water park that enjoyed the advantage of a very catchy theme song that was introduced on television to help advertise the resort to young families.

Eventually, both the railroad and River Country were shut down by Disney due to safety concerns, but if you’re a real busybody you can find vestiges of them (Disney security does not want you in River Country, so be prepared to be ejected if you wander into it). But of course all of this is just interesting back story to the place where my friends and I actually stayed. If I wanted to write an article about the reasons for River Country’s demise that would fill at least a few paragraphs. That’s not why we’re here, though, because I didn’t see any of that.

I did, however, see the cabin where we slept and spent an entire morning. They are classified by Disney World as a moderate resort, but as should be obvious, they offer a lot more than what you’ll get in places like Coronado Springs or Caribbean Beach. One advantage of the cabins is that they are separate from any other buildings, creating good quiet evenings from all but the noisiest of neighbors and a driveway for your own car or rental, meaning much less walking between your vehicle and room than what you’ll experience at just about any of the other resorts. The front of the cabin has a large deck with a picnic table and standing metal grill for cooking meals if you like.

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The primary room of the cabin is an all-purpose affair that has a dining table and seating…

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…a big screen television, storage, and fold out sofa…

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…and one corner of the room is a pretty complete kitchen which was upgraded recently in a full refurbishment of the cabins. As you can see, there’s a full-sized refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher and a small cook top with elements for boiling or making tea or coffee. The cabinets are fully stocked with plates, bowls, glasses, silverware, and other necessities for cooking and eating meals in your cabin. This is a big extra when compared to other moderate Disney resorts and anyone who plans ahead can save a decent amount of money by having breakfasts before leaving your room. I took advantage of this by having our one local bring in cereal and milk for me, which I enjoyed on both Saturday and Sunday morning.

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The cabin features just one full bathroom with a combination shower/tub, toilet and a single sink. While our group did not encounter any trouble with this, it could likely be a deal-breaker for some people who are considering staying in these cabins. There were five of us, including three women, but we were all adults and easy to get along with. Just checking in with one another and being respectful of every one else’s time and needs left us with no issues whatsoever in sharing a single bathroom. Your mileage may vary. The quality of the fixtures and the large amount of counter space were both appealing.

The bathroom is on a short hallway which leads from the main den/kitchen to the primary bedroom.

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Here you’ll find one queen-sized bed and a bunk bed. With two of us sleeping in the queen bed, one on each level of the bunks, and one out on the fold away sofa in the den, we were able to accommodate all five of our number pretty comfortably. My one complaint was that since I was sleeping on the bottom bunk I couldn’t sit on my bed to put on my shoes or do anything else without bumping my head. These bunk beds are clearly intended for kids, but once I was laying down I was perfectly comfortable and never had any trouble getting to sleep. The bedroom also features a closet and counter with mirror for getting ready for your day. The queen bed is high enough off the ground to allow at least two suitcases to be stowed there during your stay.

On the Sunday morning of our trip we convened in the den/kitchen and socialized and relaxed, completing our costumes for that night’s Halloween party, addressing technical issues with our digital devices, watching Disney’s Robin Hood, and consuming both breakfast and lunch. We ordered in delivery pizza based on bad information from the front desk, but they did finally let our pie in and we accepted delivery right at our cabin door. This was not supposed to happen, but when Disney tells you the wrong thing they tend to abide by it if they can.

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One of the primary drawbacks to staying at Fort Wilderness is that it takes longer for you to get from your resort to the parks than it does when you’re staying at most other Walt Disney World resorts. As you can see on the above map, there are a few different bus routes through the campsite and cabin loops. If you’re heading to the Magic Kingdom, you take a bus from a stop near your cabin to the “Settlement,” where you can catch a boat which will bypass the ticket and transportation center and land you directly in front of the park’s entrance. The Settlement is also where you’ll find the Trading Post, the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, the Trail’s End Restaurant, an arcade, and a few other amenities. If you’re going to any of the other theme parks you get on a bus that goes to the “Outpost” where you then catch a second bus to whichever park you’re headed to. The whole process adds an extra level to your transportation experience, which really isn’t ideal, and a groggy early morning outing can easily result in ending up at the wrong end of the resort.

Because unless you’re entering or leaving the resort, you’re not allowed to drive around in a car, you can rent a golf cart for your stay at $59 a day and that will help you get from place to place inside the resort, bypassing the first level of buses or going to the shop or restaurant or other amenity. If you’re going to spend a lot of time just in the resort rather than going to the parks this might have some value, but I never waited more than 10 minutes for the first bus. Each person is going to have to make up their own mind if the extra expense is worth it.

I enjoyed my long weekend in the cabin, and there was a lot to recommend about what it offered. The refurbishments  were clearly very effective in making the cabins up to date and attractive. I’m glad I had the chance to experience Fort Wilderness, but my typical approach to trips to Disney World tends to put emphasis on getting to and from the parks more efficiently than is possible from this resort. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, but it wasn’t ideal either. The cabin was a more than reasonable choice when you considered our number and the price, but I would not be likely to return if the party was smaller and the stay was this short. I definitely do think that a family of four on an extended stay who enjoyed outdoorsy activities might feel like this was the ideal place for them. The large number of activities available right there at the resort would help to fill “off” days or cap days when you left the parks early. None of that describes my typical Disney vacation.

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Posted on October 17, 2016, in theme parks, travel, Walt Disney World and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I was really looking forward to hearing how the cabins worked out and you didn’t disappoint. I will admit that when the Hoop De Doo picture showed up in the blog’s media, I was surprised to think that you attended the dinner show. The fact that the picture was included for background purposes makes more sense.

    The inside of the cabins are actually quite a bit nicer than I expected. I had seen a Travel Channel show from 2008 that spent a lot of time inside the cabins, but obviously Disney has refurbished them. And from the looks of your pictures, they have done a great job. Under the right circumstances, those amenities could really enhance your stay. The kitchen is a great perk provided that you are going to use it. I have been advised that if you are staying at the cabins, a car is a must for transportation purposes as well as buying groceries offsite.

    For the purposes of my family, we can really stop reading at the transportation issue. That’s a deal-breaker for us. We go frustrated with the bus service at your average Disney hotel. The regular transportation system at WDW has put Mindy off the idea of ever returning. So any further complications simply wouldn’t be acceptable to her. If anything, we’re looking for ways to simplify getting around WDW.

    But Fort Wilderness in general and the cabins in particular sure are a neat option to have on sight. I can see how they would appeal to anyone who wants to mix a little camping into their theme park vacation.

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    • Do you guys object to driving to the parks? I generally want to drive as little as possible on my vacation, but if a group is cool with it you can probably get to the parks a lot quicker that way from the cabins than you can using their transportation. I will say that I really enjoyed riding the boat back to the resort the two nights that we did it. Much better than a bus. Of course then we had to take the internal bus to our cabin 🙂

      Just having a full-sized refrigerator for milk and soda and leftovers carried back from the parks was really nice. Most hotel-sized fridges don’t quite do the job to my taste. The presence of dishes and glasses was also a nice perk. Getting home from a long day and being able to reach in the cabinet, grab a glass, reach in the freezer, get some ice, and then get water from the kitchen sink seems so simple, but you can’t really do it that easy in most resort rooms.

      The refurbishment is a big improvement on the old state of the cabins. I actually saw a vlog in which the people had to move from one cabin to another because of a super-long stay. It was in the middle of the refurbishments and unfortunately their first cabin had been updated but their second cabin had not. They sure noticed the difference!

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      • Certainly the preference is not to drive. Once you start having to deal with the Ticket and Transportation Center to get to the Magic Kingdom, you’re just trading one headache for another. I am interested to see what Disney does after the Uber surveys. Mindy really enjoyed taking a cab. But taking cabs to and from the parks multiple times a day would be expensive. If they can come up with something that is essentially a cheap cab service, well, I might be able to convince her to give that a try. She’s really dead set on not going back as it stands.

        When we go somewhere, if a kitchenette or a full kitchen is an option then I’m interested. I don’t mind cooking on vacation and like the savings. At WDW, unfortunately, getting groceries into your fridge is a bit problematic. If you don’t have a car, you can order grocery delivery. Although based on your pizza experience, I’d be sure to clear that with the front gate. I know they allow grocery delivery service to the hotels, but that ain’t cheap either. We had the “kitchenette” at Art of Animation which was nice for popcorn, but we rarely used it for anything more than that.

        It’s been a while since I watched the 2008 show. From what I remember, the old cabins were nice. I mean, Disney was trying to highlight them and therefore showed them in the best possible light. But they didn’t have the “wow” factor of the newly redesigned rooms. It’s a big improvement, for sure.

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        • So, of course the best solution is to stay at the Contemporary where you can just walk to the MK! 🙂

          Getting groceries means having access to a car for most people, which means taking time out of your vacation if you’re not local. That’s another reason that the cabins seem more ideal for longer stays than for short ones.

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        • Don’t think I haven’t considered the monorail resorts. The Poly probably gets the edge for me over the Contemporary. I have an aunt who stayed at Bay Lake Tower shortly after it opened and she said it was a dump. And let me tell you, she’s a pixie dust snorter, so she doesn’t say such things lightly. I have heard similarly bad reviews of the DVC wing of the Contemporary. Bottom line is, none of those resorts are worth anywhere near what Disney is asking for them. Especially when Disney is barely maintaining the monorail. And while the MK is convenient, the other three parks are actually harder to get to. If the MK were to be the focus of a future trip, I’d probably be looking at Wilderness Lodge.

          But I suspect if we go back, MK will not be our primary objective. We probably won’t return until DHS is done getting its facelift. Animal Kingdom will have new additions. The kids will probably be old enough to appreciate more of Epcot. So I imagine that if we return, the MK will have dropped from our top priority to the bottom. That being the case, I would consider staying at one of the Epcot resorts. Honestly, the Swan and Dolphin can be great deals if you bargain shop and don’t mind giving up a little of that Disney bubble. Or I might consider renting DVC points and staying at the Beach or Yacht Club or Boardwalk. Somewhere in that area.

          Then there’s always the option of going back to Port Orleans. I really enjoyed our last stay there bu service aside. I would consider staying in the French Quarter section which is said to have better bus service, but I’m not sure how that would go over. For the time being, I find it best not to mention the word “Disney” without immediately following it with the word “cruise”. “World” is a bad word in our house. “Land” isn’t much better. But time will tell. A longer Universal stay is probably in our future.

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        • Yeah I was mostly joking about a deluxe like the Contemporary. I chose it because I didn’t know how you guys felt about the monorail. I’d love to stay on the monorail loop or out Epcot’s back door, but I’d definitely have to rent DVC points to even come close to affording such a stay. Or win some sort of Disney vacation prize drawing.

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        • If I ever shelled out that kind of dough I’d be rationalizing really hard that it was “for the blog”.

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  2. We were considering the cabins for our trip last summer and just couldn’t decide on them, your review would have made us give them a try. I think I was fearful that they’d be too rustic for our family, but they look really nice. I also enjoyed your history of Fort Wilderness. I miss River Country!

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    • Thanks for dropping in and giving it a read! The cabins themselves are very nice and there’s a lot of stuff available at Fort Wilderness that is unique compared to other resorts. The main weak spot is the need to take two rounds of transportation to get to the parks, but if you’re someone who gets to WDW a lot that isn’t as big of a problem.

      This April I’ll be staying at Art of Animation for the first time and it looks like I may have a 2-night stay at the Poly on the docket for next Labor Day!

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Poly! Cool.

        For a long time, I had aspirations of staying at the Poly. But I have shelved them. This summer, we are going to stay at the Loew’s Royal Pacific at Universal. That’s going to have to do.

        Can’t wait to hear about your experiences at AoA and the Poly. Between us, we’re going to cover every onsite hotel and experience at Disney and Universal!

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      • I’m envious of all of your trips! We just moved to Oregon from CA, so growing up in CA, I was always a Disneyland pass holder. On three different occasions, I’ve had WDW passes, in years where I planned multiple vacations. Last year we visited twice and both times, after much research, we elected to stay off-site. It was the first time in many trips that I had not stayed on-property and I was seriously worried about the inconvenience and “lack of magic”, but I was pleasantly surprised. It opened my mind to checking out all options, rather than just on-site ones for future trips. For our Christmas 2015/2016 trip, it was just my husband and I, and we stayed at the Omni at Champions Gate and it was fabulous. For the summer, we had my young step kids from Sweden and we stayed at the Holiday Inn Orange lake resort. I was very worried this wasn’t going to be nice and we were not interested in time shares, but as soon as we were firm with the “no-time share spiels”, we were left alone. This worked out great, because we had a two bedroom/ two bath villa, right next to the pool for about 1500.00 for two weeks. Disney couldn’t compete with price or spaciousness. We just had to plan around with the driving to the parks, which was a little pain, but with the extra money saved, we had really nice meals and did the extras in the parks. That said, I will always consider staying on-property first, because there are so many WDW resorts that I want to try. I’m greedy, I want to do them all!

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        • You have discovered what many Disney fans refuse to admit. There is a trade-off when you stay off-site but depending on your touring style and priorities, it can definitely be worth it. I have heard so many fans say that staying offsite isn’t an option or that it would ruin their vacation. But it’s a perfectly valid and sometimes even preferable option for a lot of people. I have stayed onsite and off and enjoyed both experiences.

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        • I went to WDW several times before I ever ended up staying on property. Yeah, that included spending some of my time listening to time share spiels. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I started staying on property. I must admit that I quickly became spoiled by the experience. I guess an important point to share here is that I really don’t like driving much to begin with, but I typically have to a LOT of it in connection with my job, either driving from spot to spot during the work day, or just commuting long distances. Removing the need to drive myself anywhere is a really big plus. It makes it more like a vacation for me (you know, Lebeau, like how I dislike carrying a tray when I eat meals). Yes, I can take a cab to my hotel from the airport and back and there are some off-site hotels that have buses which can take you to the parks, etc. I might do some of that again one of these days, but as Lebeau points out, I have not yet come close to staying at all of the on-propertty resorts. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • I totally agree with not wanting to drive. If I can get away with it, I just don’t do it, especially in unfamiliar places. The shuttle system is definitely one of the best aspects of staying on-property. Although, the biggest reason that I like staying on-property, is to try out all of the themed resorts. I love the themes!

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