An Extraordinarily Uninformed Review of the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness
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.
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.
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.
The primary room of the cabin is an all-purpose affair that has a dining table and seating…
…a big screen television, storage, and fold out sofa…
…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.
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.
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.
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.