In the shadows of Orlando's towering five-diamond-rated Four Seasons is a very different kind of resort. There is no spa, 24-hour room service or bidet, and none of the guests seem to mind at all. Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort offers fully equipped cabins as well as campsites for RVs, pop-ups and tents, and it's remained among the most popular Disney World properties since it opened in 1971.
Since my two boys, ages 4 and 6, had never been camping, I decided to book a last-minute trip over the holidays. Our $110 peak-season rate included a nice-sized campsite with water, power, a charcoal grill and even cable, which my TV-addicted family took full advantage of.
Our area—or loop—featured about a dozen campsites and a comfort station with showers and toilets, an ice machine and laundry facility which both accepted credit cards. (Guests bring their own towels and toiletry items.) Other campers, who apparently had much more experience than we had, took pride in making their site their own with inflatables, movie screens and comfortable living areas.
You can even rent a golf cart for $59 a day and decorate your vehicle as well. Golf carts come in handy since parking is limited at the resort's recreational areas. We had not booked a golf cart in advance (rookie mistake), and they were sold out the day we arrived. However, since we were walking distance to many of the resort's amenities, including Disney's bus station, it didn't really matter.
After setting up our site, we took advantage of the 82-degree December day by hitting the pool. Fort Wilderness Resort features two pools on-site, and guests also have access to the Wilderness Lodge pool at the sister property. There are no towels at the two Fort Wilderness pools, but there is a snack bar and restrooms. The Meadow pool is the larger of the two and in the center of the property. The boys warmed up in the smaller, kiddie pool before taking off down the fast waterslide in the main pool. Other free recreational activities at the Meadow include volleyball, tennis, shuffleboard and a playground, and for an additional cost, archery, canoeing and bike rentals.
After working up an appetite, we headed back to camp to cook our dinner.
It's hard to beat a steak cooked perfectly on a charcoal grill. However, if you're not up for preparing your own meal, there are other great options at Pioneer Hall by the lake or at Wilderness Lodge. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a live dinner show with barbecue ribs, fried chicken and all the "fixin's." Mickey's Backyard BBQ is another fun and interactive dinner with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Chip 'n' Dale. Both themed dinners range from $38-$72. For a quick supper, Crockett's Tavern and Trail's End Restaurant are good options.
Also near Pioneer Hall are opportunities for taking a pony ride ($8), wagon rides ($5-$8) or carriage rides ($45). You can peek inside the Tri-Circle-D Ranch to view Cinderella's carriage and the majestic horses of Main Street U.S.A. The beach area is perfect for plopping down to watch the nightly fireworks show over Cinderella's Castle or taking the boat over to the Magic Kingdom.
After dinner we walked over to the Chip 'n' Dale Sing-Along. Families roasted s'mores (you can bring your own or purchase a kit for $10), on the fire. At 7 pm, a cowboy took the stage with his guitar to lead us in "Rocky Top," "You Are My Sunshine" and "Home on the Range," which took me back to childhood evenings at my grandmother's house. My 4-year-old fell asleep in my arms while my 6-year-old was excited to meet Chip from the campfire duo.
I don't know if it was the sugar from the s'mores, the wine in my styrofoam cup or the wholesome family time, but my heart was so filled with joy, I felt giddy. That night, the sky was full of stars, and the four of us were cozy and comfortable in our tent. The next day we fried eggs and bacon while the boys watched Disney cartoons on our big-screen TV in the wilderness. Maybe next time we'll stay a week—well maybe.