There are so many things from the past 45 years at Walt Disney World that have come and gone. Many we miss. Others we are glad they are gone. With this new series, I’m going to share some of my favorite things I miss from Walt Disney World.
The top thing I miss is River Country. This water park at Walt Disney World opened in 1976 as a part of Fort Wilderness Campground. I was lucky enough to visit this park one time in 1998, I think. This “water hole” was exactly that, a good ol’ fashioned swimming hole that used water from Bay Lake in many of the rides and pools. You could find Slippery Slide Falls, White Water Rapids and Whoop ‘N’ Holler Hollow. You could enjoy water slides, swings, a beach, a lazy river, and more.
In 2001, this water park closed. There are several rumors still circulating as to why it closed. Some are because of the death of a child in the 80s, the building of Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, the 9/11 attacks, and a Florida law about prohibiting un-chlorinated natural water from being used in water park attractions.
I still hang on to the memories I had from my one day at River Country. At that time, I didn’t take my camera to a water park for fear of losing it or it getting damaged, so I have no personal photos. I only have the page above from a book purchased many years ago at the Magic Kingdom. There are also a few vintage photos in this Disney Parks Blog post.
|River Country today via Google Maps satellite|
|image from wdwnews.com|
One of the things on my bucket list is to camp at Fort Wilderness. This may be a bit difficult though because my husband refuses to camp. 🙁 I grew up camping and have amazing family memories from different campgrounds. I love the outdoors, sleeping under the stars, being able to listen to the crickets and wildlife as I lay in my sleeping bag, playing with the sticks and stones in nature and so on. Camping was always so relaxing and fun for us.
My name is Larry Opiela and I have been going to Disney World since I stayed at Fort Wilderness in the 70’s. Now I am a travel agent helping other families plan their magical vacations and still a Disney guest multiple times each year.
|image from wdwnews.com|
While Fort Wilderness may not be the perfect choice for everyone, it does provide a lot of options for families that enjoy the outdoors. Campsites and cabins provide a little more space than a traditional resort room. A typical campsite may be used for up to 10 people. A campsite for a tent or popup camper may be rented for as little as $49.00 per day and up to $81.00 for a Premium Campsite that will hold a unit up to 45 feet long. Seasonal pricing may make the price higher for your visit, but you should always plan to make reservations in advance for your stay.
Campsites are secluded for privacy with dividing plants and trees between each of the sites. Sites are also paved for convenience. Sites are equipped with a charcoal grill as well as running water, electricity and cable TV hookup. Wi-Fi connection is available at the Meadow Trading Post.
|image from wdwnews.com|
The campground is arranged in a variety of smaller circular camping areas so that within the large campground, you are never far from a comfort station and bus transportation. The bus transportation is available to take you to anywhere within the campground including the trading post, the marina, the swimming pools, transportation to the theme parks, etc. The bus typically stops at the entrance to each camp loop and runs continuously throughout the day approximately every 15 minutes. If you desire, there are also golf carts available to rent while you are there or you are welcome to bring your own. Vehicular traffic within the campground is limited for safety. While you can drive to your site, you are traveling outside the loop.
Comfort stations at Fort Wilderness are among the best that I have ever experienced in a campground. The facilities are all tiled and well maintained. As with most places at Disney World, it is difficult to find the facilities in need of attention. There are multiple showers and plenty of hot water to go around.
|image from wdwnews.com|
The Meadow Trading Post is available for supplies and souvenirs. You also have a wide variety of recreation options within the campground. There are multiple swimming pools. Basketball and volleyball courts are also available. Do you enjoy horses? The Tri Circle (Reference to the Hidden Mickey in the Brand) Ranch is available for horseback riding, pony rides, wagon rides and at certain times of the year, sleigh rides. If Robin Hood is your favorite character, you may want to check out the archery range. Are water sports more your thing? There are a variety of options to rent including canoes, kayaks, motor boats and more. If that is not enough, there are playgrounds, bike rentals, nature trails, jogging trails and more to keep you busy. There is a daily campfire and movie under the stars featuring a different Disney favorite daily.
Dining options? You bet. The Trails End Buffet is there at Pioneer Hall along with Crockett’s Tavern. You also have a couple of great dinner shows in the Hoop Dee Doo Review and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
Outside of Pioneer Hall is the beach and marina area. This area also has the water shuttle to the Magic Kingdom and Wilderness Lodge. This area is a lot of fun during the day, but also a great area to view the Electric Water Pageant and the Wishes Fireworks display from the Magic Kingdom. Times for these will vary seasonally and should be checked to confirm.
If you like the sound of Fort Wilderness, but camping is outside of your comfort zone, there are cabins available for your stay as well. These feature a kitchen along with sleeping space for 6. The cabins are also a nice option for families who would have to reserve multiple rooms in a traditional resort to fit the whole family comfortably.
As you can see, Fort Wilderness is more than just a campground. It is part of a magical vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. If you would like to explore the possibility of a vacation at Fort Wilderness or another resort, please feel free to email me at Larry@MagicalVacationsByMe.com or to visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MagicalVacationsByLarry.
Thanks for reading this and I look forward to your feedback,
Magical Vacations by Me
|image from disneyworld.disney.go.com|
Head to Fort Wilderness near the Meadow Trading Post. Any guest can enjoy a night of s’mores, sing along songs and a visit from Chip and Dale. A “cowboy” will come out with his or her guitar and lead the group in a sing a long. We sang familiar Disney and children’s songs such as BINGO and Hokey Pokey along with It’s A Small World. After the singing, it was time for Chip and Dale to appear! They came out, mingled with the crowd, posed for pictures and signed autographs. You can read more about my experience here.
It was a lot of fun and following our visit with Chip and Dale, we stayed to watch a free outdoor movie under the stars! You can find a movie schedule at The Mouse for Less.
At Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort your family can dine at Trail’s End Restaurant. To get to Fort Wilderness, you can drive your car and a transfer to the internal Fort Wilderness bus, take the WDW buses or travel by boat from the Magic Kingdom. Once you arrive at Fort Wilderness, find a map for directions to the restaurant located in Pioneer Hall. Make sure you build in plenty of time to travel to this restaurant!
The Trail’s End Restaurant offers a buffet for breakfast and dinner and an a la carte lunch. The breakfast buffet features fruit, cereals, sausage, bacon, eggs, Mickey waffles, spiced apples, pastries, biscuits and gravy, grits, and oatmeal. The lunch menu offers chili, fried chicken, fried catfish, grilled shrimp and sausage, desserts and vegetarian options. The dinner buffet is full of choices for all your family members. While we were there, we had the following options: salad bar with fruits, boiled shrimp, pasta salad and cole slaw, ribs, fried chicken, baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried corn, green beans, carrots, pasta with cheese sauce or marinara, pizza, vegetable soup, chili, roast, baked potato bar and dessert bar.
The restaurant itself has a very rustic, pioneer feel. The wagon wheel light fixtures, pot bellied stoves, beamed ceilings and flagstone floor make you feel like you should be eating with Laura Ingalls Wilder out on the frontier! The full sized stuffed bear at the entrance was quite the hit with my son too.
The breakfast buffet adult price range is $17.99-$19.16 and the child’s (ages 3-9) price range is $10.99-$11.71. Dinner can range from $24.99-$26.62 for adults and $13.99-$14.90 for children. While there was a great variety on the dinner buffet and everything tasted fine, I felt it was still a bit pricey. I find it hard to get my money’s worth while eating at buffets at Walt Disney World. It was also very time consuming to eat here. We left the Magic Kingdom to take the boat to Fort Wilderness. Then we had to walk to the restaurant. It ended up taking us almost 3 hours to get there, eat a buffet and return back to the Magic Kingdom. I would only recommend this restaurant if you were a guest at Fort Wilderness or you had another reason to be at that resort. Don’t make plans to visit Trail’s End just to eat and leave like we did.
Did you even know there was a ranch at Walt Disney World? Much less that it is FREE? You can visit the stables at “Tri-Circle-D Ranch” in Fort Wilderness Resort to see the Main Street USA horses and Cinderella’s Ponies! At the stables, you can also see the blacksmith make horseshoes and fix them to the horses. A few of the other horse breeds you can see at the Ranch include Clydesdales, Appaloosas, Arabians, quarter horses and Shetland ponies. While at the Ranch, you can also see the the Dragon Calliope. This is a horse-drawn musical instrument that Walt Disney himself bought for the Mickey Mouse Club Circus Parade at Disneyland Park in the 1950’s.
- Horseback Trail Rides are $46 for 45 minutes. This is for ages 9 and up. Reservations are recommended.
- Wagon Rides are $5 (ages 3-9) or $8 (10+) for 45 minutes. These depart daily at 6:00pm and 8:30pm in front of Pioneer Hall- weather permitting. It is first come, first served.
- Carriage Rides are $45 or $64 (holiday ride) per carriage for 25 minutes departing from Crockett’s Tavern. Reservations are recommended.
Families who are looking to try something new in terms of lodging should try the Fort Wilderness Cabins. As one of the 5 moderate resort options at the Walt Disney World complex, it provides spacious and unique accommodations. The Cabins are located in the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. This resort is located south east of the Magic Kingdom on the shores of Bay Lake. The resort opened in 1971 as a destination for campers, but over the years added Cabins for families who aren’t the “camping type” or don’t have access to an RV or tent.
|Fort Wilderness Cabin exterior
Parking in front with space/charger plug for golf cart
|Cabin interior layout|
|Meadows Swimmin’ Pool|
|Meadows Swimmin’ Splash Pad|
|Chip and Dale at the nightly campfire|
- Room for 6 – we were traveling with my Mother and it was nice that she could have her own space (living room/murphy bed)
- Spacious cabin with room to spread out, inside and outside. As soon as the kids are dressed and ready, we pushed them out the door to explore around the cabin while the rest of us got ready.
- Full kitchen. Loved having a full size coffee maker (you have to bring your own coffee, though)!
- Two TVs.
- Quiet and peaceful surroundings. It’s hard to imagine you are in the middle of a sprawling theme park complex when you are at the Fort.
- Wildlife. We saw lots of animals, bugs, and reptiles that my kids loved. I didn’t care too much for the lizard in the closet, though.
- Boat access to Magic Kingdom. There is something special about arriving at the Magic Kingdom via boat.
- Pool amenities – the Meadow’s Swimmin’ Pool is large and nicely laid out. Nice splash area for the younger kids.
- Size. The Fort is a sprawling complex. It’s not easy to walk from the cabins to entertainment areas, or the front reception area.
I’ve often considered taking a trip to Walt Disney World and not entering the parks… at all. The tickets are an expensive part of our vacation and sometimes I just want a small Disney fix! So, here are my top experiences to have outside of the 4 main parks at Walt Disney World- whether you are or aren’t actually visiting those parks during your vacation!
- Typhoon Lagoon and/ or Blizzard Beach. These water parks are excellent for the entire family. Both parks have areas for little ones to play, a lazy river and beach for those who like to lounge, speed slides for those who like thrills and wave pools for the entire family. Each park is home to unique water park experiences: at Typhoon Lagoon you can swim with sharks and at Blizzard Beach you can go down the second fastest and tallest slide in the world!
- Downtown Disney. This is where Disney and shopping collide! You can find almost anything Disney related and in any price range at Downtown Disney. You need to shop here for those hard to shop for friends, those family members who have everything and everyone in between! And there are fantastic restaurants and entertainment options here!
- Monorail Ride and Resorts. We always take a ride on the Monorail while we are at Walt Disney World and 95% of the time, we get off at the Monorail Resorts and look around. We visit the resorts lobby, gift shops and restaurants. We also like to look at the “extras” such as pools, playgrounds, beaches and more!
- Fort Wilderness. There is so much to do here! You can go to a petting zoo, catch a dinner show, eat some home cookin’, watch a free Disney movie, sing with Chip and Dale, ride a carriage and the list goes on. I’d love to rent a camper and actually camp here- especially at Christmas or Halloween when the campers decorate with gusto!
- Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is so much more than just a Deluxe resort. Outside the resort is an actual Boardwalk around Crescent Lake where you can eat, visit an arcade, listen to dueling pianos, dance, see performers, rent bikes, ride boats and enjoy all there is to offer!
- Mini Golf. While it has been a while since I’ve done this (due to my boys being so young) this is a fun thing to do outside the parks! Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens are both outstanding mini golf courses. That’s just what they are- mini golf courses complete with sand traps, water hazards, and obstacles just like “real” golf!
- Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you have enough time and have done as much of the things listed above as possible, consider taking a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge just to look around! The resort is beautiful and during the day you can walk through the Savannah and see animals out and about. At night, you can watch them through night vision binoculars. Check with the front desk to see what else you can experience while you visit!