I recently got an SOS call from a friend visiting Walt Disney World from out of state. He’d had it with the crazy spring break crowds but he’d promised his kids a fun night and a view of the fireworks. Without hesitation I knew it was time to let him in on one of the best kept secrets on all of Disney property. I told him to walk out of the Magic Kingdom and hop the boat to Fort Wilderness Campground. No, I wasn’t suggesting that he go camping! But I did think his kids would enjoy all the fun (and affordable) recreation options. Not to mention the empty front row viewing for the fireworks! So now I’ll let you in on the same tips I gave him just in case you find yourself in a pinch.
The most important topic to cover at the Campground is transportation. It can be a little daunting at first glance, but it’s actually really simple! The campground has its own internal bus system to take you to various sites. So if you bus in from anywhere on property you’ll end up at their internal bus stop and have to catch another bus to get to the activities. At this bus stop there’s a map with color coded routes. I’ve included the color information below, but it’s always good to double check it as things change. If you take a boat from the Magic Kingdom, it will drop you off at The Settlement, which happens to be where you can find most of the fun.
The Settlement (Route Yellow and Purple at the time of writing) will likely be your main destination when visiting the campgrounds. You can find all the activities listed below there and even more listed here. It’s important to bring cash or your Disney World Resort room key for charging as credit and debit cards are widely not accepted here. Also, more than any other place at Disney schedules seem to change at the Wilderness Campground frequently. If there is any experience you have your heart set on, it’s best to call in advance to verify times and availability. That’s enough business – let’s get to the fun!
Pony Rides: That’s right, between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm there are actual pony rides available! Even better there are no reservations required, and the cost is a nominal $5 – $8. Children must be over the age of 2, under 80 pounds, no taller than 48 inches, and be wearing closed toe shoes to ride. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can visit the Tri-Circle-D Ranch to see all the working horses of Walt Disney World! We had a great time touring the stable and seeing these massive animals up close. If you decide you’d like to spend more time with the horses, you can call 407-824-2932 to hear about all the Tri-Circle-D’s other offerings.
Wagon Ride: This is one of the most overlooked attractions in all of Walt Disney World and one of the best! For just $8 for adults and $5 for children under the age of nine, you can enjoy a 45-minute wagon ride all through the campgrounds. This is often mistaken for a hayride, but it’s actually a large wagon pulled by two horses. When we went recently there were only five other people on the entire wagon, leading to a tranquil and relaxing experience. We were also encouraged to talk to our driver and ask questions. I verified that with the exception of holidays, the rides seldom sell out, but seats are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Currently wagon rides are departing weather permitting at 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm daily. Here’s a quick look at our wagon ride from this weekend:
Playground: A playground may seem like a really simple thing to point out, but a quiet, out of the way play spot is sometimes just what kids need. The swings and slides offered at The Settlement feel like a big public park. There’s plenty of room to run and not many other people around to run into. It’s the perfect spot for little ones to run off some energy.
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue: This is a pricey dinner show, but I can honestly say it was one of my favorite memories as a kid. We literally sang the songs for years after we went, and I don’t think I ever eat strawberry shortcake without thinking about this place! Now, keep in mind as a kid my family lived in Florida and went to Disney all the time. Still this was a very special experience. So I couldn’t talk about the campground and not mention the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue. Even with the hefty price tag, this fun show and excellent food are worth it. If you were planning a trip to Medieval Times or an equivalent dinner show, this is a much better choice for your family.
Carriage Rides: If you’d prefer a private ride in a horse drawn carriage, these can be arranged for $45 for a 25-minute ride. I spoke to drivers on two different occasions, and they both said that advance reservations were available but not really needed. Again, they only accept cash and room charges for payment. Carriages also offer seasonal experiences that, to be honest, I’ve never tried. I’ll be sure to try them this year to share with you!
Fireworks: Now, before you dismiss this view, click on the photo for a larger view. The photographer in me wanted to go right to the edge of the dock and zoom to 300mm while catching the amazing reflections in the water… but as lovely as it would have been, it wouldn’t have been an honest representation. This photo is the average view from The Settlement. It isn’t the best view, but it’s a very quiet spot, and you’ll almost definitely be able to get a chair. They do pump in the soundtrack so you can listen along. You also will get a front row view of the Electric Water Pageant, which normally happens along about 15 minutes before the fireworks. If it were my one and only chance to see Wishes, would I pick this spot? Nah. But if you’ve seen it a few times and decide a quiet night is more important, this is a good option.
The Meadow (Route Orange at the time of writing) is the other recreational stop at Camp Wilderness. The only reason you’d really be visiting this area would be to attend the Chip & Dale Campfire Sing-A-Long. I wrote about it specifically here. In my opinion this is the best location for watching a movie under the stars. As a local, it’s the only resort movie spot that I frequent. (But I love my s’mores!)
So what do you think? Will you be visiting the Fort Wilderness Campground on your next trip? Have you tried a seasonal carriage ride, and do you want to share your experience? What are your favorite out of the way spots for fireworks? Please let us know in the comments below, and - as always – thanks so much for reading!