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A stay at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds is not like staying at any other Disney resort, meaning that the tips you’ll need for this vacation will be different than the others.
Easily one of the largest resorts in terms of acreage, Fort Wilderness has its own set of rules and guidelines for the safety and enjoyment of the guests.
Remember – it is a campground. That means we’re dealing with tents, RVs, popups, and all the other usual camping components.
You also have to recognize that many of the people who choose to stay at Fort Wilderness are experienced campers.
You might be trying it out for a new experience, or to better understand the hype, but those people who are rolling up with their own RVs mean business.
By doing your research and checking out all our tips ahead of time, you’ll be setting yourself up for a better time at Fort Wilderness.
Between choosing the right site for your family, bringing the items you’ll need, and moving around the property, we’ve got everything you’ll need to be as successful as possible.
Table of Contents
Get Ready for Fort Wilderness
When We Say Camping, We Mean Camping
Fort Wilderness isn’t one of those Disney experiences where you’re like oh I’m going to get the simulated camping experience in a fabulous hotel room.
No. Guys, this is actually camping. Like, with tents and popups and RVs and stuff.
The closest thing you’ll have to that simulated dream is if you choose to stay in one of the Fort Wilderness Cabins rather than on the campsite – and make sure you know which one you’re booking!
Let’s be clear – I’m not knocking camping.
There are people with zero camping experience who rent RVs and have a great time at Fort Wilderness.
Just you need to know ahead of time that this isn’t like other Disney resorts. If you want more of that resort feeling, Wilderness Lodge is down the road.
Want to get an in-depth look at the grounds? Check out this video!
Fort Wilderness Cabins
Speaking of the Cabins, they are a great option if you want the Fort Wilderness experience without having to do the full camping thing.
The Cabins do have modern amenities – air conditioning, a full bathroom, and small kitchen, two HDTVs, real beds, and, you know, four real walls. They are definitely more expensive, but if you’re a bit nervous about the prospect of camping, then the Cabins at Fort Wilderness are the way to go.
Take a tour of one of the Cabins at Fort Wilderness!
Do Your Research
Ok, let’s say you’ve decided to go for the Campsites side of Fort Wilderness. You’re excited to try camping, and you know it will be a fun, new experience.
Start doing research for tips about camping in general. We’ve got some of those for you here, but there are tons of forums out there with people who love to camp…and want to share their knowledge!
Make a Packing List
I always suggest this, but when you’re headed to Fort Wilderness it’s one of the tips you need more than most.
Since you’re camping, or will be on a campground, the things you’ll need will be different. In a true camping situation, the amount of items you’ll need to bring will be more as well.
With all that in mind, making a list is a great idea. Even as a Disney veteran, I make a list to be sure I have everything I need – and that’s without all the camping gear!
Making a List, Checking it Twice
Santa has the right idea here folks.
When you’re packing for multiple people (and maybe an animal or two) for a camping trip at Fort Wilderness, the best tips we can offer are to make the list, lay out all the items before you pack them, and check them off twice.
The first check is when you physically have the item in hand, with all your other items to be packed. The second check is when it actually goes into the bag.
Sounds excessive? I’ve literally laid something out to pack it, checked it off, not put it in the suitcase, and then left it behind. Learn from my mistakes, and check twice.
Get the Kids Involved
If you have kiddos that are old enough to pack for themselves make them pack for themselves. This can start as young as seven or eight (younger if you have an independent kiddo!). I say this age because they can read – give them a list of the things they need to bring, have them lay it out on their bed or in their room, and check over their selection before the things go in the suitcase.
As a mom, a lot of the time the packing falls on me, so it becomes my fault when something is left behind.
By having the kids pack, they take more of the responsibility for the things they bring, and they learn from not having something on the trip for the future.
In addition, it gives the kids a chance to get excited for the trip in a new way – being part of the prep.
Lastly, if your kids tend to get under your feet when you’re packing this gives them a task that both gets them out of the line of fire and helps with the packing process.
Prep Food in Advance
Unlike other Disney locations, you’re going to be preparing a lot of your own food when you come to Fort Wilderness, even if you’re staying in the Cabins.
With that in mind, you should prep some meals in advance, especially if you’re not flying to Orlando. There are lots of all-in-one recipes that you can find online, with aspects of the meal you can make ahead and reheat over the campfire.
Just because you’re cooking out doesn’t mean you have to eat low quality food!
Tin Foil Dinners
While we’re on the subject, tin foil is a magical thing when it comes to camp food prep.
Throw all your ingredients, or the components for the main dish, into a tin foil packet and then let it cook over the fire.
You won’t believe how delicious some of these tin foil meals can be! It just takes a bit of planning ahead, and you’ll be feasting rather than fasting during your campout.
Using a Tent? Pack the Space.
One of the top tent camping tips is to bring a space blanket, or Mylar blanket, with you to Fort Wilderness. These blankets reflect back body heat, which helps to keep you warm in your tent at night. Otherwise, the cold from the ground seeps up into the tent bottom.
If you’re going in the summer, you might welcome that extra coolness at night, but if the temps are below the mid-70s when the sun goes down, you’ll be glad you listened to this tip.
Nature at Night = Ear Plugs
Have you ever been outside at nighttime? Don’t you love all the sounds of the wildlife? The frogs, the night birds, crickets, and other creatures?
Yes, we love it too – but not when we’re trying to sleep.
Even if you’re in a camper, you might find it useful to pack a set of ear plugs to block out the sounds of the night when you’re trying to sleep. Certain headphones also have a noise-cancel feature if you like to listen to something else while you’re drifting off, but remember ear plugs don’t need to charge.
Speaking of charging, you might want to bring a fully-charged portable charger or emergency charger bank. Especially if you’re rocking the tent or pop-up situation, you won’t have a place to plug your devices at night. Having this emergency charger will prevent your devices from dying during your vacation – just remember to charge the bank when you’re driving.
Pack Trash Bags
You don’t want to leave any sort of trash around your campsite, for several reasons.
First is to be environmentally friendly – not littering is part of the responsibility of camping. Second, is to make sure the campground stays nice for all guests. Lastly, however, is so that you don’t invite nature any closer – like into your tent.
Keeping all food and other trash items cleaned up and sealed away prevents uninvited guests in the night, from smaller pests like ants to slightly bigger ones. Like squirrels, foxes, and even skunks.
Practice Setting Up
This is an easy rookie mistake to avoid – you don’t want to spend the first one…two…three hours of your vacation trying to set up your tent, pop-up, or figuring out the awning on the RV.
Practice setting up all your equipment, make sure it’s going to stay in place, and even leave it overnight to see if everything still stands. Doing this ahead of time will save you the time when you get there, even if you’re an old pro.
If it’s your first time with a popup or RV, you’ll want to practice driving it around, backing up, and parking.
Remember when you were getting your driver’s license? It’s the same principle.
The spaces at Fort Wilderness are specific and fit your equipment…exactly. Practicing ahead of time will relieve stress and prevent any damage to your vehicle.
Popup? Pack a Level.
Yup. You read that right – a level. Like for construction.
In case you hadn’t heard, the great outdoors isn’t necessarily flat (I know, spoilers!).
While the spots at Fort Wilderness are paved, packing a level is one of those life saving tips to be sure your popup is indeed…well, level. This means you want feel like you’re sleeping slanted at night, that it’s easier to walk in the popup, and prevents potential damage to your refrigerator.
Plus, it will make you look like a total pro when you’re setting up!
Check the Bags
Especially if you practice the set-up, make sure you check the tent bags or other equipment bags when you’re packing. You don’t want to leave something behind in your backyard!
Double the Space
One of our tent-specific tips for your Fort Wilderness stay is to double the space you think you will need. Only going as a couple? A two-person tent is smaller than you think – get a larger four-person instead. This gives you space for not only your bedding, but other belongings you want to keep with you in the tent. Again, practicing ahead of time really helps with this!
Pack Disposable Items
Even in an RV, you might like to have easy to throw away utensils and food packaging rather than something you would have to clean or store. Plastic silverware, paper plates, cups, and napkins, and even individual packets of condiments make cleaning up a breeze. Anything you do want to bring back with you should go into sealed containers or zipped plastic bags, again to increase portability and to prevent leakage.
Condense Food Items
Do you need the whole bottle of oil for cooking, or just a cup? Do you need the family sized bottle of ketchup, or just packets? Why are you taking the whole, heavy bag of flour, when you could mix the dry ingredients for pancakes ahead of time?
It’s these kinds of prep and streamlining tips that help make a stay at Fort Wilderness, even if you’re in an RV or the Cabins.
Rent an RV
On the subject of RVs, Disney partners with two local RV companies from whom you can rent an RV for the length of your stay.
The companies will bring your RV rental to Fort Wilderness for you and set it up, making it one of our top time-saving tips.
If you want to get the RV experience, but don’t want the whole hassle, this is a great way to go.
Bring a Hotspot – Just in Case
While Fort Wilderness provides free WiFi to all its guests, one of our tips is to bring a hotspot with you.
You might find that you’re in an area on the grounds where the internet isn’t the best, and you might be glad for your own stronger signal. Especially if you need to access a computer or hook up multiple internet devices, the hotspot might support the usage better.
Pack for All Weathers
It’s Florida – the weather is nuts.
You’ll want some warmer clothes options for nighttime, especially if you need to make a trek to the comfort station for the bathroom. You might even want to pack a raincoat and rain boots, just in case.
Where a stay at Fort Wilderness differs from a typical camping stay is that you’re not necessarily moving from place to place every day, so you can afford to pack a bit more.
Being prepared for the weather goes a long way when you’re out in the elements.
Bring a Cover-up
Along the same lines, you should plan to bring some sort of swim cover up or “over clothes” to and from the pool. After using the resort towels, the expectation is that you will return them before exiting the pool area. Unless you bring your own towel, that means you won’t have one to wrap around yourself for the walk back to your room. That’s where having a cover up, or even just a dedicated pool t-shirt and shorts, can be nice. Remember, Fort Wilderness is spread out, so you’ll be glad you listened to these tips if your spot or cabin is far from either of the two pools.
Similarly, make sure you have swim shoes or flip-flops to wear to the pool. I know, I know, it’s Florida, you’ll probably bring them. However, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people just walk barefoot from their room to the pool…and regret that decision. Since you’ll probably have to walk quite a bit through Fort Wilderness to get to the pool, this is one of those tips you’ll be glad for in the moment!
Keep Bulky Pool Items at Home
Since you have limited space, you can leave that beach towel or puddle-jumper at home. At the resort, towels are provided to guests, and you can rent towels at the water parks for just a few dollars. For the pools and water parks alike, Coast Guard approved life jackets are available for all ages, including infants. If you are driving and you can throw these items in on top of the pile, that’s up to you, but there’s really no need to take up the space in your suitcase if you’re flying. After all, odds are you are going to buy some souvenirs, so you’ll need the extra space!
Don’t Forget the Disney Stuff
Oh yeah, you’re also going on a Disney vacation! You don’t want to forget all the normal Disney World tips when you’re staying at Fort Wilderness – things like making park pass reservations, making meal reservations, and packing your Mickey Ears. I know it seems like a lot, but you’re merging to distinct types of vacations into one, so you’ve got to prepare for both!
If you need help remembering the Disney things, we’ve got all the standard Disney planning tips for you here!
Get the App
Going with the Disney World specifics, one of the best tips for your Fort Wilderness trip is to download the My Disney Experience app.
Walt Disney World encourages guests to make reservations, plans, and buy tickets through this app. You can also check out wait times and find particular souvenir items through the app, so make sure everyone in your party has it downloaded on their phone!
It also has a map of the entire resort property, which is handy since Fort Wilderness is massive. The map will show you where you are with a location pin, and updates as you move, like GPS. This will help you get where you want to go in a snap.
Camping Out at Fort Wilderness – Tips to Use During Your Vacation
Don’t Plan for Parks on Your Arrival Day
Hopefully, you followed one of our tops tips and planned your time at Fort Wilderness ahead of your trip. If you don’t like to do a day-by-day plan, at the very least make sure you’re not headed into a theme park on the day you arrive. This generally isn’t a good idea anyway, unless you live close by or have annual passes, but it’s even more true at Fort Wilderness.
Here’s why – setup. Remember all that camping gear you brought with you? It takes time to get everything laid out and turned into a livable area.
Even popups and RVs have elements of set up and hook up, which take time. If you’re trying to get into a park the same day you get to Fort Wilderness, you’re going to find that park day cut short.
Much better to have time to settle in, explore the grounds, and hit the pool on your first day.
Fort Wilderness encourages guests to decorate their camping space and make it their own, so follow their tips and rules, then go nuts!
This gives your campsite a personal touch, and adds to the overall aesthetic of the entire resort.
If you’re going to visit Fort Wilderness during a special event or holiday, add that into your décor for a fun nod to the occasion.
Check out this awesome video to see some of the Christmas 2020 decorations!
Rent a Golf Cart
Seasoned campers will tell you that having another small vehicle, like a golf cart, at a large campground such as Fort Wilderness is one of those invaluable tips. This makes it much easier to get around the site quickly, rather than driving your car, taking the internal bus, or walking. There are plenty of places to park your golf carts near the high traffic areas, like the marina or Pioneer Hall, more so even than regular parking spaces. You can drive your cart to the marina, hop a boat to the Magic Kingdom, and be off to the magic!
If you have your own golf cart, you can bring it as long as you follow all the cart rules. Otherwise, we highly recommend renting one of the Fort Wilderness carts. They run about $65 per day, and you can make reservations before your trip (which you should!).
Take a Boat
Fort Wilderness is right on Bay Lake, the manmade lake that connects with the Seven Seas Lagoon, on which sits the Magic Kingdom and its resort area. With that in mind, you’ll want to get out on the water at some point! Whether you rent a boat for fun or use the boat transportation, this is something you won’t want to miss.
When it comes to the transportation, taking a boat is one of the fastest ways to get to the Magic Kingdom. You won’t have to go to the Ticket & Transportation Center, and the boats get you even closer to the entrance than the busses. Unless you get seasick, trust me on this one – take a boat.
Follow the Cart Rules
I know I mentioned this already, but I feel like I really need to stress it. No matter what you let your kids and family members do on your own property, only licensed drivers 16 and older can drive a golf cart at Fort Wilderness. You also can’t exceed the capacity of a golf cart – one butt per seat, with the exception of young children (think four and under). Riders also have to sit in the cart, no standing and hanging on. Carts also must yield to larger vehicles (like cars), not the other way around.
Click here to see a full list of the cart rules at Fort Wilderness. Remember, all of these expectations apply to personal carts as well as rented ones, and they are in place for your protection and the protection of others.
Ride a Bike
At some point during your stay at Fort Wilderness, one of our tips is to take a bike ride. Whether you bring your own bikes or rent at the Bike Barn, there are plenty of great paths for you to ride, many of them shaded. The paths are user-friendly – paved rather than an off-road dirt bike sort of situation. In fact, dirt biking isn’t allowed, so you’re safe in that regard.
Riding a bike is such a quintessential American pastime, and fits well with the theme of the resort. Take your family for a ride, we promise you that you’ll love it!
Use the Grill
All campsites have a charcoal grill, and we suggest you use it. While cooking over the fire can be fun, the grill definitely goes faster. Combine meal planning to include some fire-made and some grill meals, and if you have a camping stove that’s even better.
Cook Before Sundown
It’s simple – it’s easier to cook when you can see what you’re doing. As someone who has made campfire foil dinners in the fading light, it gets harder to prepare and check the doneness of food when you’re losing daylight. With that in mind, you want to make your meals before you lose your light.
What if I’m camping when it gets dark early?
In that case, have those be your meals that you prepped ahead and just need to heat – stew, chili, and even loaded baked potatoes make for great meals that don’t need you to watch them. You just don’t want to be chopping veggies or prepping chicken when you can’t see.
Practice Fire Safety
Whether you’re cooking with propane, charcoal, or the open fire, make sure you practice fire safety. That means unhooking accelerants like gas or propane when you’re finished using them, making sure all fires are completely out and smothered, and not leaving fire lanterns or tiki torches lit through the night. Fort Wilderness is a highly wooded area, so this is one of those tips not to ignore. The last thing you want is to start an uncontrolled fire, so be aware of those safety steps before going to bed or leaving your campsite.
Hit the Pool Early
Much like other Disney pools, the two pools at Fort Wilderness fill up quickly, so one of the hot tips is to get there earlier in the day. Trust me, it will be warm enough for a morning swim (in the summer months at least), and you’ll be glad you got your swimming in before the crowds.
As is the case across Disney property, you can’t save spots or chairs at the pool, so don’t plan to send two people to get a space for your family of ten. It’s not fair to everyone else, and it won’t go well in the long run. Bring your whole party at once, and only use the furniture you need.
Wear Your Shoes
When you head to the pool, it’s a wise idea to wear flip flops at the bare minimum, if not rubber-bottomed pool shoes or even tennis shoes. Not only can the pool deck get hot, but you do have to walk the paths to get there or ride in your golf cart. Protect those tootsies and put on some substantial footwear.
Wear Your Flip Flops in the Shower
If you’ve never gone camping, been to camp, or generally had to use a communal shower, this may surprise you. However, if you can check at least one of those off your list, you know what I’m talking about. Here’s the reason – feet are gross.
Now, I’m not talking the ew I don’t like the look of feet gross. I mean literally – feet sweat, build up bacteria, and can have fungus. I know – this is nasty. At the same time, I’m trying to keep you safe and healthy! Wearing your flip-flops or water shoes in the shower can keep you from picking up something nasty from the floor in the communal shower, and helps to keep your feet clean when you exit the shower.
Just trust me on this one. Wear those shower flippys.
Use a Flashlight
At night, make sure you’re using a flashlight to head to the comfort station if you need to use the bathroom. You don’t want to go barreling into someone else’s campsite, or into the home of a critter. Even if it’s just the flashlight on your phone, having some light to help you navigate will come in handy.
Take Your MagicBand
Also at nighttime, you’ll need your key (MagicBand, My Experience App, or a physical key card) to enter the comfort station. Again, this is for safety, but you don’t want to get all the way to a comfort station and then have to turn back because you’re locked out. This applies from 12:00am-6:00am, so just be aware if you’re going to the bathroom at that time.
Comfort Stations Have Ice
Speaking of comfort stations, they do have more than the bathrooms and showers. Laundry facilities are here, as are coin-operated ice machines. You can get a full bag of ice for $2 (in quarters), which will help keep your cooler food or other drinks cold. While ice might seem like a luxury, you’ll appreciate it in those summer months.
Respect the Quiet Hours
Like standard campsites, Fort Wilderness does have certain hours where you need to keep your noise limited, including running noisy equipment like RV generators. This regulation helps to provided peace and quiet for all guests, especially since many need to get their rest for busy park days. Quiet hours at Fort Wilderness are from 10:00pm to 7:00am, so make sure you’re aware of your noise levels.
Try Something New!
One of the best parts of staying at Fort Wilderness is that you can try tons of new activities. Archery, horse riding, fishing, and even driving a motorboat all are part of the experience. While you do have to pay extra for these activities, they are still things you might not ever get to do at home. That’s the beauty of a camping vacation – getting out and pushing the limits of your comfort zone.
Give Yourself Time in the Morning
Oh yeah, we’re on a Disney vacation!
That means at some point, you’re probably going to get up early to go to a park. Unless you’re in an RV with a fresh water hookup, you’re going to have to hit the comfort station to shower and get yourself ready for your day. With that in mind, you might need to build some extra time into your morning to get where you want to go on time. You also have to think about the transportation you’re using to get to the parks, which can require even more time.
Face it – you might just have to set that alarm a little earlier than you might like for vacation. Listen, you can sleep tomorrow, you have an appointment with Mickey today!
While you are definitely at Fort Wilderness to enjoy the fun of camping, don’t forget you are in Disney World. Make sure you get off the campground during your stay, and not just to hit the parks! Plan a special dinner at a nicer restaurant, since you’re making your other meals. Go to Disney Springs and revel in the AC of the shops (oh, and their wares as well). Go play mini golf and get some ice cream. Do the “normal” Disney things, not just the camping stuff. After all, that’s why you’re at Fort Wilderness, and not just another campsite.
Hittin’ the Road – Tips for Leaving Fort Wilderness Resort
Pack the Night Before
It may be the last thing you feel like doing, particularly if you spent your last day at the park, but you’ll be glad you did in the morning. Packing ahead of time means less scramble, and you will be less likely to leave anything behind in the room. Especially with all the camping gear, getting everything together the night before will ease the process of leaving in the morning.
Leave out your outfit for the next day and your essentials, but get everything else ready to go. Know what bag you will use to pack up your last minute items. If you have your own car, you could even load the suitcases in the evening to take away that stressor. With young kids, make sure you know the location of all their items. Your departure will be much smoother, and you will be less stressed, with this one big to-do item checked off your list.
I know I harp on breakfast, but when you’ve dealt with morning traffic on I-4 with an empty stomach, you’ll understand.
You might think there isn’t enough time for a meal, especially if you have a flight to catch. However, if you plan ahead, there will be enough time for you to eat before you head out, and I suggest that you do. Heading away from Walt Disney World on an empty stomach not only will make your departure harder, but will most likely make your whole party miserable (especially the kids). Having a quick breakfast for the morning ready to go will make everything much better.
Absolutely one of my favor tips – if you have a credit card on file with Fort Wilderness, you don’t need to stop at the Front Desk to checkout. This saves you a trip back to the main lobby and waiting in line. Fort Wilderness sends an itemized statement to your email address, which you can see from the morning of your checkout, and if everything looks good you can be on your way.
Check-Out is Eleven
While at other resorts you can hang out after checkout, you can’t really do that at Fort Wilderness. Check-in for the next round of guests is 1:00pm, and they will need your campsite, so you really need to head out by that 11:00am check-out time. Be sure to collect all your trash, go over your site, and then hit the road. You can obviously still go to other places on Disney property, like Disney Springs, but your campsite needs to be clear of your presence.
There you go – with these tips you’ll be ready to rock Fort Wilderness like a camping pro!
Grace Hoyos, Staff Writer
Grace is a life-long lover of all things Disney, particularly the parks at Walt Disney World. She is also an avid Disney Cruise Line enthusiast who regularly dreams of the white sands of Castaway Cay. Grace loves the fact that her Disney trips give her time to spend with her family, enjoy incredible food, and try new experiences.