We arrived at Fort Wilderness on Sunday, July 10, at around 12:15 PM. Check-in was fairly typical with 4 bays open and available, however, each of them were already at least 1 camper deep. Usually there is a Cast Member directing campers as to which bay to pull toward, however, this was not the case this time and the decision was mine alone. Fortunately, I made the right one and pulled up to Bay #2 just as the camper there was pulling away. As a quick side note, don’t forget that there are bathrooms inside the Front Desk Outpost. As I was checking in, my wife took my 3 year old son inside to use the potty. After a long drive to Fort Wilderness some younger children may not be able to hold it until you are in your site, which, depending on check-in and the campers ahead of you, could be some time. The Outpost is a great place to make a quick pitstop for those who can’t wait any longer.
Back to check-in—our Cast Member was great and assigned us to site 512. I had completed the online check-in when it was first available to me and had requested loops 700 and 400. Part of me wanted to ask if there was anything available in those loops, but I didn’t. I knew where the 500 loop was having camped there once before, and I didn’t recall anything wrong with it, so I figured we could give it another shot. I came to find that there were numerous available sites in the 400 and 700 loop at the time we checked in. I have no idea why my requests weren’t met, but I’m sure had I asked at the time of check-in, they would have been accommodated then. The moral of the story is, if there is a loop you really want and requested during online check-in but are not given, simply ask during the physical check-in process. Just because it wasn’t initially given doesn’t mean it isn’t available.
We made our way to the 500 loop and I immediately regretted my decision even further. The road seemed a bit smaller and more difficult to navigate than I had remembered, and than the 700 loop was. In truth, I have no idea if this is true, but I believe the curves and angles of the loop made it seem that way, even if it wasn’t. We found 2 sites open right next to each other, though it was debatable which sites they were due to the location of the site signs and the curves in the road. It appeared they could have been sites 510, 512, or 514. For some reason, this perplexed me like never before. It appeared to me that the signs designating the site numbers were posted after the driveway for the site itself, however, my wife thought otherwise. After a short discussion, like most men would, I conceded that she was right. We took the second of the open spaces, which was not an easy site to maneuver into. Posts and vehicles from other sites on the opposite side of the road made it very difficult to get into, probably the most difficult of any site I’d ever backed into before. Eventually, I was able to get in and straighten, and I went to setting up. The site itself was clean, like all the others, but other aspects of it were lacking. The picnic table was a standard, rectangular, wood picnic table. This would be fine, except for one of the details of a Premium site as opposed to the other, lower priced sites is an upgraded picnic table, which is square with hard plastic faux wood. Not a huge deal other than the fact that we were the only campsite in the whole loop to have this lesser—according to Disney—style of picnic table. That, coupled with the fact that we could have been in the 700 loop as I had requested, had me a bit upset. Then I moved on to the grill, which was rusted and very wobbly. While the hookups all worked, the cable hookup was in a bit of a state of disrepair. It was at this time, feeling a bit neglected and cast off by my beloved Fort, that I walked a bit of the loop, and discovered that I was, in fact, in site 514, not 512. Which meant I had been right. Which also meant that Fort Wilderness, perhaps, had not neglected me, or cast me off into a lesser site. Site 512, the site I had been intended for, had the right picnic table, a nice grill, and proper hookups. Maybe no one had been intended for site 514 until it could be fixed up a bit. I smiled knowing this, but I had a decision to make. We were already set up in 514. I could break everything back down and move us one site next door, thus telling my wife she was wrong in the process, or I could pretend I was none the wiser of our current predicament and contact the Front Desk by phone while alone to advise them we would be staying in site 514. Needless to say, 514 was our home for the rest of the trip (the Front Desk actually discovered this before I had a chance to call them and sent me a text message advising that they had changed us to 514).
After getting set up we headed down to the Meadow pool. As expected, it was very crowded being that the temperature was pushing 100 degrees. Immediately, I noticed some changes to the pool area, some of which I had heard had taken place, some of which I hadn’t. First and foremost, the kiddie pool (not to be confused with the fenced in kids splash area) is currently construction walled in and will soon be gone completely. I’m fine with this as it was really unnecessary wasted space, in my opinion, with the larger splash area only feet away. I haven’t officially heard if anything is being built in its place, though I would assume not, which is also fine. More space for lounge chairs or tables with umbrellas could definitely be a plus.
Secondly, I noticed some makeshift fencing around certain areas of the pool, mainly near the bathrooms. I noticed this same kind of fencing surrounding the playground just outside of the pool, in the grassy area that surrounds it. I learned that the day after we left work began on a permanent fence around the pool and playground. In my opinion, this really doesn’t change much as most of the new and upgraded resort pools on Disney property are being fenced in. In those cases, it is to keep non-resort guests out, but I’m unsure if that will be the case here—meaning there will be either a Cast Member checking as you enter to ensure you are staying at the campground, or you will have to scan you magic band before the gate will open—or if this is all part of the changes surrounding the alligator attack. Either way, I don’t see a big problem with it.
The pool itself was crowded, though we’ve been there before at busier times. The biggest thing I noticed was the water itself. It was not refreshing in the least bit and, in fact, it was warm, if not hot. We go around the 4th of July every year and have endured extreme heat before, but I don’t ever recall the water being so warm that it made getting in the pool really unfulfilling.
For dinner on Day 1 we headed to Trail’s End, where we had a 6:50 PM reservation. Pioneer Hall did seem busy as we arrived, and as I went to check-in I overheard a woman ahead of me with no reservation being told it would be a 45 minute wait. As for me, I was given a pager and told it would only be a few moments. I noticed a few changes to the sweeping porch that surrounds Pioneer Hall as well. The old time checker games that were once there are no longer, which opens the porch up, especially near the drink window to Crockett’s Tavern. I also noticed, at least on this night, that they had a few Cast Members out with the children playing horse shoes and hula hooping. This was a nice addition as sometimes it can get crazy with people trying to walk through, hula hoops twirling, and horse shoes flying.
After only about 5 minutes of waiting, our pager buzzed and we headed in. I also noticed that the woman who had walked up just before me without a reservation was also being called in to sit down, again showing that if you really want to eat at Trail’s End, but forgot to make a reservation, don’t be scared off. We were seated in the lower level, near Crockett’s Tavern. The restaurant was pretty full, but the line to the buffet wasn’t bad, with one exception. If I may, I’d like to offer one piece of advice/make one request. If the buffet line gets backed up, as it does from time to time, please don’t save spaces in line for other adults in your party. This is not Space Mountain, you don’t need to stand next to each other in line in order to dine together. On one occasion, the buffet line did happen to back up to around the desert bar in the center of the room. I waited, gradually making my way to where I could grab a plate. Just before I was able to do that, a woman ahead of me received a phone call. Mind you, we’d already been in line for a good three or four minutes and the line was continuing to form behind me. I heard her state, “we are up here,” and she turned and waved toward someone near the dining area. I then see a woman, also an adult, walk up to the people ahead of me and begin casually conversing with them. Again, there is still a line behind me that extends to the desert bar. We continue to move up, this woman not really in line, just standing beside the couple in front of me, chatting. As I reach for a plate she moves in and grabs one before me, mumbling, “I’m just going to grab a plate,” then she slides in front of me. Needless to say, I was not pleased, nor was anyone else behind me. No, I did not say anything to this woman or make a scene, even though I clearly felt this was rude. In the grand scheme of things, it probably cost me a handful of seconds in line, and being at Fort Wilderness I was there to relax, be happy, and let the stresses of simple things, such as this, slide off my back like water on a duck. But, the principle of it was still annoying, so please, please, do not do this. If it is a child who needs help with the buffet I can completely understand it, but a fully capable adult can wait their turn. Thanks, end of rant.
The food itself was good, per usual. The fried chicken was excellent and I really enjoyed the ribs on this particular night, though they were much the same as usual. The pulled pork was also very good. It was brisket night, and no matter how many times I tell myself not to, I still indulge in it. Once again, the brisket was very dry and not that flavorful. Hopefully next time I will convince myself to write it off. There was also ham being carved which was very good as it always is. As a whole, though I was pleased to be back and enjoyed my dinner, I was a little disappointed. The menu was virtually the same as the last time I was there, which was over a year ago. Now, it’s a small buffet, and I don’t expect wholesale changes, but adding a few small, interesting things, or taking away a few not so popular items wouldn’t be a bad idea. This could specifically happen with the carving station. I’ll admit, I had my hopes up that there may be something new when I learned of Trail’s End’s new brunch where they were carving slabs of bacon. Though bacon works any time of day, they could easily alternate in some other new carving items such as turkey or even a cowboy style roast. All in all, though, the buffet was good, and I stand by my previous review of it even as some time has passed.
After dinner we stopped by the playground outside of Pioneer Hall to let the kids play, then headed to the waterfront for an evening boat ride. I saw the new fence along the shoreline at Clementine Beach and, I have to say, it actually looks pretty good. It’s pretty much the same fence that lines both sides of the dock and, in my opinion, really takes nothing away from Clementine Beach. The beach was open at this time as it was close to the Water Pageant and fireworks. There is still a bit of confusion, I noticed, as to what time the beaches are open (I will explain further later). In any event, we went for a nice boat ride to Magic Kingdom and back. When we returned, people were gathering for the fireworks and I noticed an added, and perhaps unexpected benefit to the new fence along the water. Clementine Beach seemed much fuller than I’d seen it before, with people spread all the way up to the fence at the water’s edge. There was a line of people along the fence, leaning against it, ready to watch the fireworks. Most times, people would not get that close to the water, but now more people can cram in, if you will, which will help on busy days such as the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve. Just be careful if you do lean up against this new fence. Even though alligators should not be a concern to you there with this border between you and the water, snakes can still slither through the holes in the fence.
Day 2 began with a nice morning walk. We strolled down to the waterfront again and headed back toward Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. As we passed Clementine Beach, I noticed signs out advising that the beach was closed. This was a few hours after sunrise. Incidentally, we walked the same route the next morning at an earlier hour and no such signs were there and the beach appeared to be open, so again, there seems to still be some confusion as to the hours the beach is open. In any event, we continued passed the empty BBQ pavilion and headed toward the Tri-Circle D Ranch, which was just opening up. We saw Cinderella’s ponies getting a shower at the entrance to the barn and were told by a Cast Member that they were preparing these particular 4 ponies for a wedding that would take place at the Grand Floridian later that morning. We entered the barn, which was, believe it or not, the first time we’d ever done it. I have to say, it is really worth the trip. You get a chance to see several of the working horses in their stall, all of whom are beautiful animals and different breeds. You also get to see the 1907 Calliope from the opening day of Disneyland. The calliope is behind closed doors, though you can see it very well through windows. We were fortunate enough to have a Cast Member open the doors and allow us to get an even closer look. This was something that Walt Disney himself picked out, and if you press a button on the wall the music it had once played while being pulled down Main Street on the opening day of Disneyland is played again. Across from the calliope is a small room with pictures and memorabilia from Disney’s long history with horses. Again, this is a great activity that is free, interesting, and won’t take up much of your time.
Most of Day 2 was spent exploring new Disney Springs. We hadn’t been there in over a year, and though I won’t get into much detail about it, it was fantastic. I really think the transformation of it from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs is a tremendous benefit to resorts like Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, and the Port Orleans resorts, places that are only a boat ride, or walk, away.
Now, let’s get back to Fort Wilderness. After we returned from Disney Springs, we went back to the pool, which was much the same as the first day (the water was still very warm), then we went back to the playground near the waterfront. This time, however, we discovered that metal posts had been stuck in the ground along the perimeter of the playground where they had not been the day prior. I learned that the day we left the rest of the fence was erected around this playground as well. Again, I don’t see the harm in it, really.
The weather was so hot that we passed on the Sing-A-Long and instead finished up day 2 at the Meadow Trading Post. I’ve always been very fond of the Meadow Trading Post. I love the theming of it and it always seems to have some unique merchandise offerings. This trip there was a small section geared toward conservation that sold real giant sequoia seeds and germination kits, as well as real sequoia seedlings. Though I thought this was extremely cool, I did not purchase one as my HOA would probably frown on a giant redwood growing behind my house. TIP: One thing I learned is that if you are an annual passholder but you do not have your pass with you, you can still get the passholder discount on food and merchandise by pulling up your profile showing you are, in fact, a passholder on the My Disney Experience app.
And that was it. Day 3 we went for a short stroll in the morning, packed up, and hit the road. All in all, despite the few hiccups, it was another great trip. A few things of note from this trip, or from what I discovered shortly after it. First, we probably won’t be staying in the 500 loop again. Though it wasn’t a bad loop, I just feel there are much better loops to stay in. Secondly, while I was there I did notice a fence, same as the one along Clementine Beach, around the pond behind the Meadow Trading Post and the canals that feed off it. At the time, however, this fence was only erected on the “common area side”. No fences had been erected along the campsite side, nor did it appear that they would be. This gave me the impression at the time that fishing from the campsites themselves in the smaller canals would be discouraged but not completely banned or actively enforced. I learned shortly after I left that work has begun on fences blocking off the canals on the campsite side as well which, of course, would restrict fishing in those areas. Signs also accompany the fence stating that no fishing is allowed, proving this is something Disney is going to strictly enforce or try to prohibit. There is one place, however, that fishing is allowed now in the Fort, and that is the platform dock area directly behind Meadow Trading Post. This is now the ONLY place fishing is allowed inside Fort Wilderness. While Fort Wilderness does sell or rent all fishing necessities, I am unsure if you are allowed to use your own. Bummer, I know. Lastly, one thing Fort Wilderness does extremely well is control bugs. At home, only a few hours away, I can’t make it from my front door to my driveway without being swarmed with gnats and mosquitos, but at Disney they are hardly noticed and certainly not a major nuisance. For a campground, this is an extraordinary benefit and one that often goes overlooked.