Mickey’s Backyard BBQ instead of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue – For younger kids this seems obvious, I guess, though, oddly enough, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is somewhat of a secret to most casual or first time Fort guests. Hoop-Dee-Doo, on the other hand, is most likely Fort Wilderness’s most popular attraction. However, when you break it down, it may not be the best investment of time and money—especially with younger children in tow.
Hoop-Dee-Doo from a food standpoint is going to have roughly the same fare as both Trail’s End and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, so not much will be lost there. A big draw for Hoop-Dee-Doo is that alcohol is included in the price of admission, but a lot of people don’t realize the same can be said for Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. Understandably, this may not be a big deal with children in the equation, but hey…maybe a few oat sodas after a day of family time is a necessary evil. I’m not judging. If the strawberry shortcake at Hoop-Dee-Doo is your thing though, I’m sorry to say that will not be found at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. Can’t win them all.
Now, consider the setting. Yes, Hoop-Dee-Doo is indoors, which, admittedly, can be a necessity in the teeth of the summer months. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, however, is in an open air pavilion just behind Pioneer Hall. They will have fans circulating the air, but no air conditioning—unless Uncle Orville can rig something up. That said, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is in a much less formal setting. You and your children will be at a picnic table, as opposed to a table in a theater. If your kids get antsy and need to run around a bit, it may be difficult to find space or acceptance from your co-dinners to allow them to do so at Hoop-Dee-Doo. At Mickey’s Backyard BBQ they will have plenty of opportunities to get up and dance or join in a parade.
Next, consider the show. Hoop-Dee-Doo has 2 hours of rousing, slapstick comedy. The actors perform on stage and your interaction with them will be as you would want and expect, limited. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, for all intents and purposes, is similar to a character meal. Though the characters are subject to change, most of time you will see most, if not all, of the fab five and Chip and Dale. They do not come to your table as they do at a character meal, however, they will dance and parade past your table asking you to join in. There will also be ample opportunity for meet and greets and pictures. Let’s face it, as good as the Hoop-Dee-Doo actors are, they will not be able to hold a small child’s attention like Mickey Mouse can.
Last thing to consider is, of course, the price. For the most part, the cost will be nearly identical. Hoop-Dee-Doo will range anywhere from $58.99 - $67.99 for adults, and $32.99 – $36.99 for children, depending on where you choose to sit. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ costs $48.99 for adults and $27.25 for children, but can vary slightly based on season. Both offer discounts for the Tables in Wonderland card, and both require payment in full at the time of booking. The biggest advantage Hoop-Dee-Doo has over Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is availability. The BBQ can be tough to get, being that it is only offered once a night at 6:30 PM, and only offered on Thursdays and Saturdays. It also shuts down in the colder months of January and February. Hoop-Dee-Doo is offered every night, 3 times a night. All-in-all, Hoop-Dee-Doo is an excellent show, worthy of a trip at least once in your Disney life, but I feel Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is the better option for smaller children.
A Wagon Ride Instead of a Carriage Ride – See what I mean? The options at Fort Wilderness can make your head swim. Wagon rides and carriage rides and horseback rides…oh my (had to). The two rides offered during the evening that most people decide upon is a carriage ride or a wagon ride. Both rides depart from the same place (in front of Pioneer Hall), and both are subject to availability based on demand and weather, however, they are two very different experiences.
Carriage rides are much more intimate. Your family (4 max) alone will have a private tour of the woods between Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge. The carriage is very luxurious and the ride very romantic. Kids will no doubt enjoy the ride, however, the scenery—while serene and beautiful—can be…a bit boring.
The wagon ride is just that—an open air wagon with a larger group of people. The horse drawn wagon weaves in and out of a few of the campground loops and provides views of the various campsites. A view of Airstreams and tents? Big deal, right? Perhaps at other campgrounds this might be the case, but the campers at Fort Wilderness take pride in their sites and their rigs. In the fall and winter hours when it is dark during the rides the campground view will be preferable to the pitch black woods, as well.
The biggest deciding factor between the two is the price, however. For a 25 minute carriage ride the cost for a family of four would be $45. A 25 minute wagon ride for a family of four would be $26 ($8 for adults, $5 for children). $19 may not seem like a lot, but it will pay for almost 4 pony rides ($5 apiece) at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch to complete the whole equine themed trip. One note about the carriage ride is that it does change to a Holiday Sleigh Ride during the Christmas season. The ride itself is the same, but the carriage is different, and riding in a sleigh, complete with bells, could make this the better choice for children. Unfortunately, you will pay significantly for the experience as Disney ups the cost to $70 for a 25 minute ride (reservations are a must). That said, a wagon ride during Christmas also comes with its perks as the campers tend to go all-out decorating their rigs and sites.
Fishing instead of Archery – One of the coolest little known facts about Fort Wilderness is that it actually has an archery activity for children over 7. The uniqueness of it makes it stand out on the Bike Barn list of activities. The other thing that makes it stand out is the cost--$39.00 for 90 minutes. Another activity allowed at the Fort is fishing. Between the Bike Barn and the Meadow Trading Post is a large stream that is perfect for casting a line, and the cost is much cheaper to rent a pole than a bow (you can always bring your own pole as well). A half hour rental for a pole is $8.00, or a full day rental is $14.00.
Perhaps the extra $25.00 isn’t that big a deal to participate in such a unique Walt Disney World vacation. To that I will also add that the cost isn’t only monetary, it’s time as well. Time is precious at the Fort, and this would be an hour and half on a single activity right in the middle of the day. Fishing seems like less of a time commitment, and can be done several times throughout the day at smaller time intervals if renting a pole for the duration.
Skip the Movie for the Electric Water Pageant and Fireworks – The evening activities should start with the Chip and Dale Campfire Sing-a-long. That is definitely a must-do for children. However, the movie that follows it should be skipped in order to have enough time to get a spot for the Water Pageant and Fireworks. At least for one night of your trip. Watching a Disney Classic on a big, drive-in style screen is fun, but it pales in comparison to the experience of watching the Water Pageant and Wishes on Clementine Beach, or at the end of the Marina dock. So—instead of settling in to watch the movie—roast a few marshmallows, sing a few songs, meet Chip or Dale, then head down to the waterfront for the perfect night cap.
Enjoy Fort Wilderness from the Outside instead of just the Inside – OK, I know this one was confusing, and it kind of goes against what I said in the beginning about staying strictly on Fort Wilderness property, but to really appreciate Fort Wilderness you also need to accept it for what it is in the simplest Disney terms—a Magic Kingdom Resort. And like the other Magic Kingdom Resorts, you have certain amenities that you can enjoy. Take the resort boat to Wilderness Lodge and explore. Take it to the Contemporary Resort and jump on the monorail for a ride. The monorail is nearly as magical to children as the theme park attractions themselves, and a simple monorail ride—especially beginning from inside the resort most of them first came to know as a tunnel—can be a high point of the trip. Stop off at one of the resorts and have lunch. Or just stay on the boat and enjoy the cruise around Discovery Island, pointing out River Country and the Shoe Tree to them along the way. If nothing else, Fort Wilderness offers a nice boat ride to other, fun activities.
Of course—to me—there are no activities at Fort Wilderness that should be avoided all together. If you took my advice and passed up Hoop-Dee-Doo for Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, just put Hoop-Dee-Doo on the schedule for a future trip. Even by cutting out a lot of the activities offered, you may still feel like you didn’t get to experience everything you wanted to, and that’s OK. Running out of time only means you have to come back. As many times as it takes.