We have lots of what we call Disney friends. They love all things Disney, just like us. And more often than not, when we tell them we are heading to Orlando they ask what hotel we are staying it. Up to this year we have always said some off property resort and most could not understand why. No transportation from resort to parks, no Disney dining plan, no booking fast passes at 60 days? How can you do that? Our answer has always been that there are some amazing accommodation options in Orlando. Many within a short drive to all things Disney. We also have been able to get larger units with more amenities for cheaper rates than we could stay in a hotel room at Disney for. Our family of 5 does not do hotel rooms well, so staying off property has always been ideal.
Then we bought an RV and this was the game changer.
The RV opened up the opportunity to stay at Fort Wilderness Campground. Some may think- but how can you go to Disney and camp? Well, by staying in our RV we had the space we are accustomed to, we had cooking facilities, we had a patio, we had our own beds.
And there is also the cost- a premium site at Fort Wilderness cost half what a standard hotel room at an All Star Resort would have cost. And we got so much more.
We got transportation. Buses ran to all the theme parks and Disney Springs. There was a bus line that ran through the campground that would drop you off at the outpost where you could then catch the bus to the parks or to Disney Springs. It would also take you from your loop to the swimming pools, trading posts, beach and restaurant area. (We rented a golf cart so we eliminated one bus ride and wait, and it was a ton of fun to drive around.). Bonus transportation was that Fort Wilderness is one of the resorts located on Bay Lake. These resorts all have boats that take you to Magic Kingdom and boats that take you to the other Bay Lake area resorts. This, by far, was my favorite way to get places. I can honestly say that once I was at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios I could not imagine taking the bus back to the resort and then back to the park. Once we were there we stayed until we were ready to be done. However, taking the boat back from Magic Kingdom was no big deal, and not having to take the boat or monorail to the transportation center and then the tram to the parking lot was awesome. I also think taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom from Epcot and then getting on the boat would have been fine- but we didn’t leave and return there either. By the time we did leave we were done for the day.
We got a campfire. Many of the resorts have nighttime movies. But at Fort Wilderness we got a movie after a campfire sing along. Yes a good old sing along followed by the lighting of a large campfire that you could roast smores at. There was also a food truck at the campfire for food and beverage purchases that also sold smores kits (marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers, and sticks.) And to add to all the fun each night includes a visit by Chip and Dale. They sing and dance along with the crowd as well as taking pictures and signing autographs for those who want them.
We got the Backyard BBQ and Hoop D Do Revue. We ate at the Backyard BBQ and I would recommend it to everyone- even if you are not staying at Fort Wilderness. BBQ buffet with a country style sing along with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale. I would also recommend spending the extra money to get the preferred seating. Not only do you get to sit at an assigned table closer to the dance floor and stage but you get to enter an hour earlier than the general seating. This extra hour allowed us to get all of our meet and greets done, eat ice cream, have a couple of drinks and fill our plates before the other guests came in. We did not attend the Hoop D Do Revue but I have heard great things about it. Definitely plan on going someday.
We got to watch the fireworks from Magic Kingdom from the beach of the campground every night, with the music all piped into the speaker system at the beach. We also got to watch the electric water pageant which travels Bay Lake. This was awesome and I went every night that I was able. It was a short golf cart ride to the beach from the loop we were on so we could head down there last minute and watch the show. Simple easy, free entertainment.
We got magic bands. We bought magic bands when they first came out and used them for entrance to the parks and for fast passes. But when you stay on property magic bands are so much more. They act as a room key- which is not necessary at the campground but you do use them to open the gate when not entering the campground through the main entrance, to access the bathrooms during over night hours and to access the laundry rooms. You are also able to connect a payment method to them and use them to make purchases and stores, restaurants, and snacks stands throughout the theme parks, resorts and Disney Springs. Each band can be set up with and individual pin so all family members are able to use them. This came in super handy when we weren’t with the kids and they needed an ice cream or smoothie.
We got horseback riding and Segway tours. Another activity we were not able to take advantage of with our busy schedule but hope to do in the future. There is horseback riding in the horse corral for young kids or a 45 minute horse back tour for older kids and adults. There is also a Segway tour that you can take from the campground.
We got to drive around in golf carts. They campground is quite large. Yes, I am sure one could walk it, but it would take awhile. You can also walk to a bus stop at each loop and the bus will take you to all of the main locations within the campground. We choose option 3. We rented golf carts from Tee Time Rental (for a fraction of the cost that we could have rented them from Disney.). We did have to pick them up and return them ourselves but we saved a good chunk of change and it was a great convenience to be able to get where we needed to go on our schedule. There are parking areas all over the campgrounds for golf carts so there were no hassles at all.
We got fast passes at 60 days. On site guests can book fast passes 60 days from your check in date. Those that stay off property can only book 30 days from the day you plan to go to the park. You can start booking at 7 am EST, which of course I did. It amazed me how easy it was to get the fast passes we wanted with the extra 30 days. We got everything we wanted at the times we wanted. (After using them I did learn that I should not have booked first thing in the morning- 1. For parks that you have to take the bus too you may stress about getting there on time since you are at the mercy of the bus. 2. Lets be honest when you are staying on property your teenager is hoping to sleep in)
We got extra magic hours. We only used these once for Magic Kingdom. We left the park for a few hours late afternoon, went back after dinner and stayed till they ended at 1 am. It was a long night. Even when you take a break it is hard to make it till 1 am. But it was still cool to not have much of a wait for rides, to be there with a minimum amount of people, to hear the goodnight over the loud speakers and to say we were still there “the next morning.” We may have stayed into Epcot’s extra hours for a half hour or so-but only because the meet and greet line for Joy and Sadness did not move- so much so that we ended up getting out of it after a half hour (yes, we should have just took the trip to Arendelle.) Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom had morning extra hours- which wasn’t our thing so we just headed there after the parks had officially opened.
We didn’t have to find parking at Disney Springs. This may not seem like a big deal with the parking ramps open now, but on a Fri. or Sat. night during spring break it can get pretty busy and we have had to park in overflow at the marketing building in the past. Being able to take the bus there eliminates having to do this. And you get dropped off right by Town Center which is a plus.
We love staying at the Marriott Vacation Club properties, Harbor Lake, which we own at as well as several others we have tried. But we definitely can understand why others prefer to stay on property after giving it a try. Cost will always be a fact to us. The more we save the more we can go. Fort Wilderness is great for this. It was reasonably priced and we got the accommodations we are used to (and no it did not really feel like camping.)