Camping at Disney World: Tips for a Magical Stay

| |

Did you know that you can go camping at Disney World? That's right, the adventure opportunities abound! Here are our fave picks for some added outdoor fun when you visit the parks.

Camping at Disney World

We just got back from our most recent Florida vacation, and man, it was a blast! We spent the first half of our vacation road tripping from Pensacola to Jacksonville and Space Coast, checking out some of the most beautiful hotels in the state. Winding up at familiar Disney World felt like coming home and was the perfect end to our trip. Instead of checking into one of the usual resort hotels, however, we decided to experience camping at Disney World's epic Fort Wilderness.

Fort Wilderness: Get the Lay of the Land

Fort Wilderness is like any other Walt Disney World resort in that they have their own designated check-in, amenities and activities available for guests. Instead of traditional hotel rooms, however, they have different types of camping for whatever floats your boat: cabins, RVs, and traditional tent sites.

Before booking any site, it is crucial to understand that Fort Wilderness is HUGE. It has 21 camping loops with 10-85 sites, plus seven loops with cabins. Definitely look at the map when selecting your site type to increase your likelihood of being near amenities you're most interested in. The majority of the cabins (all except two near the marina) are located closer to the entrance by the quieter Wilderness Swimmin' Pool, which does not have a slide like the rowdier, more central Meadow Swimmin' Pool.

With that said, there are buses that come through occasionally to transport people between the various areas. Alternately, I would recommend using a scooter or renting a golf cart or bike to tootle around. Car parking is available at your site, but parking is generally limited to golf carts and bike racks at the various trading posts, snack shops, restaurants and pools. Uber can't get through the check-in gates, so that's not an option.

Types of Camping at Disney World

A camping trip to Disney World offers an opportunity to explore nature, get some exercise, and get up close with animals. All camping at Disney World happens in the designated backcountry retreat called Fort Wilderness, where every camping and RV site can hold 10 people and every cabin can hold 6!

Tent Camping in Style at Disney World

Camping in style has never been easier. Imagine waking up to the melody of nature and the sound of Disney tunes, all in the comfort of your tent. Every campsite has landscaping that encourages a feeling of privacy and seclusion, and they also include water, cable TV, electrical hook-ups, a picnic table and a grill.

Tent or Pop-Up sites have room for a camper pop-up and up to two tents on a concrete pad up to 10 feet by 25 feet. If you don't want to set a tent up, you can even call and rent one from Disney!

Camping with your own RV at Disney World

Great news for Disney World-goers. The next time you're planning a family trip to the popular theme park, you can bring your own RV! The campgrounds are open to those with their own rigs, including motor homes and pull-behinds. Premium and Premium Meadow campsites have concrete pads up to 18×60 feet, Preferred campsites are close to the marina and have concrete pads up to 10×45 feet, and standard RV spots (called “Full Hook-Up Campsites”) have concrete pads up to 10×50 feet.

Cabin at Fort Wilderness

Beautiful Cabins at Disney World

Disney World is a place where children and adults can escape into a fantasy world – a world of imagination, excitement, and joy. In my opinion, the best place to sleep in the midst of this magic is at one of the cabins at Fort Wilderness. These cabins give visitors a chance to experience the same type of cozy accommodations they usually experience at Disney World, but with a rugged camp vibe.

All cabins are the same size, with a fully-equipped kitchen and dining table, bathroom, a pull-out sleeper couch in the living room, and a bedroom with a bunk bed and a queen-sized bed. A large private patio and charcoal grill are outside, and cabin guests have the option to pre-order groceries to their room before they arrive.

Benefits of Camping at Disney World

Camping at Disney World comes with all the same amenities as the resort hotels: Early Theme Park Entry (this program is currently in flux and subject to changes), proximity, transportation to and from the parks, a fully immersive experience, discounted pre-arrival MagicBand purchases, and more.

Being big-time campers ourselves, the opportunity to merge our favorite activities with Disney is mind-blowing! Imagine campfire fun, tie-dying shirts, panning for gems, horseback riding, archery, canoeing, fishing AND Disney magic all rolled into one. All in the same day. Dream vacation achievement, unlocked.

Finally, I think the biggest benefit of staying at Fort Wilderness is the strong camaraderie among the guests. Just like on a Disney Cruise, guests at Fort Wilderness go all out with decorations, and many families return year after year.

Dogs at Fort Wilderness

Two dogs are allowed per campsite, for an additional fee, in designated loops. Two dogs are also allowed per cabin, for an additional fee, in specified cabins. Walt Disney World has paid kennel care options, an off-leash dog park at Fort Wilderness and lots of on-leash trails available.

How to Prepare for Disney World Camping

Pack Your Gear

This will vary wildly depending on your accommodations. If you're booking a cabin or bringing your RV, you'll have everything you need. If you're staying in a tent site, you'll want to have sleeping bags and a camp stove. It's a great idea to bring food and snacks no matter what site type you choose, to help cut down on meal costs.

Tie dying shirts at camp

Golf Cart Rentals at Fort Wilderness

If you want to book a golf cart rental for your time at Fort Wilderness, make reservations as early as possible by calling the number on Disney's site. Most golf cart rentals are 4-seaters, but there are a few 6-seaters available that are first-come first-served. You can go ahead and get on the list for a 4-seater, and cancel your reservation if you need a 6-seater and there are none available when you arrive. That said, I've seen more than 4 people squish into the 4-seaters when necessary.

Rentals are available for pickup at 1pm and need to be returned by 11am on the return date. Since we nabbed a coveted 6-seater on our trip, we opted to rent it for the duration of our stay to make transportation easy, and to ensure that someone didn't nab it if we returned it for a day (again, 6-seaters are first-come first-served so there are no guarantees it'll be there for a subsequent day if you give it back).

Reserve Dining and Theme Park Tickets

With limited capacity, it's critical that you go ahead and reserve your dining and theme park tickets as early as possible before arrival. This can be done in your MyDisneyExperience online account. Try to make reservations for your must-see dining spots at the various parks you'll be visiting, as well as any specialty dining experiences you want to enjoy such as viewing wild animals while you dine at Sanaa over at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Fort Wilderness patio

Consider Transportation

I feel like I'm harping on this point, but Fort Wilderness is big and Walt Disney World overall is HUGE. Search online for the various transportation solutions that go from Fort Wilderness to your desired theme parks. There's a boat that goes between Magic Kingdom and Fort Wilderness (it's magical!) but getting to any other resort or park will require boat transfers and/or buses and/or the monorail.

You can also keep a vehicle at your Fort Wilderness lodging and drive to any of the parks' designated parking lots: the self-parking fee you pay at Fort Wilderness gives you rights to park in any Disney lot. Keep in mind that while you can park at other Disney resorts to visit, there are often limitations on time and/or reservations must be made at one of the restaurants, particularly at the more popular resorts such as The Contemporary. Don't think you can mosy your car on over to the Contemporary's lot and walk to Magic Kingdom, leaving your car there the entire day. They'll tow you. You may be able to use valet if you have a breakfast reservation at another resort and want to leave your vehicle there for longer than 3 hours, but valet parking may be limited at times.

How to Choose the Best Camping Spot at Fort Wilderness

This will all come down to personal preference. Do you prioritize ease-of-access to the parks? Then you'll definitely want to be near the marina. That's where we landed and we appreciated our proximity to the stable and other recreation near Pioneer Hall, and the ease of visiting Settlement Trading Post for supplies. If you prefer to spend a lot of time at the pool and enjoying camp activities, Meadow is definitely where you'll want to land.

Fort Wilderness Activities

Fishing at Disney World

Fishing at Fort Wilderness

This was our favorite activity of the whole trip, and we're writing a whole separate blog post dedicated to the experience. Thanks to Disney's partnership with Take Me Fishing, you can make reservations for guided fishing excursions! Up to five guests can fit on a 21-foot Sun Tracker pontoon boat, or if you have a smaller group, they have tournament-style NITRO bass fishing boats that can fit one or 2 guests. Excursions are either 2 or 4 hours, and an extra hour can be added in-person at the Marina. Excursions include a guide, rod and reels, tackle, bait and non-alcoholic beverages.

If you want a self-led experience, motorized boats, canoe and kayaks are available to rent on a first-come, first-served basis.

Meadow Swimmin Pool

Swimming at Fort Wilderness

The main pool is the Meadow Swimmin' Pool. It's right in the center of Fort Wilderness near all the action at Meadow Trading Post, and it features a 67-foot waterslide! There's also a hot tub here, a little-kid-friendly play area, and a snack shop. The quieter Wilderness Swimmin' Pool is closer to the cabins. It also has a hot tub, but doesn't have any splash play areas or slides. Unlike most Disney resort pools, the pools at Fort Wilderness do NOT offer towels to guests, so bring your own!

Hiking at Fort Wilderness

There are miles and miles of trails waiting to be explored here! You can hit the trails with your hiking boots, or rent a bike at the Bike Barn. You may also want to hit up the playgrounds, volleyball nets and basketball courts that are interspersed throughout Fort Wilderness.

Pony ride at Fort Wilderness

Horseback Riding at Fort Wilderness

Guests can book 45-minute trail rides by calling in advance or walking into the front barn. Riders need to be over 48 inches tall and weigh less than 250 pounds.

Pony rides are also available at Tri-Circle-D Ranch near Pioneer Hall on a walk-in basis for children over age 2, under 80 pounds and no taller than 48 inches. Parents get to walk with their children, leading the ponies around a big loop. Even if nobody in your party fits within those size limits, it's absolutely worth visiting this area to see the Disney horses that clip-clop up and down Main Street!

Other Recreational Experiences at Fort Wilderness

Watch a movie under the stars, roast s'mores with Chip and Dale, tie-dye shirts, go rock-hunting and more. You can call ahead or visit the Bike Barn during your visit: that's the go-to spot for making reservations for all sorts of family-friendly camp memories. Guests age 7 and up can also learn to use a compound bow during an archery lesson! The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a fun dinner party extravaganza that guests rave about as well, but it's currently on hiatus. There are also wilderness arcades at Pioneer Hall and near the Meadow Swimmin' Pool

Who is Fort Wilderness Ideally-Suited For?

– Budget Traveler: someone who is looking for a cheaper way to experience Disney World. Fort Wilderness has something for every budget.

– Families: Want to be able to spend time with loved ones and enjoy the parks without feeling rushed? Fort Wilderness' laid-back vibe will float your boat. Particularly if you have older teens who have seen it all (or wee ones who need a little extra room to roam), this is the perfectly fit for big groups.

– Disney-Only Camper: Maybe you're not necessarily an outdoorsy person, but you love Disney so much you're willing to try camping in order to stretch your time at the parks.

– Disney Superfan: We all know one of these! The all-Disney-all-the-time person is a die-hard Disney World fan who needs to experience everything the parks have to offer. Campign at Disney World is absolutely on their bucket list.

– Outdoor Enthusiast: Are you someone who loves the outdoors, and enjoys camping? This is the place for you. If you have family members who aren't “theme park people” but do like to experience wide open spaces and recreational activities that bring the whole family together, this is a perfect way to make everyone happy.

– Millennials: This type of traveler can be finicky, wanting to have a good time in style while also checking out stuff off the beaten path. Fort Wilderness is perfectly suited to people who want an experience that's easily individualized to their own tastes.

Camping at Disney World FAQs

  1. How far in advance should I book my campsite at Disney World?
    Book as far as possible in advance for the best site options! Fort Wilderness absolutely does sell out in advance, particularly during busy seasons.
  2. Can you bring a pet on a camping trip to Disney World?
    Yup! Two dogs are allowed per site, with arrangements made in advance and additional fees.
  3. When is the best time to visit Disney World for campers?
    I like to visit between February and May, when the weather is relatively mild, prices are pretty low, and the area isn't as crowded as it is during summer. September and October tend to be extremely rainy, which can make camping challenging.
  4. What should I pack for my Disney World camping trip?
    All the usual stuff that you’d bring camping is a great idea for camping at Disney World. Sunscreen, bug spray and ponchos are a must-have. Beyond that, anything you want! Just like when packing for a Disney Cruise, don't forget to bring Disney-specific gear such as stuffed animals, Disneybounding props, games, etc.

Have you been camping at Disney World yet? If not, pack your tent and sleeping bag, and get ready for a whole new way to experience the magic!


Space Coast Florida: Must-See for Families

Kid Business Ideas – and how to Encourage Them!