If you were to ask me, “Which Disney resort is your favorite?” I would immediately answer, “Fort Wilderness Campground.”
We have stayed at many of the other resorts, including Port Orleans French Quarter, All Star Music, POP Century, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, The Polynesian Resort and the Disneyland Hotel. Carol has made a few trips without me, and stayed at All Star Movies, All Star Sports, Port Orleans Riverside, The Contemporary Resort, The Grand Floridian Hotel, The Golf Resort, The Boardwalk, Old Key West and The Caribbean Beach Resort. While lots of other Disney fans may disagree, for me Fort Wilderness stands head and shoulders above any of those other resorts.
Carol says that her “dream trip” would involve either The Disneyland Hotel or The Polynesian Resort but Fort Wilderness is not far behind!
It will probably come as no surprise to you that Carol, a compulsive collector, has saved some keepsakes, mementos and souvenirs from a resort which ranks high on her list of favorites. They were scattered throughout our home, some in her pin collection, some in the Tickle Trunk, some in scrapbooks and others in book cases or file folders.
About two years ago she decided to put them all together in her new Fort Wilderness Book. Once she had it all assembled in a large 3-ring binder, we were both pleasantly surprised by some of the treasures she had picked up over the years.
Here is a look at a few of the highlights from the Fort Wilderness Book.
This 1981 Fort Wilderness brochure, sponsored by RV manufacturer, Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc., gives us a nostalgic look at the campground in its earliest days. Notice the advertisement for Fleetwood, who billed themselves as “The Official Recreational Vehicles of Fort Wilderness”. Those are some classic old motor homes and travel trailers!
On the pages of the brochure are a few sights you won’t see around Walt Disney World today. You will not find Musket Mickey! In today’s politically correct world the coonskin-capped Mickey carries a walking stick rather than a firearm.
Do you see that sailboat in front of Cinderella Castle? There used to be sailboats, pedal boats and even those tricycle boats with the giant flotation tires available for rent at Fort Wilderness. They have been gone for years, but you can still rent SeaRaycers and pontoon boats.
The other sight from yesteryear that you no longer see is people swimming in Bay Lake or the Seven Seas Lagoon. In the early years the beaches at each of the Magic Kingdom area resorts were busy, but since swimming was banned many years ago the beaches have become lonely tracts of clean white sand. Why was swimming banned? There were some safety concerns centered around alligators, copperhead snakes and a rather nasty little amoeba, Naegleria Fowleri, more commonly called the "brain-eating amoeba". Take my advice . . . stay out of the water!
Trail rides, fishing and cycling are still very popular at “The Fort” and if you are there on the right day you might still see that blacksmith at work on his forge, beside the horse barns, at Tri-Circle D Ranch.
Two neighbouring destinations, Discovery Island and River Country are included in the brochure. Alas, they’re both long gone now! Carol has some great mementos from each of them; I may write about both closed attractions in a future blog.
The 1981 Fort Wilderness brochure ends with “Food ‘N Fun”. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue has been running continuously since 1974 and is often referred to as “one of the longest continuously running musicals in American theatre history”. It may even be the longest!
This handbill from the grand old Hoop-Dee-Doo show at Pioneer Hall dates back to about 1982. Today’s version is almost exactly the same . . . the menu has changed slightly; seasonal vegetables have now replaced that "corn-right-on-the-cob". But you’ll be pleased to hear that the corny old jokes have not changed a bit! It’s still a toe-tappin’, foot-stompin’ good time!
A postcard from 1982
Those two images above are the front and back of a brochure guests received at check-in in 1982. All the rules and regulations, together with some suggestions are there, if you can read the fine print!
In March 1986 Carol received this letter announcing an exciting new meal at Pioneer Hall, the “Rise and Shine, Get Up and Go Breakfast Show” featuring Melvin the Moose, Chip and Dale and other characters. The breakfast show ran for about five years, until 1991 . . . don’t worry about Melvin the Moose, he returned to his regular gig in Frontierland, at Country Bear Jamboree!
A 1988 brochure, pictured in the two images above, referred to “trailer homes” from Fleetwood. They were sometimes called “Wilderness Homes” and in 1997 they were all replaced by the cabins we know today!
Let’s look at a few more recent items, starting with this resort map from 2010. From the Outpost (the check-in area at the bottom right of the map) to Pioneer Hall (near the marina and dock at the top left) is a distance of just over a mile. The roads marked with yellow, orange and purple lines denote the three routes run by the campground’s internal bus system. When Fort Wilderness opened in November 1971 trams, similar to the parking lot trams used at the theme parks, transported guests around the campground. In the early 1990’s the trams were replaced by buses.
For many years a four page Gazette newsletter was included in check-in packages. The copy above, from 2010, provides a wealth of information about the campground and the many services and recreation facilities available. The Gazette has now been replaced by a smaller booklet which contains the same information in a more modern format.
Campers take great delight in decorating their sites for the holidays and Management at “The Fort” take an active role in organizing many fun-filled holiday activities. Here is a sample, a flyer from Halloween 2010.
When you get to the campground, be sure to visit the horses at Tri-Circle-D Ranch. This 2010 brochure says it all about “The Happiest Horses on Earth”. All of those horses you see working in the Magic Kingdom live at the ranch in Fort Wilderness. Stop by the barns and meet them sometime!
Here are a few other little odds and ends, a Fort Wilderness decal, an embroidered shoulder patch, a bumper sticker and bar of Fort Wilderness soap.
What’s that? You were wondering about pins? Yes, of course Carol has pins; Fort Wilderness pins and River Country pins.
Did you know that the campground once had a railroad? There was a 3.5 mile track which looped through the campground from the Outpost to the Settlement. The cars were built to 4/5 scale and ran on a 30” track. There were four steam-powered engines and each pulled five passenger cars. Each of the four trains had could transport 90 passengers and they operated on a regular schedule from 1973 to 1977. They ran sporadically for a few years after that and in early 1980’s the trains stopped altogether and the tracks were removed. Carol bought this pin commemorating the Fort Wilderness Railroad at the 2011 EPCOT Trade Celebration.
When Carol began pulling all of her collection together, were both surprised at the volume of stuff she had assembled . . . there are lots of good memories there! That magical binder keeps Fort Wilderness alive for us even when we're at home!
And it’s still a work in progress; she’s always on the lookout for new items to add to one of her prized possessions, her Fort Wilderness Book.
The previous post in this blog was Disney Buttons.
The next post in this blog is Jim's Attic: The History Behind the Saratoga Springs DVC Resort .