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Ft. Wilderness Archives

June 29, 2014

The Fort Wilderness Book

Gary Cruise banner

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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

1982_Hoop_Dee_Doo_Showbill

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!

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A postcard from 1982

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1982_Fort_Wilderness_Check-in_Brochure_reverse

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!

1986_Pioneer_Hall_Breakfast_Show

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!

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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!

2010_Fort_Wilderness_Resort_Map

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.

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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.

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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.

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2010_Tri_Circle_D_Brochure_inside

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!

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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.

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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.

2011_Fort_Wilderness_Railroad

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.

March 18, 2014

No RV? No Problem! Fort Wilderness Rentals

Gary Cruise banner

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you know how much Carol and I enjoy staying at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground in our motor home. It's our favourite Disney resort. As you were reading, did you ever think, “That sounds like fun! I'd sure like to give it a try, but I don't own a camper.”

Don't give up on the idea! If you really like the prospect of camping at Walt Disney World, why not rent a camper and try it out before you pay out the money to buy your own RV? There are quite a few companies who rent campers . . . and they make it very easy for you. They deliver the unit to Fort Wilderness and set it up; once you arrive all you have to do is move in!

If you do an internet search using “Walt Disney World camper rental” you will find a number of rental options, including all different shapes and sizes of trailers. There's a solution for every family!

Carol's 84 year-old parents, John and Sybil, have listened to our tales of Fort Wilderness for several years and just last month they were able to experience first hand what we had been describing. We decided almost a year ago to take them along on a trip with us and set them up in a rented trailer at a camp site near ours. Once the decision was made, Carol got to work analyzing all the options. She did an online search, narrowed the list of rental companies down to a short-list of about a half-dozen companies who had pet-friendly units and started looking at dates and specific trailers.

She was able to find a very roomy 5th Wheel Trailer quite quickly through a small, family owned-business and before you could say “It was all started by a mouse” she had the two camp sites reserved and the trailer booked for a two-week stay. Carol used our reliable travel agency, Mouse Fan Travel, to book the camp site and worked closely with Rod, the owner of the camper rental company, to ensure that we ended up in side-by-side sites at the campground. We had given Disney agents our permission to share our information with Rod so he was able to text us the campsite numbers Disney had assigned before we arrived. They were exactly where we had hoped to be so we gave him the go-ahead to set up before we pulled in.

Florida_Welcome_Sign

We arrived on Valentine's Day and there was John and Sybil's little Shangri-La, fully equipped and ready for occupancy. It had been delivered to the campground that morning, set up on the site and all the utilities were connected. The patio mat was in place in front, four lawn chairs had been arranged on the mat, the electric golf cart (included in our rental package) was fully charged and ready to go! How easy was that?

The_Trailer

Here's a YouTube video showing a typical trailer being set up!

Naturally we added a few little touches of our own, a Mickey Mouse lamp post and some Mickey rope lights - then it was perfect!

Now_it's_perfect

The trailer was wonderful; a 35-foot-long, 5th wheel model with three slide-out rooms, two in the living area and one in the upstairs bedroom. John, Sybil and our son Rob were very comfortable and had plenty of elbow room.

When they entered the RV, the kitchen, dining area and living room were on their left and the bathroom and bedroom were up a few steps to the right. The unit was fully equipped with dishes, pots, pans, utensils, toaster and coffee maker. Even the coffee filters were included - nothing was overlooked.

All the linens were supplied; the bed was made and the towels were hung when we arrived. It could not have been simpler; the only thing we had to do was pull out the hide-a-bed couch at the end of the day - that's where Rob slept.

The_Living_Room

The living room had a couch, two very comfortable recliner chairs and a large entertainment centre with television, stereo and DVD player.

The_Living_Room

The kitchen contained a large refrigerator, microwave oven, three burner gas range, double sink, toaster, coffee maker and all the pots, pans, utensils and cleaning products you need. All we had to add were some groceries!

The_Kitchen

Opposite the kitchen was the dining area, a table and four chairs, which also doubled as Sybil's computer desk!

The_Dining_Area

Up a few steps from the living area, behind a solid privacy door, was the three-piece bathroom. There was a full adult-sized shower, a porcelain toilet and a sink and vanity.

The_Vanity

Past the bathroom was the bedroom which offered a very comfortable queen sized bed, plenty of closet space and loads of drawers for storage.

The_Bedroom

Before long John, Sybil and Rob were all settled in their new home and it was time for them to discover what makes a Fort Wilderness vacation so much different than staying at any other Disney resort.

It is very difficult to explain how comfortable a Fort Wilderness vacation is . . . it's probably due to the distinct absence of any “hustle and bustle”. No one there is in a hurry, everyone is laid back.

People stroll at Fort Wilderness; they ride bicycles; they take nature walks and they walk their dogs. Total strangers will say hello as they walk past, often they will stop and chat. It's like stepping back 50 years in time to those good old days when we smiled at our neighbours and they smiled back.

The campground is filled with wildlife; there are thousands of squirrels but there's so much more than that to see. The folks in the camp site next to us were from Maine and they spent a great deal of time sitting out in lawn chairs behind their RV. Every day they spotted deer and wild turkeys as they waited to see that hard-to-spot pileated woodpecker we often heard rapping in a nearby tree. As I sat reading under the awning of our RV I often heard, and occasionally saw, the cardinals which were nesting in the palmetto bush just a few feet away.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like being away out in the wild, not by a long shot. There are plenty of activities for all ages at the campground . . . but it's also very easy to just "mellow out" there.

Waiting_for_the_boat

What a treat to wake up in the morning hearing the boat whistles in the background! The boat ride to the Magic Kingdom is a wonderfully scenic way to start your day. And every night you can hear both Wishes and Illuminations - you can even see them through the trees from some camp sites! The Fort Wilderness beach is a terrific spot to watch the Wishes fireworks show as the starbursts reflect off the waters of Bay Lake. The sound track is piped in, so you don't miss a thing! Then at 9:45 every night the Electric Water Pageant sails by.

Even our dogs love Fort Wilderness Resort; they looked forward to their golf cart rides to the off-leash dog park!

Trip_to_the_dog_park

There are so many things we love about Fort Wilderness; I've barely scratched the surface.

Was our rental experience perfect? The 5th wheel trailer was very nice but we did have a little plumbing issue. A call to the company brought an immediate resolution. Rod was there in no time; the issue was fixed and all was working again in just a few hours. He was very easy to work with and very responsive whenever we called or texted him, before our arrival and after. We were really impressed with the service and definitely recommend the company to others.

You might be wondering how John and Sybil enjoyed their stay. We quickly settled into a routine; after breakfast at our individual campers we all hopped in the car and headed to one of the theme parks for a few hours. Lunch was sometimes a quick counter-service meal as we left the park to head home for the afternoon; other times we had sandwiches at the campground. Everyone relaxed for the afternoon. Some of us went to the pool, some to the off-leash dog park, some napped or sat in the sun reading. Ahhh! Nice! Most evenings we returned to one of the parks for dinner and a few more attractions. We had plenty of fun with no “hustle and bustle.”

On the trip home John said, “That was worth every penny we spent. We had a wonderful time!”
Would they do it again? Oh yeah - in a heartbeat.

So if you think you would like to give Disney camping a try, why don't you get busy with that search, rent a camper, book a camp site and make it happen!

November 4, 2013

Jim's Attic: The Dragon Calliope

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

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The Dragon Calliope By Jim Korkis


Please note, since writing this blog we have learned that the Dragon Calliope is no longer on display at Fort Wilderness.

It continues to amaze me that there are so many hidden treasures at Walt Disney World waiting to be discovered and enjoyed and how often they are bypassed because they are not in the theme parks.

For the 1955 Mickey Mouse Club Circus parade at Disneyland, Walt Disney purchased some authentic turn-of-the-century circus wagons and very carefully restored them. In fact, anything removed from a wagon during the restoration, Walt had preserved.

Walt purchased nine authentic circus wagons from Bradley & Kaye who were using them as decorations outside the entrance to their small amusement park at the corner of Beverly and La Cienga in Los Angeles where Walt would take his young daughters on Sunday outings.

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In this purchase was a 1907 twenty whistle steam calliope that was in disrepair.

Its first appearance was in the Mugivan and Bowers shows in England, circa 1907, after which it was sold to Ken Maynard's Diamond K Circus in 1936. At a cost of $50,000, Disney redesigned the calliope to resemble the others in the collection, and adorned its wagon with decorative pieces from some of Disney's other circus wagons transforming it into the Dragon Calliope.

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Take a close look at the car behind the engine of Disneyland's Casey Jr. train. The dragon is an exact re-creation of the one on the calliope since it is a circus train.

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Many of the circus wagons, as well as the calliope, appear in the Disney live-action film, “Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With a Circus” (1960).

Starring young Kevin Corcoran and based on the well known novel of the same name by James Otis Kaler, the film recounts a young boy running away to work in a circus and becoming a circus star after befriending a mischievous chimp.

The film's world premiere was held January 21, 1960, at the Florida Theater in Sarasota, Florida, the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (now owned and operated by Feld Entertainment, who produce the Disney on Ice shows).

Just as the parade and the credits are ending the movie, the Dragon Calliope comes in to view, followed by the eager Toby Tyler, as music and steam billow from the colorful wagon.

In 1962, Walt would donate the wagons (including the pieces that had been removed) to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where they are taken care of and displayed to this day. However, he kept the Dragon Calliope.


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Besides being part of the short-lived Mickey Mouse Club Circus parade, the calliope went on to appear at Disneyland parades until the park's 25th anniversary.

It was repainted silver and blue and pulled by six black Percheron horses when it was relocated to Florida for the Walt Disney World Tencennial celebration in 1981. Since then, it was seen in numerous parades at Walt Disney World, including several Christmas broadcasts until it was retired from parade duty.

To the best of my memory and research, the last time the Dragon Calliope was used was January 2, 2007 in Tallahassee, Florida where Mickey and Minnie Mouse were participants in the inaugural parade for newly-sworn in governor, Charlie Crist. Mickey and Minnie in the calliope were pulled by a team of eight black Percheron horses.

The Tri-Circle-D Ranch at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground at Walt Disney World is now the home for the famous Dragon Calliope.

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It is located near another free hidden treasure, a small exhibit, named Walt Disney Horses dedicated to Walt's love of horses and to the different roles horses do at Walt Disney World.

I hope some of you will now go track down these wonderful hidden treasures, take pictures, and share their location with your friends and family.

Special thanks to TCD for the photographs.

Please note, since writing this blog we have learned that the Dragon Calliope is no longer on display at Fort Wilderness.

RELATED LINKS
====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm


Jim KorkisABOUT
THE AUTHOR:


Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of two new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:

Who's Afraid of the Song of the South AND
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


October 13, 2013

The Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Gary Cruise banner

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you will know that Carol and I are huge fans of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We just love spending time there in our RV . . . but I've often wondered what it would be like staying in one of the cabins. Carol stayed there many years ago, but I've never had the pleasure.

I follow a couple of online communities which are focused on camping at “The Fort” and I was delighted to read a trip report posted by Shelly E. from Minnesota. She and her family took their first trip to Walt Disney World last year and stayed in the cabins. I strongly suspect that there will be many more trips to Fort Wilderness in Shelly's future.

Here's how Shelly described the experience in her trip report:

This was our family's first trip to Walt Disney World. Actually it was our family's first and only trip ANYWHERE for more than two nights in all our time together as a family! It was February of 2012- we chose to stay in the cabins because with six of us it seemed the cheapest way to go. At that time we had NO idea how much we would fall in love with the Fort. This first picture is arriving at the Fort . . .

Arrival

Here is another . . .

Check-in

The kids totally fell in love with the pool (of course!) . . .

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The_water_slide

We did the penny machines in front of Pioneer Hall and the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue!

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We had no idea what to expect when we made our reservations. We made them there simply because we wanted to qualify for free dining, and it was one of the few ways we could all stay in one room. After staying there for 10 days, we completely fell in love with the Fort.

There is just something special about it there. I think for every family, it's probably different things that make it special. For us, I'll tell you what some of the things were.

Getting up in the morning and being surrounded by nature. Beautiful trees all around us, chipmunks, little lizards, birds, sunshine, flowers and most of all peacefulness. There is so much peacefulness at the Fort. Driving a golf cart to the laundry facility, passing people who are out walking dogs or biking - everyone is friendly and happy to be there. It's just such a "welcome home" kind of feeling.

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The gardens at "The Outpost" (check-in) are designed to attract butterflies.

The boat ride to the Magic Kingdom is simply amazing. We never got tired of it! Compared to riding a bus, the boat is magic in itself.

Being able to sit on the beach at night, with not too many people around, and watch the Wishes fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant. I know so many people say there's nothing like watching it from Main Street, but I feel there is nothing like watching it from a beautiful sandy beach, laying in a lounge chair, holding your husband's hand in the quiet of the moonlit night, watching and listening to the magic all around us.

Being able to walk in the barns, and actually see the working horses at Disney in their home environment - it was so cool! Of course, we own a horse boarding and training facility in Minnesota, so this was right up our alley! But even for others, this seemed like a beautiful and interesting place to visit.

At_the_horse_barns

Those are just a few of the things.

The cabins themselves were wonderful - we loved them! The kids all slept in the back bedroom, and we had the pull down bed, which we both thought was REALLY comfortable. It's not super big, but it was soft and nice! The dishes were clean, the housekeeping was wonderful, and it was just nice to be able to come back each day to a place that felt like a "home" and not just a "room".

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Cabin_interior

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The kids couldn't wait to get back each day to see what Arnold (our Mousekeeper) had created.

A reader from the United Kingdom who is planning to stay in the cabins posted a few questions. She asking if Shelly's family had rented a golf cart and whether there were good places to eat at Fort Wilderness. Here is Shelly's reply:

We are a family of six. My husband, myself and two sets of twins ages eight and eleven. For us, having a golf cart was wonderful. We used it each time we went to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom or Downtown Disney. We took the golf cart up to the area where all the buses come for the other parks, and then later on it was waiting for us when we came back.

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It saved a lot of time waiting for the internal buses, which is nice when you have younger kids. We also used the golf cart when we went to the pools or the campfire sing-a-long and movie. It was especially handy when it was time to do laundry. And this year when we go at Christmas, we are actually renting TWO golf carts, just because our kids are a little bigger, and instead of a 6-seater, we reserved two 4-seaters. It will allow us a little more freedom; we won't all have to be ready at the same time to go anywhere. And we're really excited about just exploring the whole Fort - we didn't have enough time to do that our first trip.

As for eating - we were VERY lucky in having free dining and we tried so many wonderful restaurants all over the parks. But there were a few times we did eat at the Fort - we got pizza once and ate it down by the lake - there were tables set up down there. I think they were actually on part of the dock, but I could be wrong. We got chicken there once too, and they had some other choices there, but we didn't get a chance to try a lot of them. There seemed to be enough things that everyone should be able to have a nice meal there. And we actually had a few things at the Meadows Pool snack bar - they had a chicken sandwich there that was really good! There were a few other sandwiches that I thought sounded good too! Another thing I remember about eating at either place was the people working there; they were always so NICE!! Sometimes, to me, that's more important than how big or how many choices a place has.

Since returning home the family's love of Fort Wilderness has not diminished a bit. In fact, they bought a motor home and will be driving "The Beast" over 1,700 miles, arriving at The Fort December 22, 2013 to spend a magical family Christmas in their new favourite place. Then they drive another 1,700 miles home! WOW!

The_New_Motor_Home

How about you? If you're looking for an economical vacation option and a very laid back, rustic, homey environment " the cabins at Fort Wilderness might be for you.

You can find more details about Fort Wilderness cabins and plenty of pictures from the campground here.

July 22, 2013

Disney’s Oldest Parade - Electrical Water Pageant

Gary Cruise banner

Walt Disney World has plenty of parades. The Magic Kingdom currently has the “Celebrate A Dream Come True” parade every afternoon at 3:00 and the “Main Street Electrical Parade” at 9:00 and 11:00. Disney's Animal Kingdom features the “Jammin' Jungle Parade” at 3:45

Over the years there have been many themed parades at each of the Disney parks but the undisputed grand-daddy of all parades is the Electrical Water Pageant which sails the waters of Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. It has been running every night (weather permitting) since October 26, 1971. There have been a few subtle changes over the past 42 years, but it is still as captivating as it was the first time I watched it in 1977.

One of our favourite ways to end our day at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground is to head to the beach and watch the nightly performance of the Electrical Water Pageant.

We try to arrive a bit early, find a comfy seat on the patio beside the marina and wait until those tell-tale green lights begin to appear. The 14 barges which provide the show run very quietly. They are nearly invisible, with only their running lights to reveal their approach. Then once they are in position the show begins with a fanfare of techno music and all those wonderful lights reflecting off Bay Lake.

The first four barges all light up their 40 foot long and 25 foot high displays at once and portray the image of a sea serpent accompanied by "Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too)" from Pete's Dragon.

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Soon the next float comes alive with the image of a spouting whale as you listen to "Whale of a Tale" from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

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Floats six and seven feature a turtle bobbing its head under water and an octopus, also accompanied by lively music generated by the 800 watt sound system.

Soon the first three floats in the second string light up to reveal three jumping dolphins, followed in turn by a Brachiosaurus, a crocodile, four seahorses and finally King Triton. By the time all 14 floats are illuminated there are over 50,000 lights involved in the animated panorama. WOW!

Dolphins

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Then, just when you think it's all over, the grand finale begins. It's an inspirational salute to America, with Flags and Stars set to a patriotic musical medley of God Bless America, Yankee Doodle, and You're a Grand Old Flag.

Stars_and_Flags

You don't even have to spend money on park admission to enjoy the Electrical Water Pageant.

It sails past the beach at every Disney resort on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The normal schedule is:
• 9:00 p.m. - Polynesian Resort
• 9:15 p.m. - Grand Floridian
• 9:35 p.m. - Wilderness Lodge
• 9:45 p.m. - Fort Wilderness
• 10:05 p.m. - Contemporary Resort
• 10:20 p.m. - Magic Kingdom (only when MK is open past 10:00 p.m.)

The Electrical Water Pageant is an often overlooked feature at Walt Disney World and it truly is a hidden gem. Plan to watch it from the beach at one of the resorts soon. With a little planning you might even see the Wishes fireworks spectacular reflecting off the water before or after the pageant. Check with Guest Services at your resort to confirm exact show times.

If you watch it from the Polynesian Resort I recommend a stop at Captain Cook's on the way. Pick up a cool Dole Whip to enjoy as you sit on the beach enjoying the show. If you watch from Fort Wilderness, take a look around, you may just see Carol and I on the patio beside the marina!

November 25, 2012

Ft. Wilderness Christmas -- Dave “The Castle Guy”

Gary Cruise banner

In December 2008 Carol and I spent a few weeks at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We took part in a Disney fan meet known as “MouseFest”. Carol and I, along with our friends John & Erin from New Jersey, co-hosted a walking tour of the campground to admire all the seasonal décor. About 45 of us wandered the campground admiring the lights, inflatables and the other imaginative displays. Someone we passed that evening said, “Be sure to check out site #551 " it's great.” Alas, we didn't make it that night! It was the following night when Carol and I circled the 500 loop and saw Dave “The Castle Guy” for the first time.

Dave's Castle at night

Wow . . . we were in awe when we saw his creation! Carol took a short video which I later uploaded to YouTube. I sent some friends a link to the video and urged them to visit Site 551 before they went home.

We didn't return for the Christmas season again until 2011 when we were fortunate enough to camp just a few campsites down from Dave and his awesome display.

Dave's Castle at night

We visited back and forth with Dave many times during our stay and during our few weeks together he told me the story of “The Castle Project”.

This is how he described it, “In December 2007 my wife Dee and I spent 10 days at Fort Wilderness Campground, Disney World. You would not believe what folks were doing to their campsites. The Christmas decorations were out of this world. The campers really put their imaginations in high gear. All the time and effort they spent decorating their sites was really impressive.”

For me, it was inspiring. If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness at Christmas, you should stop by. It is well worth the trip. All the campers are in a wonderfully good mood and the sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air. It's truly a magical place to be during the holiday season.”

“When we returned home to Titusville, Florida I started thinking about making something for our own campsite. I thought, ‘What would be the coolest thing I could have on our campsite?' The answer immediately came to mind ‘Cinderella Castle'. So, in April of 2008 I started on The Castle Project.”

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's labour of love took eight months to complete. He started with a six foot by four foot piece of three quarter inch thick Medium Density Overlay (MDO), a resin-coated plywood which is very weather resistant. Dave took a picture of Cinderella Castle, blew it up to the correct six foot by four foot proportions and printed it out on 26 sheets of photo paper.

Adding the picture to the background

He described the decoupage as the most difficult task in the entire project; he applied the photo sheets to the MDO and then covered them with six coats of clear acrylic sealer.

Then he cut the castle out, beginning with a precision jig saw for the rough cut and then finishing the finer features with a Dremel hand-held tool.

Cutting out the castle with a jigsaw

Rough cut of the castle

Next step, Dave drilled some holes. There are 427 lights on the castle.

Drilling front holes for the lights

Each hole was drilled from the front and then countersunk on the back to accommodate the light socket. That's 854 holes to drill! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Countersinking rear holes

Dee took charge of the trees which flank the castle. The first year there were 16 trees, now there are 26. Dee securely fastened each and every light so that they will survive the packing and repacking that is required every year. Everything about the castle is designed to be durable yet portable!

When Dave starts talking about the electronics my eyes start to glaze over. I can appreciate how The Big Bang Theory's Penny feels when she's talking to Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Since I don't understand any of the technical stuff I'm going to quote Dave again, “The castle is controlled by 16 channels of lighting. It is surrounded by 16 Christmas trees so that adds another 16 channels of lighting. Above the trees are 3 lighted snowflakes, each representing a Disney character. All this has been put to beautiful Disney music, “When You Wish upon a Star” and Disney's “Wishes”, with fireworks added in for the grand finale. It ended up being 48 channels of lighting that first year. Everything is controlled through my laptop!”

Adding the wiring

Wiring up the castle

The Software that runs the show is "ShowTime Software Suite S3" from a company named "Light O Rama". Much of the hardware is from the same company, Dave currently uses 5 Light O Rama (LOR) 16 channel controllers, 3 LOR Cosmic Color Ribbons with 150 channels each and 1 LOR Cosmic Color Pixel with 100 channels. Just imagine how glassy my eyes were as I typed this paragraph!

From the start Dave knew the first song he had to sequence would be "Wish Upon A Star". It's his favourite Disney song and it touches a spot in the hearts of all Disney fans. He selected the Eric Kunzel version, it's beautiful. Then he used 4 tracks from Disney's "Wishes" to finish it off. The grande finale is made up of 5 audio tracks of fireworks. Wow . . . when you see and hear it I think you will agree that it's amazing!

Ready for dry runs

After all the lights were installed on the castle, the Christmas trees were prepared, the lights and soundtracks were sequenced it was time for a test.

It works

Dave set it all up in his garage, crossed his fingers and started the show. It was perfect " it ran like a charm. Next stop " Fort Wilderness!

Dave and Dee transport the Castle in their 40 ft motor home. The MDO castle lays on the bed while they are underway. Everything else is stored below in the cargo bays. One rule Dave has is that EVERYTHING has to fit in the motor home. He doesn't want to tow a trailer so he keeps it all pretty compact. It takes him around ten hours to set everything up and around four hours to break everything down and pack it away for transport.

The castle in daylight

When Dave returned with his completed castle in 2008 he was a bit nervous. As he puts it, “We returned to Fort Wilderness Campground on December 7th, 2008. As I was putting put up the castle show, I thought to myself, “People are going to think I am crazy, this guy has gone off the deep end.” Boy, was I wrong! It was a total blockbuster hit. It was the talk of the campground. The reservation office folks were telling people checking in to “make sure you see the castle show in the 500 loop”. I have never met so many great people. It was a total blast!

Dave has improved and enhanced the castle show each year since then. “In 2009 we returned to Fort Wilderness with 64 channels, 10 more Christmas trees and a VERY special appearance by “Tinker Bell” (Tink is really hard to book during the holidays, you know). It's the latest in lighting technology.”

“In 2010 I decided to light up the whole motor home in the show. That was fun. I also added another musical sequence, Disney's Holiday Wishes.”

“In 2011 I added another musical sequence, Disney's “Remember the Magic”. They used to play it at Disneyland years ago. It's a great song.”

“This year, 2012, I am introducing a new musical sequence. It's a mix of Disney favourites. I have also done a lot of fine tuning to all the other Disney songs. I have added a new “Tinker Bell” effect that I'm trying out. There are also a couple of surprises that I'm keeping a secret. The Castle show is now at 80+ channels and has 7000+ lights.”

“The Castle show starts automatically and runs continuously from 6:00 p.m. every evening. It shuts itself down at 10:00 p.m. Quiet time at the Fort starts at 10:00 pm.”

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's castle show has been featured in Orlando Attractions magazine and on a local television station but if you haven't seen it live . . . you really haven't seen it!

The thing Dave most enjoys about his castle show is the opportunity it gives him to meet all the Fort Wilderness campers and Disney fans. He puts it like this, “Every night you can find me at my campsite meeting folks and talking about the castle and all the other wonderful decorations at the Fort. Last year a group of about 120 AllEars fans stopped by to see the Castle show; what a great group of people.”

“Another thing I really enjoy is giving out glow sticks to all the kids who stop by; kids young and old. Last year I gave out several hundred! I am really stocking up on them this year.”

The horse-drawn sleigh rides and wagon rides which tour the campground do not make any stops, except at Christmas when they all pause for a few minutes at Dave's castle. Golf carts and pedestrians stop too! In fact, there's often a traffic jam in front of Dave and Dee's campsite . . . but it's the happiest traffic jam you have ever seen. Dave hasn't just built a castle . . . he's made magic! I'm sure Walt looks down occasionally on Dave's castle " and Walt smiles!


Click on the arrow to see a 15 minute sequence from of the 2010 Castle Show.

This year Dave and Dee will be at Fort Wilderness from December 5th through December 26th. The castle should be up and running by December 8th and the last show will be on Christmas Day.

If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World in December a trip to Fort Wilderness is a must. Set aside an evening to tour the campground and enjoy the amazing Christmas décor.

For some tips on how to get to Fort Wilderness and a few suggestions for your tour of the campground read the last few paragraphs a recent blog here.

So come on over and join the happiest traffic jam on earth! Don't forget, Dave will be waiting to meet you . . . and he just might have a glow stick for you! Go check out his castle . . . you will be amazed!

November 4, 2012

Christmas at Fort Wilderness

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As you read this blog big changes are taking place at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The campers are getting ready for Christmas!

All of those fabulous Halloween decorations are coming down; the campers are setting up their campsites for the most wonderful time of the year. “The Fort” is being transformed into a Christmas spectacle!

November 1st the change begins . . . spooky is out, winter wonderland is in!

If you are going to be at Walt Disney World between Halloween and Christmas a visit to Fort Wilderness should be on your “Must-Do” list. Visit during November and you will be truly impressed; visit during December and you will be blown away.

If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness during the holiday season you have no idea how lavish the decorations are - it is truly amazing what the campers do!

Perhaps a few pictures will give you some idea . . .

Fort Wilderness Tree

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

The campground is ablaze with lights. Trees are wrapped and festooned with strings of lights.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Inflatables of all sizes light up the campground loops with festive cheer.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Trains and monorails circle through several displays.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Disney movies are played on outdoor screens.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

You will see palm trees draped with Christmas ornaments.

Fort Wilderness Christmas

You will see Minnie Mouse relaxing in a bubble bath.

Minnie Mouse in a Bubble Bath

Golf carts are decorated for the season too, some are disguised as Disney characters, some are sleighs and a few are pulled by reindeer.

Golf Cart Sleigh

Minnie Mouse Golf Cart with Reindeer

Golf Cart Sleigh with Reindeer

Dave “The Castle Guy” Lovett is usually there for the first two weeks of December. You really must see his castle; this year he plans to have it dazzling visitors from December 8th until Christmas Day. Here's a video of Dave's castle " click on the arrow to start the video and watch it until the end " Awesome!

The best ways to get to Fort Wilderness are by Disney bus or by boat. Unless you are camped in the resort you will not be allowed to enter with your car and parking is very limited. You can catch a bus to The Fort at any theme park or at Downtown Disney. Once you arrive just transfer to any internal bus (the campground has its own bus system) and travel to The Settlement. For the most scenic option, you can catch a boat to the campground from the Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary Resort. The boats all dock at the Marina beside the Settlement.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Once you are at the Settlement it's an easy walk to the camping loops. The pathways are all paved and the terrain is flat. A leisurely walk of about 1 ½ to 2 miles will cover most of the loops. Let the magic begin!

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

If you prefer an easier tour, head to Pioneer Hall. Just across from the hall you can board a horse-drawn wagon or a horse-drawn carriage for a guided tour . . . they cover all of the best decorated sites! Last year at Christmas there was a carriage or wagon travelling past our campsite every 15 or 20 minutes all evening! Details on the cost of wagon and carriage rides can be found here.

Sleigh Ride Sign

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

You can start your evening with dinner at Trail's End Restaurant beside Pioneer Hall. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet, details are here. Try to time your dinner so that you finish just after dusk; then the lights will be at their best! Head toward the Settlement Trading Post and follow the glow of lights to the right of the store. A walkway will lead you into the 100 camping loop. Just stroll through the loops as you make your way around the campground and savour the sights and sounds. Take time to talk to the campers, they are always happy to chat about their décor. Some will even be out with candy or glow sticks for the children!

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

When you've seen the sights don't forget to head to the Marina. The Wishes fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom can be seen from the beach and dock and they pipe in the sound track. Once Wishes is over, if the timing is right, wait just a few minutes; the Electrical Water Pageant sails past the dock every night at 9:45.

What a wonderful way to end your day at the Most Magical Place on Earth!


August 12, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 2

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I ended Part 1 of this blog by saying that Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing.

Many people think "I'm not a camper so Fort Wilderness has nothing to offer me or my family." How wrong they are! There are plenty of families who are not campers but just love to vacation in Fort Wilderness Cabins. You can read all about those luxurious cabins here and there are pictures of the cabins here.

But there is an almost endless list of activities to enjoy at Fort Wilderness even if you're not staying in a cabin or campsite there!

Take a trip over to "The Fort" and have a look. You can get to the campground on a Disney bus or you can board a boat at Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort or Wilderness Lodge.

Fort Wilderness Sign

What can you do there? It's a long list. A very long list!

How about an Archery Lesson? Go to the Bike Barn, near the Meadows Trading Post and enjoy a lesson with an experienced archery coach. The 90-minute experience costs $25 (plus tax) per person, includes equipment and instruction and can be booked up to 90 days in advance.

Archery bows

Archery target

Mount a horse and take a 45 minute Trail Ride - These guided horseback rides are offered 5 times daily (8:30, 10, 11:30 a.m., 1, and 2:30 p.m.) at the Tri-Circle D Livery at Fort Wilderness. The cost is $46 per person.

Trail Ride

Trail Ride

Rent a bike at The Bike Barn and explore Fort Wilderness ($9 plus tax/hour, $18 plus tax/day). Tour around the loops of campsites or follow a nice paved trail to Wilderness Lodge. A side trail skirts along the shore of Bay Lake for part of the ride. Keep your eyes open " there are plenty of deer and waterfowl to see along the route.

Bike Barn

Bike riders

The campground is laced with rivers and canals. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat at the Bike Barn ($6.50 plus tax/1/2 hour; $11 plus tax/hour) and get back to nature.

Canal

Canoe

If you enjoy tennis, there are two lighted tennis courts beside the Meadows Swimming Pool and complimentary tennis equipment is available for resort guests at the Bike Barn.

Join Chip & Dale for a campfire, sing-a-long and a movie.

Chip and Dale Sign

The campfire program is free and is open to all WDW resort guests. It generally begins around 7 p.m. during the fall/winter season and 8 p.m. after the time changes in April through the summer. It is held near the Meadow Trading Post in the campfire area. The program begins with a sing-a-long led by a Disney Cast Member and then a marshmallow-roast around two campfire rings.

Chip and Dale Singalong

Chip and Dale Campfire

You can bring your own marshmallows or buy them at the Chuck Wagon. They even sell kits so you can make s'mores! Chip & Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs. The sing-a-long lasts about 40 minutes. Then a Disney animated features or two is shown on a large outdoor screen. Seating is available in bleachers or on benches.

Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch at The Settlement, near the dock and marina. All those horses you see working at the Magic Kingdom are stabled at Tri-Circle-D Ranch and you can visit them in their home.

Tri Circle D Ranch

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You may see a blacksmith shoeing Cinderella's Ponies or the horses seen on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. There is a nice visual tribute to horses from Disney movies and an amazing steam calliope is on display. Children 2 to 8 years old, weighing no more than 80 pounds, can ride a pony - Cost $5.

Pony ride

Go fishing, catch and release fishing is permitted in canals and lakes. Do not fish from the bridges; that's a no-no. Forgot your fishing tackle? No problem, you can rent tackle and purchase bait at the Bike Barn.

Fishing

If you prefer fishing on the lake or just want to tour Bay Lake head to the Fort Wilderness Marina (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). You can book a chartered largemouth bass fishing excursion on Bay Lake, which includes a professional guide, refreshments (soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate & water), fishing gear and a dozen shiners. For more details look here. If you want to tour Bay Lake you can rent a 21' Suntracker Pontoon Boat ($34.74/half hr) or try one of the Mercury Water Mice ($21.59/half hour; $27.23/45 minutes; $30.05/hour).

Pontoon boats

Sea Raycers

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is the most popular and longest-running dinner show at Walt Disney World. It has been running for almost 40 years! The show is held at 4:00, 6:15 and 8:30 p.m. nightly at Pioneer Hall.

Pioneer Hall

Reservations are a must and can be made up to 180 days in advance. Your dinner will include fresh baked bread, tossed green salad with vinaigrette dressing, country fried chicken, smoked BBQ pork ribs, mashed potatoes, baked beans, strawberry shortcake, coffee, soft drinks, hot and iced tea, unlimited beer and wine. While you enjoy your all you can eat dinner, you are entertained by good old fashion country & western singers, dancers and comedians. Be prepared for slapstick comedy, corny jokes and lots of singing and dancing " it's a rootin' tootin' good time! There are several seating and pricing options.

Hoop Dee Doo Revue

There's another dinner show too! Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-can-eat Disney Character dance party with Mickey, Minnie and friends. This kid-friendly family dinner is held from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. each Thursday and Saturday in the middle of a covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness directly behind Pioneer Hall.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

The buffet includes smoked BBQ chicken, BBQ pork ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, cowboy beans, macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob along with salads, breads and desserts. There is live music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and plenty of fun for kids of all ages. Reservations are required.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

 Backyard BBQ Roping

Try your hand at horseshoes, shuffleboard, tetherball, basketball and beach volleyball near the Meadows Trading Post. Let your children climb, slide and play at outdoor activity areas located at Pioneer Hall, the Meadows Recreation area, Creekside Meadow and the Marina/Beach area.

Take the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway Tour. You can join a group of up to 10 people and take a Segway X2 Personal Transporter to view the scenery of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Wilderness Lodge. The two-hour tour costs $85.00 and some discounts may be available. Details are here.

Segway X2 Personal Transporter

If you are at Walt Disney World in October or December you are in for a treat. Set aside an evening and head to Fort Wilderness. Take a walking tour, rent a golf cart or book one of the special seasonal wagon or carriage rides. Whatever way you choose to travel you will be amazed. Many of the campers decorate their campsites for Halloween and Christmas and most of the displays are lavish! It's an easy walk from the marina to the camping loops where you will see the décor. Words don't really describe it but these few pictures and a video will.

Halloween Sites 1

Halloween Sites 2

Halloween Sites 3

Christmas Sites 1

Christmas Sites 2

Christmas Sites 3

Christmas Sites 4

Here's a 5 minute video showing the amazing display a camper created for his campsite! Click on the arrow and watch it to the end!

I'll wrap up this blog with suggestions for two wonderful ways to end your day at Walt Disney World.

1. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride. Board an old-fashioned, horse-drawn wagon in front of Pioneer Hall for a 45-minute scenic tour around Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Wagons hold up to 35 guests and rides depart at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. nightly ($8.00 Adult; $5.00 Child (ages 3-9) Children under 3 are complimentary). For a more romantic experience with your “special someone” try a relaxing 25-minute horse-drawn carriage ride through Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The small carriages hold 2 adults and 1 small child while larger carriages hold 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 small children. The first ride leaves at 6 p.m. and the last ride departs 9:30 p.m. The 25-minute ride costs $45. See more details here.

Carriage Ride

2. Watch Wishes from the beach. Stop by Crockett's Tavern and pick up your preferred adult beverage then head to the beach area beside the marina dock. Find a table and chairs on the deck or stretch out on the lounge chairs along the beach. Soon you will hear Jiminy Cricket narrate the show; the sound track to Wishes is piped in for your enjoyment. You won't see the low fireworks on Cinderella Castle but the higher altitude effect are reflected off Bay Lake and it's an awesome display. Don't rush off, at 9:45 the Electric Water Pageant sails past with the nightly show. WOW!

Electric Water Pageant

No matter what Disney resort you are calling home during your vacation you must visit Fort Wilderness. It is so much more than a campground . . . and you have to see it to believe it!

Walt Disney closed his remarks at the opening of Disneyland by saying, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." The promise Walt made over 57 years ago has certainly come true and I hope the same imaginative growth continues at Disney resorts around the world. This commitment to continuous growth and change in the parks ensures that there will always be new and exciting things to do "outside the parks" as well.

So that's a snapshot, a mere sampling, of some of the things you can do at Walt Disney World when you “think outside the parks”. As I said before, there are many more activities I haven't mentioned. I'm not sure Carol and I will ever be able to get them all done, but we will sure have fun trying!

What “outside the park” things do you enjoy most?



P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

April 14, 2012

Disney World's Fort Wilderness Campground is for horse lovers

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Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets at Walt Disney World is Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. This is especially true for horse lovers. My family has stayed at the campground several times and enjoyed many of the outdoors activities, but there are some great equestrian experiences that you can take advantage of without staying there.

Younger children can enjoy a short pony ride at the Tri-Circle-D Farm for $5. No reservations are necessary; just show up between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and you can participate. (Hours are subject to seasonal changes.) This is a great before-dinner activity if you've booked a meal at the campground -- the ranch is located close to the restaurants, kids don't really get dirty, and it's not time-consuming.

A cast member will lead a pony to a small platform, where the child waits. Then, the animal stands patiently as a parent helps the child climb into the saddle. After guests take photos, it's time to go. Parents are asked to lead the ponies on a short, self-guided trail around the stables.

To participate, kids cannot weigh more than 80 pounds or be taller than 48 inches. My daughter is too tall for this activity now, but when she did ride, she was thrilled to be paired with a white pony "like Hannah Montana's."

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The Tri-Circle-D Farm also is home to the Percheron and Belgian draft horses that pull the trolleys down Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom. Plus, there is a blacksmith shop on the premises and “Smithy,” who maintains the horseshoe needs of the Fort Wilderness trail-ride horses and streetcar teams. Guests are invited to walk through the working barn and talk with cast members who may be caring for the horses and ponies.

Guided trail rides

Older riders can join a 45-minute guided trail ride, which leaves from the Trail Blaze Corral near the parking lot at the front of the campground. This is a pretty tame experience, with horses trained to stay single file, for the most part. Riders must be at least 48 inches tall and 9 years old and can weigh no more than 250 pounds. The price is $46 per person and current times are 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance by calling 407-939-7529.

Horse-drawn carriages

Horse-drawn carriage rides depart from Crockett's Tavern near Pioneer Hall each night from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Each carriage holds four adults or two adults and three small children for the 25-minute rides throughout the property. Cost is $45 for the carriage, which can be reserved up to 180 days in advance at 407-WDW-PLAY.

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For Halloween and Christmas, there are holiday-themed carriage rides. Last year, we tried the Haunted Carriage Ride for the first time. It was scary enough to give my kids at ages 7 and 9 a thrill, but not intense enough to spook them.

The driver started the telling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” before a recorded narrator picked up the tale, as the carriages traveled through the trees and along the shore of Bay Lake, stopping at key places mentioned in the story. For my children, there was only nervous anticipation leading up to the appearance of the headless horseman. However, the woods can be dark, depending on what time your ride occurs, and that can certainly affect small children.

The horse-drawn carriages are magically converted to sleighs for holiday rides through the grounds of the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Campground. Listen to Christmas music, see the holiday lights and get cozy under a blanket -- if it's cold enough in Florida -- during your ride.

Seasonal carriage rides have an increased price of $60 per carriage, and ride hours are usually a little different. Reservations can be made 90 days in advance.

Fort Wilderness also offers two nightly group wagon rides, which are $8 per adult and $5 for children ages 3 to 9. The rides usually depart at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. from Pioneer Hall and no reservations are needed. Groups of 30 can rent their own wagon ride for $300 an hour.

To read more about the carriage rides, see the AllEars.net page http://allears.net/btp/carriage.htm#fw3 For details about Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, check out this AllEars.net page http://allears.net/acc/faq_fw.htm

February 7, 2012

Disney Fun With Your Pets

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My wife Carol and I have been Disney fans for decades, but did you know that our dogs, Zak and Blue, are Disney fans too? They just love to head to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with us. It's a very pet-friendly place. It's Disney's only pet-friendly resort.

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The 788 campsites are arranged in “loops”; each loop is a road which exits the main road and contains twenty or more campsites. When we first started visiting our favorite campground there were only a few “pet-friendly” loops, but now seven of the twenty camping loops welcome pets. And it's not just dogs, there are plenty of cats and we've also seen some unexpected pets such as parrots there.

We often see dogs or cats laying on the dash of motor homes as we walk past. Some folks even bring collapsible dog runs with them and set them up on their site so the pets are not tied all the time.

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Naturally there are rules, but they all make perfect sense. Pets must be leashed and controlled and you must “pick-up” after them. There are areas set aside for “pet walks” and there are areas, such as around the comfort stations, where pets are not allowed. These areas are all well marked.

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Is there a fee for pets who camp with you? Yes, Disney charges $5.00 per day if you camp with pets. That is a flat fee; it is not $5.00 per pet. The one fee covers all your pets. What do you get for your five dollars? Quite a bit . . . it really is a bargain! The pet facilities are excellent.

The pet walk areas near each of the pet-friendly loops are spacious and scenic. Most of them run beside one of the canals that criss-cross the campground on their way to Bay Lake. There are handy bag dispensers at the entrance to the pet walk area and a few more located along the walk. Most people are conscientious and pick up anything the little dears leave behind.

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Fort Wilderness has plenty of wildlife to keep your pet's attention. We've encountered squirrels, armadillos, turtles, deer, wild turkeys and even a few small gators! Fortunately the dogs didn't notice the gators!

The off-leash doggie park, called “Waggin' Trails”, is a fairly recent addition and it has become a favourite for our pups! It is located beside the 300 camping loop and opened in 2010. Our boys just love to head over and romp with their new BFF's. There's always someone new for them to play with.

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Zak and Blue just love Fort Wilderness because they get so much more attention there than they do at home. While we are at “The Fort” we tend to walk them more than we normally do and they really enjoy their time along the canals and at Waggin' Trails. Of course they also enjoy just walking around whatever loop we are camped in. There are always new scents to sniff and other dogs to meet. Many of the other pet owners come out to chat with Carol and I so the pets have a visit too! Often there are extra cookie treats for them as we make our way around the loop.

Zak and Blue really enjoy riding on the golf carts we rent. The first few times on a cart they were both nervous but they've learned that a ride on the cart often means a trip to the dog park and now they are anxious to hop aboard. Sometimes there's too much activity for the dogs and they just can't keep up!

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What they really enjoy though are the “extra special” activities. The dogs have enjoyed some unique experiences over the years; they never know quite what to expect next.

A few years ago there was a special “Pet Day” at Downtown Disney and we took Zak and Zoë.

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They loved meeting Santa Claus who was waiting beside The World of Disney Store to meet four-legged Disney fans!

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In years past we would sometimes take the dogs to the theme parks and leave them in the kennels which were conveniently located near the entrance to each park.

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This gave the pups a great opportunity to mingle with their favourite Disney characters.

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They have even gotten to meet some of our good friends from the Disney fan community.

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The kennels at each park were closed recently and kennel services are now provided by Best Friends Pet Care from their new location on Bonnet Creek Parkway across from Port Orleans Riverside. They offer a full slate of services including grooming and pampering!

The highlight of the year for pets at Fort Wilderness has to be the annual “Pet Costume Parade” held on Halloween. It's a blast for the four-legged participants and the two-legged ones as well. There are usually about one hundred dogs and two or three very wary cats.

The pets parade past the judging table beside the Waggin' Trails park and then stroll through the 300 loop where adoring crowds of campers applaud them.

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The parade ends inside the off-leash park where prizes are awarded in a variety of categories.

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Zak and Blue have a howling good time at the Costume Parade!

Having the dogs with us changes our vacation experience in a very positive way too! When we fly down to WDW and stay in some other Disney resort we tend to spend long hours in the parks. We head out early and stay late, trying to cram as much as we can into every day. Having the boys with us forces us to take a break and attend to their needs. So when they're along we normally spend the morning at a theme park and then head back to The Fort for the afternoon. After spending time with the dogs and relaxing for a while we head back to a park for the evening. It's so much more relaxed for us . . . we savour the Disney experience rather than try to cram it all in! Aaah " so nice!

So if you think you might like to treat your dogs to a Disney vacation, it's easy to do. Make a reservation at Fort Wilderness and come join us.

Zak and Blue would be happy to show your pets around their favorite place!

November 9, 2010

Trail's End Restaurant - Ft. Wilderness - Walt Disney World

Andrew Rossi

The Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground tends to be overlooked by many guests, but it is a really interesting place to visit especially if you have never seen it before. It is a truly unique location within Disney World.

Fort Wilderness features variety of fun and exciting offerings found nowhere else at Disney with everything from horseback riding and archery lessons to making s'mores with Chip and Dale at a nightly sing-along campfire.

Like any other Disney resort, Fort Wilderness also offers a variety of dining opportunities. Mickey's Backyard Barbeque (held seasonally on Thursdays and Saturdays only) features an all-you-can-eat buffet along with a live country band, line-dance instructor, and appearances by your favorite Disney characters.

The Hoop-De-Doo Musical Review has three shows nightly in Pioneer Hall at 5:00, 7:15, and 9:30 featuring singing, dancing, and comedic skits along with pails (literally) of American favorites such as fried chicken and barbeque ribs.

But if you are looking for just a regular sit-down meal, Fort Wilderness has a restaurant that tends to be overshadowed by these other dining experiences. The Trail's End Restaurant may not be the most glamorous or well-known dining location at Disney World, but it is definitely a restaurant worth checking out if you are visiting Fort Wilderness.

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness


Overview:

The Trail's End Restaurant is located adjacent to Pioneer Hall in a section of Fort Wilderness known as “The Settlement.”

One of the reasons why this restaurant may not be very well known among Disney guests is that it is somewhat out of the way and it can take a while to get there. From Magic Kingdom, you can take a boat to Fort Wilderness followed by a short walk from the dock to the restaurant. From any of the other parks, however, Disney buses drop guests off at “The Outpost” near the front entrance of Fort Wilderness and from there you must get on an internal resort bus that will take you to The Settlement. Because of its isolated location, Trail's End probably receives most of its business from guests staying at Fort Wilderness.

Up until recently Trail's End has featured an all-you-care-to-eat buffet throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast buffet featured traditional items such as scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and Mickey waffles. The lunch and dinner buffets included, among other things, the same fried chicken and barbeque ribs served at the Hoop-De-Doo Review. While the restaurant still offers the same breakfast and dinner buffets, Disney has decided to try out a new a la carte menu for lunch and I decided to go check it out first-hand.

Atmosphere:

I can best describe the atmosphere of the Trail's End Restaurant as casual-rustic. The restaurant has a very laid back and informal feel that makes it a great dining location for the entire family. At the same time, the restaurant's remote location means that it is far less crowded than many other dining locations found inside the theme parks. This makes it a great alternative for those guests looking for a quiet meal (especially at lunchtime) and to escape the hustle and bustle of the parks for a little while.

The restaurant's theme is that of an old-western, frontier tavern or hunting lodge and the walls are adorned with many items you would typically expect to find in this setting. Tea kettles, pots and pans, snowshoes, horseshoes, washboards, saws, ceramic jugs, and even a wooden canoe are just a few of the period pieces that lend a sense of authenticity and history to the restaurant.

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

And, of course, what frontier tavern or hunting lodge would be complete without an assortment of wild animals on display?

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness


However, I was a little disappointed to find that the attention to detail was not at the same level as you find in many other Disney dining locations. This is unfortunate because the restaurant's frontier theme and wilderness setting lend themselves so well to a completely immersive dining experience.

While the restaurant has a definite overarching theme, I felt that it was not carried out as far as it could have been. For example, the ceiling is supported by wooden beams meant to give the restaurant a log cabin feel, but this is betrayed by white ceiling tiles and a generic tile floor. It does not really make you feel as though you are actually eating in a rustic frontier tavern. While many other Disney restaurants have the unique ability to transport you to a completely different time and place through highly themed and detailed décors, the Trail's End Restaurant falls a little short in this area.

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness


The Menu:

The main reason I wanted to try Trail's End was to experience the new a la carte lunch. It is a menu that offers some traditional Southern favorites as well as some more unique items. The menu is made up primarily of old-fashioned comfort food, with such classic Americana offerings as grits, hush puppies, and fried chicken. While it may not be a gourmet meal, Trail's End features home-style food that is simple but satisfyingly good.

Appetizers are limited to Beef Chili with Beans ($6.49), a Mixed Greens Salad ($5.49), and the Soup of the day ($6.99), but the entrée choices are far more interesting.

There are a good variety of entrees that offer something for everyone, whether looking for a hearty meal or something on the lighter side. In many cases the accompaniments and sides are just as intriguing as the main course itself.

The Spicy Grilled Shrimp and Andouille Sausage ($16.99) is served over cheese grits, the Grilled Pork Chop ($17.99) is accompanied by Hoppin John (a southern version of rice and beans), and the Fried Green Tomatoes ($15.99) come with fried green beans and sweet potato fries.

The menu also features an Angus Chili Cheeseburger ($13.99) topped with chili, cheddar, and Swiss cheese and served with sweet potato fries as well as the Angus Chuck Bacon Cheeseburger ($12.99) topped with bacon and cheddar and also accompanied by sweet potato fries.

On the lighter side there is the Fresh Berry Salad with Chicken ($12.99) tossed with raspberry vinaigrette, fresh berries, blue cheese and candied walnuts. However, the most interesting, and unusual, option on the menu is the Fried Chicken and Waffles ($13.49), which my server explained was one of the more popular lunch choices.

The dessert choices are few but interesting nonetheless and include Wilderness S'mores ($4.79), a dark chocolate mousse layered with graham crackers and topped with toasted marshmallows drizzled with chocolate sauce, a Warm Sticky Bun Sundae ($4.99) layered with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, and whipped cream, and Angel Food Cake ($6.99) with fresh berries and raspberry sorbet.

For my meal I chose the Pan-seared Catfish ($14.99) which came served with coleslaw and corn-chive hush puppies. As someone who grew up in New England, this type of food is something far different than what I am typically used to and while I found it to be somewhat more exotic, someone from the South would probably think it rather commonplace.

I had never had catfish before and it is actually a very mild flavored fish. The fish was pan-seared perfectly so that it was golden brown on the outside but still moist, light, and flaky on the inside. The catfish came coated with cornmeal that provided an added texture to the dish that was more coarse and crunchy than a flour or breadcrumb coating, but I felt it was a little dry.

The fish would not have had much flavor if not for a spicy horseradish sauce that accompanied it and provided a much needed kick to the dish. The sauce was very strong and definitely not for the faint of heart or people who are not fans of horseradish. The hush puppies served alongside the catfish were very soft and light, but a little dry. Mixed inside the hush puppies were pieces of corn and bell peppers that provided some added flavor and a little spiciness. Overall, the catfish and hush puppies were both good, but I was disappointed with the coleslaw because it was very dry and had little flavor.

Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

For dessert I decided on the Warm Sticky Bun Sundae. This was definitely the highlight of my meal. The dessert features a pecan sticky bun topped with vanilla ice cream, a combination that I had never seen before but one that works really well. The sticky bun and the vanilla ice cream present two totally different flavors and textures, but they compliment each other perfectly. The sticky bun itself was nice and soft, and although it was served warm I wish it had been a little warmer. The pecans added even more texture and flavor to the dessert in addition to the whipped cream and caramel that topped the sundae. The dessert may be simple, but it was something unique. The combination of a sticky bun and ice cream may seem unusual at first, but the two paired together to create a very tasty dessert.


Trail's End Restaurant  - Ft. Wilderness

Service:

It was only recently that Trail's End made the switch from a buffet lunch to an a la carte menu and I could tell that the servers were still getting used to the change. Up until this point, the restaurant had always featured a buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and thus a conventional sit-down meal is a major change for the servers. The service was a little slow and, although it did not happen to me personally, I did witness some confusion in orders coming out of the kitchen and meals being brought to the wrong tables.

That being said, I could tell that all the servers were trying really hard and doing the best they could to adapt to this changed lunch format. I was very happy with my server. While he was still getting used to the new menu and had a sheet of notes providing descriptions of the different dishes, he really went out of his way to make sure that everything about my meal was satisfactory. He was a grandfather-like figure who referred to me “partner” and seemed genuinely interested in how I was enjoying everything. This is a quality that I noticed among all of the servers in that they seemed to be very personable and really cared about the service they were providing.

Dining on a Budget:

Trail's End is actually a very affordable dining location for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Breakfast features an all-you-care-to-eat buffet for $15.99. That is quite a bargain when compared to the Crystal Palace breakfast buffet for $20.99 or breakfast at Chef Mickey's for $26.99. While Trail's End breakfast may not feature Disney characters or have a selection of food as elaborate or extensive as these other restaurants, it still offers a hearty and filling meal with many traditional breakfast favorites.

Likewise, the all-you-care-to-eat dinner buffet for $22.99 may be one of the best values on Disney property, especially when you consider that dinner at Chef Mickey's costs $34, Boma's dinner buffet is $30, and the dinner buffet at Cape May Café is $26.99.

Again, I am not saying that Trail's End is on the same level as these other restaurants, but it is a much more affordable option if you are looking for a buffet meal. The a la carte lunch also features many reasonably priced selections, with most entrée items on the menu ranging from $12.99 to $14.99. One of the best values on the menu may be the Chicken and Waffles for $13.49 because the portion size looked to be absolutely huge.

The Overall Experience:

I am the kind of person who always likes to try different things and this is especially true in regards to restaurants. The Trail's End Restaurant is not one of the most popular or well-known dining locations at Disney World, but just because a restaurant is not crowded all the time does not mean that it is not good. It may not be the best meal that I have had at Disney, but the food was still good and featured large portion sizes at a reasonable price. I am definitely glad I tried the Trail's End Restaurant at least once and, in fact, there are still several other items on the lunch menu that I wish to taste.

While I will probably not purposely make a special trip to go back to the restaurant again, if I ever find myself at Fort Wilderness I will not hesitate to eat there. Even though it may not be one of my “must-do” Disney restaurants and its isolated location makes it a little bit of a hassle for most guests to get to, the Trail's End Restaurant is definitely worth a visit for anyone staying at Fort Wilderness or if you are looking for a dining experience that is a little different and off the beaten path.

Have you dined at Trail's End recently? Share your experience and read what others have to say! AllEars Rate and Review Trail's End Restaurant

Read Andrew's first blog, a review of House of Blues in Downtown Disney.

February 19, 2009

Disney’s Fort Wilderness -- DizneyMike’s World

Looking for something to do on the day you arrive or the day that you are leaving? Or if you and the kids just need a break from the parks?

Well, a fun thing to do is to take Disney transportation, or your car, over to Disney's Fort Wilderness. It's a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours; and it free!

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

The “Outpost” is where the parking lot is and where the Disney buses will drop you off. It's also where you will find the Fort Wilderness Kennel and the Tri-Circle-D Ranch " Trail Rides.

From the “Outpost” you will take a Disney bus to the “Settlement”. It's a short bus ride that travels on roads with campsites on either side. Every time I take that bus ride all the people I see seem to be having lots of fun camping out. I've never done it but it sure looks like a really fun thing to do.

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Once the bus arrives at the “Settlement” you are free to roam the property. I suggest you take the short walk over to the Tri-Circle-D Farm. Here is where all the horses used to pull Cinderella's coach and the trolley's on Main Street are kept and cared for.

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

The kids can even have a pony ride (for a price).

Fort Wilderness

If you are lucky you could see the blacksmith in action or Cast Members washing and grooming some of the horses. This is an actual working farm so it's pretty neat to see it in action.

Anyway, from the ranch head over by Pioneer Hall. That's where they have the Hoop Dee Doo Review every night. Also there's a very good restaurant there called Trails End. It's an all you can eat buffet. The fried chicken there is finger lickin good!! The Settlement Trading Post is where campers can purchase food and souvenirs.

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness


Fort Wilderness Landing is where you can rent boats or take a boat over to the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Contemporary Resort or Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort. In a future blog I'll take about things you can do if you decide to head over to one of these hotels.

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness

Fort Wilderness


My recommendation is if you have some time head over to Fort Wilderness. You won't be disappointed!

I hope this blog helped you as you plan your next trip to Walt Disney World.

Well, that's all for now. As my good friend says “see ya real soon”….DizneyMike

Mike Bachand (aka DizneyMike) is a long time Disney Enthusiasts. Over the years Mike and family made numerous trips down to WDW from their home in Massachusetts. Now Mike and his wife live year round in the Orlando area. He is a Florida Annual Passholder who visits WDW on an average of once a week. Besides his love for WDW, Mike has a large collection of Disney books, figurines and ornaments and is a former Disney Cast Member working as a Concierge at the Contemporary Resort.

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About Ft. Wilderness

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Ft. Wilderness category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Boardwalk Villas is the previous category.

Grand Floridian is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.