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