Trip Report 2013: Day 3, beginning at Fort Wilderness

Before we officially start Day 3, let’s backtrack a tiny bit to the night before…

I haven’t talked a whole lot about our campsite yet, other than putting up the tent. However, there isn’t actually a whole lot to say about it.  Every campsite gets a sand/gravel patch with a little driveway leading into it for your car (should you have one).  As long as you have a hammer to get the tent pegs in, the ground material is very easy to set up in. (Don’t laugh. I didn’t know I needed a hammer on my first trip and I had to be rescued by neighbours who knew more about setting up a tent than I did. :P)  Many of the sites also have small trash cans and even some recycling stands with different partitions for newspapers, bottles/cans, etc.  All sites also have a picnic table and a water hookup with hose; this is super useful, as a lot of other campsites I’ve been to don’t have these.

Home Sweet Home! (Image from Wikipedia)

Home Sweet Home! (Image from Wikipedia)

We were also very close to the comfort station, right around the corner, which was a big help when we got in after dark that night. “Comfort station”, by the way, means bathrooms and showers.  There are also electrical outlets, suitable for hair dryers and charging cell phones, AND – best part – they are AIR-CONDITIONED.  So they ain’t kidding about the comfort part. 🙂

Exterior of a Comfort Station. This is from http://bigbrian-nc.livejournal.com/11409.html and used without permission. (He's got a great review post there, go read it.)

Exterior of a Comfort Station. This is from http://bigbrian-nc.livejournal.com/11409.html and used without permission. (He’s got a great review post there, go read it.)

D had a real knack for finding squashed things (bugs mainly) outside every comfort station we went into. She thought it was the same one each time.

And this here is the interior (partially) of a comfort station, courtesy of this page: http://home.hiwaay.net/~jlspence/photogal.htm

And this here is the interior (partially) of a comfort station, courtesy of this page: http://home.hiwaay.net/~jlspence/photogal.htm

When we got back, around 8:30 or 9 or so, I hadn’t yet blown up the air mattress (because I R SMRT), so I did that and then D got to carry the flashlight over to the comfort station and we brushed our teeth and got ready for bed.

So I wasn’t able to tell if I had just not inflated the mattress properly or if it had a hole in it, but boy did that thing deflate quickly once we were on it.  The worst was not just that it was going flat – I’m willing to sleep on the ground – but the way it was inflated in SOME spots but not others, and if you moved at all, it readjusted the inflation areas. GAH. Plus I had not put any blankets down beneath it – dumb move. Didn’t sleep well for the third night in a row.

Even better: we were ready for bed by about 9:30, which isn’t TOO bad for D though I’d prefer 8:30… and it took her a while to wind down, because she’s hyperactive and her brain is always going a mile a minute unless she’s EXHAUSTED.  Well, she’d drifted off and I finally was getting there too, and then the first strains of the Electric Water Pageant floated gently and unmistakably into our tent. XD  So I guess we probably fell asleep somewhere closer to 10:30 or even later, in the end.

The next morning we kept up the trip’s unintended tradition of getting up before 6am. 😛  Not really on purpose – I didn’t wake her, we were just both up and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I HAD  actually planned on getting up early though, because I wanted to try to get a run in… I hadn’t factored in the late sunrise so it was pitch black!  I told D we would go on a walk instead, so after pulling on some clothes and using the bathrooms we walked around, bringing the flashlight.  We killed about a half an hour and it was finally starting to get light by the time we got back.

Because I'm at work and can't find my own map that they gave me. This is from Disneydrawingboard.com.

Because I’m at work and can’t find my own map that they gave me. This is from Disneydrawingboard.com.

During the walk, I managed to figure out where the Meadow Trading Post was – it’s really tough to figure out based on the map, which I actually did have with me – and although it wasn’t open yet, we needed to pick up a few things because neither one of us had our toothbrushes.  Believe it or not. 😛  So I decided we’d be needing to pop by there on the way out to Epcot.

One of my regrets about the shortage of time on this trip was that, especially due to our resort-hopping, we really didn’t have time to explore ANY of the places we stayed at fully.  Most of our downtime between parks was taken up checking in and sometimes setting up the tent.  Next time we come to WDW, our first day we will just hang out at the resort rather than head immediately to the parks.  All the resorts deserve a little bit of exploration, and Fort Wilderness is one of the BEST ones to do that with!

Well, anyway, at this point we got showers and dressed, ate some light breakfasts (mostly muffins) and set about taking the tent down.  I’m not as good at that as I am at putting it up, so it didn’t QUITE fit into the bag, but that’s OK… I only had to stick it into the trunk of the car. 🙂

The Meadow Trading Post; photo by Jack Spence at AllEars.Net, used without permission (and I will remove it if asked).

The Meadow Trading Post; photo by Jack Spence at AllEars.Net, used without permission (and I will remove it if asked).

Interior of Meadow Trading Post; photo from the useful site CB4GO.com (http://cb4go.com/Free/Attractions/AttractionsDisneyWorldOrlandoResortsFtWildernessCampground.htm), used without permission

Interior of Meadow Trading Post; photo from the useful site CB4GO.com (http://cb4go.com/Free/Attractions/AttractionsDisneyWorldOrlandoResortsFtWildernessCampground.htm), used without permission

Once we’d loaded up for the day, we drove over to the Meadow Trading Post – which had pretty much just opened – and picked up the toothbrushes and a couple of little souvenirs, namely a box of different teas that I’d tried out on our last trip.  They’re quite good and my husband loves tea, so I decided to pick up another.   So here’s a tip: Don’t forget that the Meadow Trading Post (and the Settlement Trading Post) is there.  Most things that you may forget to bring, you can pick up at the shop and it’s not really your standard gift shop; it’s more of a general store.  There’s a variety of food, basic first aid items, diapers, and other necessaries.  Are they more expensive than they would be outside Disney property?  Oh my, yes.  But I didn’t feel like I was being gouged.  There was a markup but it was not excessive.

The two women who were working the store were very nice and noticed D was wearing her Captain EO shirt, so they made a point of chatting with her about it.  She told them that we were going to Epcot that day and that we’d be seeing it (this is after we had agreed repeatedly that we would NOT be seeing it, because the Supreme Leader makes her nervous in 3D, so it was not on our schedule).  They also told her alllll about the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and how she really should go to that – thanks, ladies. 😉

When we got back into the car D discovered that there was a tiny frog on the side door.  We named him Kermit. 🙂  Then we checked out and headed off for a day at Epcot!  D had said she wanted to ride the horses, and I felt bad that we hadn’t even so much as *seen* them yet, but I already talked about my regrets.  One thing we DID see while driving to the campsite the day before: a deer running along a trail!  We see deer at home all the time but somehow, at WDW, I consider it far more magical and exciting. 😀  Kind of like, you know… EVERYTHING at Disney!

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Disney on the Cheap: My efforts to get to WDW this fall

January 2011 at Hollywood Studios

January 2011 at Hollywood Studios

The last time I took my family to WDW was also the first time – not for me, but for both of my kids. It was in late January/early February of 2011, and my daughter was about to turn 5. My son was just about 1 1/2. I’d waited years to take them, to make sure that my daughter would actually remember at least part of the trip.

After it was over I decided that my next trip would be just me and my daughter, a short camping trip similar to one I’d done for my 30th birthday all on my lonesome. I was aiming square at late September, 2012, with thoughts of tossing Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in there too; but real life came and bit us in the butt, and long story short, the not-insignificant amount of cash I had saved up went to bills.

It happens. I mean, I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t pretty upset, but it happens. Life goes on and Disney World is still there.

So now, I’m starting from scratch and trying again to save up the money to get my daughter on a trip to enjoy as much as possible in 3 1/2 days on-property at Disney. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having the whole family, no complaints! But my daughter and I, we bond over WDW. I want to take her while she is young, to have a time just with her, and so that we can do whatever she wants without having to take everyone else’s needs into account.

So with that in mind, I’m planning a trip I might not get to take, trying to squeeze as much savings out of every part of it.

I thought, since a lot of people would love to go to Disney if they can afford it, I’d write a few posts talking about how I estimate my costs and how I try to whittle them down… My best suggestions in general, and how I am applying them specifically.

Part 1: Location, Location, Location!! Aka, Pick the right resort.

This is obvious. Look at your needs. First need is, do you NEED to stay on-property? (Personally, I do.) Depending on various factors and what you’re willing to sacrifice, plus the time of year that you go, you can get a room relatively close to Disney for very cheap. VERY, VERY cheap. I’m talking $30 a night cheap at certain seasons.

What you need to know: these are not the nicest hotels. They may smell funny. They may not be the safest-looking places.

A second need is, how long is your trip? What kind of trip is this? Is it going to be a quick-fix vacation – you know, been there before, will go again, but need a touch of Disney magic when I can get it? Or is this your Big Family Vacation that you’ve been saving for for 5 years? I’ve done both. 🙂 These two can lead you to VERY different places.

Third, who is coming with you? This is actually related to both of the first two questions, because obviously your needs are different if you are travelling solo or with an adult partner, versus if you’re travelling with kids or extended family. This can influence both whether you want to stay on-property AND the type of vacation you’re on.

And fourth, how much time do you want to spend in your hotel, and what aspects are most important to you? For instance – free breakfast? Free WiFi? Pool? Which of these is a make-or-break when selecting a hotel?

So none of these needs stand on their own. They all really dovetail with each other and you need to look at them all to paint a picture. Once you’ve got that picture, take a look at your options:

Firstly, on- or off-site hotel rooms? A quick look at non-Disney hotels:

If a hotel's exterior photo emphasizes a small patch of flowers over the hotel itself, don't have high expectations.  Image courtesy of Expedia.com.

If a hotel’s exterior photo emphasizes a small patch of flowers over the hotel itself, don’t have high expectations. Image courtesy of Expedia.com.

If you are travelling by yourself (or I should say, without children), and you will only be in your hotel for sleeping, and you are not easily wigged out by seedy-looking places, you can look into the cheap hotels I mentioned and spend a relatively miniscule part of your budget on your lodgings.  One note: read the reviews of the hotel first.  Know what you are getting into.

You can also upgrade, of course. Old Towne Kissimmee has a lot of nice hotel options. My first trip, I stayed in a Comfort Inn Suites that was really pleasant! Good (free!) breakfast, nice pool, lovely rooms. It lacks the Disney theming but in terms of room quality it was around a Moderate, but for less. Plus they have suites – BIG plus if you are travelling with a larger group (more than 4 people) and the Disney Family Suites are a bit past your price range.

Image courtesy of Expedia.com

Image courtesy of Expedia.com

Old Towne Kissimmee is closer than I thought it was to the Disney resort. We took a shuttle each day and it went to so many different hotels that I didn’t realize it’s very simple to get there. In fact, if you go to the grocery store in Celebration, then turn left out of that parking lot and left again at the light, you’ll reach the Comfort Inn Suites pretty quickly. (Of course that’s if you’re driving yourself; that will be another blog entry…)

The downsides: if you don’t have your own transportation, the shuttles usually only run once a day and pick up from multiple hotels, potentially hurting your options of getting an early start on the day at the parks. Even if you DO have a car, then you’ve got to pay for parking – getting back to the hotel for a nap, if needed, can be a hassle – and especially if you’re at the Magic Kingdom that’s a LOT of walking back to the car at the end of a long day. Good ol’ TTC. 😉

Another point to note is that you can get some great rates at the Downtown Disney hotels, which are technically on Disney property but which are not Walt Disney World owned and operated. This means you can get some luxury digs, without the perks that WDW hotel guests get (no Extra Magic Hours, not eligible for Dining Plans, etc), for less than you’d spend at a similar Disney-owned hotel. This is great if you’re not, like me, looking to make your cost as low as possible so that you can afford it, you’re just looking to save money where you can while still getting the most upscale experience possible.

So which is the better deal off-site: as cheap as possible, or bargain comfort? If travelling with kids, I point out the bargain comfort. I’d always spend a little bit extra to make sure my children are comfortable and safe. On my own though I’d probably go the cheap-as-possible route. 🙂

Now let’s say that, like me, staying ON Disney property is a must if possible. Honestly – I consider that to be a part of the expense just like the tickets. So how do you keep that cost down?

A look at WDW Resort Hotels

I apologize for my lack of realization that I'd be blogging 2 years later when I took my uninteresting photos

I apologize for my lack of realization that I’d be blogging 2 years later when I took my uninteresting photos

There are various options to you. Knowing your discounts is a good one (if you find that overwhelming, a Disney travel agent like myself can always help you! Plug, plug); in addition to Disney’s own room discounts, for instance, there are also discounts available to AAA members, to Florida residents, to Active Duty members of the Military, and more. They can be overwhelming, and some discounts are undeniably better than others; and yes, some of the best ones aren’t available to everyone. Obviously, Disney wants you to stay at the higher-scale resorts, so the discounts are deeper as the rooms get more expensive. But sometimes, shopping around can get you some unexpected cuts in your spending.

So once again you want to look at your needs.  How big is your party?  If it’s over 4 people, at most resorts you’ll either need 2 rooms or a Family Suite.  Cost-wise, you’ll get a better deal by booking two rooms at most resorts than you would for booking a Family Suite – but the suites come with a mini-kitchen, which is its own cost-saving device, since you get the option of cooking your own meals.  This is not an option when you have two standard rooms.

Obviously, you’re going to get the lowest prices on rooms at the Value resorts.  Obviously, these are not $30 hotels, either.  But the nice part is that you WILL get a better experience at a Value resort at Disney than you would get at a cheapie off-property.  Sure, it’s not glamour, but all rooms are still well-themed and well-maintained, comfortable, reasonably spacious, and when you step outside your room you get a TON of things your cheapie hotel in Kissimmee wouldn’t get you.  Food court, play areas, multiple pools, music, shopping, constant buses to the parks, and the check-in area!  Goodness. Honestly, I feel like Disney resorts are among the only non-luxury resorts where you could make an excursion just to see them and still have fun. 🙂

Clearly, what I was getting at before I sidetracked myself there is that again you look at your needs.  What you need for a Disney resort will be different if you are solo tripping than it would if you were touring with your parents and your children.  Weigh your pros and your cons for each, your biggest needs, and make a chart about what you CAN afford vs. what you’d LIKE to afford.  If the two align, then go for it!

My choice: The Campsites at Fort Wilderness

Here's the reception building circa 2008, aka, IWantToBeThere

Fort Wilderness Reception in Spring 2008

To get the lowest possible price on-property at Disney, there is no argument that the Campsites at Fort Wilderness are where to look. You bring your own tent and you can camp for as low as $40 a night, depending on the time of year. If you don’t have a tent you can rent one. The resort itself provides plenty of free entertainment to its guests like outdoor movies, running trails, a petting zoo, and so on. It’s rustic, it’s beautiful, and it’s CHEAP.

This, by the way, is my choice if I didn’t already say so. I’m aiming to camp in early October for 3 nights; the cost after tax is about $160. That’s less than the cost of one night at many of the other resorts. I’ll admit to this: the bus system is a bit on the confusing side because the resort is so HUGE (see my review of the campgrounds from a month or two ago), but they also have a ferry to the Magic Kingdom; I mean, you’re right there.

And by the way, I do have a tent; and this time when I go, I’m going to know how to put that sucker up all by myself. I hope.  As of right now I do have enough money to cover the resort reservations, but that’s not much good without the rest of the costs!

Next time: Looking at Tickets

Review: The Campsites at Fort Wilderness

In 2008 I went on my first (and so far, only) solo trip to WDW. I’d been planning a family trip forever, intended for my daughter’s fifth birthday, and this trip was a surprise treat to myself for my 30th birthday in between that long, long five-year period of no Disney. (It was still nearly another 3 years before our family trip, which is a whole different story.)

At some point I’ll probably write up an abbreviated trip report, but for now I’m going to focus on the digs. The trip happened mainly because I was pricing out options for a vacation – you know, as you do – and though to check out how much it would cost if I stayed in a tent, by myself, for a long weekend. I was startled by how inexpensive it was. The campground and tickets together were only about $400. I just needed to get there, and since it was only me, the airfare was manageable too. So after going back and forth and harboring intense guilt at taking myself to WDW and leaving my family behind, I booked my trip to Fort Wilderness for three nights.

Here's the reception building circa 2008, aka, IWantToBeThere

Here’s the reception building circa 2008, aka, IWantToBeThere

I’ll skip everything that doesn’t pertain directly to the resort. I arrived there on Magical Express at around 10 am or so, did a pre-check in, and left my carry-on bag behind the desk. The staff was very nice and said that it would be no problem to come back in the evening and pick up my luggage there (since I didn’t technically have a “room”, Magical Express would leave my bags at the desk) and be taken care of then. So I went outside to the bus station to catch the bus to Hollywood Studios (which as I’ve said before is my automatic “First-Day Park”).

I took my time waiting, and wandered around. The whole of the resort is, of course, very rustic, and the front area has a stable with plenty of horses and a small attraction that celebrates the horses of Disney films, animated and non. I’ve also heard that the horse who leads the “Boo To You” parade at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, aka the Headless Horseman’s Horse (not to be confused with the Headless Horse), lives here too. I didn’t see him.

Trail rides area circa 2008 with real non-animatronic horsies

Trail rides area circa 2008 with real non-animatronic horsies

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time exploring the resort grounds, just got onto my bus and went, but I had read up on the resort and knew in advance that it’s big. It’s widely spread out and pretty much impossible to easily navigate without the inner bus system that they have in place. You have two inner bus lines that just go from the resort entrances to the various campsite/cabin loops, and the outer bus line which picks up from the entrance and takes you to the various parks. To get to the Magic Kingdom you can take a ferry, which is one of my favourite things about this location.

Choppy pre-storm waters. Oh, Florida.

Choppy pre-storm waters. Oh, Florida.

So, I stayed out at the park until about 8pm or so, then came back so I could set up my tent. (I am SO glad I did not stay for Fantasmic and get back later, because long story short, I totally failed at putting up my tent alone and another family had to come help me. Disney fans ROCK.) When I got back to the resort and went into the reception building to get my luggage and tent, the staff very kindly offered to drive me to my designated camp site instead of leaving me to the mercy of hte inner bus system and trying to find my site alone. I would’ve been SO lost. I had a nice conversation with the young lady who drove me there, as she asked what brought me there and then what my favourite Disney movie was; I ended up going into a lengthy train of thought musing on Ariel and Ursula and how they’re really two sides of the same coin and you could almost HEAR her eyes glazing over, but hey, she asked. 😉

Moving on and ignoring my troubles putting my tent up, once I settled down for the night, it was sooooo nice. The “comfort station” nearby with restrooms and showers was in close walking distance, and you needed the Key to the World card to get inside (both a huge improvement on some campgrounds I’ve been to), and even with plenty of other guests nearby it was peaceful and nice when I settled in. It was raining lightly, and I just lay there, dim lights seeping in through my tent (it was fully dark by now), quiet music and voices nearby, and I thought, I am here.

It was hot though, until about 2 am. I had to wake up and take off my overshirt, then wake up later and put it back on. XD

I woke up to birds and early morning light around 5:30 or so in the morning. My back was raginginly stiff but I felt good. I got up, bit by bit, and dressed to take a run on the jogging trail. I checked the resort map to get an idea of where to go, then headed out and followed the general direction and the signs. I passed by one of the pools – at the time, none were heavily themed, but since I’ve been they have refurbished the main one with more theming – as well as some other campsites, RVs, and barbeque pits and the like. I just walked until I got to the harbour area, which is where Trail’s End Restaurant is, as well as Hoop-De-Doo Review, the beach, and of course the ferries to the MK. From there it’s around the curve a bit and you’ll find the trail. It’s not all that long, only, as I recall, a little over a mile or so one way, and back. I ran all the way to Wilderness Lodge, and even at 6 am, it was *swampy*. I probably couldn’t have run longer even if the trail had been longer. Still, it was a good run, and I loved it because of where I was. 🙂

After getting back, showering, dressing, and eating a quick breakfast I set off to catch the bus to Epcot. Now, I thought to myself “I am young, healthy… I don’t need to wait for the bus to get me to the front of the resort! I’ll just walk there!” And I did. And I made it… but I immediately saw the need for the bus systems within the resort. It was not a walk I’d want to do twice in one day. It was long, not the easiest walk of all time even without the length, and much of it was not even near the campsites so there wasn’t much to see. So if you have no other transportation, and you’re weighing the options of either waiting for a bus or taking the time to walk… wait for the bus. It probably won’t take much longer (might even be shorter) and you can save your energy for walking around Epcot for 14 hours!

That night I got a ride back to the resort from a friend I met up with, and it was past 10 pm. I took the bus from the entrance to the campsite this time, having learned my doggone lesson. 😉 I had another good night but awoke, once again, at dawn. Oh, and: the famous Florida weather had brought up a few thunderstorms that day and like an idiot I had not secured my tent from weather. LESSON LEARNED. So I had to use my jogging clothes to mop up the puddle in my tent, and didn’t manage to jog again. Oh well.

The next morning I took my time getting ready, ate my own breakfast again, then went to catch the ferry to MK.

Here's the beach, actually circa 2011, because I'm cheating

Here’s the beach, actually circa 2011, because I’m cheating

I actually got there before it was running and had to wait a while. Finally a ferry arrived that was going to the Contemporary and they said we could take that. I jumped at the chance to ride the monorail, and took that ferry. It was a quick jaunt and I spent a long, happy day at the MK, getting back well past midnight. This time, coming from the harbour, I walked back to my campsite and had no qualms doing so.

The final morning, I had no park plans since my flight was leaving in the early afternoon; instead I had dining reservations at Trail’s End for breakfast with my friend. The breakfast was fabulous: not only inexpensive, not only incredibly filling, but each table had crayons and colouring sheets of “country”-themed Disney folks like Woody and the cows from “Home on the Range” (as if anyone wants to remember that film). After breakfast, we walked around the grounds, looking at the decor, the animals, and just killing time.

HORSIE!

HORSIE!

We examined the pool and went into one of the supply stores to look for souvenirs; I was still wearing my birthday button and a cast member asked me if I’d had a birthday call from Goofy. Since I hadn’t, they called for me and put him on, and I got a birthday serenade. 🙂

The ONLY downside of this entire trip was on my last morning: when I woke up, I wanted to get an early start so I packed up my tent. Remember I had NO transportation and with the tent, more bags than I could easily carry, so I didn’t love the idea of sticking it all onto the bus to get to the front of the resort. I had been told I could call the reception desk and ask for a pickup of my things when I checked out, so I did, and the CM argued with me about whether or not I really needed a pickup. I told her I had three bags and a heavy tent and would rather not stuff it onto the bus, and she suggested I leave all my things at the site and someone would come by within a few hours.(!) I think maybe it was a misunderstanding of my circumstances, since I’m sure they dont’ have that many people who show up with JUST A TENT, but it was an aberration of otherwise great, great service.

Anyway, after parting ways with my friend I checked out, then hung out waiting for the ME bus to go back to the airport. Sigh. The end result? I am doing this again, as soon as I can get the money together, with my now-seven-year-old daughter. She will LOVE it. I only got to experience a fraction of what Fort Wilderness has to offer, and I hope I can come back again and again and enjoy more of it.

The biggest advice I can give anyone is, be prepared. Know how to set up your tent. *lol* The “sand pits” they advertise are gravel, and not comfortable or easy to get the tent pegs into, so you’ll need a good hammer and a good sleeping mat. Secure your tent when you’re not in it. I had all my valuables with me so I was not worried at all about theft, but didn’t think about weather. 😛 Stuff like that – some things, you will only learn by experience, but always read up on other experiences to get an idea of what to expect.

And beyond that… enjoy it! Disney is probably the best camping experience you can ask for! 😀