Here in the land of make-believe, where theme-park creators can launch you into space, take you on safari and spin you through a fantasyland of flying elephants, there's another...
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Here in the land of make-believe, where theme-park creators can launch you into space, take you on safari and spin you through a fantasyland of flying elephants, there’s another novel experience to be had.
You can camp.
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For more than 30 years, Walt Disney World has quietly run Fort Wilderness, a campground in secluded woods where Spanish moss hangs from live oak trees, forming a vista as perfect as anything dreamed up by a park designer.
However this being theme-park central, the campground is no ordinary place.
There’s a campfire sing-along hosted every night by costumed Chip and Dale.
A concession stand sells a s’mores kit complete with marshmallow roasting sticks (blunt-edge dowels so no one gets hurt).
During the day, guests can splash in pools or try hiking paths, playgrounds and bike or boat rentals. For a hefty fee, they can even hire a guide for a fishing excursion.
There’s a petting zoo.
But do not flap your Gore-tex in Florida’s direction quite yet. The camp has long been a favorite among RVers. Independent camping guides have consistently ranked Fort Wilderness among the best campgrounds in North America.
The campground also offers another Orlando-area rarity: a relative bargain. Campsites start at $36 per night. There are more-pricey cabins for rent, but because they sleep six and include a kitchen, they can be a deal, at least by Disney standards.
It’s more than you’d pay to sleep at most campgrounds, but guests get all the amenities reserved for those staying on Disney property: early park admission, priority restaurant reservations, access to the Disney transportation network and souvenir delivery back to the campground.
If you don’t have camping equipment or don’t want to haul it on a plane, Disney will even rent a tent and cots, and set it up for you. Alternatively, Orlando-area rental companies can deliver an RV to the park.
In fact, the campground has proved so popular that some visitors never bother to visit the theme parks.
That may be because there’s nothing really primitive about the area.
Some visitors rent golf carts to buzz around the 700-acre property. The carts are especially thick around the Trails End Buffet, a country-style eatery where garlic-marinated fried chicken and buffalo are on the menu. Others pick up food at a general store or get a take-out pizza.
More elaborate is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, a slapstick, vaudeville-style dinner show that has attracted Disney World guests since the show opened in 1974.
Another dining experience is the seasonal Mickey Backyard BBQ, featuring line-dancing, games and picnic-style food.
And, of course, there’s this extra Disney touch.
In the evening, as the stars (real) twinkle, a flotilla of barges, actually electrified parade floats, parks in the middle of the lake at the campgrounds, and, to the accompaniment of amplified, synthesized music, the barges glow with thousands of electric lights.
Glittering scenes of friendly sea monsters, animated like old-fashioned Times Square signs, reflect across the water.
It’s all over in a few minutes. Then the music is replaced by the sounds of crickets and bullfrogs (and the hum of electric golf carts) as Disney campers head off to bed.