Ryan Robinson takes you for a ride in the passenger seat of his RV, off the grid, deep among the dramatic rock formations of the Utah Desert. Robinson and friends chill by the fire, tell stories, and of course, rig a one of a kind highline over the Looking Glass Arch in Moab, UT.
When I was a little boy, my mom and dad never had money for family vacations. Thankfully, my grandparents did. They had seven kids and eight grandkids, but they still managed to take all of us to Disney World for four different family reunions.
We stayed in a hotel for most of those trips, but the one I remember most vividly involved a Winnebago RV rental, an epic road trip, and a campsite at Fort Wilderness. My grandfather always recalled that trip as his favorite too. He loved renting the RV and getting out on the open road–and he LOVED the wild west theme at Fort Wilderness. That trip with my grandfather happened over thirty years ago, and I have been dreaming of replicating it with my own children for many years.
This past winter we finally had the chance to take our three boys to Disney in a Winnebago rental of our own–and it was epic. We brought the boys on classic rides like Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom, and we ate wiener schnitzel and yodeled in Germany at Epcot. But more than anything else, we all loved our time relaxing together at Fort Wilderness, which is truly one of the world’s greatest campgrounds. Our boys have not stopped talking about this trip to Disney World, and they probably never will.
Is your family considering an epic RV adventure to Walt Disney World? If so, here are 10 tips to make your trip magical and memorable–and worth talking about for years to come.
1. Camp at Fort Wilderness:
There are other campgrounds nearby, but if you can, book a site at the Fort. It may cost a little more, and you do need to book months in advance, but it is worth the extra effort and money. The Fort is often called America’s favorite campground–and for good reason. It is packed with Disney magic around every corner, and it makes visiting the theme parks incredibly easy. Plus, you get all the perks of staying at a Disney Resort like early dining reservations and extra Magic Hours.
2. Spend Every Other Day at the Fort:
We recommend that you alternate days in the theme parks with full days chilling out at Fort Wilderness. You will save a ton of money and have just as much fun. The Fort has an endless list of activities from archery, to horseback rides, to movie nights, and campfire sing-alongs with Chip and Dale.
3. Rent a Golf Cart and Go RV Site Seeing:
During one of your long relaxing days at the Fort, rent a golf cart and spend some time cruising around checking out the RV’s and decorated sites. There are around 800 sites at Fort Wilderness and they are almost always full. You can see more RV’s at Fort Wilderness then you can at most RV shows, and many of the Fort fanatics decorate their sites with Disney memorabilia, no matter what time of year. There is also ample golf cart parking spread throughout the Fort. So stop at the Trading Post for a snack or souvenir, and cruise down to the marina to watch the fireworks at night.
4. Don’t Miss the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue!
There’s so much more to Disney than Mickey and Minnie. Disney also excels at song and dance and “Americana.” There is no better example of this than the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Pioneer Hall in Fort Wilderness. I have never seen my children laugh as hard or smile as wide. The folksy wild west music and slapstick comedy transported us to a bygone era, and the family-style Southern dinner filled up our bellies in grand style.
5. Take A Boat Ride to the Magic Kingdom
Bus transportation within the Disney World resorts and theme parks is typically fairly efficient. But it’s much more fun taking a scenic boat ride from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom. The boats, also known as “water taxis” are charming and old fashioned and depart regularly from the marina at the Fort. Keep your eyes, and ears, open for the singing captain. He is a legend among Fort fanatics.
6. Get to the Parks Early and Race to the Most Popular Ride First
If there is a must-experience ride for your family, don’t bother getting a FastPass for it. The better plan is to arrive when the park first opens and head right to it. We used this strategy for favorites like Soarin’ and Space Mountain, and waited maybe 10 minutes tops for each ride.
7. Download the My Disney App and Become a Zen Master of the Disney FastPass+
Folks spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the FastPass+ system, but you can keep it simple and still have a great experience. Don’t waste a FastPass on the most popular ride in the park. Visit that one when you arrive bright and early. Reserve your three FastPasses for early in day, use them all up, and then head to the FastPass+ kiosks to see what else you can reserve. If you have already experienced your top four ride picks, it should be easy to remain flexible for the rest of the day. Remember to download the My Disney App, since you can manage dining reservations, the Photo Pass, and FastPass+ right from your device.
8. Enjoy an International Meal in Epcot
There are so many amazing dining options in Epcot, so do a little research in advance and decide what is your top pick for an international meal. We decided to eat in Germany, because our kids love live entertainment and the Biergarten has an amazing oompah band.
9. Save Money by stocking your RV with Healthy and Affordable Food
We all know that Disney is expensive. We saved a lot of money on our recent trip by enjoying one special meal out each day, and otherwise using the RV kitchen to prepare simple, healthy food for the family. Whether it was bagels and fruit for breakfast, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch at the pool, RV meals were a refreshing break from hearty buffets and expensive character meals.
10. Don’t Forget Harry Potter
If you have Harry Potter fans in the family, don’t miss a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. It is truly a magnificent (though pricey!) experience. Our boys spent hours upon hours casting spells around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and we had to drag them out of the park in the evening. It was hands down their favorite experience of our trip.
Family vacations to Walt Disney World can be both magical and exhausting. But camping at Fort Wilderness allows us to experience all the excitement of the parks along with the relaxed, rejuvenating, and casual atmosphere of a campground. Your wallet might be a bit lighter after a trip, but your heart will be full and the memories will stay with you forever.
Jeremy and Stephanie Puglisi are the co-hosts of the weekly RV Atlas and Campground of the Week podcasts and the RV Atlas blog. They are also the authors of See You at the Campground: A Guide to Discovering Community, Connection, and a Happier Family in the Great Outdoors, and Where Should We Camp Next: A 50 State Guide to Amazing Campgrounds and other Unique Outdoor Accommodations,and the Acadia National Park Adventure Guide. After buying their very first pop-up camper more than 10 years ago, Jeremy and Stephanie caught the RV bug in a big way, and now spend over 70 nights a year in their travel trailer with their three sons, Theo, Max, and Wes, and sweet Maggie the pup. You can follow along on their adventures (and misadventures) over at RV Atlas.