Camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness

I’ve visited Disney’s Ft. Wilderness campground and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. When I got the chance to camp there with a group for only $28, I was in!!

A quick disclaimer…..if you’re used to quiet primitive, back country camping this isn’t it. This a fun, lots of activities happening, place.  Even if by chance you don’t hear many people, you will hear and see the fireworks from the nearby parks. 

The campground is very pedestrian, bike, and golf cart friendly. In fact golf carts seem to be the preferred mode of transportation.  There are also free buses to take you around the campground or to other Disney locations.

My first evening of exploring, I ended up at an outdoor amphitheater. Kids, of all ages, were roasting marshmallows and the concession stand had cookies, popcorn, hot chocolate, and the like.  Shortly after I arrived, they began showing a Muppets Christmas movie.  Lots of families and kids milled around so it wasn’t perfectly quiet, but it was fun to watch a movie under the stars.

Then I headed back to camp and grabbed a shower. It was great; I had the place to myself and plenty of hot water.  The next morning I went to brush my teeth and there was a long line. The next night I did the same and there was no one there again.  Speaking of the shower, it was as nice as the shower at home. Wall to wall earth toned tile with an inset for shampoo, soap, and shaving supplies.

Comfy Shower Stall
Comfy Shower Stall

One of the advantages of camping at Ft. Wilderness is the proximity to all the Disney areas .The next day we caught the boat to the Contemporary resort. From there, took the monorail to the Grand Floridian for some exploring.

Now, if you’ve never been to the Grand Floridian at Christmas, you need to go. At the front, you’ll be served roasted chestnuts and apple cider. Once inside, there’s an incredibly large Christmas tree that can only be described as Disney in size. Every year, the crew makes a full size ginger bread house and you can listen to them describe how they built it.  On the other side of the house, you can buy all sorts of sweets and treats.

From there, we hopped a bus to Downtown Disney for lunch. After wandering around the shops, it was time to catch a bus back to the campground.

After seeing lots of people out holiday shopping it was time for a quiet bike ride along the trails.  There are two nature trails that run between Ft Wilderness campground and the Wilderness Resort. One is paved and follows the road between the two resorts. The other is dirt and is accessed from behind The Wilderness Lodge, just beyond the main pool off to the right. You’ll see bike rentals and such and the path begins there.  It’s common to see deer along this path and you can also enjoy some nice views of the Contemporary Resort across the lake. The dirt trail connects back to the paved trail so you can easily find your way back to the campground.

After exploring the trails at dusk, I headed back to the campground and quickly found the golf cart Christmas parade. Each cart was uniquely decorated with lights, figurines, sound systems and the like.   Definitely plan to explore the campground at night so you can enjoy all the holiday decorations.

Here are video links to the golf parade:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5oKx-SbdVs&feature=youtu.be
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho09lJPXNqg&feature=youtu.be

Afterwards, I made my way back to the beach for a front row seat to the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. The fireworks start at 10pm, but if you want a beach chair, get there by 9:15. Course, just bring a blanket and you can sit in the sand. It’s the same view.

At the beach, you can only see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks. From the campsite you can hear/see the fireworks from Epcot at 9pm and Magic Kingdom at 10pm.

I was only there two days, but could’ve easily spent a few more. There is plenty to do for kids and adults at the campground and surrounding areas; bike rentals, boat rentals, kayak rentals, carriage rides, horseback rides, a show, multiple swimming pools, etc.

The winter season is usually the busiest because the weather is cool and dry. So plan to come and spend a few days. Even if you can’t camp, swing by and enjoy the festivities.

For more information: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/campsites-at-fort-wilderness-resort/

A day in Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Sometimes you want to be able to do a little bit of everything and that’s what you find at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  It’s one of those local places that are often forgotten about because it’s so close. Too often we’re looking to go far when sometimes your own backyard is good for some fun.

In my experiences there, I’ve camped, hiked, biked, kayaked, and even volunteered. Volunteering at a park is a great way to get involved and learn activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

Ok, so now you want to go, here’s my take on how to spend the day.

First off, go all the way to the back of the park and head out on a kayak. Early morning, the river is peaceful and you can see Osprey nests in the trees and the occasional alligator in the river. At the docks the river is wide, but kayak back a bit and you get into the narrow winding section. You’ll find dark black water that reflects the canopy of large trees and foliage. Turtles and alligators are regular seen back here.

Once back on dry land, grab your bike and head out for a ride. If you have a mountain bike, you can bomb down the many trails that Club Scrub maintains. Sugar sand, hills, planks, and other obstacles make for challenging trails. If that’s not your thing, you can still have a very nice bike ride.

The main road is suitable for cycling and you can explore the entire park on bike. One of my favorites is the old road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s not technical, but you’re off the beaten path and occasionally will see a hawk or turtle around. It has offshoots to connect to other areas of the park as well.

Now you’re probably hungry so head over to one of the many picnic areas and enjoy lunch near the river. The store also sells food and there’s nothing like an ice cold popsicle on a hot summer day.  While you’re in the store check out the times for the Trapper Nelson boat tour. It’s a motorized boat tour that will take you the historic Trapper Nelson homestead. You’ll learn a wealth of history of the park and its early caretakers. No paddling required, just relax and enjoy the ride. There is an extra fee for the boat tour so inquire before reserving.

After you’ve enjoyed lunch, visit the Kimbell education center and learn more about the park’s history, the variety of plant and wildlife, as well as the many programs offered. Kids welcome!  If you’re there in the summer, you’ll enjoy the air conditioning for sure.

For the rest of the day, it’s time to stretch your legs on the different hiking trails around. The Kitching Creek trail is a nice walk along the river. It connects with other trails so you can walk a nice loop by the river and return to the parking area. There are other trails near the Kimbell center and near the park entrance as well.

The finale of the day will be the walk up the observation tower to watch the sunset. The observation tower is a large platform with a 360 degree view. You can see the ocean Atlantic Ocean to the East and the expanse of the park to the West.

Well that was a full day; kayaking, cycling, boat tour, hiking, and sunset from the observation tower. With two large camping areas and cottages, you can spend the weekend and spread these amenities over a couple of days.

Next time you’re in the Jupiter, Florida area, be sure to spend a day at Jonathan Dickinson State park.

More info here:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson/