Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fort Wilderness Cabins

Welcome to the first stop aboard our Special Edition Magical Blogorail Loop.  Enjoy the ride as we take you on a virtual tour of Walt Disney World's Moderate Resorts.

Fort Wilderness Cabins at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

One of the 5 moderate resort options at the Walt Disney World complex, the Fort Wilderness Cabins provide spacious and unique accommodations for families looking to try something new in terms of lodging.  The Cabins are located in the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.  This resort is located south east of the Magic Kingdom on the shores of Bay Lake.  The resort opened in 1971 as a destination for campers, but over the years added Cabins for families who aren’t the “camping type” or don’t have access to an RV or tent.

Map of Fort Wilderness
Cabins are located in Loops 2100 - 2800
The Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground has 799 campsites and 409 cabins covering over 700 acres of lush pines and cypress trees.  The cabins, according to the Disney World website, “provides all the comforts of home wrapped in a rustic, American Frontier theme”.  Indeed, these cabins look like mini-log homes, but they are basically small module homes wrapped in a veneer to look like logs.  

Fort Wilderness Cabin exterior
Parking in front with space/charger plug for golf cart

These cabins are roughly 12’ wide x 42’ long.  There is a wood deck on the outside with a picnic table and charcoal grill.  Inside, the cabins have one bedroom with a double bed, bunk beds, and a TV; a full bathroom with tub/shower; full kitchen; living area with TV, dining table for six, sofa and a pull-down Murphy bed.  The cabins comfortably sleep six guests.  The full kitchen has nearly every amenity you’d need to prep a meal.  Also in the kitchen, you’ll find a full-size coffee pot, microwave, full-size refrigerator, electric stove, and dishwasher.  A bonus is that Mousekeeping will do the dishes for you!

Cabin interior layout
Cabin kitchen

Inside the confines of the resort, there is plenty to see and do.  There are two pools at the resort, a smaller quiet pool, and the Meadows Swimmin’ (no “g”) Pool where the daily activities occur.  The main pool features a wet play areas for little ones, a slide, and a hot tub.  Down by the marina, there is a variety of watercraft to rent for exploring Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon.  Horseback riding is available for guests over 9 years old.  If you can’t find fun by the pool, there is an assortment of other activities offered including hiking, tennis, volleyball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, archery, bike riding, and canoeing.  At one time a real steam train traversed the ground of the Fort.  If you choose to check out one of the many walking trails around the property, you may see the remnants of the original track.  
Meadows Swimmin' Pool
Meadows Swimmin' Splash Pad

A long-running specialty of Fort Wilderness is the nightly Chip ‘n’ Dale “Sing-a-Long” and marshmallow roast, followed by a Disney movie on a outdoor screen.  The “Sing-a-Long” is lead by a singing cowboy and Chip and Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs.  You may bring your own marshmallows or buy them from the Chuck Wagon.  The Chuck Wagon also serves an assortment of light refreshments during the movie.

Chip and Dale at the nightly campfire

Speaking of refreshments, Fort Wilderness offers a few dining options.  The most well-known is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, an all-you-can-eat dinner show held nightly at Pioneer Hall.  Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is a barbeque buffet with live entertainment, dance instruction, and appearances by Disney characters.  Crockett’s Tavern, located in Pioneer Hall, features beverages and snacks.  Next door to the Tavern is the Trail’s End Restaurant which provides a sit-down buffet at breakfast and dinner and a la carte items during lunch.  By the pool is the Meadows Pool Snack Bar which serves hamburgers, sandwiches, and assorted small snacks.

If you are looking for supplies for your cabin, there are two main shops:  The Settlement Trading Post located near the marina, and the Meadow Trading Post located in the Meadow Recreation Area.  Both trading posts feature the standard souvenirs and Disney merchandise, but also an assortment of groceries.  The groceries are on the expensive side, but if you need something in a pinch, you can find it there.  For guests with a vehicle, you may consider outside supermarkets for your supplies.

The Fort is serviced by the Magical Express, should you be coming from the airport.  The process is similar to the other resorts.  Your bags will be "magically" delivered to your room while you are bussed from the airport to the Fort.  Check-in is at the Reception Outpost.  Here you will receive all your resort information (room key, tickets, maps, etc), and a copy of the Fort Wilderness Gazette.  The Gazette will contain information on the campground, directions for transportation, campfire movie schedule, activity times and locations, and maps.  

Driving, except to and from your campsite, is not allowed in the Fort.  A series of internal buses provide transportation throughout the resort.  Guests can also rent golf-carts to get around inside the Fort.   Advance reservations are highly recommended for the golf carts.  

Pricing for cabin accommodations range from $285 in the value seasons to $450 is the peak holiday seasons.  Standard Disney resort guest perks are included:  Magical Express, daily Mousekeeping, room charging privileges, Extra Magic Hours, package delivery to resort, bus/boat transportation, etc.

So, now you know the specifics, I know you want to know how the cabins really are.  The following is my review of the Cabins from my trip in June 2011.  

I grew up camping at the Fort with my parents in the 70’s and 80’s.  We traveled in a RV and spent many fun summers there.  I have very fond memories of Fort Wilderness.  It was a great place for my brother and I to explore.  In 2011, I went back with my two children for 10 days and we stayed in the Cabins.  While I enjoyed the trip very much and it was perfect for our situation at the time, I’m not sure if I would consider the Cabins again.  For me, the cons far outweighed the pros.  But what may not be suited to my tastes, may fit another family extremely well.  The best advice would be to try it if you think you may like it.  

  • Room for 6 - we were traveling with my Mother and it was nice that she could have her own space (living room/murphy bed)
  • Spacious cabin with room to spread out, inside and outside.  As soon as the kids are dressed and ready, we pushed them out the door to explore around the cabin while the rest of us got ready.  
  • Full kitchen.  Loved having a full size coffee maker (you have to bring your own coffee, though)!
  • Two TVs.
  • Quiet and peaceful surroundings.  It’s hard to imagine you are in the middle of a sprawling theme park complex when you are at the Fort.  
  • Wildlife.  We saw lots of animals, bugs, and reptiles that my kids loved.  I didn’t care too much for the lizard in the closet, though.  
  • Boat access to Magic Kingdom.  There is something special about arriving at the Magic Kingdom via boat. 
  • Pool amenities - the Meadow’s Swimmin’ Pool is large and nicely laid out.  Nice splash area for the younger kids.

  • Size.  The Fort is a sprawling complex.  It’s not easy to walk from the cabins to entertainment areas, or the front reception area.
  • Transportation.  I hated the internal buses.  The Fort used to be serviced with open-air trams.  As a kid, it was fun to ride these trams.  Plus they had cool names for each camping section or loop, like “Jack Rabbit Run”, or “Armadillo Way”.  The driver would announce each stop distinctly.  Now the drivers barely know what loop number they are at.  Plus, I don’t like riding the bus from the pool in wet bathing suits.  We rented a golf cart during our stay and only experienced the buses when our group separated.  I would highly recommend to anyone staying at the Cabins to rent a golf cart.  It was a life-saver, but added to the cost.  
  • Lack of quick service dining option/food court.  Because the Fort’s main purpose is for campers who have their own cooking facilities, there is little in the way of quick service dining options.  We were on the dining plan during our visit and had to plan our quick service meals at other locations (parks or other resorts).  We did use the Meadows Snack Bar a few times and the food was good, but it’s not open very late.  
  • Distance from everything.  Boat to the Magic Kingdom often shared with Wilderness Lodge, and bus service everywhere else.  It took some time to get to our destinations.  
Thank you for joining me today.  Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is the Caribbean Beach Resort at Your First Visit.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ Fort Wilderness Cabins at The Magical Mouse Pad
2nd Stop ~ Caribbean Beach Resort at Your First Visit
3rd Stop ~ Port Orleans French Quarter at My Dreams of Disney
4th Stop ~ Port Orleans Riverside at Heidi’s Head
Final Stop ~ Coronado Springs at DIStherapy

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Pirate's Secret

Yo-ho Yo-ho, a Pirate's Life for Me.  One of my favorite attractions at Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean.  Do you know that the 52 feet long, 14 foot waterfall drop you experience during the ride serves a purpose?  Not just to add to the suspense and mystery, the waterfall allows the boats to pass under the railroad tracks that surround the Magic Kingdom.  A large portion of the Pirates attraction is in a show building on the "outside" of the Magic Kingdom.  Guests pass again under the railroad tracks upon exiting the ride as they ride the escalator up.

Notice the boot and peg leg prints on the escalator?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Liberty Square

Welcome to the first stop aboard Magical Blogorail Black.  Enjoy the ride as we share our favorite lands in the Magic Kingdom.

As you cross the wooden timber bridge to the left of Cinderella’s castle just off the central hub, you’ll enter a land that most people overlook on their rush to Splash Mountain or the Haunted Mansion.  However transitional this space may appear, it is actually a defined “land”, called Liberty Square.  And though small in statue compared to the other lands, the detailing, attention to theme, and use of authentic architectural design makes Liberty Square, in this writer’s opinion, a favorite Magic Kingdom land and one of Disney World’s true hidden gems.  
Originally designed for Disneyland in California, Liberty Square was built for Disney World when plans for putting it in the California theme park were shelved.  The Square is themed to colonial America in the era around the time of the American Revolutionary War.  It is unique in that it tells true historical stories of the time meshed with fiction.  Liberty Square is also special in that it is unique to Disney World, and cannot be found in any other Disney theme park.  

Liberty Square’s roots lie in Walt Disney’s great love and fascination for American history which bled through in much of his work.  In a 1957 interview, Walt Disney said “There’s an American theme behind the whole park.  I believe in emphasizing the story of what made America great and what will keep it great.”  Walt Disney wanted to capture a vision of American history in Disneyland with Liberty Street, but that dream was never realized for Disneyland.  With the opening of Disney World, the opportunity produced itself to create a land that was based on Walt’s vision and intention for Liberty Street In Disneyland. 

When you are in Liberty Square, you are immersed in architectural details, sights and sounds of early America, beginning in the 1700s to the mid-1800’s and developing geographically from the East Coast to the expansion across the Mississippi to the West.  To truly take in the beauty of Liberty Square, one should view the entire land as a progression of time and history.  This progression is best seen starting just outside Liberty Square in Fantasyland.  Fantasyland is a make-believe world of stories rooted in European culture.  Pinnochio’s Village House = Italy, Snow White = Germany, Peter Pan’s Flight = England.  Peter Pan’s Flight is the last attraction in the physical progression towards Liberty Square.  If you equate Peter Pan’s Flight (and the architecture it represents) to England, England is the jumping off point for crossing the Atlantic to the new world.  As you cross under the passageway between the two lands (often called “portals” by imagineers), you virtually cross from the old world to the new world.  You leave behind the sights and sounds reminiscent of old Europe.  The background music changes to colonial era fife and drums, and you have been magically deposited on the shores of America in a New England seaport city, with the Columbia Harbour House to your left welcoming tired and weary sea travelers.  

The Columbia Harbour House is a quick service dining location, serving chicken, fish, and New England Clam Chowder (what else!).  The building itself is a tribute to the great whaling and sailing ships and worth a peak inside, even if you don’t plan to eat.  Explore the many rooms and nooks of the building for sailing and whaling memorabilia.  Nautical details abound in the dining room meant to look like a meeting place and tavern of the time.  

Back out on the Square, the buildings that surround you are not just one architectural style, but a blend of several styles found throughout the early American cities and the eastern Atlantic seacoast.  Represented here is the Federal Style seen in the civic buildings of Philadelphia and Boston, the Dutch New Amsterdam Design of the Hudson River Valley, and the Georgian Style reminiscent of Williamsburg, Virginia. 

The Haunted Mansion is modeled
after the Harry Packer Mansion in
Now listen closely, can you can hear dog howling in the distance?  And what is just up that hill?  In the distance separated from the rest of the town is a forboding old home.  Could it be a Haunted Mansion?  As you approach the gates, notice the carriage house to the left.  Horseshoes hang upside down on the wall signifying that all the luck as run out.  As you follow horse shoe prints and wagon tracks along the Cobblestone walkway leading away from the carriage house, you’ll find a hearse hitched to a “ghostly” horse.  The wreath on the door is black and the plants on the lawn are dying.  Could this be an ominous sign to stay away?  In fact, it is.  The imagineers designed the exterior of the mansion to warn guest that this attraction may be too scary for younger guests.  Built to look like a pre-revolutionary war Dutch Gothic style mansion on New York’s lower Hudson Valley.  This background provides the setting for the attraction (coincidentally, the same setting as the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow).   

This hearse is authentic, built during
the civil war era, and used in the John
Wayne film, "The Sons of Katy Elder"

In 2011 the queue was expanded and re-imagineered for an interactive guest experience.  There's lots of things to see and touch.  Be sure to take a detour through the left hand side of the queue to experience this.  Tombstones with quirky epitaths pay respect to the legendary imagineers who worked on the attraction:  

In Memory of our Patriarch 
Dear Departed 
Grandpa Marc 
[Marc Davis, Show Designer] 

Dear Departed 
Brother Dave 
He Chased a Bear Into Cave 
[Dave Burkhart, Model Builder] 

Here Lies 
Good Old Fred 
A Great Big Rock Fell On His Head 
Rest In Peace 
[Fred Joerger, Model Designer] 

Dear sweet Leota,
Beloved by all
In regions beyond now,
But having a ball
[Leota Toombs, Face of Madame Leota]

Notice as you enter curve of the the queue, you can no longer see Liberty Square.  This detail adds to the ominous nature of the home, making it seem like you are isolated from the rest of the town.  

The Haunted Mansion is my favorite attraction, and definitely a classic among Disney aficionados.  The details outside and inside the manor house are tremendous.  Once ushered into the house by the somber maids and butlers who work there, you begin a supernatural journey through dusty rooms, eerie hallways, a ghostly ballroom, a haunted attic, and a graveyard filled with merry ghosts.  At the end of your journey, a team of 3 hitchhiking ghosts volunteer to “follow you home”.  The Haunted Mansion envokes many classic special effects such as the use of Pepper’s Ghost, an illusion invented in the mid-19th century.  The “ghosts” are reflections in a large sheet of glass of audio-animatronic figures located above and below the viewer.  Mirrors are used to create the Endless hallway, and scrims and lighting are used to make ghosts appear to be ethereal.  Simple, but effective techniques. 

The number 1787 on the front of the
building denotes the year of the
constitution convention.
Back down the hill you return to the safety of the town.  Your next attraction found in Liberty Square is the Hall of Presidents.  The building is modeled after Independence Hall and other civic buildings in Philadelphia.  True to the period, a flag with 13 stars flies above the structure.  The Hall of Presidents attraction is a 20 minute presentation showcasing audio-animatronic versions of every US chief executive.  It opened on October 1, 1971, along with the rest of the Magic Kingdom.  The attraction has experienced several updates since its opening including the addition of presidents, updates to narration, added images and stage props, and new music score, but the overall essence of the show remains.  Take some time before the show to enjoy the rotunda, where you can find presidential portraits, artifacts, and numerous mementoes from past presidents.  Across from the Hall’s exit you can find the Hertiage House.  This shops sells historical items, early-American gifts, flags, and t-shirts.

While Liberty Square is a visual feast for the eyes, notice what you hear.  I bet you never thought about the background music played here?   Much of the music heard in this area reflects music from the colonial times which was less American music and more ballads and folk songs brought from England and other parts of Europe adapted to the American culture with instruments of the time including violins, fifes, recorders, drums and and flutes.  True to Disney form, the music in this area was recorded using only the instruments available during the colonial period. 

In the center of Liberty Square, under the shadow of the grand Liberty Oak, you will find a replica of the Liberty Bell created from a cast of the original in Philadelphia.  In 1976, 50 replicas were cast and molded in honor of the US bi-centennial.  Each state would receive one.  However, since the state of Pennsylvania already had one (the original), the Walt Disney World corporation asked if they could have Pennsylvania’s reproduction for it’s Liberty Square.  The state agreed and on July 4th , 1989, the replica Liberty Bell found it’s permanent location inside Liberty Square. 

The Liberty Tree that stands in the square is a real southern live oak.  Over 100 years old, it stands 40ft tall, 60 ft wide making it is the largest living specimen in the kingdom. This tree was transplanted from another area on Disney property. It is said to have created more than 500 trees from its acorns. Thirteen distinct lanterns hang from it’s branches representing the 13 original colonies.
Also in this area, you can find the only table service dining location in this land, the Liberty Tree Tavern.  This location serves traditional new England-inspired cuisine set in an 18th-century American inn.  Another quaint and notable shop is Ye Old Christmas Shoppe, where you can find Christmas decorations year round.  Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe is actually a series of buildings and storefronts designed with 2nd story residences to give the appearance that you are in a real colonial town.  Each “shop” within Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe has it’s own purpose and character:  there is a Music Teacher’s Shop with instruments of the time and sheet music, next door is a Woodcaver’s Shop complete with tools and implements of his trade, and the last portion of the building houses a family home to a German folk artist and craftman.  Every nook and crany is filled with detailed items that complete the home.  

Upon the Rivers of America which represent not just one river but four: the Hudson, Mississippi and Missouri, and Colorado river, guests will find a real working steamboat of the time, the Liberty Belle.  
The Liberty Belle
The narration on the boat is provided by Samual Clements (aka Mark Twain) and takes you along the shoreline of Tom Sawyer’s Island passing by Indian encampments, the River Pirates’ hideout, Fort Langhorn, and an abandoned settler’s cabin.  This manmade river is dark and murky for a purpose.  The water is less than 10 feet deep and the riverboat runs along a track underwater which needs not to be seen.  This steamship is not only a leasurely cruise along the river, but provides a transitional element between Liberty Square and Fronterland transporting guests not only in time from late 1700s to mid 1800s, but geographically from the settlements of the East to the frontier of the West.  

As you traveling towards Frontierland, you leave behind the grand cities of the east, heading into the new frontier of the west (denoted by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad).  On your way, you pass the great Mississippi River represented by the Rivers of America and finally reach St. Louis, Missouri and the famous Diamond Horseshoe Saloon.  Today the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon is a seasonal counter service dining location, but it was more than that when the park opened.  This location hosted a Western saloon show complete with cancan dancers, singers, a live band, and comedian.  It was a great stage show.

St Louis is your last stop in Liberty Square before your transition to Frontierland.  At this location, no portal is needed as you are standing in the cross-roads of America in time and geography.  You are now leaving colonial America and will be entering into the Wild West where thar’ are bears, mine trains, briar patches, and Cowboys and Indians.  

Before we depart Liberty Square, take a moment to find these hidden details:

Disney makes it appear as if there is a brown channel running down the middle of the street.  True to the time, that was the form of drainage.

The stockades and pillories make great photo opportunities
Minute Man Rifle in a window near the Hall of Presidents
Details in The Olde Christmas Shoppe

Authentic looking window hardware is used throughout Liberty Square
All the shutters on the windows are hanging crooked. This is because in those times leather was used to fasten shutters on and would stretch 
over time to hang crooked.
The addresses on the doors are all two numbers.  If you put 18 in front of it, that is the style of door that they would have had for that year.
Latern Liberty Square complete with seed glass

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is The Disney Point.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ The Magical Mouse Pad
2nd Stop ~ The Disney Point
3rd Stop ~ Heidi’s Head
4th Stop ~ Mandas Disney Blog
Final Stop ~ Mommy Mouseketeer