Walk along Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom and the feel of autumn surrounds you. There are carved pumpkins perched on upper storey balconies and peeking out of the windows, while decorations that are as close as the locals get to seeing the leaves change on the trees adorn the shops and the lamp posts. Small statues of the Disney characters, located in the Hub area in front of Cinderella Castle, have changed out their everyday outfits for Halloween costumes, and seasonal merchandise fills the store shelves. Bakeries and restaurants all across Walt Disney World, brimming with special tastes of the season and other exclusive experiences—including face-painting for the kiddies at the Marketplace in Disney Springs—round out the offerings.
But there is one thing most guests miss, and it’s not only great fun, it’s completely free. If you’re visiting in October (especially late October), hop on a Disney resort bus and head to Fort Wilderness (or, take the boat over from Magic Kingdom), where guests at the campground take their Halloween decorating seriously.
If you visit the campground on October 30 or 31, be sure to arrive in time for the Halloween Golf Cart Parade. The route along the main roadway in Fort Wilderness is lined with spectators as guests who have decorated their electric golf carts parade by.
And this isn’t some hokey throw-together. Visitors—especially those who make Halloween at Fort Wilderness an annual pilgrimage—go all out, with decorations as elaborate as last year’s Star Wars themed cart driven by none other than “Darth Vader”; an Indiana Jones themed cart; and a massive ‘stage coach’ driven by a skeleton. Many are more humble than that, but equally as enthusiastic, and you may even see the occasional decorated electric wheelchair.
It’s all about fun, and that certainly extends to the spectators. Want a real slice of Americana during your stay? You’ll find it here. Americans are nothing if not exuberant, and celebrating with vigour is one of the great joys as each holiday rolls around. Halloween has always been special in this country, with safe, friendly trick-or-treating and ghoulish parties for adults and children alike. Most families have a box of decorations stashed away until a week or two before 31 October, and when their home for the holiday is an RV or a tent, that box goes right along with them.
At Fort Wilderness, decorations generally run more to the not-so-scary, often with Disney characters as the main theme.
But frightful fun is on the cards too, and, when you walk through the campground at night, with the trees swaying in the breeze and the pumpkins and decorations aglow, you get a true sense of what nearly every American child experiences in their neighbourhood at home on Halloween night. And all that work doesn’t go unnoticed by Disney, either. To cap off the festivities, there is a Campsite and Cabin Decorating Contest in which Cast Members award honours to the best-decorated sites.
Be sure to carve out plenty of time when you pop by to see the parade. You can easily spend a half-day here, with lunch (burgers and Southern specialities) or dinner (buffet style ribs, roast meats, jacket potato bar, shrimp, pizza, side dishes and dessert) at Trails End, or drinks and light bites (pizza, wings and nachos) at Crockett’s Tavern. In fact, any visit to Fort Wilderness is worth a few hours. There are pony rides for the kiddies ($8), and full-fledged horse-riding for ages 9 and up ($46). Or wander the horse stables and meet the steeds that pull the trollies down Main Street in Magic Kingdom. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride ($8 adults/$5 children), or soak up a little romance in rustic surroundings with a carriage ride ($45 per carriage). In December, Fort Wilderness offers ‘sleigh rides’ to get you in the mood for Christmas (but, this being Florida, there’s no snow so the sleigh is really a decked-out carriage).
There are campfires with activities for kids and adults, canoe hire, fishing, archery, and tennis, and, of course, Chip and Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along, followed by a movie under the stars, weather permitting. You don’t have to stay at the campground to enjoy these activities, either.
Disney’s famous dinner show, Hoop Dee Doo Revue is found at Fort Wilderness, too, and with its down-home, slapstick style, the show is ideal for an autumn evening. Dinner is all you can eat fried chicken, BBQ ribs, baked beans, salad, cornbread and dessert (plus unlimited beer, wine, sangria and soft drinks), surrounded by singing, dancing, and Vaudeville-style comedy.
Want to take advantage of all Fort Wilderness has to offer, but don’t want to ship your tent or caravan overseas? The fully-equipped, self-catering Fort Wilderness Cabins are just the thing, keeping you right in the heart of the magic (and with the fantastic onsite perk of Extra Magic Hours!) with all the ‘roughing it’ but none of the ‘rough’.
So carve time out of your autumn visit to check out Fort Wilderness in the weeks leading up to Halloween. And, while some guests bring their own electric golf cart, others hire them from the resort, and even if you’re not staying there you can, too (ages 18 and up with a valid driving license, which must be kept on your person all the time you’re driving). Think you might be interested for next year? G4-seater electric golf carts can be hired for $59 per day on 407 824 2742 up to a year in advance, or hire on the day (bearing in mind there may be no availability over Halloween week).
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