by Kendall Foreman
Memorial Day is traditionally considered the kick-off of the summer travel and vacation season. For many, this means spending time enjoying the “great outdoors” by camping, hiking and or visiting national parks. Even Walt Disney liked to gather his family together for a time of respite at Smoke Tree Ranch in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles in Southern California. There they took pleasure in horseback riding, swimming, lawn bowling, campfires as well as other outdoor activities. Walt enjoyed being there so much that he purchased a cottage on the ranch property. By all accounts, he had a great respect and appreciation for the beauty and majesty of nature, especially here in America. His admiration for God’s creation is evidenced in many ways throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. There is no question that he was purposeful in his efforts to preserve the environment as well as protect the wildlife both on and around the property. His legacy lives on as the Disney Company endeavors to emulate and expand upon his example. As park guests travel throughout the property, they are surrounded by lush, indigenous plant life as well as a variety of animal species.
As is my challenge in each post, I will share several ideas to utilize when trying to sway a Walt Disney World skeptic. In this case, the objective is to reveal the many ways in which WDW can appeal to lovers of the great outdoors.
Included with Admission
One of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors at Walt Disney World Resort is to simply spend time at the parks and various resorts. There is no additional cost to leisurely stroll the beautiful walkways that wind throughout the expansive property. Resorts such as the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge and Polynesian Resort have winding paths that lead guests over bridges and streams, along sandy beaches or even past a “savannah”. Similarly, the various theme parks—especially the Animal Kingdom—offer visitors the opportunity to amble alongside tropical gardens and habitats, over pathways lined with beautiful flowers, lush foliage and swaying palm trees. A quiet walk at dusk through the exotic Oasis Exhibits at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an experience park guests should not miss as subtle light gently illuminates this tropical paradise.
For those guests wanting to experience the great outdoors in more exciting ways, there are some attractions that provide just such an encounter. One opportunity is Soarin’ located in The Land Pavilion in Epcot’s Future World. Imagineers designed this attraction to take passengers on a simulated flight over California landscapes via the use of a large multi-person “hang glider” and a spectacular film projected on a giant IMAX screen. The majestic scenes include views of Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, Napa Valley and many others. The overall experience is enhanced by the perfectly timed wind blowing in the faces of the passengers and the fragrances of oranges, pine, and ocean spray. The combination of simulated flight movement, incredible aerial views, masterfully composed music, and more are sure to cause the breathtakingly realistic sensation of soaring over California.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an expansive opportunity to encounter the great outdoors as well as observe the wildlife living there. This 500 acre theme park features seven exotic lands, a safari, jungle trek, numerous thrill rides, and much more. Consequently, thorough elaboration on this park is unrealistic in a simple post. However, a visitor favorite worth mentioning is Kali River Rapids. Situated in Asia, this attraction, which conveys a strong message about environmental destruction, was designed for those who enjoy the thrill of whitewater rafting while exploring the great outdoors. Initially, rafters float on the relatively slow-moving river, which is carrying them through the misty rainforest. Everything changes as the raft encounters the effects of illegal logging that has been taking place. The choppy, rushing water eventually forces the raft into a treacherous descent down the mountain and passengers suddenly find themselves knocked about as they wildly careen through the rapids. Disembarking dry is highly unlikely; therefore, those wishing to avoid a thorough soaking should be sure to wear a poncho.
Over at the Magic Kingdom in Frontierland, an even keeled raft ride across the Rivers of America takes visitors to Tom Sawyer Island. Replete with places to explore, children and adults will enjoy the challenge of crossing the barrel bridge, visiting Fort Langhorn, searching Injun’ Joe’s Cave, and much more.
Where to Stay
Covering more than 750 acres, it is easy to get lost—in a good way—at the Fort Wilderness Campground. Guests interested in “getting back to nature” can meander along a winding trail amidst massive cypress trees where they will be surrounded by lush vegetation and may even cross paths with a variety of wildlife. “Roughing it” at this Resort can be done according to preference by selecting one of the following: 1) Tent or Pop-up Campsite; 2) Full Hook-up Campsite; 3) Preferred Campsite; or 4) Premium Campsite. Each of these offers electrical hook-ups, cable TV, water, a charcoal grill as well as a picnic table. Note: The Resort permits a maximum party of ten guests per campsite. If you prefer a cabin to a campsite, the Wilderness Cabins sleep up to six guests and offer the following amenities: housekeeping, a full bathroom, living room, fully equipped kitchen, patio and grill. Opportunities for enjoying the great outdoors abound at this Resort property. There are two swimming pools—Meadow Swimmin’ Pool and Wilderness Swimmin’ Pool. In addition, there are scenic jogging trails, playgrounds, volleyball and basketball courts along with movies under the stars and the Chip ‘N Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-long.
For those who enjoy a rustic atmosphere that draws upon the feel of the great outdoors—without actually camping in it, perhaps a stay at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a better option. This deluxe Resort and Villas replicates a magnificent Northwest American forest lodge from a bygone era. It is tucked within a heavily wooded area complete with nature trails and two majestic pools—Silver Creek Springs Pool and Hidden Springs Pool (Villas), both of which are spectacular, authentic representations of the great outdoors.
Where to Eat
I would be remiss if I did not wholeheartedly recommend to lovers of the great outdoors that they treat themselves to a meal at Artist Point, a restaurant located in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. With its picturesque views of the awe-inspiring wooded landscape, South Creek Falls Pool and Fire Rock Geyser, the dining room’s atmosphere is inviting and bids patrons to stay awhile. On its walls hang grand scale paintings inspired by German immigrant and artist, Albert Bierstadt, who traveled west in the mid to late 1800s painting landscapes of the American West that would become some of the most recognizable art pieces in the world. Not to be eclipsed by the beauty of this fine dining location, the unique, authentic menu offerings include: Smokey Portobello Soup, Cedar Plank-roasted King Salmon, Slow-roasted Buffalo Strip Streak, Smoked Venison Loin and Artist Point Berry Cobbler to mention just a few. Be assured, this restaurant is well-worth the trip to the Wilderness Lodge.
For those are looking for something less formal, certainly more relaxed, one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors while eating is to do the obvious, do so outside. Several food kiosks are scattered throughout the four theme parks. Once you have located the one that suits your preferences, make your selections and find a quiet place to rest and enjoy the scenery as you dine in the open air. I suggest a visitor favorite, the smoked turkey leg found in Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom. It is the perfect “picnic” food. I recommend finding a seat along the bridge spanning the Rivers of America there in Frontierland. Here one can watch as rafts ferry guests to Tom Sawyer Island, listen as the water laps over the giant paddle wheel of the Liberty Belle Riverboat and feel the gentle breeze as it rustles through the canopy of trees overhead.
At additional cost, there are several activities available at the Fort Wilderness Campground.
- Two and four hour fishing excursions can be taken on Bay Lake. Two boating options are available: a 21-foot Tracker pontoon accommodates five guests or a Bass Nitro seats two. The fee includes an experienced guide, equipment, non-alcoholic beverages and a one-year BASS membership. There is a strict catch and release policy, which is in keeping with Disney’s intention to preserve the environment and wildlife. This policy makes for a well-stocked lake with plenty of largemouth bass. For those who prefer to do their fishing from the beach, equipment is available for rent at the Bike Barn there at the campground.
- Tri-Circle-D Ranch on the campground property offers individuals age 9 years and up the opportunity to horseback ride through the woods on one of several breeds at a cost of $46 per person. Departing from Pioneer Hall, horse-drawn wagon rides through the campgrounds are available at a cost of $8 for adults and $5 for children 3-9 years of age. Note: At no additional fee, interested parties can visit the stables where Cinderella’s ponies and the Main Street, USA horses are boarded.
- For those who wish to hit the target just like Robin Hood or Merida, the campgrounds offer the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience, which is a 90 minute program open to all guests age 9 and up. Located at the Bike Barn, an instructor teaches participants how to use a compound bow; after which, patrons are free to shoot at the range. The cost is $25 per person.
- The campground also has winding canals that can be enjoyed by canoe. At a cost of $8 per half hour or $12 per hour, interested individuals can rent a canoe and paddles at the Bike Barn and cast off on a leisurely trip through the woods.
My challenge in this post was to share several ways to persuade lovers of the great outdoors to take a trip to Walt Disney World Resort where conservationists and Imagineers have created an environmentally conscious, breathtaking travel destination that offers accommodations, adventures, activities, and great eats to satisfy even the most skeptical outdoorsy travelers.
If you have experienced the great outdoors at WDW via any of the aforementioned opportunities or in some other way, please share with us in the comment section below.
Kendall began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband. As a child, she and her family filled vacations with challenges such as “How many times can we ride Splash Mountain during SpectroMagic and the fireworks?” (Answer: 7) Now, after marrying a converted Disney skeptic, she and her husband enjoy challenges such as “How many hours can we eat nonstop at the Food & Wine Festival?” (Answer: 4)