Walt Disney World has announced plans to expand the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground by bringing reimagined cabins to the property. In this post, we’ll share details and a timeline, share our opinion of the DVC expansion and why this is likely happening.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, Fort Wilderness offers approximately 800 campsites and over 400 cabins along with a wide range of recreational options. While Fort Wilderness is only a short boat ride from Magic Kingdom (behind Disney’s Contemporary Resort and “next door” to Wilderness Lodge), it feels worlds away. The sprawling ‘resort’ is situated on 750 acres of pine and cypress forest, giving the campground a ‘buffer’ between it and the rest of Walt Disney World.
Fort Wilderness is a Walt Disney World original, opening back in 1971 a little over a month after Magic Kingdom. Similar to how Contemporary was as an extension of Tomorrowland and Polynesian of Adventureland, Fort Wilderness was a counterpart to Frontierland–a way to stay in the American frontier. The campground debuted with 232 campsites as well as Tri Circle D Ranch, which was built for horses in the parades at Magic Kingdom. Fort Wilderness has not changed much since then. It does have many more campsites, cabins, and one fewer railroad–but the vibe is largely unchanged since I started staying at Fort Wilderness in the 1980s.
Against that backdrop, Walt Disney World and Disney Vacation Club announced on April 20, 2023 proposed plans to bring refreshed cabin hideaways to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, offering guests a private retreat in the midst of nature with many of the comforts of home.
“For more than 50 years, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground has offered guests the opportunity to explore nature with their loved ones while staying in the heart of Walt Disney World Resort,” said Bill Diercksen, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Vacation Club. “We’re excited to continue to build upon the resort’s rich legacy and elevate the cabin experience for our Members and all guests to enjoy for years to come.”
The proposed plans to expand Fort Wilderness with a Disney Vacation Club addition call for more than 350 new cabins to replace the existing cabins at the resort, which have delighted guests for many years and will soon be ready for a refresh. Additionally, the proposed cabins would be built with an eye toward the environment, utilizing the footprint of the existing cabins and taking advantage of more energy-efficient features.
Design concepts offer a fresh take on the current cabin experience and are inspired by the resort’s idyllic setting, while also paying homage to the resort’s unique culture and heritage through the magic of Disney storytelling. Each proposed, stand-alone cabin offers spacious accommodations, sleeping up to six adults, and features a bedroom, bathroom, living room, full kitchen and private patio. A select number of cabins are also expected to be dog-friendly.
As with all Disney Vacation Club resorts, the proposed cabins will continue to be open for reservations to all guests, including those who are not Disney Vacation Club Members, subject to availability.
As with all DVC resorts, a small percentage of the property will be retained by Walt Disney World and not part of the DVC inventory. Accordingly, it will likely be difficult to book these cabins for cash guests, and they’re likely to be both more expensive and excluded from discounts.
The planned cabins are part of a collection of improvement projects underway at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground that are designed to enhance the guest experience. Examples include proposed pool and walking trail enhancements as well as new expanded dining experiences at Trail’s End Restaurant and Crockett’s Tavern, with more exciting news to come.
Disney Vacation Club members and guests would have easy access to the theme parks and be able to enjoy the resort’s cherished amenities, including horseback riding at the recently updated Tri-Circle-D Ranch, fishing, walking trails, pools, playgrounds for the little ones, Chip ’n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long and rootin’ tootin’ dining and entertainment at Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. Campsite accommodations will also continue to be available for guests.
The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort is projected to open in 2024 and would be the 17th Disney Vacation Club resort. Additional information regarding project details, the start of sales and rental bookings will be released at a later date.
Accordingly, it would seem that this announcement is not only stealing thunder from the Villas at Disneyland Hotel (VDH), but will also cannibalize some sales. To us, this reinforces the likelihood that Disney Vacation Club is incredibly confident about VDH doing gangbuster sales, and thus does not care about those concerns.
That’s also what explains the aggressive pricing, charging for parking, and separating out the occupancy tax. Disney Vacation Club knows that the Villas at Disneyland Hotel will sell well no matter what. That, or there’s an excessive amount of misplaced hubris on display!
With that said, there’s also the matter of the New DVC Tower at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which is currently under construction and is currently slated to open in late 2024 at Walt Disney World. Based on the incredibly quick pace with which that expansion is being built, there’s no reason to believe it’ll be delayed.
That means that Walt Disney World will have two new Disney Vacation Club additions in 2024, both of which are Magic Kingdom area resorts. On top of that, DVC will almost certainly still be selling both Disney’s Riviera Resort and the Villas at Grand Floridian Resort, both of which are roughly 50% sold out right now.
That totals 3 resorts in the Magic Kingdom area and one in the EPCOT/Skyliner area. Plus the Villas at Disneyland Hotel and Aulani in Hawaii, which still has not sold out. That is an absolutely unprecedented amount of inventory simultaneously for sale, and it comes amidst a Disney Vacation Club Sales Slump. It might also come as the U.S. economy enters a recession. Who knows.
My next thought is that this finally realizes rumors of a Moderate Resort DVC expansion, which started years ago before Disney’s Riviera Resort was announced.
In fact, this new tier of DVC probably the best way to explain how Disney Vacation Club plans to sell this alongside Riviera, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. It’s highly probable that this is aimed at a different demographic, and will be a more economical alternative to the aforementioned resorts.
We certainly do not expect the Cabins at Fort Wilderness to hit the $230 per point of the Villas at Disneyland Hotel. Our guess is that this DVC resort will come in at a sub-$200 price point below where Disney’s Riviera Resort started selling back in 2019. (Anyone expecting a bargain priced below $150 per point had better think again.)
Even if the per point cost is still in the ballpark of other new DVC resorts, the point charts will almost certainly be more favorable. That will mean fewer points need to be purchased as compared to the Poly, Grand Floridian, or Riviera. No matter how you slice it, the average financial outlay for buyers of the Cabins at Fort Wilderness will be lower.
I could see this having an average entry point of around $30,000 for new members, whereas those resorts might be closer to $40,000. Whether that’s due to a lower per-point cost, smaller contract sizes, or a combination of the two, remains to be seen.
It’ll be interesting to see if Disney Vacation Club introduces new restrictions aimed at avoiding unintended consequences of having a Moderate Resort DVC. We doubt that’ll be necessary, as the per point cost likely won’t be that much different from other existing Disney Vacation Club resorts.
What’s totally unsurprising is that Walt Disney World is opting to swap out the current cabins for ‘enhanced’ Disney Vacation Club accommodations. It’s a fairly common tactic for the company to target hotel inventory that’s underperforming and convert it to DVC. This improves occupancy for the remaining hotel inventory by reducing its net number of rooms, and gives Disney Vacation Club something to sell. (It’s a similar story with Copper Creek; Wilderness Lodge is now performing much better, but at the time, occupancy was weak.)
Despite Fort Wilderness as a whole having a very vocal and passionate fanbase, the existing cabins are not particularly popular. There’s routinely availability here when the campsites are sold out, and there are frequently more aggressive discounts for the cabins. Like Olivia’s or Sanaa, these accommodations have a loyal fan following–but also are routinely offered to Cast Members at 40% off.
In fact, this isn’t the first time in the last decade that Walt Disney World will be reducing the number of cabins. Back during the last soft goods refurbishment (in 2016-2017), Disney removed the cabins in the 2100 Loop to add more campsites. Even after that, occupancy is lower for the cabins than the campground as a whole.
Speaking of the existing cabins, don’t assume that anything about these–the size, configuration, or layout–will remain the same. The current cabins were pre-fabricated off-site and installed unit-by-unit, not built on location.
Based on both the verbiage of the announcement and age of the current cabins, it’s highly likely that these are entirely new prefabbed units. That means the design could differ substantially and will incorporate lessons learned from the old cabins and DVC member accommodation preferences. A lot has changed in the years since the cabins debuted, and Disney has gotten room layouts down to a science. The use of space and practicality of these cabins will almost certainly be better.
Speaking of which, the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort being prefabbed off-site likely explains the 2024 opening date. While no month is given, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if this goes on sale and opens before the Poly tower.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about the style of the DVC cabins. It’s still early and we only have a single piece of concept art, so it’s premature for a fully-formed opinion. However, there’s a lot that can be inferred from the concept art and recent precedent. With that in mind, I’ll begin with the positives.
I love the large windows that will allow a lot of natural light and nice views out into nature. While nice updates from what was there before, the current cabins are dark and dreary, and don’t lean into their natural surroundings all that well. I’m a huge proponent of windows, and indoor-outdoor living. These should be a significant improvement on that front.
Additionally, it’s safe to say that the interiors will be better. Say what you will about recent resort reimaginings, but it’s very difficult to criticize room redesigns from a functional perspective. Personally, I think Disney has been crushing it since Riviera Resort, and the current ‘wave’ of innovative accommodations that marry space-saving styles with well-themed ones is perfect. Just contrast the new rooms at Boulder Ridge with those only a few years earlier at Copper Creek–the former are far superior to the latter in every conceivable way.
Now, the negative. The exterior of these cabins does look like the design frankenstein of an HGTV personality and a Gensler designer. It looks too on-trend, leaning into she-shed, tiny home, and shabby chic styles. A bit like the worst of the Copper Creek interiors with the Reflections and new Poly tower exteriors. Hopefully, the end result looks better or the interior is so good (and on par with Boulder Ridge) that it doesn’t matter. On balance, I’ll admit that I’m cautiously optimistic about the look of the cabins. My prediction is that these will be better than the current cabins, but we shall see.
Beyond that, my biggest concern is that adding Disney Vacation Club will irreparably change the character of Fort Wilderness. Although there’s nothing in the announcement to suggest this will occur, it seems like a given–and one that’ll be necessary as a practical reality. It’s also somewhat apparent from the subtext discussing expanded dining and “more exciting news to come.”
Walt Disney World knows how this change is going to be received by diehard Fort Fiends. There’s a reason the announcement came buried among Halfway to Halloween news, and why certain details are highlighted and others are omitted. The company is trying to ease fans into the development, focusing on the perceived positives and trying to minimize the negatives.
There’s one simple reason that Fort Wilderness is almost certain to change in a way that won’t be well-received by its longtime fans: demographics. Assuming the per point price is $185 and the average contract is 160 points, that puts the upfront cost right at $30,000 for the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort.
I don’t want to make any unfair assumptions, but I think it’s probably safe to say that the average regular at Fort Wilderness is not the target audience for a $30,000 timeshare. This isn’t to say that Fort Wilderness guests are less affluent than the average visitor. I know that is not the case, I’ve seen some of those tricked-out RVs and Googled their cost! (Side note: HOLY COW.)
Nevertheless, they’re still different demos. Just because someone has enough money to purchase the Rezvani Vengeance doesn’t mean they’re also in the market for a McLaren 720S. Both are similarly expensive vehicles, albeit with very different audiences. Almost assuredly, the same idea is true with the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort.
Looking at recent Disney Vacation Club additions, it’s also fair to say that the DVC demo has different priorities and expectations for accommodations. It’ll be interesting to see how Fort Wilderness changes to comport with consumer preferences, but not all of that is possible.
What DVC members seem to favor–convenience, consolidated layout, and ease of access–are not the strong suits of Fort Wilderness. What DVC members don’t seem to care about–themed design, atmosphere, seclusion, and serenity–are some of the biggest strengths of Fort Wilderness. Only so much of that can conceivably change; many of those are immutable characteristics of the campground, and DVC members are going to have to meet Fort Wilderness halfway.
To that point, it would probably be a savvy move if DVC guides took all prospective buyers of the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort to the actual campground and had the spend a half-day actually experiencing and getting around the resort.
Honestly, I’d go a step further and recommend to anyone considering this that they do an actual multi-night stay at Fort Wilderness first. That seems like such an obvious thing that anyone would do when making a $30,000+ purchase, but I wonder to what extent it’ll actually happen.
Even after Disney Vacation Club comes to the scene, Fort Wilderness will still likely be 90% unchanged from its status today. And honestly, as compared to Walt Disney World as a whole, that’s still pretty good. It’s truly amazing how well-preserved the campground still is, even as development has exploded all around Walt Disney World in the last several decades. Fort Wilderness has long been an outlier and something of a time capsule of a bygone era, and that will likely remain true in 2025 and beyond.
Moreover, even as other aspects of Fort Wilderness do change to pave way (a fitting way of putting this) for the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort, there’s only so much I can realistically see the company investing in this project.
There’s a reason Disney is doing this as opposed to resuming Reflections. It’s the path of least resistance. In this case, that’s a good thing for Fort Fiends and all other fans of the original Vacation Kingdom of the World! So we shouldn’t over-exaggerate the damage this will do.
Moreover, there will also be some positives–as much as we enjoy the occasional meal at Trail’s End (RIP) or the quick-service options, there’s a lot of room for improvement on that front. A proper food court would be fantastic, as would improved dining options. Selling this DVC expansion is an incentive to significantly upgrade all of that, and if there’s one thing Disney’s Riviera Resort does well, it is dining. There’s no denying that. I’m also hopeful this results in the restoration of a walking trail between Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge.
That’s not the only positive for my fellow pessimists out there. Assuming that DVC is going to be built indefinitely, I’d rather have this than another tower or bland high-rise sprouting up where it doesn’t belong. While I’m not wild about this, it’s exponentially better than building another bland tower that’s virtually indistinguishable from a metro Marriott or Fairfield Inn by an airport. More of that is coming eventually (development on the Reflections site is inevitable over a long enough time-horizon), but I’d rather postpone it for as long as possible, or at least until themed design is back en vogue.
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – A Disney Vacation Club Resort? Happy that DVC is expanding to cabins at a Moderate Resort, or wish they’d build a new stand-alone property? If you’re a Fort Fiend, are you upset by this or indifferent to it? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!