Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with three places people could stay. There were the Polynesian Village Resort and the Disney’s Contemporary Resort that were both there on opening day and were standard hotels on the monorail line.
Fort Wilderness Campground opened about a month and change later, and it was available for those who preferred to sleep in campers, tents or in the wilderness homes that people could rent.
ABOVE: Rare photos of Wilderness Homes at Fort Wilderness. They began to be replaced with “log cabins” (they’re still just single wide trailers) in the late 1990s.
Back in the very early days of the resort, you could only navigate Fort Wilderness’ 700 acres by walking, or guests staying at the campground could rent a golf cart. But just a couple of years later, people could also take a steam powered train, the Fort Wilderness Railroad, on a 3-1/2 mile ride through the fields and wilderness, and over trestles, to get them from the main entrance to Pioneer Hall, the now-defunct River Country (they simply abandoned that one. Click here to see what River Country looked like in its later years), and all of the camping loops in between.
Here’s what the official Disney blog had to say about the Fort Wilderness Railroad in 2011:
“…The system featured four stream trains that circulated through the campground on a 3½-mile track. The trains’ cars were themed after “plantation locomotives,” a specific style of open-air cars that shuttled consumables, like sugar cane and pineapples, around Hawaiian islands.
“Each of the four trains – decorated in forest green, red, and gold colors – measured just under 115 feet and could seat 90 guests.”
The Fort Wilderness Railroad only ran regularly from 1973 to 1977, and on special occasions from 1977 to 1980. Its full history, including its start up, the multiple reasons why the project was abandoned, and how/why it was almost revived, and then not, is pretty fascinating. Take a look…