Budgeting and Disney World are generally mutually exclusive terms. Disney World is a vacation destination that is far from cheap. But for some, saving money is an option that makes sense and for others taking their camper is just more enjoyable. Be it their own beds, taking pets or having their own kitchen, lots of people like to go camping!
There are quite a few options in and around Disney World in Orlando, FL that you can use for your trip to see the mouse (or even go play at SeaWorld or Universal Studios). They range from the Disney’s luxurious Fort Wilderness to private RV parks to city-run campgrounds. Each has pros and cons. Let’s talk about what options there are so you can pick the best campground for you!
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground
I’ve written about Fort Wilderness before, in fact lots of people have (like this post on my friend’s blog). Like most things Disney, they do a great job with theming and putting their customer first. It’s not unlike Disney to add an extra little bit of pixie dust to your vacation to make you feel like a king or queen, or for the kids to feel like a princess or prince.
The campground is impeccably maintained with mousekeeping tidying up each site between guests and some of the nicest bathhouses that you’ll find. It’s hard to deny the convenience of Disney’s transportation. Often times, you’ll be able to park your rig and/or tow vehicle and not have to move it while you’re there, except maybe to run for groceries. You can take a boat to Magic Kingdom and buses to other parks. Even within the campground, they have their own bus system for taking you to the front, to the pool, the on-site restaurant, and everything in between. If you choose to drive to the parks, your stay allows you to park for free – which is a $25-50 savings (parking is $25, preferred parking is $50!). Remember this as we talk about other camping options.
The downside to all of this convenience? Cost. Oh boy is Disney proud of their resorts. Costs often run upwards of $175 per night depending on time of year for their “Premium” sites. No weekly, monthly, seasonal, or annual discounts are offered. Want to stay a long time? You pay the nightly rate.
And people are clamoring to get in… it can often be a challenge to get a site, especially on holidays. It’s not unheard of to have people make reservations 499 days in advance! In fact, I strongly suggest using a travel agent; there’s no additional fee or cost for you and it becomes their problem to get you a site. I’ve used/suggest Jason Adams with Mouse Counselors and Kelly Lamb with Kingdom Destinations.
Thousand Trails Orlando in Clermont, FL
Let’s start with one of the cheapest offerings if you’re a Thousand Trails (TT) member. Thousand Trails is a camping membership. I’ve written about it before. Like most memberships, it can be a great deal if you use it. 1 year of their Zone pass can often be had for less than 1 week of camping at Fort Wilderness. If you have other TT parks in your home area, this can give you cheaper camping throughout the year.
Their Orlando park is one of the nicer parks in the system. They have ample 50amp sites and all of the sites have sewer. WiFi costs additional and no cable TV is offered. In the winter, getting in can be tricky as it’s a popular snowbird park.
The downside is that it’s a little bit of a drive to get onto Disney property and public transit isn’t practical. There’s a back way for driving in: take route 27 to 192. Turn left off of 192 at the Wawa onto Avalon Rd. Make the first right onto Hartzog Rd and follow that to the first right onto Western Way. This will take you into the backside of Disney and you skip all of the traffic on 192 (which can be rough).
The other downside is that unless you’re an annual passholder, you have to pay for parking at the parks. There are cheats to get around of this but they take way too much time to be worth it, in my opinion.
Tropical Palms in Kissimmee, FL
Tropical Palms RV Resort and Campground is an Encore resort that is just a couple of miles outside of Disney World. Tropical Palms can be $0/night if you add on the “Trails Collection” program to your Thousand Trails membership. The Trails Collection is a little more than $200/year add-on that gives you access to another 100+ parks. There’s a catch that you should read below.
Tropical Palms has “Elite” sites that are paved pull-thrus. Honestly, other than the pavement, I’m not a big fan of these. They’re tight. You’ll become good friends with your neighbor and their hookups! They also have back-in spots that are grass/gravel. I find these to be more spacious and more my style. And then they have a “value” spots that do not have sewer.
The catch for Trails Collection: as a whole, is its availability in Florida in the winter is quite limited due to snowbirds and fulltimers (I know because I’m one!). And, it’s even more limited for Tropical Palms from November to March because they only let you stay in their “Value”/no-sewer sites.
If you opt to pay for the spots nightly, these start to add-up in cost running from $60-90 per night in the winter and $35-70 per night in the summer depending on the site category. Bear in mind the extra parking cost for Disney parks ($25-50) and you’re approaching Fort Wilderness territory. I do assume that there are weekly or monthly discounts depending on how long you’re staying.
Lake Magic in Clermont, FL
Lake Magic is another Encore property that participates in the Trails Collection program of Thousand Trails. It’s not quite as close to Disney as Tropical Palms (or Sherwood Forest which I’ll talk about below) but you can use the same “back way” that I described above for Thousand Trails Orlando.
We really like Lake Magic. I find their sites to be generally pretty spacious. They have paved back-in sites and paved pull-thru spots offered. These are generally worth the extra money because I feel like the space between the spots is a little better than their other sites. All spots have water, electric, and sewer. The park is well kept and there are 2 pools.
Lake Magic has the same limited Trails Collection availability in the winter because of snowbirds and fulltimers but they don’t limit you to their lowest level sites like Tropical Palms does.
For paying nightly, looks like rates run $70-80 per night in the winter and $40-50 in the summer. We spent a week here a few summers back on a sort of “pre-fulltiming trial-run” and found that the place was absolutely barren except for a couple of workers. Again, don’t forget to add Disney’s parking costs when price comparing. And lastly, I know they offer weekly and longer discounts (especially in the summer as it’s their “off season”).
Sherwood Forest in Kissimmee, FL
Sherwood Forest is the last Encore property that I’ll talk about in this post. It also participates in the Trails Collection program of Thousand Trails. It’s probably the second closest to Disney out of the Encore parks that I’ve mentioned.
We have stayed at Sherwood Forest just once and visited friends there before. My overall impression of the park is that it’s pretty tight. I’m not a huge fan of it, but the price can be right with Trails Collection. However, paying nightly can be a bit expensive at $65-90 in the winter and $50-80 in the summer. Again, bear in mind the cost of adding on Disney’s parking fees for park days.
I have heard that there is convenient public transit from here into Disney with a nearby bus stop. You could definitely consider this vs. driving into the parks.
It does have 2 pools. WiFi is an additional cost at the sites but free in the rec. center.
Sherwood Forest has the same limited Trails Collection availability in the winter and also does not limit you to specific sites like Tropical Palms.
Orlando / Kissimmee KOA Holiday in Kissimmee, FL
It’s hard to have a campsite listing that doesn’t include a KOA in the mix and Orlando is no exception. The Orlando/Kissimmee KOA Holiday park is about a mile or so down 192 from Sherwood Forest. I’d liken its distance from Disney to be similar to Lake Magic but you’re dealing with a longer and heavier trafficked stretch of 192.
We’ve had friends stay here and they said that they liked it. Described it as very clean and close to stores and restaurants (which makes sense being right off of 192). They “suffered” (enjoyed?) Florida’s summer heat and humidity in a pop-up camper!
It’s a smaller RV park than the Encore parks in the area and that can definitely be nice. There’s just one pool but they are a bit more kid/family friendly with a jumping pad and nice playground. The pool is open 23 hours a day, which is a great option for some after-park night time swimming.
Winter rates seem to run $75-95 and summer rates are just a little cheaper at $65-85 for the summer. However, they also offer a 10% discount with their rewards program and likely also offer weekly discount.
Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake in Orlando, FL
Including Bill Frederick Park is a bit of a cheat as it is kind of a haul to get to Disney from there but it’s a beautiful city-run campground. It’s very small with less than 40 sites and it can be hard to get a spot in the winter. Only about 1/2 of their sites have sewer. But it’s a true camping feel where you’re under the trees. The spots aren’t super level front to back which can make getting level tricky. We saw a few rigs with wheels off of the ground and some truly creative ways for getting their stabilizers to touch down.
The bathhouses and laundry facilities were nice and library/book exchange was pretty neat! The rest of Bill Frederick Park is quite nice and if you’re a disc golfer, this is the place for you. The park has a pool, though we haven’t been to it as I’m not even sure if it’s open in the winter months. The lake is pretty and can be seen from some of the sites.
It’s a beautiful park and only something like $35/night for hookups and under $20/night for going without sewer. They do have a dump station.
People often talk about Lake Louisa State Park but I feel like it’s just a little too far from Disney to head into the park daily.
I’m sure there are other parks that I’m not as familiar with. Where have you heard of? Where would you stay?