We’ll head out to Fort Wilderness to grab lunch and then dinner and check out a few other things of relative interest. I had asked in the forum about whether people preferred the really long posts that cover a range of topics or if you would prefer shorter, more focused posts on different subjects. It seemed like people were saying that there’s a time and place for everything. Ordinarily I would probably lump this look at Trail’s End before or after a long post on Magic Kingdom, but it probably makes more sense to do this sort of thing separately.
Getting to Trail’s End is a little trickier than most other resort restaurants, but I think I would emphasize the word little. If you’re driving or taking a bus from a theme park other than Magic Kingdom, you have to get on a second internal bus at the depot pictured above. I’ve never waited more than a couple of minutes for one of these internal buses and when you’re supposed to disembark is obvious. There’s an announcement and the majority of other people will also be getting off. The trip usually takes less than ten minutes. If you’re staying at the resort itself, you’ll most likely need to take an internal bus from one of the assorted stops located around the campground. Another trick is to take the bus from Wilderness Lodge that stops at Fort Wilderness’s Settlement Outpost area where Trail’s End and Hoop Dee Doo Revue are situated. You can also walk from Wilderness Lodge to Fort Wilderness along a trail that takes about 15 minutes or take the boat from Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary Resort, both of which will also drop you off just a couple hundred feet from Trail’s End or Hoop Dee Doo.
The map below may or may not help. The circle near the top is Pioneer Hall, which is where you’ll find the restaurants. At the bottom is the parking lot and bus stop to the theme parks.
The easiest way to get to Trail’s End for most people is to take the boat from Magic Kingdom.
The boat dock at Magic Kingdom is straight ahead as you exit through security.
Dinner is a blogger hot spot. If somebody local says they want to grab dinner, it’s almost always here or Boatwright’s for whatever reason. You can tell it’s us because we take phone pictures of everything while looking very agitated. Trail’s End is also the least expensive buffet on property and because of that, a good value out of pocket.
I have a breakfast review at the end of this post. (That whole attach a meal at the end of Magic Kingdom thing…). I like breakfast here a lot, but it might be too much of a hassle for guests staying elsewhere to get to unless you’re planning a lazy day. Breakfast is served for guests seated through 11:30am, so you could feasibly do 8am-11am or so at Magic Kingdom with a morning Extra Magic Hour or regular 8am open and pop over for a late breakfast. Or you could have breakfast around 9:30am and do what the geniuses at the New York Times did and just show up at the Parks at 11am with plans to hit “the delightful wild mouse coaster” that is Primeval Whirl. And remember kids, “The swift admission is one of the advantages of the park hopper ticket.” Splendid reporting that totally doesn’t make you worried that you can rely on very little from “mainstream media.” My usual advice on the breakfast buffet front is to hit The Wave, which offers an all-you-care-to-enjoy option currently at $21.49 for adults, which is a few dollars more than here. But it’s also a lot more convenient and offers an a la carte option for those that don’t want to be weighed down by six pounds of bacon in front of Space Mountain and Astro Orbiter.
The theme throughout Fort Wilderness and into Trail’s End probably works better than any other resort. As Disney describes it:
Round up the whole settlement and sail across Bay Lake to the time of pioneers and a place of natural splendor. Nestled on 750 wooded acres of lush pine and cypress trees inhabited by enchanting wildlife, this is one dining destination you’ll want to allow plenty of time to reach—getting there is a trailblazing adventure unto itself!
Beamed ceilings, split-log walls, mounted animals and a potbellied stove keep things suitably cozy and rustic as you and your kin tuck into a heaping spread of hearty countrified fare and new-fangled favorites.
“Natural” is the key word. You can really get lost in the laid back, bygone beauty of it all while rocking back and forth on the porch. Lunch is served during a relatively tight window of 11:30am-2pm:
The menu follows the restaurant’s rustic atmosphere with an emphasis on southern comfort food with a bit of a twist here and there. Menu mainstays include the Southern Fried Green Tomatoes with Crawfish Rémoulade, Catfish, Chicken and Waffles, Fresh Berries with Chicken Salad, Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich, and of course, the burger. For dessert, it’s hard to go wrong with the Warm Sticky Bun Sundae.
Most of the restaurant doesn’t offer much of a view, but we lucked out at this table that looks out at the expansive “wilderness.” We had a 1pm reservation on Sunday June 28th and there were maybe six other tables with people. That caused the lights to be turned down on at least half of the restaurant, which was a little strange. Not that I’m in favor of the unnecessary consumption of electricity, but it’s been a while since I’ve been in a restaurant with half of the lights off.
You have to get the $3.49 House-made cornbread with Local Orange Blossom Honey-Butter. And you probably want a loaf for at least every three people.
The $15.49 Chicken and Waffles – Fried Chicken Fillets and Buttermilk Waffles with Warm Buttered Rosemary-Maple Syrup is probably the best entree on the menu. I know several of you out there have had the misfortune of dining with me in the past and I only have one rule for such encounters. Just order something that I don’t have a picture of. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want it. But I do make one exception and that’s this. To recount the previous review, “The chicken was freshly fried in a light buttermilk batter with subtly sweet waffles underneath. The warm, house-made syrup is spooned on top. Note the nice presentation too – again, something you might not expect from a $15 entree at Fort Wilderness. All in all, this is perhaps the best entree I’ve run into for the money.” And that’s still true, though none of us were sure what they did with the fourth waffle section. Somebody is eating awfully good somewhere. The strawberries on the plate freshen up a few bites here and there as well.
Lisa ordered the $13.99 BLT Flatbread – Bacon Marmalade with Melted Cheddar and topped with Arugula, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic Drizzle.
Disney has more or less perfected the flatbread. Here, the candied bacon marmalade offers a sweet base that’s enhanced by the saltiness of the goat cheese and the prevalence of the cheddar. The cherry tomatoes provide some color, in addition to a nice burst of flavor whenever one was bit into. I was a little worried that the balsamic was going to add an unpleasant vinegar acidity to the whole thing, but it was sweetened up with a bit of sugar that complemented the marmalade well and was more of a reduced sauce than anything. Overall, it worked, perhaps surprisingly, very well. This is not the ingredients I think most people would start with in flatbread toppings. One thing to note is that this isn’t the heartiest flatbread out there – the bacon flavor is prominent, but we’re not talking about thick slices or anything. The cheese does make for a more filling dish overall.
I think I have a knack for ordering the least-appetizing-looking thing on the menu. This $15.99 Chicken Fried Steak with Vidalia Onion Gravy and Warm Potato-Arugula Salad reminded me a lot of the maligned Saltimbocca from Mama Melrose. The only problem here…and it’s probably a relatively big one…is that the “steak” is more like a fried hamburger than anything. You do get basically two patties lightly fried and well-seasoned with a hearty scoop of the creamy, flavorful gravy on top. The Warm-Potato-Arugula Salad underneath was a little strange – sort of creamy, but also chunky, almost like somebody wasn’t sure if they wanted to go Full Mashed Potatoes. Similar salads that I’ve enjoyed had more discernible slices of potato tossed in with the arugula, which is mostly sitting on top of everything here. Overall, the dish probably took some time off my life and while I really liked the flavor from the gravy, I wouldn’t order it again unless you’re expecting to cut into a hamburger.
From a previous visit: The Pan-fried Catfish with Southern Collard Greens, House Fries, and Rémoulade- $16.99. There is a third significantly sized catfish filet hidden underneath. Science created the catfish to be deep fried and the dish is executed perfectly here with a light, crispy batter over the catfish that remained moist (sorry) underneath. Far too much food for one person to consume.
And another: I ordered the Knife & Fork Shrimp Po’ Boy on Buttermilk Biscuits with Tasso Ham, Country Slaw, and Béarnaise Aïoli served with House Fries – $13.99. I was wary that this was going to be a mouth full of biscuit, but it ended up being just a slice underneath four large shrimp cake patties. The fries are a nice mixture of your typical crunchy potato alongside sweet potato fries, offering two different flavors. Both remained crispy and flavorful.
While each patty was stuffed with large shrimp, the dish would have been helped by a heavier pour of the remoulade. The shrimp portion otherwise tasted mostly of fried batter. It was still far more than I could eat.
The description on the Po’ Boy is a little different than it was during my lunch here last year, so the problems may be fixed.
Trail’s End also offers a take-out dinner as well as a to-go $8.79 Bounty Breakfast served with Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Hash Browns, French Toast, and Biscuit.
There’s a few nearby picnic tables that offer an opportunity to spread your food out a bit.
Finally, Crockett’s Tavern offers another menu in the evening, in addition to a to-go drink window.
This is it down to the left.
Overall, Trail’s End is a nice change of pace from Magic Kingdom and probably even the more popular restaurants at the monorail resorts that are on the receiving end of a lot more press. Cast members are authentically welcoming and the pioneer theme is a lot of fun. Those visiting Walt Disney World for the first time probably don’t want to take the time to get out here. Even if the boat ride over is charming and relatively easy, you’re still looking at about 60 minutes of transportation time round-trip. And more if you count the walk from wherever you are at Magic Kingdom. If you’ve “seen it” and “done it,” then you might want to take a closer look at the menu and the possibility of an air-conditioned break, in addition to participating in one of a variety of other activities available out here.
Settlement Trading Post is the resort store that’s located across the way from the restaurant.
The resort added new merchandise last fall.
I regret not getting a picture of the key chain on top, which is a Winnebago with the Fort Wilderness logo on it. When you squeeze it, the headlight actually lights up. It’s pretty darling:
I like the new logo a lot. This post includes what it all used to look like.
A couple of days earlier, I was at Trail’s End for the dinner buffet. And I’m actually there every other night looking generally agitated. The dinner buffet here is pretty good for the money. The hand-carved beef has taken a drop in quality in recent memory and you could tell Disney had opted for the smallest, cheapest peel-and-eat shrimp available. But they do the best they can with what they have. Plus, there’s all-you-care-to-enjoy cornbread with honey butter.
Dinner currently runs $23.99 for adults and $13.99 for kids. So if you consider the beverage is $3 and ice cream is $5, you’re left with about 16 bucks to cover dinner.
And this costs north of $16 at quick services like Cosmic Ray’s and Flame Tree.
Overall, a visit to Fort Wilderness can be a lot of fun, and Trail’s End might be a big part of that. Whether you just pop over for a leisurely lunch or prefer to attach horseback riding or a watercraft rental, there’s a lot to see and do out here. And I think you’ll be impressed by lunch.