Welcome Home!

When we hit Interstate 75 heading south, the tears began. Our life-changing adventure was coming to an end, and that southward turn felt like a gut-punch. Then we remembered our next – and final – campground was Fort Wilderness at Walt Disney World, and we would soon be hearing that most Disney of greetings, “Welcome home.”

Walt Disney World has been a big part of our personal and professional lives for decades, first separately and then together. Although we’ve written extensively about the U.S., Europe, and cruising, Orlando has been our stock in trade with our books, through 29 editions of the Brit Guide to Orlando, three editions of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, two editions of Walt Disney World Hacks, Hidden Magic Trivia, Hidden Magic Planner, 111 Places in Orlando You Must Not Miss, and reams of articles for newspapers, magazines, and online companies. It felt fitting that we would end our journey at the place that made our travels possible.

Once upon a time, pets and cars were not allowed inside the campground loops areas. Now, the entire resort (with the exception of buildings and the pool) is dog friendly, and our enormous Premium Meadow site had room for Nippy, with plenty to spare. With trees on three sides – but also an open view of the sky – we had loads of privacy and flawless internet reception through Starlink.

Look at all that room!

But wait…there’s more! You could throw a party back here.

We had the option to go into the theme parks during our stay, but instead, chose to spend all of our time at Fort Wilderness. For 17 years, we had a house right behind Magic Kingdom, just across a small lake, and we would occasionally bicycle to Fort Wilderness for exercise. When we thought we might someday take a cross-country trip in an RV, we cycled over and spent a lot of time looking at the rigs that were camping at the Fort, dreaming of the day we might be able to do the same. Now, that dream had come true.

There are 28 “loops” in the campground, around which campsites branch off like spokes. Plenty of privacy, but also open enough at the front if you want to chat with other campers.

Everywhere you look there is natural beauty. It’s definitely Disney-designed, but we really appreciate the thought that goes into keeping campers happy and comfortable.

Plus, there’s wildlife! Wild turkeys, armadillos, squirrels, even deer, as well as two very mischievous Chipmunks!

This little guy (or gal) was looking for grubs. Armadillos are just so weird and wonky!

After a long drive to reach Lake Buena Vista, we spent our first evening chilling out at the rig, grabbing dinner from onsite Trail’s End Restaurant, and watching the Disney movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The next morning we ventured out on foot, exploring the trails, the watercraft rental area, and the Chip ‘N’ Dale Campfire Sing-A-Long pavilion, where we’d return that evening to see the show.

None of us are used to the heat and humidity anymore. Ruthie has come to appreciate our mini fan.

Cast Member Jeremy from New Orleans asked us if we had exciting plans for the day when we passed him on our way to the pavilion. That kicked off a 15-minute chat, including the surprising revelation that he knows Young Son, who has been his bartender in Galaxy’s Edge a few times. We say it all the time and we’ll say it again: Cast Members are the true “Disney magic” in this wonderful theme park playground, and they have that “special something” about them; call it the “Disney Difference.” We ended our conversation feeling like we’ve made a new friend.

With Ruthie tucked up in her wagon, we returned to the pavilion for the 8 p.m. show, which is a cute, family-friendly sing-song with characters Chip and Dale, and the chance to purchase S’mores and hot dogs for roasting over a campfire. Adorable, and just the sort of thing that gets you into the Disney spirit.

Ruthie enjoyed the show, too.

We then headed down to the beach for a view of Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After fireworks at 9 p.m. The prime view of the fireworks is from the park’s Main Street U.S.A., but over the years we’ve come to appreciate varied perspectives, which all add something different to guests’ viewing, and Fort Wilderness is certainly one of those places.

That blue-ish glow to the left of the burst is the smaller fireworks directly behind Cinderella Castle. This gives you an idea of how far away the big bursts really are when they’re launched.

The next day we took a drive around our old stomping grounds outside of Walt Disney World to see what has changed in the last year (answer: a LOT. It’s Orlando. Things change monthly). We returned to Fati so that Susan could do a podcast interview, then we headed over to the Sing-A-Long pavilion again for Movies Under the Stars. The evening’s movie was Disney’s animated Tarzan, which neither of us had seen in years.

It made for a nostalgic end to the day, and helped us think about something other than the next morning’s visit to Ruthie’s vet. We knew we had some hard questions to ask, and we weren’t entirely sure we’d like the answers. In the end, the answer was, No, it’s not time to “make that call” yet. We were given a clear idea of what we’d see when the time does come to say good-bye, but that we won’t know when that will be until Ruthie shows us she can’t keep going. “She won’t want get up. She won’t want to eat. And her breathing will suddenly be twice this bad.”

She did come home with medication to help ease her advanced osteoarthritis, so that should make her more comfortable, but walks are out for her for the duration, and beyond that it’s “wait and see.” Could be a week, could be a year.

She looks great for a 97-year-old!

The Electrical Water Pageant is one of those magical little “extras” long-time Disney fans seek out, and we were eager to see it that evening, for one last time. The weather had other ideas. Although the rain kept us inside the rig, we were content with our forested view as our thoughts were on returning to our “sticks and bricks” house the next day.

It’s surprising how conflicted we are about being ready for a rest, being excited to be home again, wondering how we’ll cope with staying in one place every day, and feeling truly, truly sad this Year on the Road has come to an end. We can’t bear the thought that we won’t travel like this again, so we will. What that will look like remains an exciting mystery.

Thank you for coming along with us on this incredible journey, and here’s to the next one!