What happens when two dozen truck camping adults go to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, stay at Fort Wilderness Resort, and explore the theme parks at Disney World? A moon shot.
Mike Tassinari (aka Mikeee) announced the Disney Jamboree in 2012, about a year and a half in advance. Immediately upon hearing of Mike’s plan, we all looked at each other and said, “Disney? In 2014? Seriously?”
This was somewhat akin to Kennedy announcing, “We choose to go to the moon” in 1962. Like the moon, Mike’s Disney vision seemed impossibly far away, both in time and distance. And the very concept of truck camper gathering at Disney World was so far outside of the normal scope of truck camper rallies that it might as well been a rally on the moon.
Or am I just using the “moon” analogy to foreshadow something obscenely funny (and possibly just plain obscene) that will happen a few paragraphs from now? I wouldn’t do that, would I?
Choosing To Go
Back on Earth, the idea of going to Disney in 2014 was not something I was initially for. First, the cost was considerable; fuel costs aside, Fort Wilderness campground and Disney park passes would cost about $267 a day, even with the group discount Mike had negotiated.
Second, I had been to Disney World when I was seven. The idea of going back to Disney at the slightly less green banana age of forty-one struck me as ridiculous. I couldn’t fathom why a couple dozen of otherwise reasonable adults had already signed up to go to Disney World. Isn’t Disney World for kids?
This began an intense back and forth negotiation with Angela. Angela was ready to drive to Florida right then and there if our truck camping friends were going. The idea of revisiting Disney World intrigued her (she had also been to Disney World as a kid), but that’s not why she wanted to go. Angela saw an opportunity to be in Florida in January and hang out with fellow truck campers. Even our cat Harley agreed with her on this point.
With the cat tipping the scale (another story all together), I was now out numbered. The decision was finally made; we were going to the North East Truck Camping Jamboree in Disney World. Our darn cat is always on Angela’s side.
After reviewing the costs, we agreed to stay four days and then explore more southern parts of Florida. As she loves to do, Angela started making plans and creating an itinerary. Well Mike, what have you gotten us into this time?
The Disney Magic Arrives
Above: The Disney Experience movie on a flash drive
In the months that followed, Disney sent us email confirmations, packets in the mail, and even a movie on a flash drive to help get us excited about going to Disney World.
Above: The Magic Band Kit
I really didn’t pay much attention to these deliveries until the Disney “Magic Band” kit arrived. Inside a sturdy white presentation box featuring characters from Pixar’s “Incredibles” were two wrist bands, one pink for Angela, and one blue for yours truly. The box and the bands had our names printed in a presentation worthy of anything Apple has ever done.
These waterproof rubber Magic Bands were to be our all-in-one tickets and portable charge cards for everywhere we went and anything we bought in the parks.
With the arrival of the Magic Bands, I became very impressed with the professionalism of Disney, and a bit taken back by the advanced MagicBand concept. Magic Bands use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
Above: Angela using her Magic Band in the park; a combination of the band and her fingerprint activates her admission into the park
These Magic Bands could be used by Disney to track our movements and behavior throughout the Disney complex. Anyone who’s seen the movie Gattaca might be freaked out by this. Then again, I think I’ve been tracked by something Goofy for most of my life; might as well make it official.
Look Out Florida. Here We Come!
When the time finally arrived, we packed up our 2014 Northstar 8.5 Arrow Model U and hit the road. After a 24-hour stop to attend Angela’s cousin’s wedding in Baltimore, we drove to Jacksonville, Florida and parked for the night at Walmart. It was in the high 40s that night, a world better than the single digits we had been experiencing in Pennsylvania.
The next morning the temperatures quickly climbed into the 50s and continued to rise as we approached Orlando. Entering Disney World, the truck’s dash thermometer read in the mid-60s.
Above: The truck camper group was in the 500 loop of Fort Wilderness campground (click to enlarge)
Officially, the gathering had started the day prior and there were already about a dozen truck camper rigs at Fort Wilderness. Mike had made sure we were all together giving the gathering a “rally” feel.
Above: Hanging out next to our 2014 Northstar 8.5 Arrow U with Keith and Nancy Rivers, Robert Adams, and Jeannie and Charlie Coushaine
After all, this is what we were really here for; to see friends, be warm, and have fun. Within minutes, we had checked all of those boxes.
Fort Wilderness Campground
Above: Our 2013 Chevy Silverado 3500 and 2014 Northstar Arrow U at the entrance of Fort Wilderness Campground
Before we get to our experience in the Disney parks, we need to talk a little bit about Fort Wilderness, Disney World’s resort campground. The first thing we noticed is how clean and immaculately maintained the campground is. The campground sites themselves are concrete, level, spacious, and offer reasonably good privacy from neighbors.
I don’t normally commit precious electrons to talking about campground bathrooms, but the Comfort Stations (as they are called) at Disney’s Fort Wilderness absolutely demand it. To be clear, the bathrooms at Fort Wilderness were, by far, the nicest and cleanest campground bathrooms we’ve ever seen – seriously.
For anyone who doubts our campground bathroom credentials, I’ll have you know we have seen, used, and casually evaluated hundreds of campground bathrooms over the years. Most of them could only be improved by a hazmat team armed with industrial disinfectant and a flame thrower, but Fort Wilderness was a completely different story. Clothed in articles that would make a very short list, I found myself thinking, “The tile work in here is really nice”.
Above: Video of Fort Wilderness Campground and fun around the parks (courtesy of Charlie Coushaine)
All in all, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort campground is as first class as it gets for campgrounds – the best we’ve ever seen. Of course we would prefer a boondocking site in Monument Valley or a water front site in the Florida Keys any day, but this is as good as luxury campgrounds get in our experience. If every campground was this nice, we would stay at campgrounds a lot more. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true.
A Recycled Example
Living as we do in an area that requires recycling aluminum, glass, and many paper products by law, we are often dumb founded at how difficult it can be to find recycling collection while traveling.
Above: The recycling center was to the left of our campsite
In stark contrast to previous experiences, Fort Wilderness had a recycling station at the end of our campsite. I don’t mean it was at the end of the row, or down the way, or over the hill and through the palm trees. I mean there was a recycling station (and a trash can for that matter) at the very end of our campsite.
What’s even more amazing is that a guy on a golf cart came by and cleaned out the recycling and trash about every fifteen minutes. I’m joking of course, but there seriously was recycling and trash collection going on all the time. Pluto forbid there be a soda can or two sitting for too long.
Rediscovering Disney World
To truly appreciate Disney World, one needs to appreciate a few remarkable facts. Disney World is comprised of 25,000 acres of theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom), water parks (Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach) and more (Downtown Disney, ESPN World Wide of Sports Complex, and Disney Speedway, five golf courses, and on, and on).
Over 66,000 thousand “cast members” work 3,700 different jobs at Disney World – that’s over $1.6 billion in annual payroll and benefits. Over 5,000 of these folks are dedicated to maintaining, engineering, and keeping the parks clean. The streets are literally steam cleaned every night. More than one of person in our group said they wished the government was as effective and efficient as Disney. One can dream.
As this is Truck Camper Magazine, I won’t dwell too long on our experience at the parks of Disney World except to pass on some advice and perspective about what it’s like to be there as an “adult”.
While we’re not exactly Spring chickens, we’re not exactly Winter chickens either. At thirty-seven and forty-one years of age, I’d like to think we’re early-Summer chickens.
Whatever our chicken season status may be, we found a full day at Disney World to be a lot of standing and walking. Not only are the parks themselves enormous, but getting to them requires a considerable amount of walking to transportation, and standing in lines.
Then you get into the parks and there’s more walking and standing for rides and attractions. For some of the rides and attractions the lines were twenty minutes long or more. For others, including Pirates of the Caribbean, there was no line at all.
The crowds were another here and there, but not everywhere, experience. Even with our intentionally timed low-attendance visit in January, there were a few places and times – mostly in the more kid-oriented areas in the early afternoon – when the sheer volume of humanity before us had five words running through my cranium, “Get me out of here!”
I’m not usually adverse to crowds, but this was akin to unloading a Walmart parking lot full of family minivans into a shopping mall on Black Friday, and then trying to hit the food court. If you have an aversion to crowds, or kids, or people who don’t seem to see you as they walk randomly from someplace to another pushing baby carriages, you’ve been warned.
In all fairness, we didn’t encounter heavy crowds more than a few times. Furthermore, the crowds we did encounter were easily avoidable by going to the more adult-oriented (read: less pink princess themed) areas. When we walked up to rides and attractions that targeted people over the age of six, we often walked right in without a moments wait. Sometimes it was almost as if we had the park to ourselves. I know I’m contradicting myself, but that’s what we experienced. It was either minivan madness, or practically empty.
Above: The Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom had some fun “waiting in line” activities
As a side note, we often found the elaborate people chutes Disney utilizes to keep lines moving, empty. We had great fun darting down hallways, leaning into winding turns, and getting to where ever we were going lickety-split. Yee ha! I guess we’re spring chickens after all.
Above: The Magic Kingdom laser and fireworks display was extraordinary
Above: In Epcot (left to right) Charlie and Jeannie Coushaine, Linda and John Ross, Jesse Black, Richard and Carole Ward, Mike and Cathie Tassinari, Chris Zimmerman, and Gordon and Angela White
If we were to go back to Disney, we would spend a day at Epcot, a day at Hollywood Studios, and a day at Animal Kingdom. We both enjoyed reminiscing childhood memories in the Magic Kingdom, but found that particular park to be more appropriate for kids.
Above: The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular was as advertised (click to enlarge)
Our favorite park was Hollywood Studios with its Star Wars and Indiana Jones themed attractions. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it the Animal Kingdom, but heard good reports from the other truck campers.
As luck would have it, NASA had scheduled a rocket launch for night of Thursday, January 23rd. If the launch wasn’t scrubbed, we would be able to see the rocket from Orlando as it blasted through the Florida sky and into space.
At 9:00pm, a group gathered on the Fort Wilderness pier loading and reloading NASA Twitter reports on our smartphones. The first launch time was scrubbed and a 9:45pm launch window was announced. It was cold but clear. As we waited, Angela and I met a couple who lives just a few minutes from our house in Pennsylvania. It’s a small world, after all.
Above: The rocket exhaust peaking over the trees and reflecting in the water
As 9:45pm approached, someone called out, “Here comes the count down. Ten… nine… eight…” Everyone joined in the countdown and the excitement was upon us. Of course it was about ten seconds or so before a bright orange light peaked over the trees on the horizon.
“There it is!” we called out and everyone cheered. I don’t care how old you are, that’s a thrilling sight to see. Thank you NASA.
Mike’s Moon Shot
In his presentation of the Disney experience, Mike was insistent that we attend the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue; a two-hour dinner theater event and feast that had him singing at the slightest mention. Well, if we’re already going to Disney World, why not take it to the next step? The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue it is. What the heck, sign us up.
What happened that evening has been seared into the minds of everyone in attendance. It’s already legendary, and may possibly be one of the funniest things I have ever seen, at least with the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree (which is actually saying something).
Above (left to right): Janet and Jim Kaley, Chris Zimmerman, Jesse Black, Linda and John Ross, Richard and Carole Ward, Cathy and Jim Crisafulli
Above (left to right): Jeannie and Charlie Coushaine, Mike and Cindy Olesnevich, Patricia and Robert Adams, George Armenteros, Carol, Evan, and Barry Schoenwetter
Soon after we were seated in the theater, the food, fun, and folly began.
For the record, the Hoop-De-Doo performance was quite good and the food hit the down-home country spot. Even better, the beer was bottomless. I no sooner put an empty glass down than a full glass arrived. Service like this could get dangerous.
Speaking of bottomless, you may want to have your children – even if they’re over the age of thirty – look away from the smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer screen at this time. Let’s just say that what follows isn’t suitable for mature audiences. Everyone squared away? Okay, good.
About ninety minutes into the singing, dancing, eating, and drinking, and various carrying on, one of the cast members came to fetch Mike, whisking him away back stage. Several other guests were also brought back stage. One by one, folks were brought out as various characters in the play, but there was no sign of Mike. Then, about ten minutes after he had disappeared, it happened.
Above: Video from the Hoop-Dee-Do Revue (courtesy of Charlie Coushaine)
In a pink dress and angel’s halo, Mike glided on stage instantly sending the truck camping group into stitches. What was most shocking was how well Mike had taken to his new persona. He was a natural; light on his feet, arms flowing through the air, graceful and happy as could be.
Above: Mike mooning the audience during the finale of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue
Then he pointed to each of our tables, turned around, bent over, and raised his pink dress mooning the entire theater. Thankfully he had his pants on, but that was more of Mike’s hindquarters than any of us had ever wanted up to see. At this point, Mike’s wife, Cathie, was laughing so hard I thought she would need medical attention.
Above: Mike and the performers in the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue
The smile on Mike’s face said it all. It was a moment none of us will soon forget, even if we want to. Hoop-De-Doo Revue, indeed. Classic.
So Long Disney. Hello Okeechobee.
Our four days at Disney World passed fast. As we said our good-byes, we let everyone know we would be camping at Summer Breeze RV Park in Okeechobee, Florida.
Located about two hours south of Disney World, Summer Breeze RV Park is owned by fellow Northstar truck camper owner, Don Walker. Back in October of 2012, Don offered to let Truck Camper Magazine readers stay at his park for $15 a night with full hook-ups and it was high-time we visited his park.
Above: Our 2014 Northstar 8.5 Arrow sets sail from Summer Breeze RV Park
Reflecting back on our North-East Truck Camping Jamboree Disney World experience, I am very glad we went. Not only did it temporarily get us out of what can only be described as a horrible winter on the East Coast, it was also great to spend a few days with truck camping friends in a place most of us were exploring for the first time, or the first time in a very long time. Yes, I still hold that Disney is mostly geared towards kids, but it’s obvious to me now that some of us, despite our age, are still kids.
One thing is for certain; we are going back to Florida in our truck camper again next Winter. I don’t think we’ll camp at Fort Wilderness next year, but there’s no getting around the fantastic experience of driving out of Winter and soaking in the sunshine and warmth of southern Florida in January and February. That is something I cannot recommend enough. Even better, we hope to connect with fellow truck camping snowbirds for more impromptu fun in the land of palm trees and orange groves.