Tip #1: Do a practice run.The idea of sleeping in a tent can be so
exciting for kids that the over stimulation may keep everyone from having a good
night. Families can build up a familiarity with camping by putting the tent up in their own back yard. Start out slow allowing the kids to play in the tent during the day. The next day
have dinner out in the backyard to prepare the kids for what it will be like to
have a campground dinner. Last but not least, spend the night in the tent. Do
this as many times as needed until everyone is comfortable with and can go to
Tip #2: Keep it close to home.It is easy to forget that there are great campsites within an hour’s drive from Fort Lauderdale. A first camping trip doesn’t have to be far away.
CB Smith Park, Markham Park, John Prince Park, and Miami Everglades Campgrounds all offer local opportunities for family camping. Camprate.com can help find a campground and give reviews of the grounds as well.
Tip #3: Keep it short. Don’t think a first camping trip should be a week long adventure.
Start out small and work up to longer trips. Pick a campground with lots to do and just stay one night. When the entire family learns how to work together and sleep well then make plans for that nice long camping vacation. State parks also offer facilities like water and restrooms. There is no reason to go completely rustic on the first trip out.
Tip #4: Be prepared with Activities. CB Smith Park in Pembroke Pines has lots to offer to entertain and wear out the kids. There is biking, hiking, boating, and in the summer there is even a water park. Check out the local area surrounding your campground as well. Flamingo Gardens is a short 15 minute drive from CB Smith Park. These built in activities can help reduce planning time.
Another option is the Kampgrounds of America (KOA). We use the Kabins when we take road trips, check our KOA adventures in Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA. A local South Florida option is Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach. This campsite and zoo is an easy 40 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale and provides facilities that will keep the family happily entertained at all times. Lion Country Safari often offers specials for two free passes to the park with a night of camping, and it even has a pool. Jennifer Berthume, PR/Marketing Director of Lion Country Safari says “The thing I think is the
coolest about our campground is that you can sleep right next door to hundreds of animals from over 6 continents. You can hear lions and siamangs while camping!” No one will be bored at campgrounds like these, and parents won’t
have to exhaust themselves planning activities in advance.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground has just about everything you could ever need while camping. There is little need to even go into the parks at this campground there are so many built in activities!
Tip #5: Check the weather. Florida weather can be extreme, so make sure that it is not going to be too hot, too cold or too wet. There is nothing worse than a wet night in a tent. Especially if you are new to camping. Florida’s winter and fall generally have the mildest weather and are a great time of the year to camp. With a little background practice families can be prepared for exciting camping adventures that will provide children with memories for a lifetime.
One of my favorite things to do is to go camping at Fort Wilderness at Disney World. I have always loved to camp, however my dear husband has been dubious at best about it.
We have found the perfect happy place to make it work for all of us! We can camp here and there are so many things to do, no one is ever bored!
Being there while the campgrounds were all decorated for Christmas was extra special. It is so much fun just walk around the campsites and see how the campers decorate their sites. This last visit we stayed in the 2000 loop. At first I felt like it was too far from the pool, however we discovered that people had build little bridges across the canal and we could walk to the pool and the camp store in less than 5 min. We had so much fun “trekking through the wild” to the store (where I could get coffee) and of course to the pool.
Make sure that you look over your schedule when you get there so you don’t miss any of the fun!
There are two pools, one for adults (which truthfully, I have never been to) and one for everyone! The pools are heated and there is almost always some sort of entertainment going on there. There are crafts for the kids in the morning, and dance games, bingo and quiz games throughout the day. The snack bar is pretty good and handy too. This last trip was so cold, that we did not swim (well my hubby and daughter lasted about 10 minutes in the water). However we spent a good bit of time hanging out by the pool, playing games and making crafts.
There is a fabulous kiddie pool as well as a splash slide for the little ones. I love that the kiddie pool is shallow enough that the little ones can handle it without us parents getting too wet!
Of course there is the giant slide too! We were lucky enough to arrive first in the morning on one of our trips. The lifeguard asked my daughter if she would like to open the slide and gave her a train engineers hat and whistle. She was so proud of herself, she got to announce loudly that the slide was open, blow her whistle and take the first slide down. She still talks about it. This is the magic of Disney, where something rather ordinary becomes something special that is never forgotten!
Don’t worry there is a hot tube too!
One of the things that I love the most about all the Disney Resorts and Fort Wilderness are the lifeguards. As a former lifeguard myself, it is clear that they are all well trained and super alert. They are professional and always have an ice pack at hand for the occasional bump or boo boo. I know this because my daughter is adept at needing a ice pack!
WildlIfe In our wanderings around the campgrounds we have seen loads of deer grazing, bunnies, all kinds of birds, a hawk, an oriole, and some turkeys. Once a duck flew into the pool too, which the kids thought was hilarious.
Each camping loop has a couple of “Comfort Stations”. The bathroom, the loo, the toilet, the privy, the throne…..you get the picture. The bathrooms are always clean. Seriously, I have camped here when the grounds were completely full and the bathrooms have never been gross! Mind you I still wear my flip flops in the shower, but really they are pretty darn good. All the showers have a disabled shower in them too, this is particularly handy for those of us with little girls, being able to pick up the shower head to rinse out little ones hair (especially long hair) makes things a lot less ratty (pun intended).
Most sites have water and electric, there are tent sites and also big rig sites. So it seems that they can accommodate just about any type of camper that comes their way. I should not forget to mention that they have cabins for rent too. We have never gone that route, but if a tent is a bit too much for you it is always an option.
Most of the sites are pretty secluded so there is some privacy. Although, as a parent of an only child, I don’t mind that we can see all the kids playing in the center field of the loop.
Playgrounds Disney did not forget that kids love playgrounds! There are playgrounds tucked in here and there and everywhere and there always seems to be kids who want to play. Which in our case is a very good thing! The playgrounds gave loads of shade and are almost always surrounded by picnic tables and benches.
Cinderella’s Horses Tri Circle Farms is housed on site near the beach and the Trails End Restaurant. This is seriously cool! The kids (as long as they are under 48 inches) can ride on one of Cinderella’s horses. Yes, they are the very same horses that pull Cinderella’s Carriage. This time my daughter got to ride Bandit. As I was leading Bandit, I thought to myself How cool is this, I am leading one of Cinderella’s horses. At that moment I looked back at my daughter and she was grinning ear to ear and she said “I am riding Cinderella’s horse!” For $8.00, this is a memory that will be special for a long time!
Even if you are too big to ride, you can walk through the yard and visit with the horses. Don’t forget to check out the barn and see the working Calliope, see the Clydesdale and learn a little about Walt’s love for horses!
You can also take the family on a trail ride at Fort Wilderness, the horseback riding barn is at the front of the campgrounds near the reception. I don’t know what the fees are, but I can’t wait to take my girl on ride soon.
Campfire Sing Along, Bonfire and Movie
The campground hosts a Chip and Dale Sing Along and Bonfire that is included in your camping fees. You can buy marshmallows and a stick (or just bring your own). I prefer to do our smores at the campgrounds as it gets a bit much with tons of kids running around with sharp sticks and fiery marshmallows.
Fireworks and Electrical Water Pagent Ask when you come into the campgrounds what time the fireworks and the Electric Boat Parade are. You sit on the beach in the evening and watch the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. The kids love it and while maybe not quite as impressive at it is in the parks, it is still a great view and a great time!
Monorail and Ferries Not going into the parks this trip? No problem, you can still take a boat across to Magic Kingdom or the Wilderness Lodge. From Magic Kingdom you can take the family on monorail ride. The little ones love this and think it’s the best ever!
Trails End Restaurant They do a sit down breakfast and dinner. We prefere the breakfast, however it is a little expensive. We don’t do it every time, but I love it. The food is really good and of course they have my favorite, Mickey Waffles!
Did you forget the hamburgers or did it rain on your hotdogs? Both of these have happened to us, the Trails End Restaurant is available to walk up order pizza or breakfast items, and i thought the prices were pretty reasonable. They also have a bar with a walk up window which makes waiting on the beach for the fireworks a bit more fun for adults!
The Trading Post store (there are two on the campgrounds) should have most things you might need. Everything from snacks to food, souvenirs and of course coffee! I always come prepared to make coffee at my campsite, however you can never have enough coffee in my opinion.
Disney has not forgotten the extras. Right outside the restaurant they keep a plastic horseshoe game and loads of hula hoops. It was so much fun to sit on the patio there and watch all the kids playing in front of the Christmas Tree.
Canoeing, Fishing, Archery, Wagon Rides, Boat Rentals, Fishing, Bike Rentals, Jogging Trails, Arcade, Walking Tours, Segway Tours, Bike Rentals, and Golf Cart Tours.
This last trip we took a canoe rental around the canals. It was fun, and rather comical. The young man who helped us get out the canoe indicated that we could not get lost, however that did not turn out to be the case. Anyhow we made it back to the Bike Barn (where we started) and we had fun. They have rental bikes for all sizes and even helmets too, so if you can’t get your bike to the campgrounds you are covered. All of these things do have extra fees. The canoeing was pretty reasonable, at around $6.50 for a half hour for all three of us including life jackets.
They have lots of camp groups come through, but Jennifer (Marketing Director) let us know that they are usually in the walk thru park between 11 and 2. We didn’t get their until late so we drove through the Safari first and then headed into the walk thru and saved the water park for last. There were still groups there, but the the park is so big that it doesn’t feel very crowded. By the time we got to the water park, we really needed it! It felt so great!
They have added a new attraction to the walk thru part of the park. It is called water wars. Basically you get three of your best (or worst) friends and you get to have a water balloon fight with them. Only in this battle you use a sort of slingshot type of contraption. It was loads of fun and a great way to cool off on these hot summer days!
This place is a full day! There is so much to do. Our favorites are always feeding the giraffes and petting / feeding and brushing the goats, oh and don’t forget the mini golf. Thanks for inviting us Lion Country! You are on Keeping Up With Kids list of great reasons to live South Florida!
So I am on a kick now to take road trips and stop in at KOA’s along the way. You can rent a cabin, or Kabin as they are called for around $50 a night. It gave us a chance to get the camping feeling and yet not have to wrestle with a tent. What is even better is that the cabins have air conditioning and heat. Most of them seem to have free WiFi and you know that doesn’t hurt either!
Asheville West KOA Kabin
We pulled in to this site in the Blue Ridge Mountains and it was beautiful! We were greeted and sent round to our cabin to get settled in. The attendant told us where everything was and mentioned that there was a game room out back. I groaned silently, but went to peek into it later. It was actually a game room, you know “no quarters needed”! There were board games, puzzles, a tv (with cable), crayons and coloring books, and a book swapping shelf!
Everything at this campsite was impeccably clean! The cabins were very near the restrooms, which is important when traveling with little ones! There was a pool, and nice tot lot playground, lots of trails to walk, a cute camp shop with reasonably priced items. Oh and good coffee!
Asheville West KOA Kabin
In the center of the ring of cabins there was a shelter that had a stove and sink, where meals can be prepared. There was also a community campfire ring. I was all set to start a fire to make smores when a storm came in. It was not problem though, we sat on the porch swing, while my husband sat on the larger front porch of the Camp Store on the free WiFi to get some work done. Next we went to the game room and had a very nice evening in there.
I loved the way the cabins were laid out too. My 3 year old could run out the cabin door and there wasn’t too many ways she could get into trouble in the immediate area. She could run around a bit and still be within my sight line form the porch. Her favorite thing was the porch swing! I love traveling with 3 year olds sometimes. Expensive dinner? Boring! Porch Swing? Best invention ever!
Asheville West KOA camp kitchen
The campgrounds were quiet and peaceful and there was only one thing that I could complain about. So here it is, the paper mill! There is a paper mill nearby and you could smell it, mostly at night. We did run the AC at night just to filter out the smell, even though we really didn’t need it in the cool mountain night. It wasn’t horrible and didn’t irritate my eyes or anything, but it was bothersome when everything about this mountain getaway was so perfect. The attendant said that you can only smell it a couple of times a year and then it goes away. I felt really bad for them at this family owned campground, because it was obvious that they take great pride in their business.
Asheville West KOA Camp Store & Office
The staff were extremely responsive. We had a wasp starting to build a hive under our porch swing and the maintenance guy came right over to take care of it. We loved walking the trails in the cool mountain air and watching bunnies from our front porch swing! We spotted lots of birds too. I cannot say enough nice things about this place. We were there in June and it was hot enough to swim at midday and cool enough to warrant a sweater in the evening.
Asheville West KOA Pool
I didn’t get photo’s of the kids playground. It was really perfect for my 3 year old though. Little ones do need to be supervised there though as there is a little pond right next to it. I know that I have been in the south too long because the pond looked exactly like a large alligator hole to me, and I kept catching myself scanning for ‘gators. Duh, I was in the mountains! No ‘gators here! There was an awful lot of poison ivy though, so I would suggest wearing long pants and socks. The good news is that the cool mountain will make the extra clothing very comfortable. I wasn’t bothered by a single mosquito the whole time we were there. I was waiting for them, but I suppose I was just barrowing trouble from my sub tropical home.
Asheville West KOA is less than 15 minutes to Asheville. We spent a day in this great little artist/hippie town. It was wonderful! Great art galleries and restaurants there for sure! I will be writing about that at a later time!
Asheville West KOA
Oh and they had a large pavilion with a fire place for large gatherings and meetings. It would be an awesome place for a family reunion! Even with the stinkie smell, I could have spent a few weeks here. We had a wonderful visit there and hope to return when the paper mill is blowing the other way.
On our very long drive back to South Florida from Ohio, we stayed the night at the Savannah South KOA. I am quickly becoming a fan of the KOA, as we stayed in two of them this summer. This particular campsite seems like it would be a great getaway for a couple of days this fall or winter since it is about 8 hours from Fort Lauderdale, The KOA is less than 20 minutes from Savannah, and if you have never had the chance to walk around there it is a fabulous walking town!
Our KOA Kabin
Our KOA Kabin
The cabin cost us around $50 a night so I felt it was a great deal. It had AC and heat, one full sized bed and a set of single bunk beds. The bathrooms and showers were a short walk away. There was a BBQ Grill and a picnic table and you could park your car nice and close to the cabin.
We pulled into the site around 4:30 pm, it was extremely hot and the dashboard said it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The staff were all very friendly and helpful and directed us back to our cabin.
The cabin was clean and set on a lake with a small front porch and bench. There were all kinds of ducks and swans roaming around on the lake and the scenery was amazing. I could have set out on the porch all evening if the heat had not been so oppressive.
The good thing about staying in a KOA cabin is that they, as I have mentioned, have AC and heat. It worked wonderfully for us while on our road trip. I love to camp, but when you are traveling with a little one the idea of dealing with a tent can be a bit overwhelming. If you are arriving on a very hot day, I would advise that you call when you about an hour away and ask them to turn on the AC so it can start working.
From our KOA Kabin doorway
KOA Savannah Georgia
KOA Savannah Georgia
KOA Savannah Georgia
KOA Savannah Georgia
The AC in our cabin was a bit small for the space and it didn’t really work all that well. It kept the cabin bearable but if you like it cold, this unit just couldn’t compete with the unusually high temperatures the area was experiencing in June. Free wifi is also available and you know that is important to me.
The bathrooms, cabins, and laundry room were all pretty clean and seemed to be well within the KOA standards.
We had a lovely evening there, we took a walk around the lake to look at the birds, kept cool in the pool and tried to play on the playground. The pool was clean and large and kept us cool in the excessive heat. The shop had any extras that you might need for very reasonable prices. They also have a great selection of wine, however just remember that you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays in Georgia, so plan ahead!
The playground is not designed for small children at all. It has one of those old really high slides and metal teeter totters that big kids will love, but look really dangerous for small kids. I put pictures of it below so you can make up your own mind on it. If you have little ones you will also need to keep in mind that there is at least one alligator in the lake, so keep your eyes on the little ones at all times. There is also fishing and canoeing available.
There was a game room with a TV (I didn’t check to see if it worked) and two pool tables (you need quarters to play).
The other rather odd thing is that the pool does not open until 10:00 or 10:30 am (can’t remember which) according to the sign. I wanted to have a quick swim before we pulled out in the morning and when I asked at the shop at 9 am they unlocked it for us anyway. Not sure why they wouldn’t unlock it earlier, but they did accommodate us.
We stayed at another KOA near Asheville NC on our way to Ohio and I will get that posted ASAP!