Dining Out and About: Trail’s End Restaurant
by Jack Spence, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the June 13, 2006, Issue #351 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
During the last several months I have written two restaurant reviews, one for the All Star Cafe and another for the Sand Trap Bar & Grill. Both of these reviews have been positive and today's review will be no different. I've been accused of being a Disney fanatic (probably true) and overly eager to like everything the company has to offer (I don't think so). I can assure you, there are several Disney restaurants that I would be hard-pressed to recommend. But, for the moment, I'd like to keep my attention focused on what's good at Disney. I'd like to concentrate on out-of-the-way places where I enjoy eating and believe are overlooked by the average Walt Disney World visitor.
I'm sure a great many of you have seen and enjoyed the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue performed at Pioneer Hall in the Settlement area of Fort Wilderness. But my guess is that most of you (unless you've vacationed at the campground) are unaware of a hidden treasure situated immediately next door to this great show — the Trail's End Restaurant.
If you've never been to Fort Wilderness, you're in for a treat. This is probably the most laid-back, tranquil place on Disney property. Time seems to slow down when you're there. In order to maintain a rustic feel, Disney left most of the original forest in place when they designed the campground. Pine and oak trees hanging with Spanish moss, rivers and lakes, and carefully designed buildings combine to create an environment that seems miles away from the hubbub of the rest of the World.
Even the trash cans help to generate a feeling of the great outdoors as some of them have been themed to look like tree trunks. Once used at Disneyland's Indian Village, they were transported to the campground when this "land" closed in early 1971.
The Trail's End Restaurant can be found just to the right of Pioneer Hall. This unassuming restaurant/buffet offers a casual atmosphere and down-home cookin'. Built in the style of a log cabin, Trail's End has a large front porch that wraps around two sides of the building. Complete with rocking chairs, this is a wonderful spot to sit, relax, and stare out at the tranquil surroundings before or after your meal.
Also a part of Trail's End is Crockett's Tavern. Here you can order beer, wine, or a mixed drink. Up until last year, Crockett's Tavern featured a number of tables as well as a bar at which to enjoy your beverage. However, the Trail's End's popularity has grown and the tables have been designated as part of the restaurant instead of the bar. Now all that's left of the Tavern is the bar and eight bar stools.
At the same time that Crockett's Tavern shrunk, Disney also moved the Trail's End entrance. As you approach the restaurant, you'll see a large sign overhead and steps leading up to a double door. That's the old entrance. Look to the right and you'll see several hostesses standing at a podium. This is the new entrance.
Just inside the door you'll find a picture of Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. You can also spot an old-time player piano, but I've never seen it playing. In the rafters are rustic bric-a-brac like wagon wheels, coffee pots, lanterns, and other paraphernalia that the early settlers might have brought with them on their trip west across the country. In the far corner of the restaurant is a model of a keel boat that Davy Crockett might have used. There's also a stuffed bear standing on his hind feet in attack position.
After being seated, your server will greet you and offer you something to drink. Alcoholic beverages are available from Crockett's Tavern (not included in the buffet price), as are the usual assortment of Coca-Cola products (included). All drinks are served in Mason jars. After your drink order has been taken, you will be pointed in the direction of the buffet.
I've only eaten breakfast here once and it was most enjoyable — and filling. Many consider this to be one of the best bargains at Disney World. At $11.99 for adults and $7.99 for children, this all-you-can-eat buffet will fill you up until late in the afternoon. The menu features fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, a daily omelet, Mickey waffles, biscuits and gravy, bacon and sausage, assorted pastries, and as much orange juice as you can drink. The orange juice alone makes it worth the price. A continental breakfast is also available for $6.99.
At lunch and dinner you'll find one of my favorites — chili. It's a little thinner than I'd like, but the taste more than makes up for its consistency. I always go over to the salad bar and add some grated cheese and chopped onions. Next to the chili you'll find the soup of the day and cornbread. The salad bar isn't extensive, but it offers enough variety to make a decent salad — iceberg lettuce, pickled beets, onions, shredded cheese, two kinds of cubed cheese, croutons, beans, and four or five different dressings. Also on the salad bar are pudding, gelatin, and fresh fruit. At dinner, peel-your-own shrimp is also available.
On the "hot" buffet you'll always find tender barbecued ribs and fried chicken. Since this restaurant shares the kitchen with the Hoop-Dee-Doo show, you might recognize these two items as the same food Disney serves there. Pizza and macaroni and cheese are also always available to make sure the young'uns can find something they like. At lunch, sandwiches are available and dinner always features a roasted meat at the carving station.
Since many of the guests staying at the campground eat here on multiple nights, the rest of the buffet changes daily. Some sort of fish entree is offered, along with one or two casseroles and/ or pasta selections. I've even seen buffalo and venison served. A number of side dishes round out the offering.
Dessert is simple — fruit cobbler (either apple or cherry) and bread pudding with delicious vanilla sauce. There is a display case to the left of the buffet. Here you might find brownies, cakes, and pies, but these items are not part of the buffet and you will be charged extra if you order them.
If you're not hungry enough for the full buffet, you can order the "Soup and Salad" bar for $7.99 at lunch or $11.99 at dinner. Carry-out food is also available from 4:30 p.m. until closing (check with the restaurant for details).
If you have to use the restroom while dining, that could be a problem. Well, maybe not a problem so much as a walk. The Trail's End Restaurant doesn't have restrooms of its own; they share these facilities with the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, and they're located on the other side of Pioneer Hall. If you're unfortunate enough to time your visit right after the show gets out, you could have quite a long wait. So, my advice to adults as well as children — plan ahead!
The Trail's End Restaurant takes reservations. Call 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463). This is especially advisable for breakfast and dinner. However, if you show up for dinner between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., you shouldn't have any trouble getting a table without a wait.
As peaceful as Fort Wilderness is, it's especially quiet during the day when the vast majority of guests are at the parks. I strongly recommend coming here for lunch. The restaurant will be slow and you won't have to compete with dozens of other people at the buffet line. Once, while I was having lunch there, the stage manager from the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue came into the restaurant and announced that in 30 minutes the show would be breaking in a new actress and they would be performing a dress rehearsal. Anyone who wanted to see the show for free (and without food) was welcome. So that afternoon, along with about 15 other people, I was given a "private" performance. Cool!
After you eat, you can check out the stables where the Main Street horses are kept. You can look for the albino peacock — a very beautiful bird. Or shop in the Trading Post, where you just might find a few items not sold everywhere else on Disney property. (I said a few, not many.)
The "Meadows" is just a short walk or bus ride away from Pioneer Hall. Here you'll find another tranquil setting. This is also the place where you can rent canoes and paddle your way through tree-lined canals.
In the evening, the Settlement area gets busy. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is extremely popular and is performed three times nightly. Before each show, several hundred people will be milling around waiting for the doors of the theater to open. However, even with all these people, Fort Wilderness still manages to feel peaceful.
Also available in the evening are carriage and wagon rides. The carriages are reminiscent of New York's hansom cabs. I've never ridden in one, but it looks very romantic.
You can reach the Trail's End Restaurant by boat from the Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge, or Contemporary Resort. The Disney-MGM Studios and Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) also provide direct bus service to the Settlement Depot. All other parks and Downtown Disney offer bus service to the Outpost Depot of Fort Wilderness. A parking lot is also located in this area for those of you who choose to drive. From the Outpost, you must catch an Orange, Yellow, or Purple bus to the Settlement. Although the Orange bus offers the most direct route, board whichever bus arrives first. It's a quick ride no matter which bus you take. I know these directions might sound a little convoluted, but it's really a lot simpler than it sounds. And if you're unsure, just ask at the front desk of your resort and they'll be happy to help you out.
Current hours and prices for Trail's End:
Breakfast: 7:30 – 11:00 a.m.
Children (3-9): $7.99
Lunch: Noon – 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: 4:30 – 9:30 p.m. (10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday)
Trail's End Restaurant Menu: http://www.allears.net/menu/menu_teb.htm
Previous reviews by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm
Photos of the Trail's End Restaurant can be found in our Restaurant Photo Galleries: http://allears.net/din/gall_res2.htm
Post your own dining reviews, or read others' ratings, in our Rate and Review section: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.