Disney World is a place filled with non-stop fun and entertainment. When planning your Disney World vacation, be sure to schedule a rest day from the madness of the parks. I always recommend when planning a Disney vacation that people plan for a non park day at Disney World and schedule some time for Disney resort hopping. Visiting the different resorts at Disney World will give you a much broader appreciation for the vision that the Disney brand embodies. A rest day at Disney World will help you unwind from the hustle and bustle of the parks, Fastpass scheduling, and allow you to recharge for your next park day. While Disney World definitely has tons to see and do, there are still plenty of things to do in Disney World besides the parks. You’ll see how a non park day at Disney World will provide much needed relaxation but still provide enjoyment and activity for those who don’t like to lounge around too much. Here’s a list of 15 things to do in Disney World besides the parks.
15 THINGS TO DO IN DISNEY WORLD BESIDES THE PARKS
As Florida residents, Disney was a place we visited multiple times a year. We enjoyed to travel locally on weekends to the parks and often did Resort Only stays to unwind and enjoy the magic of Disney with less hustle and bustle. Here are some ideas on things to do in Disney World besides the parks.
Enjoy Your Resort
Depending on where you are staying, one of the simplest things to do in Disney World besides the parks is to enjoy your resort. Whether you are staying off-site, or at one of the Disney properties, hopefully, your resort has a huge pool where you can enjoy the water and the sun. Some of the best family resorts in Orlando offer pools with slides, lazy rivers, and other on-site amenities, in addition to a lower price tag, to draw guests outside of the Disney “bubble”.
Chances are that your resort will have daily scheduled activities, lawn games, an arcade, and outdoor movies all for your entertainment. If it doesn’t because you were trying to cut some corners and do Disney on a budget, that’s ok, you can enjoy Disney resorts as well on your non-park days at Disney World, even if you aren’t staying there (more on that later).
If you are staying at a Disney resort, take some time to just walk around and soak in the ambiance of where you are staying. Whether it is a Value, Moderate, or Deluxe, all Disney properties have their own theming and elements that are unique. All Disney properties do have large and small pools and hot tubs for you to enjoy and also have some type of poolside activities going on in the afternoon for kids. Many Disney resorts also have playgrounds, walking trails, and a schedule of activities for the day too.
Go Disney Resort Hopping
One of my favorite things to do on my “Disney rest day” is to go Disney resort hopping. Most of the activities that I mention involve resort hopping at Disney World and doing certain activities there.
For example, I love to walk through the lobby of Port Orleans French Quarter and eat some beignets or stroll through all the larger than life character displays at Art of Animation before eating at their food court. Most of the time, our family enjoys Disney resort hopping when we have set activities in mind. We may spend the morning at our resort in the pool, then head over to another resort for lunch, then plan another activity like mini-golf or shopping, and then another resort for dinner.
Ride Disney Transportation
A fun activity is to use the WDW transportation system to go Disney resort hopping. One of the easiest ways to do this is to make a dining reservation at one of the resorts so that you can park there or take another mode of Disney transportation (bus, ferry, Skyliner or monorail). Sometimes it can be nice to just take the free transportation and enjoy the ride. Here are some suggestions about how to combine Disney resort hopping using Disney transportation.
- Skyliner: Art of Animation, Riviera, Pop Century, and Caribbean Beach
- Monorail: Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary
- Ferry: Boardwalk, Swan and Dolphin, Beach Club and Yacht Club
- Ferry: Port Orleans Riverside, French Quarter, Disney Springs, Saratoga Springs, Treehouse Villas, Old Key West
- Ferry: Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness
- Bus: take a theme park bus to a resort or a bus to Disney Springs and then either a ferry to that resort or a bus
Here are some options that combine resort hopping at Disney World and using Disney transportation to get there:
- Walk around and visit Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, and then take the Epcot Skyliner to Art of Animation, Riviera, Pop Century, or Caribbean Beach
- Take the monorail and stop at Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary (for an adults-only group – do a bar crawl and have a drink at each resort)
- Use the ferry to visit Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness (do a Bay Lake crawl and visit each resort)
Do Resort Activities
Disney Deluxe resorts have many activities for people of all ages. For kids, there are free arts and crafts, face painting, and some activities that cost a small fee (like cookie decorating or making a tie-dye shirt). Each resort has an activities calendar that can usually be found near the front desk. If you are visiting during the holidays, Grand Floridian has a giant gingerbread house and other seasonal activities. In addition, each resort usually has a Christmas tree with winter decorations all around that can make for a nice Disney resort hopping opportunity.
One of my favorite places to enjoy a non-park day is at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The resort activities at Animal Kingdom Lodge cannot be beaten! They offer free tours of the hotel where a cast member discusses the African inspired decor and how Disney Imagineering made it come to life. There are also free dining tours in the afternoon of Boma, Sanaa, and Jiko that includes a food sample. They even have a couple of different scavenger hunts, including finding Hidden Mickeys. Of course, probably the best part of the Animal Kingdom Lodge is that the savannah is available for any visitor to come and check out the animals. At night, you can even see the animals with night vision goggles.
Walk Around the Boardwalk
The Boardwalk area is a nice place to go to “kill some time” and take a stroll. You can often find entertainers juggling or singing, you can rent a boat or a bike, and it is also a great place to do some Disney resort hopping. You can walk to Boardwalk Inn, then check out Beach and Yacht Club, and even take a look at the Dolphin and Swan (Marriott properties). There are so many dining options in the Boardwalk area too that this could be a great place to go for dinner or for a snack. There are also a few bars and even some lounge/nightclubs for adults.
Visit Disney Springs
This is one of my favorite things to do in Disney World besides the parks. Our family often goes to Disney Springs on our rest day or our final day of our trip just to enjoy the surroundings. There’s plenty to do in Disney Springs for kids and adults that can take up an entire day or just a portion (depending on your preference). You can check out the Lego store, the Coca-Cola store, and the biggest Disney store – World of Disney. There are also many unique Disney boutique stores here and brand name shopping opportunities as well. There’s a movie theater, bowling alley, and plenty to keep you entertained.
In terms of dining options, Disney Springs really has it all. From celebrity chefs to Disney themed options to snack carts, food trucks, and donuts, there is something for you to eat here. You can also take a ride on a vintage amphi-car (land/sea car), view Disney from a tethered balloon 400 feet high, or transform into a princess or pirate at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. A new Cirque du Soliel will be opening at Disney Springs called Drawn to Life.
Make Character Dining Reservations
I always recommend to clients and friends who ask that they should make at least one character dining reservation if possible. This one of my most useful Disney World tips for first timers because the lines to meet characters can sometimes be very long at the parks. By scheduling a character dining meal, not only do the characters come to you while you dine, but you get some unique pictures as well.
It is also a great way to check out different resorts. Even if you are not staying on property, you can drive up to the gates of the resort where you have your character dining or any dining reservation and say that you have a reservation. They will let you park and you can explore the grounds, participate in any of the resort activities for the day and eat.
Scheduling a character meal on your non park day at Disney World is a great idea because these are often longer meals than usual and it becomes more of an event rather than just a dinner. Some of my favorite character dining experiences that are not in the parks are:
- Breakfast at Ohana at the Polynesian (Lilo and Stitch, Mickey and Pluto)
- 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian (Alice and Friends, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, or Cinderella and the stepsisters)
- Breakfast at Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera at Riviera Resort (classic characters with French outfits)
- Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno at Disney’s Boardwalk (Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, Ariel, and Prince Eric)
- Story Book Dining at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort (Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and the Evil Queen)
- Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (classic characters in chef outfits)
- Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort (Minnie and Daisy)
If you happen to have an annual pass, you have more freedom in how you spend your days and will likely spend less time in the parks because you can return at your leisure. If so, one of my favorite character dining options is at one of the best Animal Kingdom restaurants, Tusker House. Crystal Palace and Cinderella’s Royal Table are also two very popular character dining options at Magic Kingdom restaurants.
Disney has two mini-golf facilities on property – Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. Both are very nicely themed and provide 18 holes of fun for everyone. Disney’s Fantasia Gardens is themed to Fantasia and is located in the Epcot Resort Area. Disney’s Winter Summerland is a fun take on bringing the winter to Florida and is located near Blizzard Beach Waterpark. Our family has done both courses multiple times and for $14 a person, it is not too steep in price. If you purchase a vacation package through Disney World, a round of golf per person is included; it just has to be used before 4 PM.
While there are mini-golf courses just outside of Disney’s property, these two are one of Disney’s best-kept secrets. It’s a low cost, family bonding activity that provides a little dose of Disney magic. This is why playing mini-golf makes for one of our favorite things to do in Disney World besides the parks and a perfect rest day activity. For those that can play real golf, Disney has four world-class golf courses that can be used. There is even a junior golf program for kids.
Go to the Outlets
I love visiting outlet malls! Our family often visits them when we travel (like my favorite in Williamsburg) and that is where the majority of my kids’ clothes come from. Orlando has two outlet malls that are pretty close to each other and not far from Disney World – Orlando International Premium Outlets and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets. I have been to both and love the variety. A visit to either outlet mall can be a great way to spend your Disney rest day, but be careful as they do tend to get pretty packed with people.
Rent a Surrey Bike
Surrey Bikes are those “family” bikes with 4 seats that always seem like a fun idea until you do them for about 20 minutes and realize it’s a real workout! I have made this mistake several times and let me children “con me” into renting it again. According to Disney’s site, you can rent Surrey Bikes in various locations on property: Boardwalk, Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, Saratoga Springs, and Old Key West. I’ve rented them at the Polynesian and at Fort Wilderness, but it doesn’t seem that it is offered anymore. If you are planning to do Disney resort hopping, you could plan to rent one of these bikes at the locations mentioned above and add it to your list of activities for the day. As for me, I am done with them, but I hope you enjoy your workout!
Yes, you can go fishing at Disney World. Disney offers bass fishing excursions where you are taken out on a boat with a small group to catch/release bass. If you are an angler or you have a young one who is, this experience to fish in Bay Lake would likely be quite memorable. Prices can be found here. Fishing excursions must be booked ahead of time and leave from the following resorts:
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Resort
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Old Key West
- Saratoga Springs
- Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter
- Coronado Springs
- Caribbean Beach
- Yacht & Beach Club
- Boardwalk Inn
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
- Disney Springs Marina
A more economical option is dockside fishing that can be done at Fort Wilderness and Port Orleans Riverside. A fishing pole and bait are included and prices are very inexpensive (under $10). We have done this twice and my son loved it (my daughter, not so much).
Rent a Boat
One of our favorite things to do in Disney World besides the parks is to find ways to enjoy the “magic” in new ways. On a recent trip, we stayed at Fort Wilderness and tried family glamping for the first time. In addition to renting golf carts, we also rented a pontoon boat for an hour and enjoyed lunch on the Seven Seas Lagoon picnic style. At all marina locations, guests can rent mini speed boats, a Boston Whaler, or a large pontoon boat. In addition, Fort Wilderness offers canoe and kayak rentals. Check prices here.
Go to a Campfire
All of the Moderate and Deluxe resorts offer guests a free campfire where they can roast marshmallows. This is one of my favorite camping activities, plus I get to stay in a hotel room. As a matter of fact, you really don’t have to be staying there, you just need to show up at the right time, get your roasting stick from a cast member and enjoy! Each resort has a different time for their nightly campfires, but it is always in the early evening. Be quick though, because once the roasting sticks run out, the campfire is over. For a special campfire, head on over to Fort Wilderness Campground, Chip and Dale are there to sing songs and have fun.
Watch a Movie Under the Stars
All Disney resorts show a complimentary Disney movie at night in an outdoor area. Most of them have it near the pool deck so that guests can use the pool and watch the movie at the same time. You can check the Resort Activities Calendar at the front desk or posted schedules around the resort.
Watch the Electrical Water Pageant Parade
If watching a movie is not your thing, and you are good with staying up until late, then head on over to one of these areas to watch this classic water parade from one of these locations:
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – beginning at 9:00 PM
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (including Narcoossee’s) – beginning at 9:15 PM
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – beginning at 9:30 PM
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground – beginning at 9:45 PM
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort – beginning at 10:10 PM; in instances when the Happily Ever After fireworks show takes place at 10:00 PM, the Electrical Water Pageant will begin shortly after its conclusion.
- Right outside the entrance of Magic Kingdom park – beginning at 10:35 PM, during Extended Theme Park Hours only.
Bottom Line: Ultimate Things to Do in Disney World besides the parks
A Disney vacation is usually filled with non-stop action. I have visited many times on weekend getaways where I did not have time for a Disney rest day. Other times, we specifically planned our Sunday as our non-park day and then drive back home in the afternoon. These suggestions come with many years as a Florida resident and Annual Passholder. While I did list many options, here is a sample schedule for your non park days at Disney World:
- Pool morning at your resort
- Go Disney resort hopping for lunch
- Go to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for resort activities
- Visit Disney Springs or the Boardwalk area
- Play mini-golf
- Do some more Disney resort hopping for dinner
- Stay for the campfire and Movie Under the Stars (or resort hop again)
- Resort hop to see the Electrical Water Parade
Other Disney World Tips
As someone who has visited Disney World multiple times, I enjoy sharing my tips and tricks with others. As a Disney vacation planner and travel agent, I can help you with things from a Disney packing list to booking your resort stay and Fastpasses/dining at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom. If you are considering doing both a visit to Disney World and adding on a Disney Cruise, I recommend doing your trip to the parks first and then finish it off with a Disney Cruise out of Port Canaveral. Here’s why – while a Disney World vacation is fantastic, it is not always relaxing. You are waking up early, running around the parks, and trying to make it to the next attraction for days. On a Disney Cruise, you will vacation at a much slower pace and be pampered by the signature Disney service. In addition, Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, is probably one of the best beach vacations you’ll ever have!
If you have not booked your Disney Cruise yet and are just looking at options, I would recommend using a travel agent to help you with the planning and give you some onboard credit as a thank you for booking with them. I have been on 5 Disney Cruises in the past 8 years and am a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations. I can share my advice about cruising with Disney, provide free onboard credit, review check-in procedures, and go over what types of things to do on/off the ship. By the way, my services are completely free! If you’re interested in a free quote or even if you have already booked and would like to transfer it over so that I can help you, email me and we can get started.
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