When planning a vacation to Walt Disney World, emphasis is mostly placed on the four super awesome theme parks and the two crazy cool waterparks. The thrill rides, crowds, fast passes, tons of walking, waiting, and sore feet are all part of the vacation package.
But, SURPRISE! There is so much more!
Walt Disney World has a TON of amazing things to do that do not require a theme park ticket! Consider these TOP 10 awesome experiences on your arrival or check out day or plan several days to explore another side of Disney!
No theme park ticket required!
- Make advanced dining reservations for an exciting dinner show! Disney offers three family-friendly options for entertainment + meal combination. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue are both hosted at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Our favorite Disney dinner show is a breathtaking and enchanting luau and family-style feast called Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Village Resort.
2. Spend a day shopping and eating at Disney Springs! All Disney resorts have free transportation to Disney Springs (DS), which is an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment marketplace. Complimentary self parking is available as well as valet parking of your vehicle for $20.
The 150+ venue complex sits next to the peaceful Sassagoula River and has four main areas: The Landing, Marketplace, Town Center and West Side.
The World Of Disney is the largest Disney store in the country and can be found in the Marketplace. At the time of this post, 110 retail shops can be found at Disney Springs, including Anthropologie, Coca-Cola Store, Disney’s Pin Traders, LACOSTE, The Lego Store, Levi’s, MAC Cosmetics, Origins, Pandora Jewelry, Savannah Bee Company, Sephora, UGG, and Vera Bradley, just to name a few!
All of that shopping will certainly cause hunger and Disney Springs boasts 55 restaurants (at the time of this post). You are sure to find something that fills your tummy. There are kiosks, quick service, food trucks, table service, fine dining and even entertainment dining to choose from.
This is just a small sampling of your dining options at the Disney Springs complex: The BOATHOUSE, Bongos Cuban Café, The Daily Poutine, D-Luxe Burger, Earl of Sandwich, Namaste Café food truck, Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, House of Blues Restaurant and Bar, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia, Paddlefish, Rainforest Café, The Smokehouse, Sprinkles, and T-REX.
When you exhaust all retail options and eat to your hearts content, there is still more to do at Disney Springs! Check out AMC Movies at Disney Springs 24, Splitsville Luxury Lanes, The Marketplace Carousel and Characters in Flight.
Still at Disney Springs when the sun goes down? The list of nightlife options and entertainment includes performance artists, singers and musicians preforming in the streets, live entertainment in several restaurants/lounges and even Irish dancers at Raglan Road.
***Extra hint–There is a Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique (BBB) at Disney Springs! This is an awesome option for a princess experience or knight package outside of the theme parks (ages 3-12)! If you can’t get a reservation at the BBB inside of Magic Kingdom, try to snag a time at this location. Call 407-939-7893 for more information and to make reservations.
3. Disney has it’s own unique Cirque de Soleil performance called La Nouba and it’s permanent home is a free-standing circus theater in the West Side section of the Disney Springs complex. Usual show times occur on Tuesday-Saturday. For tickets and further information call 407-939-7600.
***La Nouba’s final performance will take place in December of 2017, so book soon!
4. Character dining is NOT limited to the magnificent theme park restaurants. In fact, some of the most memorable character meals take place at the Disney resorts!
Dining at a resort does not require a theme park ticket and if you make advanced dining reservations (ADR), you can park your vehicle in the complimentary resort parking lots. Before you enter the resort property, the guard at the entrance check point will either scan your magic band or check for your name on the reservation list. Valet is also available for $20-$25.
You can also take Disney transportation from your resort. At the time of the this post, Disney does not offer direct resort-to-resort transportation, but getting to another resort is fairly easy. Most of the time, it is best to take a bus to a theme park and then take another bus to the desired resort. Sometimes monorail rides or boats rides are the quickest! Just ask the front desk concierge for the best route.
Our favorite resort character meals are 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. Click here to read a full review of 1900 Park Fare. Click here to read a full review of Chef Mickey’s. These two restaurants were non-negotiable, permanent parts of our Disney vacation planning when our children were younger.
1900 Park Fare is located inside the Grand Floridian Resort (GF), which is Disney’s signature hotel near Magic Kingdom and part of the monorail system. Different characters make appearances at both breakfast and dinner and are subject to change.
For many years, we visited 1900 Park Fare for breakfast on the day we checked out of our resort. It was the last little bit of Disney magic before we headed home.
Chef Mickey’s is an American-style buffet restaurant serving breakfast-brunch and dinner. It is located inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which is near Magic Kingdom and on the monorail system.
Historically, this character meal was the first thing we did on our check-in day. It’s a great way to start the fun and curb the excitement until the first day in the theme parks.
Though character meals are always subject to change, we have interacted with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck while dining at Chef Mickey’s.
‘Ohana (inside the Polynesian Village Resort) is another very popular restaurant that has characters during breakfast. There are several other character meals available outside of the theme parks and Disney is constantly adding new and exciting dining experiences.
For a full list of resort character dining, just call 407-939-3463. Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) are highly recommended.
5. Looking for an adventure away from the theme parks? Gallop on over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. This resort is a magnificent African-savanna themed oasis away from the crowds, lines and thrill rides. Public viewing areas overlook vast flatlands with exotic wildlife, unique animals and birds.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge hosts an intimate 12 person “Dine With An Animal Specialist” inside the Sanaa restaurant. Click here to read about our experience!
Wanyama Safari takes guests on an exciting safari expedition through the resort’s savanna and ends the trek with a multi-course dinner at Jiko–The Cooking Place.
Both of these unique events require advanced reservations, so call 407-939-8687.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has some of our all-time favorite restaurants, too! Check out Sanaa for exotic African dining with an amazing view or Boma–Flavors of Africa for a delicious buffet! Read a review of Sanaa here. And a review for Boma–Flavors of Africa here.
6. For the ARRRGGHHHH, I mean pirate fans, I recommend the Pirates and Pal Fireworks Voyage that sets sail from the Contemporary Resort.
This is a super pirate-y evening aboard a “pirate ship” with “Patch the pirate” as your guide. Enjoy silly pirate-themed songs, trivia and games while sailing along Seven Seas Lagoon.
The voyage lasts between 2-3 hours and offers THE BEST views of Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks display. Lucky pirates might get to meet Peter Pan once the boat returns to shore. Scheduling for this event varies according to season and requires advanced reservations. Call 407-939-7529 for information.
7. How about a spa day to work out those tense muscles and rejuvenate tired feet? Yes, please!
Senses Spa has two locations on the Disney property–one at the Grand Floridian Resort and one at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort.
Spa services range from facials to full body massages, arm and hand massages to pedicures and honestly, can be quite pricy. But, if time and your wallet allow a spa indulgence, rock on, my friend!
Make some relaxing, pamper-me reservations by calling 407-939-7727.
8. One of the breathtaking features of Epcot is the mesmerizing Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium, a 5.7 million-gallon home to over 4,000 sea creatures.
Epcot offers an exciting 2 hour behind-the-scenes tour of The Seas with Nemo and Friends and a 30 minute swim/snorkel experience in the aquarium.
The Seas Aqua Tour is for ages 8 and up and does NOT require separate theme park admission. To make advanced reservations, please call 407-939-8687.
9. A day away from the theme parks is the perfect time to buy all of those Disney souvenirs! Check out the gift shop at your resort or travel to other Disney resorts and find different treasures and mementos. Disney Springs is a great place to start, especially at the World of Disney store.
If you are willing to leave the resort area, I recommend visiting the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets and the Disney’s Character Warehouse (407-477-0222). You never know what goodie will be found at this huge Disney outlet!
Another surprising place to get awesome Disney merchandise is the Walmart Supercenter at 8990 Turkey Lake Road in Orlando.
10. Though Disney offers so many other experiences, tours, golf and fishing excursions, I saved the best for last!
The last top 10 thing to do that does not require a theme park ticket is:
GO EAT DOLE WHIP!
Some Disney guests don’t realize the creamy, pineapple-y concoction can be found outside of the theme parks! YES! IT IS TRUE! GO TELL YOUR FRIENDS!
Get to the Polynesian Village Resort, by any means possible. There you will find the golden goodness we all crave! Get in line, choose your treat, grab a table and ENJOY!
Enjoy, my friends!