It may come as a total surprise, to some, to hear that a vacation to Walt Disney World actually means more than just time in the parks! There are many things to do outside Disney World. In fact, the same amount of time you’ve devoted to spending in the parks could also be used just as effectively outside the parks!
Maybe it’s the middle of day 5 of your trip, there is tons of screaming and crying going on, naps need to be had… and that’s just the adults in the group! Or maybe the idea of lounging by the pool with a spiked dole whip is more attractive than standing in line for the 50th time. Whatever the case may be, Disney’s got you covered!
Disney Springs, which is sometimes considered Disney’s 7th Park, is #1 on the list of things to do outside of the Disney parks! Previously named Downtown Disney, Disney Springs is a mix of what everyone wants! Home to incredible shopping destinations, delicious restaurants, and entertainment for days, Disney Springs is the perfect breath of fresh air when the other parks just aren’t an option!
Disney Springs is basically a giant blend of classic Disney stores, including the HUGE World Of Disney gift shop, with other large retail chains (such as Sephora, Kate Spade, Harley Davidson, Ron Jon, Anthropology, etc). It is a mecca for those who want to get all of their gear in one place! Worked up a hunger from shopping? Disney Springs has got you covered! Whether you’d like to stay with budget-friendly options or you want to splurge, Disney Springs has over 60 dining options that will accommodate any budget!
Disney Springs isn’t just shopping and dining, though! it is also packed with entertainment options! Take a stroll over to The Boathouse where you can drive cars… straight into the water! And keep driving them! They’re called Amphicar’s and they are a very popular attraction in Disney Springs! For $125, up to four guests board an amphicar for a 25-minute tour around Disney Springs and all of its beauty!
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
If you have any little princesses on your vacation, then I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to take some time to visit the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique! Starting at $69.95, your sweet girl can become a real-life princess! Including an adorable updo, makeup and nails even up to princess dresses with matching accessories (additional cost), your little girls are going to bask in their time as they are pampered becoming the princess’s they so love!
For those who seek thrills even outside the parks, Disney Springs has a solution for even that… Aerophile- the world’s largest helium balloon! Hand-painted and custom built in Paris, France, Aerophile soars up to 400 feet in the air with up to 29 guests! In this 8-minute long attraction, you’ll be spoiled with views as far as 10 miles away! It’s also a perfect way to get those unparalleled photos of the Walt Disney property others couldn’t! This attraction is $20/adult (10yrs+) and $15 for children.
Disney Springs is also the perfect escape if your theme park day experiences “less than perfect” weather conditions. Conveniently located, Disney Springs is home to one of the most state-of-the-art AMC theaters in the world! This AMC offers 24 theaters, 6 of which are extra special! They feature a “dine-in” service where you can have hand-crafted drinks, cocktails and meals delivered right to your seat!
Splitzville & NBA Experience
Two other rainy-day activities can also be found at Disney Springs. One is Splitzville Luxury Lanes and from its name, it’s no surprise what’s inside! 30 Amazing lanes of bowling on 2 floors, plus 5 bars, restaurants and a billiards/TV area complete the establishment. It really is an awesome way to pass time! The second is called The NBA experience! The moment you walk through the doors, you become a professional NBA player! Your first activity is to walk through an entry tunnel with the sound of all “your” fans cheering you on! Then, you’re exposed to a world of training drills, competitions, championships & more! Entry is $34 and grants you 1-day access to over 13 unique experiences only Disney knows how to create!
An 11-minute car ride from Disney Springs will find you at Disney’s Boardwalk. Similar to Disney Springs, although on a somewhat smaller scale (which may be a refreshing break for some), Disney’s Boardwalk is full of delightful dining and shopping! Often, there are even magic performances throughout the Boardwalk property! My husband was chosen to participate in a magic show once on his birthday and he had such a wonderful experience! While you’re there, you can take the opportunity to “resort hop” among the many Boardwalk area resorts, which include:
- Disney’s Boardwalk Inn & Villas
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney Swan Hotel
- Disney Dolphin Hotel
Speaking of resort hopping, it has become a popular activity for those looking for things to do outside Disney Parks while on a Disney Vacation! What a lot of people who don’t have a lot of experience with Disney don’t know is that Disney resorts are so very much more than a place to rest at night. Disney has taken special care to ensure that Disney resorts match the caliber of the parks. This being said, it’s a lot of fun to go around and look at resorts you’re not staying in. Each resort on Disney property has a unique theme therefore a unique aesthetic that will surprise you with each new resort you visit! Some of the best resorts to “resort hop” to:
Disney’s Grand Floridian
Often considered the most luxurious resort on property, The Grand Floridian is as opulent as Disney Resorts come. Decorated in a Victorian style, the breathtaking resort hosts 6 restaurants, a spa, and many boutique shops with the perfect Disney touch!
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting over the holidays, that is by far the best time to go! Right in the middle of all the magical action of the lobby is a 14-foot gingerbread house made from real edible ingredients! Combine the view with the mouthwatering aroma of gingerbread, a 70 foot Christmas tree and more, it’s a holiday treat not to be missed!
The Grand Floridian is accessible on the Monorail from the Magic Kingdom or Transportation and Ticket Center.
Polynesian Village Resort and Villas
Located just across from The Magic Kingdom, with an enviable view of Cinderella’s Castle, as well as the evening fireworks display), is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. This resort on the banks of The Seven Seas Lagoon will transport you to paradise instantly! Perfectly combining the Polynesian culture with Disney spirit, this resort is another must on your “resort hopping” itinerary.
Easily accessible by monorail from Magic Kingdom (as well as The Contemporary resort and The Grand Floridian resort), The Polynesian Village Resort is home to one of the most popular Character Dining Restaurants, Ohana.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
One of my personal favorite resorts on property, Animal Kingdom Lodge is as close as it gets to a vacation straight to Africa without having to leave the Country. Upon entering the lobby, be prepared to be awestruck by the massive chandeliers, intricate ceilings, 5 story open concept, and, of course, African decor at every turn! Be sure to take the time to visit the savannas on property! The Resort features three separate 10-acre pieces of land which are home to Ostriches, Zebras, Kudu, Giraffes, and more!
If you have time in your itinerary, Animal Kingdom Lodge is home to Boma: Flavors of Africa, an absolutely impeccable buffet serving both breakfast and dinner.
Become a Mermaid
If you’re looking for a little more fun in the sun, Disney’s Mermaid classes are another one of our super fun things to do outside Disney Parks! Mermaid classes are available at:
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
At Mermaid classes you strap on a neon tail, dive “under the sea” and feel what it’s like to be Ariel! For $50, anyone ages 4 and up can begin with a basic swim lesson. Then your instructor will build up your skills until you’re driving through rings both in and out of the water!
Draw Like a Disney Animator
Another resort activity is to take a trip over to Disney’s Art Of Animation to get your drawing game on! Channel your inner Bob Ross as you are taught by a real Disney animator to draw rotating beloved Disney Characters! Held 3 times a day, this activity is available to anyone who stops by!
Have a Spa Day
While most guests might not know it, some of the most luxurious, state of the art spas are located at Walt Disney World! After long days of walking and exploring, treat yourself to relaxation! Mandara Spa, located at Walt Disney Worlds Dolphin hotel, welcomes you to a Balinese themed oasis of therapeutic relaxation. Senses Spa, located at The Grand Floridian and Saratoga Springs resorts, are Disney’s owned and operated spas!
Dining Options for Every Budget
If you’re anything like me, you’re a firm believer that Disney has the best snacks and meals on planet earth! You can find anything from McDonald’s to AAA 5-Diamond award winning culinary experiences on property. Therefore, there aren’t any budgets Disney can’t accommodate.
Disney is well known for its iconic and beloved characters. Therefore, it makes sense Disney would create a meet and greet that would delight guests both while meeting their favorite characters and eating in between! It’s called character dining and some of the best locations for it, believe it or not, are outside of the theme parks.
1900 Park Fare at The Grand Floridian is one of the most popular Character Dining Experiences! At this location, you’ll mingle with Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland and friends and Winnie the Pooh and friends at breakfast. Or join the princesses at dinner while stuffing your tummy full of everything from delectable carving station meats, seafood, pasta and more (including kid favorites like pizza, mac n cheese, etc.)! Other character dining locations outside the parks include
- Chef Mickey’s at The Contemporary Resort with Mickey Mouse & his friends
- Ohana at The Polynesian Village with Lilo and Stitch
- Cape May Cafe at The Beach Club Resort with Minnie Mouse and friends.
If character dining isn’t your thing, take a look at Disney’s Highway In The Sky Progressive Dinner. Gathering in the convention center at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you’ll be greeted by your tour guide and group for a four-course progressive meal unlike any other. You’ll board your private car on the infamous monorail system and depart for your first course at Disney’s Polynesian Village where you’ll dine on island inspired libations and tropical appetizers. Once you’ve taken in your first course, board your private monorail car for your second course at Disney’s Grand Floridian then back to The Contemporary for dessert and a private showing with unprecedented views of Happily Ever After fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom.
If you’re feeling the need for a spot of tea, The Grand Floridian’s got “a lump or two” for you at The Garden View Tea Room. In an experience unlike any other, you’ll step back into an English era and sip on an exquisite selection of teas from around the world. Finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, and other delicacies accompany you as you bask in your time relaxing and being pampered in proper English style.
In case you’re wondering “this is all great, but what is there to do at night?”, Disney, of course, has a solution for that, too! Take a stroll over to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and gather around with fellow Disney guests for a campfire and s’mores with Chip & Dale! Practice your vocals with a sing-along and roast marshmallows (bring your own or purchase a kit at the resort) in one of the most beautifully designed outdoor-inspired resorts!
Fun Activities for the Guys
While some guys may grumble at the idea of having to go to Disney, and be totally focused on things to do outside Disney Parks, we have just the thing to change their minds! Who knew you could go fishing within eyeshot of arguably the most popular theme park in the world, Magic Kingdom?! Presented by Take Me Fishing, guests can choose between a 21-foot pontoon boat with room for 5 guests or a tournament-style bass fishing boat with room for two guests and take an aquatic journey into the middle of one of the most popular bodies of water in central Florida, Seven Seas Lagoon. Ladies are, of course, also welcome! 2 hour and 4 hour excursions are available for this catch and release experience. Your rod, reel, tackle, bait (live and/or artificial), beverages and an experienced guide are included on this $170-$455 (depending on boat and capacity) magical, unexpected, Walt Disney World excursion!
Last on our list is another unexpected activity to participate in on your Walt Disney World vacation! Golf! Enjoy a fun, or competitive, round of mini-golfing at Disney’s Fantasia Gardens located in the Epcot area and Winter Summerland outside of Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. If it’s the real experience and competition you want, Disney’s got you covered there, too! Disney is home to four championship golf courses sure to interest even the most seasoned of golfers. You can even join the Walt Disney World Golf Players club. Golf players club members can select passes that range from Silver at $29/month, to Gold at $39/month, even Platinum at $69/month.
Although, yes, when most plan their Walt Disney World vacation, the theme parks are at the center of every plan! Just don’t forget when an escape needs to be had, there are truly, so many things to do outside of Disney Parks. Disney’s got you covered tenfold with an array of options just as delightful as the parks themselves!
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