When you think about Walt Disney World, what do you see? Go ahead. Close your eyes. Even if you’re at work. Your boss will just think you’re napping, after all.
The sights, sounds, and smells of Walt Disney World are myriad, but most of those memories are likely to center on the Magic Kingdom. This park outlives every other in the resort and it deserves its status as the Most Magical Place on Earth. A picture in front of Cinderella Castle is a major goal for so many around the world. The Magic Kingdom is home to several iconic attractions like Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, The Mad Tea Party, and The Haunted Mansion. Now that I think about it, almost every ride is required material for any Disney fan.
That stated, there are plenty more opportunities out there for Disney fun.
Let’s start off with the obvious. If you are looking for more parks action outside the Magic Kingdom, there are three other major parks at Walt Disney World. You are likely familiar with them all at this point, but here’s a quick rundown.
The second park at the resort, opening in 1982. This grand park is home to multiple festivals of arts, music, food, and drink. Even as it experiences its current era of massive change and construction, you can enjoy multiple attractions and experiences. EPCOT is the main reason I recommend a park hopper ticket! Start every day wherever you want, but end it here for a great meal.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a tribute to a Hollywood that never was and always will be. Here you will find some of the best attractions in the world here, like the Rock n Roller Coaster and Star Tours. Oh, and the full Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge land with Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run! There are plenty of fun places to grab a meal, from Woody’s Toy Box in Toy Story Land to the 50’s Sci Fi Diner, an indoor drive-in where you eat in a classic car!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
This is easily the most unique park at the Walt Disney World Resort. Much of the land is covered under dense foliage. Take a wild safari through open grasslands and view hundreds of live animals on both public and private tours. You can trek up Mount Everest and face a Yeti. Travel to another planet and ride a flying banshee. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a massive park with tons to explore.
Moving on, Walt Disney World hosts two heavily themed water parks. Entrance to these parks might not be covered under all tickets. If you want to take a day to cool off on your trip, make sure you let your planners know!
The Miss Tilly ran aground under some impressive circumstances and is now the centerpiece of Typhoon Lagoon. Tired and hot vacationers can benefit in this park that boasts nine water rides, a lazy river, and a giant wave pool. I mean, it’s a big pool and all, but this wave pool also generates one giant, six-foot wave every few minutes. Keep an eye out for select nights when you can visit for some late-night summer fun!
Do you remember the major blizzard that hit the mountains on the outskirts of Walt Disney World? Maybe it’s another one of those Disney legends. Once the skiing dried up, we were left with myriad slides and pools in Blizzard Beach, Disney’s second water park. Best make use of all that snowmelt while it lasts. It may be a bit before this ski hill gets another fresh coat of powder!
Moving onward! Too many people forget that Walt Disney World has hosted many world-class golf tournaments over the past fifty years. The resort recently renovated their Magnolia course to keep it interesting and competitive. These days the four courses at Walt Disney World are maintained in excellent condition by Arnold Palmer’s organization. Don’t forget your clubs on the next trip!
If the whole family likes to get out on the links, head over to Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland mini golf courses. Each of these areas boast two 18-hole courses with plenty of fun surprises for the whole family. Miniature golf could be just the ticket for a lazy afternoon when you are sick of waiting in line for major rides.
Sprawling along the southern end of the Walt Disney World property is a massive complex of dining, shopping, and entertainment. Disney Springs remains a popular destination for vacationers and locals alike. No tickets or reservations are required to enter this area where anybody could get lost for hours.
Disney Springs boasts more food locations than even a seasoned guest could sample in a reasonable time frame. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Quick bites abound from standard locations like the two Starbucks on the property. You could also swing by several food trucks or for a quick, savory sandwich. Multiple carts sell drinks and other snacks. If you have a bit of time to sit down, check out the Earl of Sandwich or Wolfgang Puck at the north end. Swing by D-Luxe Burger or The Daily Poutine for some hearty victuals. Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza offers ultra-fast and ultra-customized pizzas everybody can enjoy and Pepe makes delicious sandwiches with a Cuban flair. Maybe you would prefer something sweet like a giant cookie from Gideon’s Bakehouse or a sundae from Ghirardelli’s Soda Fountain.
Families love lining up for the fun extravaganzas of Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex. Definitely plan on booking some reservations for these popular spots. At the very least, camp outside Rainforest Cafe at night to watch the volcano explode a few times.
The south end of the Springs shows off with multiple sit-down dining experiences and elaborate bars and lounges. Families can enjoy some of the locations like Italian cuisine at Maria and Enzo’s Ristorante and the Latin America-inspired dishes of Paradiso 37. The Edison serves American fare and specialty cocktails inside a large space themed like a steampunk factory. Enzo’s Hideaway is a clever “speakeasy” under Maria and Enzo’s that also specializes in cocktails. There are tons more dining themes to explore!
Shopping! There are so many places to buy things at Disney Springs. If one of the biggest World of Disney stores doesn’t do it for you, stop next door for a giant Uniqlo clothing experience. Jewelry, watches, shoes, even sock stores! If you want one of those metal art things that spin in the wind, you can even find those here.
Barring choppy weather, you can take a spin around the lake in an antique Amphicar. Yep, that’s a car designed to turn into a boat and they’re delightful in the evening. Adventurers might enjoy a trip into the sky in one of the world’s largest hot air balloons.
You should also take some time for the spectacle of Cirque du Soleil’s current show: Drawn to Life. Hold our for some good rates for this incredibly unique experience. It’s an amazing show that blends unbelievable acrobatics with classic Disney animation and a tear-jerking story.
Disney Springs has way too much to offer. Devote at least a night or two to spend over at this shopping paradise. Savvy folks come in a bit earlier to enjoy lower crowds. I dream of evenings on the lake at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar or The Boathouse Lounge, drink in hand as the sun sets.
Walt Disney World Resorts
We arrive at the meat of the matter.
If you have never stayed at a Walt Disney World Resort, you are missing out on a bevy of activities. Some of these are exclusive to those staying on property. Some are open to all. Again, there are too many details to include in just one piece. Stay tuned for more!
Many resorts have some excellent destination dining locations. You should not feel shy about heading to a place like Disney’s Board Walk Resort to enjoy a meal at The Flying Fish, a drink at Abracadabar, or some dueling piano action at Jellyrolls. The resort is just a short walk from EPCOT, after all.
Popular resorts like the Polynesian Village Resort, the Grand Floridian Resort, and the Contemporary Resort along the Seven Seas Lagoon offer dining destinations that accommodate well more than those staying on their property. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort crafts meals with distinct African flavors in its two main restaurants, Jiko and Sanaa. Even the remote Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs offers high end dining atop its tower where you can catch fireworks from multiple parks in the same dining experience. Every resort is a short drive or bus ride from your resort, so start looking for your ideal menu!
Even if you do not intend to eat a meal, you might enjoy a trip around the resort’s hotels. Every hotel maintains its own theme that has to be seen in person to fully appreciate. You could do worse than hopping a bus to another hotel just to look around!
Take the lobby at the Yacht Club Resort. Nautical themes abound with antique globes, model ships, and other items on display. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge contains an impressive collection of African art and artifacts in its lobby and around the halls. You can find a giant King Triton statue at the Art of Animation Resort. You can experience all of these details for free, just wandering around.
The aforementioned Jellyrolls isn’t the only place to catch some live music around the resort hotels. It might be one of the most fun places, but that’s just my opinion.
Head to the Port Orleans French Quarter resort for some live jazz at Scat Cat’s Club. Pick up a Sazerac and some beignets while you’re there and think of me. Then hop a boat and float down the Sassagoula River for some more tunes scattered around Disney Springs.
Your night might need more of a wind-down following all that crazy action in the Disney Parks. If so, opt to stay out of the similarly crazy action in Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Poly and sit on their outdoor patio. Same menu, same drinks, but you can listen to some delightful guitar and ukulele music. Chill out with tropical flavors and tunes as the sun sets.
Resort Extras, Free and Otherwise
From your post at Trader Sam’s, you can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. It’s not so crowded this far away, is it? You can also watch my personal favorite, the Electric Water Pageant. This musical extravaganza floats around the Seven Seas Lagoon all the way to the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds every night after the Magic Kingdom spectacular ends. You can catch it along the beach at any of these resorts.
Many resorts have running paths to provide a safe route for your exercise, whether or not you’re training for a runDisney event. Disney movies are played every night by the pool. Look out for a fire pit each night as well and pick up some gear for s’mores. Both options provide a fun alternative to waiting in a crowd for fireworks shows every night.
For a price of about $55 each, spend some time atop one of Disney’s horses. At those Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, beginners and intermediate riders can explore trails that few even know about. It’s worth looking into a reservation if you have a horse lover in your family.
Exploration in the Seven Seas Lagoon is also an oft-underused activity. Rent watercraft at the resorts on the lagoon like the Polynesian for some freedom on the open, uh, lake. It’s a calm way to experience the resorts from a different perspective. Many resorts offer bike rental or Surrey bike rental for the whole family to enjoy.
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort Riverside offers some down home pole fishing fun at its Fishin’ Hole and bass fishing from its marina. You can practice your artistic skills at the Riviera Resort’s painting classes. Larger groups can follow a curated tour through the architecture of the Wilderness Lodge or the collections of the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
You have options for free or fairly cheap fun at most Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Some activities might only be offered on certain days. Some might require reservations. If you are staying at a resort, ask at the front or concierge desks for current details. You may also see signs posted around with the current events. Activities change often, so keep an eye open!
I am certain I missed quite a few fun activities. The point in this quite long post is that Walt Disney World holds plenty to do outside its flagship resort. The next time you visit and are getting a bit tired of waiting in lines, consider these other destinations. You could spend days at the resort without even stepping foot in a Disney park!
But that’s our little secret, right? We don’t want everybody to know!