It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of planning your Disney World vacation. With all of Disney’s new reservation requirements, price hikes, and Genie+ extras, many visitors end up spending all of their energy just getting to the parks and setting up their game plan to avoid long lines. That’s why taking a day in the middle of your vacation to relax, spend some time outside the crowds of the park, and enjoy the beauty of the Walt Disney World resort is always my recommendation when planning out a trip. Here are some of the best activities and places to visit that don’t require a park reservation to keep you relatively busy on your relaxation day.
Visiting multiple Disney resorts, coined “resort hopping,” is a great way to see more of the Disney magic without paying more. Since Disney offers free transportation connecting everything on the resort, you can move around freely without Mickey’s hands in your pockets. There are no limitations on where you can go or what you can do (aside from going to another resorts’ pool – that’s a no-no that can get you kicked out). This openness is actually one of the reasons why no Disney resorts earn a 5-star rating – because they are not exclusive enough to keep people from walking through!
There are multiple areas in which Disney resorts are grouped together that can all be visited within a couple of hours. To start, there’s the Magic Kingdom loop. Disney’s Polynesian Village, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary are all connected via monorail and boat transportation. You can simply hop on resort monorail and be at the next stop in a couple of minutes! Each resort has something unique to offer. For example, during Christmas and Easter, the Grand and Contemporary each have massive gingerbread houses and chocolate sculptures to marvel at. The Polynesian, aside from having an amazing aura of relaxation amid the tropical plants, has Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, a tiki-themed bar that is one-of-a-kind. You can also walk along the beaches of the seven seas lagoon and watch the Fireworks at Magic Kingdom at night! Disney pipes in the music from the show to the beaches at the Polynesian and the outside of the Contemporary lobby so you can have the full fireworks experience without fighting the crowds. As a bonus, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are both accessible from the Magic Kingdom boat stop, so you can easily hop over to explore the “great outdoors” as well!
Next up is Disney’s Boardwalk area, home to the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, the Boardwalk Resort, and the Swan and Dolphin resort. Each of these resorts has a bit of fancy flair attached, especially the Swan and Dolphin (which are not fully run by Disney), so they are also great picks for a fine dining experience. The boardwalk sits just behind the International Gateway entrance to Epcot and has a full looping path around the entire area. In addition to the resorts, there are shops, restaurants, and Boardwalk-themed entertainment. The area is absolutely beautiful at night since the boardwalk lights reflect off the waterway in the middle. The Boardwalk area also has access to the Disney’s Skyliner gondola system which connects to Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Riviera, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation resorts. Finally, there is a walkway to Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf just behind the Swain and Dolphin, which is an absolute blast! See more on that below.
To wrap up your options for resort hopping, there is the Disney Springs resort area, which is accessible via boats from Disney Springs. Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, and Port Orleans are all located in the area, and each of them are beautiful to explore. Though these resorts are a bit more spread out and less “fancy” than some others, they’re still well worth visiting. Disney Springs also has free parking garages and bus connections to all the resorts, so you can select any spot you want to go (maybe Animal Kingdom Lodge to see some giraffes?) for free even if you’re not staying at a Disney resort during your vacation.
Disney’s Mini Golf, or “Putt-Putt,” is another great way to spend some time on your vacation. A round of mini golf is $14 per adult and will give you a crack at 18 holes. Disney has 2 mini-golf locations, each with 2 different themed courses. Winter Summerland is located at the Blizzard Beach water park, while Fantasia Gardens is located just behind the Boardwalk area resorts. Though both are fun, there is a true best choice – the Fairways course at Fantasia Gardens. This mini-golf course is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s themed as if a real 18-hole professional golf course was shrunken down, sand traps and all. It has multiple par 5’s and par 4’s and is exceptionally difficult with all of the hills and obstacles to overcome. The difficulty is what makes it so fun! Keep in mind that overly competitive visitors may get a bit frustrated with the course. The Gardens course, also at Fantasia Gardens, is more whimsical and fun if it’s more your speed. Both are superior to Winter Summerland, which although fun, doesn’t have tons of magical features which scream “Disney.” Note that visits to the mini golf courses are free when using the Sports and More ticket option with Disney.
It’s like golf, but with your feet! Soccer players (footballers to everyone outside the ole USA) can rejoice in a game specifically designed for them. Located in tandem with the Oak Trail Golf course, visitors can kick their ball down the fairways to drop it in the hole in as little shots as possible to win. Reservations are often required to enjoy the sport, which makes it a little less accessible as an “on a whim” decision in the middle of your vacation. Prices range from $25 to $35 depending on the time of year, and tee times are often only available in the late afternoon. To negate the price, however, access is free when using the Sports and More ticket option with Disney.
Shopping & Disney Springs
Though I’m not a huge shopper myself, many guests will love all of the options they have to offer at Disney Springs. Disney Springs is effectively a huge outdoor mall with all sorts of shopping, dining, and entertainment offerings to keep guests spending while on Disney Property. Aside from the largest Disney store in the world, there are shops like Ron Jon, Harley Davidson, Sugar Boo and Co, UniQlo. While you move from store to store, there’s often live entertainment (usually in the late afternoon and nighttime) from musicians at multiple areas in Disney springs. Always keep an eye out for Eddie Maserati, a local Disney Springs celebrity who loves to visit nightly (you’ll recognize him when you see him!)
Aside from all the shopping, there are many quick service and full-service dining options at the springs. Blaze Pizza and Chicken Guy (Guy Fieri) are both popular fast options, while restaurants like Art Smith’s Homecoming, the Boathouse, Morimoto’s, and the Edison are great picks for a full dining experience.
If you still haven’t had enough with all of the shopping, dining, and music, there are other entertainment offerings for you. If you want to catch a movie, there’s a huge AMC theater. If you’d rather go bowling, you can check out Splitsville Luxury lanes. The alley also happens to have great pizza while you bowl, though it can sometimes have a long wait to get in. There is a House of Blues right at Disney Springs for full concerts. Be sure to check the artists during the times that you’re visiting Disney, because you never know who will be there!
As a final treat, Cirque Du Soleil, the famous performance group/style, has an entire venue at Disney Springs to showcase its Drawn to Life show. The choreography and story were designed specifically with Disney to create a completely unique experience for Disney visitors. There are often 2 shows nightly, and tickets typically start around $100 per person. If you’ve never seen Cirque Du Soleil, it’s well worth it!
As you now know, there are tons of things to do at Walt Disney World without shelling out another $400 park day for your family of 4. Exploring the resort and engaging in some less-hectic activities is a great way to slow your vacation down and relax! You can make your own plan as you go, and even combine all these great options into a full Disney day! Start out with some pool time at your resort, hop over to some resorts in the afternoon, and end your day at Disney Springs with a great dinner and some live entertainment – that’s the best way to spend a non-park day at Disney World!