Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Todd Anderson, photographer
When one thinks of spending a week at Walt Disney World having fun, the mind immediately goes to the theme parks. What would you do for a day at this Orlando resort if you couldn’t ride the rides and see the sights at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or the water parks? As it turns out, the Walt Disney World Resort offers a lot to do if you’re tired of going on rollercoasters and looking at animatronics. In fact, there are tons of things one can do at Disney World without a park ticket.
Yes, Walt Disney World has something for everyone in the family. Mom can have a relaxing day at the spa, Dad can go golfing, and children can have a blast playing arcade games, riding horses, or watching favorite Disney movies. While many of these activities, like eating your way around Disney Springs or bowling at Splitsville, will cost you money, there are plenty of fun and free things to do at Disney. You can see the fireworks, explore the resorts, and even meet the most iconic Disney princess all for free.
So don’t worry about exhausting yourself at theme parks all week; consider taking a day away from the best Disney park attractions and have fun with these 21 things you can do at Disney World without a park ticket.
If you’ve ever traveled to the Magic Kingdom via ferry or boat from your resort, you know how relaxing a boat ride across the Seven Seas Lagoon can be. But did you know you can rent your own boat and sail across the lagoon yourself? There are marinas at the Contemporary Resort, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Fort Wilderness, Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and Wilderness Lodge where you can rent a variety of watercraft for as little as $32 per half hour. If you want to do something a little fancier, you can rent out a yacht with its own captain for a day cruise or for the nightly fireworks show.
Splitsville is a two-story bowling center at Disney Springs. Not only does this retro-themed venue have plenty of bowling alleys for you to play in, it also has an extensive menu filled with sushi, pizza, sandwiches, and classic bowling snacks (like loaded fries). Splitsville is open till 1 a.m., so it’s the perfect late night activity after a day of exploring Walt Disney World.
Epcot is particularly known for its dining options, but a lot of Disney World’s best dining exists outside of the theme parks. Head to Disney Springs to check out new eateries like Maria & Enzo’s and The Edison. You can also eat at any of the Disney resorts. We recommend The California Grill at the Contemporary Resort for a classy night out on the town, Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge for an African-themed buffet that will fill you to the brim, and Capt. Cook’s or Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian for a quick bite with a view.
Disney's Fort Wilderness opened shortly after Magic Kingdom, and this 750-acre resort and campground has plenty of activities for the whole family. Rent a golf cart and explore the grounds — you never know what you just might find! This activity is particularly great during Halloween or Christmas at Disney World. Campers will decorate their campsites with elaborate decorations for the holidays.
While you’re at Fort Wilderness, visit the Tri-Circle-D Ranch. There, you can explore the stables and meet “Cinderella’s horses” and the horses of Main Street, U.S.A. After that, guests age 9 and up can go on a horseback ride through the resort grounds. A 45-minute horseback trail ride is $55 per person. Younger guests aren’t left out! There are relaxing and guided pony rides at the ranch for the little ones for just $8.
If you want some of the most stunning views of Walt Disney World, head over to Disney Springs to go up 400 feet in the air in the Aerophile hot air balloon. It costs $20 per adult and $15 per child up to age 9 to get a great panoramic view of Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs for 10 minutes. It’s a bit of a thrill, so if you’re scared of heights, this is not the activity for you.
There’s no way around it: Orlando can get hot, especially in the summer. Take some time to cool down and go swimming at your resort pool. If taking a day out to relax and swim is important to you, we recommend staying at Disney's Beach and Yacht Club Resorts for Stormalong Bay, Coronado Springs for the Lost City of Cibolo Pool, or Art of Animation for the Big Blue Pool. Disney resort pools often have activities like name that tune, dance parties, and other games to keep kids entertained all day long.
Dubbed “The Happiest Place on TURF,” Walt Disney World’s four golf courses — The Palm, Magnolia, Buena Vista, and Oak Trail Golf Courses — offer a great opportunity for guests to tee off. Looking to improve your game? Disney offers PGA professionals for 1-hour golf lessons and half- or full-day golf schools. Want something a little less intense? Disney World also has two miniature golf courses, Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens.
A Disney World vacation can be a little stressful. Yes, you’re in the Most Magical Place on Earth, but there’s also tens of thousands of other people around. It’s a lot to deal with. Take a day out and relax at one of Disney’s spas, located at Coronado Springs, the Dolphin Hotel, the Grand Floridian, Saratoga Springs, and the Yacht Club. You can get a massage, facial, body treatment, manicure, or pedicure to relax in the middle of your getaway.
You don’t have to go to a theme park to meet your favorite Disney characters! Book a meal at 1900 Park Fare, Cape May Café, Chef Mickey’s, 'Ohana, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, or Trattoria al Forno at a resort to meet Disney favorites like Stitch, Mickey Mouse, or the princesses. Also, you never know what magic may happen! Prince Charming and Cinderella have been known to parade around the Grand Floridian (try to spot them around 3:30), and sometimes big-time Disney favorites like Minnie Mouse will pop up and meet guests at Disney Springs.
Disney Quest and its many floors of games may be closed for good, but each of the Disney resorts still have great arcades where you can play classic games like air hockey, skeeball, racing games, and pinball. Want the absolute best arcades? Head to the All-Star Resorts and Pop Century. Those value resorts have far and away the biggest arcades with the most games.
If there’s one thing Walt Disney World is known for (beyond being all happy and magical), it’s incredible theming. Disney’s attention to detail goes beyond the theme parks; there’s a lot to see at the various resorts. Spend a day on the monorail loop and walk around the Polynesian, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian. These iconic resorts are so gorgeous, massive, and different, you’ll have fun just taking a stroll through their grounds.
Wait, don’t you have to be at Magic Kingdom to see the Happily Ever After fireworks show? Nope! Make a dinner reservation at the California Grill to see great views of the Magic Kingdom spectacular. If you want to watch them for free, head to the beach at the Polynesian. They even pipe in the music from the show so you get (most of) the same experience.
If you want it, they have it at Disney Springs. And it’s probably Mickey shaped. Disney Springs has over 100 stores to fulfill all wants and needs, including World of Disney, the world’s largest Disney character store. If you’re looking for something beyond the Mouse, this shopping and dining district also has a variety of clothing, goods, and housewares shops.
Who doesn’t love sitting by the fire and eating s’mores? Disney resorts know this is a classic family activity, and most of the moderate and deluxe resorts have campfires at night. Of course, Fort Wilderness has a very special campfire. Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long is a nightly gathering with roasted marshmallows, guitar singalongs, and of course, two of your favorite mischievous chipmunks.
Right across the water from Epcot is Disney’s BoardWalk. Not only is the BoardWalk Inn there and worth a quick resort tour, there’s a lot to explore. There are classic boardwalk games, shopping, and fantastically themed bars like the magician’s getaway AbracadaBar. The highlight of Disney’s BoardWalk is Jellyrolls, a festive piano bar with dueling pianos, singalongs, and plenty of cocktails nightly from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Is there anything more Disney than a horse-drawn carriage ride? We didn’t think so. Port Orleans – Riverside and Fort Wilderness both offer 25-minute carriage rides throughout their scenic grounds. It’s $55 for a 25-minute ride for up to 4 adults (or 2 adults and 3 small children). Throughout the month of December, there are holiday-themed sleigh rides for $84.
The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness is America’s longest-running dinner show. This country-western-themed hootenanny has classical American entertainment the whole family can enjoy. Of course, no dinner show would be complete without a meal, and for $64 and up, you can have an all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet of fried chicken, ribs, baked bean, cornbread, soda, beer, wine, and sangria. If country music isn’t your thing, consider the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian for a tropical feast and a luau.
Who doesn’t love to collect souvenirs? And you don’t have to go to a Disney park to get them! Pins at Disney World have become massive over the years, and Disney's Pin Traders at Disney Springs is exactly what it sounds like — a mecca for these tokens. Head there anytime and bring your own pin collection and trade with others. You never know what treasure you may stumble across!
What trip to Walt Disney World would be complete without a Disney movie? If there’s a new film in theaters, head to the AMC at Disney Springs to take in a new release. If you’re looking for a classic Disney movie, the resorts will play favorites like Frozen, Zootopia, Cinderella, and Aladdin nightly by the pool, beach, or lawn.
You don’t have to be at a Disney park to see a parade — just head to one of the Magic Kingdom area resorts (the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, and Contemporary Resort) to see the Electrical Water Pageant. Starting at 9 p.m. nightly, giant sea creatures twinkle and float across the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. The best part is the Electrical Water Pageant is completely free for all, so taking in this sight is a great way to save money at Walt Disney World. But it’s nothing compared to these 35 budget-savvy Disney trip tips.
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