Do you want some Disney magic during your vacation but don’t want to spend money on park tickets every day? You can do that, you just have to know where to look!
Whether you want some variety on a Disney vacation or you’re looking to add a little magic to a visit to Orlando, there are tons of activity options outside of the Disney World parks.
I’ve been to Disney World several times and have done everything from eating with Mickey to playing Fantasia mini golf. I want to share some of the fun and relaxing things you can do without going to a Disney park that will add a little magic to your trip.
Here’s what I’m going to share with you:
- My Top 10 Things to Do Outside of Disney World Parks
- Activities at Disney Resort Hotels
- What to Do at Disney Springs
My Top 10 Things to Do Outside of Disney World Parks
You’ll find Disney-themed fun at on-property hotels and Disney Springs. Some things on this list are only available to Disney World Resort hotel guests. If you’re not staying on Disney property, call to confirm whether a specific activity is available to you.
1. Watch a Disney Movie Outside
As a Disney hotel guest, you can watch Disney movies under the stars for free! According to a Disney representative, Disney World hotels all offer complimentary movies with varying schedules.
Once you know when you’re going, call your hotel for details. If you don’t like your hotel’s time or movie, you can always call up another Disney hotel to check their movie schedule.
If you want a character experience with your Disney flick, go to the Campsites at Fort Wilderness for Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-Long! This nightly event lets you meet characters, make s’mores and enjoy some Disney magic.
Tip: Save money by bringing your own s’mores fixings instead of purchasing a pack there.
2. Dine with Disney Characters
Character dining is one of Disney’s most popular attractions. You dine at a normal restaurant, but Disney characters come around to the tables to visit with the guests.
As a kid, it was exciting to eat breakfast at Chef Mickey’s and have Minnie come by our table to give me a hug.
You also do not have to be a guest of a Disney hotel in order to book, but you will likely need reservations to participate in these dining experiences.
3. Experience Disney Dinner Theater
Disney has two dinner shows that offer fun for the whole family.
When I was a child, I went to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at the Fort Wilderness Pioneer Hall with my family. This old West-style dinner theater production was a blast as a kid, plus my dad was pulled on stage to participate. He was a great sport considering that he ended up in a tutu.
Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show is a Luau-themed dinner theater hosted at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, with performances and dances from different Pacific island areas.
As with other Disney dining, you’ll want to make a reservation in advance.
4. Mini Golf
Fantasia is one of my dad’s favorite Disney movies, so playing on this themed course was a special treat for him.
5. Enjoy the BoardWalk
The BoardWalk area is one of the most peaceful places in Disney to me. You can take a walk or rent a surrey bike and enjoy the view of Cresent Lake, pop into the Ample Hills Creamery for a sweet treat or be entertained at Jellyrolls or the ESPN Club.
6. Play in an Arcade
My mom and I love to play air hockey, so when we have a chance we head into one of Disney’s many arcades.
Like many arcades now, Disney requires you to buy a game card and load it with cash or a credit card in order to play. Find a list of Disney arcade locations here.
7. Watch Fireworks and The Water Pageant
You don’t need to be in a park to watch some excellent fireworks at Disney. You can see the Magic Kingdom evening display from the Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian hotels.
Disney’s Electrical Water Pageant is a floating light show on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Find the schedule and viewing locations here.
Both of these shows are totally free and you don’t need to be a Disney hotel guest to enjoy them!
8. Watch Exotic Animals
Animal Kingdom Lodge has African animals in residence, including giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and more! You can request an animal viewing guide from the concierge to help you identify which animals are out there.
9. Grab a Free Sample at Ghiradelli
I’m a sucker for a sweet treat, so this quick stop is always on my list. If you’re already walking around Disney Springs, pop into the Ghiradelli shop for a free chocolate square.
10. Become a Pirate
When I was a child, my brother and I became part of Captain Hook’s Pirate Crew. We sang, ate and went sailing on Captain Hook’s ship. Kids ages 4 to 12 can join the crew for a three-and-a-half-hour evening adventure — enough time for you to have dinner.
Other Fun Activities at Disney Resort Hotels
If you’re looking for something else to do, explore hotel activities from these categories:
- Learn Archery: The archery class at Fort Wilderness will have you shooting straight in no time! Classes are 90 minutes and cost $45 per person.
- Take a Culinary Tour: Head to the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 4pm for a behind-the-scenes guided tour of the hotel’s African-inspired restaurants. You may even get to taste what they’re cooking up!
- Learn to Draw: Disney’s Art of Animation hotel offers free drawing classes to Disney Resort guests several times a day! You and your family can learn to draw Disney characters from an animator. Make sure to call the hotel to confirm class times.
- Rent a Motor Boat, Canoe or Kayak: Disney World has a ton of waterways and rental options to satisfy all types of enthusiasts. You can pilot a motorized boat or paddle in a canoe or kayak. Reservations are needed for some rental types, so call in advance to confirm details.
- Pony Rides: Pony rides are a fun way to encourage a young child’s love of animals. Plus, they only cost $8!
- Take a Wagon, Carriage or Sleigh Ride: Fort Wilderness offers each of these horse-drawn activities. Wagon rides are the most budget-friendly of these options. You can reserve a carriage ride for $55 at Fort Wilderness or Port Orleans Riverside. The most expensive option is a holiday sleigh ride for $84, but this experience is only available during the holiday season.
- Go for a Swim: Every Disney Resort hotel has a pool, often with fun features and Disney-theming, and if you’re a hotel guest, you may have access to multiple on-property pools.
- Explore the Tri-Circle-D Ranch: This ranch at Fort Wilderness is a treasure to explore. There are a variety of horse breeds to learn about, a blacksmith making horseshoes and a relic from a 1950s Disneyland parade.
- Go Fishing: Relax and fish on a boat or dock at Disney by yourself or on a guided excursion. Fishing excursions launch from nine different Disney hotel areas.
- Have a Picnic: Consider packing a picnic and enjoying the scenic views Disney has to offer. Fort Wilderness and the grounds of Port Orleans are wonderful places to bring the family.
- Listen to Free Live Music: There are plenty of places around Disney to listen to music, but the Grand Floridian hotel offers daily performances from the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra.
- Take a Ride: If you or your child enjoy a quick boat ride or the movement of the monorail, you’re welcome to hop on and enjoy the ride without heading into a park.
- Play Pool: If you want to wind down with some billiards, Disney has several tables available for hotel guest use. There’s a fee for equipment rental for most guests.
- Build a Campfire: Enjoy a simple, cozy campfire with your family and friends at many Disney World hotels.
- Ride a Bike: You can rent or bring your own bike to enjoy some outdoor recreation on your Disney vacation. You can also rent multi-person surrey bikes to cruise along the BoardWalk or a scenic woodland path.
- Play on a Playground: Kids ages 2 to 12 are permitted to run around and play on Disney hotel playgrounds with adult supervision.
- Go Horseback Riding: You can take a 45-minute trail ride to enjoy the calm woodlands around Fort Wilderness for $55.
- Golf: There are four golf courses at Walt Disney World: The Lake Buena Vista, The Palm, The Magnolia, and Oak Trail. The first three are each 18 holes that advertise the obstacles and difficulty. The Oak Trail Golf Course is a 9-hole course that is more friendly to less experienced golfers. You can reserve a tee time or take lessons from a PGA instructor at any of Disney’s courses.
- Play FootGolf: FootGolf is also offered at the Oak Trail Golf Course. FootGolf combines golf and soccer; you try to kick a soccer ball into a hole under par.
- Play Volleyball: You can play land or water volleyball at nine Disney hotel locations if you are a guest. Playing is free, but there may be a fee to rent equipment.
- Play Tennis: Disney World Resort hotels have several tennis courts where you can play a pickup game or hone your skills with a pro. The courts are open to Disney hotel guests, but there may be a fee for equipment rental.
- Play Basketball: There are basketball courts at seven Disney Resort hotels. Equipment and access to the courts are complimentary for all Disney hotel guests with a valid resort ID.
- Go for a Run: There are many trails to choose from to get in your run for the day. Some hotels offer organized runs on certain mornings where you receive special Disney trinkets or rewards for completing the route. These mini runs are 3 kilometers or less and you can sign up 30 minutes in advance or more. Call your hotel for details.
What to Do at Disney Springs
Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, is an outdoor shopping and entertainment district that does not require any type of Disney ticket. There is free Disney transportation to Disney Springs from select Disney hotels and parks.
However, you may want an advanced reservation if you plan to dine at some Disney Springs restaurants. This area has basic things that you might find in and around many malls: shops, a movie theater and bowling — but there are a few special things to do, too!
Make sure to check the Disney Springs calendar to see what events and performances will be there!
Float in a Helium Balloon
Disney Springs has a tethered, giant helium balloon called the Aerophile. Kids ages 3 to 9 can ride for $15, and adults 10 and up can go up for $20.
Ride a Carousel
Want that classic carousel ride? Disney Springs doesn’t disappoint. The Marketplace Carousel is fun for kids of all ages, plus admission is only $3!
Ride a Tiny Train
The Marketplace Train Express gives kids a fun little train ride in the heart of Disney Springs. Any age may ride, and admission is $3.
Experience the NBA
Big basketball fans will love The NBA Experience complex with a court, games and behind-the-scenes tours.
Visit the Lego Store
The Lego Store isn’t just a place to buy buildable sets. The Disney Springs location has hands-on play tables and large-scale Lego models of Disney characters.
You can use many of these tips whether you’re staying on Disney property or are just in the Orlando area. Do these activities to get your Disney magic fill or as a less intense alternative to another park day on your trip.
If you’re someone who loves Disney and saving money, these options are a great way to spend your vacation with The Mouse without spending all of your money.
To me, Disney magic is about enjoying yourself and the people around you — and these amenities can help you create some magical moments.
Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll answer them for you!