Why you should visit Disney World without visiting the parks and lots of other things you can do:
Sounds like a crazy idea, right? Walt Disney World is a theme park. So why would you go there and never set foot in a park? Well, the great thing about Disney World is that it’s about more than just rides. In fact, I think you can go to Disney and have a great time even if you never visit one of the four theme parks.
This may be especially beneficial during the pandemic, especially if you’re hesitant to be around crowds or too many people. Plus, admission to the parks can be really expensive. There are actually alternatives to enjoy Disney World without visiting the parks so I wanted to share them with you!
I could very easily go to Disney for a couple of days and do many of these activities and not visit a theme park. So many of these are things that people don’t realize exist or that they never try because they are so focused on the 4 main parks. I personally love to experience more of what Disney has to offer.
Please note that not all of these experiences are available during COVID-19, but I am looking forward to seeing them back soon!
Let’s take a look at many of the things you can do in Disney World without visiting the parks:
Depending on the resort you stay at, you might find plenty to do right where you are. One of my favorite places to just spend a resort day is at Animal Kingdom Lodge. You can watch the animals either from your balcony or one of the public viewing areas. They also offer a number of activities and tours, especially cultural activities.
Another perk of staying at your resort is just relaxing by the pool. Many of the resorts have incredible pools. The highlight is definitely Yacht and Beach Club, where you’ll find stormalong bay. But every moderate and deluxe resort has a large pool, a water slide, a hot tub, and a pool bar. A few of the resorts even have cabanas that you can rent for a full or half day.
You can also visit a resort you’re not staying at just to see it. While you can’t use other resort pools, you can eat at their restaurants, walk around, and look at everything. A good time to do this is at Christmas to see all of the holiday decorations.
Check out “extras” at the resorts
There are tons of activities offered at the resorts, and many of them you don’t have to stay there to check it out. Just a few of them include carriage rides at Port Orleans, renting a surrey bike at the Boardwalk, attending a singalong at Fort Wilderness, rent a boat at the Contemporary.
Some of the best restaurants in Disney World are the ones outside of the parks. The resorts have great food options, as well as Disney Springs. If you want to splurge, consider a signature meal. These can often take 1.5-2 hours as well so not worrying about being in a park is a good way to enjoy them. Just a few of my favorite restaurants that are not located in the parks include Three Bridges at Coronado Springs, Topolino Terrace at Riviera Resort, Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club, Maria and Enzo’s at Disney Springs, brunch at California Grill in the Contemporary, and Jaleo at Disney Springs.
If you want to meet some Disney characters, there are plenty of character meals that are at the resorts as well! You’ll find Mickey and Friends at Chef Mickey’s, Rapunzel, Ariel, and their princes at Trattoria al Forno, Cinderella and family at 1900 Park Fare, and Lilo and Stitch at ‘Ohana in the Polynesian, among others.
It’s free to visit Disney Springs so it makes a great destination for an afternoon or evening. It’s even free to park there! While you’ll find a ton of restaurants and shops, there are a number of other fun experiences at Disney Springs as well. You can catch a movie at the AMC Dine-In Theater, take a tethered hot air balloon ride on Characters in Flight, go bowling at Splitsville, or play around at the NBA Experience.
Disney has two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Both are a ton of fun and worth checking out if you enjoy water slides or a good wave pool (Typhoon Lagoon has one of the best ever!)
Take a backstage tour
Disney offers a number of backstage tours in various places, which range from an hour or two to a full day activity. Some of them are in the parks and require admission, but there are some outside of the parks as well. Some outside of the parks include Sense of Africa and Starlight Safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Wilderness Back Trail Adventure at Fort Wilderness. Or you could go back and do the Backstage Magic tour – it’s a full day tour behind the scenes and while it’s a bit pricey it doesn’t also require additional park admission, so if you’ve been thinking about it a non-park day is the perfect time to do it!
For an adults-only trip, bar hopping around Disney can be a ton of fun. You might be surprised how many great bars you’ll find! While many are familiar with drinking around the World in Epcot, there are tons of options outside of the theme parks. Hop on the monorail to do a monorail bar crawl, go to Disney Springs to try some great bars and lounges there, or make a trip around Crescent Lake and hit some of the places on the Boardwalk, Yacht/Beach Club, and the Swan/Dolphin.
If you’re looking for a great late-night activity, Jellyrolls is a blast. Located on the Boardwalk, this is a dueling piano bar. The performers are incredible, the atmosphere is friendly and fun, and the drinks are good.
You can book a photo shoot directly with Disney photography at any of the Disney resorts, but you can also have an outside photographer come do photos with you as well. They are often better quality and/or more affordable. We did a resort photoshoot at Art of Animation and it was a blast – plus at that resort it was still very Disney.
Get some exercise
This may not be for everyone, but some of us actually enjoy exercise, even on vacation. I loved running around the boardwalk, it’s much more interesting than running at home. Hopefully once restrictions lift they will bring back some of the “Fun Runs” that they host at certain locations. There’s also fitness centers at some of the resorts.
Have a relaxing day
You know what we don’t do enough of? Just having a relaxing day. Daily life is so busy, and when we take a Disney trip it’s a blast but it can also be exhausting and constant “go go go” action. Sleep in, read a book on your balcony, get some good food, take a nap, visit the pool – just don’t feel any pressure to “have to” do anything.
Thinking about your own trip to Disney World? Check out my Ultimate List of Disney World planning resources to get you started. If you’d like the assistance of a travel agent at no extra cost to you, email me at [email protected] and we can start planning and booking your trip!
Other blog posts of interest:
Relaxing at Animal Kingdom Lodge
Which Disney character meal is right for you?
5 reasons NOT to stay at a Disney value resort
An evening on the Disney Boardwalk
Monorail pub crawl
Would you go to Disney World without visiting the theme parks?
A few years ago I had some “use them or lose them” DVC points, so I did a long weekend at Animal Kingdom Lodge without park passes. I did a lot of the things you mentioned – watching the animals, spending time at the pool, indulging in fancy dinners. I also wandered around both AKL and Wilderness Lodge, exploring the art they have all around the resorts. Then I hopped over to the Polynesian to watch the water pageant and Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach. It was a lovely weekend!
The Animation Commendation says
I don’t think I’d ever visit without going to the parks, but I do wanna do a backstage tour sometime.