Disney Without the Parks
Last week I wrote up a small article about doing the Disney parks without the rides (found here), but I want to take it one step further and say that you really don't even need the parks to have a good time...
Like I've mentioned... a thousand times... I'm not a huge ride gal. I like them, but they're not the best and not what makes me a Disney Adult. What separates Disney World from the other amusement parks truly is the immersive experience throughout the property. WDW is actually 27,000 acres or 40 square miles. That's almost the size of San Francisco! This includes the 4 main theme parks, multiple hotels, Disney Springs, parking and transportation sites, corporate offices and just empty land which will I'm sure will be built up one day.
The price of Disney creates a big barrier to everyone looking to enjoy the wonderful world above. Mickey aint cheap and prices just continue to increase and magic seems to disappear on the daily. While this is an entirely different conversation, I think a way to really enjoy Disney is limiting your time in the park, splurging on your hotel, and making days about the experience and not the rides. Why would you want to pay $150 for one day and spend 6 hours of it in lines...
First, lets start with some of my favorite things to do outside the parks:
In my opinion (lol this is a blog, obviously its my opinion), some of the best restaurants in WDW are in the hotels and not in the parks. These are available to anyone, anytime with or without a park pass or a hotel reservation!
You can get anything you're looking for. All you can eat breakfast? you got it. Good views? you got it. Characters? absolutely. The list goes on!
Some of my go to's!
Topolino's Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera (Riviera Hotel)
I may be biased because we just stayed here but the views here are immaculate. If you time your reservation right you can actually watch the Epcot Fireworks from the incredible lounge they have here and last time I checked, they had a walk up lounge with a full menu!
The breakfast is probably one of the best I've had on WDW property. Not only is it a character breakfast, but it's ALL YOU CAN EAT. And not crappy breakfast buffet food, full entrees and you can order the entire menu. If you splurge on one breakfast, I think it should be this 100%
Restaurants in the Swan and Dolphin
While on property, the Swan and Dolphin are actually owned and operated by Marriot. Surprisingly, the Swan and Dolphin hotels are in one of the best locations on property and you can walk to HS and Epcot and you have full access to the boardwalk.
Since the restaurants here are not operated by Disney, it feels more authentic and less "character meal". Todd English actually has a restaurant here!
Citricos (Grand Floridian Resort)
My go to reservation during my trips, and my one recommendation if you need a nice quality meal! Chef Andres Mendoza heads this restaurant now and used to be the head chef for Victoria and Albert's so the food will obviously not disappoint.
We also planned our last reservation at the time of the MK fireworks and could see them from the window, it was adorable and 10/10 would recommend.
This is a splurge for sure, so plan for that!
Always dedicate a day to Disney Springs! The shopping ranges from the largest Disney Store like ever to your favorite brands like lululemon and Levi's. On top of that there are tons of little activities for kids and some of my favorite restaurants (try the Boathouse at sunset, you won't regret it)
Dinner at Polynesian and fireworks from the beach
There are tons of spots around WDW to watch fireworks without being in the parks but one of the best is the Polynesian hotel
While right now you'll need a reservation to get in there (or try the Monorail), they pipe in the music on the beach while you're sitting there! One of the best bars is at this hotel too so definitely take a night to check it out.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Don't want to spend the money on a park ticket but want to see the animals? Just go to the Animal Kingdom Lodge! There are big walking paths there to visit all the animals you would see on the safari!
They have two restaurants, a pool bar, and a big walking trail to watch the animals graze.
Disney has tons of boating adventures for all to enjoy. From fishing excursions, to private fireworks cruises, to group dessert parties, there is something for everyone at lots of price points
We actually rented a boat for a private boat tour and a firework viewing on our last trip and it was one of the best experiences!
Some of the hotels even have their own boats you can try to rent for the day. Definitely check it out if you need something different!
The walking path from Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios
This sounds so lame but it's one of my favorite places. The path is along the river and it's always SO quiet. You can walk directly from the Boardwalk to HS and it takes about 20 minutes. It's beautiful and if you need a break from the hustle, definitely check it out. You can always take the path to HS and then hop on the skyliner there and go to wherever your next destination is!
This seems obvious but take a pool day! Kids LOVE a pool. Honestly I think they love it more than the parks sometimes. Some of the pools on Disney property are unbelievable, make sure to check out photos before booking your hotel !
They also do games, activities, and events throughout the stay which makes you feel more immersed into Disney even if you aren't in the parks!
Visit Fort Wilderness
Fort Wilderness is a campground on Disney property. You can rent cabins, bring a trailer, or stay in a tent! While it feels like the "budget" stay, it has more activities here than almost any other property!
This includes pony rides, wagon rides, archery experiences, camp fire sing-alongs, fishing, canoe rides, kayak rentals, playgrounds, and more!
Most hotels offer a nightly movie "under the stars" projected onto a giant screen. Check out your favorite movies and grab some popcorn and just relax!
While these options can fill an entire week, sometimes planning just one day can make a big difference in your budget! Here's a sample itinerary for a non-park day:
9:00am: Breakfast at Topolino's. Like I mentioned above, Topolino's has an amazing breakfast with characters and great views! Stuff your face and prepare for the day
10:30: Grab the skyliner and head to Art of Animation studios.
While it's one of the "value" resorts, the theming is incredible. They also have family suites which are perfect for big groups. Take some time and wander the property and look for all the statues and art from your favorite movies!
1:00pm: Hop back on the skyliner and head to Caribbean Beach
Caribbean beach is right on the water and one of the largest resorts on property. Grab lunch at one of the restaurants, play some volleyball, and relax! While you can't swim in the lake, its a great place to relax.
3:00pm: Grab a bus (or an Uber/Lyft) and head to Boardwalk/Mini Golf
I had NO idea this existed until like 6 months ago... but it's so cute! Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf is located near the Disney Swan/Dolphin hotel. It's a small course but very cute indeed
4:00pm: Walk over to Boardwalk and rent a Surrey bike! These multiple person bikes are so fun and you can drive around the lake.
6:00pm: Grab dinner the Boardwalk. You can make a reservation at one of the sit down restaurants there (Flying Fish, Trattoria al Forno, BIg River Grille) or grab some pizza from the infamous pizza window.
7:30pm: Grab some ice cream at the ice cream stand and walk the boardwalk enjoying the street performers, arcade games, and views!
9:00pm: Watch the Epcot fireworks from the Boardwalk and then head back to your hotel for a good night's rest