Disney Without the Rides
"What's your favorite ride?" It's probably in the top 5 questions I get when I tell people I just went to Disney. That or, "Oh I remember the Tower of Terror", something to that effect. I usually answer with a version of "oh I like a lot of them, but honestly I don't go for the rides". While Disney is first and foremost, a theme park, I think what separates it from others like Busch Gardens, Six Flags, and Universal is that the rides aren't the best part...
To answer the original question, my current top 5 rides are Avatar Flight of Passage, The Safari, Tower of Terror, Buzz Lightyear, and It's a Small World (dont @ me). Usually I make an effort to get to these while I'm there and always prioritize new rides I haven't been on before, but honestly other than that, I don't really focus on the rides.
As a Disney Adult - with no kids - (see last post), I have a lot more flexibility than all the families with kids. I don't have to plan my day out from sun up to sun down and ensure I hit every single ride and I've been to the parks enough that if the line is too long, I skip it and pick something else to do. Honestly I think my dream is to be close enough to Disney that I could sit and work from the hub grass in front of the parks. If you see my husband, let him know you support that dream. Anyways, I wanted to give you an example of a day in the parks without any rides... which is pretty typical for me. Hopefully you can use this during your next trip!
7:00am: Wake up and get ready, get in the car and start the journey to Animal Kingdom (DAK). I ALWAYS rent a car in Disney and it has been life changing. It's also a pretty good deal (when gas prices aren't like they are right now) and I have found rental cars for about $100 a week or so PLUS you get free parking at every park if you stay on site! If I never have to take the bus ever again, I will be a happy girl. Plus driving to DAK is super easy and parking is right outside the park!
8:30am: Get to the park for early opening at Animal Kingdom. DAK is typically the quietest park and during off season , it doesn't even feel like you're in Disney. Plan to grab a coffee at the Creature Comforts Coffee Shop (Starbucks) right near the entrance in Discovery Island and walk around and try to grab some quick service breakfast either at Yak and Yeti (Asia) or Pongu Pongu (Pandora)
9:00am: After breakfast, walk down the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa. The walk is beautiful with lush greenery, nature sounds, and different animals along the way. It's very "un Disney" with almost no IP (intellectual property, i.e. movie characters) and a great place to start a quiet morning. Plus usually people RUN to the rides when the parks open so this is pretty quiet and a great place to drink your coffee and enjoy to Disney ambiance.
10:00am: The Lion King Show. Something that really doesn't get enough attention is the entertainment at Disney. I do have to admit that during COVID a lot of entertainment has either been scrapped or changed, and not for the better but it is slowly coming back! The Lion King show (pre-pandemic) is by far the best in the entire park. It has singing, professional stunting, dancing and your favorite songs to sing along with. Plus as a dancer, I fangirl over the birds ballet technique every time. I also heard that the best parts of the shower are due to return this summer!
10:45am - 12:30pm: Walk the park! Animal Kingdom has tons of animals and places to visit without lines or tickets. There are also some pretty good hidden gems for good photo spots! Grab a map and try to look for all the small set ups and ask the cast members about the animals. Plus you can also try to stop by the new Kite Tails show on the big lake in the middle of the park or watch Up! the bird experience. Both of these are great for resting your feet and getting some of that great entertainment in before you leave
12:30pm: Grab lunch at Satu'li Canteen in Pandora. This is by far my favorite quick service place in Disney. I would consider myself a pretty healthy eater most days but I'm not afraid to splurge when I want to try something. Food freedom and all that. But this is one of the few places where you can leave feeling like you had a real meal, not a Disney meal. This place is essentially the sweetgreen of Disney. Pick your meat/protein, your grain, and your sauce and voila, a beautiful healthy filling meal.
1:30-2:30p: Time to leave Animal Kingdom and drive back to the hotel, preferably at a hotel with skyliner access! Last trip we stayed at the Riviera and it was perfect but you can also grab the Sky Liner at HS if you need access.
2:30p-5:00pm: Resort hop on the skyliner! Either take a rest at your hotel if you need or take advantage of my favorite views on the Skyliner and hop to some of the other resorts! You can also bar crawl though them... I haven't tried that just yet but I've heard its a great time. I LOVE the lounge at the top of the Riviera and it used to take walk ups but I'm not sure if that's the case anymore. I would also highly recommend exploring the hotels (blog coming soon on that). Make sure to end your tour at Epcot.
6:00-7:30pm: Explore Epcot. The mainstay of Epcot is the food and drinks. Shout out to Zoe and Shannon for drinking around the world with me a few years ago to completion, may those snapchat videos die with me. But you don't have to explore every country to really get a feel for what the park is about! I also love the aquarium in the Seas section of the park. It's usually pretty busy but they have tons of fish and exhibits within the building.
7:30pm: Find a picnic bench or bench around the lake and park your ass down. If there is one tip I can give you it's to get a seat early for the fireworks... especially in Epcot. I LOVE sitting down early and taking turns with the people I am with to get drinks and snacks. This gives you two full hours to try as much food as you can. Take turns finding different snacks and drinks in all the countries you possibly can.
9:00pm: Watch Harmonious at Epcot. A few months back, Disney decided to change both their firework shows (MK and Epcot). Like so many people, I am so sad and disappointed with the MK fireworks. I could write an entire blog about them but the previous show was the most magical experience you could have. I truly think Happily Ever After embodied the magic that Disney is supposed to create for people and the new show just doesn't hit that mark. I do think that where Enchantment is lacking, the new Epcot show succeeds in. I don't want to give it away but it will give you all the feels and make every moment waiting for it to start worth it.
And there you have it... a full magical day at Disney without a single ride!
"Magic exists, if you believe" -Cinderella