Wait. There’s stuff to do outside the theme parks??? For most visitors to Walt Disney World, their first or second (or third or fourth trip) to Disney is spent trying to wring every last bit of “magic” out of the parks. Fastpass+ reservations, rope drops, character meals, and attractions galore are the meat and potatoes of most people’s Disney vacations and honestly those classic theme park moments are what have drawn millions of visitors to our beloved parks.
But if you’ve been to Disney many times before (or commando park touring just isn’t your style), read on for 25 ideas of alternative types of fun outside of the theme parks.
- Monorail Crawl. Some people will associate a tour of the Magic Kingdom monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian) with the goal of grabbing a tasty beverage at each place but you can make this experience whatever you want! Grab a snack at every counter service place or an inexpensive souvenir from the gift shop, or go on a photo scavenger hunt. This experience is really just about getting to explore some of Disney World’s best themed resorts. If you are attempting a monorail “pub crawl,” try Trader Sam’s (a must!) or the Tamu Tamu lounge at the Polynesian Village, Mizner’s Lounge at the Grand Floridian, and Outer Rim or Top of the World Lounge (for DVC members only) at the Contemporary Resort (bonus points for veering off the monorail and hitting the Wilderness Lodge!)
- Archery lessons at Fort Wilderness. Where else are you going to take archery lessons? Arrive at the Fort via boat and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another world. Also, how about horseback riding while you’re there?
- Take a romantic Carriage Ride. With your kids. Or not! There are quite a few options for this. Fort Wilderness and Port Orleans Riverside both offer carriage ride options and Fort Wilderness offers a wagon ride (group and private) as well as a holiday “sleigh” ride option.
- Parasailing at the Contemporary. The marina at the Contemporary offers a whole slew of water sport options including parasailing, jet skiing, water skiing, wake boarding and tubing!
- Ride the Monorail. Woohoo! What a classic Disney thing to do. When you’re “go go go” all the time it’s easy to just think of the Monorail as a means of transportation but it’s really a ride in itself! There are some great views of the Magic Kingdom and its resorts as you go around the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Epcot monorail actually takes you through Future World.
- Watch the Electrical Water Pageant. If you’re staying at one of the Magic Kingdom resorts you’ll most likely see this nightly light parade on Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. It’s a fun thing to catch. It usually starts around 9 PM and makes the rounds to all of the resorts and the Magic Kingdom docks.
- Watch Wishes. The best viewing location is obviously from Main Street smack dab in front of the castle, but viewing the fireworks from outside of the park has its perks, namely you’re not watching it shoulder to shoulder with 25,000 of your closest friends. The beach at the Polynesian has great views and the viewing platforms at the Contemporary (including California Grill) are some of the best but the Grand Floridian and even the Wilderness Lodge have some good views.
- Watch a Movie Under the Stars. Most of the Disney resorts show movies (Disney of course) outside near the pool on certain nights of the week. Ask for the schedule when you check in or just go with the flow and show up and be surprised! Some resorts will have a little campfire with marshmallows to roast beforehand.
- Swim at Your Resort Pool. Disney resorts have some of the best pools ever! And so few people take advantage of them because they’re at the parks from open to close (which is totally cool!). Stormalong Bay at the Yacht and Beach Club is by far my favorite but most of the deluxe and moderate resorts have some pretty awesome looking pools. (And just a disclaimer, this is not promoting pool hopping, but spending time chilling at the pool of the resort that you’re actually staying at.)
- Play Mini Golf. This is another great thing to do but I would suggest this first thing in the morning during the warmer months (most of the year I guess!). Out of the two complexes (Disney’s Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens) one of the courses at Fantasia Gardens is supposed to be super tricky! Also, Fantasia Gardens has a convenient location near the Swan and Dolphin in the Epcot Resort area whereas Disney’s Winter Summerland is right next to Blizzard Beach (factor that in if you’re using Disney transportation).
- Shop at Disney’s Grand Floridian. The Grand Floridian stands out to me because in addition to the obligatory Disney gift shop they also have several others (a couple with resort wear and also one that sells bath products-White Basin) but most resort gift shops are super well themed and feature some unique merchandise. So the vibe you get at the Polynesian gift shop will be totally different from the Wilderness Lodge, and that from the Animal Kingdom Lodge. So go explore!
- Walk from the Polynesian to Grand Floridian. The walkway from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian can be a relaxing stroll. It’s quiet, super pretty, and takes you right past the Wedding Pavillion. Maybe plan to have drinks at one resort and walk over to the other for dinner?
- Stroll the Epcot Resort Area. There’s a lot going on at the Epcot Resort Area, especially the Boardwalk. There’s plenty of restaurants, snack stands, and shopping. And you don’t just have to stick to the pathways, walk through the different lobby’s shops and really explore. Try Beaches and Cream for ice cream and the pizza window on the Boardwalk for dinner. Also, don’t miss the bakery and sweet shop on the Boardwalk.
- Rent Surrey Bikes on the Boardwalk. You know those four seater old timey looking bicycles with the bell on the front? Yes. You should totally rent one of those. You can also rent them at the Wilderness Lodge and ride the trail over to Fort Wilderness Lodge. Be warned though-they’re harder to peddle (and steer!) than they look!
- Campfire Sing a Long at Fort Wilderness. While more and more of the resorts are offering some kind of small campfire and marshmallow roast, this is the granddaddy of them all! There’s a campfire (they smell s’mores kits), a sing along with Chip and Dale, and then a movie afterwards. A fun way to spend an evening, maybe pair it with dinner at Trail’s End.
- Take a Tour. While most Walt Disney World tours take place in the theme parks and require admission there are a few that don’t. Sign up for a free guided tour at some of Disney’s best resorts (Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk). There’s also the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Tour at Fort Wilderness where you’ll tour the property on Segway and the Escape to Walt’s Wilderness tour which leaves from the Contemporary and includes a boatride to Fort Wilderness, a bonfire breakfast, archery lessons, and all kinds of fun!
- Explore AKL. In addition to the free resort tour, there’s a lot going on at the Animal Kingdom Lodge! The front desk will have a schedule of activities but there’s usually plenty of wildlife experts on hand out on the savannas to answer questions and lead activities. There’s also a nightly storytelling around the firepit outside. This is a great resort to spend a morning or afternoon exploring!
- Play Ping Pong at Your Resort. How about some old fashioned fun? All of the Disney resorts have ping pong tables (usually near the pool) for guest use. Grab a paddle and have a little friendly family competition.
- Water parks. This is a big one! On my last Disney trip, we went to Typhoon Lagoon and just kept saying how much fun we were having! We didn’t have a bunch of “appointments” to make (Fastpass+, dining, etc.) we were just playing non stop. This can be a nice change of pace from a day in the parks. And that wave pool? Wow.
- Fishing. Bass fishing at Disney? Yep. A guide will take you and a small group out on a pontoon boat for a morning (or afternoon) of fishing. This seems to be most popular on Bay Lake (Magic Kingdom area) but Crescent Lake (Epcot area) also has some options.
- Fireworks cruises + Kids cruises. If you’re looking for something extra special, try a fireworks cruise (for both Wishes and Illuminations). You’ll pay a premium for a private boat but if you’re a smaller party try looking for a boat share on the DIS (there is usually at least one dedicated thread to this on the forums). There are also several special kid’s cruises departing from the Grand Floridan, Yacht Club, Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Resorts.
- Dine at a Fancy Restaurant. Skip the theme park counter service and treat yourself to a nice dinner at one of the deluxe resorts. California Grill at the Contemporary and Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian both offer great views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks while Jiko has great ambiance. If you’re in the Epcot resort area try Yachtsman Steakhouse or Flying Fish.
- Downtown Disney. Another big one! While many have taken a hiatus from Downtown Disney during its recent construction, the transition to “Disney Springs” seems to be nearing completion and they’ve really stepped up their game. There are some great new restaurants here (Morimoto, the Boathouse, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar) and some really fun things to do (bowling at Splitsville, dinner and a movie at AMC’s Dine-In Theater, and a hot air balloon at Character’s in Flight). And don’t forget the shopping!
- Ride the boats. Disney has a vast water transportation network, so if being out on the open seas (or lake) is your thing, then how about taking a ride on a boat? In the Magic Kingdom area, there’s a boat that circles between the Magic Kingdom, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian, and also one that circles between the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness as well as direct transportation between the Magic Kingdom and Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge. There’s also a ferry that connects Epcot with Disney’s Hollywood Studios making stops at the Yacht and Beach Club, Swan and Dolphin, and Boardwalk. And if you’re in the Disney Springs area, try the ferry between there and Saratoga Springs and the Port Orleans resorts.
- Rent a boat. Looking for a different boating experience? How about renting your own? From the two seater SeaRaycers, to pontoon boats, to the luxury Grand One yacht, there’s something for everybody!
Wow. So much to do! I could spend a whole week at Disney and not even go to the parks (but that would be silly)! What about you? What are your favorite things to do outside the Disney theme parks?