Walt Disney World is my favorite place on Earth, and not just the parks. From my perspective, I’ve arrived at WDW as soon as I touch down at the Orlando airport or pull off I-95. I use my “arrival day” to kick off the fun and get my family excited about being in Disney World right away! Here are a few of my favorite things to do on that first day.
1. Ride the monorail and ferry boat
Disney transportation is free and does not require a ticket or MagicBand to use. Some of my favorite memories of Disney are riding the monorail as a small child, and as an adult with small children of my own! The Magic Kingdom loop stops at the park and the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), and there is a Resort Hotels line that also stops at all three Magic Kingdom Resorts— the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary, where the monorail goes right through the building. The Epcot loop only travels between the TTC and Epcot, but it is longer and spins around Spaceship Earth’s iconic geodesic dome before pulling into the park station. I love the view even when I’m not going into the park.
2. Play mini-golf, go bowling, and more
There are many activities available outside the parks. You can go bowling at Splitsville in Disney Springs, which also has a restaurant. There are two miniature golf courses, Winter Summerland, where you golf in the season of your choice, and Fantasia Gardens, themed after the film. And at Fort Wilderness, there are pony rides, wagon rides, fishing, boating, biking, archery, camp fires and movie nights! Most of these carry an extra cost, but resort guests get vouchers and discounts.
3. Enjoy a table service meal or dinner show
There are almost 100 full service restaurants at Disney World, the majority outside the parks. Whether you are looking for fine dining, themed dining, character dining, an exotic menu, or accompanying entertainment, it’s available. And, if you’re like me, you’re the type who wants to spend park days at the parks, open to close, so arrival day is the perfect opportunity to eat at a resort or Disney Springs. There are also dinner shows, the Hoop De Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness, and the Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Resort. Dining at Disney is pricey, but a special meal is a wonderful way to start your vacation. It can even become a tradition!
4. Explore your resort, explore all of the resorts
I encourage everyone to stay on site at Disney World. It makes everything simpler and more magical. And exploring your resort is the perfect way to start. My family and I have stayed at a few different resorts, and our favorite is the Art of Animation, which really immerses you in Disney magic! All of the resorts have exciting themes that extend from lobby to room to pool to cafeteria. Take an hour or so to just walk around and see it! Jump in the pool, have a snack, browse the gift shop— it will put you in the Disney mood.
Arrival day is also a great time to explore the other resorts. You can take a free bus and check out their decor and activities or have a meal. I love just bopping around the resorts and taking photos.
Walt Disney World Resort is an experience, and I’ve never left not exhausted. There is no shame in spending your first day lounging around your hotel, especially if you’ve traveled from far away or took an early morning flight. Take a nap, watch a film, grab a cocktail. Enjoy the atmosphere, and don’t be afraid to ask a cast member for help.
Any of these activities can be done on your departure day or a no parks day of rest in the middle of your vacation— or if you happen to be in the area for a day. But I love them for arrival day because it gets me ready for all of the magic to come!
Anika Dane is a writer of words. A dancer of dreams. A pop culture blogger, podcaster and lecturer with a special interest in fairy tales and space opera. A feminist and a fashionista. A teacher and a student. A Social Justice Klingon Warrior Princess who fell in love with the Skywalker family when she was seven years old. Mother of girls. Secretly a dragon.