Beyond the Parks

Keeping the Kids Happy When Disney World Theme Parks Are Off the Table

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Maybe you don’t want to spring for the 6th day of Magic Your Way admission. Maybe the thought of wading through a neck-deep sea of people for another afternoon makes you break out in hives. Maybe you are just looking for something different on your vacation, like “relaxation.” Or need a day to recharge your (metaphorical and actual) batteries before taking on the parks again. There are all kinds of reasons to decide to skip the parks for part of your Walt Disney World vacation. However, while adults might—might—be able to accept, or even look forward to an attraction free day, children may be a little more hesitant to do so. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things outside of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom to remind the kids that they are still in the happiest place on Earth.

Spend some time enjoying each pool your resort has to offer. Copyright - Erin Foster.
Spend some time enjoying each pool your resort has to offer. Copyright – Erin Foster.

Take Advantage of Your Resort – With the parks off the table, your resort becomes the primary destination for your trip. And each Disney Resort—even a Value Resort—is uniquely designed to be so (for more on unexpected extras from the Value Resorts, click here). Spend some time exploring, not just one pool, but all the pools your resort has to offer. Aside from expert theming, there will be poolside activities that your child can partake in (hours and activities will vary). Each resort also offers an evening movie on a large screen somewhere on property, which can be a great way to unwind at the end of the night. There will also be some kind of food court/ counter service/ shop that will be open late, and something as small as treating the kids to a late night snack can really turn into a lasting memory.

Of course, some resorts will have more activities than others, so spend some time exploring all your options. Some of the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts will have water activities for a fee, such as renting a pontoon boat, or even going parasailing. And, of course, there are all the activities the Fort Wilderness Campground has to offer, such as horseback trail rides for the older children, and pony rides for the little ones (for more on Fort Wilderness activities, see my previous post here). Don’t be afraid to visit several different resorts during your stay.

Try a Character Meal – This can be a great way for the kids to still have a character interaction without having to go into the theme parks to do so. A popular choice for a character meal would be Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. This is the only character meal where you will meet the entire crew of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto, but—as you would expect—it comes with a price. Breakfast is your cheapest option, but still comes in at $30.99 for adults, and $16.99 for children under 10 (children under 3 are free). Dinner, on the other hand, comes in at $38.99 for adults, $18.99 for children. Both meals are all-you-care-to-enjoy and have the standard breakfast and dinner fare. This can be a difficult meal to get at times, so advanced dining reservations are strongly recommended.

Head over to Fort Wilderness for a free character interaction.
Head over to Fort Wilderness for a free character interaction.

Another good character meal option for breakfast is Cape May Café, located in the Beach Club Resort. This meal is slightly cheaper, though I think it is one of the better breakfast buffets anywhere on Disney property. Adults will pay $24.99, while children cost $12.99. This is a much easier reservation to get, also. Many times we have been able to get a table on an hour or less notice. The characters featured during the breakfast buffet are Minnie, Goofy, and Donald, all dressed in beach attire.

If you are looking for more unique characters for a meal, try 1900 Park Fare, located in the Grand Floridian Resort. The Supercalifragilistic Breakfast buffet features characters such as: Mary Poppins, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Tigger, and Winnie the Pooh. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner buffet features—as you may have guessed—Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, and the Wicked Stepsisters. This meal can, at times, be difficult to get, so advanced dining reservations are again recommended. The cost for breakfast is $29.99 for adults, $15.99 for children, and for dinner is $39.99 for adults, $21.99 for children.

Character meals a little too pricey? A great way to get at least some type of character interaction without going to the parks is to head to Fort Wilderness in the evening for the Chip and Dale Campfire Sing-A-Long. The best part? It’s free! Here you will find two roaring campfires for marshmallow roasting (feel free to bring your own, or purchase a kit from the Chuck Wagon for $9.98), and a Cast Member on stage singing campfire favorites. Chip and Dale are soon brought on stage for an introduction, then they make their way through the crowd in the outdoor arena, stopping for pictures and hugs. When they have seen every guest, they say goodnight, but feel free to stay for the movie du jour that will play on the drive in style screen. This is a great way to end your night for little or no cost (times will vary throughout the year, so contact the Reception Outpost for information).

Don’t Miss Out on the Fireworks – You don’t have to be in the theme parks to enjoy the nightly fireworks display. Try booking a late dinner reservation at the Grand Floridian’s Narcoossee’s, the Polynesian’s ‘Ohana, or the Contemporary’s California Grill. All three have terrific locations to watch Magic Kingdom’s Wishes Nighttime Spectacular and the Electrical Water Pageant while dining. Of course, this does come with a pretty steep price, and a reservation would need to be made well in advance (Narcoossee’s is typically the easiest of the three to get).

Don’t want to splurge on expensive dining options? Head to Fort Wilderness and watch from Clementine’s Beach (the marina area). If you happen to be already enjoying Chip and Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long it’s an easy walk, and if you skip the movie after meeting Chip and Dale you will have plenty of time to make it for the Electrical Water Pageant and Wishes.

Check Out the “Other” Resort Areas – I’m not only referring to Downtown Disney and the Boardwalk, but also to Disney’s two miniature golf locations—Fantasia Gardens and Fairways, and Winter Summerland. Fantasia Gardens is located in the Epcot Resort Area, near the Swan Hotel. It boasts two 18 hole courses, one of which is geared a bit more for smaller children with whimsical scenes from the movie Fantasia. The other resembles a traditional golf course with sand traps, water hazards, and slopping greens, for those seeking a challenge. The cost for a round is $14.00 for adults, $12.00 for children.

Winter Summerland is located next to Blizzard Beach and also features two distinctly different 18 hole courses. One is themed for the summer, and the other is themed for the winter. Both were created under the premise that Santa Claus, while returning to the North Pole one Christmas Eve, passed over Disney World and decided to build a vacation destination for his off-duty elves. The cost for a round here is also $14.00 for adults, $12.00 for children.

A Braves Spring Training game at the Wide World of Sports Complex is a unique activity outside of the parks.
A Braves Spring Training game at the Wide World of Sports Complex is a unique activity outside of the parks.

Indulge in Seasonal or Holiday Offerings – Depending on when you are at Disney World, there may be unique things taking place that you can enjoy. During the Christmas season, each resort—and Downtown Disney—is specially decorated in different ways. The Grand Floridian Resort has a large gingerbread house in its lobby, complete with a working chimney. The Beach Club Resort has a working carrousel with horses made of chocolate. Even the Value Resorts have customized Christmas Trees in their lobbies, unique to the theming of each resort.

If your trip is during the spring, check out an Atlanta Braves Spring Training game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. The stadium itself is gorgeous and has subtle Disney nuances throughout. Ticket prices will vary based on seating, but this can be a great activity for children—and adults—who are both Disney and baseball fans.

Get the Feel of the Theme Park – I remember, on one of our Walt Disney World Trips, asking my then four year old daughter what her favorite attraction was. We had rope dropped that day and hit all the favorites. Both of us sat on the brick wall near the Liberty Bell across from the Hall of Presidents, exhausted and sweaty, our day coming to a close. As I sat on my noticeably thinner wallet I looked down at her as she pondered my question. Finally, she looked up at me and said, “the monorail.” Sometimes, that’s all kids will need. A nice, relaxing monorail ride around Bay Lake with views of Cinderella Castle and Main Street Station. Or a boat ride from the Contemporary Resort to Fort Wilderness and back. Something unique to Walt Disney World that makes them feel like they are part of it. We take these rides every trip, be it for pleasure or necessity, and my children always enjoy it. It is understandable, however, that some children may feel teased by being so close and not being allowed to enter the Magic Kingdom, so you need to decide if this is a viable option for your child.

Everyone loves a monorail ride! Copyright - Disney.
Everyone loves a monorail ride! Copyright – Disney.


As you can see, there are plenty of things outside of the park that will make your Disney vacation special. Just think outside of the Walt Disney World box and your vacation will be fun filled and different. And if all else fails, ride the monorail.           


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John Scanlan

Lover of camping, Walt Disney World, and craft beer. I also love to write. One day I put it all together and started Sometimes, when I'm feeling exceptionally saucy, I write cime novels. For proof, check out my personal website, You can also find me on Twitter at @ftwildernessguy.

16 thoughts on “Keeping the Kids Happy When Disney World Theme Parks Are Off the Table

  • I think you should include a bit on keeping Adults happy while visiting Disney theme parks! Its so tiring and annoying when you have to deal with your little kids and the park (in general). They should focus their marketing on building small programs that help both the children and their parents for a couple hours!

    • That’s not a bad idea. I’ll have to start working on a new post for keeping adults happy as well. Thanks for your comment and suggestion!

  • My boys love to explore the Arcades at the hotels as well- Contemporary has a nice one!

    • The arcades are a great activity as well. All the resorts have at least one, which is nice. On our last trip in July we took the boat from Fort Wilderness to the Contemporary and we visited the arcade there. You are right, it is a nice one. Much bigger than both of the arcades at Fort Wilderness. That’s the great thing about WDW, there is SO much to do outside of the theme parks. Thanks for your comment!

  • Our boys love the monorail. In fact one trip we stayed at Port Orleans (rather than our usual Contemporary) and the boys had monorail withdrawl. On our way home from EPCOT, rather than taking the bus back at 9pm, we rode on the monorail to the TTC and then took the monorail to Magic Kingdom and then a bus back to Port Orleans. I think it may have been our boys favorite ride all day.

    • My kids are the same way. We camp a lot at Fort Wilderness and it is a MUST to take at least one ride around the resort loop, even if we don’t go to the parks. I think it makes kids–and adults too–really feel like they are at Walt Disney World just as much as walking down Main St. or going on Pirates of the Caribbean does. Thanks for sharing, Dan!

  • Sam Winston

    Can you clarify about not getting the magicmyway 6th day?
    Am I correct in guessing you arrive for the first night of a reservation and then have ‘hopper’ type abilities added to your band the next morning for remainder of your stay and only pay for those days and not the entire reservation length?
    This wasn’t a big concern with me with the paper ‘never expire hoppers’.

    • You can always add days/features to your ticket, as long as you aren’t past the last day of use for your ticket (so you can add a 5th day while you are on the 4th day of a 4 day ticket).

      You can also add park hopper after the fact, but there isn’t any point, as it won’t save you any money (Disney is happy to let you add more things to your ticket, but they don’t want people doing it to try and game the system to save money).

      More often than not though decisions like that are made in advance.

    • Hi Sam. What I was referencing when I brought up not springing for a 6th day was simply deciding to do without an extra day at the parks to save money. In answer to your other question, you can use your park passes, including park hopping, anytime you wish during your stay. If you arrive at 8 PM the first day of your stay and want to use one day of your 6 day passes going to Magic Kingdom for an hour then hopping to Hollywood Studios for extra magic hours you can certainly do that. When you purchase the park hopper option it is a one time fee at the time you purchased your tickets and then the hopper option is added to every day of your ticket. If you have paid for 6 days of admissions to the parks with hopper capabilities then you are entitled to that whenever you choose during your stay. The only caveat would be that your passes will expire 14 days after the first time you use them to gain admission to one of the parks. I hope this helps, if not please let me know and I will do what I can to help further. Thanks!

  • DisneyDad

    1. Enforcing the afternoon break/nap has always worked for us, especially the adults!
    2. Usually by day 4 of a Disney Week we just deal with the fact that we’re beat (possibly because we insist on opening and closing a park each day), so we have learned on day 4 to just hang the “do not disturb” sign, keep the curtains closed and cells phones off. We wake and dawdle and invest the afternoon in something resort-oriented… And we’re recharged for days 5, 6 and 7!
    3. There truly is a week’s worth of non-park free stuff to do… Skimming the articles on this site and over at will give you plenty of options.

    • Those are some great tips. You are absolutely right about the amount of things to do outside of the parks. Living so close, we routinely take short trips and never set foot inside the park once. Truth be told those are my favorite trips. Less stress, more relaxation and variety. Thanks for commenting!

  • Rebecca

    We do 9 days. But only 4 park days. Every other day is a day off from the parks.

    Planned for November we are doing pools, dtd where my mom meats us for dinner, miniature golf, a character meal, and enjoying all the sights around the resorts.

    • That sounds like an amazing trip. Usually our trips are shorter so we have to make the decision of parks or other things. I may have to employ that strategy if we go for an extended trip. Thanks!

  • Mary Jo K

    Just adults here, but we tend to travel on Sunday.
    Monday, Wednesday and Friday are park days. And we head home Saturday.
    Tuesday and Thursday is for pool time, Downtown Disney and outside the park meals. Raglan Road is a favorite, as is Whispering Canyon. We also try to sleep in a little and get to bed a little earlier than on park days.
    There is plenty to do outside the parks, without leaving Disney property.

    • Hi Mary Jo! When my children were younger and not in school we used to only go during the week, also. Boy, do I miss being able to do that! I really like the schedule you follow, as I am a big fan of Downtown Disney but don’t find time to get there that often (my wife isn’t as big a fan as I am). We camp a lot and usually spend quite a bit of time at Wilderness Lodge, seeing as how it is only a boat ride away. We have only eaten at Whispering Canyon once and I thought it was really good. Thanks for your comment!


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