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.
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.
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.
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.
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.