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Things To Do On Arrival Day at Disney Other Than Visiting the Parks

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OK, so you’ve arrived at Disney, and you’ve read through my last article and made the decision not to go to the parks right away. You’re still at Disney, though, and you’ve got free time, so whatever shall you do? We’ve got some ideas to help you get your plans sorted out. Read on for more!

Disney Springs

This is a pretty popular choice, because you’re having an experience, and it feels “Disney,” but it doesn’t require park admission. You can get a nice meal, do some shopping, get some new gear for your trip – it’s a fun way to start things off.

Disney Springs

Moreover, for most people, a casual visit to Disney Springs is just the right amount of time for a pre-trip appetizer. Between eating, doing a little shopping, and maybe watching some live music, you’re probably looking at two to four hours. In other words, you have a pretty complete experience right out of the gate that is short enough that it’s not going to wipe you out for the rest of your trip.

It’s not just something to do as an alternative to going to the parks, however. Some guests will make a point to schedule time at Disney Springs on arrival day to stock up on park attire, Disney snacks for the room, and other Disneyana they’ll need on the trip. World of Disney is a great one-stop shop for pretty much anything you might need, but there is no shortage of Disney-themed gear throughout the shopping district.

As a quick sidenote, if you have Annual Passes or Military Salute tickets that you need to activate, a trip to Guest Services at Disney Springs is a great way to knock that out so you don’t have to deal with it when you’re trying to get into the parks. Similarly, if you’ve come to realize that you need to make modifications to your tickets — add days, add park hoppers, etc. — you can do that during a visit to Disney Springs as well.

Pool Time

Especially if you’ve got kids, a trip to one of Disney’s amazing resort pools is a great way to start off the trip. This should not require elaboration. Moving on…

Water Parks

If you’re in the mood for some water fun, but you’d like something more active than just visiting the resort pool, arrival day can be a great opportunity to visit the water parks (especially if you’re arriving earlier in the day). It is a decidedly “Disney” experience, and if you’ve already got the park hopper option, adding water parks as well isn’t going to add a dramatic amount to the ticket cost. So, for around $20 or so, you’ve got another unique Disney experience, and you won’t have to sacrifice park time to do it.

Resort Dining

Let’s face it: you’re a human being, and that means you require sustenance. You gotta eat something, and many of Disney’s best restaurants are at the resorts.  Even if you don’t go the signature route and really make a big deal of it, however, taking the time to sit down and have a meal at a Disney resort is a fun way to ease your way into the Disney experience. You’ll be surrounded by plenty of touches that remind you that you’ve made it to Disney, and it’s a great middle ground if you’re not wanting the hustle and bustle of the parks for whatever reason.

Resort Hopping

Touring Disney’s resorts is a time-honored tradition. Even if all you’re doing is popping in to look around, they all have their own unique energy, and you can easily build an afternoon or evening around seeing them. While you should obviously feel free to do it however strikes your fancy, there are several easy groupings of resorts that make resort hopping a snap:

  • Magic Kingdom Area: If we’re not already in the area, we’ll take a bus to the Magic Kingdom, and then tour along the monrail resort loop to the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. After returning to the Magic Kindgom, we take a boat over to Wilderness Lodge to finish out the area (and often relax with a snack or a drink at Geyser Point).
  • Crescent Lake Area: Crescent Lake features a cluster of amzaing resorts, all of which are walkable (or you can take a boat between them if you prefer). If I was arriving from a different area, I would start at Beach Club, then make my way around counterclockwise to the Yacht Club, Swan and Dolphin resort complex, and then finish it off at the Boardwalk (which is a great place to hang out on arrival day all by itself).  As a bonus, the area also overlaps with another grouping of resorts, and they are the…
  • Skyliner Resorts: From Beach Club or Boardwalk, it would be easy to head to EPCOT’s International Gateway and hop on the Skyliner and pop over to the Riviera for a bit. While doing so, you could also opt to check out the other Skyliner resorts: Caribbean Beach, and then Pop Century and Art of Animation at the far end.
  • Sassagoula River: Another, less troden resort hopping target is the bundle of resorts that sit on the banks of the Sassagoula River near Disney Springs. Starting from Disney Springs, you can visit Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, and both Port Orleans Resorts (French Quarter and Riverside), all via a very pleasant boat ride down the river.
The massive gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian draws guests from all over the resort. ©Disney

Resort hopping is particularly appealing during the winter holidays, when all of the resorts are dolled up for the celebration. If we’re there during the holiday season, we are absolutely going to take some time out to see the gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, for example. It’s a wonderful way to spend some time, and what better opportunity than on a day when you wouldn’t be able to spend a full day in the parks anyway.  

Room Set-up

This may not seem like a ton of “fun” in the traditional sense, but there is something to be said for taking advantage of arrival day to get all of your ducks in a row so you’re ready to hit the ground running your first full day. This is especially true for a longer trip, when you might want to do more than just unpack. It might include:

  • Making a grocery run to get snacks, food and drinks for the room
  • Picking up consumables like diapers or sunblock you would otherwise have to pack so you can maximize your luggage space
  • Setting up room decor.

More than anything, though, using arrival day to prepare is a great way to steel yourself for the trip ahead. Let’s be honest, we all love visiting Disney parks, but these trips are not what you would typically call “relaxing.” You can expect to walk several miles a day, stand in place for long periods of time, and deal with awe-inspiring levels of heat and humidity at certain times of the year. Preparation can be the difference between an amazing time your family and friends will remember forever on the one hand, and feeling constantly behind and worn out on the other. 

Indeed, following up a day of travel scrambling around the parks can put you in a position where you’re tired before you even really begin. I can personally attest, for example, that the excitement of being back in the parks can dash even the most well-intentioned efforts to “take it easy” on arrival day. Especially if you’re someone that has a commando touring style, being well-rested when you first set foot in the parks is going to put you in the best position to really crush it and get a ton done early.

So, what do you do one your arrival day if you don’t go to the parks?  Let us know in the comments!

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Jamie Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable child, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

2 thoughts on “Things To Do On Arrival Day at Disney Other Than Visiting the Parks

  • Kicking off my next trip with the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue and can’t wait – I haven’t seen the show in years!

  • Awesome list! I would add that the deluxe resorts have things like chocolate sculptures, Halloween decor, and fancy Easter eggs in cases in many parts of the year. I love looking for these touches!


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