Have a day or two without a park ticket on your next Disney trip? Just looking for a quick break from the parks? There is so much to do without a park ticket at the Walt Disney World Resort, you could easily spend an entire vacation outside the theme parks. Here are some of our favorite things to do on days when we’re not running around the parks:
Hang out at Disney Springs
There is really so much to do at Disney Springs now that you could easily spend an entire day exploring the shops, checking out the restaurants, and taking in all of the entertainment. I love shopping at Disney Springs because the stores feature so many brands I love and many have distinctly Disney items that you wouldn’t find at your local mall. I also tend to do really well shopping the sale sections at most of the stores, which is not something you can really do in Disney branded stores in the parks. + There is something magical about buying makeup at Sephora on a Disney trip and working new lipstick into your looks for the week.
One of my favorite restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resorts is at Disney Springs– The Boathouse! It’s our pick for the best date spot in the area, and I really do love the food. Plus you just can’t beat an Amphicar tour to see Disney Springs from the water! The Boathouse (along with many other Disney Springs restaurants) is also really great because the menu is so varied. You could easily go for apps and a few drinks at the Dockside Bar, or you can get more of a ‘signature’ dining experience and order steak and lobster. Lots of these restaurants can really work for whatever budget or mood you’re in and that’s really useful if you’re accustomed to only dining in the parks.
Disney Springs has a restaurant for whatever you’re craving and with so many options I highly recommend checking out a list of what’s there before you go. While there are lots of snack booths and quick service restaurants, it’s not really comparable to snacking in the parks so unless you have some seriously unlimited stomach space you’ll want to have an idea in mind before you get there. (P.S. for quick service our picks are D-Luxe Burger or Earl of Sandwich! Though we usually go with D-Luxe Burger because we have an Earl of Sandwich near us at home.)
Entertainment-wise there is so much to do at Disney Springs, from bowling at Splitsville, to catching a movie at AMC and even experiencing the Void virtual reality attraction. There’s also live music daily, concerts at House of Blues, and seasonal activities like the Christmas Tree Trail. There is so much more to do at Disney Springs it would really take up an entire post, so be sure to check out everything happening here.
Go on a resort “crawl”
My mind goes to a bar crawl, but you can really make a crawl out of anything in Disney! Cupcake crawls have also become a big thing to do around the resorts, and you could easily do a cookie crawl and probably an ice cream crawl as well. The easiest way to do any kind of resort crawl is to stick to resorts that are walking distance or on the monorail. It’s easy to hop on and off the monorail and make a crawl out of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. If you’re planning your crawl for later in the day you can even see the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom from each of these resorts.
Another easy crawl would be to stroll around the Epcot Area Resorts, that are all in very comfortable walking distance and include Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. There is also additional entertainment and recreation offerings at the Boardwalk (surrey bike rentals by day or an evening at Jellyrolls dueling piano bar can certainly add to your crawl) and if you happen to visit during the Food & Wine Classic at the Swan and Dolphin (annually one weekend in October) you could add this event to the crawl as well.
A more underrated resort tour would be the Disney Springs Resorts (Disney’s Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, and the two Port Orleans Resorts). They’re not walking distance, but a leisurely boat ride between the resorts is also a nice way to spend a relaxing day outside of the parks. And these are actually some of my favorite resorts–they may take a bit more work to physically get to but they’re so worth the trip!
Create your own holiday resort tour
If you happen to be visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during the holiday season, the best way to spend a day without a park ticket is to check out all of the holiday decorations around the resorts! From fully functioning chocolate carousels to life-size gingerbread displays and breathtaking Christmas trees, Disney resorts go all out for the holidays. Use the same area recommendations in the last point for the best ways to get around, but plan on spending even more time to take in all of the decorations. Along with these displays the resorts during the holidays usually offer specialty dining and plenty of ways to get your sweet tooth on with gingerbread, chocolates, and more.
Each resort is done up beautifully for the holidays, but some of my favorites include the Wilderness Lodge (because the cozy decor is so classic Christmas), the Grand Floridian for the gingerbread house display, and the Boardwalk’s chocolate displays. Animal Kingdom Lodge is another favorite, because the ornaments and decor themed to this resort are so uniquely festive and unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else. And don’t skip the value resorts– I would probably not necessarily go out of my way if I wasn’t staying there, but if you’re hanging at the All Stars this holidays season don’t miss out on your own resort’s Christmas decor. They’re cute and kitschy and everything you’d expect from the values (in a good way!).
Spend the day at the pool
Sometimes you just need a day to relax by the pool between parking hopping in Disney. Each resort pool comes with a pool bar, and many are located right near the resort’s quick service restaurant. Some resorts even have another table service or small bites dining option right near the pool. And all of Disney’s resort pools come with activities like trivia, crafts, pool games, and more!
If the pool is your priority, be sure to stay at a moderate or deluxe level resort. These resort pools have waterslides and some added theming that you won’t find at the values, and the fan favorite pool in Disney is Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club that comes with a waterslide and lazy river. Don’t knock the value resorts though– each one comes with a larger centrally located pool, and a smaller one located further back into the resort. These smaller pools at the value resorts are usually pretty quiet, so when I’m staying there I love taking some time to relax by these pools. (Also as an aside– each Disney pool is for use by guests staying at the resort only, aka pool hopping is not allowed.)
Attend drawing lessons at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Remember the drawing classes you used to be able to take at the Magic of Disney Animation building at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? The building that now houses Star Wars Launch Bay used to be home to one of my favorite experiences in the parks–drawing lessons with actual animation artists! During my Disney College Program, I had this whole routine where on my day off I would get up early and go to my marketing class, then hop right on the bus to Hollywood Studios, get in a drawing class, grab lunch at the Backlot Express and watch the Jedi Training Academy, and head home for the day to get ahead on my freelancing. It’s kind of funny because I’m really not much of an artist (at least in the drawing sense) but I LOVED those classes. At 20-minutes long, it was the perfect way to break up the day and unwind a little bit from working at (or visiting) a theme park.
The Magic of Disney Animation attraction may be a thing of the past, but the drawing classes live on at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. If you’re looking for a fun activity outside of the parks, head over to the resort and grab lunch at the Landscape of Flavors, the resort’s quick service restaurant, and attend a quick drawing class. You’ll be able to have a super cool experience learning how to draw a Disney character, and you’ll come home with a fun souvenir!
See the animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
I go back and forth about this all the time, but Animal Kingdom Lodge may be my favorite Disney resort. Maybe it’s because my first College Program was in Animal Kingdom and I have some connection to it that way, or maybe it’s just because this resort is simply awesome in its own right, but I love it. Animal Kingdom Lodge has its own savanna, and there are viewing areas around the resort and a lookout off the lobby with rocking chairs so you can take in all of the best views of the wildlife.
This resort also has its own set of animal experiences and tours of the resort that you can take without ever using a park ticket. Plan your visit in advance, and consider booking a safari from the resort or a specialty dining experience. Another favorite way to see more of Animal Kingdom Lodge is to take a tour of Boma, the resort’s buffet restaurant. The design of this space was expertly created using inspiration from different regions in Africa and it’s really fascinating to learn about all of the different elements that went into it. (It’s also delicious, so if you’re just looking to fill up on a hearty feast complete with Zebra Domes that works too!)
Sleep in and go out for brunch
This is the one point on this post that I really don’t do enough. I love a good brunch, and Disney does brunch so well, you guys. My favorite brunch spot is the Grand Floridian Cafe. I’m not a huge mimosa person, but they have other boozy breakfast drinks that hit the spot while still retaining the level of class you want for brunch at the Grand. I LOVE the vanilla French toast at this restaurant, but if you’re feeling something more savory you could always go for shrimp cocktail, a soup, or a delicious Caeser salad. Another fan favorite here is actually the Mickey waffle, as you can order it with a whole spread of toppings and really make it your own.
For a more luxurious brunch, California Grill’s Brunch at the Top at Disney’s Contemporary Resort cannot be beat. It only runs on Sundays, and it books up quick so be sure to get a reservation asap if you plan on brunching there. This brunch comes with an entree and small buffet area as well as unlimited mimosas and rooftop views from the top of the resort. ALSO if you dine at California Grill earlier in the day, you can show your receipt to return later in the day to see the fireworks from the viewing area on the roof (another pro-tip if you’re without a park ticket!).
Most of my Disney brunching actually happens poolside at the value resorts, on days where I head to the pool early and hit the food court at the right time to snag a combination of breakfast and lunch items and simultaneously stop at the pool bar. But there’s something to be said for the relaxation level in this too. A couple of restaurants in Disney Springs offer brunch as well, as do some other go-to breakfast restaurants around the resorts. And for character dining, 1900 Park Fare is hands down the best brunch in Disney, with a full buffet spread, omelette station, and an avocado toast set-up, all with classic characters.
Enjoy afternoon tea
I love going out for afternoon tea, and the Grand Floridian does it best. Afternoon tea at the Garden View Tea Room at this resort is a must if you’re a tea person. If not, this is a good first afternoon tea experience. (In general Disney is great for first-anything experiences because Disney cast members are always totally helpful and not judge-y, so if you’re not sure what something is or if you’re doing it right, never hesitate to ask!). Tea at the Grand Floridian is pretty traditional, with finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries, along with a pot of tea of your choice. You can also add extras like fruit and cheese plates, caviar, and champagne.
Outside of the Grand Floridian my favorite place to go to for tea is Joffrey’s in Disney Springs. Their tea shop is more of a grab-and-go space than an afternoon tea experience, but they sell all kinds of tea blends, accessories, and sweets made with some of your favorite teas. I LOVE matcha, so one of my go-to’s if I need an afternoon pick-me-up is a matcha latte from Starbucks, and I have to say that just doesn’t even compare to Joffrey’s. Order it iced on a hot day, and warm on a cool day, and I promise if you love matcha you won’t be disappointed.
Check out your resort’s recreation and entertainment schedules
We are talking about the “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” remember? There are so many different recreation offerings at all of the resorts, you’re sure to find something that suits your interests. We’ve already mentioned surrey rides at the Boardwalk and drawing classes at Art of Animation, but there’s also nightly campfires, movie nights, fun runs, pin-trading, horse and carriage rides, golf, fishing, and so much more! We’ve spent entire days just wandering through the different resorts to pin-trade, grab dinner, and cap the evening off with a movie under the stars (check the front desk for a movie schedule).
You can also find some of the best entertainment without every stepping into a theme park. Disney has two dinner shoes, the Spirit of Aloha show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. Both come with exceptional performances and an all-you-care-to-enjoy family-style spread complete with unlimited pitchers of beer or sangria. You can also check out the entertainment at the Boardwalk, or hit up a themed bar like Jellyrolls dueling piano bar, Trader Sam’s (back at the Polynesian), or even just relax with live music from the band outside Mizner’s at the Grand Floridian.
See the fireworks!
Some people don’t realize this, but there are actually a couple of ways to get near-perfect views of the fireworks from outside the parks. Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom can be seen from any of the monorail resorts and the Transportation & Ticket Center. My favorite spot to watch the fireworks off the monorail is the beach at the Polynesian, but if you can time it right seeing the fireworks (and having the music piped in) while you’re having dinner in ‘Ohana works too!
California Grill is another option from the roof of the Contemporary, just plan your dinner reservation during the fireworks or return to the check-in counter with a receipt from earlier in the same day. Without splurging on a meal at California Grill, there are some lookout areas with benches off the Grand Canyon Concourse at the resort (the level where all of the shops and Chef Mickey’s are located). If you plan to see the fireworks from there just be sure to arrive early as these spots fill up on busy days.
Epcot’s fireworks can be seen from resorts nearby if you have just the right view. If possible, the best way to ensure you’ll have the perfect view of the fireworks in Epcot is to book a park-view room at the Swan and Dolphin. The towers of this resort are high enough to give you the perfect view without trees or other buildings in the way, just be sure to confirm that you’re getting a fireworks view when you book!
Do you have plans for your next day between the parks? Share what you’re looking forward to in the comments!