Do you ever find yourself in the Orlando area outside of a big Disney vacation? Maybe you are in town on business, passing through, or taking a trip to visit other central Florida attractions. If you are like me, you want to experience a little Disney magic whenever you can – even if you are not able to purchase tickets and go into the actual theme parks. Or perhaps you are planning a Disney vacation and want to include some non-park days to your itinerary. Break days in the middle of your trip can be great for a change in pace from the hectic hustle of the parks and give everyone a chance to rest and re-energize for the rest of the trip.
Things to Do at Disney Without Tickets
There are lots of really fun things to do around the Walt Disney World Resort that don’t require access to one of the theme parks. Listed here are a bunch of our favorite things to do – some require reservations and cost money while others are totally free fun. Did your favorite non-park activity make it on the list?
Shop, Eat, and Play at Disney Springs
Previously known as Downtown Disney, Disney Springs is a huge hub of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment. Buses run to Disney Springs from the parks (during select hours) and all resorts. You could easily spend a ton of time here exploring all the area has to offer. Come hungry because the food, snack and drink options are seemingly endless. Don’t forget there is a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique location here at Disney Springs, so you can actually let your princess get a royal makeover without having Magic Kingdom park tickets. You can also make reservations to bowl at Splitsville, catch a movie at AMC Theatre, or enjoy an aerial view of Disney World in the tethered hot air balloon.
Travel Back in Time at Fort Wilderness
Fort Wilderness is a Resort and Campground in the Magic Kingdom area. At Fort Wilderness, you will not only find camp sites and cabins, but a whole ton of activities available to anyone, not just resort guests. For example, two special dining events happen here – Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, a dinner and musical show, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, a barbecue dinner buffet and party with Mickey Mouse and friends. Another fun option is the Chip ‘N Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long which occurs nightly at Fort Wilderness. At this free event, you can dance with Chip and Dale, roast marshmallows over the fire, and catch a movie on an outdoor screen. Note you can either bring your own s’mores supplies with you or purchase them from a kiosk at the event. You can also sign up for an archery experience as well as take pony, wagon, or sleigh rides.
Say Aloha to the Polynesian Resort
The Polynesian Resort is another great place to hang out outside of the theme parks. The theming of the resort is beautiful, like a tropical oasis offering some respite from the business of the parks. Here you can grab a dole whip (yes you can get a dole whip outside the Magic Kingdom) at the Pineapple Lanai, sip a fun drink at Trader Sams, or grab a bite to eat at one of the great quick service food locations. In the evening, you might consider getting reservations to attend the Spirit of Aloha Luau and Dinner Show, or just staking out a place to sit on the Polynesian’s beach to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks in the distance.
Dine with Characters in a Resort Restaurant
Did you know that you don’t even have to have a park ticket to meet Disney characters? You can meet tons of them simply by booking a dining reservation for a character meal at one of the Disney resorts. There are more options than I can possibly list here (not to mention that there is always the possibility of something new popping up), but here are a few options for character dining at the resorts.
- ‘Ohana in the Polynesian Resort has breakfast with Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, and Stitch
- Cape May Café in the Beach Club Resort has a breakfast with classic characters in their swim gear
- Breakfast or dinner at 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian Resort. Breakfast characters are typically some combination of Mary Poppins, Alice, The Mad Hatter, Tigger, and Pooh. Dinner characters are Cinderella, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, Drizella, and Price Charming.
- Breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort with the classic characters dressed as chefs.
Take to the Water
The Walt Disney World Resort has many lakes and rivers running through it. In fact, you are likely to find yourself on a boat as a mode of transportation during a Disney vacation. However, if you are a water sports lover you might consider checking out the watercraft available to rent to do your own water exploring or fishing. You can rent boats and canoes at a variety of resorts. There are special boat experiences that unique views of the nightly Disney World fireworks in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. We particularly enjoy the Pirate and Pals Fireworks Voyage which departs from the Contemporary Resort and includes a dessert party and a boat ride out in front of the Magic Kingdom to watch the nightly fireworks show. These fireworks cruises allow you to see and hear the fireworks in the park without needing a park ticket!
Take a Spin on the Monorail
For some free entertainment, take a ride on the Magic Kingdom monorail, stopping and exploring at each of the resorts along its route. The Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary resorts are beautiful and well themed. You could spend hours taking a look around these resorts and perhaps sampling some food and drinks from their quick service restaurant options and lounges. This is particularly a fun adventure at Christmas time when the resorts are all decked out for the holidays. Hey the monorail is like riding an attraction outside the parks!
Enjoy Activities at your Resort
All the Disney resorts have special activities available, beyond what is specifically mentioned here. Disney resorts across the board have awesome pools, so we always build time into our schedule to have a rest day (or part of a day) to stay at the resort, go to the pool, and do other fun things there. Often times resorts will have special activities planned during holidays and year round they show movies out on the lawn and have campfires in the evenings. If you are staying in a Disney resort you should get information upon check-in that has all the activities listed that are happening during your stay. Many, but not all, of these resort activities are available free of charge to resort guests.
Play a Round of Golf
Walt Disney World is home to four professional golf courses, so if you have golfers in your group you may enjoy booking a tee-time and spending some time on the green. And don’t feel like you have to lug your clubs to Florida with you – WDW Golf has you covered and has rental options for men’s and women’s clubs as well shoes. Not looking for anything quite that serious? Disney World also has two miniature golf courses: Fantasia Gardens (walking distance from the Swan Resort and Winter Summerland (next to Blizzard Beach water park)
Stroll the Disney World Boardwalk
Located just outside the Epcot and Hollywood Studios parks, the Boardwalk area of Disney World is a fun place to spend time in the afternoons wandering around the promenade, eating ice cream, playing midway games, and perhaps taking a spin on a surrey bike. In the evenings, the boardwalk comes alive with musical venues and restaurants that are open through late night.
Gaze at the Animals of the Animal Kingdom Lodge
You probably know all about the animals that reside in and around the Animal Kingdom Park, but did you know that the Animal Kingdom Lodge (resort) nearby has a bunch of animals as well? You don’t have to be staying at the resort to pay it a visit and walk around. There are lots of places where you can see the animals and talk with informative cast members about the animals as well. You could pair this visit with a great meal at Boma, Sanaa, or Jiko – amazing restaurants that are often overlooked by Disney travelers because they are tucked a little out of the way.
Whatever you decide to do, there are plenty of fun options that don’t require park tickets! What do you like to do at Disney without a park ticket?