What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Walt Disney World? Cinderella Castle? Perhaps the four theme parks? Have you ever considered a trip to Walt Disney World without visiting one of the four major theme parks? Believe it or not, there are lots of things to do without even setting foot in a theme park.
For this article I will focus on families with young children, though these suggestions are also good for kids of all ages. In future editions of Magically Speaking, we will focus on traveling with older kids and adults without tickets.
My family wanted to take a long weekend trip to Walt Disney World. However I couldn’t justify the cost of a three-day Magic Your Way ticket, knowing that it was almost the same cost as we would spend on tickets if we were staying a week. So we decided to get our Disney fix in other ways.
We started with lots of resort dining. We ate at Chef Mickey’s to see Mickey and the gang. We also tried out 1900 Park Fare, in part for the characters, but also to see the gingerbread house as it was being built in the Grand Floridian. One night we ate at Boma to get a taste of Animal Kingdom Lodge and view the animals. All of these were hits with our young kids — and didn’t require admission.
Our trip wasn’t all about eating, though. We shopped at Downtown Disney. We even went on a Wishes fireworks cruise. Although this did require a different sort of ticket, we did attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for our park time. We could spend a relaxing day outside of the parks, and then be ready for some late-night festivities. Depending on the time of year, you can find many other seasonal celebrations.
Below are my top 10 choices of things to do with young children without buying Magic Your Way tickets:
10. Ride the monorail. I’d start with the resort monorail loop. You could even get off at each resort and take a look around. Then hop off at the TTC and ride to Epcot and back.
9. Play a round or two of mini golf. We’ve always wanted to try mini golf at Disney, but never had the time. A no-parks trip like this is the perfect time to get in a round…or three.
8. Visit Downtown Disney. We can always spend a good half day here, from playing at the Lego store, exploring the World of Disney, to getting treats at Goofy’s Candy Company, and no trip to Downtown Disney with young kids would be complete without lunch at T-Rex. The best part? There’s no pressure to rush off to get back to the parks.
7. Hang out with Chip and Dale at the campfire sing-a-long at Fort Wilderness. Fort Wilderness has tons of stuff for kids. From the petting zoo, to the campfire and making s’mores, to watching movies outside. If you are there for the fall or winter holidays, they also offer haunted carriage rides or sleigh rides. Couple that with a meal at Trails End and you have yourself a great evening.
6. Resort recreation. We all know that young kids can be happy for hours simply hanging out at the pool. But there are also other things to enjoy (some suggestions vary by resort: hit the arcade, catch a movie by the pool, or rent a boat or surrey bike. When you check in you will receive a list of your resort’s activities. You can also participate in activities at other resorts (although pool-hoping is not allowed, except at sister resorts like the All-Stars and Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter).
5. Visit a waterpark. Disney waterparks are great for kids of all ages. A one-day ticket will cost you $47, but you could even get a waterpark annual pass for $99. So if you are there during the hotter months and want to hit the waterparks more than once, the annual pass would be the way to go. That way you can pop in and out as much as you would like and still get in an afternoon nap.
4. Send the kids on a Pirate Cruise. Children age four and up can take a Pirate Cruise that departs from four different locations: the Grand Floridian, the Yacht Club, Port Orleans Riverside, and the Caribbean Beach resort. These require advance reservations up to 180 days in advance, and each cruise is only offered on certain days of the week. The cruises are two hours long and depart at 9:30 a.m. I recommend making a brunch reservation for Mom and Dad around 10:00 a.m. at whichever resort the cruise is departing from, and everyone will have an enjoyable morning.
3. Resort dining. You don’t need to enter a theme park to get to see the characters. Chef Mickey will get you access to the Fab Five. You can also see Mickey at ‘Ohana’s breakfast. Want to meet a princess (or some hilarious stepsisters)? Check out 1900 Park Fare for dinner, or for breakfast you can meet Alice, the Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, Pooh, and Tigger. Cape May has characters as well at breakfast. Or dine at any resort that you haven’t been to before. This is a great opportunity to visit resorts that you haven’t had time to see on previous trips. Dinner shows are also a lot of fun.
2. See the fireworks. Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom can easily be viewed from outside the park. The beach at the Polynesian is a great location, or you can view them from the Ticket and Transportation Center. Another, albeit pricier, option is a specialty fireworks cruise. There are cruises for both “Wishes” and “Illuminations.” If you want to see both shows on a no-park trip, I recommend an “Illuminations” cruise, and watching “Wishes” another night from the Poly beach. The specialty cruises can also be booked up to 180-days in advance.
1. Go to a Magic Kingdom Party. For less than the price of a one-day admission ticket, you can enjoy the Magic Kingdom for eight hours (party tickets allow you to enter the park at 4 p.m., and you can stay until the party is over at midnight). The catch is that you need to be traveling during a period when a party is offered (typically September through October for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and November through December for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party), but this would be a great reason to take a shorter trip. Pair a party with a few of the ideas listed above and you have a terrific long weekend trip to Disney. Plus, by not buying Magic Your Way tickets, you will have saved yourself hundreds of dollars, and can still have a great Disney experience.
Walt Disney World offers plenty of options to keep the kids — and yourself! — entertained outside of the theme parks, so on your next quick trip to Florida, give it a try!