Walt Disney World is well known for its world-famous theme parks, but did you know there are plenty of activities around the resort that don’t require a theme park ticket? For those looking to spend a day at Walt Disney World outside of the theme parks, you may be surprised how many options are available! Whether you’re looking to relax with a luxurious spa day or get closer to nature with a canoe ride through Fort Wilderness, there are plenty of activities available without needing to step foot into a theme park. This post breaks down 15 things to do on a non-park day at Walt Disney World so you can make the most of your vacation to the most magical place on Earth!
15 Things to do at Walt Disney World Outside of the Theme Parks
Walt Disney World offers plenty of activities and entertainment around its resorts and various entertainment destinations that you don’t need a theme park ticket for! For those looking for things to do on a “rest day” (a.k.a. a non-park day) during your vacation, here are 15 ideas to make the most of your day!
Explore Disney Springs
When it comes to things to do on a non-park day at Walt Disney World, a visit to Disney Springs is always on the top of my list. After all, Disney Springs is a shopping, dining, and entertainment destination that is FREE to enter; I could easily spend an entire day exploring the various shops and dining destinations located there. (Not to mention all of the live music and entertainment!) In fact, Disney Springs is home to 95 shopping destinations, 69 dining locations, and 25 entertainment attractions (as of January 2024), so there is plenty to see, eat, and do!
I have an entire list of 25 Fun Things to Do at Disney Springs that is sure to create a full itinerary for your visit to Disney Springs, but if you’re looking for the essential must-dos, then I highly recommend:
- Take a Self-Guided Dessert Tour: Disney Springs offers some incredible desserts, ranging everywhere from award-winning cookies from Gideon’s Bakehouse (a local favorite!) to unique Dole Whip flavors from Swirls on the Water. As you explore Disney Springs, be sure to try out all the desserts it has to offer!
- Enjoy a Show from Cirque du Soleil: Cirque du Soleil has been a part of Disney Springs (previously called Downtown Disney) since 1998, but debuted the exciting new show “Drawn to Life” in 2021! This show commemorates the legacy of Disney animation through acrobatics, choreography, and more.
- Take Some Photos: Disney Springs has some amazing photo opportunities, ranging everywhere from the PhotoPass Studio to the iconic Orange Bird Wall Mural. Don’t miss the best photo spots at Disney Springs to take advantage of during your visit!
- Go on a Balloon Ride: Only at Disney Springs can you find the “world’s largest hand-painted helium balloon”… so why not go for a ride?
- Watch the Latest Movies: The AMC Theatre at Disney Springs became a quick favorite of mine while on the Disney College Program. After all, what’s a better place to watch a Disney movie than from a theater in the heart of Walt Disney World?
- Go Bowling: Splitsville at Disney Springs is the perfect spot to get out of the hot Florida sun while also enjoying a fun activity! In addition to bowling, Splitsville also offers live music and food.
Go Resort Hopping
Walt Disney World has 25+ resorts, each with a unique theme and story to tell! From the Victorian glamor of the Grand Floridian to the rustic charm of Fort Wilderness, there’s something unique about each Disney resort that makes it so fun to explore, especially on a non-park day of a Walt Disney World vacation!
While there are plenty of ways to go resort hopping (and plenty of resorts to choose from!), here are some “loops” that I recommend that allow you to visit more resorts in less time (with easy transportation options between each resort!):
- Magic Kingdom Area Loop: The monorail loop near Magic Kingdom services three Disney resorts (Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa), which makes it popular for resort hopping. While in the Seven Seas Lagoon area, you can also take a boat to visit Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. That is 5 Disney resorts with easy transportation to “hop” between and explore!
- EPCOT Area Loop: With the introduction of the skyliner in late 2019, resort hopping in the EPCOT area has expanded! However, there are also many pathways that connect many of the resorts in this area. You can walk or take a boat* between Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, and Walt Disney World Swan Hotel. Using the skyliner system, you can also visit Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. That is 9 resorts with easy transportation to “hop” between and explore!
- Sassagoula River Cruise Loop: For those looking to split their non-park day between Disney Springs and resort hopping, I highly recommend looking at the resorts the Sassagoula River Cruise connects! The Sassagoula River Cruise (which has 3 docking locations in Disney Springs) provides transportation to four Disney resorts: Disney’s Old Key West Resort, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside, and Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter. However, I do recommend budgeting plenty of time for travel between each resort and back to Disney Springs. (Especially if you have dining reservations!)
For first time resort hoppers, I highly recommend starting with the Magic Kingdom Area Loop, especially if you’re not as familiar with the layout and transportation systems of Walt Disney World.
While resort hopping, here are some recommendations on things to do!
- Go Shopping: Each resort will have its own unique gift shop(s), some of which feature exclusive resort-specific merchandise that you can’t find anywhere else in Walt Disney World. (This is especially fun for pin traders!)
- Enjoy Some Drinks: Disney takes “bar hopping” to a new level when you factor in its many resorts. Some of the unique bars at the Disney resorts that are worth a visit include Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (a tiki themed bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort) and Enchanted Rose Lounge (a Beauty and the Beast-themed lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa).
- Participate in the Skyliner Rally Scavenger Hunt: For those looking for a fun challenge on their day off from the parks, be sure to take a ride on the Disney Skyliner and participate in the Skyliner Rally Scavenger Hunt!
- Enjoy a Meal or Snack: Resort hopping is sure to work up an appetite, so be sure to stop for a meal or snack at one of the resorts! My favorite is getting a DOLE Whip at Disney’s Polynesian Resort or Mickey Beignets from Port Orleans – French Quarter.
*Boat service may specify serving a certain area of the resort, such as the “villas”. Be sure to double-check information on Disney’s water transportation during your visit!
Spend Some Time on the Water
Since 18.5% of Florida is covered in water, it’s no surprise that you’ll find plenty of water-based activities at Walt Disney World, ranging everywhere from fishing to canoeing! Here are some different options around Walt Disney World to spend some time on the water during your non-park day!
- Motorized Boats: Set course on your own self-guided cruise with a motorized boat rental! With locations at seven different resorts, you will gain unique water-based views around the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT resort area.
- Fishing: Catch-and-release fishing is available at 9 different resorts around Walt Disney World, with available experiences including dockside fishing and guided fishing excursions!
- Canoeing and Kayaking: Canoeing and kayaking is a staple outdoor activity, so it makes sense that it is one of the many recreational offerings at Fort Wilderness! For just $15*, you can book a kayak or canoe and spend some time out on the water.
- Vintage Amphicar Tour: For those who love vintage cars and boats, why not take a guided cruise in a vintage amphicar?! This fun excursion launches from Disney Springs, offering a unique view of the shopping and dining district!
- Fireworks Cruise: Just because you’re not spending the day in the parks doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the fireworks! Views of the fireworks can be enjoyed from many locations around Walt Disney World, but for a private viewing experience, you can book a fireworks cruise, which offers beautiful views of the fireworks from Magic Kingdom or EPCOT!
*$15 per hour is accurate as of January 2024
Parking Tip: Although reservations are not required, you do need a dining or recreation reservation to park at a resort hotel (if you’re not already staying at the designated resort hotel)… so I highly recommend making a reservation in advance!
Enjoy a Game of Golf (or Minigolf!)
Walt Disney World is home to multiple golf (and minigolf!) courses, so why not relax with a game of golf on your day off from the parks? You can even play a game of footgolf or receive professional golf lessons from a PGA professional!
The various golf experiences at Walt Disney World are:
- Winter Summerland Miniature Golf: Featuring two courses to choose from, this minigolf location is said to be designed by Santa himself and is sure to keep you cool!
- Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf: Featuring two courses to choose from, this minigolf location is themed after the film Fantasia!
- Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Golf Course: This 18-hole course has played host to multiple tours and events!
- Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course: Soon expanding to 18-holes, this golf course is designed in the Tour style!
- Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course: This 9-hole course offers golfing fun for the entire family, even offering junior tees!
- Disney’s Palm Golf Course: This 18-hole course was redesigned in 2013!
- FootGolf: For those looking to combine their love of soccer and golf, be sure to check out FootGolf at Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course!
- Golf Lessons: For guests looking to improve their golf skills on vacation, look no further than Disney’s professional golf lessons, which offers a 45-minute private lesson from a PGA professional!
Take a Behind the Scenes Tour
Walt Disney World offers a multitude of behind the scenes tours, but did you know there are some that don’t require theme park tickets? If you’re still looking for the theme park experience without paying for a full-day ticket, a behind the scenes tour offers the perfect compromise! (Especially perfect for an arrival or departure day!)
The behind the scenes tours that DON’T require a theme park ticket include:
- EPCOT Seas Adventures – DiveQuest: This tour offers a backstage look at EPCOT’s 5.7-million-gallon saltwater aquarium, plus a 40-minute scuba dive within the aquarium! However, you must be SCUBA-certified to take this tour.
- EPCOT Seas Adventures – Dolphins in Depth: This 2-hour tour offers a backstage look at the dolphin program at EPCOT, including a 30-minute interaction with the dolphins!
- Starlight Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: This 1-hour tour takes you on a nighttime safari ride through Disney’s African savannas, where you can spot giraffes, zebras, and more!
- Wilderness Back Trail Adventure: This guided 2-hour tour lets you explore the back trails of Fort Wilderness on a Segway® X2, where you will learn trivia and see some of the top spots at Fort Wilderness, including Tri-Circle-D Ranch!
Enjoy Live Music
Live music is ABUNDANT at Walt Disney World, so it’s easy to find some to enjoy on a non-park day!
When it comes to finding live music outside of the parks, there are several go-to places around Disney Springs and the resorts. I highly recommend:
- Disney Springs: Disney Springs offers a TON of live music. (For the most up-to-date lineup of live music at Disney Springs, click here.) The majority are offered within restaurants, with Raglan Road being a particular favorite of mine, as you also get to see the talented Irish dancers. (My coordination issues could never.) However, you can also find live music in a few other spaces around Disney Springs, including AdventHealth Waterside Stage, Waterview Park, and (for those who have little ones with them) Disney Springs Kids Club.
- Lobby Pianist at Grand Floridian: One of my favorite resorts to visit when resort hopping is the Grand Floridian and I am always stunned by the talent of the lobby pianist! Be sure to stop by and hear classic Disney songs played on the piano.
- Jellyrolls: Those who are ages 21+ will love visiting Jellyrolls for live music… it’s a dueling piano bar!
- Yehaa Bob Jackson: Yehaa Bob Jackson plays the piano at River Roost Lounge at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside and is sure to have you singing along!
Relax at the Spa
For those looking to have the ultimate relaxation day on their vacation, it can’t get better than a visit to a spa at Walt Disney World!
As of January 2024*, the spas available at Walt Disney World include:
- The Grand Floridian Spa: Featuring massages, facials, manicures, and more, The Grand Floridian Spa has quite a bit to offer.
- Mandara Spa: This Balinese-themed spa features a Meditation Garden and Tea Garden before you begin your spa experience, with offerings including massages, facials, and more.
*Many spas at Walt Disney World are still closed except for The Grand Floridian Spa and Mandara Spa. For the full details on spas, click here.
Meet Characters Around Walt Disney World
You may assume that meeting characters is something that can only be done within the theme parks, but there are actually a few ways to meet characters outside of the parks… perfect for a non-park day at Walt Disney World! From what I have seen and experienced, there are 4 main ways to meet characters outside of the theme parks at Walt Disney World:
Meet the Coca-Cola Bear at Disney Springs
While not a Disney character, the Coca-Cola Bear is a fun and “secret” meet-and-greet you can take advantage of at the Coca-Cola Store at Disney Springs! I have met the Coca-Cola Bear here on a couple of occasions and have never experienced more than a 5-minute wait.
Enjoy Character Dining
One of my favorite ways to meet characters is with character dining. After all, there is no need to wait in line and you get to meet several characters throughout the span of your meal! Some of the characters that meet in character dining are also rare characters that hardly ever appear in the parks, making character dining the only way to meet them! Character dining is offered at several resorts throughout Walt Disney World, including:
- Cape May Cafe (at Disney’s Beach Club Resort): Dine with Minnie Mouse and friends while enjoying a delicious breakfast!
- Chef Mickey’s (at Disney’s Contemporary Resort): Dine with Mickey Mouse and friends while enjoying a delicious breakfast or dinner!
- ‘Ohana (at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort): Dine with Lilo and Stitch as you enjoy a delicious breakfast! (Although Stitch is a frequent character at Magic Kingdom, I’ve never seen Lilo appear, so this is one of my top recommendations!)
- Ravello (at Four Seasons Resort Orlando): Enjoy breakfast with Goofy and friends! (Saturdays only.)
- Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White (at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge): Enjoy a delicious dinner as you meet Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and the Evil Queen! (Some of these are rare characters that hardly appear in the parks at Walt Disney World, so this is one of my top recommendations!)
- Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera (at Disney’s Riviera Resort): Enjoy breakfast with Mickey and friends!
Surprise Character Sightings
Throughout the year, there are occasionally pop-up character meetings at the Disney resorts! While these are “surprise” sightings, it’s always worth keeping your eye out around your Disney resort or while resort hopping. However, there are some events throughout the year that increase the chance of sighting a character at the Disney resorts, such as the Mardi Gras parade and party that occurs at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside resort. (Where you might spot Tiana and/or Louis!)
Explore Disney’s Boardwalk
For those looking for something to do in the evening of their non-park day at Walt Disney World, look no further than Disney’s Boardwalk! Drawing inspiration from destinations like Coney Island, Boardwalk offers a variety of places to enjoy food and drinks, as well as fun entertainment! Along Disney’s Boardwalk, you can find jugglers, a dueling piano bar, and more.
Bonus Tip: Disney’s Boardwalk is a great place to catch views of the EPCOT fireworks!
Enjoy “Movies Under the Stars”
One of my favorite resort activities at Disney is “Movies Under the Stars”, which is a great way to end your non-park day at Walt Disney World! Movies Under the Stars is an activity that happens at a variety of Disney resort hotels and offers the perfect relaxing evening. During my last visit to Disney’s Pop Century resort, Cast Members passed out complimentary snacks to enjoy while watching the movie!
Participate in an Art Workshop
While relaxing on your non-park day at Walt Disney World, why not participate in an art workshop and create your own unique souvenir to take home?
Walt Disney World currently offers two art classes, both of which are located within Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. These classes are:
- Colors of Coronado Painting Experience: With this 2-hour painting class, guests will have the opportunity to create an 11”x 14” Disney-themed art piece in a class led by local artists. The piece changes each month, so you can create something new with each visit! However, this class only happens once a week on Fridays.
- Spanish Mosaic Art: This 2-hour mosaic class, which is offered three times a week, offers the chance to visit the beautiful Dahlia Lounge while also creating a unique Disney-themed mosaic souvenir to take home.
Participate in Recreational Activities
For those looking to spend their non-park day doing recreational activities (that don’t include spending time on the water), there are several to be found! Some of the recreational activities at Walt Disney World include:
- Horseback Riding: Visit the Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Walt Disney World (which is home to 90+ horses!) for a 45-minute horseback ride on the trails through Fort Wilderness.
- Pony Rides: For families with little ones who are too young to participate in the horseback rides at Fort Wilderness, be sure to take a look into the Pony Rides, which are also located at Fort Wilderness!
- Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides: If you love horses but don’t like horseback riding, take a look into Disney’s Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides! These are available at Fort Wilderness and at Port Orleans – Riverside.
- Archery: Traveling with fans of the movie Brave? Spend your non-park day with a 75-minute archery class at Fort Wilderness, where you will learn from an archery guide on how to use a compound bow.
- Bike Riding: Both single and Surrey bikes are available to rent at several resorts throughout Walt Disney World, making it a great way to get some exercise while exploring a new resort! (The perfect activity while resort hopping!)
Take a Culinary Class
For foodies looking for something fun to do on a non-park day at Walt Disney World, look no further than a culinary class! Currently, there are two culinary experiences available at Walt Disney World:
- Cake Decorating Experience: If you’ve ever tried one of the character dome cakes at Amorette’s Patisserie (I know I have!) and have wanted to try your own hand at decorating them, this is your chance! Before opening everyday, Amorette’s holds a cake decorating class, where you can learn how to decorate a dome cake to look like Mickey or Minnie Mouse.
- Sangria University: If you’ve ever tried one of the sangrias served at Three Bridges Bar and Grill and wish you could learn to make it yourself, look no further than Sangria University! This 90-minute class will walk you through how they make the four sangrias served at the restaurant, along with a tasting of all four drinks and a chance to make one of them yourself!
Watch the Electrical Water Pageant
The Electrical Water Pageant is a nighttime show that isn’t as well known as the fireworks at Walt Disney World, but is the perfect way to end your non-park day at Disney. (Especially for fans of the Main Street Electrical Parade!)
The Electrical Water Pageant takes place on Seven Seas Lagoon and is viewable from several resorts in the area. (I watched it while staying at Wilderness Lodge!) As the floating parade goes by, you’ll also be able to hear music!
Watch the Fireworks
Just because you aren’t spending the day in the theme parks doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the fireworks! There are many spots around Walt Disney World where you can relax and enjoy a view of the fireworks that take place at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, with popular spots including the beach at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the walkways near the International Gateway Entrance of EPCOT.
However, if you’re looking for a more unique viewing experience, then I recommend:
- Private Fireworks Cruise: You and up to 9 of your closest friends or family members can take a private cruise and enjoy the fireworks from Magic Kingdom or EPCOT, even including complimentary snacks!
- Celebration at the Top: Enjoy food and drink at the “Celebration at the Top” cocktail party before watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from a private viewing deck at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
- California Grill: Enjoy a delicious dinner at California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort before watching the fireworks view from the restaurant… they even play the accompanying music!
Looking for tips on planning your vacation to Walt Disney World resort? I am a former Cast Member and a current Annual Passholder! Check out these posts to help make the most of your trip to the most magical place on Earth!