Park-Free Options at Walt Disney World
A trip to Walt Disney World can be expensive. The easiest way to cut costs are flights, by being flexible when flights are the cheapest, and accommodations, by staying at a value resort level hotel or off site. One cost that is not negotiable is the park tickets. While there are price incentives to purchasing a longer multi-day park pass, your cost of the trip inherently goes up with each day. Adding the park hopper option also comes at a price of the added convenience.
Walt Disney World offers so many options outside of the theme parks that guests often do not take advantage of because they are preoccupied with the theme parks. Spending all of your time in the park is definitely not a bad thing- it is the reason you go on vacation to Walt Disney World and certainly reflects my childhood trips. With crowds in the parks continuing to rise and only going to get worse with the opening of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the out of theme park activities still remain very tolerable if not empty in some occasions. If you are looking for a ways to spend a park-free day around Walt Disney World, here are a few options for you!
The first thing any Disney fan will tell you for a park-free day is to go to the resorts. All are accessible by Disney transportation (some easier than others) so it is free to get around. Each resort is artfully themed and provide an authentic experience for guests. Stop by Animal Kingdom Lodge to enjoy the Animal Kingdom inspired flare and if you are lucky enough, will be able to spot animals from the resort.
Go to Art of Animation to get photos with larger than life characters from your favorite movies such as Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and Cars. My personal favorites are hitting up the EPCOT resorts and the monorail loop resorts. This is particularly fun to do around the holidays as each resort is uniquely decorated.
The EPCOT resorts include The Boardwalk Inn, The Yacht and Beach Club, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts and each has something to offer. The Boardwalk Inn has many shops along the boardwalk, including a bakery, and you can rent surrey bikes. A short walk from there is The Yacht and Beach Club where you can enjoy ice cream and other 50’s inspired fare at Beaches & Cream Soda Shop, as well as rent boats to take out on the lake.
At night, the entire boardwalk comes alive with nightly entertainment. We have even played Nintendo Switch on the lawn of the Boardwalk while a movie was playing outside. You can also ride the boat around from EPCOT to Hollywood Studios hitting each resort along the way for a 45 minute round trip- very relaxing, especially if you sit in the back outside!
The monorail resorts include the Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. A short boat ride off the monorail loop is also Fort Wilderness. Four incredibly themed resort in such close proximity. The monorail always felt like our first ride at Disney when I was young and it still fantasizes me.The Polynesian beach is a great spot to watch the nighttime fireworks at Magic Kingdom – they even play the music to sync to the fireworks!
All of these have great dining options- some of the best on property. You can also position yourself to watch the fireworks at night from the beach at the Polynesian. Fort Wilderness offers so many unique activities including horseback riding, sleigh rides, and archery.
Other resorts can be time consuming to get to since you need to get to a theme park bus station and then take a bus to that specific resort. With the addition of the gondola system, there will be a new set of resorts opened up for easy access for exploration.
Grab a map and explore Disney Springs- the “free” Disney park! With most construction complete, Disney Springs has transformed into a fifth park option for guests and there is still more to come.
There are so many dining options here and with such a range of offerings. From food trucks to fine dining to gourmet desserts to ice cream, there is something to suit everyone in your group. In addition to food, there is tons of high end and casual shopping. While we are not shoppers, this is certainly a great place to pick up favorite Disney and non-Disney brands. House of Blues hosts a variety of musicians so definitely check their performance schedule. There is also an AMC movie theater and bowling alley Splitsville Luxury Lanes- both great for rainy day options as well. Our favorite activity to date is the VOID virtual reality system that immerses you in a Disney alternative reality. We did the Star Wars one and can’t wait to try the Wreck It Ralph version.
Don’t forget to take advantage of the resort you are staying at (even if you are staying off-site, enjoy the amenities you are paying for!). If you are new to your resort, ask the front desk for all the resort has to offer and you may be surprised at the variety. Especially on a hot day, take time to sit by the pool and relax.
Some of the resorts have very elaborate pools- you are certainly paying for it so take advantage. Many resorts also do movie nights (some even have s’mores) and most recently I have seen yoga offered in the mornings are some of the resorts! Don’t want to go to a pool? Then go to a water park. There are two water parks on Disney property- Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. This can be as expensive as a park pass so price it out ahead of time if it makes sense for your trip.
Did you know there are two mini golf locations at Disney? Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland are available for guests. There is a small fee ($12-14) but another way to spend time away from the parks. While I have not personally done either (I’d rather be eating), it is a good option for those that enjoy this activity.
Some of the best dining options are not in the parks but at the resorts. In fact, we almost exclusively eat at the resorts when we vacation. Kevin and I have had some of our best meals at some of these restaurants, including Victoria and Albert’s, Flying Fish, and California Grill.
Dining at California Grill also allows for guests to have prime viewing of the Magic Kingdom fireworks, even if you dine earlier in the evening.
Dinner shows like Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness and Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian are also available offering several hours of entertainment. Do yourself a favor and book Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at least once in your Disney life. Great food and a hilarious show!
There are a shocking number of bars throughout the resorts and at Disney Springs. While many are traditional bars often resembling the resort decor, there are several that are immersive. Trader Sam’s Grotto at the Polynesian is a very popular spot with fun drinks and retired Skippers from the Jungle Cruise keeping guests very entertained. Specialty drinks provoke interaction with the room, Skippers, or both and fellow patrons can’t resist joining in.
At the Boardwalk, Abracadabar is a magician lounge with intriguing cocktails and Jelly Rolls is a dueling piano bar. Disney Springs has countless establishments for an adult beverage. Hangar Bar (Indiana Jones) and the Edison (industrial warehouse) have great atmospheres and even better drinks making them great places to hang out.
Wine Bar George is a great spot because you can order wine by a variety of amounts- some as small as 1 oz pours by Coravin and is a great opportunity for wine enthusiasts as well as people that just want to enjoy a glass of wine.
Volunteer at GKTW
Give Kids the World (GKTW) is an organization that grants wishes for Make a Wish foundation. When a Wish Kid wishes for a trip to Disney World, GKTW is there to grant it. The property is enormous and has housing, dining, transportation, entertainment, and more all at no cost to the Wish Kid and their families. We have volunteered there several times now and it is a fantastic way to give back which enjoying your Disney vacation. You can read all about our experience here.
With so many options available, you can just about have an entire vacation without going into the parks. In fact, this reverse traditional Disney vacation option would go very well with the After Hours ticket events. After Hours are hard ticket events that Disney limits the people in the park for several hours and include unlimited snacks like popcorn and ice cream. With fewer people in the park there are little to no waits on very popular, hard to get on rides. Perhaps I will try this method on our next trip!