Stay Out of the Parks!

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You’ve saved, you’ve planned, you’ve counted the days until your trip to Disney World. Now here’s our advice to you: Stay out of the Parks.

Not entirely, mind you. After all, that’s why you’re there. But it’s called Disney WORLD, after all, not Disney Nook, or Disney Cubbyhole, and there’s a lot more to the World than just the theme parks. Kids may initially balk at any time not spent on Test Track, but they will find that there’s a lot more to Disney than just the rides.

First off, the entrance fees to the parks are, let’s face it, high. Yes, it’s certainly worth it, and yes, there’s a ton of fabulous stuff to do, but still, if you go every day of your vacation, especially if you’re there for a longish period of time, it gets pretty pricey.

And even if you’re prepared with all the great Touring Plans info and the stalwart nature of a battle general, it can be tiring and even somewhat stressful.

So give you and your kids a day off. See what else there is to do. You’ll all be refreshed and renewed when you enter the Parks again, and in between, you’ll probably find that you’ve had a fabulous time. So join the rallying cry—Time for a lark! Stay out of the Park!

Hang Out at Your Hotel…
Many families use their hotel as a pit stop, merely to rest and refuel, and depending on where you stay, that may be all you want. But lots of the hotels offer so much fabulous stuff; it’s kind of a shame to miss it. Activities (for kids and adults) swimming, games, pin trading, hidden Mickeys, great shops–there’s a ton to do, and some of it won’t be found unless you have the time. Kids are always asking for more swimming–give it to them! Let them hang out and have lunch at the pool and meet other kids. See what your hotel offers that the others don’t, do some research when you check in, and ask the staff for suggestions. It’s incredibly relaxing to wake up and know you don’t have to rush out the door. It’s almost—gasp–like being on vacation. Don’t just make the activities something you do in between frantically trying to get somewhere else. Plan some quiet activities, like sketching or updating a journal. My daughter now asks which will be our pool/shopping day when we go down to Disney.

…Or Visit Another One
We talked for years about having a meal at another hotel, but let’s face it, in a lot of cases, the trip there and back can be pretty long–not exactly what you want after a tiring day. So why not take a half day to explore that hotel? Book a lunch, see if there’s a fun way to get there (some of the resorts can be accessed by boat, for instance.) It’s often really enjoyable to check out another resort, both for future reference (that’s how we found our favorite hotel) and just to explore. The shops are different, the arcade games may be different, the layout is new. Some places like The Grand Floridian or the Animal Kingdom Lodge can almost be counted as attractions in and of themselves. We love having lunch at Gasparilla Games and Grill at the Grand Floridian; playing some video games; and exploring the shops.

...or have lunch at another one!

Plan a Non-Parks Meal
Lots of fabulous meals are to be had outside of the Parks. Plan a long lunch at another hotel or Downtown Disney. When you don’t have to fit your meal in around your day at Epcot, you can be more flexible with times and spend a longer time eating and enjoying the meal. Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge offers an amazing buffet. It’s difficult to access without a car, however; and even with a car, it’s what my grandmother would have called a schlep from many hotels and Park locations. If that’s your afternoon/evening, however, then it becomes a pleasure, rather than a chore. Eat, view the animals, and enjoy the fantastic lobby.

Go to Downtown Disney
It doesn’t just have to be about buying, either. (Although it’s a great time to get a lot of your shopping done, especially for gifts, without the time constraint you may feel in the Magic Kingdom while your son is hopping up and down and asking if you are going to be late for the Country Bear Jamboree while you are trying to decide if you have bought enough Goofy chocolates for your second AND third cousins. Just saying) There’s a lot to see and do, from the Lego creations near the Lego store to the merry-go-round to the enormous hot air balloon. (You don’t have to go up in it. You can stand there whimpering, like some of us, be reassured that your feet are on the ground, and still enjoy watching it.) Have a silhouette of your daughter done; listen to some music; have an ice cream cone, go into stores you’ve never been in. (It’s a vacation, people! Learn to relax! Remember strolling? Stroll!)

Play Miniature Golf
Perhaps you are saying, “Miniature Golf? Really? At Disney World? When I could be waiting in line for Dumbo?”
Really. The two courses (Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland) have fabulous theming and are actually quite challenging, and the prices are less than those of the Parks. The courses don’t tend to be wildly crowded, either. Golfers looking for something extra can try the Fantasia Fairways, which are designed more like a real golf course. It’s also fun because it’s interactive and something you can really do together as a family.

Ride the Monorail or the Boats
We once spent an entire afternoon making a loop between the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and the Magic Kingdom by boat. We didn’t go INTO the Magic Kingdom, mind you–we just rode there. My kids thought the boat rides were as good as any entertainment, and the idea that they could just keep riding them thrilled them to no end. Especially if your hotel isn’t on the monorail, riding it just for sheer pleasure can be a huge treat for kids. Get off at the Ticket and Transportation Center and walk over to the Polynesian, or spend some time at the shops in the Contemporary.

Go (Gasp!) Off the Property
Hit the outlets; take in the sights of Orlando. My kids were amazed to discover that Orlando proper was actually more than just a baggage carousel at the airport.

Do you have suggestions for non-park activities? Let us know!

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Posted on August 9, 2011

12 Responses to “Stay Out of the Parks!”

  • Yowza! The Unofficial Guide has convinced me to sleep in ONE day and take afternoon breaks, but an ENTIRE Day? Maybe if we ever stay 14 days or so it might be a consideration. Possibly when I complete the Ultimate Touring Plan I will feel ok about taking a day off – just waiting for my five year old to be able to do it with me. And…Really? Strolling? ;-)

  • You are so correct with this blog. I would tell someone that it is possible to visit the World, never seeing the theme parks and you will still need at least a week. If you travel outside, add 2-3 days. This assumes you know your way around. If you are a rookie, I would advise planning for 2 weeks. The size of your party is also a factor.

  • If people are looking to make an afternoon/evening at Animal Kingdom Lodge, they can also check out the Culinary Tour offered outside Boma everyday at 4pm. You get to sample a few items at Boma & Jiko, they welcome all ages & it’s free! After dinner, they have the night vision goggle viewing of the savanna around 9am each night too.

    There is also a free tour of the Wilderness Lodge lobby & decor at 9am Wed-Sat. I’m a bit biased towards tours, but I promise both of these are great for taking some time out of the parks.

  • by Philip Jones on August 9, 2011, at 1:37 pm EDT

    While I may be kicked off the site for sacrilege, also consider the fact that there are other theme parks in Orlando, including Sea World and Universal. You could take a day off from Disney to go visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

    • LOL! We have visited Orlando for non Disney Park vacations, and ALWAYS end up going to DTD or AKL to eat and hang out. Nothing compares to Disney!

  • Great Post! We usually do 4 days in the parks and 1-2 non park days each time we visit. We usually have a car so we go to the Orlando Premium Outlets- they have a great Disney outlet (Character Premiere). Like you said, we also enjoy shopping at the different resorts, taking advantage of the kids programs and swimming at the resort pool. We are able to go to WDW fairly often so there are no worries if we wont fit everything in, we know we will be back. Having a car makes it easy to get around to the different resorts and Downtown Disney and the non-park days make our trips more enjoyable.

  • I do like the idea of a non-park day (our kids are a little young so we do Typhoon and Downtown Disney on our day). However, I do not understand everyone’s obsession with the cost of extra days on your ticket. It is $9 per extra day. That is very little to invest and certainly less than you’ll spend at almost anything else in the area.

    • I often have this thought reading these blogs too. There are a lot of people expending a lot of effort to save $35 on a $3000 vacation. We’ll probably spend at least one day not at Disney at all, but booked Disney park entrance for the entire span. That $35 is well worth having the option just in case.

  • by Bryant Helms on August 10, 2011, at 7:36 am EDT

    On our last trip we took a day and toured homes for sale. We are looking to move to Orlando in the not to distant future that’s the reason for the touring, however, the day break was really nice and refreshing. No agenda, not time frames, just time to relax. We are going to start incorporating this “day off” in future plans.

  • While I understand your point, its definitely not for me and my family. We don’t get to go to Disney that often, so we could not imagine a day not spent in the parks. But hopefully others will take your advice which translates into less people in the parks!

  • I do not like spending time away from the parks because I am a bit of a super planner and worry that we will not have time to hit up every single attraction we want to. However, on our last couple of vacations my family decided they needed a day to get some extra sleep and just relax. It turned out to be a great decision! Now we try to incorporate at least one day a vacation where we can just relax around the hotel or do some shopping. We usually choose a Saturday or Sunday when the parks are going to be really busy anyway so I don’t feel like we are missing as many things! By the next day we are always ready to get back in the park and we have a lot more energy to get to do the things we want to.

  • We recently wove in and out of the parks and had a grand time on a high-crowd Saturday. We were at the Contemporary and toured as follows:

    1) Bus to Hollywood Studios for morning EMH (two rides on Toy Story Mania! and little else).
    2) Boat to Swan/Dolphin, walk to Fantasia Gardens for mini-golf (used a “free game” voucher).
    3) Boat to Epcot, walk through World Showcase during Food&Wine Festival (snack credits to sample goodies), then a ride on Spaceship Earth.
    4) Monorail to Contemporary for mid-day break, then air hockey at the arcade using the “free play” voucher.
    5) Monorail to dinner at Grand Floridian (1900 Park Fare).
    6) Boat to Magic Kingdom for a ride in Haunted Mansion, then evening parade and fireworks.
    7) Walk back to Contemporary.

    Very few rides, easy on the pocketbook, and still great fun!

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