You’ve got time to kill on your arrival or departure day. You’re taking a chill day mid-vacation. You’ve got a park-phobic in your party. Whatever the reason, there may be times when you’re at Walt Disney World, but can’t, or don’t want to, venture into a theme park. Here’s a handy list of 101 ways to keep busy and have fun without heading into the parks.
Before I get going, let me say that one oft-mentioned reason for avoiding the theme parks is to save money. I mean, going into the park means a big outlay of funds for admission, right? Well, yes, if you’re going into the parks, you will need a ticket, but you should be aware that spending a day in the park may actually end up cheaper than looking for fun elsewhere. For example, the price difference between an 8-day park ticket and a 9-day park ticket is only about $10 per adult. Even simple activities like mini-golf ($14 per adult at Winter Summerland) or a trip to the movies ($11.75 per adult evening ticket at AMC Downtown Disney) will cost more than that. The math is less clear with a shorter stay, and you still may want or need to avoid the parks for sanity purposes, but you should sit down and do the math to make sure that a non-park day makes financial sense for you.
And now on to the list of Walt Disney World Activities Outside the Theme Parks:
- Dine with Characters. Several of the character meals are located outside the theme parks. Try Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary (breakfast and dinner), ‘Ohana at the Polynesian (breakfast), Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club (breakfast), or 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian (breakfast and dinner).
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For the purposes of this post, I am going to go ahead and lump the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness campground together. The reason is simple; they both have the word “wilderness” in their names. Okay, they also occupy semi-adjacent spaces on the shores of Bay Lake, and the themes of both resorts are complementary, but it is really because of the names.
Honestly, before visiting this resort I did not think I would like it. I have been to the American West and seen the great cabin hotels that obviously inspired the Wilderness Lodge. I also grew up in Pennsylvania, in an area in which it is common to find forests, streams, and wildlife. Therefore, I was expecting to be underwhelmed by Wilderness Lodge, thinking it to be a second rate version of things I was familiar with. The story of my first visit is a boring one, but that particular tale ends with my now thinking that Wilderness Lodge has my favorite theme of any of the Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World.
While Deluxe Resorts, in general, do not lend themselves well to exploration due to their compact nature (with regard to land – the buildings are gigantic), Wilderness Lodge is a little bit different. The area it sits on is still not large, but the building and grounds are incredibly detailed. One could spend hours in the lobby alone looking at the fantastic woodwork and simply enjoying the soaring heights of the space (and the comfy chairs that inevitably have some napping patrons). Stepping outside brings you face to face with even more beauty.
The exterior area of the Wilderness Lodge is absolutely gorgeous. Designed to look like a section of Yellowstone National Park (I’m guessing here, but 97% sure), it contains foliage, huge (fake) rocks, waterfalls, streams, and a sprawling pool. With the log cabin-styled Lodge in the background, there are great vistas all over the area.
Walking out toward the shores of Bay Lake reveals what I feel is one of the coolest add-ons to any Disney resort…geysers. Well okay, they’re man made, but they still bubble and erupt and look just like the real thing. Standing on the path with the pool and Lodge on one side and geysers backed by the lake on the other is something I can do for hours (I haven’t because I’m way too antsy, but I could).
There is no more unique Disney World accommodation experience than Fort Wilderness Resort. I am no camper, preferring hotels and beds to tents and sleeping bags (bugs and I have irreconcilable differences). That said, I have camped many times in both tents and RVs, and my extended family are very fond of their RVs, so I know what a campground looks like. Fort Wilderness is, without question, a campground.
When you are on the grounds of Fort Wilderness you would be hard pressed to even know you are in Walt Disney World (except for the multitude of Disney themed decorations on campsites). There are general stores, ponds, woods, meandering paths, ranches, and lots and lots of space. You can easily get lost at Fort Wilderness (trust me), and finding the right bus routes can be a chore, but the peacefulness and serenity that abound are worth the trouble.
Near the Bay Lake edge of Fort Wilderness are the Tri-Circle-D Ranch & Farm, where horses can be found, and Pioneer Hall, which is home to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue (see menu). With the log cabin construction, plethora of rocking chairs, and the view out toward Bay Lake, it is a calm spot in an otherwise hectic vacation.
Speaking of calm, your primary mode of transportation to the Magic Kingdom from either of these resorts is a wonderfully relaxing boat ride (although you may get a little sad seeing Discovery Island in its unused state). Arriving to the park via Seven Seas Lagoon makes a magical place even more special.
It is probably pretty obvious that I am a huge fan of both of these areas. If your vacation is all about getting the optimum time in each of the parks, these may not be the best choice. However, if you want to mix park touring with relaxation and peaceful afternoons, there are few better places (if any) than either the Wilderness Lodge or Fort Wilderness. Either way, I strongly recommend taking a little bit of time to wander and explore both of these fantastic spots.