With four huge theme parks and two “immersive” water parks, you may feel that there aren’t enough hours in your Disney World vacation to do everything on your magical To Do List. But the wisest course may be to slow the pace down a bit and realize that it can’t all be done on one trip. You’re already planning a repeat visit, right? So do yourself a favor and take some time to have low-key Disney fun like a local – even if you live in Kansas or Vermont!
1. Disney Springs
Spend a few hours strolling around this beautiful re-imagined and expanded shopping paradise. If you’ve had to explain to your children’s school that there are educational aspects to your Disney trip, here is a perfect example. Disney Springs has an Archimedes Screw in the Town Center area that your children can turn to draw water up 30 feet. You can also get a bird’s eye view from the Characters in Flight tethered balloon ride. You can make an expensive plan like tickets for La Nouba. Or you can enjoy a free activity like scoping out all the cast members with pin lanyards to trade a Disney pin (brought from home) for the perfect new one (be sure to ask to look through the pin book at Guest Services). The Springs has something for everyone with options to fill an afternoon or a whole day.
2. This Year’s Disney Resort
Chances are you haven’t scheduled enough time to stop and smell the roses at your beautiful Disney resort. You want to spend enough time to absorb the theming, to discover the quiet corners, hidden fountains, architectural features, and Hidden Mickeys. You may also want to try a boat rental or just let the kids check out the arcade or a coin press machine without having to hurry them on to the next thing on your schedule. You may also want to carve out an hour to lie by the pool in the sun and sample the signature drink from the pool bar. (You’ll find exotic options like the Black Cherry Lemonade at the Uzima Springs pool at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or a Banana Cabana at the Art of Animation’s Drop Off Pool Bar.)
3. Next Year’s Disney Resort!
Where will you stay next time? Plan visits to a couple of resorts you’re considering. And since you’re just Disney dreaming, include a deluxe resort like the Grand Floridian or the Yacht Club. Do a little strolling around the grounds, a little window shopping in the gift shop (buy yourself a resort magnet for your fridge or a t-shirt with the resort logo to keep the dream alive back home!), and get a little lunch at the resort counter service location. Find the complimentary pool tables at Saratoga Springs, the geyser at the Wilderness Lodge, or the frog fountain at Coronado Springs. An evening resort stop might coincide with the arrival of the Electrical Water Pageant at a Magic Kingdom resort.
4. Miniature Golf, Disney Style
It’s Christmas all year ’round at Winter Summerland (located near Blizzard Beach). As Disney’s backstory goes, Santa was headed back to the North Pole one Christmas Eve when he discovered snow in Florida. He thought this would make the perfect vacation destination for off-duty elves. It’s the best of both worlds – a Winter Summerland golf course with two different 18-hole adventures. The sand course (with surfboards and sandcastles) is “Summer” while the snow course is (obviously) “Winter” (with candy-cane striped inner tubes and Squirty, the melting snowman). Watch for a Hidden Mickey on a gingerbread man at hole #3 of the Winter Course where you’ll discover “Defrosty the Cooler” holding Santa’s milk and cookies. The two courses intertwine for the last few holes, and you’ll hear a message from Santa himself after your final putt.
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf, located at the Swan, offers two courses. Fantasia Gardens was designed for families, with five fun scenes starring characters from the film Fantasia – classic hippos in tutus, pirouetting ostriches, and marching broomsticks. The other course offers more of a challenge with skill being rewarded rather than mere chance. You can navigate miniature sand traps, bunkers, and water hazards across the sloping greens of the Fantasia Fairways (par-3 and par-5 holes range in length from 63 to 109 feet long). Dad may enjoy the experience more than the kids!
5. A Downhome Hoedown!
Fort Wilderness hosts two shows that will get your feet stompin’ and your hands clappin’. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ is held 5:30 p.m. nightly in the open air Fort Wilderness Pavilion. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip ‘n Dale can be found leading line dances to live music on the dance floor. They also mingle with guests for photos and autographs. The BBQ spread is all-you-care-to-enjoy. (An Early Access pass costs extra, but might be worth it.)
For 40 years, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue has been presented nightly (there are now several times to choose from) at Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness. There are no Disney characters, but the Pioneer Hall Players, led by Six Bits Slocum, will keep you laughing and singing along as you enjoy family style buckets of fried chicken, BBQ pork ribs, and all the fixings. Dessert is a show-stopping strawberry shortcake.
6. Paddle Your Own Canoe
Even if you have only an hour to spare, a canoe trip can be a very peaceful respite from the Disney “hurry-up-we-gotta-get-going-to-our-next-Fastpass” mania. And with a price tag not far off $12 an hour, it’s also an escape from expensive options. Head to the Bike Barn at the Meadow Recreation Area of Fort Wilderness (until 5:00 p.m. daily). No reservations needed (that doesn’t sound like modern main-stream Disney, either!). Life jackets are provided and the nature is free! The waterways are very tranquil with osprey, ibis, egrets, cranes, heron, and even stork to be seen. (Check out an online Florida wildlife guide before your trip so you’ll know a heron from a stork. Watch out for those storks. That’s a whole different kind of Disney souvenir!)
7. A Night on the Boardwalk
Here’s another one for the grown-ups (over 21)! Treat yourself to dancing under the twinkling Disney stars of the ceiling of the Art Deco ballroom at the Atlantic Dance Hall on Crescent Lake. Rekindle the romance by requesting your special song from the ’70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s. Atlantic Dance Hall is open Fridays 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Next door (and sharing the same hours), Jellyrolls features audience sing-alongs, dueling pianos, and a cover charge!
8. Ride the Resort Monorail Loop
Take a break in the afternoon (when the monorail is quiet) and take a trip around the Seven Seas Lagoon on the resort monorail. You’ll have a chance to look down on the Grand Canyon Concourse and Chef Mickey’s inside the Contemporary resort. After a quick stop at the TTC, you’ll be passing the Pago-Pago and Rarotonga longhouses of the Polynesian Village resort before stopping at its Great Ceremonial House. Lastly, you’ll get a glimpse of the Wedding Pavilion and Beach Pool before stopping at the gleaming Grand Floridian. For about $150 per person, you can indulge in the new Highway in the Sky Dine Around. Despite the name, you don’t actually eat on the monorail – you enjoy the gourmet five-course meal at stops at the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian.
What is your favorite thing to see outside the Walt Disney World theme parks?