Walt Disney World 101: Beyond the Parks
No Park Day
It doesn't matter why you aren't doing the parks. Maybe you are just taking a day to catch your breath. Maybe you don't want to spend the money on tickets, and lets be honest tickets ain't cheap. Or, maybe you don't have the time to devote to a theme park but still want a Disney experience. Like I said it really doesn't matter. The point is there is plenty to do.
No matter age, interest, or actively level there is something for you to do outside of the parks. You just need to know where to look and how to book. It is as easy as that. Truly. To make things even easier I will break up this article into different categories.
Walt Disney World
The Fitness Fanatic
If you or someone in your group is big into physical fitness or sports Disney has got you covered. The Wide World of Sports complex is just what it sounds. I giant gymnasium. As many of you may know ESPN is a branch of Disney. At the Wide World of Sports Complex guests are able to watch professional athletes train, compete, and even get a little training in themselves. This is truly a must do for any sports fan. To complete the day why not grab a bite to eat at the ESPN Cafe? As you eat you can watch coverage of sports and sports news from around the world. Not to mention there is so much sports memorabilia.
If you are staying on property every Disney resort has a fitness center on site. These are mostly just smaller versions of your local gym, but they are almost never busy. Nearly every Disney resort also has a jogging trail. Some of these paths are quite long, and they are a great way to see the entire resort. On my last trip, in 2021, Saratoga Springs offered sunrise yoga overlooking Disney Springs. The class was free, you just had to be there by start at 7am. Space was limited to 6 people so they did recommend getting there early, they did not take reservations when I was there. Sadly, I was unable to participate as my room was on the other side of the property and I did not want to get up super extra early and not have a guaranteed spot in the class.
So, gyms aren't your thing? That's cool. Disney has four award winning golf courses. There are even competitions held here each year. That's right you can play on the same course as some of the biggest names in golf. Just remember you are in central Florida, make sure to keep an eye out for alligators.
So, you are looking for a little rest and relaxation on your day off from the parks. Disney has got you covered. There are two full spas on the Disney property. The first is located at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The second is found at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. Full body massages, pedicures, manicures, facials, wraps, and so much more. Its are to believe you are at the happiest place on Earth. Craving a massage but you don't want to stray too far from the comfort of your resort? That's alright. Many of the resorts, including the Contemporary, Boardwalk, and Swan and Dolphin, have fitness centers where you can book a massage.
I've only ever had the pleasure of visiting the Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian. It was so relaxing. My mother and grandmother got massages and then we all met up and got pedicures and manicures together. Its nice to treat yourself every now and then. And Disney does not disappoint. We were checked in and escorted to the changing rooms. We each got our own giant fluffy white robe and were able to relax in some of the most comfortable chairs I've ever had the pleasure of sitting on until it was our turn. There was even a private hot tub for our use if we so chose. Overall it was a very relaxing day, which was just what we needed.
There are so many places where you can rent a bike, or even a tandem bike, and enjoy a leisurely ride around the property. One of my favorite places is at the Boardwalk. It is just so beautiful and it really feels like you are at the Eastern shore of the North Atlantic.
Boats and Water Excursions
If the water is calling you have no fear. There are plenty of locations where you can rent boats. You can get little speed boats all the way up to big pontoon boats. You can take the boats out for an hour or more and just have fun out on the lakes. Ever wanted to try parasailing? Why not try it at Disney? Does tubing, water skiing, or wake boarding sound more like your speed? You're in luck! Head on over to the Contemporary Resort and you are all set.
If fishing is your idea of a good time, go for it! There are several locations on the Disney property where you can book a reservation to have a guide take them out to the best places for catching fish. If you would rather go solo that's fine. At Port Orleans and Fort Wilderness you can fish right off the dock. Just keep in mind, no matter where you go fishing it is all catch and release at Walt Disney World.
What is your favorite way to relax?
If you have ever wanted to try horseback riding now is your time. Actually, you can do more than just beginner riding lessons. You can go on trail rides. Take a carriage ride through the woods. They even offer holiday sleigh rides during the winter months. So where is this? At the Fort Wilderness Campground of course! If riding isn't your style you can head over to the barn and take a look. You might even be able to catch a glimpse of Cinderella's ponies! They recently opened a renovated stable and it is so pretty. They even offer pony rides for the kiddos!
So, nothing I've already talked about seems your style? How about this? You can watch all the latest movies at Downtown Disney. I'm not just talking about Disney movies. The movie theatre is just like every other movie theatre, but you can get a real meal with your movie if popcorn isn't your thing. Bowling more of your style? There is now a bowling alley at Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is home to more than just disney items. This is some of the best shopping around. Sure you can buy all the Mickey t-shirts you want, but you can also buy designer sunglasses and handbags. You can also partake in various fine dining restaurants and comedy clubs.
Most of the Disney property resorts have nightly movies. These movies are most often classic Disney movies and are a great way to enjoy an evening at the resort. If you are a DVC member you can partake in pool-hopping. That means you can go to the different disney resorts and enjoy the pool. Though, it is important to note that there are some resorts that are restricted during the busy seasons. The Disney resorts also have a dvd rental program, free to DVC members. You can rent a movie at the gift shop at the resort and play it on the DVD player in your room. Perfect for a rainy day in.
Enjoy the Resorts
Check with the front desk to see what your resort offers. Sometimes they have movies at night, or a craft activity for children during the day. A lot of the resorts have dvds or video games for rent.
Try resort hopping, to see what each is like. This could even be helpful when planning your next Disney vacation and trying to decide where you want to stay.
Basically, the point is there is so much more to Disney than just the parks. Sure the parks are great fun and the main reason most people make the pilgrimage to Walt Disney World. But, sometimes you just need to take a break and slow things down. Or make the most of a day with bad weather. Some attractions book up quickly so it is best to make a reservation when you book your vacation. But, for the most part you can enjoy the non-park attractions at your leisure on your vacation. After all, isn' that the entire point of a vacation: to have fun and relax.
Have fun, and enjoy!
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