Touring Disney World Without Visiting the Parks

It’s a rite of passage for Disney fanatics. You’ve officially crossed over from fan to fanatic when you take a Disney World vacation without entering a park. Just being in the bubble is vacation for you.

There is so much to do outside of the parks at Disney World, but only the serious fans know that you can genuinely make a vacation out of it. We’ve compiled some of our favorite plans for touring Disney World without visiting the parks. Tell us in the comments below about your favorite ways.


The Perfect Evening at the Polynesian

Pack a lei and anything you have with floral print; you’re heading to the Polynesian for a jam-packed evening of fun.

Trader Sam’s

We recommend starting at the uber-popular Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto when it opens at 4 pm. Grab some drinks and enjoy one of the best themed restaurants or bars on all of Disney property. More than just a great theme, it’s an experience. Many of the drinks on the menu result in mini shows where the restaurant itself comes to life and the staff get in on the action.

Spirit of Aloha

Next, catch the 5:15 pm Spirit of Aloha. This two hour luau and dinner is great fun for the kids and adults. Is there a coherent story line to this show? Not really. But, it’s all you can eat pulled pork and ribs, plus a talented cast which includes a fire dancer.

Grab a Dole Whip and Stroll

It’s about 7:15 pm at this point. Head over to the Pineapple Lanai, grab a Dole Whip, and go for a walk. You can even walk along the water toward the Grand Floridian. You’ll feel like you’re getting exercise, even though you’re holding a sweet treat.

If you’ve completely thrown in the towel on exercise (after all, it is vacation), hang out in the Great Ceremonial House (main lobby) and shop, or grab a drink at the nearby Tambu Lounge. The ambiance is a vacation all by itself.

Electrical Water Pageant and Fireworks

Finally, end your evening on the beach at the Polynesian and catch the Electrical Water Pageant and Happily Ever After fireworks (check showtimes at those links).


Disney’s Fort Wilderness Faux Camping Trip

Dig out that pearl button flannel shirt and the oldest pair of jeans you have, this is glamping Disney style.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

Start with the 4 pm showing of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. Sure, you just finished lunch, but there’s so much to do at the Fort Wilderness; you have to start early.

The most beloved (and longest running) dinner show at Disney World is a universal fan favorite. The food is all your southern favorites like fried chicken, ribs, corn, beans, and salad if you want it (why go healthy at this point?). And, yes, the entertainment is corny, but in the best way possible.

Wagon Ride

If you hurry, you can catch the 6 pm wagon ride (check times). This 45 minute scenic tour of Fort Wilderness is a fun way to enjoy one of the most beautiful resorts on property. At only $12 per adult and $8 for kids, it’s also one of the more affordable activities at Disney World.

Campfire, S’mores, and Outdoor Movie

End your night with Chip & Dales Campfire Sing Along (check times). Roast a marshmallow, sing a song, watch a Disney movie outdoors. It will make you feel like Billy Crystal in City Slickers.


Disney Springs

There are so many options at Disney Springs and only some of them are a waste of money ($125 for a 20-minute amphicar ride? It should fly for that kind of money.).

Dinner

We won’t pretend to tell you where to eat because there are so many good options. We’re Rick Bayless disciples, so we always eat at Frontera Cocina. While it’s not nearly as good as his Chicago restaurants, it’s still great gourmet Mexican food. That’s always a win.

Aerophile—The World Leader in Balloon Flight

You can be Carl Fredricksen and fly 400 feet up in the air in a helium balloon. Okay, it’s one balloon and not hundreds, but getting a bird’s eye view of Disney Springs at night is a lot of fun.

Characters in Flight balloon soars above Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The tethered helium balloon features a fresh design inspired by the springs and the element of water. From 400 ft. up in the air, guests get a breathtaking 360-degree view of Walt Disney World Resort for approximately 8 – 10 minutes. The daily hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to midnight, weather permitting. (David Roark, photographer)
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire

We loved Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. This virtual reality experience is beyond what we expected. It’s not simply a turn around in one place kind of experience. You walk from room to room and interact with physical objects. A lot of fun if you’re a Star Wars fan.

Dockside Margaritas

Finish your evening with some shopping and a stop by Dockside Margaritas. It’s one of the most under-rated options for drinks on Disney property.

Tell Us Your Favorites

How do you spend a day outside the parks?