With so many must-do Disney World attractions to try at the theme parks, there’s enough to keep anyone busy throughout their vacation. But what if you’ve done the basic Disney attractions tons of times and are looking to keep your experience fresh? Or, perhaps you’re just looking for something to make your trip extra special.
Well, friends, you’ve come to the right place. You’ve got your ticket and park pass reservation. Now, here are the 24 best things to do at Disney World theme parks that aren’t your typical rides or shows. And best of all, some of them are completely free (We know, free Disney. What’s that?).
Keep in mind that due to COVID-19, some of the experiences suggested below are currently unavailable. Please refer to the My Disney Experience app or Walt Disney World website for the most current information.
Magic Kingdom Park
The original Walt Disney World theme park, Magic Kingdom also has the most attractions of any Disney World park. But, for those who have had their fill of the mountains and riding shotgun with Dumbo, never fear – there are still plenty of fun things to do at Magic Kingdom.
Watch the Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat Ceremony
This patriotic Magic Kingdom tradition is a welcome respite from the typical Disney vacation marathon. So, pause for the day and make your way to the town square down on Main Street, U.S.A. to watch the American flag retire for the evening. Too much fanfare, of course. Hear the trumpet blast, say the pledge of allegiance and hum (or sing) along to The Star-Spangled Banner.
This moving ceremony is conducted by the Disney Security Team along with a veteran or family member of someone in the armed forces and takes place every day at around 5 PM.
Go Beneath the Magic Kingdom in the Park’s Underground Utilidor Tunnels
One of the longtime legends of Magic Kingdom is that underground tunnels run below the sprawling theme park like a labyrinth. Though the tunnels technically aren’t Magic Kingdom’s basement (the Utilidor, or utility corridors, were actually constructed at ground level with the theme park built atop), you can explore this backstage area during some of the Disney World backstage tours.
Keys to the Kingdom is made for Magic Kingdom fans, taking guests behind the scenes at some of the park’s most classic attractions and, of course, the Magic Kingdom Utilidor tunnels. Or, for true Disney fanatics with a bunch of spare time, Backstage Magic takes guests into the Utilidors and beyond for this seven-hour adventure.
Get a Haircut on Main Street, U.S.A.
Magic Kingdom may not be the first place you think of to get a haircut (or the second, third or probably even tenth), but believe it or not, the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street, U.S.A. is a nostalgic spot for a trim. While cuts are available for both children and adults, one of the best times to get your hair cut at Disney World is the very first time.
That’s right, Harmony Barber Shop specializes in first haircuts. For $25 plus tax, the guest of honor takes home a pair of commemorative Mickey ears, a lock of hair as a keepsake and an official milestone certificate along with a spiffy new hairdo.
Embark on a Scavenger Hunt
We love a good Disney World scavenger hunt, and there are some fun ones to be experienced at Magic Kingdom Park. Disney’s Family Magic Tour is an official cast member-led operation and costs a pricey $39 per person. During your journey, you’ll crisscross the Magic Kingdom searching for clues. You may even meet someone special along the way.
For a more affordable (AKA free) alternative, try A Pirate’s Adventure – Treasures of the Seven Seas in Adventureland. While there aren’t any special guests, this is a great way to kill some time and look at Adventureland through new eyes. Plus, you even get a souvenir to remember the experience.
Stay Late for a Kiss Goodnight
This final Magic Kingdom suggestion is one of our favorite secret things to do at Disney World. Well, it’s not exactly a secret since it traditionally happens every night right before the park closes – it’s just that so few people stick around to see it. About 30 minutes before park close, music swells, playing the theme from When You Wish Upon a Star, and Cinderella Castle begins to twinkle and glow.
It’s like Disney’s version of playing “Closing Time” or proclaiming “last call” before a bar stops serving for the night – and it is glorious. At only two minutes long and quiet enough to only really be heard from Main Street, it’s one last short-but-sweet blast of magic before heading home for the night. And best of all, since so few people manage to make it to closing time, it makes for the perfect, crowd-free photos.
EPCOT is one of those unique theme parks that was made for education as much as for fun. However, with the fewest rides of any Disney World park, you can tell where the focus is. And we think that’s a great thing.
Going to EPCOT is about exploring the world around us, from the cultures and countries around the globe to the technologies that power us. So, go beyond Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After with these unique EPCOT must-dos.
Go Eating or Drinking Around the World
Ok, this next one is basically a given. Thanks to World Showcase and the EPCOT festivals, there is a smorgasbord of global-inspired dining options throughout EPCOT. In fact, there’s even an actual smorgasbord at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, a Disney character dining experience in the Norway Pavilion.
As a result, drinking and eating around the World Showcase pavilions has basically become EPCOT’s unofficial pastime. Take advantage of the park’s various restaurants, bars, snack stands and festival food booths to create your very own EPCOT crawl.
Learn How Disney Is Farming for the Future
With so much food and alcohol-fueled fun happening on the other side of EPCOT, it can be easy to forget the role that science plays in the park’s inspiration. The Land Pavilion and its Living with the Land ride are the epitome of that. There, cast members use futuristic farming techniques like hydroponics and aquaponics to grow plants from around the world, with some of the bounty even being used in restaurants around the park.
The Behind the Seeds tour takes guests out of the theme park and into the greenhouses to check out the crops up close and watch the fish feeding frenzy at lunchtime. In the end, you’ll even leave with a guide on how to bring your own garden into the future.
Scuba Dive or Snorkel in the Epcot Aquarium
The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion may host a slow-moving ride starring that cute little clownfish and his pals, but it’s also the site of a massive 5.7-million-gallon aquarium and home to more than 6,000 sea creatures. However, you don’t need to have gills or fins to enjoy this saltwater swimming pool.
Put your scuba certification to good use and dive to the depths of the Caribbean Coral Reef during DiveQuest, a 3-hour-long adventure behind the scenes and below the water. Not certified? No problem! With the EPCOT Seas Adventures Aqua Tour, you can snorkel with the fishes instead.
Swim With Dolphins
Ever wished you could swim with dolphins? Well, you can! And you don’t even need to go over to Discovery Cove to do it. Located in The Seas, Dolphins in Depth immerses guests in an unforgettable dolphin-centered experience. Learn how EPCOT’s bottlenose dolphins are cared for and trained, talk about the problems affecting ocean life then jump into the tank for some face-to-face interaction.
Cultivate Your Green Thumb
The Epcot Flower & Garden Festival may be the pinnacle of all things green thumb-related for Disney fans, however, you don’t need to visit in the springtime to appreciate all that gorgeous gardening. The Gardens of the World tour is a plant lover’s dream. Join the Disney Horticulture Team as you dig into the many garden beds, hedgerows and topiaries sprinkled around World Showcase and the rest of the park. At the end of it all, take all the tips of the trade home with you and cultivate your own talents.
Immerse Yourself in Tequila and Culture During a Private Tequila Tasting
Are you a tequila connoisseur? Then the La Cava Experience at EPCOT’s Mexico Pavilion is for you. Under the guidance of your certified Tequila Ambassador, you’ll drink to the vibrant cultural traditions that go into making this boozy Mexican nectar.
Leave the cocktails for later. Instead, during your tasting, you’ll sip a selection of rare and unique tequilas, with each paired with a distinctive flavor to bring out the best in it.
Enjoy Dinner and a Show During the EPCOT Fireworks
Nothing says fun like dinner and a show. The EPCOT fireworks are a must-see for anyone visiting this foodie theme park, and some of the best seats in the house can be found at restaurants overlooking World Showcase Lagoon. Rather than battle it out for somewhere to sit, consider reserving a Disney Fireworks Dining Package instead.
Held at both the Rose & Crown Dining Room at the UK Pavilion and Spice Road Table at the Morocco Pavilion, these exclusive meals save you a seat on the water with unbeatable views of the show. Tuck into the prix fixe menu and bottomless beverages while you take in the spectacle.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Prior to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney’s Hollywood Studios had always been more of a one-day park. Well, no more. Once you’ve finished all the Hollywood Studios attractions on your list, become part of the story of Black Spire Outpost and Star Wars with these cool things to do at Hollywood Studios.
Join the Resistance (or the First Order)
While Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run transport guests into the thick of the action, you can also show your allegiance to either the Resistance or the First Order – and bring Black Spire Outpost to life in a whole new way – with the help of the Play Disney Parks app.
Using the app, transform your smartphone into a datapad and use it to unlock elements throughout the land and enrich your experience. Talk to droids with the hacking function, translate signs in the settlement’s native Aurebesh, do odd jobs to gain standing and even eavesdrop on private conversations.
Build Your Own Lightsaber or Droid
Though technically merchandise locations, a visit to either Savi’s Workshop or the Droid Depot is an experience in and of itself. There, you can build one of the quintessential Star Wars souvenirs: a quirky droid or a venerable lightsaber.
Savi’s Workshop is like a galactic speakeasy, but for lightsabers instead of hooch. As such, reservations are required. With a ceremonial-like assembly process and a high-quality product, this experience doesn’t come cheap, clocking in at $219.99 per lightsaber.
For a cheaper alternative, set your sights on Droid Depot instead. Less involved and dramatized than Savi’s Workshop and with a less high-end product to match, Droid Depot’s price tag is a friendlier $99.99 per astromech droid unit. A reservation is still recommended.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Like EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is meant to be explored rather than conquered. And while it’s great to see the animals and learn about conservation from afar (and do all the Animal Kingdom attractions, of course), sometimes it’s time to take a closer look. So, continue your adventure with these exciting things to do at Animal Kingdom.
Go on an Exclusive Safari
Animal Kingdom is all about – you guessed it – animals! However, rather than settling for the beastly views on Kilimanjaro Safaris, going on a more exclusive safari instead. In the daytime (choose from morning or midday), guests can set out for the savanna on a VIP expedition of the Safi River Valley during the Wild Africa Trek for a chance at seeing giraffes, rhinos, hippos and more.
Night is a special time on the savanna. Watch the animals stirring in the twilight during the Savor the Savanna: Evening Safari Experience from your secluded viewing platform. Whichever animal adventure you choose, no visit to Africa is complete without trying some of the local delicacies, so end your safari by sitting down for some African-inspired gourmet eats.
Not content to watch the animals from afar? Get up close and personal during one of the park’s animal tours. Pachyderm fans will love Caring for Giants, an inside look at how Disney’s animal specialists care for Animal Kingdom’s African elephant herd. You’ll also hear from some African cultural representatives to hear how Disney has been working in their home countries to support elephant conservation efforts.
For a peek at the world’s second-largest land animal instead, go to Up Close with Rhinos. Go backstage to meet these gentle giants and learn all about the creatures’ behavior, biology and current threats to its population.
Learn How to Draw an Animal Like a Disney Animator
Though technically an Animal Kingdom attraction, we’d be remiss to leave off this fun activity from our list. Drawing classes have long been one of the more special things to do at Disney World and tend to be quite popular. Fortunately, Animal Kingdom’s iteration, The Animation Experience at Conservation Station, is far enough removed from the rest of the theme park that it doesn’t get as much traffic.
Don’t worry if you can only draw stick figures. The instruction is given to make sketching out your character as unintimidating and straightforward as possible. So, even if you’re not artistically inclined, we guarantee that you’ll still have a great time learning how to turn real-life animal subjects into iconic animated Disney characters.
Be a Wilderness Explorer
Adventure is out there, and you can experience it by becoming a Wilderness Explorer. Remember how we said that Animal Kingdom was meant to be savored? One of the best ways to do that is by taking part in the park’s Wilderness Explorer activity. Completely free, this hands-on journey will have you accomplishing challenges, earning adventure badges and learning about animals and conservation as you traverse the park.
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
Yup, we’ll admit that our next suggestion isn’t exactly in one of the Disney World theme parks. But, Typhoon Lagoon Water Park is a Disney park nonetheless, and one that we highly recommend that you visit if you have a chance during your vacation. While you’re there, consider giving this recommendation a try.
Go Surfing at Disney World
The Typhoon Lagoon Surf Pool may be the perfect spot to cool off and let the waves wash over you (or try to jump over them or be knocked over), but when the water park is closed, you can also hang ten on the pool’s six-foot swells. Join one of the group surf lessons or arrange a private surf sesh with up to 25 guests.
Multiple Theme Parks
Spending several days at the Central Florida resort? Consider making your trip extra magical by trying out these unique things to do at Disney World.
Grab Your Celebration Button
One of the most popular times to go to Walt Disney World is when someone has something to celebrate. So, whether it’s your birthday, anniversary or anything else that gives you an excuse to party, let the whole (Disney) world know what you’re there for with Disney’s free celebration buttons.
Available only upon request from Guest Relations or the front desk at your Disney hotel, wearing one of these beauties won’t just get you verbal shoutouts from cast members and guests alike, it may also nab you freebies like complimentary desserts in restaurants or other gratis items.
Hunt for Hidden Mickeys or Other Magical Details
For something to keep you entertained all vacation long, keep an eye out for Easter eggs like Hidden Mickeys or other fun details slipped in by Disney Imagineers. Entire books have been written about these visual surprises, like Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets and The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, making for a convenient field guide to these sneaky bits of pixie dust. One thing is for certain: You’ll have a whole new appreciation for the attention to detail that Disney has painstakingly put into its theme parks.
Do Some Disney Pin Trading
Pin trading at Disney World hits the sweet spot between souvenir collecting and entertaining activity. This addictive hobby isn’t just a good time because you get to hoard endless adorable pins. It’s all about the chase. The thrill of walking up to a pinboard to see if they have the one you’re looking for or having to haggle with some pro-level pin trader for your next pièce de résistance.
To get your collection going, we recommend getting a complete set then trading from there. Keep in mind that while cast members have to trade for whichever pin you’d like, other guests can say no to your proposed pin trade.
Have a Disney Photoshoot
If you don’t have a photo of it happening, did it ever really happen? Thanks to Disney’s Capture Your Moment photo sessions, you’ll never have to worry about that on your Disney World vacation again. Available at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, these private 20-minute photoshoots take place in front of some of Disney World’s most iconic locations and are the perfect way to commemorate your engagement, honeymoon or any special occasion.
Watch the Disney Fireworks From a Private Boat
The only thing more magical than a fireworks finale is watching said fireworks finale from the comfort of your own chartered boat (captain included!). Private Disney fireworks cruises are an amazing way to end your night and a surprisingly affordable bit of Disney luxury, all things considered. One of the coolest ways to watch the Magic Kingdom or Epcot fireworks outside the parks, specialty cruises offer snacks and drinks with some incredible views for the price of $399 for up to 10 guests.
Well, theme park fans, that wraps up our list of unique things to do at Disney World theme parks that aren’t a ride or a show. We hope you’ll use some of our suggestions to make the most of your next Disney vacation.