There’s no question that the Disney World theme parks are filled with plenty of things to keep you busy during your visit. But, what if you’ve already been to the parks a lot before or you need a break from the crowds? Luckily, there are tons of cool things to do at Disney World (some free!) that don’t require a park ticket. So, if you’re looking for something different to make your Disney vacation extra magical, here’s our list of the 30 coolest, must-do Disney things outside the theme parks.
Keep in mind that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many attractions, experiences, and recreational offerings at Walt Disney World are currently closed or temporarily on hold. As a general rule, activities that involve a lot of close contact might not be available. You will also need a dining or room reservation to visit one of the Disney resort hotels. With conditions continuing to evolve as the country is vaccinated, things around Disney World continue to change in response. So, we suggest you reference Disney’s website or My Disney Experience app, or speak to a Disney resort front desk cast members for the most up-to-date information.
Take Time for Shopping and Dining at Disney Springs
Of all the things you can do outside the theme park turnstiles, making a trip to Disney Springs is basically a no-brainer. Disney World’s headlining entertainment district, Disney Springs is a destination in and of itself. Whether you’re looking for an easy place to get some unique souvenirs, like your own custom bag of M&Ms starring your beautiful face from the Disney Springs M&M Store, or wanting to get brunch, you’ll find it all here. And, if you visit around dinner time and into the evening, you can even stop to enjoy the live musical acts sprinkled throughout the area as you do your window-shopping and try to decide which of the Disney Springs restaurants you’d like to eat at.
Live Your Pro-Basketball Dreams at the Disney Springs NBA Experience
It’s game time all the time at the NBA Experience at Disney Springs ($34 for ages 10 and up, $29 for ages 3 to 9). If you’ve ever dreamed of shooting hoops for a living, or if you just like working on your free throw in your spare time or being active, this unique Disney experience is for you. While you won’t get the fame or the paychecks that come from playing in the NBA, you will get to try your hand at typical player experiences like combine drills, practicing your dribbling and dunking (thanks to an adjustable hoop), and hanging out in the locker room.
Go for a Stroll Down the Disney BoardWalk
Swap the hustle and bustle of the theme parks for the nostalgia of a simpler place and time with a visit to Disney’s BoardWalk, the Orlando resort’s other entertainment complex. Just around the riverbend from Epcot and the International Gateway at World Showcase, the Disney BoardWalk takes its inspiration from the oceanfront boardwalks of yesteryear, with midway games and street performers showing off their juggling skills or magic tricks when the sun goes down. Whether enjoying dinner at one of the Disney BoardWalk restaurants or enjoying the dueling pianos at Jellyrolls, evening time is when the boardwalk really comes to life. Thanks to its location, it’s also one of our favorite spots to catch some of the nighttime fireworks and do some resort hopping at the nearby BoardWalk Inn or Yacht and Beach Clubs.
Cool Off in a Splash at the Disney Water Parks
There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it – Central Florida can get HOT, even when we aren’t weeks deep into summer. That’s where the Disney water parks come in. With their immersive, creative theming and some of Florida’s best water slides, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World are a cut above your average water park. In fact, you can even hang ten with a little Typhoon Lagoon surfing in the water park’s wave pool during group surfing lessons. A 1-Day Disney Water Park Ticket with Blockout Dates costs $58 for children ages 3-9 and $64 for adults, while a ticket without blockout dates costs $63 per child and $69 per adult (tax not included).
Putt-Putt Your Way to Fun With a Round of Disney Mini Golf
Would you prefer to keep your feet on dry land? Then get a hole-in-fun with a visit to one of the Disney miniature golf courses: Fantasia Gardens & Fairways and Winter Summerland. Like the Disney World water parks, this isn’t the putt-putt you’re used to. From Winter Summerland’s whimsical theming to the pint-sized water hazards and sand traps of Fantasia Fairways, Disney mini golf both charms and challenges depending on which course you choose. Get in a round on one of the 18-hole courses for $14 for an adult or $12 for children ages 3-9 (tax not included).
Enjoy Some Family-Friendly Competition With Disney FootGolf
For all the soccer fans out there, this one is for you. But, isn’t it called FootGolf? Yes, yes, it is. Located at Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, FootGolf takes the gameplay of golf but swaps out the golf ball for a soccer ball and supersizes the holes, making for a unique outdoor activity the whole family will enjoy. A round costs between $20 and $29, depending on when you play, and junior players under 18 receive 40% off. Make a reservation here.
Soak Up the Sunshine at the Award-Winning Disney Golf Courses
Florida is a premier destination when it comes to golf, boasting sunshine and warm weather all year long and the most courses of any state (more than 1,300!). And four of those courses – all operated by Arnold Palmer Golf Management – can be found right at Disney World. From the junior tees and beginner-friendly challenges of Disney’s Oak Trail walking course to the championship-quality holes at the Disney Magnolia, Palm, and Lake Buena Vista Golf Courses, golf at Disney World is a relaxing break for families and dads alike.
Go for a Spin on the Disney Monorail
The Disney Monorail, that magical highway in the sky, may be a transportation offering at its most basic, but it also holds the key to a whole lotta fun. While you could just use the Monorail to get you from Point A to Point B (AKA the Transportation & Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot turnstiles), why not take the scenic route with a little resort hopping around the Magic Kingdom Resort Area? Better yet, use it as your pixie-dust-fueled party bus for a Monorail bar crawl of your own creation.
Fly Through the Air on the Disney Skyliner
Although a park ticket is required for most of the rides at Disney World, one of the resort’s newest rides is actually completely free: the Disney Skyliner. Ok, we’ll admit the Skyliner isn’t so much a ride as it is a form of transportation connecting Epcot and Hollywood Studios to a few of the Disney World resorts (namely Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Riviera, and Art of Animation). That being said, we think it’s fun just riding around and enjoying the view of Disney stretched out below you. To really make the most of this complimentary perk, consider using Disney’s Skyliner as your personal chauffeur during a DIY Disney food tour.
Let Your Cares Float Away During a Disney World Boat Ride
The Monorail and Skyliner may get most of the love (and crowds too!), but there’s another kind of free Disney transportation that is just as enjoyable. From water taxis to friendship boats, Disney water transportation ferries guests (boat pun intended) to and from destinations across Disney World property including Disney Springs, all four theme parks, Disney’s BoardWalk, and several resorts. Although taking a Disney World boat ride isn’t as speedy as the Monorail or Skyliner, it is a relaxing, and usually less busy, way to get around with especially lovely views.
Go Disney Resort Hopping
Disney World resorts have a lot to offer, whether you’re staying there or not, including incredible theming, delicious restaurants and bars, unique Disney experiences, hands-on activities, stunning Christmas decorations during the holidays, and so much more. If you’ve got some time to spare, we highly recommend you pop in for a visit to some of these amazing hotels.
End Your Night With Free Disney World Fireworks
Disney’s nighttime spectaculars are a popular way to wrap up a day in the theme parks, but you don’t need a park ticket to end your day with a bang. Some of the Disney World fireworks shows, like Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom and the forthcoming HarmoniUS at Epcot, can be easily seen outside the parks too. And really, who doesn’t like doing free things at Disney World? Snack on a sundae from Beaches & Cream as you watch the Epcot fireworks from Disney’s BoardWalk or the rest of the Epcot Resort Area. Or, take in the show with your toes in the sand at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, where the music for the Magic Kingdom fireworks gets played from the beach.
Dig a Little Deeper With Free Disney Resort Tours
As you’re out exploring the resorts, take advantage of free Disney resort tours. While you won’t usually find these bits of backstage magic on the My Disney Experience app or Disney World’s website, these under-the-radar activities are a great way to get some extra Disney magic on the cheap. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers both culinary and cultural tours led by the resort’s cultural representatives and other cast members which give a glimpse into how the rich cultures and traditions of the African continent were infused into the resort’s cuisine and design. Meanwhile, the Wilderness Lodge offers the Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge, an art and architectural tour of the resort guided by a Wilderness Lodge ranger.
Hunt for Hidden Magic With Scavenger Hunts at Disney World Resorts
As anyone who has ever watch a Disney movie knows, Disney animators love a good Easter egg, and the same can be said for the Imagineers. Stealthily sprinkled around the theme parks and hotels, these bits of hidden Disney magic are fun to spot for those in the know and add an extra layer of fun as you’re out exploring. Whether hunting down Hidden Mickeys or searching for other Disney details, the best way to enjoy some visual pixie dust is with the scavenger hunts at Disney World resort hotels. Grab your checklist from the front desk at the Art of Animation, Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Caribbean Beach, Polynesian Village, or Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter resorts.
Enjoy Endless Eats With a Side of Entertainment at Disney Dinner Shows
Food, glorious food! We love to eat, but something we love even more is getting to enjoy lots of delicious things while watching some live entertainment. Luckily, Disney World has the hook-up with not one, but two different Disney dinner shows. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue isn’t just a two-hour-long experience with bottomless comfort food and hilarious hijinks in the wild west, it’s also the company’s longest-running stage show. Over at Disney’s Polynesian resort, meanwhile, the Spirit of Aloha dinner show has guests noshing on as much tropical-inspired eats as they can manage while enjoying a luau in paradise.
Unwind With a Nightcap at a Disney Bar
Once upon a time, alcohol in Disney World was hard to come by. Now, aside from the Magic Kingdom, you can hardly turn the corner in a Disney park or at Disney Springs without bumping into a stand serving up boozy Disney drinks – and we are not complaining. No matter if you’re in the mood for cocktails, beer, or wine, there are plenty of places to go around Walt Disney World if you’re looking for a stiff drink. Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto serves up a kitschy tiki bar atmosphere at the Polynesian Village, while the open-air Geyser Point Bar & Grill on the Wilderness Lodge waterfront is a great place to take in the Electrical Water Pageant as it floats past. Or, for a truly special Disney World experience, head on over to Port Orleans. Sip on a Louisiana beer at Riverside’s River Roost which plays host to the laugh-out-loud antics of Yehaa Bob or snack on some boozed-up beignets as you listen to live jazz music in Scat Cat’s Club at French Quarter.
Learn From the Best During a Meal With a Disney Animal Expert
Attention all animal lovers! As we’ve already mentioned, Disney World offers some incredible dining experiences, many at the resorts. However, one of the coolest meals at Disney has to be Dine with an Animal Specialist at Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village. From the sweeping views of the animals on the resort’s savanna to the delicious Indian-African fusion dishes, there’s no better place to pick the brain of an animal expert.
Track Down Some African Animals at the Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom Theme Park is a wildlife watcher’s dream, and the same can be said for Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Enveloped by African savannas teeming with animals, the resort has tons of opportunities for wildlife encounters – no room reservation necessary. The animal viewing locations just off the hotel lobbies have great (free!) views of giraffes and zebra roaming. Plus, they’re often staffed by animal experts to answer any questions you might have or hand out night-vision goggles in the evening. Or, spend some money on an official safari like the Sense of Africa tour or Starlight Safari.
Horse Around at the Disney Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness
Many Disney movies wouldn’t be complete without an equine sidekick. So, it should come as no surprise that the Walt Disney World Resort also has a herd of its own. Although the Disney World horses pass the day away trotting up Main Street U.S.A., it’s the Tri-Circle-D Ranch at the Fort Wilderness Campground that they call home. Stop on in to check out the 7 unique breeds that live there and to catch a glimpse of the horse-powered Dragon Calliope that was once a part of Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse Club Circus Parade during the 1950s.
Saddle Up for Fun on a Disney Carriage, Wagon or Trail Ride
Not enough to stare at the ponies from afar? Then get your boots on for a thrilling trail ride, watch the world go by from the back of a horse-drawn wagon or carriage, or cozy up in the wintertime for a holiday “sleigh” ride. Plus, even the littlest cowpokes can get in on the fun with a pony ride. While most of these horse-centric activities are found at Disney’s campground, Fort Wilderness, you can also sit back and relax as you roll beneath the Spanish moss on a carriage ride through Disney’s Port Orleans.
Reel In a Good Time With a Little Fishing at Disney World
Between all the parks, resorts, and parking lots, Disney World is speckled with bodies of water, from the massive Seven Seas Lagoon to the winding Sassagoula River. And best of all, many of them are stocked with fish – largemouth bass, to be precise! Charter a guided fishing excursion (complete with tackle, drinks, and your own personal fishing expert) for the complete angler experience, or grab a line and pole for some old-fashioned dockside fishing on Ol’ Man Island at Port Orleans Riverside.
Get Out on the Water With a Disney World Boat Rental
Rather spend your time paddling or driving instead of babysitting a rod and reel? Then check out a Disney World boat rental. Those with a need for speed can reserve motorized watercraft from resort marinas in a range of sizes ($32 or $45 per 30 minutes depending on which boat you choose) including 2-person Sea Raycers, 10-person pontoons, and more. Or, if you’re hoping for something extra leisurely, explore the watery highways and byways at Fort Wilderness with a canoe or kayak rental ($13 per hour).
Set Sail for Adventure on a Chartered Disney Specialty Cruise
Do you like the idea of being out on the water but would prefer to have someone do the driving for you? Are you looking for an extra special way to watch the fireworks or to celebrate with friends? Then consider arranging a chartered Disney specialty cruise. Along with a personal captain and some drinks and snacks, you’ll have the run of a private yacht or pontoon with enough space for as many as 18 guests. Depending on when you schedule your cruise, you’ll also have unbeatable views of either the Epcot or Magic Kingdom fireworks. Looking for an on-the-water fireworks display without the extra cash? Go on the Ferrytale Fireworks Dessert Cruise instead. Rates start as low as $149 or $299 for a chartered day or fireworks cruise, respectively, while the Ferrytale Fireworks cruise costs $99 for adults and $69 for children.
Be Like Merida During a Fort Wilderness Archery Lesson
Aim for a good time at the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience. In this small-group class (no more than 10 people max), guests learn what it takes to become an expert marksman with the help of personalized, hands-on training and a whole lot of practice with a compound bow. By the end of your 75-minute archery lesson at Fort Wilderness, you’ll know how to nock, aim, and shoot an arrow with the best of them.
Take the Path Less Traveled on the Fort Wilderness Segway Tour
Well, you’ve got canoe, kayak, horseback, wagon, carriage, sleigh, and motorboat, but are there any other ways to explore Disney World’s abundant natural beauty? Why, how about by Segway? On the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure ($90 per person, tax not included), you’ll zip around the Disney backwoods on an all-terrain Segway X2 for 2 glorious hours. A truly unique Disney World experience.
Have S’more Fun at a Disney Resort Campfire
Lots of the Disney World resorts offer campfires in the evenings, but our favorite has to be the Fort Wilderness campfire. The Chip and Dale Campfire Sing-Along is a hidden gem of a Disney experience. You’ll sing some campfire songs, pose for pictures with everyone’s favorite chipmunk duo, and toast marshmallows to golden perfection for s’more after s’more. And best of all, aside from the things you’ll need to make said s’mores, it’s all completely free. Need we say more? Of course, if you’d rather not make the trek out to Fort Wilderness (we get it, it’s far), consider the African storyteller at the Animal Kingdom Lodge campfire or the Port Orleans Riverside’s lively Campfire on de’ Bayou.
Enjoy Some Al Fresco Animation During a Disney Movie Under the Stars
There’s no question that Disney movies are beloved throughout the world. Heck, they’re the reason the Disney parks even exist. So, it’s only right that you should have a chance to watch one or two during your visit. Luckily, Mickey has you covered with Disney Movies Under the Stars. Available at all Disney resorts, these complimentary movie screenings by moonlight are a magical, lowkey way to end a day of theme park adventures. Movie schedules change frequently, so be sure to ask for the most up-to-date calendar at the front desk.
Get Crafty at a Disney Resort Art Class
We don’t know about you, but we love a good Disney drawing class. There’s something special about sketching out a character like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck under the guidance of a Disney animator. Fortunately, those simple pleasures can also be found outside the parks during a Disney resort art class. From Mickey tie-dye to instructor-led painting classes, you’re sure to find an artsy activity to unleash your inner Van Gogh (or Rapunzel!). Look for Disney resort art classes at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Saratoga Springs, Art of Animation, Coronado Springs, and Port Orleans French Quarter. Talk to the front desk about current class and design offerings.
Peddle Your Way to Fun With a Disney World Bike Rental
You’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for 1, 2, and even 4 people. Grab a traditional set of wheels – including children’s bikes with training wheels – from the Caribbean Beach, Old Key West, Port Orleans, Saratoga Springs, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness resorts. Or, for some human-powered fun the whole family can enjoy together, opt for a Disney surrey bike so you can really ride around in style. Bike rentals are $20 while surrey bikes are $25 per person.
Get Your Sweat On With Disney Resort Fun Runs
Hoping to keep your workout routine intact while you indulge in all that Disney food? Don’t miss out on Sunday Runday with one of the Disney resort fun runs ($15 per person, tax not included). Both Coronado Springs and Port Orleans French Quarter host their own fun runs, clocking in at 1.7 and 1.5 miles, respectively. At the end of your jog, you’ll be rewarded with a finisher’s pin or medallion, as well as a morning pastry. Not sure which one to do? Let your sweet tooth be your guide. At the Port Orleans French Quarter Fun Run, you’ll be treated to a sugary beignet. While over at Coronado Springs, you’ll earn yourself a magdalena, a Spanish muffin made with lemon and olive oil.
Well intrepid Disney World explorers, that wraps up our list of fun, unique, and occasionally off-the-beaten-path things to do at Disney World that aren’t in the theme parks. One thing is certain, no matter which you choose, you’re sure to leave with an unforgettable memory.
Hoping to maximize your time in the parks so you can spend even more time out of them? Take a look at our one-day plans for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. And, why not save some extra cash in the process? Check out our discount Disney World tickets to make your trip budget stretch further.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside the theme parks? Is there anything we left off of our list? Let us know in the comments!
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.