Around the World

Eight “Parkless” Trip Ideas at Disney World

As someone who is a part of the “middle class” and lives nearly twelve hours away from Walt Disney World, I don’t make it to Walt Disney World as often as I would like: planning a vacation there has become too expensive to justify for our family which has recently grown to six members. Over the years, I have brainstormed and researched ways to make a trip to Walt Disney World more affordable and determined that while I certainly enjoy the four theme parks, there are other enjoyable opportunities at Walt Disney World that allow for a “parkless” vacation to which help to mitigate the high cost of a family vacation to the Most Magical Place on Earth.


8- Relaxing on a Raft

Editor’s Note: At this time, Typhoon Lagoon is temporarily closed. 

Okay, so technically Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are parks, but at half the cost of entry to the Magic Kingdom, visiting one (or both!) of Disney’s water parks is a great opportunity for some full-day themed entertainment. Not only that, admission to these parks can be as active or relaxing as you want. Interested in joining the kids for some thrill rides? Climb Mount Mayday or the harrowing stairs to the peak of Summit Plummet. Or maybe you would rather send the kids off on their own or stick them with Dad and relax in one of the lazy rivers with a cold drink or in the shade of a Beachcomber Shack or Polar Patio. What makes visiting the water parks a great option for a “parkless” vacation to Walt Disney World is the level of detail and theming that Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach exhibit. Each water park has an elaborate backstory with attractions, music loop, and quick-service restaurants that are themed to support the story, much in the way one of the several lands in the four theme parks do. This makes a day at one of Disney’s water parks almost a replacement, albeit a small one, for a vacation without entry into the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

7- Par and Putters

Golf has been a part of Walt Disney World’s existence since almost the beginning. In fact, Disney’s Golf Resort (now called Disney’s Shades of Green) opened in 1973, situated between the Palm and Magnolia golf courses. Over the years, the resort has hosted a number of PGA tournaments and championships under the leadership of Arnold Palmer; in fact, the first tournament was won by golfing legend, Jack Nicklaus. Today, fans of the game can visit one of four courses: Palm, Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista, and Oak Trail golf courses. For those who need to hone their putting skills or don’t want to spend the entire day on a fairway, Walt Disney World also has two miniature golf courses: Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf and Disney’s Fantasia Gardens and Fairways. These courses bring Disney magic to the game by offering charming thematic elements: Winter Summerland continues the theme of Blizzard Beach by depicting Santa Claus enjoying a tropical vacation, while Fantasia Gardens recreates some of the more memorable scenes from Disney’s 1940 animated film, Fantasia. Walt Disney World’s golf courses also offer a more unique opportunity for those with more athletic ability: Disney’s Oak Trail golf course provides the option of Footgolf. This game, which is played like golf, utilizes a soccer ball and one’s foot rather than a golf ball and clubs. This is a great way for guests to enjoy some exercise and lovely weather on a picturesque Disney golf course.

6- Dinner and a Show

Editor’s Note: At this time, both Hoop-de-Doo Musical Review and Spirit of Aloha are temporarily not running. 

Guests who decide to vacation at Walt Disney World without passing through the turnstiles of the parks miss out on many of the shows (such as the 3D films and live entertainment) and dining opportunities that the resort has to offer. However, some of the resort hotels on property offer dinner shows that can provide not only hours of musical fun but also all-you-care-to-eat delicious food. The Hoop-de-Doo Musical Revue, located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, provides an assortment of down-home dishes while vaudeville-style performance provides delightful entertainment. Across the Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, the Spirit of Aloha wows guests with authentic performances of South Seas dances while they fill their stomachs with a tropical feast of pulled pork and Polynesian-style ribs. These shows, which fill an entire evening, provide a little bit of Disney magic in an intimate setting while at the same time satisfying hunger and taste buds alike.


5- Just a Show

While enjoying a show at the Hoop-de-Doo or the Spirit of Aloha are a great way to spend an evening, they can also be very expensive experiences for a family. Luckily, Walt Disney World offers several opportunities for less expensive–or even free–nightly entertainment throughout the resort. Several of the resort hotels offer nightly live entertainment of some sort. For example, Yehaa Bob Jackson performs his popular set of sing-along songs in the River Roost Lounge at Port Orleans Resort: Riverside. Older guests can enjoy the dueling pianos in Jellyrolls or dance to nostalgic songs at the Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. For something more relaxing, guests can enjoy live piano music in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Most of the resorts also offer movies on outdoor, inflatable screens every evening. Check the lobbies of each resort for more information about each week’s offerings.

4- Promenading

As the sun goes down, the nightlife of Disney’s BoardWalk comes alive. Situated along Crescent Lake, Disney’s BoardWalk offers a number of dining, drinking, and entertainment options that make the resort’s public areas a destination in itself. A number of delicious and unique restaurants line the boardwalk, such as the Big River Grille & Brewing Works or the ESPN Club. For those who desire a more casual dining experience while exploring the resort, walk-up counter service options exist, such as the Pizza Window, the BoardWalk Bakery, and a funnel cake cart. History buffs can wander the resort to admire the architecture that hearkens back to its inspirations in Jersey Shore and Atlantic City, or even venture upstairs to the lobby to admire the art and artifacts on display, the mutoscopes, or enjoy a drink in the Belle Vue Lounge where radios on the bookshelves play programs and music from the 1930s. Back on the boardwalk, guests can enjoy themed entertainment that was common on historical boardwalks, including carnival-style games, wandering performers (including magicians), and even an opportunity to rent a four-person Surrey bike for a relaxing ride around Crescent Lake. Guests who find themselves in the right place at the right time may even catch a glimpse of the nightly fireworks from nearby Epcot. 

3-  Stories and Shots

Adult guests visiting Walt Disney World have the opportunity to enjoy some very unique locales serving alcoholic beverages. While Disney magic is not an ingredient that is featured in these mixed drinks, it certainly features prominently in the different bars and lounges throughout Walt Disney World. These lounges immerse guests in story, providing entertainment and unique experiences while enjoying a number of potent potables. One example, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, welcomes guests to enjoy tropical drinks in souvenir glasses while a volcano erupts in the distance and a tiki goddess wreaks havoc. Visitors to Disney’s BoardWalk Resort can enjoy a drink at the AbracadaBar, a magic-themed locale filled with magicians’ props and fascinating effects. Lucky patrons might even stand amazed as the bartenders perform basic magic tricks. Over at Disney Springs, guests over the age of 21 can enjoy a drink at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar–themed to the adventures of the Indiana Jones character–or step into enchanted elegance at the Beauty and the Beast-themed Enchanted Rose Lounge. Several hours in an evening can be enjoyed drinking amongst the creative environments dreamt up by the Imagineers all across the Walt Disney World Resort.

Fountain of Youth: St. Augustine Florida Cane Vodka, Bols Blue Curaçao, White Cranberry Juice, and Sweet-and-Sour found at the Hangar Bar

2- Legos, Bowling, and Dinosaurs

Disney Springs is a one-stop shopping, dining, and entertainment destination, providing hours of diversions. With dozens of unique shops and restaurants, Disney Springs truly offers something for people of all ages, interests, and appetites. In addition, a number of additional entertainment offerings exist from bowling at Splitsville, to catching a movie at the AMC or a show at the new Cirque du Soleil: Drawn to Life. Disney Springs also gives guests an opportunity to slow down by grabbing a snack or a coffee from one of the Starbucks locations and perching oneself on a bench to watch the Amphicars tool around Lake Buena Vista or the Aerophile soar high above. And with late-night hours, Disney Springs can provide entertainment until the wee hours before you drag yourself back to your resort and collapse back into your warm, comfy Disney bed.

1- Highway in the Sky

As a child, one of the most magical experiences of a trip to Walt Disney World–which I begged my parents relentlessly for–was a ride on the Monorail. Now, decades later, I have come to realize that the Monorail is more than merely a unique and futuristic transportation system: it is also an attraction in its own right. While riding the Monorail from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom is the quicker option than the ferryboat, taking the Resort Monorail around the Seven Seas Lagoon can provide hours of entertainment and delight. Having done this several times myself, I would recommend taking a resort bus to the Magic Kingdom and then boarding the Resort Monorail, visiting the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian individually throughout the afternoon. I particularly enjoy visiting the Fantasia Shop in the Contemporary’s Grand Canyon Concourse, followed by a lunch at the Contempo Cafe in the shadow of the soaring Mary Blair mural. Later, I take the loop to the Polynesian Village Resort to savor a Dole Whip while overlooking the theme pool before wandering through BouTiki for some merchandise with a South Seas flair. Finally, I wander through the magnificent lobby of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, pointing out the Disney characters embedded in the marble floor to friends and family before washing my hands with the smelly soap at Basin and sweeping down the grand staircase near the elevators. With the addition of the Disney Skyliner, more resort hotels have been added to the list of possible excursions to explore, including Disney’s Caribbean Beach and the Riviera, Pop Century, and the Art of Animation Resorts. Together, the resort opportunities provided for by the Monorail and Skyliner offer hours of exploration and fun.

A Single Caveat: an After-Hours Park Event

However, let’s say that one finds it nearly impossible to fully enjoy a completely “parkless” vacation to Walt Disney World, but can’t bring oneself to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for multi-park admissions. One option is to travel during the fall or winter months when Disney offers after-hours park events, such as the Halloween and Christmas After Hours events. While the cost of admission may be a little higher than a single day’s admission, the crowds at the Magic Kingdom will likely be smaller than an average day, and in addition to shorter lines, special limited-edition meals, snacks, merchandise, and entertainment make the cost all worth it.

For a no obligation, FREE Quote on a Disney vacation package, please contact our travel partner Magical Vacation Planner at 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also request a FREE quote online by Clicking HERE.


Andrew Kiste

Andrew Kiste is a high school history teacher and author, whose popular books, A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Walt Disney and the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, and The Early Life of Walt Disney examine the storied history of both the parks and the Walt Disney Company.
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