You could spend weeks at Disney with these attractions and experiences alone.
With daily park tickets well over $100 per person and Disney Genie+ costing about $15 per person, per day, Walt Disney World has never been more expensive. But you can have a thrilling, magical day at Disney without stepping foot in a park or even being a hotel guest. Here are all the activities you probably had no idea you could do on Disney property, from offroading on a monster Segway to snagging an iconic Dole whip without the crowds.
Take a Segway Off-Road
If you come to Disney World and just do the parks, you’re missing out on so much magic, especially some behind-the-scenes fun. Before your next vacation, take a look at the resort’s Enchanting Extras Collection. These activities and tours are all on Disney property and most are accessible without a park ticket, such as the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. This two-hour Segway tour features the Segway X2, which is the monster truck version of traditional Segways. And you’ll need the extra tread because this is an off-roading circuit around Disney’s campgrounds and lakes. If you’re a Segway newbie, there’s a thorough safety and training session before the tour. My guides Forest and Daisy (truly, the best names for this) wouldn’t let anyone on the tour before passing a very strict driving test that feels like a Segway DMV. This is also a great activity if you’ve never spent any time over at Disney’s campgrounds. You get to visit the new Tri-Circle-D Ranch and there’s a lakeside photo stop with a great view of Cinderella Castle. Pricing starts at $90 and you do need to be 16 or older to do this one. Told you it’s like the DMV.
Attend Sangria University
Why drink around the world at EPCOT when you can go straight to Sangria University at Disney’s Coronado Springs? Even better: There’s an actual diploma. Over at Three Bridges Bar and Grill at Villa del Lago, guests 21 and older can learn all about the history of sangria while sampling a sangria flight of four different styles and fruit blends. And at the end of the class, you get to concoct your very own custom sangria recipe with your own fruit blend. If you have kiddos or zero-proof guests in your party, they can attend, too, for the same price ($59) and will be served a flight of non-alcoholic drinks.
Make a Mickey Mosaic
Coronado Springs also has fun art classes that tie into the resort’s Spanish theming. You can learn about Barcelona’s iconic mosaics and create your own Disney-style mosaic for $25. And there’s also the Colors of Coronado Painting Experience led by a professional painter, where you’ll paint your own Disney scene in just two hours. The class ($35 per person) takes place in the Toledo steakhouse at the very top of Gran Destino Tower, which has sweeping views of the resort, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Be BRAVE IRL
Disney World is all about celebrating milestones and there are so many places to have firsts, from your first haircut in the barbershop on Main Street to a first surf lesson at Typhoon Lagoon. And over at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, you can learn to shoot a bow and arrow for the first time. The Archery Experience is open to anyone seven and older and even includes kid-sized bows and targets that are lower to the ground than typical ranges for pint-sized practicing. The session is about an hour and a half and costs $45 per person. If your kiddos are big fans of Merida or Mulan, this is a great opportunity to learn the fundamentals of archery together.
Go on a Night Vision Safari
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has some of the coolest behind-the-scenes wildlife tours, but they require theme park admission on top of the tour fee. However, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has a wildlife tour and it’s actually a lot cooler because it’s at night. For the Starlight Safari, guests board an open-air safari vehicle and use night vision goggles to observe the free-roaming animals at the resort. There are more than 30 different species that call the lodge savanna home but big critters include zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, antelope, and ostrich.
Or Visit the Animals for Free
The Starlight Safari starts at about $75 per person, but, if you’re on a budget, you can still see tons of animals at Animal Kingdom Lodge for free! Right off the main lobby of Jambo House, you can walk around a giant terrace and patio with viewing areas for giraffes, gazelle, African birds and so much more.
See Walt Disney’s Train Obsession
Why do Disney Parks have a railway? Because Walt Disney was a train stan. The man loved a good locomotive. He and Knott’s Berry Farm founder Walter Knott even became BFFs over their love of trains. And then Disney kind of copied Knott’s whole theme park idea a couple miles down the road in SoCal…but that’s a story for another day. Over at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, the Boulder Villas side of the resort has a super cozy lounge with a huge fireplace and Disney memorabilia–including his train models–on display.
Or His Horse Obsession
Disney loved horses just as much as he loved trains and Disney World’s new Tri-Circle-D Ranch pays homage to that love with an exhibit right inside the stables. You can see photos of Disney as well as horses through the years at Disney World. And you can also see (and hear) the historic 1907 Dragon Calliope that Disney purchased for Disneyland Park in the 1950s. The musical carriage was transferred to Disney World in 1981 for the Magic Kingdom’s 10th-anniversary celebration. While you can’t actually touch the calliope, it’s protected behind glass, you can touch a magical green button on the wall next to it that plays a steam whistle version of “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Go Bass Fishing
All those lakes around Disney World aren’t just for show. They’re stocked with bass and you can even go fishing. Dockside fishing with casting-rod gear is available at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort–Riverside and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Or you can book a two-hour or four-hour excursion on a pontoon boat (up to five people) or bass fishing boat (up to three people) with a fishing guide. These trips are available at eight different Disney hotel marinas with the option to cruise Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon, Village Lake or Crescent Lake, and World Showcase Lagoon. The best part is that Disney will take care of all the stuff. Rod, reel, tackle, bait, and non-alcoholic beverages are included. Just remember: In the spirit of happily ever after, all fishing at Disney World is catch and release.
Rent a Pontoon Boat
You can also rent a pontoon boat just for cruising around the lakes and lagoons and unlike the fishing excursions, they’ll let you drive your own boat as long as you’re 18 or older. No boating license needed either! Pricing is $45 for 30 minutes or $90 for an hour which is pretty budget-friendly as each pontoon boat can accommodate up to 10 people.
Or Charter a Yacht
Feeling fancy? You can book a private fireworks cruise aboard a 25-foot yacht and it’s actually more affordable than you think. Rates start at $400 and each boat can accommodate up to 10 people. $40 to ride on a ritzy yacht with free snacks and soft drinks isn’t bad. Plus, you can choose a voyage to watch either Disney Enchantment at Magic Kingdom or Harmonious at EPCOT. And you won’t miss the music because each boat plays the show soundtrack in sync with the parks. This is a great splurge for family milestones such as big birthdays or anniversaries as banners and balloons are also included in the cost.
Perform Disney Karaoke
Did you know there’s a karaoke bar at Disney World where you can belt out your favorite Disney tunes? Over in EPCOT’s resort area, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin has the Kimonos sushi lounge and on select nights there’s karaoke. You’ll find all the standard pop, country, and R&B hits, but it’s Disney so there’s also binders full of movie songs. I did this as part of my bachelorette party at Disney World and it was a great way to fill out a long weekend without spending time in the parks each night. Note: It’s family-friendly songs (no profanity) until 10 p.m. Though hearing children sing Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” will haunt me forever.
Take a Carriage Ride
You don’t have to book a Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings to ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Scenic rides are available at both Disney’s Port Orleans Resort–Riverside and Disney’s Fort Wilderness though I’d say Port Orleans is the better choice as you can swing by Scat Cat’s in Port Orleans–French Quarter for Mickey-shaped beignets. 25-minute rides are $55 and can fit four adults or two adults and three small children. During the holidays, “sleigh” rides are also available. No, it doesn’t snow in Central Florida but the festive red carriages glide through Disney’s winter wonderland on teeny tiny wheels.
Or Just Ride a Horse
Skip the carriage altogether and go horseback riding at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. You can book a 45-minute trail ride for $55. This ride is perfect for beginners (ages nine and older) as the horses stick to a walking pace and there’s a guide on the trail the entire time.
Or Better Yet: Ride a Pony
For kiddos shorter than 48 inches tall, you can also book $8 pony rides at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. And depending on the time of day, you just might see one of Cinderella’s white ponies. Yep, that iconic princess carriage is actually pulled by very large white Shetland ponies.
Putt-Putt With Santa Year Round
If you’ve never spent a day at Disney World’s two water parks, you’re missing out. Blizzard Beach is an absolute gem and tickets are under $75. But what makes this melted snow, Bavarian-esque water park even more fun is the Christmas-themed putt-putt course across the parking lot. Winter Summerland Miniature Golf continues the juxtaposition of winter in the Florida sun with two 18-hole courses designed by Santa for off-season elves. One course is a play on sand and sun with peppermint inner tubes and clam shell ornaments. The other is a riff on snow with a melting snowman that may or may not shoot water at you. At $14 for adults and $12 for kids this is a great way to get holiday family photos without attending the park’s specialty-ticketed Christmas parties.
Or Putt-Putt With Mickey
Mickey has his own mini-golf, too. Over in the EPCOT resort area, Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf is all about the Sorcerer’s Apprentice vibes with magical broomsticks and dancing hippos wearing tutus. Some holes are even musical and will sound off certain notes as the ball hits points on the course.
Or Actually Golf for Real Because There Are Four Courses
Book a tee time at one of Disney World’s four greens, from the championship Magnolia Golf Course to the kid-friendly nine-hole Oak Trail Golf Course. Magnolia and Oak Trail as well as Disney’s Palm Golf Course now feature robot caddies that magically follow you with your clubs and even charge your phone and chill your drinks. You may also see Mickey Mouse’s official club car while you’re on the green and, yes, there are Mickey (golf) gloves in the glove compartment.
Rent a Bike
How about a leisurely pedal by the water? Eight of Disney World’s waterside resorts feature bike trails and bike rentals, from Disney’s Old Key West Resort to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. You can even rent kid bikes with training wheels for your littles. And if you’re camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, a bike is the best way to get from your campsite to the pool, ranch, and other activities within the campgrounds.
Or Try a Surrey Bike With the Whole Family
If you’ve visited Disney’s BoardWalk Inn area, you may have seen one of these strange pedal vehicles wheel by. The two, four, and even six-person bikes are a great way to work together as a family and probably laugh a lot along the way. It’s also a great way to get teens to put down the phone and spend quality time in the real world. You need hands to steer!
See the Longest-Running Dinner Show
After a hiatus amid the pandemic, Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue in Pioneer Hall at Disney’s Fort Wilderness is back. This is one of the longest-running musical dinner shows not just at Disney World but in the world and it’s earned cult classic status among Disney fans. It’s hard to pinpoint why fans love this experience so much. Some say it’s the music. Others say it’s the dad jokes. But everyone says it’s the incredible all-you-can-eat fried chicken.
Or See the Best Cirque Show Ever
Another show you can see without going inside the theme parks is the brand new Cirque du Soleil “Drawn to Life” at Disney Springs. This isn’t the first time Cirque has collaborated with popular musical catalogs–The Beatles, Michael Jackson etc.–but this show is different. It’s not as Cirque as you’d expect. And it’s not as Disney as you’d expect. It’s Disney storytelling and emotions mixed with Cirque du Soleil’s signature aesthetic. The show explores the magic and movement of cartoon animation with performances truly gravity-defying. There’s a whole aerial pole dance sequence inspired by the relationship of an artist’s pen and paper that is worth the ticket alone. I’ve seen many, many Cirque shows and this show is one of the best.
Rent a Kayak or Canoe
Disney’s Fort Wilderness is basically year-round summer camp with archery, arts and crafts, and water sports. You can take a kayak or a canoe out on Bay Lake’s serene inlets and canals for about $13 per hour. Both are available for ages 12 and older.
Make a Bottomless Marshmallow S’more
A lot of guests staying at Disney hotels never take advantage of resort programs because they’re so busy in the theme parks. If that’s your family, you’re missing out on some serious perks such as free roasted marshmallows. Oh, yeah. Infinite charred sugary goodness. Dozens of Disney hotels, from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Caribbean Beach Resort host nightly campfires with free all-you-can-eat marshmallows for guests. You can also buy fancy s’more kits with chocolate and all the fixings but the marshmallows are bottomless.
Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
Always wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride, but scared of heights? At Disney Springs, Disney’s outdoor shopping and dining center, you can soar up, up, and away in a real helium balloon….that’s safely tethered to the ground the entire time. It’s the best of both worlds! And it’s a great way for scaredy cats such as myself to check that off the bucket list without completely fearing for my life. The Aerophile, which is the largest hand-painted helium balloon in the world, features an eight-minute flight straight up and then straight down. No funny business or imminent doom from a surprise gust of wind. I read the Wizard of Oz. I remember what happens. At 400 feet in the air, you’ll get 360-degree views of Disney World, including Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror, and more, as well as downtown Orlando’s skyline.
Or Ride in a Floating Car
For something thrilling but more grounded, Disney Springs also has amphicar tours. These vintage sedans roll right into Lake Buena Vista and float like a boat. A 20-minute chauffeured (or would it be chartered?) ride is $125 but each car can accommodate up to four guests so this is a great activity to split and Venmo with friends. Try to schedule your ride around sunset for beautiful photos of Disney Springs and Saratoga Springs.
Have a Coke Float Flight
EPCOT’s Club Cool is a Disney rite of passage and one of our Disney World must-dos. But there’s another way to taste sodas from other countries without entering the park. Over at Disney Springs, the Coca-Cola Store has a rooftop bar where you can order an Around the World Tray for $15. This flight includes 16 (that’s less than $1 each!) different sodas and juices from around the world. Even better: You can make it a float flight. Because why not add a scoop of ice cream to every single drink? It’s the same price! But adventurer beware: Some flavors do not mix with ice cream. And I’m not telling you which.
Do the Monorail Bar Crawl
Disney World’s craft cocktail (and mocktail) scene doesn’t get enough credit. And I don’t mean the margaritas in EPCOT. I’m talking about the signature drinks made by master bartenders at Disney’s premium lounges that are as pretty as they are perfectly made. The best way to get a taste is along the Magic Kingdom resorts’ monorail loop. You can hit The Enchanted Rose, a Beauty and the Beast-themed bar at Disney’s Grand Floridian (do not sleep on that Lavender Fog), Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, an interactive tiki bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village (where certain drinks trigger severe consequences and you might get wet) and the lounge at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort where cocktails feature teeny tiny monorail swizzle sticks.
Or the Skyliner Bar Crawl
Not to be outdone, you could also create a bar crawl with Disney’s newest transportation method: The Skyliner. These flying gondolas have incredible sunset views of EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and will connect you to Disney’s Riviera Resort where you can grab a glass of vino and a European cheese plate, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort where you can sip on a rum runner or guava colada from Banana Cabana or POP Century where you grab a retro Mai Tai from the Petals Pool Bar and tour the larger than life decor from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s-themed buildings. This is a fun way to spend Happy Hour during the holidays as each resort has themed decorations and Christmas trees.
Watch the Electrical Water Pageant
Most of Disney World’s entertainment has changed again and again and again in the resort’s 50-year history. But not the Electrical Water Pageant. This beloved show still floats around Seven Seas Lagoon every night. Does the music sound like an old midi file? Yes. But there’s something special about that waving octopus made out of light bulbs or the segmented floats that look like a sea serpent jumping in and out of the water. It’s nostalgic lo-tech and yet 50 years later people still plan their hotel rooms around a good view of it. You can watch it for free from the boat pier of any of the Magic Kingdom resort area hotels, but a really great viewing spot is from the Grand Floridian’s Narcoossee’s restaurant terrace.
Or Watch the Fireworks for Free
There’s nothing more magical than watching fireworks in front of Cinderella Castle as fireworks are only one part of nighttime spectaculars. It’s really about the music and the incredible augmented reality projections on the castle. You’ll miss those projections, but there are a few spots around Disney World where you can watch fireworks and still listen to the show’s music. If you time your dinner reservation at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort around show time (which changes based on park hours and sunset), you can watch from the hotel’s rooftop overlooking Tomorrowland. The terrace has speakers that pump in the music so it’s perfectly timed with the fireworks. And you get a great view of Space Mountain. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort also has a beach area that does the same with speakers. And after, you can watch the Electrical Water Pageant from the Polynesian, too.
Have a Dole Whip
You can’t go to Disney without having a Dole Whip, but did you know that you don’t have to go inside a Disney park to get this iconic pineapple treat? Over at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Pineapple Lanai has Dole Whip, too. The quick-service counter is just off the main lobby and features all the frozen essentials: Dole Whip, Dole Whip floats, Dole Whip swirls and something you can’t get in the Magic Kingdom. Boozy Dole Whip.
Get a Printed Latte
I see your Mickey waffle and I raise you a Mickey-printed latte. At Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company at Disney Springs, you can order custom art on most beverages. Designs range from classic movie characters to fringe attraction characters such as Orange Bird. But wait there’s more: You can upload your own image through the Ripples–Drink Personalization app for a latte with your pet or a favorite quote or a family photo in front of Cinderella Castle.
Get a Disney Manicure
Did you know that Disney World has spas? Yes, plural. Both Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa have full-service spas including hair and nail salons. And Disney’s Wilderness Lodge has Salon by the Springs for nail and hair services, too. Like most activities at the mouse house, getting a manicure or a pedicure comes with a little extra magic. You choose from a series of essential oils inspired by iconic Disney songs. And for an additional fee, you can even add Mickey nail art.
Or Book a Whole Spa Day
If you’re going to book a nail service, might as well book a whole spa day. In addition to massage and body treatments, the spa features a relaxation lounge (with a pretty hearty snack spread) and a gorgeous thermal suite with fairytale-esque mosaics, heated tile chairs, and a whirlpool. If you’re a Disney Cruise Line regular, it’s a similar Senses Spa experience.
Take an Art Stroll
If you’re only riding the rides and seeing shows, you’re missing a big attraction at Disney. There are more than 20 art galleries and museum exhibits at Disney World with more than 5,000 pieces in rotation every year. And a lot of these displays are at Disney resorts for free! These items aren’t replicas either. And it’s not just Disney stuff. There are historical pieces such as Louis Armstrong’s trumpet or a recently-excavated ancient Viking sword. Disney World also borrows pieces on loan from prestigious museums across the country. Right now they have Abraham Lincoln’s writing desk. Yes, really. I love visiting Disney resorts, ordering a cocktail in the lobby bar, and then DIYing my own art crawl around the property. Disney’s Riviera Resort is the perfect place to start. True to the Mediterranean Coast theming, Riviera has an incredible collection of Disney art reimagined in famous French and Italian styles, from Impressionism to Fauvism to Futurism. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is also a must-see. The hotel has the largest collection of authenticated African art outside of Africa.
Have Breakfast With Mickey
Character breakfasts are an absolute Disney must-do. And it’s a premium that parents have been justifying for decades. The buffet food? Meh. But the photos? Worth every penny. And not having to wait in hot lines outside? Priceless. There are several options for character dining outside the parks in the restaurants at Disney hotels. But if you’re going to splurge on character dining, make your cash count with a meal that has both great food and high-tier characters. Yes, it exists. Located on property in the Magic Kingdom resort area, there’s a secret neighborhood of mansions for the most elite Disney fans called Golden Oak, and within Golden Oak, you’ll find the Four Seasons Orlando. And every Thursday and Saturday at the Ravello restaurant you can have breakfast with Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey Mouse. It’s pretty rare to get all three of these characters in one meal. And their outfits alone are worth making a reservation. The tennis and golf outfits are a riff on preppy country club style with ‘70s flair. As for the food, you won’t find vats of watery scrambled eggs here but on-demand omelets and a smoothie bar for days. You don’t have to be a guest at the FS to dine but you should call in advance as reservations fill up.
Go Bowling for the Gram
Sure, you could go bowling at home. But will the ball have Mickey’s face on it? Both Disneyland and Disney World have a Splitsville Luxury Lanes at the resort’s outdoor dining and shopping center, Downtown Disney and Disney Springs respectively. And a reel of celestial Mickey Mouse bowling balls is worth the cost to me. Plus, this bowling alley is also a restaurant (you can even dine at your lane) with a menu that’s part pizzeria and part sushi bar. Book lanes in advance here.