There is so much to do and see at Walt Disney World beyond the parks. You could make an entire vacation just staying on property without setting foot in the parks. Some of these activities charge a fee and some require advance reservations, while others are free or nominal cost—you just have to know where to go.
10. Touring Fort Wilderness at Christmas
We all know about all of the fabulous decorations at the deluxe resorts at Christmas, but did you know that the individual campers at Fort Wilderness also go all out with holiday spirit? Many of the campsites have elaborate scenes featuring your favorite Disney characters and each one is unique. Similar to driving around your local neighborhoods to see the displays and lights you can tour Fort Wilderness on your own to see the decorations. Walking is an option, but Fort Wilderness is large and expansive, so you might consider renting one of their golf carts (you may need to call in advance to reserve one).
9. Resort Tours
While you can tour any of Disney’s resorts on your own, a few of them offer guided to tours to help you appreciate all of the design elements and back story to the resort. At the Wilderness Lodge you can take a complimentary guided tour The Wonders of the Lodge tour is offered a couple of mornings each week (check your resort guide or inquire at the concierge desk for current days, times and meeting locations). During this tour you will learn about various nuances of the Lodge like the patterns in the wood floors, the totem poles and the construction process. My son and I took this tour and thoroughly enjoyed it—it also gave us a great appreciation for all of the details in the resort. Over at Animal Kingdom Lodge a Culinary Tour is offered, usually in the afternoons but ask at the front desk for details. This free tour takes you through the restaurants at Jambo House detailing the décor, locating Hidden Mickeys and explaining menu options. Sometimes samples are even available.
At most of the resorts various crafts are offered for children (and kids at heart). These sometimes take place out by the pool, in the Children’s Activity Centers, or in a Disney Vacation Club Community Hall (technically you should be a DVC member to utilize the Community Hall, but most are not very strict about checking IDs). Most of the activities require a small fee that is paid at the time of participation. I’ve seen everything from creating Mickey Tie Dyed t-shirts to making ice cream in a bag.
7. Night Vision Animal Viewing
Offered at Animal Kingdom’s Lodge Jambo House, this unique activity is usually located at savanna near the pool in the evenings (check your resort guide or ask at the front desk for details). Animal guides are available with multiple pairs of night vision goggles (but you will have to share) that you can use to spot animals lounging around the savanna. Depending on the guide they give you information on how the goggles are used in the wild, observing animals and the actual animals you are spotting. You don’t have to be staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge to take part, so this is a good time to visit and take in the beauty of the Lodge, or make a dinner reservation for one of their great restaurants.
6. Archery Lesson
Fort Wilderness offers a 90 minute Archery Experience on certain days for guests ages 7 and up. The cost for this activity is around $40 per person and reservations are recommended and are taken up to 180 days in advance. This is essentially a beginning archery class. All of the equipment is provided and two instructors work with you on safety and technique. My family participated in this experience and had a great time (my 10 year old was inspired to ask for a bow for Christmas). The instructors really take their time with each participant to give them their best chance of succeeding and hitting the bullseye. The natural beauty of Fort Wilderness is the perfect setting, and I’m sure that Princesses aspiring to be Merida, Mulan or Pocahontas would find it a great way to spend an afternoon.
5. Pirate Adventure Cruise
This activity is a little more advertised than others—a pirate cruise JUST for kids! Cruises are offered daily from four different resorts: Disney’s Pirate Adventure departing from the Grand Floridian and sailing around Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon; the Albatross Treasure Cruise departing from the Yacht Club Marina and sailing Crescent Lake and the World Showcase Lagoon; Islands of the Caribbean Pirate Cruise sailing around the Caribbean Beach Resort; and the Bayou Pirate Adventure departing Port Orleans Riverside and sailing down the Sassagoula River. Only children ages 4-12 are allowed on the tour (read as quiet time for mom and dad), and you should make reservations in advance by calling 407-WDW-PLAY. Cost is around $35 a person, but may vary—inquire when you call. My sons have done the Albatross Cruise and the Pirate Adventure and really enjoyed both of them. They were given tattoos and bandanas and off they went with 2-3 cast members, and had a snack mid-morning. At the end they got their booty, a card to get their photos added to our PhotoPass CD, and went around saying Argh! with a hooked finger for the rest of our vacation. My husband and I enjoyed a nice breakfast and rented a Sea Raycer from the marina while they cruised.
4. Horseback Riding
Back at Fort Wilderness you can take a ride on horseback. There are restrictions—you must be at least 9 years old and 48 inches tall, and weigh less than 250 pounds. For a 45 minute ride the price is $46, and you should call 407-WDW-PLAY for reservations. This is a fun and relaxing way to experience Walt Disney World. If you love horses but don’t have time for a ride, you can explore the Tri Circle D Ranch to see the horses that work on Main Street USA. Sometimes you will even see a blacksmith working to shoe the horses, and there is a calliope that Walt Disney purchased for a Disneyland parade in the 1950s.
Did you know you can fish at Walt Disney World? It is all catch and release, but there are a few different ways you can participate. There are guided fishing excursions from several locations on property. These excursions can last 2 or 4 hours and include a guide, all of your fishing equipment and bait, and beverages. Reservations are required; call 407-939-BASS. (Hint: There is sometimes a coupon for savings in the Birnbaum Guide to Walt Disney World, and with anything you book always ask if there is a discount for which you might qualify—DVC, AAA, Annual Pass, Disney Visa, etc.) We participated in the fishing excursion from the Yacht Club marina and had a great time—we all caught a fish and yours truly had the biggest catch of the morning! I recommend the earliest time for the best fishing and weather conditions. If you don’t have several hours to commit, you can also participate in dockside fishing at Fort Wilderness and Port Orleans Riverside. Both resorts have stocked ponds and you can rent casting rods at Fort Wilderness’s Bike Barn or cane poles and bait at Old Man Island at Riverside.
2. Carriage Rides
This is another one that is fairly well advertised. Carriage Rides are offered at Fort Wilderness and Port Orleans Riverside, and they can make for a romantic evening or a fun family time. You should try to book in advance by calling 407-WDW-PLAY, and the cost is under$50 for a 25 minute ride. This is a great way to get a different perspective on a resort. During the holidays you can take a decorated sleigh ride at Fort Wilderness for under $70 for 25 minutes—and this is a great way to fit in #10 too!
1. Sammy Duvall Watersports Centre
Many people know that you can rent Sea Raycers and pontoon boats at various resort marinas, but did you know that you can also parasail or rent a personal watercraft? Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre located at the Contemporary Resort offers both of these activities and more (including water skiing, wake boarding and tubing). What a fun way to spend a hot afternoon! And there aren’t many better vantage points than parasailing right next to the Magic Kingdom! There are various restrictions on the activities, as well as pricing, so be sure to ask for the latest details when you call 407-WDW-PLAY for reservations. And ask about discounts too
There are many activities at Walt Disney World that contribute to a fun filled vacation—these are just a few of my favorites that I find surprise people. What is your favorite thing to do during your non-park time? And what activities have I overlooked?