We don’t always feel the need to go into one of the four theme parks when we’re in Orlando. I love Disney, but there are so many other things to do at Disney World besides the parks that satisfy our Disney World fix!
“No, we stayed away from the parks!” is a common answer I find myself reciting to the obvious question, “What parks did you go to?” when we return from a visit to Orlando.
There’s so much to do in this popular city in Florida. Many places on Walt Disney World property, especially, are incredibly entertaining and don’t require admission tickets to the parks.
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Visit Disney’s Boardwalk for Things to Do at Walt Disney World Besides the Parks
Our absolutely favorite area of the WDW property is the Boardwalk. (Specifically, Disney’s BoardWalk, as it’s officially named.)
There are a bunch of things to do at Disney World besides the parks at Disney’s BoardWalk.
1. Ride the Skyliner
Disney’s Skyliner is a blast. It gives you a bird’s eye view of areas of the park you’re normally only eye-level with.
You can pick it up from the Boardwalk area (technically, it’s near Epcot’s World Showcase entrance, which is accessible from the pedestrian area just off the Boardwalk).
It has a few different stops, including four resorts (Riviera, Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation and Pop Century) and two parks (Epcot and Hollywood Studios).
The Skyliner is 100% free to ride! You don’t have to prove you have park tickets, don’t have to prove you have reservations at a restaurant, and don’t have to be staying at a Disney resort to ride it.
Here is the complete list of where it stops:
- Epcot (near the World Showcase entrance of the park by France), which connects to the Boardwalk
- Hollywood Studios
- Riviera Resort
- Caribbean Beach Resort
- Pop Century
- Art of Animation
Don’t forget you can dine near Skyliner stops too, whether you’re hotel-hopping for fun or want to diversify your cuisine options. It’s a great way to expand your travels through the Walt Disney World property, car-free and worry-free too!
Any of the locations listed below both have sit-down restaurants off Disney’s Skyliner and outside of the theme parks:
- Riviera Resort (including Topolino’s Terrace)
- Caribbean Beach Resort (Sebastian’s Bistro)
- Beach Club (Cape May Cafe, Beaches and Cream Soda Shop)
- Yacht Club (Ale & Compass Restaurant, Yachtsman Steakhouse)
- Disney’s Boardwalk (Abracadabra bar, Ample Hills Creamery, Big River Grill & Brewing Works, Trattoria al Forno, and more)
- Swan & Dolphin Hotels (Il Mulino, Kimonos, Shula’s Steakhouse, Todd English’s bluezoo)
- Swan Reserve (Amare)
We recommend bringing this handheld rechargeable fan for the Skyliner.
Each ride vehicle has vents on the top of each car for the natural wind to come through but it can get pretty stuffy in there especially if you don’t like enclosed spaces. (And if you don’t, it may not be the ride or mode of transportation for you. )
2. Rent a Surrey Bike
We got such a kick out of seeing families cycle past us on these bicycles built for two, four, or six people in two rows.
Here’s a list of places you can rent them (many of them are DVC properties but anyone visiting WDW can go there to rent a surrey bike):
- Disney’s Boardwalk Inn
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort
3. Stop to Watch a Performer
There are various performers who walk the boardwalk and stop to perform if you’re there at the right time. The most popular time to catch this is at night or late afternoon.
4. Play Boardwalk Games
A few Boardwalk games are open in the evening. (We’ve seen them open in the afternoon sometimes too.) They are exactly what you might imagine, or have seen, at a state fair or the boardwalk at Atlantic City Boardwalk. Games include shooting basketball hoops for prizes and water gun races.
5. Sing Along at Jellyrolls
We had a BLAST singing along to popular tunes as we sipped beer, ate popcorn, and spent four hours at Jellyrolls one Saturday night.
This dueling piano bar is 21 and over, and not to be missed if you’re of age (and looking for a super fun evening idea at Disney World). We even stepped outside to see the Epcot fireworks that night and went right on back in with our hand-stamp when they were over.
Note that there isn’t food here aside from popcorn so eat dinner first. You can always grab a bite at a place like Big River Grill, just a few shops down from Jellyrolls, before the show.
Jellyrolls is currently open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday starting at 7:00pm. They charge a $15-$20 admission fee, which they accept either credit or cash for. It’s worth EVERY PENNY!
They don’t have a break or intermission because two sets of dueling piano performers simply rotate throughout the evening until they close just before 2:00am.
Note they don’t take reservations but seats fill up fast. That being said as people come and go as they please it’s entirely possible to get a table any time throughout the evening. Timing is everything!
6. Bust a Move at Atlantic Dance Hall
If you love to dance and go out at night after the sun has set on a gorgeous Orlando day, there’s a dance hall just next to Jellyrolls. It’s 21 and over and there is usually no cover charge to enjoy it.
It’s currently open on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. But be sure to check their calendar for operating hours when you want to go to be sure it’s open.
7. Rent Swan Paddle Boats at the Swan, Dolphin, and Swan Reserve
You used to be able to rent these boats if you were at Walt Disney World, enjoying the property. But now you have to be a guest of one of the three resorts: Swan, Dolphin or the Swan Reserve.
The good news is if you are a guest of the resorts they’re free to rent! It is actually already included in the daily resort fee that you pay whether or not you use the paddleboats.
If motorized boats aren’t your thing try an eco-friendly swan paddle boat! Be sure to wear sunscreen as there’s no protection or breezy winds to relieve you from the Florida sun as you leisurely paddle on their little manmade lake.
We had a blast when we rented “Odette,” a paddleboat swan whose name was across the back of her neck. We went out on the lake for 20-minutes or so before heading back to our amazing Swan Reserve room for a little rest and relaxation before dinner.
Go Boating for a Fun Thing to Do at WDW Besides the Parks
8. Rent a Sea Racer “Mouse Boat”
There are several places on the property where you can rent motorized boats. It’s likely if there’s a marina at the resort they have boat rentals. Our favorite boat is the little two-seater Sea Racers. We lovingly call them “mouse boats”.
The rentals are under $35 per half hour. We saw kids zipping under the Boardwalk driving them, having a blast. (You have to be at least 12 years of age to drive one and have a parent or legal guardian sign for people under 18.)
9. Take a Specialty Cruise
If you want to spring for something truly extra special consider a specialty cruise. You can hire a yacht for private dining or sign up for a fireworks cruise.
It’ll truly add extra pixy dust to your stay whether you’re a party of two springing for a big-ticket item or a group of 18 people looking to share the experience and cost.
10. Rent a Kayak at Disney World
This man-powered boat is a favorite activity wherever we travel. Luckily Fort Wilderness has kayaks available to rent from 9:00am to 5:00pm, for less than $15 per hour. They also have canoes.
Swing Golf Clubs at Disney World
11. Play Miniature Golf
There are two locations to play mini-golf at Walt Disney World. Pricing is $15 per adult and around $12 per child.
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Near Swan Reserve
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways has two courses. The more playful, whimsical one is called Fantasia Gardens. The other side of the property has a course named Fantasia Fairways. It’s Par 3 and Par 5 courses are more difficult than Fantasia Gardens.
(I know it sounds funny to say a mini-golf course is difficult but the Fairways really is challenging and not especially for children unless they’re avid golfers or want a more “realistic” course without playing an actual 9-hole or 18-hole golf course.)
Winter Summerland, near Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park
Winter Summerland is themed to Florida, of course. It has a holiday twist no matter the time of year.
They have two courses: 1) Sandy Florida and 2) Snowy Florida (it almost never snows in Lake Buena Vista, where Disney World is, but imagination is a beautiful thing, especially when Imagineers create an attraction at WDW).
12. Play a Round of Traditional Golf
Walt Disney World is renowned for its great golf courses. They have four courses you can choose from including:
- Lake Buena Vista Golf Course at Saratoga Springs Resort
- Magnolia Golf Course at the Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, also at the Polynesian
- Palm Golf Course, at the Polynesian as well
13. Play Foot Golf
There’s also foot golf at Walt Disney World. This requires using your own feet as “clubs”. Instead of tiny golf balls, a soccer ball serves as the target to get in the holes. This course has nine holes total.
Experience Hotel Perks around Walt Disney World to Escape the Theme Parks (Without having to Stay at the Hotel)
14. Ride the Monorail
You can actually pick up the monorail from the Ticket and Transportation area (which you have to pay to park in) if you want to enjoy this nostalgic Disney World pastime.
If you don’t want to pay for parking but still want to get to the monorail, you can park for free at Disney Springs, take a bus to a resort and then pick it up from a monorail resort. Those resorts are Disney’s Polynesian, Disney’s Contemporary, and Disney’s Grand Floridian.
15. Indulge at a Hotel Restaurant
The restaurants at the Disney Hotels and Resorts are delicious and often themed (yet not over the top).
Make a reservation and enjoy being on-property at any number of hotel restaurants. Some of our favorites are:
- Boma or Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
- California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Hotel – if you make the reservation at the right time you can see the Magic Kingdom Firework from the hotel restaurant!
- Artist Point at The Wilderness Lodge
If you are curious about some special dining experiences or how-to book dining at all, or even how to book a stay at a WDW resort, here’s our number one secret tool we use to plan a Disney vacation, stress-free: our Disney travel agent, who can make even more magic happen for you.
It’s 100% free for you to use her services. No gimmicks. 100% free: Becca at: BeccaPlansVacations (at) gmail.com
16. Have a Cocktail at a Hotel Bar
I absolutely love some of the hotel bars at Walt Disney World, particularly the one at Animal Kingdom Lodge, called Sanaa Lounge, and The Wilderness Lodge, called Territory Lounge. Bonus that you may see animals outside Animal Kingdom Lodge if you’re lucky.
17. Take a Carriage Ride at Port Orleans or Fort Wilderness
There’s something extra special at Port Orleans Resort and Fort Wilderness. You can pay to have a 25-minute horse-drawn carriage ride through a “Louisiana-inspired” environment or wilderness campground.
18. Go Horseback Riding at Fort Wilderness
You can, indeed, go horseback riding at Disney World. You can ride horses along their trails for 55 minutes for $45 per person. Just like with dining reservations, it’s advised that you reserve this activity in advance.
When you arrive at Fort Wilderness for your reservation, simply head to the Tri-Circle-D Ranch building to check in.
19. Dip in the Hotel Pool
This is one you need to actually be staying on property for, but if you are don’t forget about the fabulous pool at your hotel! Every single hotel at Walt Disney World has a pool (or several) and a day or afternoon spent by it can be just the relaxing re-energizing activity you need to gear up for a full day of park hopping another time.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Grand Floridian even have cabanas to rent.
20. Treat Yourself to a Spa Treatment
One of the best things to do at Disney World besides the parks is to treat yourself to a spa day! Or morning. Or afternoon.
Try the spa at:
- Disney’s Grand Floridian near the Magic Kingdom
- The Dolphin, Swan, and Swan Reserve hotel, next to Disney’s BoardWalk
- Saratoga Springs Resort by Disney Springs
21. Additional Assorted Activities at Disney Hotels
Hotels at Walt Disney World have scheduled activities throughout the day whether volleyball or storytime for kids. You have to be a guest of the hotel to partake but if you are be sure to ask the front desk or concierge about it.
22. Electrical Water Pageant at the Deluxe Magic Kingdom Hotels
Every evening between 9:00pm to 10:35pm, depending on where you view it, there’s a little “electrical parade” that floats by the docks of Magic Kingdom resorts.
While it’s not particularly impressive it’s really nostalgic and sweet! It feels a bit like homemade holiday lights passing by, choreographed to old-time music but like I said: nostalgic and sweet. And if you’re craving a light show outside the parks this will at least give you a taste of it and make you smile.
Note the Electrical Water Pageant can be canceled on any given evening if the weather is unfavorable.
Explore Disney Springs to Escape the Theme Parks at Disney World
Disney Springs is our second favorite area at WDW besides the Boardwalk and the theme parks. There is PLENTY to do there!
23. See Cirque du Soleil at Disney World
Drawn to Life, the Cirque du Soleil show that replaced La Nouba at Disney Springs, is fabulous! You’ll be entertained for an hour and a half by incredible acts, including acrobats and live music.
What’s so special about the show is how Cirque du Soleil’s production team, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Walt Disney Animation Studios incorporated the performances with scenes from classic animated Disney films and shorts.
Check out everything you need to know about Disney’s Cirque du Soleil.
24. Strike Out at Splitsville Bowling
We had a blast bowling at Splitsville. We ate and drank there too, as I rolled gutter balls (she had some strikes and spares!) and Dan bowled exceptionally well. Either way, the atmosphere is amazing. They have two floors of bowling lanes, the staff is very friendly, and the food and drinks are delicious. (Yes, the food is really good!)
If you can’t get on a lane if it’s too busy when you arrive, consider eating there to watch people bowl until a lane becomes available. You can also go outside to listen to live music in the meantime…
25. Listen to Live Music
There’s live music outside at House of Blues (as well as paid concerts throughout the year) and Splitsville. Grab a drink and enjoy the talented performers at both locations at any given time, daily.
Bonus: House of Blues has their Disney Springs Happy Hour from opening to 5:00pm every day.
26. Fly High on a Balloon Ride
If the wind cooperates it’s likely you’ll see a tethered balloon floating in the sky when you’re walking around Disney Springs. This pay-per-person, per-ride attraction, takes you high above the treetops to see Disney Springs and the surrounding area (including Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa) from an aerial view.
Aerophile holds more cubic feet of helium than you want to think about and takes you 400 feet into the air for an eight-minute adventure. Tickets can be purchased at Disney Springs, right in front of the attraction. Adult tickets are $25 and children’s tickets are $20.
27. Take an Amphicar Boat Ride at the Boathouse
We couldn’t believe these things were actually vintage originals and not a Disney creation when we first saw them. Amphicars are like Duck Boats that drive on land and disappear into the water but cooler.
At about $125 it’s a larger expense than the balloons but also, arguably, a more unique experience as well.
These original American Brand Amphicars can take the captain (your tour guide) plus two adults and two children, or three adults for a 25-minute ride. There are only about 100 Amphicars left in working condition and The Boathouse has nine of them!
If you eat at The Boathouse you can get a discount on the experience so consider doing so for a little percentage off if you’re interested. Plus the food and drinks at The Boathouse are really good! They also give discounts for Disney Vacation Club Members and Annual Passholders.
Hours of operation: 10:00am to 10:30pm.
28. Shop ’Til You Drop
We are not “shoppers,” yet even we found stores we loved at Disney Springs. We bought Heat Tech wear at Uniqlo for a winter trip to Norway and Dan bought a shirt at Volcom (because he’s so California).
I even purchased a “classy” Mickey Mouse necklace at their Ever After Jewelry Co. store years ago that I love. We promise even if you’re not shoppers like us there’s something for everyone here.
Here are some stores that may be of interest to you:
- Alex and Ani – we were told it’s their only corporate store that sells Disney bracelets
- Art of Disney
While there are more activities to enjoy all around Walt Disney World property besides the theme parks these hit the high notes of our favorites!
29. Watch Irish Dancers at Raglan Road
If you head inside the long-standing and famous restaurant, Raglan Road, at Disney World you can get more than just a taste of Irish culture with one of their dishes; you can experience Irish dancing!
30. See a Crafts Person Blow Glass
The craftspeople at Arribas Brothers at Disney World are amazing. Their talents allow them to expertly blow glass into things like a castle or the beloved Disney character, Figment.
Find them at Disney Springs, of course. You can also see them at Epcot in the Mexico pavilion and at the Magic Kingdom on Main Street at Crystal Arts shop.
Times When It’s Great to Have Things to Do at Walt Disney World Besides the Parks
Two times in particular: peak season (like the major holidays including school breaks) and when you have half a day before or after a flight.
We made a marked point not to go into the parks on a recent trip during a busy time of year. (It was during Christmas and New Year’s Eve when I was in Orlando to photograph a wedding. But February break, Spring Break, July 4th, and Thanksgiving are all very popular times of the year to go and you may want a Disney fix, like us, but to avoid the parks.)
The parks would surely be too busy for our liking in those peak time situations anyway. Yet in a quest to get “our Disney fill” we successfully sought other ways to get a dose of Disney several times throughout our visit.
To be clear, the Walt Disney World (WDW) property is huge. It contains the four theme parks, the hotels, two waterparks, golf courses, miniature golf, shopping, restaurants and more. The four theme parks are just a fraction of the property.
While some of the activities we list below cost money, it’s not nearly the cost of the entrance fees to the parks. Nor does participating in them give you the stress of entering the WDW theme parks during peak times.
Some of these things are also great to do if you only have a half-day, for instance when you arrive in Orlando or leave the area on your last day.
Don’t forget to check out our Walt Disney World Year-Round Packing List for prep before you head to Orlando.
Florida Packing List for Your WDW and Orlando Vacation
If you’re going to Florida you need to pack some essentials, like sunscreen, The Bug Bite Thing (you’ll thank us later), and sunglasses. Never mind a handheld fan if you have any hope of staying cool!
Be sure to add some of these items to your cart if you don’t have them at home, ready to go for your trip, and check out our WDW and Universal Packing list.