It's no surprise that when planning a Walt Disney World vacation, most visitors focus on how they are going to attack the parks – or pay for the tickets. But, don't forget that the Walt Disney World Resort is just that, a resort, and it offers a total vacation package.
Throughout the Disney World complex, there are a multitude of things for guests of all ages to do whether they're staying on or off property. For a few ideas, here are three fun-filled days worth of activities that don't require setting foot in a park.
By the Seashore in Central Florida
For beachgoers, Disney has a number of waterside-themed hotels inspired by places as broad as 19th century Martha's Vineyard to a 1920s Boardwalk. Of that group, the best places to start a seaside day are the Polynesian Resort or the Beach Club Resort where breakfast comes with a character greeting.
At Disney hotels, popular characters make appearances during meals at select restaurants to take pictures, sign autographs and give hugs. At the Polynesian's 'Ohana restaurant it's Lilo and Stitch, and at the Beach Club's Cape May Café, classic characters like Minnie and Goofy make the rounds. (Both $15-$35.99 per person)
From there, it's time to work off breakfast. Starting out at the Beach Club, Yacht Club or Boardwalk? Rent an old fashioned Surrey bike from the rental station behind the BoardWalk Inn and make a few laps around the path connecting the three. ($21.30 per adult for a two seater; $23.43 for a four seater; 30 minute ride.) Along the wooden boardwalk, vendors hawking arcade games, salt water taffy, corn dogs and funnel cakes help evoke the feeling of the old shore. Afterward, check out the nearby Fantasia Gardens mini golf ($10-$12 for 18 holes) before grabbing lunch – and maybe some pool time – and heading to the Polynesian Resort.
For a bit of an adrenaline rush, rent a couple of Sea Raycers at the Mikala Canoe Club Marina (from $34.08.) These personal speed boats are surprisingly fast, and riders can zip around both the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. After docking, round out the day with Disney's Spirit of Aloha Show featuring a South Seas-style dinner and entertainment inspired by traditions of New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti. ($28.99-$65.99 per person)
A Taste of the Old West on the East Coast
At Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort , there are enough activities to do or mossy oak trees under which to relax that the parks seem miles away. Starting at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, hop into the saddle for a 45-minute guided woodland trail horse ride ($46.) Those less inclined can opt for an old fashioned carriage ride ($45), or a newfangled Segway tour (from $101). Back at the Ranch, kids can get up close and personal with Cinderella's Ponies, who call the barn home. Other ponies at the Ranch are available for rides by children ages 2 and older.
For those who are a bit hungry after a long ride on the trails, a quick bite can be had at Crockett's Tavern, at the poolside snack bar or from either "trading post" store. After refueling, take it easy on the water with a chartered, catch-and-release fishing trip around Bay Lake.
The two- or four-hour trips include a captain and all bait and tackle ($270 for two hours; $455 for four.) For lighter burden on the wallet, the many canals that run through the resort may be fished. And, there's no charge for taking a nap in a lounge chair or hammock on the beach.
For dinner, choose between two down-home experiences. The Hoop De Doo musical review ($26.99-$61.99) features a dinner of all-you-can eat American classics – the fried chicken and strawberry shortcake are killer – accompanied by a vaudeville-style show with singing, dancing and comedy. Available seasonally, Mickey's Backyard Barbeque ($26.99-44.99) is the place to go to meet characters. Under an open-air pavilion, Mickey, Minnie and pals throw a buffet-style picnic complete with a country-western band and line dancing.
An Adult Day While the Kids Play
There are plenty of experiences tailored for a more mature crowd at Disney World. To get in the mood for a laid back day, start at one of Disney's three full service spas, located at the Grand Floridian Resort, Saratoga Springs Resort and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, and each offer a wide variety of services.
Or start the day golfing at one of Disney's five courses (18 holes from $139). Didn't pack a set of clubs? No worries. Titleist and Cobra clubs for men and women are available for rental ($55) as are Foot Joy shoes ($10). Disney also maintains a staff of PGA golf instructors offering group and private lessons for any skill level. ($75 for private lesson.)
Be sure to book golf games and spa treatments early, so afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian's Garden View Tea Room won't be missed. A relaxing and sophisticated way to break of the day, the tea room carries on the British tradition of afternoon tea with a selection of services from which to choose.
Spend the afternoon strolling Downtown Disney – a sprawling shopping, dining and entertainment complex. The Downtown Disney Marketplace is the place to pick up Disney merchandise, especially from the massive World of Disney store. On the West Side find a movie theater, DisneyQuest, the House of Blues concert hall and Cirque du Soleil for more entertainment options.
Head back to 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian to dine buffet-style with Cinderella and friends. (The restaurant also has Alice in Wonderland characters at breakfast.) Or, make for the Walt Disney World Swan where characters also show up for buffet dinners at Garden Grove. (Both $15-$35.99)
There's one more stop for grown-ups at Disney's BoardWalk. Dance the night away at the Atlantic Dance Hall, or witness the dueling pianos at Jellyrolls piano bar. 21 and up only, please.