How to Enjoy Disney World, Even If You Hate Theme Parks
On the fence about a trip to Disney World? Headed there with family or a significant other, but you’re not a theme park person? Or maybe you’re taking a few days to rest from park hopping. You’d be surprised just how many non theme park adventures there are to be had at the Walt Disney World Resort.
With dozens of hotel properties with pools and spas, a myriad of outdoor adventures, plentiful shopping, and more fantastic restaurants than you can even imagine, you could create a weeklong itinerary that evades all the roller coasters and lines. And none (okay, almost none) of them require a theme park ticket.
1. Experience the fine dining options. We know this might blow your mind, but there are seriously hundreds of incredible dining experiences to be had in the WDW resort area. From five-diamond dining at Victoria & Alberts to exquisite African cuisine at Jiko and a full-on Parisian immersion at Monsieur Paul’s, epicureans will have a packed schedule during their visit. Check out any of our top 10 picks, and keep in mind that you can make Disney dining reservations six months in advance — so chop chop!
2. Visit luxurious spas. Want to get a massage and sit in the steam room? You’re in luck. Both Senses Grand Floridian and Senses Saratoga Springs at Walt Disney World have developed seriously loyal followings thanks to their premium services. Unplug for a few hours and let the tension melt away.
3. Run a race. Come to Walt Disney World during one of the race weekends to experience one of the best run (no pun intended) sporting events in the country. With a killer expo, premium amenities, limited edition food and drinks, and insanely positive energy that’s palpable on race day, it’ll be a bucket list race with memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Choose from races like the Walt Disney Marathon, Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, Princess 10K, or Wine and Dine 5K (each of those events has multiple distance offerings). Then, of course, go to the spa and get a massage. Because you’ll definitely be sore.
4. Stay at cool resorts with great pools. There are too many awesome resorts to list, but we’ll steer you toward some crowd favorites, that happen to be our faves as well — and they all have excellent pools (and poolside bars, wink). Stay at or visit: The Grand Floridian, Jambo House at Animal Kingdom, Caribbean Beach Resort, the Wilderness Lodge, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World, the Boardwalk/Beach Club/Yacht Club resorts (they’re all next to each other, with choice pool scenarios), the Polynesian (it has its own Dole Whip stand, so you don’t even have to hit up the park to get Dole Whip), Port Orleans, Coronado Springs, or the Swan and Dolphin hotels.
5. Try the outdoor activities. Did you know you can go camping at Disney World? It’s true. It may be the only truly dog-friendly activity at a Disney park, so there’s that for you, dog lovers! Whether you choose a tent or a cabin, you can experience archery, pony and wagon rides, fishing, boat and canoe rentals, bike rides, trail runs, and more.
Not one for camping? No sweat. You can stick to resort life and still get a taste of the great outdoors in Central Florida. From campfires and horseback riding to luxury golfing, surf lessons, and movies under the stars, there are so many unique outdoor activities at WDW.
6. Go on a charcuterie crawl. Yes, this is a thing, and yes, you need to try it immediately. Head to Disney Springs to experience some of the best charcuterie options you’ll ever find, including rare Spanish hams at Jaleo, perfectly paired cheeses at Wine Bar George, authentic Italian bites at Enzo’s Hideaway, and a double-decker, veggie-bedecked tower at Terralina.
7. Go shopping. A Lot. Disney Springs, y’all. Not only is it bursting with incredible restaurants, bars, a movie theater, an outdoor theater, a House of Blues, and an (upcoming) NBA center — but it’s got tons of shopping. From Anthropologie and Kate Spade to Sephora, Basin, Tren-D, and a massive UNIQLO, you could quite literally shop until you drop.
8. Eat all the chocolate at The Ganachery. Do us a favor, and while you’re shopping at Disney Springs, pop on over to The Ganachery and get one of their insane passion fruit chocolates and a salted caramel ganache s’more with a house-made vanilla marshmallow and soft graham cookie. Yes, we’re serious. Don’t walk. Run.
9. Dive into cocktail culture & bars. Whether you spend hours at Trader Sam’s drinking Mai Tais and punch bowls in souvenir ceramic mugs, or you try the famous Avocado Margarita at La Cava del Tequila at Epcot, meet friends for a live show at the Edison in Disney Springs, or sip some of the “magical” mixes at illusionist-themed AbracadaBAR, you’ll have plenty to do if you’re into spirits and craft cocktails.
10. Try the wine experiences. While we’re on the subject of drinking, oenophiles will find a paradisiacal respite at WDW. There are plenty of wine tasting options but we’re keeping this to our top two.
For starters, put Wine Bar George at the top of your priority list. Yes, it’s the place with the Dole Whip mimosa and froscato, but more importantly, it’s the place where you can try suuuper expensive, crazy exquisite wines by the ounce for much more affordable prices. Master Sommelier George Miliotes uses a Coravin to tap his finer varietals without uncorking them, allowing guests to try tons of new wines with significantly less financial risk. This lower barrier to entry could open you up to a new favorite bottle!
And you’ve got to taste and sip part of the largest South African wine collection in the US at Jiko, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Stop by to branch out from your usual California chardonnays and get into Africa’s viticulture.
11. Do the Monorail bar crawl. We’ll stop here before we sound like alcoholics, but don’t forget: The Monorail is like free Uber. Take it from bar to bar: California Grill Lounge, Wave, and Oasis at the Contemporary Resort; Tambu Lounge and Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian; Mizner’s Lounge at the Grand Floridian.
12. Take a class at Amorette’s Patisserie. Just when you thought we were out of activities, we pull this out of our sleeve: a cake decorating class at a patisserie. That’s right! Learn how to make gorgeous cakes with exceptional pastry chefs — and take home an entire cake. YEP. Amorette’s gives you the knowledge and sends you off with your very own mousse-filled dome cake.
13. If you’re up for ONE park, hit up Epcot. Listen, we know we said no parks, but even the most theme park averse of us have been known to have a soft spot for Epcot, the most adult-friendly of all the Disney Parks. Is this because of drinking around the world, or perhaps the international dining options? Who can say. They’ve got food and booze festivals going almost nonstop year round, a very chill atmosphere, and plenty of places to lounge around and enjoy the Florida sun. So as mentioned, if you’re going to just dip your toe in the theme park pool, do it here. And while you’re there, go to Monsieur Paul for that fine dining and La Cava for that avo marg.
(Photos via Dominique Michelle Astorino)