Theme parks will always be the big draw in the Orlando area, but what do you do when you’re ready for a break from the hustle-bustle but don’t want to sacrifice a day’s fun? Plenty, if you know where to look.
Many visitors never set foot outside the four main theme parks or two water parks, but there is a World of entertainment to be had without leaving Disney property. When you consider Walt Disney World covers a massive 30,000 acres (47 square miles) you just know there has to be more. And we’re here to tell you where to find it.
With that in mind, if you are looking for something to do on your arrival or departure day but don’t want to use a day on your park pass, or if you just want a change of pace after all the hectic touring in the parks, here are our Top Ten Disney Secrets that will ‘keep you in the magic’ and give you a whole new view of the World.
1. Resort Hopping
- For other guests, RESORT HOPPING is a family tradition, providing a taste of Disney’s incredible diversity in accommodation, from the luxurious Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa to the whimsical, larger-than-life All Star Resorts and Pop Century. Want to take a mini-trip to the South Seas? Visit Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Hankering for a taste of America’s quaint East Coast? You’ll find it at Saratoga Springs. Two of our favourites for a meal and a leisurely wander are the spectacular Animal Kingdom Lodge (safari in the wilds of Africa, anyone?) and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, where the grandeur of America’s National Parks is recreated with a rustic luxury we find thoroughly convincing.
2. Resort Tours and Visits for Guests and Non-guests
- Many guests do not realise they can visit the Disney resorts even if they are not staying at one.Intrigued by what you see at the various resorts? Why not try a free RESORT TOUR? Wilderness Lodge hosts a 1-hour ‘Wonders of the Lodge’ tour, a free architectural/historical/artifacts tour each Wednesday-Saturday at 9am. Native Arts buffs won’t want to miss Animal Kingdom Lodge’s African Art Tour, offered at 3:30pm daily. Stay on for the evening (reserve a meal at Boma or Jiko for a real taste of Africa), then head out to the courtyard in front of the Savannah for evening storytelling around the campfire. Wilderness Lodge, Grand Floridian, and the Yacht Club also offer free tours. Some tours are only open to onsite guests.
3. Water Sports
- Do you have an adventurous streak? If so, strap into your PARASAILING safety harness and head straight up (450-600 feet above Seven Seas Lagoon, to be exact) for a heart-pounding view of the Magic Kingdom and surrounding area. Sammy Duvall’s Water Sports Centre offers single and tandem rides and you don’t even have to get your feet wet. Launch from the boat dock for an exhilarating flight and a birds-eye view second to none. Reservations can be made at the Contemporary Resort marina dock. Water-skiing, jet-skiing, wakeboarding and tubing excursions are also available.
4. High Tea at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
- Luxurious decadence in relaxed, intimate surroundings are on the menu when you book up for HIGH TEA at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Timeless and elegant, it is certainly not ‘for women only’. While the ladies will appreciate light, lovely fare appropriate to a traditional tea (with all the silver service trimmings), gentlemen are equally well catered for, with slightly heartier fare such as duck and cherry terrine, chicken and pork roulade and country pate en croute. Children are not forgotten; Mrs. Potts Tea is a sure hit with the younger set. The Garden View Lounge provides the proper atmosphere for a leisurely break that feels a million miles away from the hurry and hustle of the parks, but just that little bit closer to home.
5. Fort Wilderness
- FORT WILDERNESS rustles up a Wild West experience that can easily fill a full afternoon. Youngsters delight in the petting zoo and pony rides while older children (10 and up) and adults can sign up for a full guided horseback trail ride, departing out of the Trail Blaze Corral (reservations necessary; call 407-WDW-TOUR). For a more high-tech option, try the Segway Tour. Tri-Circle-D Ranch is also the home to the draft horses that pull the Main Street Trolleys in Magic Kingdom, where guests can come meet these magnificent animals while asking questions of the resident blacksmiths and care takers. Then, everyone can enjoy a hearty lunch or dinner buffet with all the fixin’s at the western-themed (and reasonably priced) Trail’s End Buffet.
6. Fort Wilderness - Campfire Programme
- Hankering to remain in Fort Wilderness for the evening? Guests staying at any Walt Disney World resort are welcome to enjoy one of the most charming and decidedly American summer-evening pastimes at the Fort Wilderness CAMPFIRE PROGRAM. Chip and Dale host the nightly festivities (weather permitting) with rousing sing-alongs, marshmallow and hot dog roasts over the campfire (food available for a fee, or bring your own), and the chance to build your own S’mores*, the delightfully sticky-sweet childhood treat consisting of a section of chocolate bar, all melty-warm when pressed together with a roasted marshmallow, sandwiched between two graham crackers (similar to thin digestive biscuits). Cartoons and Disney movies round out the evening and if you time it right you can stroll down to the beach and watch the twinkling Electrical Water Pageant, showing at 9:45pm on the Seven Seas Lagoon. (*Why do they call ‘em S’mores? Because once you try the first one, you’ll be asking, ‘Can I have s’more?’)
7. Boardwalk Resort
- A bit more ‘civilised’ experience can be found at Disney’s BOARDWALK RESORT. Themed after a turn-of-the-century American boardwalk (similar to a British pier, with games, food and fun), the Boardwalk resort is quiet during the day but becomes a vibrant entertainment venue each night. Carnival games, Surrey Bikes for hire (big enough to seat 4, plus two small children!), live music, outdoor movies on weekends, jugglers, comedians and more make for a lively atmosphere, active enough for families but also perfect for a late-night romantic stroll around Crescent Lake. Arrive shortly before 9pm and you might see some of Epcot’s nightly IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth laser and fireworks show from the bridge between Epcot and the Yacht and Beach Club.
8. IllumiNations Cruises
- Guests wanting an exclusive, up-close view of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth can book one of the popular ILLUMINATIONS CRUISES, with 10 passenger pontoon boats departing from Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Marina, for a ‘private’ viewing of the nightly spectacular at Epcot. Magic Kingdom’s night time fireworks can be viewed from Bay Lake on board a 10 passenger pontoon boat for the WISHES CRUISE. Or, reserve the luxury experience by booking The Breathless, a reproduction 1930s ChrisCraft Runabout, accommodating up to 7 guests. Call 90 days in advance on 407-939-7529. Reservations are necessary.
9. Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba
- Awe-inspiring doesn’t begin to describe it. Add dazzling, heart-wrenching, astonishing and an assortment of other mind-boggled adjectives and you start to approach a description of CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S La Nouba at Downtown Disney West Side. It is an unforgettable evening of physical comedy, theatre, acrobatics, circus-style acts, accompanied by live music and vocals, with a soul-stirring beauty that leaves you breathless and wanting more. The physical feats alone transport you from disbelief to believe in the wonderment of the human body’s ability to transcend physics as we know it. Shown twice-daily (Tues-Sat, 6pm and 9pm), the 90 minute show books up well in advance. Call 407-939-7600 for ticket availability. Even easier? Book online here
10. Fantasia Gardens and Fantasia Fairways
- Tucked quietly into the scenery near the entrance road to Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resorts is Disney’s best mini-golf course, near FANTASIA GARDENS and FANTASIA FAIRWAYS. Most people know about the Gardens course, but many are not aware there is a larger, more difficult putting course, Fantasia Fairways, which wraps around Fantasia Gardens. The Fairways are a more a traditional 18 hole course, but on a ‘mini’ scale. Its various water hazards, sand traps and challenging fairways make this a far more complicated course than your average mini-golf offering, which also means it’s more fun for families who spend a lot of time on the greens and are looking for a trickier (and longer lasting) adventure. Naturally, the landscaping is superb, but it does lack the theming from the movie, Fantasia, which we think is a welcome relief from singing chipmunks, pixie dust, and fantasy overdose when you’re ready for a ‘day away from it all’.
Whether you start your holiday with one of our Top Ten, take a ‘break day’ mid-stream, or want to spend your last morning doing something new and exciting, adding a special event or two from our list might create a new family tradition, is sure to create some wonderful memories, and could just lead to a little extra magic in the most unexpected ways.