With the potentially high prices of a vacation to Florida—including airline fares, gasoline, car rentals, and hotel costs—some Orlando tourists worry that adding on the extra cost of admission to Disney World theme parks might break the bank. Fortunately, you actually don't have to go to the parks to have a great time at Disney. Instead, stay at one of the Disney World Resorts. Even at the value resorts, your kids can see their favorite characters or even eat with them during a signature character dining experience. Plus, there are plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy and you'll have access to all other resorts at Disney World once you book your stay at one of them.
Tour the Many Different Resorts of Disney World
Each of the resorts at Disney World has a different theme—from princesses to pirates and everything in between—and when you book accommodations at one of the resorts in Disney World, you're just a short bus or boat ride away from any other resort in the area. For a great way to spend the day without adding too much cost to your trip, hop on a free boat or bus ride and explore the varying themes of the other resorts, which carry over to the food courts, restaurants, and gift shops on the properties.
Aspiring young artists will enjoy discovering the fun-themed suites at the Art of Animation Resort and All-Star Music Resort, while nature enthusiasts will enjoy getting wild at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. For adults, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort offers Spanish elegance and the Caribbean Beach Resort features tons of great drink specials and a large open pool where you can lounge and enjoy your vacation without spending too much money.
Every resort at Disney World also features its own pool, which is designed to blend into the theme of the resort. As an example, Stormalong Bay at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort has a water recreation area and a life-sized shipwreck with water slides, a sandy lagoon where you can snorkel, and a meandering swimming area that flows into the surrounding lake.
Meanwhile, the Uzima Pool at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House is one of the largest of any of the resorts and features a tropical oasis complete with animal viewing areas. Other great pools at Disney resorts include the Cozy Cone Pool and Big Blue Pool at Disney's Art of Animation, the Lava Pool at Disney's Polynesian Resort, and the Fuentes del Morro Pool at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort.
Florida's coastline is not the only place to find beaches; several Disney World resorts like the Caribbean Beach Resort and Beach and Yacht resorts have white sandy lakefront beaches as well. Beach chairs are scattered about and you can even find a volleyball net at the Fort Wilderness Campground beach. Meanwhile, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa's Beach Pool offers a 181-foot waterslide, waterfalls, and a splash pad for little kids.
You don't have to go to the theme parks for you and your kids to meet Disney's most famous characters. Many of these iconic characters frequent Disney's numerous resorts throughout the year, especially during special events. One of the best ways to meet the characters, though, is to book a reservation for one of the many character dining opportunities at various resort locations on the Disney property.
One of the best places for character dining experiences is Disney's Magic Kingdom—especially if you're traveling with a fan of the Disney princesses. Here, you can book a table at Cinderellas' Royal Table in Cinderella Castle to enjoy Fairytale Dining with this iconic character and her friends. Alternatively, book a separate buffet meal for kids with Winnie the Pooh and his pals during A Buffet With Character.
Other great places for character dining include Epcot, which offers Chip 'n' Dale's Harvest Feast and Princess Storybrook Dining; Disney's Hollywood Studios, which offers Playhouse Disney's Play 'n' Dine experience; and Disney's Animal Kingdom, where you can have a wild time with Donald Duck and friends at Tusker House Restuarant.
Go on a Scavenger Hunt for Hidden Mickeys
If you're looking for a free way to entertain your kids while you tour the various resorts at Disney World, encourage your kids to find as many of the hidden and abstract images of Mickey Mouse found nearly everywhere on the Disney properties—even at the resort hotels. Mickey's iconic ears may be hard to miss on the carpets and wallpapers of the resorts, but you'll also have to keep your eyes peeled for more abstract versions of this famous mouse.
If you're hoping to stay in shape during your Disney World vacation, several of the resorts also offer workout facilities complete with Disney-themed equipment and decorations. Passes to the workout facilities are available at the Grand Floridian and the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, and you can either purchase a one-time day pass or get one for the duration of your stay so you can work out as often as you like. Alternatively, bring your running shoes or inline skates to exercise outdoors for free while exploring the various resorts and destinations outside the park.
Boat rentals of various types and sizes are available at several resort locations. You can rent a canoe or kayak at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, but the best place to rent a private boat is at the Walt Disney World Resort marinas spread throughout the Disney properties. Pilot your own adventure as you sail along the waterways of Disney World, and if you're feeling especially adventurous, you can even try parasailing at the Seven Seas Lagoon just outside the Magic Kingdom resort.
If you're looking for another way to keep your family active during your trip to Disney World, consider renting bikes from one of the resorts so you and your kids can spend the day biking along lakefront promenades and woodland trails spread across the property. Eight rental locations are available at Disney World, including at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, Old Key West Resort, Port Orleans Resort, Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, and Disney's Wilderness Lodge. However, if you want a truly unique experience, rent a surrey bike at Disney's Boardwalk. These canopied vehicles built for four are just the thing for taking your whole family from resort to resort without the fear of getting separated from one another.
Whether you want to choose your own path on horseback or you'd rather let someone else do the driving via a horsedrawn carriage, there's plenty of equestrian fun to be had at Disney World resorts. However, the best place to try horseback riding is at the Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness.
Fort Wilderness offers horse rentals by the hour, and you can also book your own carriage and wagon rides from the ranch to any of Disney's other resorts. Reservations are required for these unique rides, but they can be a great romantic gesture for a loved one or a fun outing for your entire family if you're able to reserve your ride.
Play a Round of Miniature Golf
If you and your family want to challenge one another to a fun and friendly round of miniature golf, Disney World resorts are home to two separate courses: Disney's Fantasia Gardens and Disney's Winter Summerland.
Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course features an elf-sized 36-hole course complete with Christmas decorations—including Santa Claus himself. Located near the entrance to the Blizzard Beach water park, this unique attraction is a great way to beat the Florida heat without breaking the bank—although you'll have to pay extra to play a match against your family.
Meanwhile, Disney's Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course embraces all the colors and sounds of the iconic "Fantasia" Disney movie. Located across from the Swan and Dolphin resorts, this 18-hole course features characters like Mickey Mouse as the Magician's Apprentice as well as music from some of history's greatest composers, which are also featured in the film.
Walt Disney World Resort has grown from a place that offers a couple of afternoons of golfing fun to a world-class golf vacation destination with four championship-caliber courses and a total of 99 holes. Praised for their superlative design and impeccable service, these pristine courses offer a great way for you and your family to spend the day outdoors away from the noise and crowds of the park. Choose from Disney's Palm, Disney's Magnolia, Disney's Lake Buena Vista, and Disney's Oak Trail courses and tee off for a full day of fun. Admission to the courses is open to all, but you'll get a discount on your greens fee if you're staying at one of Disney's resorts.
If you'd rather relax during your vacation, consider booking a full day of pampering at one of the many spas and health clubs located on the Disney properties.
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort features La Vida Health Club, where you can check yourself into a salon or massage treatment, while the Mandara Spa at Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel offers a full range of spa services. However, for the best spa treatment Disney World has to offer, head to Senses, a Disney Spa and Salon at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort where you can indulge in facials, water therapy, massages, and full-body treatments.