Visit Disney World but Forget the Theme Parks

Plan your next Disney vacation without the theme parks!

Art of Animation Sign
••• Image courtesy Walt Disney Company

Just getting to Florida is expensive – airline fares and gasoline are at an all time high. So are theme park tickets — most passed the $95 mark months ago and there was recently another price hike. Add to those expenses the cost of a room so you can lay your exhausted body down each night, food to keep that body going and our thoughts turn toward choices — take a vacation or buy groceries the rest of the year.

I say take that vacation. I also say go to Disney World, but forget the theme parks. I can already hear the screams. Why stay at Disney World if you're not going to the theme parks?! My children just HAVE to see Mickey Mouse and their other favorite characters! Well, they can! Not only can they see their favorite characters, they can eat with them!

You will not be depriving your children (or yourselves) if you do not visit the theme parks. There are plenty of activities and adventures to be had on the Disney World property to make plenty of vacation memories. Stay at one on-property resort — even the value resorts — and you open yourself up to the activities and amenities at all the resorts, not to mention the perks of staying at a Disney resort. A short bus trip or boat ride takes you to the door of any of the Disney World resorts and all they have to offer. Here are some ideas — a little something for every age:

  • THEMED AMENITIES. Each resort is themed, some with larger-than-life icons. There are resorts with princess- and pirate-themed rooms and the new Art of Animation Resort and All-Star Music Resort feature themed family suites. The themes even carry over to the food courts, restaurants and merchandise in the gift shops.


  • COOL POOLS. Each resort's pool is designed to blend into the resort theme. As an example, Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts features a water recreation area with a life-size shipwreck with water slides, snorkeling in a sandy lagoon and a meandering swimming area that flows into the surrounding lake.


  • BEACHES. Florida's coastline is not the only place to find beaches. Several Disney World resorts feature white sandy lakefront beaches. Beach chairs are scattered about and you can even find a volleyball net at the Fort Wilderness Campground beach.


  • WATER PARKS. Disney's water parks do require separate admission, but are definitely worth it. Both Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon offer plenty of water play fun to fill a day!


  • CHARACTERS. If you think you can't see Disney characters unless you go to the theme parks, you're wrong. You have to eat anyway, so why not take in one of the character dining opportunities at various resort locations around the Disney property.


  • HIDDEN MICKEYS. These abstract images found nearly everywhere on Disney property — even the resort hotels — and finding them has become a passion for many guests. Join the fun... and don't forget to check the wallpaper and carpet.


  • BOATING. Boat rentals of various types and sizes are available at several resort locations. You are free to explore the waterways on Disney properties, and if you feel especially adventurous – try parasailing.


  • HORSEBACK RIDING. Fort Wilderness is the location of Circle D Ranch where horseback riding is available by the hour.


  • CARRIAGE RIDES. Fort Wilderness is where you'll find carriage or wagon rides. Reservations are required, but these can be a great romantic gesture or a fun family outing.


  • MINIATURE GOLF. Where do Santa and his elves spend the summer? They spend it playing the elf-sized 36-hole miniature golf course — Disney's Winter Summerland — located near the entrance to Blizzard Beach water park.


  • GOLF. Walt Disney World Resort has grown from a place that offers a couple afternoons of golfing fun to a world-class golf-vacation destination with five championship-caliber courses — a total of 99 holes!​


  • BIKING. Bicycle rentals are available, but if you want a unique (and fun) experience, rent a surrey bike at Disney's Boardwalk. These canopied vehicles-built-for-four are just the thing for family touring.


  • SPAS. Relax under the spell of an array of spa services at Disney's Grand Floridian Spa — from facials to water therapy, massages to body treatments.


  • FITNESS. Day or length-of-stay passes to workout facilities are available at the Grand Floridian and the Yacht & Beach Club resorts, but bring along your running shoes or your inline skates and the world is yours.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of activities available to Disney World resort guests, but add to this a wide array of dining experiences available throughout Disney World's resort area and you can have a wonderful vacation experience without ever setting foot in the theme parks.