Planning a WDW vacation that has the perfect balance of park time and chill time is really quite difficult; there is so much to do that you will quickly find that every day is filled, with limited time to just sit back, relax and take in the moment. This is something that gets easier the more you visit, especially when you know your way around WDW so that you don’t have to rely on Park maps, but I appreciate that a trip to WDW is a pricey one, and quite often, the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ for a lot of guests. Alternatively, you may be reading this as a guest who has been to WDW a couple of times, but are looking for ideas/activities that will make your vacation a little different to the last, and hopefully you will find at least one thing that you would love to plan into your next trip here.
I wanted to share some of my favourite activities to enjoy at WDW that are outside of the Disney Parks (with the exception of one, the Fireworks Dessert Party), and I really do recommend setting aside even just one daytime and one nighttime in your vacation to relax, but certainly not miss out on all there there is to offer. The following activities have adults in mind; where possible I will mention those activities that children can also enjoy, but there will be reasons why I have suggested for adults rather than families, which I will also mention. If you are travelling with younger family members, be sure to check back soon for my recommendations of family activities to enjoy.
Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian
The Garden View Tea Room offers up the perfect setting for, in my opinion, the best afternoon tea there is; picture a beautiful tea room overlooking the grounds of the stunning Grand Floridian, the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra or a pianist playing in the lobby providing you with beautiful background music, surrounded by stunning floral displays, dine from classic rose dinnerware, pour tea from tea pots with luxurious red and gold tea cosies placed over the top, and that’s before you get to dine on the delightful afternoon tea. This makes for an occasion to maybe dress up a little more than you would for the parks, and take in the ambience that the Grand Floridian offers – it certainly makes you feel special when you are there.
Need to know: Reservations can be made between 12pm and 4pm. Although the afternoon tea can not be enjoyed using the DDP (LINK), there are a variety of options that are available to choose from, ranging from $35 to $150 per person; all options include a medley of sandwiches, scones with accompaniments, and a choice of dessert and tea. More expensive options also include a selection of cheese and fruit and an alcoholic beverage. Reservations can be tricky to get, but don’t be disheartened if you don’t see a reservation straight away; keep trying as they will likely come available nearer to your arrival date. Children are able to join you for afternoon tea, but the earlier sitting of the Princess Tea Party might be more suitable to your family.
Planning idea: secure a reservation around 2:30pm, to allow you time to have a relaxing morning by the pool. Afterwards, hop on the monorail or take a boat ride to Magic Kingdom for a magical evening – it would be rude not to get some photos in front of Cinderella Castle in your afternoon tea attire! Or if you would prefer to stay away from the parks, you could use the monorail to get to each of the Magic Kingdom resort hotels, visiting each one and maybe seeking out each hotel’s bar for a cocktail or two!
Segway tour of Fort Wilderness
If you have always wanted to have a go at riding a segway, then the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure offered at Fort Wilderness is definitely something you want to add to your WDW plans. This 2-hour segway adventure takes you on scenic routes that allow you to explore Fort Wilderness, the shores of Bay Lake, the Tri-Circle-D Ranch and even takes you up to Wilderness Lodge. Your time will include 30 minutes of instruction and practice time before you begin exploring, so that you feel confident and in control of your own segway; you will also be provided with a helmet, and an electronic earpiece. Make sure to tune into your headset during your adventure as your guide will not only inform you of your surroundings, but will likely have some fun trivia to share with you too.
Need to know: Guests must be age 16 years or older to take part in this activity. The cost is $90 plus tax per person. You may be able to select different start times throughout the day, starting from 8:30am.
Planning idea: spend some time at Fort Wilderness whilst you are there – go hire a kayak or canoe and explore the Wilderness some more. Or grab a breakfast reservation if you have a later Adventure time – Trail’s End offers a great buffet breakfast, or dine at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary before catching the boat over to Fort Wilderness.
Senses – A Disney Spa
If you and your other half enjoy a spa treatment or maybe even a spa day, then you may want to build this into your trip, and it won’t just be any Spa, but a Disney one. So expect the highest level of guest service, the most tranquil spa rooms, excellent spa facilities, and a wide selection of treatments to choose from. The spa menu, found here https://www.disneyworld.co.uk/spas/senses/, includes facials, massage and body therapies, nail treatments, and spa packages.
Need to know: You will need to book ahead, to guarantee availability on your visit. The WDW website will detail how to book spa treatments. Locations are at Saratoga Springs and Grand Floridian resorts; you will need to make your own way there. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make for a truly relaxing day. There are some treatments that are available for younger guests.
Planning Idea: if your spa access time is not until mid-morning, why not book breakfast in a restaurant at the resort you are visiting. If visiting Senses at the Grand Floridian, I definitely recommend breakfast in the Grand Floridian Cafe. Alternatively, you may want to enjoy lunch or even afternoon tea at the resort following your tranquil morning.
Located on the boardwalk at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, on the very end of the block, right opposite the dance hall, sits one of my favourite nighttime spots in the whole of WDW: Jelly Rolls. A duelling piano bar, serving up all alcoholic beverages, a selection of cocktails and even popcorn to your table. Get there early to secure a seat either in the floor area, or near the bar area. There is entertainment all night til late, with pairs of extremely talented musicians, who usually switch out every 40 minutes or so, playing your requests as well as crowd favourites and their own choices of tunes on the piano – get ready to be wowed, as they don’t have any sheet music to read from, but just their own talent and knowledge of the piano. Grab some napkins and a pen to write down your requests and place them on the pianos with your choice of tip, and wait to hear your request played. You can even grab some of your favourite sports games on the screens near the bar. Every night at Jelly Rolls makes for a different experience, depending on the requests, but be ready to just sip on your favourite beverage, sing your heart out and show your appreciation for choice of songs and the talent you will be witnessing, and maybe even a little audience participation too. Stay as long or as little as you like, but know that you’re in for an awesome time!
Need to know: There is an entry fee that varies depending on the night you visit – expect Friday evenings and weekends to be slightly more expensive. Only guests aged 21 and over are permitted to enter Jelly Rolls, so make sure you take ID – UK guests, make sure this is your passport, as it is unlikely that they will accept your UK driving license.
Planning idea: book a reservation in one of the restaurants at the BoardWalk Inn or Yacht & Beach Club for dinner beforehand. You could even dine in one of Epcot’s restaurants, watch the fireworks before heading out of World Showcase via International Gateway, located between the UK and France Pavilions; I would recommend viewing the fireworks from either of these pavilions though to allow you a quicker exit to beat the crowds who may have the same plans in mind as you. Alternatively, skip the fireworks and enjoy a more peaceful stroll along the boardwalk from Epcot before entering Jelly Rolls.
An Evening at the Polynesian
Polynesian Village has so much to offer that may take your fancy, that why not dedicate an evening to visiting the resort and immersing yourself in the Hawaiian spirit. You may want to plan each of the following activities on different nights, or take my idea a little later on and do all 3 in one night!
Trader Sam’s is split into 2 areas: the Grog Grotto, an indoor location; and the Tiki Terrace, an outdoor location overlooking the Polynesian’s marina. You will likely find that the Tiki Terrace will have little to no wait for a table, where as the Grog Grotto may have a wait of anywhere between a 0 to 100 minute wait for a table. Both areas serve up the same brilliant selection of themed cocktails, all with their own ‘backstory’, but whilst it may be tempting to skip a line and enjoy your beverage out on the Tiki Terrace, know that you will be missing out on a unique and fun experience that the Grog Grotto provides. Without giving too much away, the Grog Grotto gives you the feeling of being in a rather magical but slightly crazy shack in the middle of Hawaii, where there may be a volcano eruption or a rain storm or a nod to the good old Enchanted Tiki Room, but all depends on the drinks that are ordered whilst you are in there. You are in for a whole lot of fun in there!
Located upstairs in the Polynesian, are a selection of restaurants, and one being my absolute favourite dinner restaurant in WDW, ‘Ohana. Everyone is family in ‘Ohana, and so you will be welcomed in as cousins and guided to your table, passing the kitchen and open grill area. Get ready to be served up with a loaf of pineapple and coconut bread to begin your meal. From there, you will be served up with skillets to help yourself from, and if there’s anything you particularly enjoy, don’t be afraid to ask for more! There are vegetarian, gluten-free and other dietary requirement offerings available – be sure to let your server know when ordering drinks. Otherwise, get ready to dine on fresh salad, chicken wings and dumplings, followed by noodles, steamed veg, and freshly grilled steak, chicken and shrimp that are brought to you by your server directly from the grill. Make sure you save room for the famous ‘Ohana pineapple bread pudding to finish, served with banana-toffee sauce, and the biggest scoop of vanilla ice cream! You certainly won’t leave ‘Ohana feeling hungry, but instead content, and maybe a bit too full, having dined on the most delicious food!
You don’t need to miss out on fireworks viewing if you decide to spend an evening at the Poly, or maybe you want to see the fireworks without the busy crowds on Main Street USA… The beach area at the Polynesian provides a perfect view of the fireworks over Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, where the music is pumped in by the resort’s speaker system. Get there around 45 minutes before Happily Ever After (check the My Disney Experience for up-to-date times on the day), and you may secure yourself a seat on the beach, or if you are a little later, take a seat on the sand, and enjoy the view.
Need to know: Children are allowed on the Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace, but the Grog Grotto is for guests aged 21 and over. It is worth taking ID (passport for UK guests) as you may be asked to present ID before being seated in the Grog Grotto or when ordering cocktails at the Tiki Terrace. ‘Ohana is a popular choice of restaurant with guests, so I recommend securing a reservation; if there isn’t one available when you first look, keep looking as you will likely find that a time will come up closer to your arrival date.
Planning idea: Begin by heading to the Poly around 3:30pm: if you are staying in a resort outside of the Magic Kingdom area (or Wilderness Lodge), get the WDW Transportation System bus (or boat) to Magic Kingdom, then board the monorail or the boat to the Poly; or if staying in the Magic Kingdom area, the monorail will be the quickest route to the Poly from the Contemporary, or the boat from the Grand Floridian. Head straight to Trader Sam’s and get your name on the waiting list for Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. Explore the lobby, grounds and shop whilst waiting for your table. After Trader Sam’s, head upstairs to ‘Ohana, aiming for a reservation there around 7pm, giving you time to enjoy the ambience and beautiful dinner. Finish up your evening by heading down to the beach and grab a spot ready to watch Happily Ever After over Seven Seas Lagoon.
Fireworks Dessert Party
Fancy a view of the fireworks without somebody’s mobile phone or a child on a parent’s shoulders obstructing your view of Cinderella Castle? Would you like to watch Happily Ever After whilst enjoying a selection of desserts and beverages (hot, cold and alcoholic)? Then it is definitely worth booking the Happily Ever After Dessert Party in Magic Kingdom. I recommend viewing from Tomorrowland Terrace, but you can also view from the Plaza Gardens. You are able to gain access to the viewing area and dessert and beverage tables from 60 minutes prior to the fireworks, however I recommend getting to the check in desk 75-90 minutes prior, as this will give you longer to enjoy what is on offer, and likely your choice of table to sit at for the evening. Each party has their own table to sit at, and will likely have a table present waiting for you (a bag of M&M’s or Ghiradelli’s) for you to take with you. Feel free to help yourself to as many desserts and beverages – there are so many to choose from and to enjoy.
Need to know: Guests of all ages are able to attend the Dessert Party, but it can be a pricey experience. Prices for viewing from the Plaza Gardens are currently $47 for guests aged 3-9, and $79 for guests aged 10 and older. Prices for viewing from Tomorrowland Terrace are currently $59 for guests aged 3-9, and $99 for guests aged 10 and older. Entry to Magic Kingdom is not included in your Dessert Party ticket. If you are planning on taking advantage of the alcoholic beverages, it is worth bringing ID (passport for UK guests). There is also a Dessert Party that is offered at Epcot, that usually includes entry to ride Frozen Ever After following the fireworks, which may appeal to you if you prefer Epcot’s fireworks.
Planning idea: book your Dessert Party on the night of Extra Magic Hours in Magic Kingdom, so that you can enjoy a less-crowded park and shorter ride lines after the Dessert Party. Eat dinner earlier than normal, so that you are feeling ready for dessert when you arrive at the party so you can fill up on all of the goodies that are offered to you!
Trivia Quiz at a WDW Resort
There are several of the WDW Resort hotels that offer a trivia night; you may even be lucky and not have to travel outside of your resort to take part. Trivia nights are a perfect way to test your Disney knowledge, and be in with the chance of winning prizes including entry to an activity at that resort, such as hire of the surrey bikes or a family s’mores kit. Remember though, its the taking part that counts, so get ready for a chilled evening, sipping on your favourite beverage, and maybe enjoying some bar snacks, whilst you work together to see how much Disney knowledge you have! Resort hotels that currently offer trivia nights are as follows:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- BoardWalk Inn
- Fort Wilderness
- Grand Floridian
- Port Orleans Riverside
- Polynesian Village
Need to know: Entry is free, just make sure you arrive at least 15 minutes before quiz time to get a seat and place your bar order. Check your resort activities calendar that you are given upon arrival for times and locations at your resort. If you don’t see a trivia night as something that is offered at your resort, stop by the concierge at front desk and ask them to check on the locations and times.
Planning idea: Take advantage of all the resort you are visiting, whether it be your home resort or another, has to offer. Secure a reservation at their full-service restaurant, or eat a larger meal earlier in the day and sample what is on offer in the resort’s quick-service restaurant. If you have kid’s with you, they may be able to watch a movie under the stars at the resort, whilst you are testing your brains.
Located at the top of the Contemporary Resort, California Grill offers a signature dining experience, with a truly spectacular fireworks view over Magic Kingdom. The menu offers a wide range to suit everyone, from steak, to seafood, to Asian and sushi offerings too. Vegetarians and vegans will be sure to find several options too. Your reservation time may allow for fireworks viewing between courses, but if you re finished before the fireworks, you are able to head out onto the balcony or leave the restaurant, and then return with presentation of your receipt. The music is pumped into the audio system on the balcony, and the view even includes the projections on Cinderella Castle with no obstructions .
California Grill also has its own lounge area, where you can enjoy drinks and snacks, on a first-come, first-served basis. Stay for as little or as long as you like. This could be the perfect location for pre- or post-dinner drinks. Guests in the lounge area at the time of the fireworks are also able to view them from the external balcony.
Need to know: California Grill is an extremely popular restaurant to dine in, so it is highly recommended that you secure a reservation before visiting. If you do not see a reservation straight away, keep checking back as you will likely find something before you arrive in Orlando. There is a dress code for both the restaurant and lounge- think smart casual (i.e. no shorts) – and if you’re hoping for a night where you can get a little more dressed up, then this is the night to do it. As it is signature dining, 2 dining credits will be used per person if using the DDP.
Planning idea: Secure a reservation between 7:30pm and 8pm – this time will likely allow you to peruse the menu and then enjoy starters and main courses, before the fireworks. You can then place your dessert order before you head out for the fireworks viewing on the external balcony, and return to your table with your desserts freshly served up.
Hopefully I’ve managed to inspire you with some of my favourite activities to do around the WDW resort that you may not have known about. Whichever you choose to do, I’m sure you’re in for a magical time, as well as time to allow for a little rest and recuperation; speaking from experience, you don’t want to be returning from the best vacation feeling ill from doing too much! Even if you choose activities other that those I’ve mentioned above – even something as simple as a full day by the pool after a lie-in – your body will thank you for the little break from the busy but magical time you will have.
Have a magical day and see ya real soon!
Post courtesy of: @disneytoria