8 Walt Disney World Experiences That Don’t Require a Park Ticket
A trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando often comes with sticker shock. A day pass starts at $109 and quickly increases from there depending on what day you want to go, if you want to park, etc. If you arrive late in the day, leave early, or only want to spend a few hours in the parks, this cost can be a very hard pill to swallow.
Luckily, there are still ways to enjoy the magic of Disney without spending the big bucks every day you’re in town.
When I visit Disney with my family, I always book hotel and park tickets separately, so I don’t pay for a full park day on my trip days. I’ve come to really enjoy those first and last days of vacation that allow me to relax and unwind or get out and explore Disney properties without feeling like I’m wasting precious time at home. inside the parks.
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With everything from a tiki bar to a safari available with no park ticket required, the suggestions below may make you want to spend an extra day at your Orlando getaway just to explore without a ticket.
Related: How much does it cost to go to Disney World?
Explore Disney Sources
Disney’s sprawling shopping and entertainment center is one of my favorite first-day vacation destinations.
I start with dinner – my son and I almost always head to the big bubbly Morimoto for the addictive sticky dumplings and ribs, then grab a gooey chocolate chip cookie from Gideon ($6), but there are dozens of fun options spanning multiple price points to choose from.
Then, well fueled, I start shopping.
Disney Springs is home to Orlando’s largest Mickey-themed gift shop, World of Disney, where you’ll often find limited editions and special collections. You can also head to Disney’s Days of Christmas for year-round shopping or The Art of Disney for high-end collectibles.
You can create personalized keepsakes at Lego with a custom minifigure of yourself or your friends and family for just $12. At the M&M store, you can create custom candies — with a custom photo, text, and colors, too — starting at $20.
For a quick pick-me-up, head to the rooftop of the Coca-Cola store, where you can recreate the “world soda” vibe of Club Cool at Epcot with an “Around the World” sampling of 15 international flavors for 16. $. You can also visit a Dole Whip kiosk in Disney Springs if you want some of this classic frozen treat on a day you’re not at the parks.
Disney Springs isn’t all about shopping and snacking. Guests can watch live performers (for free) or go bowling at Splitsville Lanes. Cirque du Soleil’s “Drawn to Life” also happens in the Disney Springs marquee, but it’s a slightly more expensive endeavor.
Disney Springs is also where you’ll find the coolest Disney attractions outside of the theme parks. One is the Aerophile, an attached hot air balloon that soars above Disney Springs and offers a birds-eye view of the area ($25 per person).
Then there are the Amphicars, vintage-style convertible cars that are also super cool boats. It costs $125 per car for a ride for three to four people, and if you eat at the New England-themed Boathouse first (which is on Disney’s list of top restaurants) and spend there $50 or more will get you a $25 credit to use on one ride.
Celebrate Mardi Gras
Hop aboard a complimentary water taxi from Disney Springs to cruise along the Sassagoula River, which begins to look like a Louisiana bayou when you reach the closest thing to New Orleans to Orlando: the Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter Resorts.
Here, the cobbled streets are filled with gas lamps, wrought-iron balconies, delicate magnolia blossoms and colorful Mardi Gras decorations. Live jazz shakes things up.
My favorite part of a visit here: Ordering donuts fresh out of the fryer and dipped in powdered sugar ($7). Tip: Hit the bar for some alcohol infused. Try some N’awlins favorites like gumbo and jambalaya for a taste of the bayou at Boatwrights Dining Hall.
For an additional fee, you can also take a horse-drawn carriage ride ($55 for four adults or two adults and three children) along the river for a true bayou experience.
Enjoy an African safari
The incredible African theme Animal Kingdom Lodge is more than just a place to stay, it’s a truly immersive adventure. I’ve stayed here in the past, but even when I’m not invited I often come to hang out and enjoy the atmosphere and theme.
Even without booking a room, you can see wildlife and experience the African savannah for free by simply walking through the lobby and heading to the lush, landscaped outdoor area behind the hotel.
This savannah area is home to 30 species of wildlife, including tree-chomping giraffes, ostriches and zebras. Animal experts are on hand to answer any questions, and there’s a program of cultural programs — including drumming and storytelling — that take place in the booming lobby.
If you’re visiting in the evening, hire a pair of night vision binoculars to spot the nocturnal animals (note that binoculars aren’t always available, but when they are you’ll often find them by the pool) then take a seat around outdoor bonfire. Sometimes Disney also has evening game drives offered that depart from Animal Kingdom Lodge for a fee.
While you’re here, don’t miss another of our favorite restaurants at Disney World, Boma – Flavors of Africa, a massive buffet filled with authentic flavors from the African continent ranging from Moroccan couscous to South African bobotie (a version of shepherd’s pie ). The South African wine list is also worth exploring.
Related: How to Use Points to Buy Disney Tickets
Play Mickey’s Mini Golf
There’s good news for Disney fans looking for the unique theme of the park without paying a park fee: the two miniature golf courses located at Walt Disney World have mega Disney style but prices as small as their greens.
For only $14 per adult and $12 per child aged 3 to 9 (plus tax), you can play 18 holes of themed putt-putt at Winter Summerland, where you will find two courses: a “winter” one with glittering faux snow and a Christmas theme – and a “summer” with bright pops of color. Plus, Fantasia Gardens celebrates the animated classic Fantasia with all sorts of over-the-top holes that sport everything from giant horns you put in to foliage shaped into mystical creatures.
Bonus: You can easily reach the mini-golf courses from the Reserve of swans, dolphins and swans.
Related: My Money-Saving Experience Renting DVC Points
Dine with Mickey and all his friends
Want to have lunch with Mickey or dine with a princess? Some of the best Disney character dining experiences I’ve had are actually at Disney properties outside of the theme parks.
Find the big-eared star every morning at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary hotel alongside its pals Pluto, Goofy and Donald – one of my favorite ways to start the day.
At Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Lilo and Stitch are once again welcoming breakfast guests starting September 27.
You can also have breakfast in grand style with Goofy and his pals at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort on Thursday and Saturday mornings. Dress in your Disney finest for breakfast on Topolino’s Terrace at the Riviera Resort with special guests Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy.
For another interesting character meal outside of the parks, the Evil Queen is a fan favorite at the very unique Character Meal held at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
Go wild, wild western
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge transports you to Yellowstone National Park, with an outdoor reproduction of Old Faithful that shoots water 120 feet into the air (watch the free half-hour show from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ).
After visiting the Lodge, return to the nearby Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, where nearly 800 acres of sprawling pines and oaks create a cool respite from the Florida heat.
You can ride the walking trails for free to spot wildlife such as deer, ducks, armadillos, and rabbits, or saddle up at the stables to hike the course (45 minutes for $55). For a truly special and inexpensive outing, paddle a canoe or kayak for less than $10 per person. There are also pony rides for younger kids for just $8 each at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch in Fort Wilderness, where you can also visit parade horses and pull vehicles down Main Street.
For a western-themed night, head to the recently returned Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, a Disney classic where chuck wagon chow (think: ribs in a bucket) is accompanied by plenty of entertainment. old-fashioned such as vaudeville, singing and dancing.
Take a walk on the boardwalk
Disney’s Boardwalk Resort sits on a replica of a turn-of-the-century boardwalk, with bike and surrey (yes, with the fringe up) rentals for families ($20), decadent snacks on the boardwalk, and even a dance hall to add to the classic 1920s Atlantic City atmosphere. You’ll also occasionally find live outdoor music outside along the boardwalk.
Follow the walkway and you’ll come to the back entrance of Epcot where you can hop on a gondola for a ride Disney’s Skyliner for a fun, free view of the park.
Watch the fireworks and dazzling lights
Each evening, a dazzling fireworks display takes place in The Magic Kingdom and a parade of glittering boats floats on the waters around Disney’s Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts.
You don’t need to enter The Magic Kingdom or pay a penny to watch the show. In fact, you can only spot the electric water contest from the beaches outside the three resorts, and the fireworks can also be easily seen from these areas.
My favorite vantage point is Polynesian’s soft sand beach amid palm trees and tiki torches. Order a favorite pineapple whip at the Pineapple Lanai booth for a sweet treat while you watch the show.
While you’re there, you may even catch a glimpse of an outdoor movie in progress, which is common at many Disney resorts around sunset.
Bonus for adults: Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar, tucked away on the first floor, has Orlando’s best tropical drinks, especially the Dark and Tropical Stormy ($14), which comes with a free light show. Children are also welcome before 8 p.m.