Resort Hopping at Disney World
You might think that Disney World is all about the theme parks, but the magic extends into the Resort hotels too. And whether you are staying in a Disney Resort, or even off property you are welcome to visit any of the other Resorts during your stay.
There is so much to do that a few years back we took the kids for two weeks and didn’t actually set foot in a theme park (gasp!)
You don’t have to spend that long exploring though. Resort hopping is the perfect activity for arrival or departure day, when you don’t want to “waste” a park ticket. Or for those all important rest days when you should take a break from the parks.
The resort hotels are also a perfect escape from the parks during the day. If you’re at the Magic Kingdom for example you’re just a Monorail stop away from the Grand Floridian where you can rest your weary legs in the cool air conditioning and listen to the orchestra in the lobby or see if you can spot a bride on the way to the Wedding Chapel!
Keep reading to discover some of the hidden gems you can experience without a theme park ticket!
The Rules of Resort Hopping
There are of course some rules you need to abide by when hopping around the resorts.
You are welcome to:
- Explore – Take a walk around the lobby area or outside in the grounds and just take in the amazing details and views
- Take part in activities – Read on to find out more about the different activities on offer at the Resorts. Many are free while some are paid for activities.
- Shop – Check out the gift shops where they sell items themed to the resort.
- Eat – The restaurants in the Disney World resort hotels are home to some world renowned chefs so be sure to check out the menus and make reservations in advance of your trip. You can also just drop into the Quick Service restaurants on the day.
You are not allowed to:
- Swim – Disney has a strict policy that only guests staying at the Resort are able to swim in the pool. If you break the rule you risk being escorted off property! The only people allowed to pool hop are DVC members, but be sure to check the latest information as even then some pools are out of bounds.
How to Hop Around the Resorts
You can use the free Disney World busses to get to any of the Resort hotels. If you’re staying at Disney World then board a bus at your hotel. If you’re staying outside then drive to Disney Springs and you can board a bus there.
You can also ride the Monorail to tour the Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian resorts. Since riding the monorail is an experience itself be sure to take the line to the Transportation and Ticket Centre so you can ride the monorail all the way to Epcot and back.
You can also drive yourself to any of the Resorts. Be sure to have some ID handy and just tell the guard on the gate that you have come to look around or have a bite to eat.
Now let’s take a look at some of the things you might want to experience as you Resort Hop!
Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
If you have horse lovers in your party be sure to visit the Tai-Circle-D Ranch which is home to the 88 horses that work at the Magic Kingdom. You can visit the horses in their stables (free) and even go for a short pony ride ($$).
For a relaxing experience take the Resort boat to Wilderness Lodge and back again (free).
In the evening you can take a horse-drawn wagon ride for a scenic tour of the campground that lasts around 45 minutes. You might even be able to experience the Magic Kingdom fireworks. ($$)
Or why not join Chip and Dale for a sing along campfire and movie. If you don’t want to pay for a Smore’s Kit you can bring your own marshmallows! (free).
Take the weight off your tired feet and rest awhile in a rocking chair in front of the amazing 82 foot tall fireplace in the lobby. There are nearly 100 colours of rock and if you look closely you might see some fossilised animals and plants in the stone (free).
Outside the hotel the Old Faithful Geyser erupts hourly all day long and is fun to watch (free).
For a fun treasure hunt you can pick up a Find the Hidden Mickeys list from the concierge desk (free).
If you are travelling with steam train lovers be sure to head over to the Villas building where you will find the Carolwood Pacific Room which is a mini museum filled with art and photographs from Walt’s hobby. You’ll also be able to see two of the train cars from Walt’s own backyard railroad!
Port Orleans Riverside
The dock at Port Orleans is just one of the places you can take a guided fishing excursion from. This catch-and-release bass fishing experience is fun for guests of all ages, even if you’ve never fished before ($$)!
In the evening head over the River Roost Lounge to see YeHaa Bob Jackson rocking the house with his wacky piano (free)!
For a relaxing experience head down to the Marina to hire a pontoon, pick up some lunch from the Sand Bar and sail around the Seven Seas Lagoon for an hour ($$).
If you are actually staying at the Resort you can take a complimentary Gentle Yoga class right under the Skyway Bridge on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7.30am (free).
If you’re looking for some evening entertainment either for a date night or some family time with the kids it’s a good idea to head over to the Boardwalk.
You can catch the Boardwalk Busters from 6.30 to 10.30 with their fun and wacky antics right there on the boardwalk.
Or if you are ice cream lovers why not take the Kitchen Sink challenge at Beaches & Cream ($$).
Or sit outside the Ample Hills Creamery with an “Ice Cream Flight” ($$) at around 9pm and you can catch some of the Illuminations fireworks (free).
As long as your party members are all 21 or over you might want to check out the duelling pianos at Jellyrolls ($$).
Or you could burn off all those ice cream calories by renting a surrey bike and pedalling the circular path from the Boardwalk, past the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and back to the Boardwalk again.
Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Head to the lobby at about 3pm and you can listen to a wonderful pianist playing enchanting melodies on this magnificent grand piano (free).
The entertainment continues into the evening as the pianist switches places with a genteel orchestra who play a range of Dixie, ragtime, traditional jazz and popular Disney tunes (free).
While you’re in the lobby look up and around and marvel at the chandeliers and stained glass skylights. The Grand Floridian resort is truly beautiful, it is Disney World’s flagship resort for a reason you know (free)!
Oh and of course if you are travelling in the Holiday season you will not want to miss the amazing life-sized gingerbread house that they build in the Grand Lobby (free)!
If you’ve always want to learn to Hula dance head to the back of the lobby on a Saturday morning for a free class (free).
If you and your family love hunting for Hidden Mickeys ask at the front desk for clues to the self-guided Hidden Mickey hunt.
In the evening you can wander along the tiki torch lit path behind the hotel and you should get a lovely view of the Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After fireworks display across the lagoon (free).
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Visit the savannah overlooks and watch the animals by day or night (9-11pm with night vision goggles). There are usually guides there pointing out the animals who love to answer your questions.
There are lots of different cultural programmes on offer at the Lodge throughout the day and these include wine tasting at Jiko on a Wednesday ($$) or a culinary tour which takes place daily at Boma/Jiko (free).
Formerly known as Downtown Disney this shopping and entertainment area has a new name (Disney Springs) and a whole new look. You can take a wander around the shops, experience the restaurants, go bowling or take in the free entertainment. You’ll want to visit in the day and the evening as the experience changes throughout the day.
Here is the link you need for the upcoming week’s Disney Springs Entertainment Schedule.
And here are some of the highlights you won’t want to miss:
Little Lego fans can have fun at the play tables outside the Lego store, the exit nearest the World of Disney usually has an area set up where they can build race cars and then see whose is the fastest (free).
The stage outside World of Disney has live entertainment most evenings (free).
Or you can often see a band performing on the front porch of the Raglan Road or House of Blues restaurants (free).
Take a boat ride from Disney Springs over to Saratoga Springs Resort, Old Key West, Port Orleans French Quarter or Port Orleans Riverside (free).
To cool off on a hot day let your kids play in the Splash Zones. There’s one near the back entrance to Disney’s Days of Christmas, and another larger one in between Earl of Sandwich and Once Upon a Toy. Just be sure to bring a towel and a change of clothing! (free)
If you have Star Wars fans in your party be sure to make reservations at the Void ($$)
Disney World has two miniature adventure golf experiences, each with two 18 hole courses to choose from. ($$)
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf can be found just opposite the Swan Hotel. Again there are two courses here and a separate fee is payable for each (UK guests with 14 day or 21 day tickets play for free).
Be careful when choosing your course though, because they are very different.
There is a miniature golf course that is aimed at families. It’s wonderfully themed based the Fantasia movie with dancing hippos and musical surprises. Just beware those cheeky broomsticks with their water buckets on the last hole!
The fairways course is a whole different ball game (pardon the pun!) because it’s a traditional golf course built on a miniature scale. There is no magical theming, but rather sand traps, water hazards and bunkers to make it a game of skill rather than luck. If you enjoy playing golf then you will likely enjoy this course, if you have children with you (or like me are hopeless at playing golf on grass) then you’ll want to give this one a miss!
Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
Winter Summerland is right next to Blizzard Beach and legend has it that Santa spotted snow in Florida one Christmas Eve and decided to build a vacation spot for his elves. There are two 18-hole courses to choose from here, the Summer course is all surfboards and sandcastles while the Winter course has a melting ice castle, giant peppermints and snow! There is a separate fee for each course, but you get a discount if you play both. If you’re travelling from the UK on a 14 day or 21 day park ticket you get to play for free!
Disney Wilderness Preserve
If you want to experience the great outdoors then take a visit to the Disney Wilderness Preserve. You’ll need a car to get to the reserve as it’s located in nearby Kissimmee and be sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes if you want to take the 2.5 mile hike (donations).