[Updated May 2016]
Like most visitors to Walt Disney World in Orlando, you’ve probably spent a lot of time planning your vacation. Your full days are booked with park-hopping, but your arrival and departure dates can leave you with awkward amounts of time to fill. This can get especially tricky if you’re tired from a flight, or feeling overwhelmed from a week of non-stop theme parks.
Many guests opt to spend these first and last days in the park, soaking up every precious minute with rides and attractions, but here are some other options:
1. Visit Disney Springs.
You don’t have to go into the parks to souvenir shop. You’ll find every item imaginable right in Disney Springs. If shopping’s not your thing, there are plenty of restaurants, a bowling alley, and even a movie theater to help you ease into or out of your trip.
2. Hit the water parks.
They may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Disney World, but the resort is home to two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. On arrival and departure days, the parks are a good way to say hello or goodbye to your Disney vacation. Grab an inner tube and take a dip in the parks’ lazy rivers or wade in the wave pools.
3. Make it a pool day.
It should come as no surprise that Disney’s hotel pools offer more than just a place to cool off. From a lazy river and a sand-bottom pool at the Yacht and Beach Clubs, to a pool with underwater music at the Art of Animation Resort, each one offers a different experience. (Note that guests can only use the pool facilities of the resort at which they’re staying, so that means no pool hopping.)
4. Take a stroll around Disney’s BoardWalk.
Disney’s BoardWalk area conjures the spirit of the early days of Coney Island. It has a number of eateries and hosts nighttime entertainment, plus a dance club and piano bar. It also surrounds part of Crescent Lake, where you can see the ferries picking up and dropping off guests at the Yacht and Beach Clubs and the BoardWalk Inn. Its close proximity to Epcot means that you can even catch some of the fireworks during Illuminations.
5. See Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba.
Most people don’t expect to find a Cirque du Soleil show at Disney World. Consider ordering tickets to see La Nouba, which is presented at Disney Springs. Calling the show a circus is an understatement; it combines theatrics and acrobatics with sophisticated lighting and music. Be prepared for some audience participation as well.
6. Book a spa treatment.
What better place to tune into some serious relaxation than at the spa? There are several hotels on property that offer spa services including the Yacht Club, Grand Floridian, Saratoga Springs, the Contemporary, Coronado Springs, Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge.
7. Take advantage of the resort’s recreation.
Even if you went to Disney World and didn’t go to the parks, you wouldn’t be at a loss for things to do. Choose from mini golf, horse-drawn carriage rides, biking, canoeing and tennis to fill your day. Currently, guests receive vouchers good for discounts on a number of recreational activities including boat rentals, water sports, and more, when booking a Magic Your Way Vacation Package directly through Disney.
8. Double check your FastPass+ and dining reservations.
If you made your FastPass+ and dining reservations months before your arrival, it’s entirely possible that your plans and preferences have changed. On arrival day, take some time to review all of your reservations and make any necessary changes. Thanks to free WiFi throughout the resort, you can make those amendments using the My Disney Experience portal or app. The hotel concierge can also help you with your reservation needs.
9. Have a character meal.
Dining with your favorite Disney characters is a fun way to get the party started or say a final farewell. The best part is, you don’t have to venture into the parks to find them. Take pictures with the namesake of Chef Mickey’s or get Goofy, Donald and Minnie’s autographs at Cape May Café. You can also dine among royalty at 1900 Park Fare.
10. Go hotel hopping.
Each of the Disney resort hotels are individually themed, meaning there’s a lot to discover. Take a self-guided tour of the properties to see what makes them so unique; the Wilderness Lodge even has a guided tour of its own. The holidays especially bring out the best in the hotels with over-the-top decorations that shouldn’t be missed.