When you think of Disney as a whole, it’s easy for your mind to run straight to the parks. A simple song we hear on the radio, a faint smell we catch a whiff of in a store, or even a simple Disney TV commercial can take you away from daily life and take you back to a fond vacation memory. It’s a phenomenon that is hard to explain but vastly influential in many of our lives.
If you haven’t been to the parks, I’m almost positive we sound crazy right about now, but we don’t work for Disney (even though I wish I could write for them some day!) and only share our honest experiences in the parks and beyond. Today, we’re taking another look at some of the simpler elements of a Disney vacation that have largely become traditions for our family over the years. Chances are these won’t be what everyone tells you to experience on your first Disney vacation, and a few of them may be things you’ve never even thought about looking into, but nonetheless they’ve held a special place in our travels for years on end.
Before we dive into it, I should first share that we don’t necessarily travel in a “typical manner.” We move around a lot during our Disney vacations, jump from parks to park, and even from resort to resort. It’s part of what we do and what we enjoy, but honestly it’s not a strategy that works for everyone. However, if you want to check out how we do Disney in depth, be sure to check our Our Typical Disney World 7 Day Itinerary, Our Tried and True “Epcot in a Day” Touring Plan, or even our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! Not only do they share some of our top tips but they’ll also give you an idea of our style of travel. We enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon at the pool, but also like to get adventurous and attempt some of the less typical offerings of Disney property, which we’re sharing today!
After years of touring the parks, we like to take a step beyond their gates for even just a brief part of the day to explore a little more in depth what there is to offer. Like many of you, we’ve spent years riding the attractions and still do today, but what you may give up in riding Small World for the 100th time, you may uncover an entirely new aspect of the Disney experience you never knew about. There’s so much to see that you’ll never experience it all but if you’re like me you search to uncover one more piece of the magic each and every time you visit.
Playing Miniature Golf
Over our last 4 or so visits to Disney World, this seemingly simple activity has become a staple for our vacations. To be quite honest with you, I never thought I’d put miniature golf on a “must-do” list of any type but it really is that enjoyable if you take the time to venture over to Fantasia gardens to play a quick round.
When we first started this traditions, we only did so because we had free passes that came with our package. To our surprise, we loved it and took the whole family back the next trip down and have payed out of pocket to play on more that one occasion. One of the courses is heavily themed, but the other offers a unique challenge that represents an iteration of full scale golf on a scaled down platform. For example, any given whole may offer a sand trap, water hazard, elevation changes, or even require strategic shot placement to make it out with a par for the hole. It’s by far the toughest miniature golf course I’ve ever played and offers a unique challenge.
Many of you may pass on the opportunity or assume you can’t get there to enjoy the activity without a rental car or other type of transportation, but there’s one simple tip that can get you past that barrier. If you’re at any of the four parks, utilize the free Dinsey transportation to one of three resorts: The Swan and Dolphin (the shortest walk), The Boardwalk (the most picturesque walk), or Yacht and Beach Club. Once you arrive at any of the three resorts walk towards the common area of the Swan and Dolphin which sits between the two buildings, and continue walking towards the main pool of the property which sits on the back side of the small pond (the walkway will lead right towards the main grotto style pool). Right before you get to the pool area, there will be a single path leading off to your left. Follow that path and it will lead straight to the entrance of Fantasia Gardens. In words, it sounds like a long walk but from the main lobby of the Swan, it takes less that 10 minutes to make the journey on foot.
Playing Real Golf
This tip may not be for everyone but if you’ve ever given thought to picking up a set of clubs and stepping into the realm of golf, there’s no better place to start that at Disney. The full scale courses are incredibly difficult, but each of the courses offer teaching programs, and driving ranges open to the public year round. Take your first golf lesson or simply step out onto the driving range at the Lake Buena Vista Course (attached to Saratoga Springs) and experience a unique take on the driving range concept. The range, which many expected to be a long narrow field, is designed to incorporate a water element and utilizes a large target to challenge guests while creating an element of both frustration and entertainment as you challenge the guests in your group to a closest to the pin challenge.
The simple joys of the game get really overlooked by many, but can oftentimes provide that one thing that convinces a non-disney fan to embark on a Disney vacation. They may even surprise you and become a Disney fan in the end as a result of the impressive course conditions and creative layouts.
Going to Get Soft Serve at the Dolphin
Another tradition of ours, which typically accompanies a night of miniature golf, is soft serve ice cream from The Fountain. The Fountain isn’t Disney owned or operated but lies just inside the doors of the Dolphin hotel. They don’t just offer soft serve and actually offer a variety of excellent hand dipped ice cream as well, but the soft serve is the show stopper. I know I’ve mentioned it here on the site before but the rich flavor and thick consistency of the treat here can never be matched. It’s impressive in a surprising way, because at it’s most basic principle, it is just soft serve ice cream. If you don’t believe me, go try it for yourself and let me know what you think (I recommend the chocolate/vanilla twist in a waffle cone and a seat by the main pool a short walk away! It’s the perfect end to a night at Disney.)
Pro tip: If you’re already at Epcot, don’t worry about catching a bus. Head to the back of the World Showcase and exit through the International Gateway between France and the United Kingdom. If you’re not up for the walk around the lagoon by the Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach club over to the Dolphin. Hop on a boat just outside the exit and make two stops before arriving at your destination about 15 minutes later leaving a short 2 minute walk to The Fountain walk up ice cream window. If you want to catch a meal too, they do offer a sit down location, where you can order food and ice cream all from your table. The burgers are quite excellent and reservations are not required.
Driving out to Character Warehouse
Unfortunately for this tip you will need a car or an Uber or other form of transportation, but sometimes it’s well worth the hassle. Typically I’m not a fan of leaving the “Disney bubble” (unless you’re headed to Discovery Cove), but this is one of the rare exceptions. The Character Warehouse is something we stumbled into by accident many years ago but has grown to reach a higher level of media attention over the last few years. The shopping location is a part of the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets which sit about 5 minutes away (driving) from Disney Springs’ main entrance. The outlet mall itself is in no way associated with Disney, but one particular store sells a vast variety of essentially overstock Disney Parks and Cruise Line merchandise. We’re not talking about the boot-leg cheap t-shirts found on parts of International Drive, but rather legitimate parks merchandise at deeply discounted prices.
If you have a car and about 2 hours of free time, head over to the outlets and take a quick look. The rest of the mall is quite nice as well, but remains incredibly crowded most of the year.
Catching a Late Night Snack at Goofy’s Candy Company
At any point during a Disney vacation, we’ve been known to leave a park or our resort and head someplace for a late night dessert or snack. Time after time, we’ve found ourselves going to Goofy’s Candy Company for one particularly experience, the create your own option. Tucked away in the back corner of the store, this particular offering allows guests to create the snack of their dreams. At one point, the sky was the limit for the amount of toppings you could add to the famous Mickey rice crispy treats, pretzel sticks, and marshmallows but now the offerings have changed slightly and the toppings can still be piled on but a select few will cost you. Nonetheless, the resulting treat is a masterpiece unrelieved by the depths of your imagination.
There’s an unexpected joy to it all and when you’re finished building your dessert, you can step outside and grab a table (after looking for a few minutes to find one) by the lake and take in the sunset or shimmering lights of Disney Springs reflecting off of the water. It’s the definition of a simple joy and relaxing element of the Disney experience but one that never fails to create smiles and memories that will last a lifetime.
You see, for us a vacation isn’t always about what the parks hold, but the opportunities elsewhere on Disney property. On your next trip, consider taking that leap of faith and spending some time outside of the parks. You may be surprised at what you uncover and on a grander scale, you may be shocked at the additional memories you get to take away from the new experiences. Until next time, enjoy the magic and we’ll talk with you all again soon! Thanks for reading and have a great rest of the day!
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A few short years ago, I was sitting in a college apartment trying to figure out what was "next" and came up with this idea to share my accumulated knowledge of the Disney Parks and Resorts with others. The end goal was to help others make the most of their Disney experience and it's been quite the journey!