by: guide4wdw – Collin
Our Ideal 4 Day “No Parks” Disney World Itinerary
Every once in a while, you get the chance to take a vacation that is a bit different that your typical Walt Disney World vacation. Quite a few years ago, we took the time to step away from the parks for a few days in order to intentionally and fully embrace all that Disney has to offer beyond the parks. Honestly, it ended up being one of the most memorable trips we’ve ever taken and it ended up that way for one main reason: There was zero stress!
I know that sounds cheesy and a bit unconventional, because in all honesty it is. It seems counter productive to take a vacation if it’s going to be stressful. However, when it comes right down to it there’s a certain level of stress involved in the planning stages of a Disney World trip. To an extent, the feeling is inevitable, but at the same time vastly rewarding in a majority of circumstances. I love planning trips and wouldn’t have a site to share with you all if I didn’t truly enjoy the process and everything a Disney World vacation involves. For me, this isn’t about making money, or trying get “noticed” but rather to meet new people and share new friendship with the people I meet along the way. I do it to help as many guests as I possibly can and no view count or other factor will change that. I mention that for one main reason. I do not work for Disney and as a result get to share a few recommendations that aren’t based on selling tickets or accommodations or anything in that realm. Simply put, it’s my opinion here and an effort not to sell anything but rather to share something that may change a portion of the way you experience the magic.
Don’t get me wrong, I highly suggest touring the parks if you haven’t done it before but if you’re looking for something a bit different to try during your trip, here’s a closer look at what I recommend. If you still want to visit the parks in addition to these things, it would be an excellent way to to get a touch of both experiences along the way. Truth be told, even our non-parks focused trips we’ll typically make it to the parks a few days of our stay and even plan to do just that on a summer trip we’re looking into this year.
So, if you’re looking for something a bit less stressful or a touch more relaxing that the fast paced action of many Disney trips, I invite you to take a look at what we recommend for 4 days at Walt Disney World without stepping into the parks. It’s a bit out of the the ordinary to think about but can be one of the more unique experiences you’ll embark upon in the realm of Disney. The cool part about this itinerary is that you can literally mix and match or “plug and play” your days in to any specific date you so desire! There’s no perfect order and there’s no “best way” to do this, but rather something to mold and manipulate to your ideal situation.
One thing to note before jumping into the details is that I recommend you stay on property to try this. It makes transportation a bit easier and our plan is heavily weighted towards resort touring so it may prove beneficial to have Disney transportation available to move from one resort to the next. It sounds a bit counter intuitive but if you can jump on a bus to a park of your choice, arrive at the bus stop of that park without entering the park, and take a bus to another resort, you can get just about anywhere on property free of charge. The main thing is to make sure you return to your resort before the buses stop running at the end of the night in order arrive back at your resort without having to hire a Minnie Van, Uber or something similar.
If I’m planning a Disney Trip outside of the parks, one thing comes to mind automatically, FOOD! Disney World is one of the top dining destinations in the United States. There’s more restaurants per square mile on property that just that just about any city in the country.
To start out your first day, I’d do one main thing to kick off the vacation. Head to Disney Springs for a quick meal over at Homecomin’ Kitchen or your top pick for dining in the area and enjoy a day of shopping and dining! If shopping isn’t your thing, make your way to the Aerophile (Formerly Characters in Flight) to take flight in a tethered hot air ballon for some of the most picturesque views of Disney property available to guests of all ages. If you’re like me and don’t do well with heights, you may want to sit this one out…
For those of us who are “vertically challenged” for lack of a better word, a few steps away you’ll find Sprinkles cupcakes, the Ganachery, and even the Boathouse were you can sit back and enjoy a quick snack or even a meal while the rest of your party enjoys the Springs from above. For the Boathouse in particular, avoid the wait times for the main restaurant and make your way out to the waterside dock bar area for access to the menu without having to wait for a table in the main restaurant itself. The view is spectacular out on the water and shaded for those warm summer nights with a cool breeze trickling in as the sun sets over the lake.
After your gradual start and likely active day on your feet, start day two off with a breakfast at one of the various resort hotels. As always, I highly recommend a few options. First would be Whispering Canyon and the breakfast canyon skillet. The food is unlimited and family style and really is one of the most entertaining breakfast you can have on property that still remains a hidden gem of Walt Disney World. Another great offering is Ohana over at the Polynesian resort, or even Chef Mickey at the Contemporary. Chef Mickey isn’t quite as high ranking on my list because the food quality isn’t quite as comparable to the others mentioned but the resort itself is a great place to start the day exploring the grounds and catching a few picturesque views of Magic Kingdom from the iconic Grand Concourse balcony.
After the meal, I highly recommend heading down to the boat dock. It’s easy to find and if you head out the back of the resort and head all the way out towards the lake. The transport ferry boats are free to use and will take you to the Contemporary (if you’re not there already), Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, and even Magic Kingdom. With one quick boat change you can also reach the Polynesian and Grand Floridian without ever entering the park.
If you’ve not done it before, heading to each of these resorts can be an eye opening experience of all that Disney has to offer. Every resort holds little hidden gems and theming elements that separates them from all other resorts on property and even all other resorts you’ve ever traveled to. Each location has it’s own unique themed gift shops and merchandise and you may even get the chance to stop for a snack. If you head to the Polynesian you can even grab an iconic Dole Whip without ever leaving the resort.
As always, don’t be afraid to visit resorts even if you’re not staying in them. Disney gladly welcomes and encourages non-resort guest visitors. They know better that anyone that once you see these resorts you’ll want to stay in them one day or return for another meal at one of their many restaurants in the future.
If you’re carful about how you plan your day, you can really spend an entire day strolling around, enjoying the views, and shopping your day away at these resorts. As day turns to night pick a resort with a view of the castle in the distance to experience one of the most unique views possible of Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks spectaculars. Particularly around the holidays, grab a spot on the beaches of the Polynesian or another resort and prepare for the multi-launch site fireworks experience you’ll be talking about for years to come.
Day 3 is to me the ideal way to spend a summer day outside of the parks. It can be moved to whatever day of your trip you would like but particularly on a hot day, very little beats spending some time at your themed resort pool.
Start your day with a nice breakfast or sleep in just a bit then head out to the pool to soak in the sunshine and relax the day away. If simply hanging out isn’t your thing, head to the lobby and search for the activity list for the day. Each resort will be a bit different but it’s not out of the ordinary to find a list of free activities (or low cost activities) to partake in at your very own resort. Certain resorts offer free guided tours, others offer an open fire as the day turns to night, or even a movie out under the stars. The possibilities are endless and vary from day to day, but taking that day to really fully explore the little details of your resort is a great way to not only save a little money, but also tends to be a vastly memorable day with family or friends.
It’s certainly not the conventional way to explore Disney but sometimes taking a step back to enjoy the simpler aspects of the experience can lead to some of the most unique and memorable aspects of the vacation.
On your final day I recommend making the journey over to the Boardwalk resort area. In my opinion this is one of the most, if not the most, overlooked areas on property by a significant margin.
The Boardwalk area is one of the most picturesque places you’ll ever visit. Sitting prominently on Crescent Lake in the Epcot resort area, the views are truly spectacular. From sun up to sun down, the colors and lights of the area glisten casually, yet prominently, off of the water enticing guests to enjoy a casual day of exploration and enjoyment from a simpler time and a simpler place. Grab a funnel cake, rent a surrey bike, or simply enjoy a stroll through the incredible art gallery and a day will slowly pass by unveiling detail after detail as you explore everything the resort has to offer. As a bit of hidden gem of the experience I recommend heading to the main floor of the resort to find a piece of Disney history hiding in plain site.
As a few of you may remember, Main Street USA used to be home to the iconic Penny Arcade. Unfortunately, after the closure of that space in 1995, the nostalgic games that once filled that iconic space slowly disappeared. A select few reappeared years later in the Main Street Station in non-operable form, but one was relocated and still functions today. Any guesses at where it might be today? You guessed it, the Boardwalk resort.
Just a few steps from the main lobby near the restrooms on the main floor you’ll typically find one or sometimes two machines prominently placed in the hallway. Most guests will walk right by and entirely ignore the history in front of them, but a select few will peer into the view finder and and gently turn the crank to watch the flipbook style production come to life before their very eyes.
Little details like this adorn the property and taking the time to explore it may uncover more that you ever expected. If you want something else to do in the area, grab an ice cream at Ample Hills creamery, Beaches and Cream across the water at the Beach Club, or make the short walk to the Dolphin resort for a dip of ice-cream or incredible soft serve at the Fountain restaurant.
If you’ve made it that far over to the Swan and Dolphin, walk just a touch further and you’ll stumble into the Fantasia Gardens miniature golf course. If you book your stay in a package you may even get to play free of charge with the vouchers provide when your magic bands are delivered!
To wrap up the night, head back to the main crescent lake area to catch a unique view of Epcot’s Illuminations nighttime spectacular from a unique viewing angle. It’s the perfect way to end a night outside of the parks.