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Beyond the Parks at Walt Disney World: Spas, Miniature Golf, Downtown Disney, and More!

By Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Feature Columnist and Message Board Guide

Having explored the Disney resorts and all they have to offer in the first part of this article, it's probably already clear that there's more than enough happening on Disney property to ensure that you never have to leave during the course of your vacation. But for the adventurous among you who want something other than just parks and resorts, there's a lot more to explore. 

Spas -- Although connected to the resorts, the two spas on property are really entities unto themselves, each set in their own relaxing building. As with spas around the world, the moment you enter, you're in a relaxed atmosphere, one that offers a huge range of spa treatments. Facials, pedicures, massages and body treatments can be booked at either the Grand Floridian or Saratoga Springs spas, but each has their own specialty. 

At the Grand Floridian its water therapies and soaks, including different types of baths, while Saratoga Springs has a slight twist on the water therapy, offering hydro-massage therapies, which massage you as you bathe. I can personally vouch for the soothing tired legs treatment, stress recovery facial, and head, shoulders and back massage and I fully intend to explore the other options on offer at both spas in future visits! 

To find out more about the treatments on offer, check out and if you're an Annual Pass holder or a Disney Vacation Club member, keep an eye out for special offers. Although offers can never be guaranteed, there have been a number over the past year. 

Miniature Golf -- The spas do offer couples relaxation packages, but more often than not, it tends to be only women who are seen at the spa. So what can the men do while the women are busy relaxing and indulging themselves? Mini-golf is one option, with four courses available -- two at Fantasia Gardens by the Swan and Dolphin hotels and the other two at Winter Summerland, next door to Blizzard Beach. All courses have superb Disney detail on them, although my personal favorite is at Fantasia Gardens. There's something very fun (and very surreal!) about trying to score a hole in one in amongst dancing hippos! And it's located conveniently close to some excellent restaurants and entertainment along Disney's BoardWalk. 

BoardWalk -- Evoking memories of a bygone coastal town, the BoardWalk boasts restaurants, night-time entertainment in the shape of the ESPN Club and the dueling piano bar Jellyrolls, along with shops and street entertainers, including a fire breather and a cowgirl. On a warm evening, it's a lovely place to stroll round and we've spent many a magical time just browsing in the shops, enjoying the wonderful aromas from the restaurants as we wandered past, and taking in the sights. If you're lucky, you may even catch some of the highest fireworks from IllumiNations and Fantasmic! from one of the bridges. 

If you're feeling energetic, you could grab some help from your fellow travelers and take a ride round past the Yacht and Beach Club on one of the surrey bikes available for hire. They are a popular choice, but be aware -- those hills up to the bridges around Crescent Lake are steeper than they look and have been the undoing of many families. Be very sure that you've got enough pedal power to get up them!

Downtown Disney -- But if it's nightlife you're really after, you'd best be heading for Downtown Disney, where everything is on your doorstep -- albeit a rather large doorstep! With three intertwined areas - the West Side, Pleasure Island and the Marketplace - you can see one of the most unique shows in the world in Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, take a trip into a virtual reality world in DisneyQuest, dance the night away at one of the clubs or shop until you drop at a range of stores. 

Our personal favorites at Downtown Disney include Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, which we rate as "not to be missed" -- a show that's almost impossible to describe and is certainly unforgettable. And now, having discovered the unique Adventurers Club on Pleasure Island, a trip wouldn't be the same without an exploration of the Mask Room and the Library and a meeting with the Club President and the French Maid! Like La Nouba, this is another show that's impossible to describe. The best way is to experience it for yourself! 

Something that many people somehow manage to overlook is the massive 24 screen cinema at Downtown Disney. It may sound like an unusual idea to take time out of your precious Disney vacation to watch a movie, but if the latest blockbuster opens while you're away, as happened to us one year when the new James Bond movie came out, then it's an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, especially if the weather is less than perfect. 

But for many, an even more enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours is dropping dollars at the many shops at the Marketplace. World of Disney is the starting point for most -- and for some, that's where the shopping ends as well. That's fair enough, as it is the world's largest Disney Store, but our other favorites include Disney's Days of Christmas, especially magical in the holiday season, but worth a visit at any time of the year, particularly if you've always fancied having your own Disney-inspired Christmas tree. The Wonderful World of Memories is paradise for scrapbookers like myself and Pooh Corner is always somewhere we have to go into, just to see the latest Eeyore merchandise! 

And away from the Marketplace, if you want a CD or DVD, the chances are it's in stock at the Virgin Megastore on the West Side. Although we can never afford to buy any of the collectibles in Starabilias, it's great fun browsing around the shop and dreaming of what a lottery win could buy you. More affordable is Magnetron, home to the biggest selection of refrigerator magnets I've ever seen -- a number of which now adorn our fridge, helping to keep various Disney postcards in place! With so many places to choose from, it's easy to see how you could spend a whole day (and a lot of money!) simply shopping at Downtown Disney! 

Celebration, Florida -- For our final Disney stop outside of the parks, it's time to head off property to a little slice of Walt's dream just along the 417. Although the town of Celebration has been in existence for a little over a decade, as you drive into it you can't help but think that this is exactly the sort of turn of the century close-knit community that Walt wanted to create.  It's obviously a town that's been carefully created, with plenty of landscaping and some lovely designs to the houses. 

It's a treat to drive round and see, what was to us, a dream place to live. But beware -- there are no traffic lights on many of the crossroads and there are low speed limits, mainly to try and give priority to pedestrians. You can easily spend a couple of hours in Celebration, browsing the variety of shops in Market Street and enjoying a meal at one of the many restaurants and cafés to be found there. If you happen to be at Disney in the run-up to Christmas, don't forget that magic comes to Celebration as well, with snow on the hour every hour between 6:00 and 9:00 in the evening. 

As you can see, magic can be found everywhere on Disney property -- and even off property. It doesn't just exist at the theme parks. There's a lot more to explore at Walt Disney World and for us, a vacation there simply isn't complete without some time enjoying the resorts, the recreation and relaxation that's also on offer. 

About the Author: Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to America. Their last trip to Walt Disney World was over Halloween and their next Disney adventure will be the Mediterranean cruise in May.

This article originally appeared in our June 9, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

Related Articles:

  • Disney Resort Hotels (First Part of Article)
  • Discovering the Magic

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    Updated 02/10/07 

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