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Disney Resort Hotels: Exploring Walt Disney World Outside the Theme Parks

authored by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Featured Columnist and Message Board Guide
updated by Marnie Urmaza, PassPorter Message Board Guide

Not only does Walt Disney World boast four theme parks and two water parks, but it's also home to a myriad of other activities. I've spent many happy days there without using up a park pass! Let's take a look at how the Disney resorts are good for so much more than just accommodation.

Perhaps it's your umpteenth visit to Walt Disney World and you feel the need to get away from the parks for a while. Perhaps you were just there a few months ago and feel you've enjoyed all the attractions you want to this trip. Maybe it's just an exceptionally busy time of the year and you can't face the crowds. Either way, there's plenty to do at Disney, without needing admission to any of the four main theme parks or a water park. 

Disney Resorts are Fun! One of the biggest attractions outside of the parks are the resorts. Each is beautifully themed and having visited nearly all of them, with the exception of the Caribbean Beach, I can tell you that they're all very different from each other as well. Many happy hours have been spent touring the resorts, finding out which are our favorites. 

Getting There -- The easiest way to get to each one is to drive, but if you don't have a car during your stay, buses run from each theme park and Downtown Disney back to the resorts and the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian are just a monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom. There's plenty to see at each, with lobbies, shops and restaurants all open to the public. If you want to see how big the rooms are, then simply ask a cast member to show you. In our experience they're more than happy to help if they've got rooms available and aren't too busy, and it's a great way of judging whether you'd be happy staying a particular resort before paying out any of your hard earned cash. 

Looking Around -- You can usually look around the swimming pool area to judge at first hand how good the facilities are and at many resorts, there are pleasant walks from the main registration building to the outlying rooms. Particularly attractive walks that we've enjoyed can be found at Port Orleans Riverside, the Grand Floridian and Polynesian, while Pop Century enjoys some of the most fun walks on Disney property. References to what happened in individual years and cultural icons, such as Rubik's Cubes and Mr. Potato Head are scattered throughout the grounds, bringing back fond memories for both young and old. It's a lovely way to spend an hour or two. 

And there's much more to see at the resorts during the holiday season. We personally rate the Grand Floridian, the Beach Club and the Wilderness Lodge as not to be missed at this time of the year, although every resort has decorations to enjoy, with many boasting amazing offerings from their resident chefs -- from gingerbread houses to carrousels and African villages. 

Dining -- The resorts also boast some of the finest and most entertaining restaurants on Disney property. We never fail to enjoy a character meal at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary or at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian, the burgers at the Beach Club's Beaches and Cream just can't be beaten anywhere on Disney property, and who could fail to enjoy the exotic African offerings on the buffet at Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge? 

If it's a more upscale experience you're after, then each of the deluxe resorts boast at least one fine dining option. Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge, Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Contemporary's California Grill and Narcosees at the Grand Floridian all offer first class food and a great atmosphere and are consistently highly rated by Disney visitors. If it's a special occasion, the unique Victoria and Albert's at the Grand Floridian, with menus that vary daily, can't be beaten. When we ate there, we were able to forget that we were even in a hotel. It's like walking into your own world of five star dining and although it's expensive, it's worth every penny. 

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-- Some of the resorts also offer their own attractions, meaning you may not have to venture far from your room to find some entertainment, with the Animal Kingdom Lodge being the best example. If you're not lucky to have a savannah room there or you're visiting from another resort, you can still sample the wildlife either at the Arusha Rock overlook or from various viewing areas on the third floor of both the Kudu and Zebra Trail. There are even rocking chairs for you to sit and survey the savannah. 

Activities -- Perhaps you still want to be a bit more active on your vacation or have an exercise regime you're keen to keep up with? Tennis courts are available at most of Disney's deluxe resorts (with the exception of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Contemporary, which removed its courts).  Maybe two wheels is more your style? Bikes can be hired at Old Key West, Saratoga Springs and Fort Wilderness, allowing you to explore the resort grounds. 

Boating -- Perhaps you fancy heading out on the water? You can head out into the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of Magic Kingdom and the neighboring Bay Lake on a Sea Raycer, pontoon, canopy or sailboat, but a far more unique experience waits at the Yacht and Beach Club marina. There, you can rent Breathless II, a beautiful mahogany reproduction of a 1930 powerboat. It's the fastest boat on property -- and feels like it when the throttle is turned up - and can be hired during the day for a trip around Crescent Lake and down to Disney's Hollywood Studios (a Disney skipper is behind the wheel).  If you're early enough and in luck, you may even be able to venture to the edge of Epcot's World Showcase Lagoon. When we did this in December, we entered by the United Kingdom pavillion, headed over to Morocco and then out again through France. 

Breathless II is also available for IllumiNations cruises, but be warned -- these are among the hottest tickets on property and sell out within minutes. If you want to book a cruise, call 407-WDW-PLAY, but if it's an IllumiNations cruise you're after, be sure to be on the phone at 7:00 am Eastern time exactly 90 days out to stand a chance of securing one. 

Health & Fitness Centers -- Something else offered by a number of resorts and often overlooked by many guests are the health and fitness centers -- and they're not just for those who want to keep up their exercise regime while they're away from home! Each of the fitness centers at Coronado Springs, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club and the Villas at Wilderness Lodge offer essentially the same services. 

As well as offering state-of-the-art fitness exercise machines, you can also enjoy massages at each site. Having been lucky enough to sample the 50-minute massage at the Ship Shape health club at the Yacht and Beach Club and a massage at the Grand Floridian spa, I can tell you that they're both very similar, although if value for money is top of your list, then head for a resort fitness center, rather than a "spa." The massages are cheaper there, although you don't get the same relaxing atmosphere as you do at the two Spa resorts. 

Having taken a tour of the various Disney resorts and the activities offered at them, in the second part, I'll be looking at what else you can enjoy on Disney property outside of the parks, including teeing off amongst the dancing hippos, cowgirls, and fire breathers on the BoardWalk and shopping until you drop! 

About the Author: Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, especially to America. They were on the first 11-night sailing of the Disney Magic around the Mediterranean and have recently returned from 19 nights in Walt Disney World. Cheryl is a Featured Columnist for -- click here to read more of her articles.

This article originally appeared in our 5/27/2005 newsletter and was last updated on 2/19/2008 by Marnie Urmaza -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

Related Articles:

  • Beyond the Theme Parks (Second Part of Article)
  • Discovering the Magic
  • Unexpected Treasures at Walt Disney World

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    Updated  02/19/2008 

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