Not surprisingly, most people not familiar with (or obsessive about) Walt Disney World in Florida, may think that it only consists of a theme park or two, crammed full of coasters and junk food. If you want some of that, you would surely find it, but one of the enduring qualities of the place, and the reason it captures the imagination of grown men (and women) more than any other theme park, is that there is so much more to discover.
In fact, you can fill endless days on Disney property without even stepping foot into a Disney theme park and still be completely immersed in the magic. In today’s economic climate then, let me suggest to you that a day (at least) of Disney is possible without looping the loop or ever consuming a hot dog, and perhaps more crucially parting with the numerous dollars required to pass through the hallowed gates.
For anyone who has not spent a large proportion of their adult lives obsessing about WDW, their natural assumption may be that it starts and ends with the Magic Kingdom. Some foolish souls will call that one park Disney World. By the way, am I the only one to cause actual bodily harm to someone who insists on calling the Florida version Disneyland?
So with that in mind, let’s focus on that area, and hopefully I can suggest a way to spend a day in the magic in full view of the castle with nothing to pay for but your food. I would warn you that if you were travelling with me, this could amount to a large bill!! This type of day can also provide you with a welcome break from hurley burly and frequent queues of the park, whilst maintaining your proximity to the aura of the magic.
Many UK visitors presume incorrectly that only residents of the Disney resorts are welcome. This is not the case and as long as you are respectful of those guests paying to stay there and do not take liberties with car parking etc, then there is no reason not to spend time enjoying these wonderful resorts.
For me, this day would start with breakfast at one of the monorail resorts, and my choice would be 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridan Resort & Spa. This ticks two boxes –
- If you have youngsters with you, or anyone else for that matter, the character count here is excellent, and there is plenty of time for interaction
- It allows you to spend some time in Disney’s Premier resort, but more of that after we’ve eaten.
With the flash of some photo ID at the security gatehouse and ideally a reservation pre-made you will be welcomed into the car park. As you walk into this resort, I challenge you not to have your breath taken away. It oozes quality.
After a leisurely assault on the buffet breakfast, pleasantly interrupted by multiple characters, you will be fit to burst both with food and that Disney magic. We have a lot of food to get through today, so we’d better start to walk some of it off. Back out in reception, after that long walk from the restaurant, you may well need to rest a while in one of the opulent couches.
Rest a while, people watch, and take in the wonderful surroundings. Once you feel that you can move, wander outside to the pool area for a look around. There is also a very fine beach here with surely one of the best views from any sun lounger in the world.
Once you have had your fill of this beautiful resort, hop on the monorail, and head on to the Polynesian Resort. Like entering a whole different world and eco-system, there are new architectural wonders here, and a chance to soak up one of the most unique resorts on Disney property. There are shops to wander through, and depending on your digestion system, coffees or something stronger are available.
Again, a fine beach awaits, and if you like, encourage one member of your party to attempt to lie in the hammock there. This will surely provide great entertainment for those watching. The younger members of your party can jump on the kiddie’s swing, whilst you kick back by the shoreline, looking over at the Magic Kingdom, watching the ferry and all sorts of other water craft before you. Hours can be spent this way, and indeed probably should be.
If doing nothing is not your style then how about trying fishing? Don’t worry, as you would imagine at Disney, it is catch and realease only, so you won’t be seeing your catch on your plate later. If fishing doesn’t appeal then perhaps a touch of bike riding? Disney, as ever, thinks of everything.
By now, we are into the afternoon, and if you are feeling in any way sporty or active, you could make your way back to the Grand Floridian and rent out one of the water mice (a boat to you and me) and explore the vast expanses of water around the monorail resorts and beyond. Watch out for those ferries! You can choose from the extravagant Grand 1 Sea Ray Yacht at a very exclusive $400 per hour, or for those working with a more normal budget, a WaterMouse at $21.59 (plus tax) per 1/2 hour.
Back on dry land, the monorail can transport you onwards to the perhaps the most iconic stop on our journey.
The Grand Floridian may be the premier resort, but there is something quite special about the Contemporary. I’m sure we can all remember the first time we encountered this structure, and the sheer delight and wonder at learning that the monorail goes straight through the hotel lobby! Looking like something out of The Jetsons, oozing kitsch appeal, alighting here can pass several more hours of your day.
Within this wonderful A frame, lie some of the best shops on Disney property, so any souvenirs you may need to take home would be wisely sought out here, as you can often find things that are beyond the normal theme park ranges. Of course, you can imbibe at the Outer Rim Bar, and even take on board some more food if that breakfast has worn off by now. Well, it has been several hours hasn’t it?
To take a full tour of this unusual resort can take all afternoon, and to watch darkness descend on the Magic Kingdom from this vantage point is magical in itself. Of course, to take full advantage of this venue, the place you need to view the Magic Kingdom from is the California Grill Restaurant. Now I know the theme of this virtual tour is to enjoy Disney without the expense of a theme park ticket, so I will grant you that dining here will blow any budget you may have had in mind, but this is a different kind of dining experience, and you will have to have thought ahead and made a reservation. I promise you will remember dining here for years to come.
If you are fortunate to get a table by a window, watching the sky turn various shades of red, and eventually succumb to darkness is a joy to behold. The quality of the food here is a subject for a whole other time, but safe to say you will not be disappointed.
As your meal comes to an end, you will be ushered out on to the viewing deck where you will have a different view and indeed perspective on Wishes, and with the music piped though for your pleasure, this is one way to take this spectacle in without having to then battle the hordes and crowds all trying to get that last spot on the monorail!
With a tear in your eye, a lump in your throat and a serious dent in your credit card, make your way back down to earth in more ways than one. If you still have an appetite for more of the magic, take the monorail as now we need to get back in the car, and this monorail journey will take on a whole new feel in the darkness, with the twinkling lights on every resort, and you nestled in that warm velvety voice reminding you to please stand clear of the doors.
If you have timed this journey to perfection, then you will see the Electrical Water Pageant as it travels around Bay Lake. A Disney parade with a difference, as it is the only one to be on water!
A short car journey around to the Wilderness Lodge resort brings further delight now. Your breath will be taken away once again at the sheer scale of the place which somehow still manages to deliver a cosy homely feel at the same time.
Head for the bar and enjoy a speciality coffee from the extensive menu and finish the day in one of the huge rocking chairs in front of the gigantic fireplace. If you have the energy, take a wander around and take in the endless attention to detail, and of course the inevitable shop!
OK, I admit that a day like this will see you spending more than you might on a ticket to the parks, but there is so much to see and enjoy in and around the Disney resorts it is surely worth it. I have only skimmed the surface of all the things available just at the resorts mentioned here, without even touching upon the glorious resorts in the Epcot area. Those are for another day!