A Disney World Vacation without the Theme Parks?

You can't not love this pool!

You can't not love this pool!

Yes it’s possible and – depending on what type of vacation you’re looking for – encouraged! Although the allure of the parks is hard to pass up once you’ve arrived in greater Orlando (and that’s exactly what Disney wants since they make most of their money from the food & souvenirs you buy once you’re trapped in there), there is a fabulous vacation to be had outside the parks. You’ll save a ton of money (usually about 1/3 of your entire vacation budget is spent in the parks), you’ll have a more unique vacation experience, and a much more relaxed one.

Often visited as an afterthought to the theme parks or a place for locals to spend an evening, the Downtown Disney area offers more shopping, dining, and entertainment experiences than you may have realized. The Marketplace brings families of all ages and generations together with its diversity of stores and restaurants. Pleasure Island has slimmer pickings these days as it is being refurbished, however once it opens, it promises to be a more diverse gathering place than it once was. The West Side offers some wild entertainment from concerts at House of Blues, to Cirque du Soleil’s Disney-exclusive venue, to Disney Quest.

Disney Quest is an entire indoor interactive arena dedicated to virtual reality. The games in here will take you beyond the entertainment you’ll find playing Nintendo Wii in your living room. On any given visit, you’ll be thrown into the middle of a raging river, a pirate ship, and sometimes even an alternate universe.

Disney’s 2 water parks offer a bold combination of deep relaxation and intense thrills. Each are uniquely themed and offer a variety of lazy rivers, slides, wave pools, and even snorkeling. For extra fun, join an early-morning surfing clinic.

As mentioned above, Downtown Disney offers entertainment by Cirque du Soleil, House of Blues, and more. Fort Wilderness is home to two fantastic shows – Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue and the long-lived Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue. And for something more exotic, head over to the Polynesian for the Spirit of Aloha dinner show.

Although part of a hotel, Disney’s Boardwalk is an attraction in its own right. Bars, dancing, food, shopping and live entertainment will keep you busy all night.

Disney’s hotels offer some beautiful paths for biking and jogging, and almost every hotel offers a bike rental facility. Above all else, you should begin your journey at Fort Wilderness because their vast grounds provide ample space to recreate in the great outdoors, and sometimes with a sneak peak at Cinderella Castle through the trees. The Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach Resorts also offer some fun lakeside trails to explore.

Most hotels offer a wide variety of water sports including kayaks and motorboats – and for the even more daring, head up to the Contemporary Resort for waterskiing, parasailing, and more.

When it comes to pools, Disney doesn’t love it when their guests hotel-hop (especially those who pay for a value resort and spend all their time at a deluxe resort), but they usually look the other way in order to facilitate diverse dining and shopping experiences. The only hotel that puts on the brakes is the Yacht & Beach Club Resort, which coincidentally has the best pool in all of Disney property. Here, you won’t be able to get a towel without a proper resort ID, but if you don’t mind the inconvenience you could spend your entire vacation at this pool. We also recommend the volcano pool at the Polynesian and the lost city pool at the Coronado Springs.

Again, the Beach Club is a great place to relax, but you might have more fun on the sandy shores of 7 Seas Lagoon, the neighboring lake for the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian. With views of the Magic Kingdom (especially during evening fireworks) and the other beautiful resorts, this is the place to kick back.

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