HOORAY! You made it to Walt Disney World and you’ve got a fun-filled vacation in front of you. You’re probably looking forward to hugging a favorite character, or riding a favorite attraction, or eating a favorite Disney park snack!
But what to do on your check-in day? Depending what time you land, it may not make sense to buy a park ticket — not to mention that airport delays are unpredictable, and you might be tired from a day of travel.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun on the day you arrive, though. Here are FIVE fun-filled activities you can do in just a few hours on your check-in day — and none of them require a park ticket!
1. Miniature Golf
Did you know Walt Disney World has not one, but two, adorable miniature golf courses? Fantasia Mini Gardens is located near Epcot and Winter Summerland is near Blizzard Beach. Both are far from ordinary, and each has its own brand of Disney magic. Personally, I love Winter Summerland because it’s themed around a vacationing Santa Claus in warmer weather.
Mini golf is a relatively inexpensive activity as well, at $14 for adults and $12 for children per round. Both courses are now accepting tee time reservations, so you can make sure to lock in your spot and avoid a wait!
Some of the best places in Walt Disney World are the resorts, but a lot of people don’t explore the ones they aren’t staying at. While some amenities are for that specific resort’s guests only (like the pool), there are lots of things that anyone can do — and some of the coolest ones are FREE!
You can take a culinary tour at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (FREE), make s’mores and sing campfire songs with Chip and Dale at Fort Wilderness (FREE!) or grab a HUGE ice cream sundae at the Beach Club (sadly not free).
Another idea is to do a “Monorail Crawl” around the Polynesian Village, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian Resorts. This is especially fun during the holidays when the resorts are decorated for Christmas. You can read all about our last monorail crawl here!
3. Watch Fireworks
In the same realm of resort hopping, there are also GREAT spots outside of the parks where you can watch the fireworks without a ticket! Some of our favorite locations for the Magic Kingdom’s new Disney Enchantment fireworks are, in fact, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort that are easy to access as part of a resort crawl!
Plus, Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club have a lovely view of EPCOT’s Harmonious fireworks and nighttime spectacular. And, Disney’s new Swan Reserve Resort is an excellent location to view TWO fireworks shows as the hotel is nestled in between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios!
Magic Kingdom’s Disney Enchantment takes place nightly at 8 PM, while the Wonderful World of Animation in Hollywood Studios starts at 9 PM and EPCOT’s Harmonious shows at 9:45 PM.
4. Eat at a James Beard Award-Winning Chef’s Restaurant
Disney Springs is a great check-in day destination, and you might as well eat something super-delicious while you’re there!
Did you know that not one, not two, not three, but SIX different James Beard award-winning chefs have their own restaurant in Disney Springs? The James Beard Award is one of the highest honors a chef can receive, so it’s a pretty big deal. Book a table at any of the following restaurants and you’re guaranteed to eat something delicious!
Jaleo: A Spanish restaurant featuring tapas, paellas, and sangria from Chef Jose Andres. Check out photos from our recent lunch here! You can also check out his quick service location Pepe for a less formal meal.
Terralina Crafted Italian: Italian cuisine from Chef Tony Matuano. The restaurant is designed to make you feel like you’re in Lake Como, and a huge wood-fired oven sits in the middle of the space.
Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill: The new full-service location for Chef Wolfgang Puck features local, fresh ingredients so the menu changes seasonally. There is also a walk-up window with authentic Italian gelato, as well as a separate quick service location also by Wolfgang in the Marketplace neighborhood of the Springs.
Frontera Cocina: Six-time winner Rick Bayless is serving up fresh Mexican cuisine, where you’ll find an expansive wall of tequila and delicious guacamole. There’s also a walk-up window in case of taco emergencies (as in, I need a taco immediately!).
Morimoto Asia: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant is absolutely stunning, serving authentic pan-Asian cuisine in an elegant fashion. Morimoto also has a walk-up window, Morimoto Street Food, where you can grab noodles, dumplings, and other items on the go. I highly recommend the Baby Ribs — they are his signature recipe and literally fall off the bone.
Homecomin‘: Southern cuisine is the name of the game at Homecomin’, which is brought to you by Chef Art Smith who was Oprah’s personal chef for a decade. Highlights on the menu include fried chicken and his legendary Shine cake. Speaking of Shine — head to the attached Shine Bar for a famous Moonshine Cocktail. But be warned — they are as strong as they are tasty!
We have to mention The Polite Pig as well — owners James and Nancy Petrakis were nominated for the James Beard Award, and their barbecue joint certainly showcases why! Stop in for a wide variety of smoked meats, unique sides, and a bourbon bar.
5. See a Movie
You can see a new release at the AMC Theater at Disney Springs, or if you’re staying at a Disney resort you can watch a classic on a GIANT screen outside!
Every resort features “Movies on the Screen” where they project a Disney movie like Mary Poppins or Cinderella or Zootopia on a huge inflatable screen outside. Grab some snacks from your resort’s dining location or gift shop, and a pool towel and see a movie al fresco, under the stars.
Check with your resort front desk for the movie schedule and locations.
What is your favorite non-park activity on your check-in day? Let us know in the comments!
Check out these posts for more trip-planning advice:
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