People have come to expect certain things from a Walt Disney World vacation: meeting princess and oversized mice, riding Space Mountain, eating a Mickey ice cream bar, and the classics are classics for a reason.
But Disney World is more than Dole Whips and Dumbo.
Here are ten things that you probably didn’t know you could do during your Disney vacation.
Have a Tea Party
For most people, teatime at Walt Disney World means their Fastpass+ for Mad Tea Party is ready. However, if you like your tea with scones and tarts rather than Hatters and Hares, Disney’s got options.
The Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden View Tea Room is an elegant experience in the grand British style. Packages range from a classical platter of finger sandwiches and scones to a smorgasbord of caviar and champagne, all served with your choice of tea, of course. Young ones can even indulge in Mrs. Potts’s special Dark Tea, which looks and tastes suspiciously like chocolate milk (shhhhh).
Those looking for something more educational can learn how to brew the perfect cuppa at Rose and Crown, where a Twinings Tea expert will help you sample four types of tea while the kitchen churns out classic British snacks. Marvelous!
Captain your Own Ship
You probably know that Disney operates a fleet of ships on its various lakes and lagoons, but did you know you can rent one for yourself?
Resort guests can check into one of the many marinas lining Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake to rent their own seaworthy vessel, ranging from speedy miniature speedboats to enormous pontoon barges (learn more about pontoon rentals here). You can even book your own yacht for a private party, or rent a kayak or canoe for a leisurely trip through Fort Wilderness’ placid waters.
Learn more about specialty cruises at Walt Disney World here!
That lagoon isn’t just for boating either. You can book a guided fishing trip at any of Disney’s marinas, where an expert angler will take you and up to four friends on a hunt (float?) for largemouth bass!
Equipment is all included, so don’t worry about trying to load those nightcrawlers into your carry-on. If you’re looking for something more leisurely, Port Orleans Riverside rents out fishing equipment for use at their docks. But don’t try keeping your catches in the mini-fridge; Disney operates under a strict catch and release policy.
Take a Dive
If you’ve been to The Seas with Nemo and Friends, you might’ve seen scuba divers swimming around the aquarium. What you might not know is that these aren’t always cast members; sometimes they’re guests who booked the Epcot DiveQuest tour. SCUBA-certified guests can get a three-hour backstage tour of The Seas, culminating in a diving experience that’s guaranteed to have calm waters, perfect views, and plenty of fish.
One thing to keep in mind is that Disney doesn’t offer SCUBA certification on property, so don’t book this tour expecting for a complete lesson. If you’re not already certified, you can try the snorkeling experience The Seas also offers, which similar views (minus the deep dives).
Frolic with Dolphins
Most people associate dolphins with SeaWorld, but guests on the Dolphins in Depth tour at The Seas with Nemo and Friends can meet our flippered friends without leaving Epcot! This guided tour features meetings with marine mammal specialists, a backstage tour of The Seas, and an up-close encounter with Disney’s own dolphin pod. Unlike the other tours at The Seas, this one is swimming optional; the water is only waist deep, and entering isn’t required, so don’t worry if you’re not a strong swimmer.
This is actually one of several tours offered at Disney World that feature up-close encounters with animals. If someone in your party is a nature lover, be sure to check the nature tour kiosk at Harambe Village in Animal Kingdom, just outside of Kilimanjaro Safaris. They’re educational and give you a behind the scenes look at Disney’s conservation efforts and care for creatures like elephants and rhinoceroses.
Learn to Surf
This may come as a shock to some readers, but Disney doesn’t have ocean access. There are plenty of simulated beaches, pools, and water parks, but the coast is a distant dream here in landlocked Orlando. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t hang ten during your Disney vacation. That’s right, you can add the Hawaiian roller coaster ride to the attractions at Walt Disney World, because Typhoon Lagoon has surfing lessons.
Classes are about $190 a person and limited to a dozen guests on select days, so be sure to book ahead. Equipment is included, and an optional breakfast package can be added on for an up-charge. The class takes place in Typhoon Lagoon’s wave pool before park opening, allowing for a much more realistic experience than the surfing simulators you might see on cruise ships. Just be aware that your lesson doesn’t include park admission, so you’ll need to vacate the park or pay for a ticket once your session is done. Click here to visit Disney’s official page for surfing lessons.
If you’re more experienced and have some serious money to burn, you can also rent out the entire wave pool for a three-hour private surf session. You and 24 friends (including spectators) can catch 100 guaranteed waves before or after park closing, complete with optional catering. Unlike the lessons, this is a bring your own board experience, so be prepared!
Ride a Horse
Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness is Disney World’s exclusive stable and home to all things equine at the parks. If you’ve ever wondered where Cinderella keeps her horses when they aren’t pulling her carriage, wonder no more!
In addition to being home to some four-legged celebrities, Tri-Circle-D also offers rides that would put Prince Charming’s Carousel to shame. Tykes can earn their spurs during a classic pony ride, while more experienced riders can take a horse through Fort Wilderness’ many nature trails. If you’re not one for the saddle, you can also rent a horse drawn wagon or carriage for a tranquil ride through the forests. They even offer seasonal sleigh rides for the holidays, so you can go dashing through the temperate Florida winter. Sorry guys, but not even Disney can beat that subtropical climate. Click here for more info!
Find a Surprise Celebration in Your Hotel Room
Speaking of temperate Florida winters, Disney World is a fantastic place to be over the holidays; festivals, decorations, giant gingerbread houses: it’s a spectacle of light and color! It is also the height of peak season, which means high prices and big crowds. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have booked a Disney stay for the Christmas season.
Alternatively, maybe you’re celebrating a big milestone — like a birthday or an anniversary — on your trip. No matter what the reason, Santa (or Birthday/Anniversary?) Mickey’s got you covered. Disney Floral and Gifts can set up a full fledged celebration in your on-site Resort hotel room, complete with trees for Christmas, decorations for many occasions, and presents (from Santa or otherwise). Set it up for your arrival, or have your room magically transform while you’re in the parks. So long as you’re on-site, you can customize every aspect of it. It’ll cost a pretty penny, but if you’re looking for that extra bit of holiday magic it might be a worthwhile splurge
Get a Fairy Tale Makeover (At Any Age!)
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can be a highlight of a Disney vacation; what’s more magical than a chance to be transformed into a beautiful princess or gallant knight by your very own Fairy Godmother in Training! The only issue? The age limit: once you turn 13 you’re left at the ball with nothing but a pumpkin… or at least, you were until recently. Starting in 2018, select resort salons have begun offering Character Couture packages to guests of all ages.
Unlike the Boutique, these packages feature salon-quality products and accessories like hair extensions and false lashes, allowing for more striking and longer lasting looks than the kid-friendly Fairy Godmothers can provide. You aren’t limited to princesses either; your stylist will work with you to make a look inspired by any Disney character. Want Gaston’s ‘do? Looking for a striking look inspire by WALL-E’s EVE? Have to try out those Leia buns? They’ll make your look to your exact specifications, turning you into the belle of the Disneybounding Ball! You know, assuming you provide the rest of your outfit.
This is also a great option for kids with sensory issues, too, or those who just aren’t comfortable with the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experience. The salons are much calmer spaces than the Boutique, and you can even book a private session in your hotel room at select resorts.
Learn to Cook
We love dining at Disney World, but did you know you could learn to cook there?
Now they aren’t handing out the secret Dole Whip recipe or anything, but they are offering unique culinary classes for guests. The bulk of these take place during Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival during the fall at the World ShowPlace event pavilion.
The most hands-on is Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It, a twice-weekly cooking lesson where guests learn to make all manner of treats and drinks. Older guests can even learn to make a new cocktail. For a more hands-off approach, the Culinary Demonstrations (also twice-weekly during the festival) feature tips from a professional chef and a chance to try some delicious food. If you’re a fan of celebrity chefs like Cat Cora or Robert Irvine, the Sunday Brunch with the Chef Series is an all-you-care-to-eat-buffet and meet and greet where you can learn culinary secrets from the masters. It’s more expensive than the typical breakfast experience at Disney, but has Chef Mickey ever taught you how to cook? Or pulled off a Dinner: Impossible?
Finally, the piece de resistance is the Culinary Adventures series at the Contemporary Resort. This isn’t linked to the Food and Wine Festival, but it is limited to members of the Tables in Wonderland Dining club, putting it out of reach for most guests. For those lucky enough to attend, this is an expanded version of the fantastic Chef’s Table experience, featuring an hour-long cooking lesson in the Contemporary’s kitchens, followed by a five course gourmet meal with specially chosen wine pairings. It’s one of the most exclusive culinary experiences in the World and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for hardcore Disney foodies.
There you have it! Ten things you probably didn’t know you could do at Disney World. Got something new for your itinerary? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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