You hear it all the time, that there's so much to do at Walt Disney World you can't possibly do it all. It really is true: I've lost count of how many times I've visited and there are still things I haven't done. I do promise that I'll try something I've missed each visit, but there's something to be said about chucking your to-do list and taking the road less traveled. Here are a few of my personal favorites that are just off the beaten path.
Tom Sawyer Island.
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Get Park Wise: Do the math before you hire a sitter. It can be cheaper to hire an in-room sitter if you have two or more children, but make sure you factor in the small transportation fee, feeding the sitter (always a smart thing to do), and the amount of hours you require.
Fort Wilderness is about as "off the beaten path" as you can get in Walt Disney World, with over 700 acres of cabins, campsites, and lush vegetation. The good news is that you don't have to be a guest to take advantage of the wide variety of activities available. Rent a canoe, try horseback riding, play tennis, go kayaking--you can even visit a petting zoo. At night, all Disney resort guests can gather around the campfire at the Meadow Trading Post to roast marshmallows and attend a free campfire sing-along with Chip and Dale. Later, enjoy a movie under the stars.
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In many ways, the resorts are attractions by themselves. It's easy to forget this with so much going on in the parks, but you miss a lot if you don't slow down and explore them. Each resort's theming tells a story with intricate details, period pieces, and artifacts. You'll even find hidden Mickeys throughout. Some resorts, such as Animal Kingdom Lodge, offer free guided tours that tell the story behind the resort. Others, like Wilderness Lodge, have self-guided tours where kids can try to find hidden Mickeys.
A deluxe resort may be out of your budget this trip, but you can still enjoy the public areas of any resort on property. If you're coming for dinner, consider staying for the fireworks; the Polynesian has some great spots on the beach that provide fantastic views of Wishes. Don't forget that lunch can often be slow time at Disney's resorts, with short lines and quiet spots to relax. It's just quick monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom to the cool of the Grand Floridian, where you can listen to a live band play in the lobby most nights. Or you can walk or take a boat from Hollywood Studios to the Boardwalk, check out the sights during the afternoon, and then head back to the park for an evening of fun.
Finally, the holidays are a great time to resort hop, so much so that some guests set aside one day of their trip to enjoy the unique decorations that each resort has on display. Don't miss the life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian or the soaring Christmas tree at the Wilderness Lodge. It's fun to see how Disney Imagineers have found smart ways to incorporate a resort's theme into its Christmas decorations.
Get Park Wise. Feel free to eat, shop or find a cozy spot to watch the fireworks while you visit, but you can't pool hop, that is, use another resort's pool if you're not a guest--no matter how tempting it is!
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Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.
You can find her at Everything Walt Disney World.
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If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!