How to tour Disney World resorts (even if you’re not staying there)

(Article last updated: June 27, 2017)

The 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, and Disney Springs aren't the only things to see at Disney World; there are also a couple of dozen Disney World resorts you might want to spend some time touring during your trip (especially if they are convenient to where you're already planning to be).

Today we have some ideas on how to tour Disney World resorts, including what to do at each one (many activities are even free!), and how to get there using Disney transportation.

If you're staying at 1 of the resorts, you'll have even more things to do than what's listed below, including special tours and poolside activities.

Let's take a look ...

First, some basics

How to get there

In each of the touring ideas below, we've included info on how to get there using Disney World transportation and the WDW Prep Navigator. You can also drive to the resorts and ask for a 3-hour parking pass to check out the resort, or you can pay $25 to valet for the day.

If you plan on driving, it is important to note that during the holidays (or other busy times of the year), the resorts on the monorail may ask anybody without a dining reservation wishing to tour the resort to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center.

What you CAN'T do when you tour Disney World resorts

Most areas of the resorts are available to visit, but you will not be able to go to the pools at the resorts as a non-guest because they require a room key (MagicBand) from people staying at that resort.

Recreation schedules for all resorts

Many of the items listed below have additional details available on the resort recreation schedules, so be sure to check the schedules at each individual resort for more things you can do when you are touring.

Tour 1: The Magic Kingdom Resort Area monorail loop

The Resort Monorail near Magic Kingdom includes stops at The Contemporary, Polynesian, and The Grand Floridian.

How to get there: In general, the easiest way to get there is to go to the Magic Kingdom and then take the Resort Monorail or walk to the Contemporary. For more specific instructions on how to get to any of the resorts on the monorail from anywhere in Disney World, use the WDW Prep Navigator.

It's worth noting that there is now security before boarding the monorail, so you'll need to do that at each stop.

When to visit: At the end of a Magic Kingdom day, as part of an afternoon break, or on arrival/departure day when you don't want to enter a park but would like to keep busy. The holidays at Walt Disney World are an especially popular time of the year to visit the monorail resorts because of the ornate decorations you'll find inside.

Stop 1: The Contemporary

The first thing you'll notice at The Contemporary is that the monorail goes right through the middle of the building which is fun, especially for kids. The Contemporary Resort is one of the two resorts located on property when Walt Disney World opened in 1971. In addition to the view of the monorail, guests and visitors are also treated to a multi-story mural designed by artist Mary Blair who is famous for her work in Disney's Peter Pan & Alice in Wonderland and is responsible for the unique color and design of the It's a Small World attractions.

It is not by chance that this resort is situated closest to Tomorrowland as its futuristic style serves as an ideal backdrop to the attractions located there.

tour disney world resorts

Once you step off the monorail, you can:

  • Go downstairs to visit the big arcade
  • View the Electrical Water Pageant that passes by The Contemporary a few minutes after 10 p.m. each night. You can watch it from the beach on the Bay Lake side.
  • Visit the nightly campfire which takes place on the beach (free)
  • Take part in the Pirate and Pals Fireworks Voyage which departs from The Contemporary (make reservations ahead of time - $72.00 for adults, $43.00 for kids age 3-9)
  • Watch a movie under the stars which is offered nightly (check the recreation schedule to see which movies are being shown each night)
  • View Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach (or make a reservation at California Grill and you'll be able to watch from the observation deck)
  • During the holidays, check out the holiday village made of gingerbread and chocolate that sits near the monorail platform

Stop 2: The Polynesian

The next stop on the resort monorail is The Polynesian, the other hotel on-property that opened in 1971 along with the Magic Kingdom. The Polynesian Village Resort is laid out with a collection of longhouses and newly constructed over-the-water bungalows which all surround the Great Ceremonial House (which is where you'll find the monorail stop for the resort). Very heavily themed to resemble the South Pacific islands, the Poly is home to several popular restaurants as well as the Spirit of Aloha dinner show.

 

polynesian

Some things to do at The Poly:

  • Stop by Tambu Lounge for a Lapu Lapu, a delicious alcoholic drink served in a pineapple, or head to Trader Sam's for one of their surprisingly strong drinks
  • Get a Dole Whip, one of the most popular Disney World snacks, available at Pineapple Lanai (often much easier to get here than the Magic Kingdom location)
  • Take a walk on the beach
  • View the Electrical Water Pageant from the beach which passes by around 9 p.m. each night
  • Watch Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach
  • Listen to Polynesian storytelling at the Grand Ceremonial House every evening at 8:30 p.m.
  • Watch the torch lighting ceremony in the Grand Ceremonial House Tuesday-Saturday at 6 p.m.
  • Take hula dancing lessons at the activity area (behind the lobby) Monday-Saturday at 3:45 p.m.
  • Join the nightly campfire at the activity area from 6-7 p.m. Marshmallows and s’mores are available for purchase.
  • Watch a movie under the stars (check recreation schedule for which movies are being shown each night)
  • Rent boats or bikes (more info here)
  • Get hair wraps from noon-5 p.m. (cost is $1.50 an inch and accessories cost extra)

Stop 3: The Grand Floridian

Thankfully, you don't have to have a grand budget to enjoy some of the activities at The Grand Floridian. The Grand Floridian is a AAA Four Diamond award winning resort and spa. Much newer than the other 2 resorts on the monorail (it opened in 1988), the Grand Floridian's exterior most closely resembles the Hotel del Coronado located in Coronado, California.

The Grand Floridian oozes Victorian-era style and is home to the adults-only (no children under 10) award-winning Victoria & Albert's restaurant.

grand floridian

Here are some ideas:

  • Listen to piano music that plays in the lobby each day beginning at 3 p.m.
  • Walk on the beach and relax in a hammock or lounge chair for awhile
  • Shop at 1 of the great stores (we like Basin White for their beauty bars)
  • Watch Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach
  • Participate in a "magical moment" at 3:30 daily in the lobby where Cinderella and Prince Charming do a waltz in the lobby and kids are free to join in
  • Visit the Wedding Pavilion which is a building located within walking distance
  • Watch the Electrical Water Pageant from the beach (usually comes by The Grand Floridian a bit after 9 p.m.)
  • Get a portrait drawn in the lobby from 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. daily (pastels and charcoals available - prices start at $145)
  • Grab a drink at Mizner's Lounge as the orchestra plays Big Band music nearby
  • Rent watercraft (see details and prices here)
  • Watch a movie under the stars (check the recreation schedule to see which movie is being shown each night)
  • During the holidays, see the 16-feet-tall gingerbread house in the lobby (smaller versions are available to purchase)

Tour 2: Visit Ft. Wilderness

Opening shortly after the Magic Kingdom in 1971, Ft. Wilderness immerses guests in the natural beauty of Central Florida. True to Disney standards, you'll find that Ft. Wilderness consistently receives high reviews from its guests and is often at the top of "Best Campground" lists.

There's so much to do at Ft. Wilderness (not to be confused with Wilderness Lodge which is a totally separate, but nearby, resort) that we are putting it in a category of its own as you could make a whole day of it.

ftwilderness

Here are some of the things you can do at Ft. Wilderness:

  • Roast marshmallows with Chip and Dale at the campfire near the Meadow Trading Post. Bring your own marshmallows or buy them at Chuck Wagon. Takes place at 7:00 pm in fall and winter and about 8:00 pm in spring and summer. This event is free.
  • Go on a gentle 45-minute horseback ride at Tri-Circle D Livery. These rides are offered several times a day (weather permitting) and cost $46 per person. Riders must be 9-years-old and at least 48 inches tall. There's a maximum weight of 250 pounds per rider.
  • View the Electrical Water Pageant from the beach/marina area around 9:45 p.m. each night
  • Take part in an Archery Experience. Participants must be at least 7-years-old, experience lasts for 90 minutes and costs $45. Offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons. Walk-ups are accepted or you can book 180 days in advance by calling 407-939-7529.
  • Watch a blacksmith affix horseshoes to Cinderella's ponies at The Settlement.
  • Ride a pony from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. - for children at least 2 years old, weighing no more than 80 pounds and no taller than 48 inches. Cost is $5 and only cash is accepted.
  • Go on a wagon ride at 6:00pm or 8:30pm from the front of Pioneer Hall. A fireworks wagon ride is available on some evening at 8:30pm for the 9:00pm fireworks at the Magic Kingdom (an audio track is played). The cost is $8 per adult and $5 per child (age 3-9) and availability is on a first come, first serve basis (no reservations available).
  • Take a carriage ride for a 25 minute ride through Ft. Wilderness. Rides take place from 6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. and cost $45 per carriage. Reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-PLAY.
  • Visit the marina between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and rent watercraft/boats or call 407-939-2277 to book a fishing excursion

Tour 3: The Epcot-area resorts

The Epcot-area resorts are all located around Crescent Lake and include the Boardwalk area.

How to get there: The Epcot Area resorts are accessible from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. For specific instructions on how to get to any of the Epcot Area resorts from anywhere in Disney World, use the WDW Prep Navigator.

When to visit: At the end of an Epcot or Hollywood Studios day, or on a non-park day

All of these resorts are accessed by walking so you can visit them in any order, but let's just start with The Beach Club (which is the closest to Epcot) & The Yacht Club, which is right next to it.

Stop 1: Beach Club and Yacht Club

The Beach and Yacht Club are sister resorts that are both elegantly themed after the buildings and homes you might find along the east coast. The Yacht Club is known to be the more formal of the two, while the Beach Club has a slightly more laid back feel about it which is reflected in the colors and styling of the indoor and outdoor amenities.

beachclubyachtclub

While The Beach Club and Yacht Club are fabulous places to stay, there isn't a huge amount for non-guests to do here, but there are a few things:

  • Ask somebody at guest services about the Disney trivia scavenger hunt
  • Grab an ice cream at Beaches and Cream
  • Enjoy a campfire and movie on the beach in the evening (check the recreation schedule for details). Marshmallows and sticks are provided but other s'mores ingredients have to be purchased separately.
  • Rent watercraft from Bayside Marina
  • During the holidays, check out lots of Christmas decorations, including a large, edible carousel at The Beach Club and an edible train at The Yacht Club

Stop 2: The Swan and Dolphin

Designed by Michael Graves, these resorts are easily recognizable by the statues that sit on top - one, a 56 foot nautical dolphin and the other a 47 foot swan.  Although the Swan and Dolphin aren't technically Disney resorts, they enjoy some of the same amenities, including being in a prime spot among the Epcot-area resorts.

Here are some things to check out there:

  • Rent a swan paddleboat
  • Walk along the white sand beach
  • Order a Smoking Sangria at bluezoo bar
  • Play miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens which is a 5 minute walk from the Swan/Dolphin

Stop 3: The Boardwalk

Designed to draw on memories of the famous boardwalks that graced places like Atlantic City in the 20's, Disney's Boardwalk is a short walk from any of the other Epcot Area resorts.

There's the Boardwalk Inn resort, and then there's the Boardwalk area just outside of it. Most of the recreational activities will be located on the Boardwalk and are open to anybody who happens to be in the area.

boardwalkarea

Some things to do in the Boardwalk area include:

  • Rent a surrey bike to bike all the way around the water in the Epcot-area resorts
  • Enjoy Boardwalk entertainment that often includes midway games, jugglers, and magic shows (usually available in the evenings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday)
  • Grab something to eat at the Boardwalk pizza window or the Boardwalk Bakery
  • Cool off with some ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery
  • Visit Jellyrolls dueling piano bar (cover charge applies)
  • During the holidays, go inside The Boardwalk Inn to see an edible, miniature version of Atlantic City, complete with Ferris wheel, carousel, and beach which sits in the lobby alongside other seasonal decorations

Tour 4: Animal Kingdom Lodge

Located next to Animal Kingdom, Animal Kingdom Lodge is surrounded by 3 savannas (these are not the same savannas as the ones in Animal Kingdom Park) which are home to over 100 grazing animals including giraffes, zebras and kudu. In addition to the beautiful theming outside, Animal Kingdom Lodge hosts one of the most impressive lobbies of any of the resorts at Walt Disney World.

Not only is this resort one of the most beautiful of all of the Disney World resorts, it also happens to have several things to do if you'd like to make the journey over there to visit it.

animalkingdomlodge

How to get there: You can drive or take a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge. For specific instructions on how to get to Animal Kingdom Lodge from anywhere in Disney World, use the WDW Prep Navigator.

When to visit: At the end of an Animal Kingdom day, as part of an afternoon or evening break, or on arrival day when you don't want to enter a park but would like to keep busy

These are the kinds of activities that are often available to anybody visiting the resort (ask for a schedule at the front desk):

  • Watch the flamingo feedings at the flamingo pond
  • Participate in animal tracking at Arusha Rock
  • Enjoy music of the Savanna, wildlife games and cultural safari in the Sunset Lounge
  • View animals in the dark with night vision binoculars
  • Decorate cookies at Boma daily at 1:30 p.m. (and it's free!)
  • Outside at the Arusha Rock (walk through the lobby, toward the savanna), there is nightly African storytelling next to Ogun's Firepit, with storytelling held indoors in the event of inclement weather.
  • During the holidays, check out the big Christmas tree with themed ornaments decorating the lobby

Tour 5: the Port Orleans resorts

Known for their elegant yet laid back style, the Port Orleans resorts are designed and themed to reflect the look of Louisiana with French Quarter mirroring the flair found in its namesake in New Orleans, and Riverside designed to reflect the buildings and boats located in and along the waterways of the Deep South.

Between Riverside and French Quarter, Riverside is the much larger of the 2 and has more amenities, but both have things you might want to check out. Be sure to check out the PortOrleans.org recreation info for more info.

portorleansmap

How to get there: You can drive, catch a bus, or take a boat from Disney Springs to these resorts. For specific instructions on how to get to Port Orleans French Quarter or Port Orleans Riverside from anywhere in Disney World, use the WDW Prep Navigator.

When to visit: If you're already planning some time at Disney Springs, you might tack on a couple extra hours to visit 1 or both of these resorts.

Stop 1: Port Orleans Riverside

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 4.58.19 PM

Here are some of the things to do at Riverside:

  • Take a boat to Disney Springs
  • Book a 25-minute carriage ride for the evening ($45)
  • Stroll along the river
  • Rent a bicycle or surrey bike (more info here)
  • Watch a movie under the stars near building 90
  • Enjoy a Campfire on de’ Bayou campfire near the pool bar at dusk with stories, sing-alongs and marshmallow roasting (marshmallows and sticks are free, other s'mores ingredients should be purchased separately)
  • Go cane pole fishing early in the day (available 7 a.m.-1 p.m., costs $4/person which includes bait)
  • Visit the arcade
  • Get your hair braided at the marina from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily ($2 per inch, beads are extra)
  • Have a caricature drawn in the lobby in the evening ($15-25)

Stop 2: Port Orleans French Quarter

You can get to French Quarter from Riverside by walking 10-15 minutes (you might consider walking along the river as it's beautiful).

Here's what you can do at French Quarter:

  • Order some beignets in the food court
  • Watch movies under the stars in the open area between buildings 4, 5 and 6
  • Enjoy a Cajun Campfire with roasted marshmallows, storytelling and sing-alongs in the courtyard behind building 6 (marshmallows and sticks provided for free, other s'mores ingredients should be purchased separately)
  • Play in the arcade
  • Have a caricature drawn in the lobby in the evening ($15-25)

The rest of the resorts

The remaining Disney resorts don't have as much to do, but you might want to check out some of these things if you happen to be at 1 of them.

All-Star Resorts and Pop Century
Take pics with the huge icons that are located throughout the 3 All-Star Resorts, visit the food court, or play in the arcade.

Art of Animation
Enjoy walking around the resort as it's one of the most heavily-themed and newest created, take a free drawing class in the lobby, eat in the food court, rent a surrey bike by the lake, or go to the arcade.

Caribbean Beach Resort
Walk along the water, relax in a hammock, rent watercraft or bicycles at the marina, eat in the food court, or visit the arcade.

Coronado Springs Resort
Make an appointment at the hair salon, play in the arcade, have a drink at Rix Lounge, rent watercraft and bicycles/surrey bikes at the marina, work out in the health club, or visit the spa.

Old Key West
Rent bicycles or surrey bikes, go fishing, watch a movie under the stars, attend a campfire, or visit the community hall for things like foosball, ping-pong, and shuffleboard.

Saratoga Springs Resort
Rent bicycles or surrey bikes, go fishing, watch a movie under the stars, attend a campfire, play golf, or visit the community hall for things like foosball, ping-pong, and making ceramics.

Wilderness Lodge
Since Wilderness Lodge is located between the monorail resorts and Ft. Wilderness, you could tack on time here if you're interested in checking it out.

While there, you could:

  • Rent a boat or bike
  • Have a caricature drawn
  • Watch a movie under the stars
  • Grab a drink and appetizers at Geyser Point which provides a relaxing view along the water
  • Go to the arcade
  • Take a guided tour of the resort at 9 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday
  • View the Electrical Water Pageant from the boat dock (usually around 9:30 p.m.)
  • Check out the Lincoln Log table near Whispering Canyon Cafe
  • Watch the 120' geyser go off every hour behind the lodge from 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
  • Look for hidden Mickeys on the Wilderness Lodge Mickey Hunt
  • During the holidays, check out the 60-feet-tall tree that fills the lobby

Note: there isn't a great view of Magic Kingdom fireworks here.

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Did you learn some new things? Or do you have additional items you'd add to this list of how to tour Disney World resorts? Feel free to share in the comment section.

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