My Disney Top 5 - Ways to Spend a Night off From the Parks at Walt Disney World.

by Chris Barry, contributing writer

Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. I hope you are all healthy and safe out there. I took the month of May off from writing my articles to deal with some spring craziness. It's one of the busiest times of year for me at my "other job" and that has meant lots of extra work. On a happier note, my daughter Samantha, who has been featured here in many of my stories over the many years here on MousePlanet, also graduated Northeastern University in May. That meant a wonderful week of festivities up in Massachusetts for my family and I. Things seem to be calming down a little, so it's time to get back to counting down all the magical things that I love so much about Walt Disney World. Considering I'll finally be back on Disney soil in a few months, now's the time to get myself more psyched up. What better way than to sit down and share my thoughts with you kind readers?

Since it's only a mere 75 days until we're all back on hallowed ground again, it goes without saying that I'm in heavy planning mode. Actually, considering how close it actually is, I'm a little behind the ball on this trip. If you're reading this, you probably know just how much planning goes into a Disney vacation. Some people love the planning and consider it all part of the experience, others despise the amount of necessary planning needed for a modern trip to Walt Disney World. I'm sort of in the middle. I wish more things could be left up in the air, and be more spur of the moment, but being the Disney fan that I am, I do love the planning phase. It gets me more and more excited to be there.

As it stands now, we're going to be there for seven days and nights. It looks like all five of us are going to be down there together. My oldest child will be joining us mid stream for a few days and one of my twin boys will be moving in to the Disney College Program on the last full day of our trip. We've got a room booked at Port Orleans French Quarter for the week along the river. It's been a long, long time since we stayed at this moderate resort. I'm looking forward to being back. It's a beautiful spot, very tranquil. We've got park hoppers and park reservations. It's too early for dining reservations but that's coming up in 15 days, so I'm getting ready for that whole craziness. We have favorites that we want to get back to and hopefully a new destination or two. Food and Wine will be starting, so we have that to look forward to.

We do have a night, maybe two, with no concrete plans. So what is there to do? Go back to a park? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Which brings us to the topic of this week's Top 5; how much is there to do at Walt Disney World away from the parks, especially at night? Truth be told, there's a ton of stuff to do. As a matter of fact, there's so many things to do aside from visit the parks that there's a fairly substantial list of places to see and activities to partake in that even after all my many trips, I still haven't managed to experience. I think you'll see from this list though, that I'm a pretty simple guy and my choices of non-park activities reflect just that. Let's dive in and find out just what I'm looking forward to doing on those free nights with my Top 5 Ways to spend a night off from the Walt Disney World parks.

Let me go on record before I start that I am in no way leaving the grounds of Walt Disney World property—at all—on this trip. I never do. I know there's a ton of other things to do in the area, but once I'm in the Disney bubble, I'm staying there. We've visited Universal and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over there. We've even stayed on their property and loved it, but if we do a combined trip like that, there's a Universal segment, typically first, and then it's on to Disney and there's no leaving until we head home. We wouldn't have it any other way. So on these few nights we have away from the parks, we ain't leaving the World!

5 - Boat Ride to Disney Springs

One of the things I love about the Port Orleans Resort is the ability to hop on a Sassagoula Riverboat and head over to Disney Springs for a bit. Now, I'm no big fan of Disney Springs. For that matter, I was never a fan of Downtown Disney either. It's a bit too hectic and it's not very…"Disneylike" to me. I've got more shopping and restaurants here in the New York City area then I'll ever get to see in one lifetime. I'm not going to Walt Disney World to shop at Tommy Bahama or Anthropologie.

Travel the Sassagoula River from Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter to Disney Springs. Photograph by Bonnie Fink.

That said, though, the boat ride down there from Port Orleans is beautiful, especially at night. I imagine we'll head down there and maybe go to the World of Disney or Pin Traders. Maybe get some ice cream. Maybe a margarita…or two. And then take a nice peaceful boat ride back home to the resort. It's a great way to see the Saratoga Springs Treehouses and, when you get there, the lights of Disney Springs reflecting on the water are really quite beautiful. Personally, the Springs look much nicer to me from the water and the only way to get that view is by taking a ride on the Sassagoula River from Port Orleans or Old Key West, so if you have the time and want a unique point of view, give it a shot on your next trip. It's worth the ride.

4 - Fireworks from the Beach at the Polynesian Resort

One time, many years ago, we were lucky enough to get a 40 percent off room reservation deal mailed to us from Disney. Not a bad thing to find in your mailbox. It was a unique code linked to our name only. Needless to say, I hopped on the computer right away and did some booking. We were planning to go to Disney that upcoming summer anyway. Now we would do it in luxury at one of our bucket list Disney resorts, the Polynesian, and for a heck of a deal too. One of the many joys of being at the Poly is walking out to the beach in the evening, grabbing a few beach chairs and maybe a Key Lime Coconut Martini, and staying there until the fireworks go off. With any luck you get to catch the Electrical Water Pageant float by as well. The music from the fireworks is piped in to hidden speakers in the nearby vegetation so you can follow along with the music and the narrators.

The Magic Kingdom fireworks as seen from the beaches of Disney's Polynesian Resort. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

It's not exactly a substitute for being on Main Street or standing on the bridge to Tomorrowland right underneath Tinker Bell as she flies overhead, but it's not too shabby a way to spend an night off from the parks. We've also done it when we were staying at a resort besides the Polynesian. For a moment you feel like you're intruding, but once the show starts, settle in and you'll feel right at home.

3 - Wine and Cheese on the Balcony

Here's something that is a constant for us, even if we do spend a night in the parks and then retreat back to the resort. I can't begin to tell you how many times we have hit the shop at Yacht and Beach Club, stocked up on wine, cheese, crackers and fruit and camped out on the balcony with our favorite Disney traveling buddies. We typically get adjoining rooms with one particular family and it's a given that each night is capped off out on the balcony.

Take my word for it, this view from our Wilderness Lodge balcony was even more serene once the sun set and we uncorked a bottle of wine. Photo by Chris Barry.

These have been some of the best times on our trips. We laugh. We talk about the day or about past trips we've taken together. We seriously get to know each other out there. There's something about the balconies at a Disney resort. It's hard to describe. Actually, it might just be us because I rarely see anyone else sitting out there on their respective balconies. Maybe we're on to something? This year, we'll be at French Quarter and I will miss our nightly balcony visits for sure. they have become an integral part of our trip experiences.

2 - Stroll the Boardwalk

When I went to book this year's trip, I was more than happy to use the Disney+ 25 percent off discount being offered this summer. Regrettably, I could not get a room at our beloved Yacht Club. The Beach Club was booked as well. So much for being at our all time favorite resort! I'm not complaining about French Quarter. I'm happy to be going back there again, but I will miss having such immediate access to Disney's BoardWalk. There's almost nothing I'd rather do than take a stroll along the BoardWalk area on a peaceful night at Walt Disney World.

The Boardwalk changes personality after dark, with the accent lighting on the buildings and the reflections shimmering on Crescent Lake. Photo by Donald Fink.

Most people don't associate Disney with peaceful, but the BoardWalk, despite being wedged right between two of Disney's theme parks, is a downright peaceful and tranquil place to be. We've spent many a night having a meal, aimlessly strolling around, renting the surrey bikes, sitting on the beach, sipping margaritas or indulging in deserts from the BoardWalk Bakery. Even though we're not staying there, I think visiting will be a mighty strong option for one of our nights away from the parks.

1 - Resort Night!

I put this option in the number one slot because on the occasions that we have decided to forgo the parks and call it a resort night, we have never been disappointed. I did use the word forgo, because we have done just that many times. We all know, as I mentioned above, that a Disney trip is typically planned to the hilt well before you get there. You can pretty much determine where you're going to be at any given time well in advance. Now, we always park hop. We're typically there in summer, so we love to hit the first park before opening, bang out a bunch of attractions, maybe have lunch, and then during the hottest, busiest part of the day, head back to the resort to swim and cool off. On many occasions, when we've had evening plans to head back to the parks after that afternoon cooling off, we've decided to stay put and have a resort night instead. It's a spontaneous call and it has always been the right decision.

I remember once walking away from the Caribbean Beach pool on a trip with just my sons and I. We did our afternoon swim and were headed back over the bridge to our room. We were planning to go back to the Magic Kingdom and see fireworks and hit a bunch of our favorite rides again. I saw them setting up the inflatable movie screen. The sun was setting. The sky looked beautiful. I really didn't want to leave. I turned to my boys, who were I guess ten years old at the time, and said, "You want to order a pizza, stay here, watch the movie and swim all night instead of going to the Magic Kingdom?" They were beside themselves thrilled with that suggestion and we had one of the greatest Disney nights we've ever had.

The reflections on Caribbean Beach's Barefoot Bay literally stopped me in my tracks, made me change our plans and call for a resort night. Photo by Chris Barry.

We've done this on just about every trip we've ever taken. And remember, this was when we had things planned out to do. We canceled those plans and took advantage of whatever incredible Disney resort we were staying at and never looked back. So, I'm pretty sure that one of our nights off this summer, we'll be making that resort night call once again.

To those not in the know, Walt Disney World may seem like it's all about the four theme parks. I'd be hard-pressed to argue with that sentiment too much. We, obviously, can't wait to spent time together at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Animal Kingdom and the Studios. But a vacation is supposed to be about getting back in touch with your family and friends. Spending time together is the most important thing, isn't it? While there's just about nothing I love more than strolling through the Germany pavilion with my wife and kids on an evening in Epcot, those nights spent on the balcony or at the pool or walking around the Boardwalk have sometimes meant more to us than we ever imagined. It's one of the beautiful things about Walt Disney World. It's not all about the parks. There's so much else to do there from riding horses to hot air balloon rides and from horse and buggy rides around Port Orleans to movie nights by the pool. My well seasoned advice to you is to take advantage of those moments outside of the four theme parks and you just might find them to be the memories that stand out the most from your time at Walt Disney World.

On a special note, I'd regret it if I didn't wish our fellow MousePlaneteer and my good friend Gregg Jacobs well as he embarks on an exciting new chapter of his life abroad in Prague this weekend. Gregg and I have always bonded over what some may call our obsessive love of collecting all things Disney. Those of you who enjoy reading Gregg's articles as much as I have can be assured that thanks to modern technology, we haven't seen the last of Gregg here on MousePlanet. I'm certainly looking forward to some awesome European Disney Stuff that he will no doubt be hunting for on his new adventure in the great wide somewhere!

That's all for this time. As usual, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on this list. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.



  1. By maxbuffmelvin71

    On non-park nights, similar to yourself, I remain onsite and avoid Disney Springs. I enjoy the resorts on non-park nights to eat dinner, drink at a lounge, take photos of the details, shop at the gift store, walk around, and watch Electrical Pageant (MK area resorts). My Top 5 are Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Ft. Wilderness (Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue), Boardwalk, and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Honorable mentions to Grand Floridian and Beach Club at Christmastime and Easter for beautiful decorations.

  2. By Dave1313

    I'm a fan of the Starlight Safari Tour at AKL. It's cost can add up if you have a large group, but it's a nice thing to check out once. Riding around on a vehicle through the savannas seeing the animals at the lodge as they are settling down for the night is pretty cool.

    While I've not successfully participated, I think they also have the night vision viewing in the two main viewing areas for each building, but it's possible that may not be offered right now(?), as I could not find it listed on the WDW web site? That used to be a free activity for anyone staying there.

    I certainly can't argue with the top 5 though. I should try to remember to check out the PO to Springs boat ride someday.

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