So, you have a morning flight or expect to arrive at Disney World by car around late-afternoon to begin your vacation. What is there to do on your Disney World arrival day?
If you are arriving at Disney World in the afternoon or evening and do not want to use a park ticket for that partial day, there is still plenty of Disney fun to get your vacation started outside of the parks.
You may want to simply jump right into your hotel’s pool, but I’m sharing more recommendations if you want to venture outside of your resort.
Character dining, extra-ticketed events, unique restaurants, and stress-free plans that don’t require reservations will all be discussed in this post to help you plan your best Disney World arrival day!
Go To The Parks!
This question about what to do on your Disney World arrival day is typically asked because it is a partial day, having spent at least the morning flying or driving to Orlando. You’d likely prefer to not use a park ticket when you can’t be in the park all day since it wouldn’t be a good value.
However, depending on your length of stay, spending that partial arrival day at the parks can be a great and economical choice!
Disney World park tickets cost over $100 per day for 1- to 4-day park tickets. Once you add a fifth day or more, the cost of additional days reduces *drastically*. Each additional day beyond 4 days is less than $20 per day!
For example, using October 26, 2020 as the first day of the ticket (all prices from Disney’s Standard Theme Park Tickets page), a 3-day adult park hopper ticket is $409.01 (all prices before tax). Adding one more day to make it a 4-day ticket costs over $100 more – $515.95.
But turning a 4-day ticket into a 5-day ticket? A 5-day park hopper is only $531.03 … $15.08 more! A 6-day ticket? That’s $543.02. In fact, even an 8-day ticket is only $571.96! You can literally double the length of your ticket from 4 to 8 days for just $56!
Now, I’m not trying to urge you to dramatically increase the length of your vacation in this blog post. My intent is to bring to your attention that additional days beyond a four day ticket will likely cost significantly less than you might have expected.
So, if you have at least a 4-day base or park hopper ticket, definitely consider spending your partial arrival day in the parks since it won’t cost you much more! In fact, it may even cost less than some of the restaurants I’m going to mention.
However, if you have only 1-, 2-, or 3-day tickets, adding that fourth day is still quite pricey and probably not worth it for a partial day. So keep reading for more ideas for fun activities at Disney World without a park ticket for your arrival day.
Attend an After Hours Event or Party
Arrival day can be the perfect time to enjoy a special ticketed event without needing a separate park ticket. After Hours events are held on select nights and give you access to rides and attractions with little to no wait.
Magic Kingdom also holds parties from late August through December. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party take place on nearly half of all evenings this time of year.
Since these special events begin in the evening and extend until at least midnight, they’re a great option if you’re arriving mid-day.
See Disney’s Special Events Tickets page for the latest After Hours and party information.
What better way to begin your vacation than by meeting your favorite Disney characters?
Many character dining restaurants are located in the parks, but they also exist in the nearby resorts where you won’t need a park ticket and anyone is free to make reservations.
1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian offers a full dinner buffet with characters from Cinderella.
Chef Mickey’s is open all day at The Contemporary Resort. Meet the Fab Five – Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto – dressed in chef attire while enjoying an all-you-care-to-eat buffet.
Story Book Dining at Artist Point is open only for dinner at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Meet Snow White, Dopey, and the Evil Queen in a fairy tale forest with a delicious prix fixe menu.
These three restaurants are all in resorts with monorail or boat access from the Magic Kingdom. If you’re not staying in a Magic Kingdom area resort, simply take a bus from your resort to the Magic Kingdom and then transfer using the monorail or boat.
My Simple Guide to Disney World Table Service Restaurants makes finding dining experiences like these quick and easy. Download your free guide to see which restaurants have character dining, offer buffets, are open for dinner, and more at a glance!
Unique Dining Outside the Parks
If character dining isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other unique dining experiences at Disney resorts and Disney Springs. You won’t need a park ticket to enjoy your first fabulous dinner at Disney World!
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue – This entertaining dinner show at Fort Wilderness has been running for over 40 years! The Pioneer Hall Players serve up a fantastically hilarious show with a delicious all-you-care-to-eat family-style dinner.
Sanaa – This table service restaurant is the only dining location at Animal Kingdom Lodge with savannah views. Watch the animals outside the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows while you dine. Just be sure to check sunset times since you won’t be able to see the animals after dark!
Ohana – This Hawaiian-style restaurant offers all-you-care-to-eat skewers of chicken, shrimp, and steak brought to your table. Check the times for fireworks at the Magic Kingdom and plan your mealtime for a fireworks view.
Boma – This fantastic buffet dinner is another great dining option at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Arrive early to see the animals that live at the lodge’s savanna.
Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort, California Grill at The Contemporary, and Narcoossee’s in the Grand Floridian all offer fine dining for a relaxing and delicious start to your vacation.
Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ (old Florida comfort food), Morimoto Asia (pan-Asian cuisine in an elegant setting), and Raglan Road (an Irish pub with live Celtic music and dancers) are all fantastic options at Disney Springs.
TREX and Rainforest Cafe at Disney Springs are both incredibly immersive dining experiences that are popular with the kiddos.
This is just a small sampling of the unique dining offerings available outside of the parks, so check out the Resorts and Disney Springs sections of my Simple Guide to Disney World Table Service Restaurants for more choices!
Dinner + Hotel Tours
Some of those special restaurants can get pretty pricey. Consider spending your arrival day touring the incredible resorts and eating at their moderately-priced yet still deliciously amazing restaurants. Combining a great meal with a leisurely stroll around the gorgeous resorts is a relaxing way to begin your vacation … especially if your day begins with a long flight or car ride!
Take a walk on the Boardwalk and dine at nearby Beach Club Resort. Beaches & Cream Soda Shop is one of my family’s favorites. It’s inexpensive and has an amazing ice cream menu. There will be plenty to do around the Boardwalk when you’ve finished your delicious meal.
Enjoy a moderately-priced dinner along the monorail loop the Polynesian Village Resort’s Kona Cafe, the Grand Floridian’s Grand Floridian Cafe, or The Wave at The Contemporary. Afterward, hop on the monorail and travel to the next resort for drinks at the resorts’ bars and lounges. You can also enjoy the Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian.
Dining and Activities Without Reservations
Now, I firmly stand behind all of these recommendations. However, every restaurant mentioned so far requires reservations and there’s a financial penalty if you don’t show up.
If you’re like me and don’t want the additional stress of possibly facing a no-show penalty following a late or cancelled flight, you might want to consider one of these other amazing restaurants and activities that don’t require reservations. You won’t have any additional stress in case you run into transportation problems!
Wilderness Lodge is my family’s favorite resort. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, sit, and just BE. Geyser Point Bar & Grill is probably the most picturesque quick service restaurant in all of Disney World, located in the open air right on Bay Lake. Enjoy a relaxing dinner and maybe even rent a boat from the nearby dock if you arrive earlier in the afternoon.
Gasparilla Island Grill is our favorite quick service restaurant on the monorail loop. Located in the Grand Floridian Resort, enjoy dinner and then take a tour of the other resorts on the loop.
Animal Kingdom Lodge is another incredible resort to visit and Mara is another fantastic quick service restaurant. Get a package of Zebra Domes from the refrigerator case for dessert to go and visit the animals in the lodge’s savanna after dinner.
Disney Springs is a mecca for arrival day options. Go bowling at Splitsville, see a movie at the AMC theater, enjoy any of the many delicious quick service restaurants (Chicken Guy is our current favorite!), and get your vacation shopping done before you even hit the parks!
Do you have a morning flight? If you have the entire afternoon, consider renting a boat from any of the Magic Kingdom-area resorts. Spending an hour or two on the water is one of our favorite ways to relax at Disney World.
How will your family spend your Disney World arrival day?