I’ve been approached recently with the prompt: If a family is not big on rides, what else can they do at the parks? Obviously, Disney is famous for their rides, they are a theme park after all. However, that doesn’t mean that rides are the only source of fun in the parks, there are plenty of other experiences for guests of all ages throughout all four parks! However, keeping length in mind, I will only mention one stand-out activity from each park in each category, to point you towards which entertainment options I personally would recommend.
*Photo Credit: Orlando Sentinel
It can be safely said that Live Shows have become signature attractions across all four parks. These experiences are, more often than not, stage shows, combining high-quality costume, set design and production value with the classic Disney stories you love.
Magic Kingdom – Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is the current version of the famous Cinderella Castle stage show. This musical show includes Mickey and his friends, along with characters from Tangled, Princess and the Frog and Frozen. Taking place right in front of the castle, this light-hearted show is bound to be a hit for the whole family, especially younger guests.
Epcot – Unlike the other parks, Epcot doesn’t have too many stage shows, their performances are closer to pop-up performances at times. One of my favorite shows is easily the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats over at the China Pavilion. This show features some amazing acrobatic tricks that will leave you speechless. They only do shows in the afternoon, so make sure to stick around by then to catch them!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – In my opinion, this park has some of the best shows, but the one show that you can’t miss is the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! This show is pretty self-explanatory, demonstrating some of the biggest stunts seen in the Indiana Jones franchise. The stunts performed in this show are sure to keep you on the edge of your seats the whole time, and if you’re lucky, you might be chosen to join in on the fun! (Not the stunts of course, but I won’t spoil the fun for you).
Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Festival of the Lion King is by far the best show Animal Kingdom has to offer. This show features a bit of everything: A bit of audience participation, a bit of acrobatics, and a bit of broadway-esque magic. Hosted by characters from the classic movie The Lion King, this show is bound to be one you remember.
Character Meet and Greets
The other signature entertainment Disney is perhaps more known for are their character interactions. Most of the Disney characters you could think of, chances are you can meet them at one of the four parks. Of course, meeting Mickey and Minnie is an essential, which is why they’re available to meet at all four parks, but why stop there? Here are some other character interactions that have been incredible every time I’ve experienced them:
Magic Kingdom – Princess Fairytale Hall is home to multiple Princesses, and nothing beats meeting any of the Disney Royalty! No matter which princess you meet, they’re always ready to have a lovely conversation and snap a few memorable photos with you (My personal favorite Princess to meet in Princess Elena, a lesser-known princess, but she’s always a ton of fun to go say hello to!)
Epcot – Home to many characters, Epcot has far too many great character experiences to choose just one. If you’re a fan of Disney’s more recent films, head to the Epcot Character Spot in Future World and get in line for Baymax from Big Hero 6 and Joy and Sadness from Inside Out. Joy and Sadness are lots of fun to interact with and Baymax is always ready for a friendly fist bump!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Star Wars Launch Bay is home to 3 character experiences: BB-8, Kylo-Ren and Chewbacca. All three of these experiences are sure to make some long-lasting memories, especially for Star Wars fans. My personal favorite of the three is by far Chewbacca, Chewie loves meeting guests (and he gives great hugs!)
Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Animal Kingdom is home to many rare characters, but one that you definitely don’t see enough is Pocahontas. Her meet and greet is a little bit hidden, but you can find it right before the bridge into Dinoland USA.
*Photo Credit: Walt Disney World
If lining up for characters isn’t your thing, why not let the characters come to you! Parades are a little less common, but you’re sure to find a lot of these famous characters passing you by.
Magic Kingdom – Magic Kingdom is now home to only one parade, The Festival of Fantasy Parade. This parade, in my opinion, is one of the best parades Disney has done so far. These fabulous, artistic floats feature characters from old and new classics like Peter Pan, Brave, Frozen, and Beauty and the Beast. This is one entertainment offering that you will not want to miss!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Hollywood Studios’ parade may not be as impressive as Magic Kingdom’s, but it once again certainly caters for the Star Wars fan/s in your family! The March of the First Order is a daily show that features Captain Phasma (From the more recent Star Wars trilogy) leading First Order Stormtroopers up and down Hollywood Boulevard. Before turning around to head back, the squadron demonstrates their loyalty and order for the public, proving they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Over the years, Disney has developed multiple in-park games to play by just walking around and interacting with objects around you. This is definitely an example of non-ride entertainment because it’s all walking-based, you’re not required to go on any rides. The best part about these games is that once you begin, you don’t have to stay committed, you can take a break any time, even coming back on a different day to continue. IF you’d like to read more about these games, take a look at my article on them here.
*Photo Credit: Walt Disney World
No Disney Vacation is complete without a nighttime show! Luckily for you, these evening spectaculars are now available at all four parks, and they’re all amazing shows that will captivate guests of any age. Whether its a fireworks show, projection and pyrotechnics, or a little bit of both, these shows are a great way to end your day at the parks.
Magic Kingdom – Unlike the other parks, Magic Kingdom is home to two nighttime shows: Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After. In my opinion, if you had to choose one of the two, go for Happily Ever After. This show beautifully projects scenes and characters from Disney movies on Cinderella Castle, while also shooting stunning fireworks into the night sky, perfectly timed to the music and characters being shown.
Epcot – IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is Epcot’s resident nighttime show, and there has never been a better show that showcases the essence of Epcot than this one. This show takes place over World Showcase Lagoon, the body of water surrounded by all the countries of World Showcase, featuring dazzling fireworks and a grand finale you can’t miss!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Hollywood Studios has three nighttime shows, Fantasmic!, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular and Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular and Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! are seasonal shows, so they switch out when it gets closer to (you guessed it) Christmas. In this case, we’ll assume your trip is not a Christmas trip and only focus on Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular and Fantasmic!. To be honest, it’s hard to compare these two shows because they’re completely different. All I’ll say is if you’re not a Star Wars fan, it’s probably better to go with Fantasmic!, but if you are a fan, you don’t want to miss Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Rivers of Light is currently Animal Kingdom’s only nighttime show, and it also happens to be the first one they’ve ever had. While this is the only show that does not feature fireworks of any kind (fireworks startle the animals) rest assured this show is just as beautiful as the others that Disney has to offer. Fountains timed to music along with projections on water screens makes this show so breathtaking, it’s definitely not one to miss!
Special Holiday Events
I’ve covered pretty much all activities you can do on a normal day in the parks, but as a bonus, here are some seasonal experiences you can enjoy for an extra price:
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party takes place in Magic Kingdom right after summer. Paying extra for a ticket to this after-hours party gives you the opportunity to dress up in costume and go trick or treating (no matter what age you are) along with enjoy special halloween entertainment.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party also takes place in the Magic Kingdom and also requires paying extra. During this party, you’ll get to enjoy Christmas-themed entertainment, along with a few special surprises…
If you’d like to know more about after-hours events, take a look at my article on them here.