One of my favorite, free things to do at Walt Disney World (yes, you can go without a park ticket!) is visit some of the beautiful, immersive Disney World resorts. In the past, we’ve fallen in love with Animal Kingdom Lodge (in fact, we spent Christmas there with family), and we’ve decided our other top picks to stay at would be Yacht Club and the Polynesian Resort.
One of the reasons we keep going back to Animal Kingdom Lodge is that there’s just so much to do there. Walk into the lobby and it’s almost like a museum, with artifacts from many African countries and beautiful works of art. Walk out back and you’re on the African savannah, viewing wild animals during the day and at night too. At all of the resorts, you can take advantage of free movies and activities (we roasted marshmallows at the Animal Kingdom Lodge on Christmas), and many of the resorts have gorgeous places to read a book or have a meal.
This past week, I checked another resort off my list: Wilderness Lodge. I also returned to a favorite, Port Orleans: French Quarter. Both are beautiful places to pass some time – free! – without the busy, more stressed energy of the parks.
Wilderness Lodge is designed to feel like a grand lodge in the Northwest United States. The views inside have some parallels to the feel of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, with beautiful displays, intricate artwork and detailing and running water and a bridge in the lobby!
Outside you’ll find a waterfall, a geyser that erupts hourly and beautiful theming that makes for wonderful places to have a meal or read a book. I’ve shared some photos to help capture the atmosphere here. There is also a boat from here to the Magic Kingdom, which is a wonderful thing if you have park tickets, but a tease if you don’t!
Port Orleans: French Quarter is a wonderful moderate hotel (mid-range pricing and amenities, in Disney-speak) with fun and beautiful decor (it’s Mardi-gras coloring, and music is ever-present) and a food court that serves beignets – including gluten-free ones! You can follow a nice walking path or take a boat from the French Quarter to both Port Orleans: Riverside (a much larger resort in the same tier) or to Disney Springs, Disney’s outdoor mall area.
In search of my 10,000 steps for the day, I followed up my visit to Wilderness Lodge with a visit to the French Quarter, a walk to Riverside, a walk back and then some beignets to cap it off. You can probably tell from the photos that French Quarter’s theming is quite different from Riverside and vice versa. They’re both pretty charming, but I prefer the former.
It’s easy to spend a day or two of your Disney vacation exploring the resorts. Heck, if you wanted to, you could spend a week without a parks visit! I don’t necessarily recommend that, of course. But there’s great food and gorgeous views and more to be had at some of the fancier resorts, and provided they have space for their guests, you’re welcome to stop by for a visit.
If you’d like to learn more about our visits to Disney, these might interest you: