Updated for 2016!
Holy cow, how long have you been saving up for this vacation? Chances are, you have spent a lot of money on accommodations and tickets, and then you’ll drop even more money on food and souvenirs. So the day you arrive in Orlando, what should you do?
Don’t waste tickets on a partial day at the theme parks.
Driving or flying, most people won’t arrive at Disney first thing in the morning, depending on the starting point. Unless you have Annual Passes (APs), you’ll be using tickets to enjoy your days at the theme parks. Since the majority of you traveling won’t arrive until afternoon, you’ll probably have a half day or less on that first day. And while an excellent case can be made for entering a park and staying out late riding rides, this will start your first full day with a sleep deficit.
Don’t waste those expensive tickets on a partial-day.
Now I realize that the more days you pay for tickets, the more money you can save per day on the ticket prices. Those ten days tickets are a great deal. But…maybe you don’t have ten vacation days? Maybe you don’t have enough disposable income saved up for seven days worth of accommodations? Eight days worth of tickets may be a bargain comparatively, but not if you are struggling to pay for food for three.
So if you don’t use tickets for theme parks the day you arrive, what else is there to do without spending a ton of money?
Here are some ideas on how to better use your time and money for a partial day when you need other plans besides using park tickets.
1. Pool Time
Too often when you have tickets (now those are primarily MagicBands) burning a hold through your pocket (arm), you don’t feel like you can stop riding rides long enough to enjoy the amazing resort amenities just outside of the parks. After all, tickets are expensive.
Hang out at your resort pool, and enjoy an afternoon of swimming and relaxing. After two or three days of walking mile after mile, your feet will wish you spent more time splashing around in a pool.
What you cannot do is swim in the other resort’s pools. The details are all here: A Guide To Disney World Resort Pool Hopping.
2. Disney Springs
Head over to Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, for some top-of-the-line Disney-themed shopping or, Cheapskate Princess style, FREE window-shopping. This is a great time for the kids to preview all the fabulous merchandise they’ll encounter in gift shops galore at the parks.
In addition to first class restaurants and shopping, Disney Springs offers a lot of activities that are totally free. FREE activities are a great way to have some fun without spending your souvenir money on your very first day in Orlando.
3. Rest Up
Take a nap. This may seem somewhat boring, given you are now officially on vacation, but you’ll need all your energy for your upcoming days. If you have a bit of jet lag or endured a stressful journey to the Happiest Place on Earth, your body will be happy with a little rest.
If you have small children, getting in a nap may be especially important. We hear this a lot about mommas, but truly, ain’t nobody happy when tired kids aren’t happy!
4. Sight See
Take a drive around Orlando and see some sights. If you are from a small town like me, plus you enjoy shopping, then you definitely should stop in two of Orlando’s best malls. The two articles below have lists of stores, operating hours, phone numbers, as well as addresses for your GPS.
The Mall of Millennia is a massive upscale retail mall with a large food court and two floors of stores too numerous to list here, plus they are next door to an Ikea.
The Disney Character Outlet at the Premium Outlets on Vineland Road can be an amazing find of parks authentic items marked down into incredible bargains. While parking is crazy, the Premium Outlets have some pretty great deals as well.
5. Enjoy a Meal
Have a nice dinner with your traveling companions, and take some time to talk about your upcoming days and your expectations for the trip. Having a solid game plan can save you time and frustrations once you are standing on Main Street.
If you know you will not be going into the parks on your first day in the park, it’s a great idea to make some reservations ahead of time. Use this link for information about ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations.)
New to making dining reservations: Use this link for info.
Use this link for information on where to find online menus at Disney restaurants.
Use this link to see the TOP 20 restaurants our Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans voted were their very favorites.
Use this link if you are interested in characters meals, with our fans voting on their favorite.
6. Resort See
This is just like “sight see,” but you look around and see your resort – Resort See – get it?! Take a walk and get a good look around your resort. If you are staying on Disney property, really look over all the architectural details, and be sure to spend some time in the gift shops. Never mind what the kids are doing: this is a good time for you to preview what souvenirs you will want to take home without the mental pressure to move onto the next ride.
There are loads of activities to do at all the Disney resorts; you will not be at a loss for entertainment, like surrey bike rentals, jogging trails, catch and release fishing, tennis, etc. In our second most popular article ever, you will find WAY more FREE activities at the resorts than you could ever do in half a day. This could come in handy if you are staying enough days to fit in a free day mid-vacation.
7. Resort Hop
If you take your time, this can take hours!! Resort hopping is similar to Resort Seeing, #6 above, but you are walking around other Disney resorts rather than your own. Get some snacks in the cafes, window shop in the gift shops, and plan your next vacation at one of the Deluxe Resorts. You may be saving up for a while to get there, but you can mentally pick out your room location now, ’cause planning is free!
We have several articles on what is called “Resort Hopping.” Resort hopping is when you visit other Disney properties, which is 100% legal, as Disney has an open resort policy.
For more info on Resort Hopping, use this link”
There is a plethora of ideas on what to do for free at the different resorts that are accessible by monorail.
8. Early to Bed
I know this sounds crazy, because on the day you arrive, you are all probably all keyed up and raring to go, but try to relax and go to bed early.
Take a hot shower/bath and get a good night’s sleep, if you can with all the excitement running through your mind. Your body can only physically handle so many days of waking up early and going to bed late, so use this night to your advantage. You’ll be set and ready to go on your first full day.
9. Snap Some Photos
There is no end to the photo opportunities you will come across at the Disney Resorts and Disney Springs. Take some time now to snap some pictures, so you can enjoy the memories when you go back home.
Many times, the resorts and Disney Springs don’t have the long lines for snap shots the way the parks do, so now would be a good time for head shots of the kids and other silly poses, like with hats!, that you might not use time to take at the parks.
10. Monorail Trip Time
The Disney World monorails normally cruise along about at 40 mph. There are 12 monorail trains at Walt Disney World, and the track that spans from the Ticket & Transportation Center to Epcot Center is at an average altitude of about 21 feet. If you have some free time to kill and are traveling with young monorail fans, this trip from the Ticket & Transportation Center to Epcot can take up about 45 minutes including waiting for the next car.
As we mentioned in #7’s Resort Hop, check out the resorts along the monorail track and even the Wilderness Lodge, which is reached by boat from the Contemporary Resort. This can take hours, depending on how much walking you do and how long you wait for the next monorail.
If you need more ideas on what you can do in Orlando for FREE, use this link.
11. Spa Time
Well, if you can break away from your kids and families long enough, there are several beautiful spas on Disney property that will paper both our Cheapskate Pirates and Princesses.
You have to see the photos to believe the services and pampering, and these articles provide phone numbers and spa service pricing. manicures are certainly not going to break your vacation budget.
What Do Our Readers Recommend?
Rhonda, “This advice is so true! We never go to the parks on Day 1. We have a tradition. We go to O’hana for dinner. We eat until we can’t move, and then, if we’ve been good, we get to see the fireworks from our table. Then its back to the resort and to bed! I can’t imagine wanting to change this tradition.”
Tracy, “I always do the dining plan when I’m there. It really saves my family money. So like some other people hinted at, I always make an ADR at a nice resort restaurant or Disney Springs. It gives us a chance to start Disney off right, make our plans for what the ride/show order we want and just talk about what we are looking forward to the most of our trip. Best of all, it gives us an excuse to check out a resort we haven’t stayed at, so we don’t feel like we have to take away a park day later in the week.”
Lisa, “Rent a bike and get a good look of the layout of your resort. You probably won’t see a lot of it during your stay since you’ll be at the parks all day, and they are so pretty. And check out what the resort activities are; ask for the schedule right up front. We didn’t realize they did marshmallow roasts, trivia/game time and movies every night.”
Dree, “We are going in November. For our first partial day, I made an ADR for that evening at T-Rex restaurant in Disney Springs. That way we don’t ‘waste’ a ticket, but the boys will still get an amazing experience, so they will love the first day there. Plus an early dinner means we can get to bed early that night and have lots of energy the next day.”
So how do you and your family spend a half day when you don’t want to use a full day ticket? Leave us a comment if we missed anything, as we love to share our reader’s stories.
Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you relaxing by the pool, getting ready for the next Disney day…
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Amanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.
Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast.
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