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From dining to nightlife to hugs with Mickey Mouse, there is so much that makes Walt Disney World a destination beyond its highly-coveted rides. Believe it or not, you can meet characters, enjoy beloved Disney foods, and even squeeze in some high-quality entertainment, all without stepping foot into any of Disney World’s four theme parks.

a group of people sitting at a table eating food© Courtesy of Disney

Granted, one shouldn’t come all this way without experiencing Walt Disney World’s phenomenal coasters and themed attractions, but if you’re taking a day to relax by the pool or have some free time before a flight, there are plenty of ways you can make your time outside the parks that much more magical.

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From princess salons to courtside experiences (and every horseback ride, virtual reality challenge, and unexpected character encounter in between), here’s how to take advantage of everything Walt Disney World has to offer outside the parks.

Enjoy Live Entertainment

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Head to Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping and entertainment area on resort property, to enjoy everything from live Irish dancing and music at the Raglan Road restaurant to bowling at Splitsville. Live entertainment abounds, but if you want a show to remember, check out Cirque du Soleil (returning in Spring 2020).

If it’s music you’re after, visit House of Blues Orlando in Disney Springs for a live show, or watch the dueling pianos at Jellyrolls, the late-night escape on Disney’s Boardwalk. Prefer to be the star of the show? You can find karaoke every night in the Kimonos Lounge at the Walt Disney World Swan and every Friday in Planet Hollywood’s Stargazer's Bar at Disney Springs.

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Check Out Disney Attractions on Property

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Sports fanatics looking for hands-on fun should head to the new NBA Experience at Disney Springs. Intended for guests of all ages, the new interactive sports attraction lets budding basketball stars run drills, play games, and take their shot — literally — all under one roof. From feeling the highs of draft day to walking through a mock locker room, it’s enough for all young basketball fans to feel like they’ve truly made it to the top. This experience costs $34 per adult and $29 per child.

Afterwards, head to The VOID, a virtual reality experience that allows guests to step inside the worlds of their favorite Disney and Star Wars films. The VOID costs $35 per person, and online booking is recommended.

Watch Fireworks From Outside the Park

a group of fireworks in the sky: Courtesy of Disney© Courtesy of Disney Courtesy of Disney

Though restaurants like Narcoossee’s and California Grill provide great views of nearby Magic Kingdom fireworks, there are plenty other ways to catch explosions in the sky (without paying for an upscale meal). All three hotels off the monorail line offer good views of nightly fireworks, but the best location is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, whose beachfront vantage point is the ideal place to see fireworks for free. (It’s also the best spot to watch the whimsical Electrical Water Pageant, which can only be seen from outside the park.)

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Looking for a unique fireworks experience? A pirate-themed fireworks dessert party brings swashbuckling fun into the mix (prices start at $76 per adult and $46 per child; rates increase February 2020). Private for-hire fireworks cruises offer a more intimate viewing experience.

Get Out on the Water

a small boat in a body of water with Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in the background: Courtesy of Disney© Courtesy of Disney Courtesy of Disney

So much of Walt Disney World is about the rides, shows, and entertainment on land, but there’s plenty to enjoy on the water, too. Rent canoes and kayaks ($13 per adult) at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, splurge on driving a real car through the water (without sinking!) at Disney Springs, or book a boat rental or specialty cruise out on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon, the idyllic expanse surrounding Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Meet Characters

a group of people sitting at a table eating food© Courtesy of Disney

Disney World hotel restaurants like 1900 Park Fare and Chef’s Mickey’s offer character dining all day long, while Cape May Cafe and ‘Ohana bring familiar faces in each day at breakfast. You can also find Disney character dining at Walt Disney World Swan’s Garden Grove for dinner each evening and at breakfast on the weekends and at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursdays, Saturdays and select Tuesdays.

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For an upscale dining experience, turn to Artist’s Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, where a nightly Snow White-themed dinner featuring the princess, some of the seven Dwarfs, and the Evil Queen feels straight out of a fairytale. There’s also a Wonderland Tea Party to celebrate any “unbirthdays” at 1900 Park Fare (for younger guests only).

Characters are known to pop up at random throughout Walt Disney World Resort hotels, but you’re guaranteed to meet characters every night at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long features s’mores, an outdoor movie, a sing-a-long, and of course, the lovable chipmunks. The best part? This event is absolutely free.

Indulge in Specialty Dining

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Dining at the Disney parks and resorts goes beyond the standard hot dogs and popcorn (although you can get those, too). Looking for something a little more magical? Specialty dining events will whisk you from meal to meal on the monorail or put you at the table with animal experts or even one of Disney’s own Imagineers.

Enjoy an elegant high tea in the Garden View Tea Room of Disney’s turn-of-the-century Grand Floridian Resort. For park-like excitement on a day without tickets, consider a dinner theater show, like the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue or Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show.

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On-property Activities and Classes

a group of people riding on the back of a horse: Courtesy of Disney© Courtesy of Disney Courtesy of Disney

From cake decorating seminars at the excellent Amorette’s Patisserie to archery lessons and horseback riding at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, there are plenty of ways to keep busy without Disney park tickets. Go for a round of golf at one of four golf courses on-property, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride to add a little romance to a Disney World vacation.

There’s plenty to do at Disney World Resort hotels, too. Check your hotel’s schedule for evening outdoor movies, or swing by some of the Walt Disney World hotels at Christmastime to see an unbelievable display of extravagant decorations.

Relive a Day in the Parks From Outside

a group of giraffe standing in front of a building: Courtesy of Disney© Courtesy of Disney Courtesy of Disney

Want to scratch that Animal Kingdom itch while taking a day off from the parks? Walk around Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to see zebras and giraffes for free, and then head to the Kidani Village area of the property to dine at Sanaa, where you can eat with a view of the animals.

There’s an extra-special way to enter the park without admission, too — it costs more than a ticket, but this private Animal Kingdom safari followed by an elegant meal is surely worth the splurge.

For more of that Magic Kingdom charm, your little ones can become royalty at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Visit the location in Disney Springs for an epic makeover, or head to Disney’s Grand Floridian, where a visit to this magic-infused salon can be followed by Disney’s Perfectly Princess Tea Party, a pricey yet stunning event offered multiple mornings each week. And, if you’re craving some of Adventureland’s best treat — a pineapple Dole Whip — it can be found outside the parks at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

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Lunar New Year is just about here: It's the time for food, family, and traditions. Anddumplings. Because what better way is there to celebrate? Indeed, in Chinese culture, jiaozi, or steamed dumplings, are typically folded and eaten on New Year's Eve; they're said to symbolize luck and prosperity for the year ahead. They also symbolize deliciousness. I, myself, am an equal-opportunity dumpling eater, year-round. So in the spirit of good luck and prosperity this Lunar New Year and beyond, I'm happy to present 24 top-notch dumpling recipes: from pierogies to ravioli, gyoza to samosas.

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