Walt Disney Parks has been making dreams a reality for kids and adults alike for nearly half a century. If you've had the opportunity to visit one, you know firsthand just how magical it is to watch fireworks burst over the grand Cinderella Castle, and the wholesome joy in every child's face when they put a pair of mouse ears on their head for the first time. Disney brings out the kid in all of us. From the tiara-clad princesses to the make-believe parades and gigantic Mickey-shaped pretzels, you can't deny that these fantasylands are fun at every age.
But there's a whole slew of experiences for you to experience. You can learn to shoot a bow and arrow like Rapunzel at Fort Wilderness, for instance, or explore the vast network of underground tunnels you probably didn't realize were right beneath your feet. There is a gaggle of super-accessible and inexpensive — sometimes even free — activities you can get into at Disney, and there are just as many exclusive experiences for VIPs. Here are 13 things we didn't realize we could do at Disney and 12 that are reserved for VIPs.
25 Meet The Characters (For Free)
Catch up with your old pals Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the rest at a top-secret meet-and-greet spot next to Innoventions at Disney World's Epcot, Fodors says. Alternatively, in the World Showcase, characters hide out in their countries of origin — Belle and the Beast in France, Mulan in China, and Snow White in Germany. The rarely crowded Character Landing next to Dinoland USA in the Animal Kingdom is allegedly Pooh's favorite hangout, too. You're sure to log face time with Cinderella if you go the extra mile and book a table at her Royal Table restaurant.
24 Get Your Souvenirs Delivered To You
What is worse than carrying around an extra-large sack of souvenirs around like Santa Clause, especially on 12-hour marathon days at Disney World. It's hot, grimy, crowded, and by the end of it, your feet will be throbbing. Do yourself a favor and ask the retail clerk at the souvenir shop to arrange for hotel delivery (if you're staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, that is). At the very least, ask about pick-up so you can swing back around at the end of the day. Whatever you do, don't carry the life-size Winnie The Pooh around the park with you.
23 Go For A Carriage Ride
Pretend you're Cinderella for a few minutes as you travel by a horse-drawn carriage. Carriage rides are offered at the Riverside Levee Marina at Disney's Port Orleans Resort as well as at the entrance of Crockett's Tavern at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, the Walt Disney World website says. The rides cost $55 and wind through charming scenery — lush pine and cypress forest — for 24 minutes. You could even be treated to rabbits, deer, ducks, and armadillos along the way (although they won't engage in conversation with you, sadly).
22 Ride A Surrey Bike
A Surrey cycle is an enchanting and antiquated four-wheeled bike that is designed to carry two or four people. How delightful it would be to bypass the hordes of people in one of these delightful, vintage-inspired bikes at Disney World? Well, for $25, you can rent one of these adorable bikes for up to four people and pedal it (sans guide, sorry to add to your already-fatigued legs) along the promenade at Barefoot Bay or down quieter woodland trails. Disney has six Surrey cycle rental locations dotted around the park.
21 Ride A Car On Water
Anything can happen at Disney. The vintage cars of your dreams can float on water, for instance, and you can ride along in the back seat. Cruise around Disney Springs' Lake Buena Vista in an old-school convertible and unlike other things in the park, they aren't even fake. Disney purchased these strange little amphibious vehicles from private dealers and now there are only about 400 of these '60s-era models left. Many of them are on the water at BOAT LAND, beckoning one-of-a-kind 20-minute scenic rides without wheels. It costs $125.
20 Get A Haircut
If for any reason, you find yourself in need of a haircut while you're visiting Disney World, the Harmony Barber Shop has you covered. This old-timey chop shop sits in the town square of Main Street, USA, in the Magic Kingdom, and is marked by an iconic swirling striped pole. The state-licensed cosmetologists are trained to follow suit with the vintage theme and banter with customers like in the olden days. Little ones who get their first cut here get sent home with a free pair of Mickey's ears and a certificate for the scrapbook, too.
19 Go Out On The Town
Disneyland is probably not the first place you imagine when you're looking for a club scene, but believe it or not, the nightlife there isn't too bad. Perhaps all the parents whose toddlers have left them pooped need to unwind with an adults-only beverage after one last round on It's A Small World and the nightly fireworks show. Either way, there are plenty of good bars around the California park from tiki bars to Irish pubs, USA Today says, each one serving up festive, Disney-inspired specials that will (hopefully) make you forget how bad your feet hurt.
18 Learn How To Shoot A Bow & Arrow
You can even channel your inner Rapunzel and learn your way around a bow and arrow during your Disney visit. The archery class at Fort Wilderness is as fun for adults as it is for kids. A nice break away from the crowds, the archery park is located in The Campsites, a lush, forested (and quiet!) part of the park. So take a breather and release some stress — Disney has a reputation for stirring up anxiety, after all — with some much-need target practice. Who knows, after this 90-minute course, you could be hitting the bullseye better than Pocahontas.
17 Go Horseback Riding
Did you know that you not only can pay a visit to Cinderella's Ponies in their stable but also hitch a ride with their friends? Everyone who works at Walt Disney World plays a character, and these stallions are no exception. You can log one-on-one time with the gentle giants at the Fort Wilderness Resort and watch blacksmiths whittle their shoes. You can go for a horseback ride and get to know the Dragon Calliope, a special instrument that plays music when trailing behind a horse. Walt Disney bought the instrument for the Mickey Mouse Club Circus Parade during the '50s.
16 Decorate A Christmas Tree
Christmastime is the hap-happiest time of the year, and it's even happier at Disney. Over the holidays, one family per day is chosen to decorate the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe tree at the Magic Kingdom. The infamous Magical Moments Christmas tree sits in the window of the charming shop and the winner gets to decorate it however they want. At this special time of year, there are more than 1,300 decorated trees throughout Disney World, with the biggest being 70 feet tall. These extraordinary trees are decorated with handstitched garland and elaborate character-themed ornaments. The expert decorators work year-round on their impeccable designs.
15 Watch An Outdoor Movie
Watching a movie under the starry night sky is magical in itself, but it's even more enchanting at Disney. There are 20 different outdoor movie locations spread throughout Disney World, with the most over-the-top being at Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground and Resort area. Better yet, it's free. As the sun is setting, the campfire is lit and moviegoers can roast marshmallows over it for S'mores. The festive films are typically holiday-themed — Hocus Pocus, The Night Before Christmas, Halloweentown... you get the idea. Grab a seat and a S'more, then kick back and enjoy the show.
14 Push Your Kid Around In A Pumpkin Carriage
You can now push your kid around Disney World in a tiny little pumpkin carriage stroller like the mini Cinderella she is. And if you don't have a kid, then maybe you could convince your boyfriend to push you around in one instead. At $99, these silver-and-blue Princess Carriages, which look like a real-life mini version of the one in the movie, are everything a girl dreams of (despite her age, let's be honest). Whoever the passenger may be, they're sure to be treated like a real princess in these lavish digs — especially by the fairy godmothers wandering the park.
13 Explore The Underground Tunnels
Are you aware that there are nearly 400,000 square feet of "secret" tunnels under Disney's the Magic Kingdom? At one point, Disney himself wanted to develop an underground road system for EPCOT (standing for "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow"), but after he died, the plans fell through. The so-called "Nerve System" of the complex web lies beneath Cinderella Castle and it's home to an insanely intricate computer system that controls the whole park. Nowadays, Disney provides a special tour that offers guests a glimpse of the mysterious underground world.
12 VIP: Go Sailing On A Yacht
Disney is a lot of things — magical, fun, wild, inspiring — but there's one thing it never is, and that's calm. Every boat lover would agree that being on the water is peaceful, so it's lucky that Disney offers an escape to the lake, too. Disney goers can charter a private 52-foot yacht on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, with fine dining and butler services included. Take a day off from the hustle-and-bustle of the park or go on a night cruise and get a one-of-a-kind view of the fireworks spectacular. These cruises aren't cheap. The cost of a yacht is $399 per hour, but a pontoon is a cheaper option, at $150 for a whole day.
11 VIP: Go To Cooking School
Disney's special Culinary Adventures take your average cooking class to a whole new level. At the Contemporary Resort, you'll put on a chef's hat and learn how to make a five-course dinner from scratch. This isn't your average Mickey-shaped chicken nuggets. The high-brow cooking class starts from scratch (as in, make-your-own-butter scratch) and outlines the process of making fresh pasta, sushi, and the perfect beef tenderloin. After all that hard work, dinner is served with a glass of wine or beer and ends with a sweet dessert. Participants even take home a Disney cookbook.
10 VIP: Take A Surfing Lesson
Sure, Disney World is not really known for being a destination for "shredding the gnar," but you can certainly get a surf in while you're there. The surfing programs at Typhoon Lagoon Water Park beckon you to "catch the stoke" and hop on a board at the wave pool. Even the most experienced surfers are challenged by the continent's largest outdoor wave pool. One three-hour lesson guarantees you 100 waves to ride (and we know you'll ride them all). These special classes have extremely limited space, seeing as they only take place on select days and beforethe park even opens, so you have to reserve your spot very far in advance.
9 VIP: Skip The Line
Perhaps the biggest perk of being a VIP at Disney is skipping the seemingly never-ending lines. The Our World Is Your Kingdom Tour allows you to customize and pre-plan your tour (put all your must-rides at the front and skip the ones you don't care about) before you go, and when you get there, the coveted Fastpass+ will put you at the front of every line. Because who really wants to spend their whole day at Disney waiting in the queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? Not you, that's for sure.
8 VIP: Stay In Cinderella's Castle
The Cinderella Castle is the centerpiece of Walt Disney World, and one super-exclusive (we're talking celebrity-favorite) experience allows guests to sleep in the castle's suite. This so-called "royal bedchamber" sleeps up to six and is the ultimate dream experience at Disney World. The suite is as royal as it gets, with vaulted, star-covered ceilings, golden candlesticks, and stained-glass details. The likes of Mariah Carey and Tom Cruise have reportedly roamed these floors. With all their lavish embellishments, the beds themselves are fit for a king (literally). You'll wake up and think you're in a medieval castle, only to remember you're smack-dab in the middle of Disney World.
7 VIP: Scuba Dive
If you've always dreamed of swimming with sharks and sea turtles like a real-life Ariel in The Little Mermaid, then Disney's DiveQuest promises an opportunity to do just that (better yet, with calm waters and pristine visibility guaranteed). It cost an extra $179 to go diving in the 5.7-million-gallon saltwater Caribbean Coral Reef aquarium at Epcot, but many would argue that getting up close and personal with the spectacular dolphins and eagle rays who call the coral home is worth every cent. The vast manmade ocean and its marine life will make you forget you're actually swimming in a glass box.
6 VIP: Get Up Close With Rhinos
It isn't every day you get to see a rhinoceros in the United States, much less get close to one. These gentle giants are one of the most endangered animals in the world, actually, due to poaching, but Disney is helping to rescue them from life-threatening wild environments. The Disney Conservation Fund has contributed more than $2 million to rhino conservation around the world, the Disney Parks Blog says, and now, guests can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what all goes into rescuing these animals with the 60-minute guided Up Close with Rhinos tour. The tour will take you on a safari through the Animal Kingdom and show you how the team cares for the rhinos, acquainting you with their larger-than-life personalities along the way.
5 VIP: Party Like Elsa At A Frozen-Inspired Dessert Party
You might be too old to hitch a ride on one of the park's mini Cinderella pumpkin carriages, but nobody is too grown-up to be whisked away to Arendelle, Queen Elsa's homeland, for a Frozen-inspired dessert party under the stars. After a long day at Disney, snag yourself a VIP seat at the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party just in time to catch a one-of-a-kind view of the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks spectacular from World Showcase Plaza East. On the menu: Kristoff's Kransekake Almond Cookies, Wandering Oaken's Eclairs, Troll Rock Crispy Bon Bons, Freeze Fried Salted Caramel Popcorn, and more.
4 VIP: Board A Pirate Ship
And if pirates are more your style than ice princesses, VIPs can board a pirate ship and watch the fireworks from the Seven Seas Lagoon instead. The Pirates & Pals Fireworks Dessert Voyage offers "sweet treats and scallywags." Guests will be treated to special snacks and Pirate Punch as they sail off with Captain Patch on the high seas. This pirate ship is one of the only seats in the house that doesn't require a spyglass to watch the Happily Ever After fireworks spectacular. On the way back to the dock, Captain Patch tells tales of the escapades of the legendary Captain Hook.
3 VIP: Go On A Star Wars Tour
At Disney's Hollywood Studios, VIP access of the Force of Star Wars will get your tickets to a screening of a movie, seats at live shows, a meal at Backlot Express, a meet-and-greet with Chewbacca and Kylo Ren, and a special Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular nighttime fireworks show. Star Wars fans will be thrilled to know that a whole new Star Wars-themed section of the park is opening in fall 2019. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will feature journeys to the Planet Batuu, Jedi training, and rides along the Star Destroyer.
2 VIP: Join Disney Princesses In A Tea Party
There's hardly a more royal activity than having a tea party and Disney's Perfectly Princess Tea is fit for a queen. Disney dishes out tiaras to princesses young and old alike at this festive fete. It's even hosted by a magical rose, named Rose Petal, from Aurora, and Aurora herself has been known to stop by for a sip. If you don't have kids, maybe you'll enjoy partaking in the British tradition at the more sophisticated Rose & Crown pub instead, where Twinings-trained cast members serve up tea and cakes from 9:45 a.m. three days a week.
1 VIP: See The Park From A Hot Air Balloon
This unique Disney experience is not for the faint of heart. If you're bold enough to ride a hot air balloon, Disney Springs' Aerophile will give you an exclusive bird's eye view of the vast fantasyland below. The enchanting, hand-painted balloon was custom made for Walt Disney in Paris, actually, and its 19-foot-diameter basket holds up to 29 people, so everyone in the family can hop aboard this 10-minute tethered balloon ride. As the Walt Disney World website says, "all it takes is a little faith, trust, and six tons of pixie dust!"