When you visit the theme park mecca of Orlando, Florida, you’ll find that most areas feature carefully landscaped lines of palm trees, tropical flowers, and bright character-laden signs.
If you’re looking for a Floridian vacation, this is all well and good, but what if you’re after the thrill of Disney in a different atmosphere? Thanks to these richly themed resorts, you can head to Walt Disney World but experience a vacation that often feels as though you’re somewhere else entirely. Check out these immersive experiences.
1. Port Orleans Riverside
Port Orleans Riverside features meandering walkways, welcoming hammocks, and buildings that look more like southern mansions than hotels. The sprawling resort feels more like Louisiana than Florida, just as it should.
To Do: Take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the banks of the Sassagoula River, go fishing on Ol’ Man Island with an old-fashioned cane pole, or gather the family for Cajun campfire activities in the evening.
To Eat: Head to Boatwright’s Dining Hall for authentic southern flavors like Cajun-seasoned crawfish bites, chicken and Andouille gumbo, shrimp and grits, jambalaya, and voodoo chicken. Nestled beneath the hull of a fishing boat, this restaurant offers the look and feel of a shipyard with a clean and elegant Disney touch.
2. Animal Kingdom Lodge
Experience a trip to Africa right on Disney property with a stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Rooms overlook a vast savannah with more than 200 birds and animals that can stroll right by your window. If waking up to a giraffe meandering by your room doesn’t make you feel far away from Florida, I don’t know what will.
To Do: Swim in the zero-depth entry pool that mimics an African watering hole, wander the grounds to view more than 30 species including zebras, flamingos, and gazelles, or participate in cultural crafts, songs, and stories in the lobby.
To Eat: Visit Boma – Flavors of Africa for a satisfying buffet that transports you across the globe. Dishes include Zanzibar crab soup, Tunisian couscous salad, Ghana tomato salad, Durban-style roasted chicken, and much more. Come hungry because you’ll want a little taste of everything.
3. Wilderness Lodge
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is designed to feel like an authentic lodge from one of America’s beloved national parks. It draws elements from around the country so no one single location is mimicked, but you’ll definitely feel like you’re nestled deep in a pine forest, with not a palm tree in sight.
To Do: Head out back to watch the geyser erupt, gather around for evening campfire activities, take a bike ride through wooded trails, or go fishing.
To Eat: The Whispering Canyon Café is anything but quiet. Enjoy a wild western meal with hobby horse races, sing-alongs, and plenty of rowdy fun. The menu includes hearty country dishes like Kansas City-style pork ribs, grilled western buffalo meatloaf, pulled pork, and grilled salmon. Save room for dessert. With options like apple-caramel pie and wagon wheel chocolate s’mores, you won’t want to miss this decadent final course.