by Kendall Foreman
Are you often found engrossed in cheering and jeering for your favorite team or athlete battling it out on your TV, tablet, PC, or phone? Are you the sports enthusiast who prefers to go beyond observation to participation? Are you known to spend your free-time engaged in recreational activities? If any or all of these apply to you, it is likely that you regularly catch yourself daydreaming about one or both of the following: 1) making a pilgrimage to your favorite team or athlete’s battleground, or 2) embarking on a trip that offers endless opportunities to participate in sports and recreation activities. However, much to your chagrin, your traveling companions want to go to Walt Disney World. So what do you do? Fight for your right to tailgate and/or play to your heart’s content or give-in to the theme park fans? Don’t put your jersey, golf clubs, racket, or tennis shoes away too quickly. There are more than a few ways to get your sports on at Walt Disney World. (Note: Any opportunities that lean more toward the enjoyment of the great outdoors have been held over for a later post.)
Included with Admission
It isn’t unrealistic to state that sports enthusiasts—intent on a recreation based getaway—can easily fill an entire WDW vacation with activities and events without ever setting foot inside the four main theme parks. Even so, it is a safe bet that some or all of the members of your travel party will want to take in the parks at some point, so it becomes very important to select the ticket package that will meet all your needs. When it comes to the sports and recreation enthusiast, it is essential that you purchase a Magic Your Way Ticket with the Water Park and More Option included. This choice gives the ticket holder the opportunity to visit Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf, and Disney Quest. This ticket allows the barer the number of visits equal to the length of his or her ticket (e.g. 4 day ticket = 4 visits).
Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are world renowned water parks offering water slides, wave pools, and lazy rivers designed to lure, relax, and thrill water-lovers of all ages. While both parks afford visitors wide-ranging levels of adventure, 56-acre Typhoon Lagoon offers the opportunity to snorkel with sharks in a coral reef surrounding a sunken tanker. Those who enjoy a little less water with their sports activity may want to consider going to a golf course that was designed for everyone to play. Disney’s Oak Trail 9-hole, par-36 walking course was created for beginner to pro level golfers (preschoolers, kids tweens, teens, and adults). Maybe you want to share your passion for golf with your family but not everyone is ready to hit the links. If that’s the case, Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, situated next to Blizzard Beach, and Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf, near the Epcot resorts both offer two 18-hole courses with varying degrees of difficulty. If other waterless excitement appeals to you, the 220-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports is the place to be. There guests can attend a wide array of amateur events such as baseball, basketball, softball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, martial arts, soccer, track & field, volleyball, cheer, and more. (Note: For professional event opportunities, see the “Something Extra” section.)
If you are a sports enthusiast, there’s a good chance you also enjoy shopping for team and sports related merchandise. There are several must stop shops scattered throughout WDW. Two are located in the Downtown Disney: Team Mickey Athletic Club—with its locker room feel—offers sports clothing, active wear and sports equipment (some can be customized) and Curl by Sammy Duvall, which is a shop for everyonein search of the ultimate in watersport related apparel, accessories and equipment. (Just a quick note for the non-waterskiing aficionados, Sammy Duvall is the world famous eighty-time water-skiing champion hall of famer.)
For more sports merchandise, a trip to the dock of Disney’s Boardwalk Inn (near Epcot) is well worth a boat ride or stroll. On the boardwalk you will find The Yard, which is attached to the ESPN Club. This shop offers an impressive selection of authentic ESPN merchandise. If you venture to the other side of the “World” into the Magic Kingdom, be sure to stop by the Main Street Athletic Club. This shop’s décor harkens back to the by-gone days of the turn of the century athletic clubs. Here patrons can enjoy shopping for sports related gifts and apparel all while being tempted by baseball-themed Casey’s Corner specialty hot dogs (whoa… that’s discussed in the What to Eat section).
Where to Stay
The amenities and opportunities offered to guests of the deluxe level Contemporary Resort put it at the top of the list for the sports and recreation enthusiasts. While this may not seem like the obvious choice; a closer look at the recreation offerings and transportation accessibility give it a clear advantage over the rest. The Olympiad Fitness Center along with two tennis courts, a beach volleyball court, jogging trails and two swimming pools are only the beginning of what the Contemporary has to offer. The marina is home to Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre where guests pay by the half hour or hour to Jet Ski, waterski, wakeboard, tube, waterskate or parasail. Beyond these recreational opportunities, the Contemporary Resort boasts a unique benefit—its location makes it the ideal choice for traveling around the entire Walt Disney World Resort. While there are many recreational options available at other resorts on the WDW property, transportation between resorts and parks is not as quick or easy as is offered at the Contemporary. Within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom, guests can take advantage of all resort-bound buses as well as the Magic Kingdom monorail resort loop, which is direct to the Transportation and Ticket Center, where a quick monorail transfer can take you to Epcot, which (with park entry) is a walk, bus or boat ride to the aforementioned ESPN Club and The Yard.
For sports lovers who prefer to stay, play and save, the value level All-Star Sports Resort is the one for you. This resort boasts five themed areas: football, basketball, baseball, tennis and surfing. There are two resort room buildings for each theme that are decked out with three-story helmets, basketball hoops, baseball bats, surfboards and tennis balls. Guests of this resort can enjoy fun-in-the-sun and fitness on a one-mile jogging path as well as in either of two sport-themed pools.
While either of these resort options is excellent for the sports and recreation enthusiast, every WDW resort offers opportunities and access to sporting events, activities, and fitness for the casual fan and fanatic.
Where to Eat
There are three dining locations that the Sports and Recreation Enthusiast should not miss. The award-winning Shula’s Steak House at Disney’s Dolphin Hotel is themed to celebrate the 1972 Miami Dolphin’s perfect season under Coach Don Shula. Here the menu—which is painted on a football—includes crab cakes, lamb chops, filet mignon, lobster tail and more. No steak restaurant menu would be complete without a porterhouse offering. At Shula’s, it comes in the form of a 48-ounce challenge to patrons. Everyone who can finish the monster steak is eligible to join the now 35,000+ member Shula’s 48oz. Club®. While there are no 48-ounce hot dogs (thank goodness) at Casey’s Corner on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom, this small restaurant does offer specialty hot dogs, French fries, nachos, brownies and soft drinks, and is named after the title character of the classic poem “Casey at the Bat”. Ragtime music and old-time ballpark décor offer patrons a glimpse of the early days of America’s greatest pastime. There is seating available outside; however, for the full experience, enter the back room and find a seat in the bleachers facing the movie screen scrolling vintage baseball cartoons. If viewing sports while you dine completes your ultimate meal experience, do not skip the ESPN Club at the Boardwalk Inn near Epcot. With 100 screens, a global satellite feed and a 108 square foot video wall, patrons will not miss a second of any live sporting event. Menu items include Red Wings, Macho Nachos, Tailgate Pulled Pork and much more. The Club is also home to the Sports Central television and radio studio that has been host to live broadcasts of shows like Mike & Mike in the Morning, Sports Reporters and Up Close.
If you are willing to spend extra money, opportunities abound for those wanting to ramp up their sports and recreation experience at WDW.
- As previously noted, Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre does offer a wide range of activities; however, for those who enjoy spending time in the water without watercraft involvement, I encourage a trip Typhoon Lagoon for surfing lessons. At a cost of $150 per person, certified instructors offer 30 minutes of out-of-water instruction along with 2 hours of in-water instruction prior to park hours. The combination of certified instruction and a wave pool with consistent waves every 90 seconds provides a great opportunity for those who have never surfed. One of the largest wave pools in the world, Typhoon Lagoon’s Surf Pool can be fun for all skill levels.
- The recently opened Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Downtown Disney, is a retro inspired two-story bowling alley that boasts 30 lanes, live music, dancing, billiard tables and upscale dining options.
- In addition to the numerous amateur sporting events held at ESPN Wide World of Sports, you can also take in several professional sporting events throughout the year. The 2013 Atlanta Braves Spring training games start on February 22 with tickets from $10 to $49. The Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic also takes place in February. This event typically features eight pro teams with per person tickets priced at $20 for a single session, $30 for two sessions, and $99 for the entire Classic.
- There are several runDisney opportunities throughout the year on the Walt Disney World property. These character or park attraction themed races are offered in distances from 5K to full marathon. For more information on cost and registration visit www.rundisney.com.
- In addition to the aforementioned 9-hole Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, there are four 18-hole courses on the WDW property. All five of the courses are under Arnold Palmer Golf Management. Each of the 18-hole courses—which include: Disney’s Lake Buena Vista, Disney’s Magnolia, Disney’s Osprey Ridge, and Disney’s Palm —are rated at 4 stars or above by Golf Digest. The Palm and Magnolia courses are home to the PGA Tour: Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic held in November each year. Tickets for this event are available at a cost of $20 per day or $30 for the week. For tweens, teens, and adults who would rather be playing on the fairways than observing from behind the ropes, reservations can be made in advance at any of the five courses. (Note: Fees vary depending on the course and time you choose.)
This month, my goal is to provide you with plenty of information to get your Sports and Recreation Enthusiast Disney Skeptic to beg you to go with them to Walt Disney World for a “sports” vacation. Your goal—after sharing this information with them—is to resist the urge to tell them, “I told you so.”
If you have any questions or comments regarding the topics discussed, please leave them in the comments section below. Have you participated in any of these events or activities? Please let readers know what you thought of your experience. Be sure to check in next month for More to the “World” for Those Who Prefer the Comforts of Home.
Kendall began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband. As a child, she and her family filled vacations with challenges such as “How many times can we ride Splash Mountain during SpectroMagic and the fireworks?” (Answer: 7) Now, after marrying a converted Disney skeptic, she and her husband enjoy challenges such as “How many hours can we eat nonstop at the Food & Wine Festival?” (Answer: 4)