#RWA17 at Walt Disney World Planning Guide – Free Time Fun

There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Fun at the #RWA17 Annual Conference! 

Breaking News! Disney recently released summer resort discounts . So if you wish to arrive earlier or leave later to tour Walt Disney World, take advantage of these reduced rates. These rooms go quick so act soon.

A big hello to my new readers and welcome back to those who’ve been following along. Can you believe we are getting oh-so-much closer to July? And with the announcement of the RITA and Golden Heart finalists recently, it just makes it feel like #RWA17 is practically tomorrow.

Okay, perhaps the conference isn’t that close just yet. That’s a good thing because making the most of your time at the Annual Conference AND Walt Disney World Resort takes some planning. So far in my unofficial planning guide, I’ve covered transportation, the conference and other nearby resorts, Disney Park tickets and news, and how to secure dining reservations. In this chapter of the guide, I’ll be focusing on fun things to do when the workshops are through.


Several activities are already listed in the initial conference schedule which will only expand as publishers, local RWA chapters, and other industry folks begin to list their parties and gatherings. I also know that Romance Writers of America® are planning some gatherings to explore Walt Disney World. (More on that soon!) Still, you will find some down time during the conference, and many of you will want to bond with new and old friends. Let’s explore some ideas on how to sprinkle Disney magic into your free time.


If you’ve read my guide on transportation, you already know that it’s quite easy to get around Walt Disney World. If you haven’t read it, go check it out now. (I’ll wait.) Disney offers complimentary bus, boat, and monorail transportation to guests. Chances are, you’ll have no reason to rent a car during your visit. As I make suggestions below, please refer back to the transportation post for advice on how to get to said destination.

Things to Do at the Conference Resort

As you know by now, the Annual Conference is being held at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort (Swolphin). I’ve written previously about Swolphin, describing its health club/spa, five pools, tennis courts, children’s program, five full-service restaurants, quick service eateries, ice cream shop, and bars. Check out the resort’s fact sheet for a nice little overview.

At night, for those all-important opportunities to mingle with agents and editors, scout out the five lounges and enjoy a libation…or two or three. Those who believe they’re at par with Beyoncé or desire to sing “American Pie” (please don’t) can visit Kimono’s for nightly karaoke. I imagine this will be a popular spot during the conference.

For a more mellow experience, board a Friendship Boat and loop around Crescent Lake or travel between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Swolphin guests can board from the boat dock located between the Swan and Dolphin wings.

Things to Do Within Walking Distance

The Annual Conference is in an excellent location because there are so many fun things to do within a stone’s throw of the conference resort. Let’s explore!

Disney’s BoardWalk


I highly suggest visiting Disney’s BoardWalk. This old-timey promenade has shops, restaurants, bars, midway games, street performers, and other nightlife. Tour by strolling the BoardWalk or renting a surrey bike. Disney’s BoardWalk restaurants include Flying FishBig River Grille and Brewing Works, ESPN Club, and Trattoria al Forno. Consider making advanced dining reservations now for these establishments. Afterward, check out Ample Hills Creamery, the BoardWalk Bakery, or the funnel cake stand to satisfy a sweet tooth. For adult beverages, you can enjoy a beer at Big River Grille and Brewing Works or marvel in the magical atmosphere at the new AbracadaBar (which I discussed in my previous post).


The BoardWalk is also home to two fabulous destinations. First, there’s the Atlantic Dance Hall. Open from 9 PM until 2 AM, you can shake your groove thing to the hits of the 80s through today. There’s no cover charge, but as there is bar service, it’s open to guests 21+ and over. Nearby, you’ll find Jellyrolls, a dueling piano bar that’s open to guests 21+ from 7 PM-2 AM. Tables go fast so aim to get there early. Per the Disney website, “No request is too obscure, no artist beyond mimicry.”

Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf

Go get your putt-putt on! Open until 11 PM and just a short walk from Swolphin, the Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf is a fun group bonding kind of destination. There are five courses to choose from, all highly themed in a way only Disney knows how to do. Some of the convention park ticket options include a free visit to this destination (should you so choose).


Watch IllumiNations from Epcot 

If you don’t have admission to Epcot, you can still watch the nighttime fireworks show, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, just outside the Park. Head over to the bridge at the end of the BoardWalk on the way to Epcot and Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Although a limited view, by standing there, you’ll still see a good portion of the fireworks used in the show. The show runs nightly at 9 PM.

Ideas that Require Transportation

Do the Monorail Loop

From Swolphin (or any Disney-operated resort), take a bus to Magic Kingdom Park. From there, you can board the monorail (resort loop route). Once on the monorail (which I believe is an attraction in itself), you now have three amazing resorts to explore for a fun night out. It runs clockwise, so I will go in order of resorts.


First up is Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It’s one of the original resorts from ’71, back when it was so very modern. As a child, I was in awe of how the monorail runs through the lobby. While here, you can enjoy a drink at The Wave Lounge. If you make advanced dining reservations (do it now!), you can enjoy a thoroughly Disney character meal at Chef Mickey’s.


For a more refined and upscale experience, dine at the California Grill and stay to watch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. The view from here (whether day or night) is breathtaking!

Next stop on the monorail is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Along with the Contemporary, this resort also opened in 1971. It’s gorgeous and lush and worthy of your time. At the Polynesian, you can enjoy a luau dinner by pre-booking Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. Feeling hungry? Enjoy a Hawaiian-style feast at the very popular ‘Ohana, but book in advance if you want a chance to dine here. 


For those focusing on a drinking tour via the monorail, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is the spot for you. Many of the drinks are served in fabulous souvenir glasses. This bar is very popular but worth the wait. Should the wait be a bit too much, you can also consider the nearby Tambu Lounge. (Be sure to order the Lapu Lapu – a rum and tropical juice drink served in a pineapple with all those cute, colorful umbrellas!) 

The last stop on the monorail resort loop is Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Reminiscent of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, this Victorian-style resort is a jaw-dropper. There’s no shortage of stellar dining options which include the AAA Five Diamond Award Victoria & Albert’s as well as Cítricos (there’s a bar serving tapas, too) and Narcoossee’s. (The latter restaurant has an awesome deck for viewing the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom so time your reservation well.) For those wanting a more lively dinner, hang out with Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, and those dreaded stepsisters at 1900 Park Fare. In addition, you can enjoy live jazz at Mizner’s Lounge.

Tip! This one’s a repeat from my dining post, but it’s a good one. If there’s an elusive dining reservation you just can’t get, have no fear! Like the hero in a novel, the TouringPlans.com free Reservation Finder swoops in and tries to save your day! Plug in a restaurant, date/time, and size of your party, and the Reservation Finder will start searching for you. While it will not make the reservation for you, should an opening pop up, it will generate a text alert to your phone. As soon as you see the alert, log into the Walt Disney World website or My Disney Experience app. Assuming you’re fast, you should be able to secure the reservation. You can have up to two reservation searches going at once. I’ve used this helpful tool several times with much success.

Watch the “Happily Ever After” Fireworks and Projection Spectacular

Similar to what I said about Illuminations, you can watch Magic Kingdom’s all-new Happily Every After fireworks show without admission into the park. Sure, it won’t be as awe-inspiring as standing in front of Cinderella Castle, but it will still be beautiful from afar. Disney currently has the show scheduled at 9 PM nightly.

Again, you can enjoy the fireworks from the California Grill and Narcoossee’s if you time your dining reservation just right. But what if you don’t have a dining reservation? No problem. Refer to the map I created below and the areas I shaded in green. For those of you doing the Monorail Loop, keep these spots in mind.


  1. Transportation and Ticket Center – This is a stop along the monorail and also where the ferry boats dock. Standing in the shaded green area, you will have an excellent view and the music is piped in.
  2. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – Come out to the beach area and have a beautiful view of the castle and fireworks from straight across the Seven Seas Lagoon. You’ll hear the music from the show here as well.
  3. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – There are two locations at this resort, a boat dock and observation deck near Narcoossee and the patio just outside Gasparilla Grill. The music is piped in at both of these locations.

Not pictured above, you can also view the fireworks from the observation deck (4th floor) at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Ask any Cast Member while there, and they’ll happily point you in the right direction.

Tip! From any of those fireworks spots I’ve mapped above, you can also view the Electrical Water Pageant. This nighttime water parade runs nightly and is a Walt Disney World classic. Check the My Disney Experience app for showtimes.

Disney Springs


I’ve discussed Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney) in previous posts in this guide. This totally reimagined dining, entertainment, and shopping destination is beautiful and a fun way to spend a night out after a day of workshops. There’s no admission fee. Simply board a bus from Swolphin to Disney Springs.

There’s so much to do in the districts that make up Disney Springs. You could… Happen upon one of the many street performers. Enjoy live music at several restaurants such as House of Blues and The BOATHOUSE. Soar in a tethered air balloon for a fantastic view. Sip a Guinness and marvel at the Irish dancers at Raglan Road. Catch a movie at the AMC Theaters. Bowl a few rounds at Splitsville Luxury Lanes. Marvel at the artistry of Cirque du Soleil La Nouba (tickets required). Boat around in an adorable amphicar.


After all that activity, you’ll surely work up an appetite. Disney Springs has 56 places to choose from! You’ve got everything from burgers to poutine, sushi to Italian, and seafood to Cuban. The range goes from gourmet food trucks to fine dining. For dessert, you’ll struggle with choosing where to blow those calories. In my opinion, get chocolate at The Ganachery, a Disney-themed candy apple from The Candy Cauldron, and a sinful cupcake from Sprinkles’ ATM. (At least get one of these items to go!)


Shopping is terrific at Disney Springs, too. While you’ll see some familiar stores from your local mall, there are plenty of unique shops you won’t see elsewhere. If you have any little ones at home who’d appreciate a souvenir, check out the World of Disney.  

Visit a Disney Park

You might wonder why I didn’t mention the most obvious suggestion first. Since there might be some of you choosing not to visit one of the four Disney Parks, I wanted to focus on activities that do not require Park admission. However, if you’re opting to avoid the Parks because you don’t have a full day to spare, I’d like you to know that Disney now offers conference attendees (and those traveling with you) After 2PM and After 5PM tickets. (Check out my ticket post for pricing on these passes as well as other types of admission.) These specials passes are a great way to see a Park at a reduced price. Maximize your time by booking FastPass+ reservations and choosing Parks that have a later closing time or Extra Magic Hours.

Other Ideas

Finally, I have a catch-all section for any suggestions that don’t quite fit above. I’ll put it in a list and include links if you are curious to learn more.


  • Laugh it up at Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. This dinner show puts the hoot in hootenanny. Well worth it! (Reservations required)
  • Explore other Disney resorts. The moderate and deluxe resorts have restaurants and lounges. If you have downtime during daylight hours, check out the animals in the savannas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
  • Take a carriage ride.
  • Ride the boats that motor around the Monorail resorts, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.
  • Book character dining to feel like a kid again!
  • Consider reserving a pontoon boat for a fireworks cruise or become a swashbuckler on the Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage.
  • Hit the hay early, so you’re well rested for the next day of the conference. Hah. Who am I kidding? Who really sleeps much during RWA?!

As you can see, there are lots of things to do during the evenings or when you have some down time at the Annual Conference. Sure, you’ll be more-than-busy at RWA, but why not take some time to also enjoy Walt Disney World?

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Save this page to your mobile device so you can reference it during the conference.

Up Next

I’ll be talking about Disney Park touring strategies, the My Disney Experience mobile app, and how to secure FastPass+ reservations. For those of you staying at Swolphin or a Disney-operated Resort hotel and visiting a Disney Park, you will be able to secure FastPasses 60 days prior to your check-in. I want to make sure you’re all set and ready when your “window” opens later in May!

Any questions/comments can be posted below, and I’ll get back to you. 

Visit here if you’ve missed other topics in this planning guide. There, you’ll find a calendar to help you keep track of key dates. Be sure to also heck out my Pinterest Board which complements this planning guide.

This unofficial guide is not associated with Romance Writers of America®. I am not receiving any compensation or gifts for these blog posts.

Please share this blog series on social media. I want to encourage many people to attend and make the most out of #RWA17. By planning ahead, you can experience all that the conference and Disney have to offer. To ensure you don’t miss the next topic in this planning guide, follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Links are up on top.

Photo Credits:

Disney’s BoardWalk Resort: Lynne C.

Annual Conference Hotel courtesy of Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort.

All other images including the featured images (with the exception of Disney Springs, Hoop-De-Doo, and the BoardWalk) are the property of Disney Parks.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. All of this looks like so much fun! And the Cupcake ATM? I need one of these in my house. I’ve no idea how it works but I plan to find out! Thanks for another fabulous, informative post. 🙂

  2. Wait…. a cupcake ATM?!?! A CUPCAKE ATM?!?! How in the wide world of Disney have I not know this?!?

    Um, I guess you can tell which tip I definitely plan to look into, right?

    So much to do, so little time. Thanks for all the great info!!


  3. The cupcakes at Sprinkles are so yummy. Just check out these two beauties. It’s hard to choose just one! Sprinkles Cupcakes

  4. You’re welcome!! Fortunately, there’s so much walking at Disney, it helps to burn off all those extra snacks!

  5. Such great information, Elle! thanks so much for putting it all together. I usually work the entire conference and rarely leave the hotel, but this summer I may stray out for a GH dinner and maybe some fireworks. 🙂

  6. You definitely should explore outside of the resort hotel. There’s so much to do that’s only a short walk away.

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