There are lots of words that leap to mind when I think of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Free isn’t one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. We love our Disney vacations. It’s a bonding time for our family, where we make memories that last a lifetime.
There’s plenty of free stuff for the kids to do – from entertainment to explorations. However, it’s not what I think of as top of mind when we purchase our park tickets.
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What’s free at Disney?
Inside the Disney theme parks? The air is free, I suppose.
Also, Disney does offer free drinks of water. Certainly, it isn’t good for their bottom line if guests pass out from heat exhaustion.
Other than that, there isn’t a lot of free stuff or places within the parks or the Disney World compound itself.
What parts of Disney World are free?
You don’t have to have a ticket to actually get into Disney Springs. All the other parks will require a park ticket.
Can you visit Disney for free on your birthday?
No, but friendly cast members will give guests a celebration button.
When you wear one, other cast members will wish you a happy birthday or congratulate you on graduation, first visit or honeymoon, or whatever occasion you’re celebrating.
What are some free things to do at Disney World?
There’s only one thing to do here. We gotta rank ’em.
25. Breathe the air
Say what you will, air is highly underrated.
24. Drink tap water
Bottled water at the Walt Disney World Resort is not free, but tap water is.
There are several water fountains found throughout each park, and free tap water is also available at all quick service locations and resorts.
23. Watch the Electrical Water Pageant
This is the less impressive cousin of the Main Street Electric Parade.
This floating nighttime parade is 15 minutes and lights up at night.
You can view it from any of the resorts on the Seven Seas Lagoon including Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground and Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
I had memories of this from when we stayed at the Ft. Wilderness Campground in 1979 when I was 5. So, I really hyped it up for my kids when we stayed there a few years ago. However, the perspective that comes with time has not been kind.
That said, I like that they still do it because anything that they still do from 40-something years ago is cool. But just manage your expectations.
22. Relax around a campfire
Many of the resorts offer complimentary events for guests, like a campfire event. It’s usually an hour a night and you buy the Smore’s supplies.
Visit the Disney website to learn more.
21. Collect Disney Transportation Trading cards
Ask a cast member at the transportation center for the cards and start a collection.
20. Take a walk on Disney’s Boardwalk
The Boardwalk is a quarter-mile promenade of dining, shops and nightlife.
Here, you can step back in time to the east coast in the early 1900s when places like Coney Island ruled the tourism roost.
The view of Crescent Lake is perfect for photos and soaking in some scenery. It’s located at the EPCOT Resort Area. Note that parking may be limited.
19. Hit the resort trails
Many of the resorts also have walking/hiking trails for those who want to get a quick mile in before hitting the parks.
18. Ride the monorail through the Contemporary Resort
There are iconic images of Disney through the years, maybe none of them are as close to the physical manifestation of Walt Disney’s singular vision as the monorail going through Disney’s hotel of the future.
Now, if you park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, you’re going to have to pay. But you can park for free at Disney Springs and take Disney transportation to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT or one of the hotels on the monorail loop – which include the Contemporary, Grand Floridian or Polynesian.
17. Watch a movie under the stars
Disney resorts host a movie night for guests a few times a week. Just check the resort website for a schedule or to learn more.
16. Ride the Disney Skyliner
The Disney Skyliner is a fantastic addition to the Disney transportation system, connecting EPCOT and Hollywood Studios to the Pop Century, Riviera, Caribbean Beach and Art of Animation resorts as well as the resorts at Disney’s Boardwalk.
Although, parking can be tricky. You can pay to park at Hollywood Studios or one of the Crescent Lake area hotels, but usually you need to show a dining or hotel reservation. You could also park at Disney Springs and take the bus to one of the Skyliner resorts.
15. Celebrate special occasions
Are you at Disney for a birthday, first visit or other momentous occasion? Get one of Disney’s celebration buttons. Cast members who discover guests have a special occasion will pull out a celebration button for you to wear.
Other cast members will see the button and try to make your occasion more special. Each birthday, a princess had Sofia stepping a little taller on her visit.
You can get a free button at any Guest Service desk, including resorts and at Guest Relations.
14. See the Magic Kingdom fireworks
There are many spots where you can catch fireworks at Disney.
The first, obviously, is Cinderella’s Castle – but that can get crowded at night.
The second is at the Beauty and the Beast Castle which is separate from the Cinderella’s Castle fireworks but can be viewed simultaneously.
There are also several places on and around the Seven Seas Lagoon where you can see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. Is it as good as being in the park? No. But it can offer a unique perspective on the greatest show in the park.
Some places – like the Polynesian – will play music so guests can get more of the experience.
13. Go on Hidden Mickey scavenger hunts
What’s a hidden Mickey? It’s a decorative or architectural element designed to look like Mickey’s famous circle head and two circle ears.
They can be anywhere in the park, like in the paint scheme, in the design on the ceiling or in a whole bunch of architectural terms I don’t understand.
In fact, one of the islands in the ponds of the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride in Animal Kingdom is in the shape of a hidden Mickey.
But hidden Mickeys can also be found at Disney Springs and various areas around resorts that do not require a ticket.
12. Take a boat ride
You can catch a boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon from any of the hotels on the lake or from the Transportation Center. There are also boats running from Disney’s Boardwalk as well.
Several resorts offer boat rides and rentals on the smaller lakes, but those always come with a fee.
11. Have a picnic
This is not completely free, I suppose. Even if you bring your picnic supplies, you must buy them somewhere. Still, you could bring lunch and look for outdoor dining areas around the resorts.
10. Meet the horses at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Wilderness Resort
Any rides, of course, have a cost. But it is free to go, hang out at the stables and view the horses.
9. Take photos
Disney is a photographer’s paradise. Spend the day chasing the perfect photos at the resorts, at Disney Springs and anywhere Disney will let you go without a ticket.
8. Get a free lei
When visiting the Polynesian Resort, they offer leis. The kids especially love them.
7. Sample Coca-Cola
Okay, for this one you do need a ticket to EPCOT to do it, but we’re again expanding the parameters of the exercise.
Club Cool offers free – very small but free – samples of Coca-Cola products from around the world at its soda fountain.
6. Stop and smell the flowers
Disney’s landscaping is beautiful and immaculate, and the streets of Disney Springs are also very well done.
Many of the resorts have a wonderful variety of flowers. Also, check out the Contemporary’s Butterfly Garden, a serene and meditative place.
5. Take a tour
The Disney Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Resort each offer guided tours that provide insight into the hotel’s theming and construction. It’s very informative.
4. Explore Disney Springs
Disney Springs is a massive experience in and of itself, and there’s no cost to get in.
If you can handle window shopping and walk past all the delicious food and drink options without reaching for your wallet, you’ve done a good job.
3. Listen to some live music
Disney Springs has all kinds of free, live entertainment.
But if you want a special experience, check out the live music in the lobby of the Grand Floridian Hotel. Disney’s Boardwalk and both New Orleans-themed resorts also feature live music.
2. Enjoy a Campfire Sing-A-Long with Chip ‘n Dale
The best of the resort campfire bunch is Chip N Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long at the Wilderness Campground for guests. You can bring your own marshmallows and sticks or purchase a s’mores kit from the Chuckwagon Snack Bar.
Then croon along to old-time favorites led by a guitar-playing cowboy, as Chip ‘n Dale visits for photos, autographs, smiles and fun. Learn more on the Disney website.
1. Go on a mini-Safari at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Several locations along the savannas are viewable from the resort’s lobbies. Sometimes experts will be available to answer questions and there are extra viewing guides available at the concierge.
Can I explore the Disney resort hotels if I’m not staying there?
In my experience, security will ask you why you are visiting, and you may be expected to show a resort or dining reservation.
Since parking is tight, you will need a reason for your visit. Your best bet is to have a lunch or dinner reservation if you want to explore the resorts.
If you’re not staying there, Disney encourages you to use its transportation system to visit its other hotels. So, the best option is to park at Disney Springs and catch a bus to the resort of your choice.
The resorts have places to shop, dine and explore as well as events like movies under the stars and other group activities.
Also, note that you cannot use the hotel pool unless you’re a paying guest.
Keep in mind, not all hotels on the Disney World property are Disney hotels. Some are operated in partnership with Disney, like the Swan & Dolphin resorts.
Which are the best Disney resorts to visit?
Let’s take a look.
Disney Yacht Club
Sharing many amenities with its pastel-toned sister – Disney’s Beach Club Resort – Disney’s Yacht Club Resort is a celebration of a New England-style yacht club at a lakeside hotel.
The Deluxe level resort is within walking distance of EPCOT and the Disney Skyliner and a convenient boat ride to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Port Orleans Riverside
Guests can celebrate the romantic side of rural Louisiana in this moderate-level resort. It is a perfect place for a quiet evening stroll along the mile-long paved jogging trail.
The giant figures and pop culture icons through the decades make for great photo opportunities at this budget-level resort.
This resort has Skyliner access so you can take the bus here, then the Skyliner to visit other resorts.
Art of Animation Resort
This resort is a celebration of the artistry, enchantment and magic of Disney and Pixar movies. It’s a fairly new resort and is typically one of the priciest on the list.
The Disney Vacation Club Resort offers European-style theming mixed with Disney Imagination.
Caribbean Beach Resort
This moderate-level resort is one of our family’s favorites.
The size of the resort can be something of a hindrance when staying there, but it is great for exploration and spending a Disney-flavored day that doesn’t come out of your vacation budget.
Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Disney’s Polynesian-themed paradise features a deluxe-level resort. It is on the monorail loop and accessible by boat or bus.
Grand Floridian Resort
Right next door to the Polynesian, this Deluxe level resort is a great place to explore and enjoy some entertainment.
Fort Wilderness Campground
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, campground and lodge probably has the most activities of any resort in the park.
They’re not all free, of course. For example, Tri-Circle-D Ranch offers trail, pony, wagon and carriage rides for a cost.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
You can see the zoo animals from the lodge. The concierge has extra wildlife field guides so you can track which animals you see.
Is Disney free after 6 pm?
No. Can you imagine the herd of people that would be at the gate at 5:59 pm?
Disney did once offer a mid-day magic program that offered a discounted ticket if you got to the park after 12 pm, but that promotion ended. The markdown wasn’t massive, but it did exist.
Have you tried visiting the Disney World area for free? Let us know in the comments!