Every year, we hear the reports of rising prices at the vacation kingdom of the world. Between escalating ticket prices, lodging costs, and meal expenses, many wonder if they can ever afford to go, or if they can justify “another” trip, to Walt Disney World.
One way that you can stretch your Disney Dollars and maximize the savings without minimizing the magic is by taking advantage of the many free activities at Disney parks and resorts. It is not often that you get to hear the words “free” and “Disney” in the same sentence, but there actually are many things that are free or at least come at no additional cost to what you’ve already paid.
Back in Epcot’s olden days, the theme song on the now defunct World of Motion attraction was called “It’s Fun to be Free!” It really is! So, come on, put away your wallet, and enjoy (in no particular order) this top ten list of free things to do the next time you are at Walt Disney World!
1. Visit the Animal Kingdom Lodge
From the architecture to the animals, the cultural to the culinary, Animal Kingdom Lodge is filled with fun and free Disney magic! There are free tours of the Lodge’s stellar restaurants (complete with samples!) daily around 4pm for Boma and Jiko in Jambo House, or Sanaa in Kidani Village. In addition, a free cookie decorating event is held daily in Boma for kids .
Guests can wander out around the Arusha Rock area and view animals on the beautiful savanna and, at certain times of day, watch them being fed. Often, Cast Members will be available to describe the animals that are grazing, and after dark they even have night-vision goggles for you to use to see the animals. In the evenings, there is a campfire on Arusha Rock, complete with African storytelling and marshmallow roasting.
2. Art of Animation Character Drawing Class
Many Disney fans have been saddened by the closure of the Animation Academy at Hollywood Studios, but don’t let your dismay linger! Three times per day, an artist at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will teach you to draw your favorite Disney characters at no cost!
Stop by at 11am, 2pm, or 5pm, and a resident Disney artist, like the very talented Jason Zucker, will welcome aspiring animators into the play area by the Front Desk for an art lesson that guests of all ages and abilities can enjoy. Sometimes, the artists will even take requests for which character to draw! Disney even provides pencils, paper, and lapboards!
3. Take a Joyride on Disney Transportation
Though Walt Disney envisioned a world in which we would all be traveling to and from work daily on monorails and people-movers, for most of us, the only place we can encounter these modes of transportation is still the Disney parks and resorts.
So, on a day when you aren’t planning to visit the parks or want a little break from the crowds, hop aboard the monorail at any of the Magic Kingdom area resorts, and do a “grand circle tour” of the beautifully themed Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian resorts stopping to walk through and enjoy the public spaces of each one. Maybe even take the monorail from the TTC over to Epcot and back, enjoying the wonderful views of Future World as the monorail encircles Spaceship Earth.
If you aren’t in the mood for a monorail ride (maybe you should see a physician?), you could always enjoy Disney’s rivers, lakes, and lagoons aboard one of the many Disney boats. Resort hop around Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon, or visit the resorts along the Sassagoula River as you depart on a water taxi from Disney Springs. Take a Friendship Boat across Crescent Lake between Epcot’s International Gateway and Hollywood Studios enjoying the Boardwalk area in between.
4. Watch Wishes from the Monorail Resorts
While there is nothing quite like watching Wishes in front of Cinderella’s Castle at the end of a long day in the Magic Kingdom, there are several great viewing areas around the monorail loop resorts that offer their own uniquely magical experience. On the Contemporary’s Grand Canyon Concourse level, there is a balcony just beyond the Fantasia gift shop that overlooks the Magic Kingdom (this is also a smoking area, so be warned). This, as well as the bridge or sidewalk between the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower, is an excellent vantage point for the nighttime spectacular. On the opposite side of Seven Seas Lagoon, the walkway between the Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resorts can be a wonderful and relaxing place to enjoy the pyrotechnics. Be aware that at some extremely busy times, the resorts may limit access to some of these areas. Not to worry, though; the boat dock at the TTC always offers a great view of Wishes!
5. The Electric Water Pageant
If you plan it just right, you can enjoy Wishes and the Electric Water Pageant from the same vantage point. Every night since 1971, Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon have been illuminated by the sparkling lights of the Pageant’s festive floats as the inimitable electrosynthomagnetic musical sounds fill the air.
Many visitors to Walt Disney World have never experienced this marvelous attraction, and yet it is free for guests to enjoy every night. The Pageant kicks off at the Polynesian around 9pm and then goes to the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, and the Contemporary with each show starting approximately 15 minutes after the preceding one. On nights when the Magic Kingdom is open late, the Pageant makes a final appearance right in front of the park at 10:20pm.
6. Visit Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge
The Wilderness Lodge was designed by the same architect, Peter Dominick, who designed the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Like its sister resort, the Wilderness Lodge lobby is breathtaking to behold. Walk around inside and check out the totem poles and unique design details (there’s even a special “Hidden Mickey” hunt you can do), then go out around the pool and see the Fire Rock Geyser erupt at the top of every hour.
Over in the Carolwood Pacific Room at Wilderness Lodge Villas, you can view some great photos and memorabilia from Walt’s love of trains including two cars from his miniature train that he installed at his home.
After enjoying these sites, stroll the ¾ mile trail over to Fort Wilderness taking in some beautiful flora and fauna along the way. Coming into Fort Wilderness, your walk will lead you past the Tri-Circle D Ranch. While there is a nominal charge for riding the horses and ponies there, it is free to look at (and smell) them.
When evening comes, the Chip ‘n’ Dale Campfire Sing-a-Long is one of the most unique character interactions on Disney property, and one of the only ones you can have at no cost.
7. Enjoy a YeHaa Bob Performance
Walt Disney World is home to many great musical performances, but there is none quite like the one you will find over at the River Roost Lounge at Port Orleans Riverside.
Every Wednesday through Saturday night, Disney Legacy Award winner “YeHaa” Bob Jackson takes the stage at 8:30pm and proves himself to be the hardest working man in show business.
Before you know it, you will become part of the act yourself! From singing along to Disney classics to rousing audience participation gags, a YeeHa Bob performance may become your new favorite thing at Walt Disney World. The show is free, but if you occupy a table in the lounge, you should consider ordering something from the menu.
8. Poolside Movies
Who doesn’t love a classic Disney movie? You could go to Disney Springs and catch the latest release at the AMC Dine-In Theater, or you could visit a Disney resort and catch a timeless classic for free in the beautiful and comfortable setting of the resort pool areas. At most resorts, you do not have to be a resort guest to enjoy the movie, but remember: you can only swim at your own resort’s pool!. Days, times, and movie selections vary from resort to resort, so you should call the resorts directly or look online for the activity and recreation schedules for each resort.
9. Enjoy the Polynesian Village Resort
The Poly is one of the most iconic Disney resorts, and one of the most expensive ones as well! Newly constructed bungalows stretching out over Seven Seas Lagoon are reported to cost over $2,000 per night! Fortunately, there are plenty of free activities that anyone can enjoy at the Poly.
On most afternoons, hula dancing lessons will get the whole family up and into the action. On most evenings at the Great Ceremonial House, there is a torch lighting ceremony, and a storyteller brings the culture of the South Pacific alive through folk tales.
In addition, enjoy the serene tropical atmosphere and captivating views of the Magic Kingdom as you walk along lush, landscaped paths or sit in the laid back luxury of the Poly’s newly redesigned lobby. Not everyone can afford to stay at the Polynesian, but everyone can and should make a point to enjoy the public areas at some point during your Disney vacation.
10. Resort Hopping Photo Safari
We’ve mentioned several Disney resorts here on the top ten list so far, but there are many more we haven’t mentioned, and they all warrant a visit! A great way to tour the resorts is by going on a “photo safari.” Think of something you want to photograph at each resort – the resort sign, the water features, Disney character statues or topiaries, a hidden Mickey, or even the uniquely themed resort trash cans – and visit each resort with the goal of capturing a photo of your traveling companions with that object.
This is especially rewarding during the Christmas season as each resort puts up uniquely themed trees and holiday décor. Many of the deluxe resorts even have amazing gingerbread displays that you have to see to believe.
As you travel from resort to resort on your photo safari, you will discover many more things to love about each of the Disney resorts. Keep in mind that Disney transportation buses do not travel from resort to resort, so if you are using Disney transportation, you will have to plan your routes carefully to go resort hopping.
This list is by no means exhaustive; there are many more free activities than this! We should also remind you up front that these activities are subject to change at any time. At the time of this writing, every activity listed here is open to everyone even if you are not staying in a Disney resort.
Have you discovered your own free magical experiences at Walt Disney World?