Disney For Free | Disney World

  • Disney World free?

    …If you are under three years old.

    And, of course, accompanied by an adult.

    And once the kids turn age three, they pay child prices.

    “Free” is the magical word for most people.

    But as you can easily see, it is not always what you think.

    Check out just the word “free” at a site like Google.

    You get 8,190,000 hits.

    Everyone wants free

    But it is often not what we would call “the whole truth.”

    Check the word “free” for theme parks and you’ll find more than a dozen.

    Knoebels is one of the largest in the US, even if you never heard of it.

    It’s in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. And it’s free…

    …Admission, that is.

    But all rides are individually priced.

    Famed Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York is also free.

    But you better have at least $4 for an “original” hot dog.

    Adding cheese or chili will cost you more.

    The boardwalk where you enter is also free.

    To walk, anyway.

    Rides at Coney cost a lot more.

    There are many lists of what is free at Disney World. But some things are so obvious that they insult your intelligence.

    For example, you can get free drink refills at restaurants.

    OK. Not all restaurants everywhere in the world do this but it’s not a big deal, is it?

    Some elements of Disney World that used to be free are also no longer no cost.

    No cost…gone again

    For years, Disney had free customizable printed maps that they would send to guests who requested them. That program came to an end last year (probably a victim of the Internet age of maps).

    Another phased out program. Learning to draw.

    Disney’s Art of Animation used to offer free drawing classes that were available to any hotel guests. No more.

    We’re not trying to be nit picking here but any discussion of what’s free at Disney has to be divided up into three categories.

    • What is free for everyone. And easily found and used.
    • What is free if you are staying at a park resort. You may already have guessed it. But this category includes many more items than you’ll ever find without staying there.
    • Some free things once you pay admission and get inside the park.

    But let’s start with the No. 1 “everyone” freebies.

    Two areas that deserve a special mention before that: Downtown Disney and Disney’s BoardWalk. Downtown Disney is practically a destination in itself.

    Downtown Disney has no entrance fee.

    Not yet, anyway, though it may be a future paid attraction (no surprise, anyway).

    Sure, this is a highly commercial area, but if you brave the ongoing construction that makes it hard to park your vehicle, you’ll find a variety of entertainment.

    Buses are the best way to get there these days due to construction.

    A highlight is the huge Lego store that sells at prices no higher than you would pay at Wal-Mart or a toy store. The Lego Imagination Center has a free 3,000-square-foot outdoor play area filled with thousands of Lego blocks.

    Also, you can buy packages of individual Legos offered in large bins.

    What else do to here if you don’t want to buy?

    The kids, and a few adults too, can splash in the fountains. So believe it or not, bring a bathing suit. Speaking of which…

    Disney’s BoardWalk is built around a lake and is beautifully themed to be reminiscent of Cape May or Coney Island in the 1940s.

    Lots to do here, too. Various performers such as magicians, acrobats and comedians entertain there EVERY NIGHT.

    If you’re a kid, you might be entertained by simply watching the Friendship boats come and go. Adults who want to visit the various dance places find there may be a cover charge, but not at the Atlantic Dance Hall, which usually is no cost and features Top 40 music by a DJ (21 and over, of course).

    For everyone, it’s a relaxing daytime stroll. Uncrowded, at least until the evenings, when the dance crowds arrive.

    Other freebies readily found

    • We have mentioned drink refills. Almost all restaurants offer them. This overlaps with the resort category because people staying at the resorts get free refillable mugs for drinks near pools, restaurants and other areas.
    • Ask at almost any food counter and you’ll get free water. No, not a big deal, but if you are hot and thirsty, it is good to know.
    • Disney has its own travel agents, and many other agents also offer free services. Great for planning. They also can and do save you money. Just be sure there are no fees attached to agents outside of Disney.
    • Write or go online at Disney for a free planning video. Sure, it goes into great detail about the amazing things you can find, but it also has useful information. We’ve recommend doing it early in your planning.
    • Disney may no longer offer those free custom maps but you can find your own just about anywhere via the Internet.
    • If you are willing to take a Disney tour via the Disney Vacation Club, there are various incentives such as $20 gift cards and FASTPASSES. No sweat on the tour. No hard selling.
    • Anyone can watch fireworks. You can see them outside the park. Some of the best places inside are from the ticket and transportation windows (you can stand or sit there without buying).

      What you can do free if you’re in the park but not staying there

    • Cast members at times have stickers. Look for people with sticker books or rolls of them. Ask for them.
    • While you are at it, ask the cast member about trading pins or trading cards. Transportation people often have trading cards if you ask. You often fine them near entrances and exists.
    • This is admittedly not something at the top of your economic list, but you can always keep your used-up FASTPASSES and other ticket items. Good for scrapbooks, anyway.
    • Monorail and boat rides are free.
    • The daily electrical water pageant runs nightly. It’s a classic but you need to pay admission prices to be there.
    • Check out the schedule for the America Gardens Theatre near Epcot’s American Adventure pavilion. They have concerts in the spring, summer and fall. 
    • There are tons of playgrounds around the parks and resorts. One of the best for younger ones is the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom.
    • Adults can search for Hidden Mickeys all over the property. They’re hidden everywhere. Just ask.
    • Sure, you can buy photos but you can also ask photographers selling their shots to take your picture with your own camera or cell phone.
    • If you need first aid, even a simple aspirin for a headache, stop at the first aid stations or ask someone for help. Each of the theme parks has a first aid station staffed with nurses ready to assist with minor theme park ailments such as blisters, sunburn, and motion sickness. They also have a variety of free medications.
    • Blisters are not unusual, and if you have nothing for them, the first aid stations are lifesavers. They have ice packs also for minor strains and other ailments.
    • As you’re heading down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, stop by the Confectionary. If it is busy, perhaps skip it. If not, there will likely be a Cast Member with samples of cookies, cotton candy, or something else. Likewise, anywhere that serves ice cream will let you sample a flavor. Yes, before you order. Note: they will expect you to order something but no one to our knowledge has ever been banned for saying “no thanks, I think I’ll get it another time.” 
    • The Ghirardelli shop at Downtown Disney routinely offer free samples.
    • Rider switch passes for small children allow one parent to wait with others in the family ride. When the rest of the family is done, waiting members can use their FASTPASS to ride with the waiting child.
    • There are free rubber bracelets at Habit Heros at Epcot Innovation.
    • Tasting portions. Most restaurants on the property offer free tastes, which are particularly valuable when you wonder whether Junior likes Chicken Teriyaki.
    • Free recipes at restaurants. Ask anywhere. The Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is among restaurants that has ready to go printed recipes for Grapefruit Cake (try it, you’ll like it) and Cobb salad.
    • There’s no admission fee to visit the cozy Tri-Circle-D ranch area at Fort Wilderness. You can watch them care for the many horses that work at Walt Disney World, including the team of miniature white ponies that pull Cinderella’s carriage.

    Free while staying at resorts

    • Resort tours themselves are free if you want to check them out before checking in.
    • Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground at night (7-8 pm or so) has a campfire sing-along. The Port Orleans Riverside also offers nightly campfires with storytellers and other entertainment. Get details at the resorts.
    • Most Disney resorts offer movies under the stars. Often poolside.
    • Restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge offer free 30-minute tours focusing on food, of course, but also architecture.
    • If you’re staying at Animal Kingdom, go outside to see animals any time. Or look for them while dining at the restaurants. Most days, you can simply open your hotel windows and see giraffes. No, the animals have not learned how to make money here. Not yet.
    • All park resorts offer free wi-fi.
    • Package delivery of whatever you buy is available widely.
    • The Wilderness Explorers Clubs through Animal Kingdom is like the Boy Scouts, or at least in some ways. It’s aimed at elementary school kids though guests of any age can join. They receive a free handbook with dozens of merit badge stickers that can be earned through various activities.
    • Free e-postcards at the kiosk of Kidcot in Epcot’s Mexican Pavilion.
    • Guests of Walt Disney World resort hotels park for free at the hotels and the theme parks.
    • Many resorts are now offering cupcakes and assorted sugary goodies in their gift shops
    • This is not much and it would be a much larger version if you were in Hawaii, but guests at the Polynesian Resort who attend the Spirit of Luau get a faux flower lei. Oh well, if you are staying there and never even eat a meal, you’ll almost certainly get one anyway.
    • There are various places for runners or joggers. One fairly modest one is the almost one-mile track that leads to the Ranchos and Cabanas. It goes around Lago Dorado in a scenic route.
    • Visit a Butterfly Garden (a patch of land planted to create a habitat that attracts butterflies) at one of the resorts. One is at the Contemporary Resort near the pool.
    • Holiday decorations. Everywhere.
    • Live music. Check your resort for the schedule.
    • Going home? Get your airline ticket printed at your Disney hotel check-in desk. Southwest lets you check in 24 hours ahead of your flight, at this time at least, so you can get listed in early boarding groups.