With the cost of staying at a Disney hotel, admission to the park, food, drinks and souvenirs, a family trip to Walt Disney World is often viewed as an excessively costly venture. Realistically though, if someone were to compare the nightly cost of a mountain cabin or a nice hotel room in Panama City Beach during prime season, they would quickly realize Disney’s room prices are comparable if not less. The same thing holds true where meals are concerned. Restaurants in resort areas tend to jack their prices up since they know tourists have little to no other option but to frequent their establishments. And no matter where someone chooses to vacation, they are going to take home some costly souvenirs being sold for a 300% profit.
By bundling the entire cost of a Disney vacation into an inclusive package, vacationers may actually spend less than they would at a swanky resort where everything is uber-expensive. What many people don’t realize is that unlike the resort towns and tourist traps, there are actually some cool things at Disney that don’t cost a dime. They’re absolutely free. Here are some of them.
1 Take a Ride
Walt Disney World could be called “The Land of Monorails.” This futuristic mode of travel is commonplace, and they’ll haul you around at no charge. They run between Disney and Epcot and they stop at all of Disney’s hotels. Even if you aren’t going to Epcot it’s still fun to ride the monorail and get a seagull’s view of the surrounding area.
Though it is not widely advertised to protect Disney’s family image, there is a monorail pub crawl. The monorail stops at each Disney hotel and stays long enough for the mission-driven riders to slam down a few Jack & Coke’s in the bar before blasting off at the speed of light to the next one. The only out-of-pocket is for the drinks which anyone participating in the crawl probably would have spent anyway.
2 Visit the Entertainment Complexes
Stroll around either of the Disney entertainment complexes. Admission is free though what’s inside is not. Still, it’s fun to look at the sites and displays, and Disney doesn’t skimp. You could spend as much as you want to, but the cool thing is, you don’t have to.
3 Go Bopping Down the Boardwalk
Boardwalks are always fun whether you’re in Atlantic City, Venice Beach, or Walt Disney World. Disney is no different than any other popular boardwalk, you can spend the evening swiping your American Express or you can just keep walking. There are lots of dining options unless the baloney you were gnawing on in your room already has you busting at the seams. There are also two nightclubs.
Despite the opportunities for spending money, it costs nothing to enjoy the street performers who come out in the evening. Mimes, jugglers, magicians, musicians, you never know what you’ll see. They switch out every 15 minutes or so to keep things lively.
The boardwalk is one-mile long and circles around a lake making for a nice leisurely stroll.
4 Ship Ahoy
Or rather, boat ahoy. Disney World has lots of water so it only makes sense they have lots of boats. To rent, that is. But if the cost of doing so isn’t to your liking, sit back and let someone else do the driving.
Just about every water location on the property has paddlewheel boats that’ll take you to just about any other water location. No one is going to ask where you are going or if you’re a hotel guest, a diner, or etc. Just hop on.
Hop off, check out wherever you end up, hop back on, repeat. It’s fun and it’s free.
5 Hotel Hopping
Like everything else Disney puts their hands on, their hotels are impressive masterpieces dedicated to particular themes. You’re doing yourself a grave injustice if you don’t visit each and every one.
There’s one little hitch to be aware of. When security asks for your hotel pass, tell them you are there to eat. You’ll be waved right through. With the smells of delicious food wafting through the air, you might end up doing that anyway.
You’ll see giant ostrich lamps, a bridge spanning an entire lobby, huge totem poles, bubbling hot springs, and plenty else that’ll amaze you.
6 Bombs… err… Fireworks Bursting in Air
‘Wishes’ is Disney Worlds premier fireworks display. They go through a shipping container of Chinese explosives every night. But what if you aren’t inside the Magic Kingdom and you’d still like to see them? Don’t worry. You aren’t alone.
Go to the Contemporary Hotel, this one offers the best view. You can see them from anywhere as long as you go to the side of the building facing the Magic Kingdom. So many people do this the hotel now plays the audio for the show. It fills up fast so get there early.
7 Celebrate in Celebration
The town of Celebration was built by Disney. People live there but it’s worth visiting the city’s downtown. There are the typical dining spots, a theater, and stores full of pointless items, but lots of times there is some form of outside entertainment going on and you’re welcomed to join the fun. Free.
If you go there in December, Disney somehow makes it snow on Market Street. The event has proven so popular, it has expanded into a Winter Wonderland Spectacular. There is free entertainment including strolling carolers dressed in Victorian garb, a variety of street performers, and Radio Disney concerts. If you must spend money, there are horse-drawn carriage rides, a Celebration Express train, and ice skating on a synthetic ice rink. You can get your kids (or pets) photos with Santa, too.
8 Visit a Disney Value Resort
If you’re visiting the Orlando area but Disney World isn’t on your agenda, you can still get in on some great photo ops, especially if the kids are in tow. All-Star Sports, All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, and Pop-Century are all Disney owned hotels located off-grounds.
If you tell security you just want to look around they will issue a three-hour parking pass. There is a 35-foot Buzz Lightyear, a giant Mr. and Mrs. Patato Head, and enormous pop-culture models. A family could easily make a day of it.
9 Watch a Parade
The Electrical Water Pageant is a water parade which takes place every night around 9 PM, and it’s pretty spectacular. It can be watched in all its splendor from any of the resort hotels docks or beaches. Just sit back and enjoy.
10 Hang Out With Chip ‘n’ Dale
Sing around a campfire in Disney’s Fort Wilderness area. It’s the perfect ending to a hectic day. A kid-friendly Disney film is shown under the stars and Chip ‘n’ Dale always make a guest appearance. You can also visit Disney Wilderness Preserve to explore natural Florida at the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem. Admission is free, with donations accepted.
Whether a visit inside the Walt Disney World theme park gates is in the budget or not, you can still experience the Disney magic without spending a fortune. Some of the best things truly are free, if you know where to find them.