Sometimes, it feels like Mickey Mouse himself is pick-pocketing you when you’re at Walt Disney World (maybe that’s the real reason why characters meet in the parks). From the many attractions that end in gift shops to the sticker shock you’re likely to have when you see the price, it might seem like there is no respite from a visit to Walt Disney World being a “SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!” type of week.
It might seem this way because most souvenirs, gifts, and experiences at Walt Disney World are expensive. Fortunately, some things are FREE! No, I’m not talking “Free” Dining, I mean actual experiences and stuff that’s actually free. If you want to get really liberal with the word “free,” so much of what’s at Walt Disney World could be on the list (everything from FastPasses to the air you breathe could quality). If you’re really conservative, nothing is free, as the costs for these things are built into other prices somehow, so you’re paying for these things one way or another (there is no free lunch). Our philosophy is somewhere between these extremes, and this list covers things that we feel most reasonable people might feel are “free vacation add-ons,” and are a little less obvious. If you do Disney on a budget, this list is a great way to give yourself some added fun without breaking the bank!
Here’s the list, broken down into souvenirs, food, entertainment, and the catch-all “other” category.
- Vacation Planning – Here’s one for before you even leave home! While planning, request a free vacation planning DVD from Disney and also free customized park maps. The maps are really high quality. The DVD is…okay. It used to be better, so maybe you’re better off going to YouTube or Mousebits for that.
- Celebration Buttons – Starting as soon as you arrive, this is the first free thing you should get (if applicable). As discussed in our Celebrating at Walt Disney World post, celebration buttons are sort of a “gateway” to other freebies. The buttons are a freebie themselves, but your likelihood of receiving random “other” freebies when wearing these dramatically increases. Just don’t abuse the buttons.
- Park Maps. FastPasses, and Assorted Ephemera – This is probably a “duh” one, but it’s worth mentioning that you can collect all sorts of ephemera from your stays at Walt Disney World. On each of our stays, I collect all of the various paper-goods I can, put them in our hotel folio, and then box them up. It’s fun looking back at park maps, entertainment schedules, and hotel maps from the past. You’ll probably actually want to use your valid FastPasses, so insert your ticket again after getting your actual FastPass to collect an invalid FastPass for saving.
- Sonny Eclipse Stickers – At Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Cast Members sometimes have stickers of Sonny Eclipse. This can be hit or miss, so ask on different days if you don’t get stickers the first time. Other Cast Members throughout the parks might have stickers (namely, Mickey Mouse, Duffy, or Disney Vacation Club), but the Sonny Eclipse sticker is the only unique sticker of which I’m aware (and let’s be real–as the coolest singing alien in Walt Disney World, he’s the only one that matters!). Do you know of others?
- Driver and Pilot Licenses – That’s right, get licensed to drive and fly for free at Walt Disney World! Regardless of age or experience, Disney will grant you these licenses!!! (The Mouse is basically a rogue state that answers to no government…besides the RCID…and the State of Florida…and the federal government.) The Tomorrowland Speedway and Dumbo have “license” cards they will give to kids (or adults, if you ask) certifying that they are licensed to drive or pilot those attractions. Jungle Cruise and the Walt Disney World Railroad used to have similar licenses, but I haven’t seen them in a while. As far as I know, these licenses have no legal weight outside of Walt Disney World.
- Trading Cards – Cast Members on the various forms of Disney transportation should have transportation trading cards available if you ask. Sometimes they are out of stock, so if you strike out with one Cast Member, just ask another. The Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom attraction/game also provides guests with collectible (and in some cases, valuable) trading cards. Pick them up at the Fire Station on Main Street.
- Duffy & Perry Crafts – We don’t have kids, so we don’t know a whole lot about this. We do know that there are “Kidcot” stations throughout Epcot where they can color Duffy and Perry crafts and have them for the rest of the day. *Yawn* until they get Figment crafts.
- Passports – Available during Food & Wine Festival, these passports that each kiosk will stamp can be a fun thing for the kids, or a good way to remember what you had if you’re Drinking Around the World!
- Club Cool – For us, Club Cool in Epcot’s Future World is a required stop whenever we pass from one side of Future World to the other. It’s a quick, free jolt of caffeine to keep us going. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, there are 8 drinks here from around the world (all of which are types of Coca-Cola brands). For those also looking for a quick jolt, Mezzo Mix is the only one that has caffeine, although most of the rest have solid amounts of sugar. If you’re a Club Cool newbie, make sure to try the Beverly. It’s delicious!
- Cookie, Cotton Candy, or Ice Cream Samples – As you’re heading down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, stop by the Confectionary. If it’s not too busy, there will likely be a Cast Member with samples of cookies, cotton candy, or some other sweet. Likewise, anywhere that serves ice cream will let you sample a flavor before you order. Standard practice here is to actually order ice cream after you take the sample, so it’s not entirely “free,” unless you don’t mind breaking custom.
- Water – No, not the drinking fountains! Walt Disney World counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of water (ask for a large cup!) or a free cup of hot water.
- Toppings Bar – Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe both have similar toppings bars with items such as pickles, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., allowing you to pile on the toppings to your food to get more bang for your buck. I have even known of some people who pile on so many toppings that it’s like they got themselves a free side salad.
- Ice Cream – This is actually multiple “freebies” all in one. If you take the free Disney Vacation Club tour (not really all that good as far as tours go), you get free ice cream at the end. Each person who takes the tour is also likely to get a free $20 gift card (or FastPasses, depends upon the day). Unlike most timeshare presentations, this isn’t high pressure, but it is highly persuasive. Just remember not to buy into Disney Vacation Club on the spot. (Read our Disney Vacation Club Buying Guide to see why that’s a bad idea.) The tour lasts around 2 hours, which is a lot of time to take away from your vacation just for some “free” ice cream; if you’re not actually interested in owning Disney Vacation Club, you might want to just pay for the ice cream elsewhere.
- Chocolate – If you do go to Downtown Disney, the consolation is that Ghiradelli offers free chocolate samples.
- Refills – Sunshine Seasons and Electric Umbrella at Epcot, Tortuga Tavern and Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Backlot Express in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Restaurantosaurus in Disney’s Animal Kingdom all have free, self-service drink refill stations. At all other restaurants, you are given your cup with the soda already in it. We won’t even touch reusing a refillable mug on a subsequent trip (I’ll just unofficially defer to these rules), which is a more hot-button issue among Disney fans than politics, religion, and theories of dinosaur extinction combined.
- Dining Under Age 3 – At Walt Disney World buffets and family-style restaurants, kids under age 3 eat for free off of a parents’ plate.
- Fireworks – A lot of different people give a lot of different recommendations for the best spot to enjoy free fireworks at Walt Disney World. The most popular of these seems to be the beach of Disney’s Polynesian Resort. As a self-proclaimed Disney fireworks expert (I did write the book on them), I am here to say that the absolute best free spot to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks is from the Ticket & Transportation Center, just to the right of the entrance to the Ferry to the Magic Kingdom. Since the hard ticket parties (Halloween and Christmas) are expensive, this is a great way to watch those shows for free (or a second time!). You can also watch Epcot’s Illuminations fireworks from most places around the Yacht & Beach Club or BoardWalk. I’d recommend the bridge between the two (nearer the Swan & Dolphin).
- Electrical Water Pageant – A Walt Disney World classic. This is a cute little light parade on Bay Lake outside the Magic Kingdom. It was originally created for the dedication of Disney’s Polynesian Resort in 1971 and was to run one night only. Due to popular demand, it still shows nightly! Approximate show times are: 9 p.m. at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, 9:15 p.m. at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 9:30 p.m. at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, 9:45 p.m. at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, and 10 p.m. at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. This is a “Vacation Kingdom of the World” classic that we LOVE. So much, in fact, that it was one of our Top 101 Walt Disney World Tips!
- Art Classes – Disney’s Art of Animation Resort offers free drawing classes that are open to any Walt Disney World resort hotel guests. These classes currently occur at 11 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm. The Animation Academy in Disney’s Hollywood Studios also has drawing classes.
- Campfires – Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along is a nightly campfire show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground that occurs at 7 or 8 p.m., depending upon the season. A great way to interact with characters outside the parks! No Disney characters, but Port Orleans Riverside offers a nightly “Campfire on de’ Bayou” with storytellers and entertainment. Similarly, Animal Kingdom Lodge has a nightly storyteller around a campfire just outside the main lobby.
- Restaurant Tours – This is one we’ve never done, and we just learned about from Disney Food Blog. Apparently, the restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offer free 30-minute tours focusing on the culinary selections and architecture. There was a Comcast “On Demand” special about Jiko a few years ago that was very interesting, so I’d imagine that these tours are pretty solid.
- Resort Tours – Here’s another one that we just learned about and haven’t had a chance to try. Called “The Wonders of Wilderness Lodge” tour, it’s open to any Disney resort-hotel guest. With the richness of Wilderness Lodge, I’m betting this tour is great. We’ve also heard that a few other Deluxe Resorts offer tours. Check with your hotel concierge for which ones and specific times.
- Christmas Decorations – Visiting resorts year-round is free (and probably such common knowledge that I don’t think it’s worth mentioning here…I’m not going to list every drinking fountain in the parks that offers “free water” or every restroom that has “free toilet paper”), but at Christmas it’s something worth mentioning. Then, you can take our “Self-Guided Yuletide Tour,” which is a great way to kill a morning before Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (and not waste a day of park admission!) or a replacement for a paid Disney tour.
- Port Orleans Performers – Most weeks, Yehaa Bob performs at Port Orleans Riverside Wednesday through Saturday. He’s fun, family-friendly entertainment. Check out his schedule here to make sure he’s performing during your trip. Port Orleans French Quarter gets in on the fun, too! It’s lesser known, but Elliot Dyson at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort sings and plays several instruments as he performs jazz classics Wednesday through Saturday. Rix Lounge is another option if you’re looking for a DJ dance scene with no cover. Alternatively, if you go late enough or on a slow night, Jellyrolls on the BoardWalk might not be charging cover. No kids at these last two, though.
- Monorail & Boat Rides – Everyone knows that transportation inside Walt Disney World is free (and if you didn’t, you do now!), but the monorail and boat rides are worth pointing out as free entertainment. For us, the monorail is a great “attraction, and riding it around the resort loop (and maybe stopping at each of the hotels) is a relaxing and fun activity. Same goes for the many boats on Walt Disney World property. If you don’t have park tickets for a day and need something to do, relaxing on the boats or monorail and checking out the hotels sure beats a day at the highly overrated Downtown Disney (which is also free to visit).
- Concerts – It seems like the America Gardens Theatre near Epcot’s American Adventure pavilion now has concerts more days than it does not (slight exaggeration). There are concerts in the spring, summer, and fall, with mostly cover bands and once-popular non-contemporary groups. Some of these shows are quite good. Then, in the winter, it’s used for the Candlelight Processional Christmas story. Check here to see if there is any entertainment available during your trip. Note that often people (locals, usually) line up early for these concerts, and if you’re on vacation, it may not be worth your time to do this. You can still grab a decent last minute view from the walkway behind the theatre. We usually just do this if there’s something we want to see.
- Animal Viewing – At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, guests can walk outside and watch the animals. There aren’t as many species here as there are in the park, but it’s still cool, and there are knowledgeable Cast Members nearby to tell you about the animals. If you’re a hotel guest, there’s a special nighttime viewing available!
- Movies Under the Stars – Most of the Walt Disney World resort hotels play a Disney film each night that is free to attend if you’re a hotel guest. Many of these are outdoors on large screens. For more information and specific details, click here.
- Disney Chase Visa Cardholder Perks – We discuss these in depth in our Disney Chase Visa Review, but the biggest one of these is the private meet and greet location in Epcot, which includes a free printed PhotoPass photo. At last year’s Food & Wine Festival, there was also a Chase lounge with free refreshments and wristbands for reserved fireworks seating. If that’s offered again this year, arrive EARLY for the fireworks wristbands; we got to the lounge at 11 am, and they were already gone!
- Disney Vacation Club Member Perks – From “Welcome Home Wednesdays” to complimentary DVD rental, Disney Vacation Club members receive a lot of unpublicized benefits and perks. Check out a current list here.
- Parking – Guests of Walt Disney World resort hotels park for free at the hotels and the theme parks. There’s another “hack” for free parking for those who aren’t staying on-site, and that’s parking at Downtown Disney. Please note that this is highly controversial, with plenty in the Disney fan community considering it immoral. I’m not one to judge the morality of exploiting loopholes in Disney’s system (that they could easily close), but I will say that this is a lousy idea, economically-speaking. Buses at Downtown Disney do not go directly to theme parks, which means you have to take a bus to a hotel and then take a different bus to the park. This is incredibly inefficient, and will easily take over an hour. Given the price of Walt Disney World park tickets and the value of your time on vacation (break down the cost of that park ticket per hour of time you are likely to stay in the park each day), you’re much better off just paying to park at the parks.
- Hair Confetti – The Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom will sprinkle confetti and “pixie dust” on your kid’s hair for free. We’ve never done this ourselves, but we have friends who have, and it can really make the kid’s day. Our recommendation here would be to actually have their hair actually gelled and colored, as it’s less than $10, quick, and will really make your child’s day. Castle Couture (Fantasyland) also has “pixie dust.”
- Photography – Many guests assume PhotoPass is not useful for them if they’re not going to purchase the CD or prints. That’s not true at all–any PhotoPass Cast Member will take photos of you with your camera. Same goes for character attendants. In the case of PhotoPass, We usually take the card, too, just to be polite, but that’s not necessary.
- First Aid – It took me years to learn that I get terrible blisters on my feet when I wear flip flops to Walt Disney World (I’m a slow learner). I also didn’t pack Band-Aids. On each day, I’d stop at First Aid to get some Band-Aids. I know they also have things like Aspirin, but I’m not sure how thorough their medicine cabinet is. It’s always a good idea to stop here before leaving the park due to an ailment just to see what they can do for you…for free!
- Valet Parking at Hotels – Only for Tables in Wonderland members. Remember to tip the valet!
- WiFi – All of the Walt Disney World parks and all of the hotels now have free WiFi available. Cell service can be spotty in the parks, causing a serious drain on your phone battery. To save battery life, I often put my phone into Airplane Mode and just turn on the WiFi if I’m not expecting any calls.
- Package Delivery – If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, anything you purchase in the parks can be delivered to your hotel for free. This is not available on the last day of your trip, but for all other days, this free service sure beats carrying around what you bought all day! Similarly, each park has a package storage service for items purchased.
- Wake Up Call – Guests of Walt Disney World resort hotels can request a free wake up call from Mickey or Stitch on their hotel phone.
- Luggage Storage & Transfer – If you’re staying at multiple hotels, Bell Services at your Walt Disney World resort hotel will transfer your bags. If your flight isn’t until late in the day on your day of departure, Bell Services will hold your bags. Tips are customary in both of these situations.
That wraps up our list of “free” things at Walt Disney World. As mentioned above, depending upon your definition of free, there are many more (or far fewer?) things that are free at Walt Disney World. We’ve left off most of the regular park entertainment (e.g. World Showcase performers) and hotel perks (e.g. leis at the Poly and beads at French Quarter) off the list.
With all we spend on Walt Disney World vacations, it’s nice to see a list with so many things that are basically added bonuses. We think it really shows the way Disney goes above and beyond, and exemplifies one of the reasons we love traveling to Walt Disney World so much!
For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond the freebies, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
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So that’s our list, what’s on YOUR list of the best free things at Walt Disney World? Any other tips or lost-cost options? Share your thoughts in the comments!