There’s a lot of free things to do at Walt Disney World. This post offers tips for finding and taking advantage of these freebies, all of which are no money and no strings attached. Some of these things are relatively unknown, being under-promoted offering at Walt Disney World’s resort hotels. Others are really worthwhile experiences that won’t cost you a dime and are worth your time. (Updated on March 1, 2020.)
Most souvenirs, gifts, and experiences at Walt Disney World are expensive. Fortunately, some things are totally, no strings attached FREE! No, I’m not talking “Free” Dining, I mean actual experiences and stuff that’s actually free. (Sadly, arguably the best free experience at Walt Disney World is temporarily unavailable until at least 2022.)
The existence of such free things and experiences might come as a surprise since sometimes it feels like Mickey Mouse is reaching into your pockets when you’re at Walt Disney World. 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 spending on a Walt Disney World vacation.
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…
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.
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.
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. 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.
World Showcase 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 crafts and have them for the rest of the day.
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! 😉
Monorail – Everyone knows that transportation inside Walt Disney World is free (and if you didn’t, you do now!), but the monorail is worth pointing out as free entertainment. For us, the monorail is a great “attraction,” and riding it around the resort loop is a relaxing and fun activity.
Skyliner – Walt Disney World’s newest form of transportation is the Skyliner, which connects Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot to a handful of resorts. Anywhere else in the world, a gondola ride will cost you money (we paid a pretty penny in Switzerland…but it also took us to the top of a gorgeous mountain!) but there’s no charge at Walt Disney World. If you’re willing to spend some money, we highly recommend the Disney Skyliner Sip & Snack Stroll. It’s a great way to spend a day outside the parks!
Boat Rides – 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 can’t be beat. Highly recommend taking one out to Wilderness Lodge and wandering its gorgeous grounds.
Buses – Airport transportation is free via Disney’s Magical Express. Resort to bus transportation is also free, but we wouldn’t recommend “joyriding” on the buses like we do with the Skyliner, monorail, or boats.
Theme Park & Resort Parking – Guests of Walt Disney World resort hotels park for free the theme parks. Unfortunately, parking is not free at the hotels for regular resort guests. However, those staying on DVC points do park for free. Even if you’re not a DVC Member, you could take advantage of this–consult our Tips for Renting Disney Vacation Club post for more info. This is also an excellent, money-saving option for accommodations at Walt Disney World.
Valet Parking at Hotels – Only for Tables in Wonderland members. Remember to tip the valet!
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.
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 ice water. (With that said, we highly recommend bringing your own water bottle with filter–Florida water is gross!)
Ice Cream – This is actually multiple “freebies” all in one. If you take the free Disney Vacation Club tour/pitch, 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 Disney Springs, the consolation is that Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop offers free chocolate samples.
Refills – Sunshine Seasons and Regal Eagle Smokehouse at Epcot, Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Backlot Express in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Restaurantosaurus & Satu’li Canteen 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. Just remember to follow the refillable mug rules! 😉
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.
Club Cool – Sponsored by Coca-Cola, Club Cool in Epcot offers 8 drinks here from around the world. 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 delicious Beverly. (NOTE: Sadly, Club Cool is temporarily closed as part of Epcot’s reimagining. It will reopen, likely in 2022 or 2023, as part of World Celebration.)
Magic Kingdom Fireworks – The absolute best free spot to watch the Happily Ever After fireworks (Magic Kingdom’s new show) 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).
Epcot Fireworks – You can also watch Epcot’s 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. 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, but 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.
Resort Performers – There are a variety of resorts, particularly at the Moderate and Deluxe levels, that feature lounge entertainment acts. From the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra outside Mizner’s Lounge to performers Rix Lounge, there are several no cover options. Alternatively, if you go late enough or on a slow night, Jellyrolls on the BoardWalk might not be charging cover.
Concerts – The America Gardens Theatre near Epcot’s American Adventure pavilion has concerts in the spring, summer, and fall, with mostly cover bands. 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.
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 near Journey into Imagination, which includes a free PhotoPass photo download.
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.
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 service. That’s not true at all–any PhotoPass Cast Member will take photos of you with your camera. Same goes for character attendants.
First Aid – I get terrible blisters on my feet when I wear flip flops to Walt Disney World; when I forget this and wear flip flops, I’ve stopped at First Aid to get some free Band-Aids. I know they also have things like Aspirin, but I’m not sure how thorough their medicine cabinet is.
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!
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? Any questions about taking advantage of these Walt Disney World freebies? Hearing from you is half the fun–even when you disagree with us–so please share your thoughts in the comments!