FREE and Cheap Stuff to Do at Walt Disney World
LAST UPDATE: 5/3/13
Here’s a list of fun things you can do at Walt Disney World (and nearby) that don’t require park admission. All of them can be accomplished for about $12 per person or less — and many of them are FREE! This list of FREE stuff to do at Disney World is ideal if you’re arriving late in the day or leaving mid-day and don’t want to use up a whole day on your tickets.
Be sure to check the Walt Disney World Special Events page as well. It lists seasonal experiences you may want to consider. Some do not require park admission, and some are also FREE.
- Places to Visit
- Transportation Fun
- Food and Drink
- Other Cheap and FREE Stuff to Do at Disney World
- Mini Trip Report from a Reader
- Disney’s BoardWalk
- Downtown Disney
- Disney’s Resort Hotels
- The Disney Wilderness Preserve
Disney’s BoardWalk is built around a lake and is beautifully themed to be reminiscent of Cape May or Coney Island in the 1940s. It’s fun just walking around and enjoying the atmosphere! If you are staying on Disney property, you can use Disney transportation to get to the BoardWalk. If you drive to the BoardWalk, you can get a FREE 3-hour parking permit from the lot attendant. While some of the restaurants are open at lunchtime, the best time to visit the BoardWalk is after sunset. It’s beautifully lit up.
Some of the FREE and inexpensive things you can do at Disney’s BoardWalk:
- Often there are street performers (jugglers, comedians, fire-eaters, jazz ensembles, etc.) in the evenings — stroll around and watch them!
- There are lots of vendors selling inexpensive food treats.
- You can try your luck at a carnival-style game (small cost).
- Sit and watch the Friendship Boats come and go.
- Visit Jellyroll’s (a dueling piano bar featuring sing-a-longs to your favorite pop tunes) for a $12 per person cover charge (21 and over).
- Check out Atlantic Dance Hall, which has dancing to DJ-spun Top 40, usually with no cover charge (21 and over).
- Rent an old-fashioned fringe-topped surrey – click here for info.
If you like to shop (or window shop), you’ll enjoy this attractive shopping and restaurant zone, which also offers some great FREE entertainment. If you are staying on Disney property, you can use Disney transportation to get to Downtown Disney. If you are staying at a Downtown Disney hotel, you can take the bus or walk. Otherwise you’ll probably need to drive or take a taxi. Parking is FREE.
Some of the FREE and inexpensive things you can do at Downtown Disney:
- Check out the wonderful interactive fountains where children (and adults who have the guts) may enjoy playing and getting wet.
- The Lego Imagination Center has a FREE 3,000-square-foot outdoor play area filled with thousands of LEGO blocks, plus some absolutely amazing and huge Lego sculptures for you to admire! Also, it normally participates in the Monthly Mini Model Build (usually first Tuesday of the month, starting at 5:00 pm), where kids ages 6-14 can build and take home a FREE mini model! Click here to see upcoming events at the store.
- Most of the restaurants are quite expensive, but you can get a meal (sandwich, side and drink) at Earl of Sandwich for under $10 per person.
- Visit the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop and enjoy a sundae (about $8.95) or shake (about $6.25). Go into the chocolate shop side of the store and they will usually give you a FREE chocolate sample!
- House of Blues frequently offers free live music at its Front Porch Bar – enjoy for the cost of a drink! (21 and over)
- Raglan Road often has free live music in the bar, particularly on weekends – enjoy for the cost of a drink! (21 and over)
Every one of the Disney hotels is themed and some of them are literally breathtaking. All of the Moderate and Deluxe resorts, especially, have extraordinary theming and are well worth a visit. You can take Disney transportation from any of the four theme parks to any of the resort hotels. If you drive to one of the resorts, you can get a FREE 3-hour parking permit from the gate attendant.
- The pools are amazing: at Coronado Springs the pool looks like a Mayan ruin; the Stormalong Bay pool at the Yacht/Beach Club includes a huge “shipwreck” that contains a slide; the pool at the Wilderness Lodge starts as a “spring” in the lobby, passes under a bridge, then cascades down a waterfall into the pool and ends in a geyser that goes off once an hour! (Note that use of the pools is for the hotel’s guests only, but you can certainly walk around and “ooh and ahh” for a few minutes.)
- The Deluxe resort lobbies also have amazing elements and displays that fit with the theme, and a few (including the Grand Floridian) sometimes have a pianist performing.
- If you’re looking for a fun photo opportunity, consider visiting the All Star resorts or Pop Century. These hotels feature enormous “pop culture” icons. Take a family photo in front of a 35-foot Buzz Lightyear!
- Several of the resorts, including Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, Grand Floridian, and Yacht Club, offer FREE tours that are open to any Disney resort guest (whether you are staying at that particular hotel or not). Some of the tours require a reservation, so inquire in advance.
- See the Activities section below for many more Disney resort ideas.
Just a ten-minute drive from Disney World you can travel back in time to find the town of Celebration, a planned community originally developed by the Walt Disney Company. This is a pedestrian-friendly, wonderful small town (think Mayberry!) You can have a great time exploring the old-fashioned downtown area called Market Street. Here are some ideas to take advantage of during your tour, that will cost you little or nothing, as well as a couple of splurges to consider.
- Explore the Lakeside Promenade or the miles of walking paths and nature trails.
- Window-shop on Market Street, which has wonderful specialty stores, boutiques and galleries.
- Market Street often has different events scheduled each month, such as craft festivals, antique car shows, etc. During the winter holidays, Market Street hosts an event called “Now Snowing Nightly” — it “snows” on Celebration’s main street four times a night and the town provides entertainment and a visit to Santa in his lakeside chalet, all for FREE! Click here to see what’s going on at Market Street.
- Visit the Bohemian Hotel Celebration, located right downtown. Sit in one of the oversized wicker chairs, people-watch, and have a drink or coffee at the lobby bar.
- Have an appetizer or dessert at one of the varied restaurants including award-winning Spanish and Cuban cuisine!
- Pick up some picnic items and head over to the Interactive Fountain to let the kids (or you) have a splash!
- Treat yourself to an ice-cream or lemonade from Kilwins Ice Cream and then enjoy it relaxing in one of the rocking chairs by the lake.
About 20 miles south of Orlando, at the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem, is The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve. Here you can observe native plants and animals by hiking a 2 1/2-mile trail.
The Preserve is open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday-Friday. It’s closed on most major holidays. Admission is FREE, though donations are appreciated. Before visiting, please call the preserve at (407) 935-0002, as there may be limited access due to flooding or restoration activities.
Take the “inner” Monorail that circles the three Monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian). This is a great way to orient yourself and get a look at the resorts and an overview of the Magic Kingdom. You can get off and explore each resort, or just enjoy the ride and the view. Cost to ride the Monorail: FREE.
This is enjoyable any time of day, but particularly beautiful and romantic at night.
- Cruise the loop around Crescent Lake, which visits Epcot, Boardwalk, Yacht/Beach Club, Swan/Dolphin, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios without going into the parks.
- Take the boat that visits the Magic Kingdom, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness, or the boat that visits the Polynesian, Grand Floridian and Magic Kingdom (and you can get off at the Magic Kingdom and wander along the lake outside the gates, or hop on the monorail).
- Cruise from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney and back, along the Sassagoula River.
- Cost for any of the above: FREE.
You can take a 25-minute carriage ride at certain resorts for $45. The rides are offered nightly between 6:00 and 9:30 pm. Carriages can accommodate up to 4 adults, or 2 adults and 3 children (9 and under). Call (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7529) to reserve. Resorts offering the carriage rides:
- Port Orleans Riverside (departs in front of Boatwright’s Dining Hall)
- Fort Wilderness (departs in front of Crockett’s Tavern at Pioneer Hall)
See the Celebration section for information about carriage rides in the town of Celebration.
You can take a 45-minute wagon ride around Fort Wilderness Campground certain resorts for $8/adult, $5/child (ages 3-9). The rides are offered nightly at 7:00 and 9:30 pm and depart from in front of Pioneer Hall. No reservations taken — just show up and pay cash.
Eat at an inexpensive but well-themed restaurant. At many of the Disney World resort hotels it’s possible to have a light meal or snack for about $10 per person (plus tax & tip at the sit-down locations) while soaking up the atmosphere. (Don’t forget, most of the bars and lounges also serve snacks.) Here are the dining locations where you get the most theming or entertainment for the lowest cost:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge – Mara (try the Zebra Domes)
- Beach Club – Beaches and Cream (soda fountain), Hurricane Hanna’s Grill (at Stormalong Bay pool – open to guests of the resort only)
- BoardWalk Inn – BoardWalk Bakery, Seashore Sweets (candy), Pizza Window
- Contemporary - Contempo Café (nice flatbreads)
- Coronado Springs – Pepper Market, Siesta’s Pool Bar & Grill (pool bar open to guests of the resort only)
- Dolphin – The Fountain Eats and Sweets (50s themed soda fountain)
- Grand Floridian – Garden View Tea Room (order a pot of tea and share one or two items a la carte)
- Polynesian – Captain Cook’s Snack Company (try the famous Tonga Toast during breakfast hours)
- Port Orleans French Quarter – Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory (try the beignets and/or the gumbo)
- Port Orleans Riverside – Riverside Mill (create your own pasta or salad)
- Wilderness Lodge – Whispering Canyon Cafe (share an order of Western Chips with buffalo chili, cheese dip and fresh salsa)
- Yacht Club – Crews Cup Lounge (good bar snacks, including an Artisanal Cheese Plate)
The 21-and-over crowd can have a drink at one of the wonderful themed bars and lounges in the Moderate and Deluxe resort hotels. Remember, you don’t have to drink alcoholic beverages to enjoy the atmosphere — order a coffee, mineral water, soda or virgin drink if you want!
Most of the bars and lounges also serve snacks or light meals, some of which are excellent quality for the money. For instance, the snacks at the Territory Lounge at Wilderness Lodge come out of the Artist Point kitchen, while Crews Cup at Yacht Club serves an inexpensive but substantial menu. The River Roost at Port Orleans Riverside has appetizers and steak sandwiches, not to mention an excellent sing-along pianist performing several nights a week.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge – Victoria Falls
- BoardWalk Inn – Belle Vue Room
- Contemporary – California Grill Lounge (great place to watch Magic Kingdom fireworks)
- Coronado Springs – Francisco’s, Rix Lounge (5,000-square-foot nightclub open nightly, normally with no cover charge)
- Dolphin – Lobby Lounge (live pianist in the evenings)
- Ft. Wilderness – Crockett’s Tavern
- Grand Floridian – Mizner’s Lounge, Summerhouse
- Old Key West – The Gurgling Suitcase
- Polynesian – Tambu Lounge
- Port Orleans French Quarter – Scat Cat’s Club
- Port Orleans Riverside – River Roost (evening boogie-woogie piano entertainment by Yehaa Bob Jackson on most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights)
- Swan – Kimono’s Sushi Bar (karaoke in the evenings)
- Wilderness Lodge – Territory Lounge
- Yacht & Beach Club – Crews Cup Lounge, Martha’s Vineyard
Go swimming! Virtually all Orlando-area hotels will have an outdoor pool. All of the Moderate and Deluxe Disney resort hotels include wonderful themed elements, water slides or other features. Some non-Disney hotels such as the Swan/Dolphin and Caribe Royale also have elaborate waterfall pools and slides. Cost: FREE to guests of the hotel.
Play miniature golf. There are two courses: Fantasia Gardens, near Disney’s Hollywood Studios; and Winter Summerland, near Blizzard Beach Water Park. Cost: $12.78 adults, $10.65 children (tax included), but there are discounts available.
Go fishing. This is strictly “catch and release.” There are two places to rent cane poles (worms also provided): Port Orleans Riverside (near Ol’ Man Island) or Ft. Wilderness (at the Bike Barn). Cost: about $4 per half-hour per pole, or $9 for a full day per pole. There is a family special of around $14 per half-hour for 4-6 poles.
Rent a boat! Most of Disney’s Moderate, Deluxe and DVC resorts have a marina where you can rent various types of watercraft. A kayak, canoe or pedal boat will set you back about $7 for a half-hour rental. A 12-foot sailboat that can be shared by two people will cost you $21.30 an hour.
Visit Tri-Circle D Ranch (home of the draft horses used to pull the trolleys down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom) at Ft. Wilderness. There are quite a few different horses to see and pony rides for very small children from 10 am to 5 pm for $5. There is FREE day parking at Ft. Wilderness and you can get from the day guest parking to the farm area by special buses that run only in the “Settlement.”
Sing around the campfire and watch a FREE Disney movie. The campfire program at Ft. Wilderness is open to all Walt Disney World resort guests. It is held every evening, at about 7:00 pm in fall and winter and about 8:00 pm in spring and summer, near the Meadow Trading Post. The program starts with a sing-a-long and marshmallow roast. You can bring your own food or buy it from the Chuckwagon, which sells S’more kits for about $9 (makes enough for about 4 people) and also offers other food such as pizza and hot dogs. Chip and Dale meet the guests and sign autographs. Then a Disney movie is shown on a large outdoor screen. There is some seating on bleachers and benches, or you can lay out a blanket. No reservations necessary — just show up. Cost: FREE to all Disney resort guests.
- A similar outdoor campfire and movie program is offered at Beach Club Resort and at the Grand Floridian Resort. There is a campfire sing-along on the beach, followed by a Disney movie. (No characters attend.) Ask at the front desk for a schedule. S’more kits that make enough for about 4 people are sold for about $9. No reservations necessary — just show up. Cost: FREE to all Disney resort guests.
- Port Orleans-Riverside offers a seasonal “Campfire on de’ Bayou” with stories and sing-alongs around a fire at the Ol’ Man Island Fishin’ Hole. (No characters attend.) It usually runs in the winter, from Halloween through sometime in March, and only a couple of nights a week (most recently, Sunday and Thursday), weather permitting. Ask at the front desk for a schedule. S’more kits that make enough for about 4 people are sold for about $9. No reservations necessary — just show up. Cost: FREE to all Disney resort guests.
- At night you can wander along the Polynesian’s beach and watch the Electrical Water Pageant and the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. Walk through the tiki-torchlit gardens between the Great Ceremonial House and the beach. It’s all very romantic. (Please keep in mind that the beach is primarily intended for guests of the Polynesian, though there is nothing to prevent the general public from visiting.)
- Watch the Wishes Fireworks from the Grand Floridian boat dock. Narcoossees restaurant is nearby and receives the audio soundtrack from the Magic Kingdom, so you can enjoy the fireworks synchronized to the music. There’s a little bit of delay due to the distance, but it still works. Seeing the fireworks reflect off of the lake is beautiful.
- From the Boardwalk, meander up to the back gate of Epcot, or over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios around closing time and enjoy the music and perhaps a glimpse of IllumiNations or Fantasmic!. The bridge that goes over to the Swan and Dolphin sometimes has nice views at that time.
- At Wilderness Lodge, a geyser (kind of a mini version of Old Faithful) spouts on the hour from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. The geyser is located at the back of the property, past the pool.
- During the day, explore the woods from Wilderness Lodge to Ft. Wilderness.
- Stroll from the Grand Floridian to the Wedding Pavilion and poke your head in. (Unless there’s a wedding in progress, of course!)
- At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you can walk out to the viewing areas and see the exotic African animals roaming free. Note that the animals come out around dusk — you won’t see any during the day. (Please keep in mind that hotel guests’ rooms open right out onto the viewing areas, so quiet is very much appreciated.) Additionally, MouseSavers.com reader Carl W notes: “at night a Disney cast member will be there for several hours with night vision glasses for very fun viewing of the animals” that can otherwise not be seen in the dark.
- Visit a Butterfly Garden (a patch of land planted to create a habitat that attracts butterflies) at one of the resorts. There are currently two that I know about: at Contemporary Resort, the garden is located on the left side as you walk out the back of the lobby towards the pool and lake; and at Ft. Wilderness, there is a garden outside the Outpost. You can call the Gardening Hotline at (407) 938-3900 for more information regarding butterfly gardens.
- Cost for all of the above ideas: FREE.
Rent a bike and explore the trails around one of the resorts. Every Disney resort hotel has some kind of trail, but the trails around Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness are especially nice. Cost: $9.59 an hour.
Rent an old-fashioned fringe-topped surrey at Disney’s BoardWalk. Bicycle around the pier and visit Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resorts and the Swan and Dolphin. Also available for rent at Old Key West. Surreys can accomodate two to four people. Cost: $21.30-$23.43 per hour, depending on location.
Watch the Electrical Water Pageant. This floating parade is visible nightly, usually starting at 9:00, from Disney’s Magic Kingdom-area resort hotel docks and beaches. The pageant takes about an hour to move slowly around the lake, stopping at each resort in order: Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Ft. Wilderness and Contemporary. Cost: FREE.
Make the rounds of the Disney resorts and collect something! You can make your own scavenger hunt for little or nothing:
- Make a list of every Hidden Mickey you can find
- Get a pressed penny (.50 – $1.50) or a pin (about $6) for each resort.
- Have a drink in the lounges and save the swizzle sticks (some of them have fun themed designs).
- Go on a bargain hunt. Most of the resort hotel shops have at least one shelf or table of marked-down items. You might find a great deal.
Investigate special kids’ programs at your Disney resort hotel. The Deluxe resorts usually have kids’ recreation programs such as coloring, crafts, pool games, Hidden Mickey searches, and storytelling at various times. Cost: FREE to guests of the hotel.
MouseSavers.com reader Steve K has this to say about what he learned from this page:
I was sufficiently inspired by… “FREE and Cheap Stuff to Do at Walt Disney World” that I built that idea into my recent trip. Although my flight home was on Saturday morning, the last night of my Disney resort stay was Thursday. On Friday, rather than tour any theme parks, I enjoyed a transportation odyssey to all the Disney resorts I had yet to visit. Along the way, there was a lot of finely themed landscaping and architecture, as well as some special Disney treats like Tonga Toast, Zebra Domes, and the beignets at Port Orleans French Quarter. The odyssey ended at Downtown Disney (my first visit there)…. This was a great way to have a lot of Disney fun and save a chunk of money in the process. I’m very glad you posted that page on your site!