FREE and Cheap Stuff to Do at Walt Disney World
LAST UPDATE: 2/1/19
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 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.
- Have a drink at the AbracadaBar, a lounge themed around the golden age of stage magic, with various props and effects scattered around the area including some great photos from old stage magicians of the past. Keep an eye on the decor; it may subtly change when you’re not looking. And the wallpaper is quite ornate: could it be hiding arcane shapes and symbols? Like most Disney lounges, Abracadabar is open to all ages.
- 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.
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 Disney Springs. If you are staying at a Disney Spring resort area 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 Disney Springs:
- Check out the wonderful interactive fountains where children (and adults who have the guts) may enjoy playing and getting wet. The new expansion also added a whole artificial spring, which is just fun to wander around and look at. In the middle of the main pool, you can see a gentle burbling which is supposed to be the actual spring itself. There’s a cool functioning archimedes screw which you can spin to pull water up out of the spring, plus fun little details built into the architecture and signage all around the spring itself.
- Take a look at the fanciful paintings of Disney Springs in years past that are displayed on the walls in the Welcome Center (which is the new Guest Relations booth for the Marketplace side of Disney Springs). You can see the supposed “history” of Disney Springs, and the origins of the various buildings and features scattered around the area, all of which were fabricated out of whole cloth by the wizards at Disney Imagineering. The Welcome Center also has air conditioning, comfy chairs and FREE ice water.
- 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! Find out about upcoming events at the Lego Imagination Center.
- Ride on the Marketplace Carousel. The cost $3 per person. Children under 42 inches must be accompanied by an adult, but the adult is not required to pay.
- Most of the restaurants are quite expensive, but you can get a meal (sandwich, side and drink) at Earl of Sandwich for under $15 per person.
- Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar is decorated with lots of Indiana Jones-related artifacts and memorabilia (Jock Lindsey is Indy’s longtime pilot from the movies, TV show and comics). It’s fun and FREE to just wander around the place reading the signs and postcards and checking out the various artifacts. They have a tasty menu of snacks you can make into a meal, and imaginative cocktails that we like a lot, including some unique non-alcoholic drinks. Jock Lindsey’s is open to all ages, like most of Disney’s lounges.
- Amorette’s Patisserie is a nifty place to check out, just to see the details the Imagineers have filled the place with, and walking around to look at the decor is FREE. If you want to get a snack, the best deal in terms of food value is the banana-hazelnut crepe, which is pretty substantial for $7. Don’t make the mistake of walking around with it; it’s messier than you’d think.
- Visit the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop and enjoy a sundae (as of mid-2017 their fancy specialty sundaes are about $12.50, but they are large enough to split, or you can get a single large scoop with hot fudge (or other toppings including caramel or pineapple) for $6.75, or a double scoop with hot fudge for $8.55, or a shake for about $7 – $9. Go into the chocolate shop side of the store and they will usually give you a FREE chocolate sample!
- There are multiple locations where individual musicians and bands perform in the evening, ranging from full-scale cover bands and dance bands to individual performers with just a guitar and microphone. Some places they usually show up are the small courtyard just next to the Boathouse, the Westside food truck courtyard between Bongos and Starbucks, the courtyard in front of Paddlefish, the stage near Ghirardelli Chocolate and the crossroads where the main walkway meets the walkway to the Orange parking garage. Entertainment is scheduled from about 7 PM to 11 PM (with breaks) most evenings during mid and high season and weekends during low season.
- House of Blues frequently offers free live music at its Front Porch Bar – enjoy for the cost of a drink and/or snack. (May be restricted to over 21 at some times.)
- Raglan Road usually has free live music both in the main room and on their patio – enjoy for the price of a drink and/or snack.
- Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ often has free live music on their outdoor patio, particularly on weekends – enjoy for the cost of a drink and/or snack.
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 usually self-park for FREE (if the parking lot is full, though, they may limit you to 3 hours or may only allow guests with dining reservations to self-park). All of the hotels are open to the public for shopping, eating and drinking in restaurants and lounges or just walking around and enjoying the decor. Some of the amenities of the resort are only for guests of that resort (most notably use of the pool), but you are free to rent bicycles or surry bikes, rent a boat, get a spa treatment, etc. no matter where you are staying.
- Nearly all of the resort hotels have lounges that offer great, themed decor, quality cocktails, wine, beer and non-alcoholic options, and are generally open to all ages (though guests under 21 can’t consume alcohol). For the cost of a drink, you can almost always find a comfy chair, air conditioning and quiet, which sometimes seems in short supply at Walt Disney World. You can also usually find a small menu of snacks that are usually substantial enough to make a tapas-style meal out of. Some of our favorites include the Territory Lounge at Wilderness Lodge, the Belle Vue Lounge at the Boardwalk Inn (check out the ongoing soundtrack of 1920’s radio), and the Victoria Falls Lounge at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- One resort lounge needs to be mentioned specially: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort. For the price of a drink and/or snack, you get a truly unique and entertaining experience. The bar interior contains an amazing collection of memorabilia and artifacts themed to tiki culture, Adventureland and the Jungle Cruise, with elements from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and a few other miscellaneous bits of Disney adventure lore. Whenever people order certain themed drinks, the bar staff react with wacky hijinks, complete with lighting and sound effects. There are also some subtle effects and special features of the bar that you should look carefully for. The interior is very small and seating is first-come-first-served, so be prepared to wait for a table during peak periods. Don’t be shy about asking to share a table, and expect others to do the same if you have extra seats – the place seems to attract outgoing personalities. It is worth your while to get up and walk around to look closely at the various artifacts. You can also sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the (very good) cocktails and bar snacks, but you’ll miss all the wacky effects. Trader Sam’s is open to all ages until 8 pm (though guests under 21 can’t consume alcohol). After 8 pm, the bar is 21 and over.
- 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, BoardWalk Inn, 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). Contact the hotel’s front desk or concierge directly to find out what tours they offer, when they are held and whether you need to sign up in advance. These tours are subject to change, so not all the resorts listed above may be offering a tour at a given time.
- 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! Check the Celebration Town Center page for upcoming events.
- 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 restaurants.
- 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 daily (including weekends) November through March. It is closed on most holidays and closed on weekends March through October. 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.
You can take three different Monorail rides at Walt Disney World, absolutely FREE. The best overall ride is 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. You can also ride the express Monorail that just goes between the Ticket and Transportation Center and the Magic Kingdom for the same view, but no stops at the resorts. It also tends to get more crowded. The Monorail to Epcot is also a nice trip, and on the way to Epcot from the Ticket and Transportation Center you take a quick turn through Epcot for a great view of the park.
To get to the Monorails in the first place, you do have to get to the Ticket and Transportation Center, which entails paying a parking fee if you’re driving. If the buses to/from Disney Springs are running (after 10 am, typically), you can go to Disney Springs and park FREE, then take a bus to one of the Monorail resorts and proceed from there. Be aware, though, that could take an hour or more. It might be better to just take a taxi or Lyft from your hotel to a Monorail hotel, depending on where you are and your time/money preference.
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 Disney Springs to Port Orleans or Old Key West and back, along the Sassagoula River.
- Cost for any of the above: FREE.
You can take a 25-minute carriage ride at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort (departs in front of the Riverside Levee Marina) or Fort Wilderness (departs in front of Crockett’s Tavern at Pioneer Hall) for $55. The rides are offered nightly between 5:30 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.
- Walt Disney World Annual and Seasonal Passholders get 10% off a carriage ride, excluding holiday and special themed carriage ride events. The discount is applied at time of payment when you check-in.
- Disney Visa cardholders get a discount on carriage rides. Offer good for cardholder and up to 9 guests.
You can take a 25-minute wagon ride around Fort Wilderness Campground for $12/adult, $8/child (ages 3-9). The rides are offered nightly at 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm and depart from in front of Pioneer Hall. No reservations taken — just show up and pay cash.
- Walt Disney World Annual and Seasonal Passholders get 10% off a wagon ride, excluding holiday and special themed wagon ride events. The discount is applied at time of payment when you check-in.
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
- Beach Club – Beaches and Cream (soda fountain), Hurricane Hanna’s Waterside Bar and Grill (at Stormalong Bay pool – open to guests of the resort only)
- BoardWalk Inn – BoardWalk Bakery, Pizza Window
- Contemporary – Contempo Café
- Coronado Springs – El Mercado de Coronado, Siestas Cantina (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 (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 Food Court (create your own pasta or salad)
- Wilderness Lodge – Whispering Canyon Cafe
- Yacht Club – Crew’s Cup Lounge (good bar snacks)
You 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! And most of the Disney-run lounges are open to all ages (though those under 21 can’t consume alcohol).
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 – Sanaa Lounge, Victoria Falls
- BoardWalk Inn – Belle Vue Room
- Contemporary – California Grill Lounge (great place to watch Magic Kingdom fireworks)
- Coronado Springs – Rix Sports Bar & Grill
- Dolphin – Phins (located in the lobby)
- Ft. Wilderness – Crockett’s Tavern
- Grand Floridian – Mizner’s Lounge (often has live jazz performances)
- Old Key West – The Gurgling Suitcase
- Polynesian – Tambu Lounge, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (21 and over after 8 pm)
- Port Orleans French Quarter – Scat Cat’s Club (live music is often playing here in the evenings, especially on weekends)
- Port Orleans Riverside – River Roost (evening boogie-woogie piano entertainment by Yehaa Bob Jackson on most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights)
- Swan – Kimonos (sushi bar with karaoke in the evenings)
- Saratoga Springs – Turf Club Lounge
- Wilderness Lodge – Territory Lounge, Geyser Point Bar & Grill
- Yacht & Beach Club – Crew’s 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: $14.91 adults, $12.78 children (tax included), but there are discounts available.
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 $8 (cash only). 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.”
- Walt Disney World Annual and Seasonal Passholders get 10% off a 45-minute guided trail ride through Fort Wilderness Resort. Rider age and weight restrictions apply.
- Disney Visa cardholders get a discount on horseback trail rides. Offer good for cardholder and up to 9 guests.
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 largest number of animals come out around dusk — you might not see very many 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 we 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 accommodate 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!