There’s no question that a trip to Disney is expensive. Hotel room nights, theme park food, spendy souvenirs, and Disney World tickets can all add up, especially when traveling with children. In fact, some families save up for years just so they can afford a Disney vacation.
Fortunately, Disney World is filled with fun activities, no pricey park admission necessary! Believe it or not, from the resorts to Disney Springs and beyond, there are plenty of things to enjoy across Disney property that won’t cost you a dime. So, whether you and your family are looking for tips on how to do Disney World vacation on a shoestring or you’re a local hoping for creative date ideas in Orlando, here’s our list of the top 23 free things to do at Disney World.
Remember that due to COVID-19, many amenities and attractions at Walt Disney World are closed or operating at a reduced capacity. As a general rule, recreation offerings that involve a lot of touching and close contact – for example, Disney character experiences, resort scavenger hunts, and nightly fireworks – are not currently available. With pandemic conditions changing rapidly as vaccines continue to be distributed, things are changing relatively fast at Disney World, so refer to Disney’s website and Disney resort front desk cast members for the most up-to-date information.
Discover Disney Springs
Of all the free things to do at Walt Disney World, this first suggestion is probably the most obvious. Disney Springs is Disney World’s premiere entertainment destination, a sprawling complex with tons of restaurants, shops, recreational opportunities and more. Not only is entry to Disney Springs completely free, along with all the window shopping your wallet and self-control can handle, but there are even free activities to be had at Disney Springs itself.
Stop into Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop for a complimentary sample of one of their signature squares, then head over to the Lego Store to tinker around with those famous building blogs for a while. Then, as the sun sets, listen to a variety of live musical acts placed throughout the shopping and dining district.
Take a Stroll Along Disney’s BoardWalk
Step into a slower time and place at Disney’s BoardWalk area. Inspired by turn-of-the-century boardwalks like Coney Island and Atlantic City, the nostalgia is real at this entertainment district neighboring Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, and the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotels.
With restaurants, food stands, shops, and live entertainment sprinkled throughout, think of this as Disney Springs’s older, simpler sibling who still likes to cut a rug and enjoy the finer things every now and again. Although it’s worth a visit during the day, we recommend swinging by during sunset and into the evening, as that’s when Disney’s BoardWalk really comes to life. Grab a dining reservation, then enjoy street performers like magicians and jugglers before capping off your visit with a view of the Epcot fireworks.
On most vacations, a hotel is simply a place to rest your head and recharge after a day filled with adventures. At Disney World, however, the resorts are the adventure. Or, at least they can be if you have an attention for detail and can keep an open mind. With immersive theming and design, tasty restaurants, and many thoughtful, unique, and, most importantly, free amenities and activities, you could spend a few days appreciating everything each resort has to offer. Hop on the Monorail or Disney Skyliner to make resort hopping to the hotels on those routes a breeze. Then, grab a drink and a snack or just your camera as you explore all the Disney digs. Consider it research for your next Disney vacation.
Get in the Holiday Spirit With Disney Resort Christmas Decorations
Is this the same thing as our last suggestion, albeit with a festive twist? Sure it is, but we’re firm believers that Christmas decorations make everything better. That’s why the winter holidays are one of our absolute favorite times to visit Disney World. There’s just so much Christmas cheer in the air – it’s infectious!
Almost all the resorts will have at least some sort of holiday decorations up, however it’s the Disney deluxe resorts that really pull out all the stops. From towering trees dripping with uniquely themed decorations to giant gingerbread confections, there are enough festive trappings to enjoy that even Mr. Scrooge couldn’t stay a grinch for long.
Join a Resort Tour
While you’re out and about resort hopping, be sure to join a complimentary resort tour. These recreation offerings are pretty under-the-radar, even for guests staying at the resort. Unfortunately, they’re only available at two Disney resorts that we know of: The Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge.
Embark on cultural and culinary tours at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where cultural representatives from countries across Africa show how African cultures were incorporated into the resort’s design and cuisine. You may even get a sample or two if you’re lucky! Then set out on the Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge tour. Led by a Wilderness Lodge ranger, the tour leads guests on a discovery of the resort’s American art collection and architectural influences.
Hunt for Hidden Mickeys and Other Things at a Disney Resort
Hidden Mickeys are an extra little dose of Disney magic that’s been sprinkled across Disney property like pixie dust. These visual Easter eggs have been cleverly hidden throughout the parks and resorts by those crafty Imagineers. Track them down in a special scavenger hunt over at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Boulder Ridge Villas, then get your reward from the front desk.
Free scavenger hunts can be found at a few other Disney resorts as well, though you aren’t always searching for hidden Mickeys, including the Port Orleans, Polynesian, Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Animal Kingdom Lodge resorts. Talk to a front desk or recreation cast member to find out how to grab your scavenger hunt checklist and claim your prize.
Catch a Free Movie Under the Stars
There’s no question that we love Disney theme parks. Our whole blog is dedicated to them, after all! Another thing we love just as much is Disney movies. So, what could be more perfect than watching a Disney movie under the moonlight while on a vacation at Disney World? (See our next tip below for the answer.) These complimentary, al fresco film screenings can be found at almost every Disney resort – often with a toasty campfire burning nearby – and feature such favorites as Beauty & the Beast, Moana, Frozen, and more. Movie schedules rotate from resort to resort, so ask at the front desk for the most up-to-date slate of films showing.
Snack on Marshmallows at Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long
Ok, we asked what was better than free Disney Movies Under the Stars at Disney resort hotels. How about: free Disney Movies Under the Stars with a crackling bonfire, sticky sweet s’mores, and a visit from two rascally chipmunks? Held nightly, Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground truly is a hidden gem, and one of our favorite free things to do at Disney World. Although there are campfires held at many Disney resorts, the Fort Wilderness campfire is the only one with a Disney character meet-and-greet.
In fact, it’s also one of the only places where you can have a Disney character experience without ever needing to buy a park ticket or pay a single cent. Bring your own marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate squares for s’mores or buy everything you need there.
If you’d rather skip the characters, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort plays host to a nightly campfire with an African storyteller. Meanwhile, over at the Riverside at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, you can also catch storytellers and other entertainment nightly at the Campfire on de’ Bayou.
Get in Touch With Your Inner Van Gogh at a Free Drawing Class
We love the simple pleasures of a Disney drawing class. There’s nothing quite like watching basic shapes and sketched-out lines slowly transform, fingers crossed, into something vaguely resembling a Disney character. While most of Disney’s drawing classes are found in the theme parks, a more intimate session offered at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is an excellent ticketless alternative. Led by a Disney animator, drawing classes are easy enough for even the youngest artists. These classes have been offered at 11a, 2pm, and 5pm in the past, but talk to a front desk cast member for the most accurate schedule.
Wander Through the Wilderness
The Wilderness Lodge, that is. Inspired by the great lodges of the Pacific Northwoods and American West, this Disney resort has a penchant for rustic theming, stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods, and an adventurous spirit. There’s even an ode to one of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular attractions. Like Old Faithful, Fire Rock Geyser at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is on a schedule. Tucked at the back of the resort near the pool, the geyser erupts every hour on the hour between the hours of 7am and 10pm. That’s a whole lot more precise than its inspiration, Old Faithful! Grab a Magic Cookie Bar from Roaring Fork or an outdoorsy cocktail from Geyser Point Bar & Grill, then stop by Fire Rock Geyser for the show.
See Animals on the Savanna at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Do you adore wildlife but not have enough room in your budget for Animal Kingdom tickets? Or maybe you’re looking for a pint-sized animal experience instead of a full-day commitment? Then you won’t want to miss the animals of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Much of the resort is surrounded by savannas teeming with African wildlife.
Fortunately, you don’t just have to be a hotel guest to pretend that you’re on safari. Several savannas are accessible from the resort’s lobbies at Kidani Village and Jambo House. Sometimes there are even animal experts on-hand to help answer any questions you may have about the various species. If you visit at night, you may even get the chance to look for animals through night-vision goggles.
Stop and Smell the Roses in the Contemporary Resort’s Butterfly Garden
Take some time away from all the hustle and bustle of Disney with a walk through the Contemporary Resort’s butterfly garden. This little nook is nestled behind the resort near the metal Mickey ear. The area is blanked with different kinds of flowers and other plants that butterflies are attracted to. If you’re lucky, you may even catch (with your eyes, not your hands, of course) a butterfly or two flitting about the area. It’s small, but it’s a peaceful escape from the noise and crowds.
Horse Around at Disney’s Tri-Circle-D Ranch
Gallop on into the Fort Wilderness Campground for yet another of the resort’s hidden gems: an unforgettable visit to Disney’s Tri-Circle-D Ranch. While animal experiences like pony, trail, wagon, carriage, and holiday sleigh rides are available for an additional fee, guests can visit the stables for free. Horse girls and animal lovers of all stripes will appreciate all of the Disney World horses that live here – seven different breeds in total – including those that work down on Main Street U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Ponies, and the Headless Horseman’s trusty steed from the yearly Halloween parade. You can even see the Dragon Calliope, a horse-powered musical instrument Walt Disney bought way back in the 1950s for Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse Club Circus Parade.
Listen to a Complimentary Concert
Fans of live music will have no complaints when visiting Walt Disney World. Outside the theme parks, musical performers can be found regularly throughout the park, especially at Disney Springs, Disney’s BoardWalk, and at several lounges in moderate and deluxe Disney resorts. Disney Springs comes to life at night with the sound of an array of musical acts. In the past, you could have listened to the tunes of yesterday played by the Grand Floridian Orchestra Society at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, however they unfortunately played their last Disney concert back in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and are not set to return.
That being said, we anticipate that you’ll still be able to tap your toes to some live jazz at Scat Cat’s Club at Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter, and hopefully at other Disney resort lounges, in the future. Additionally, though a cover charge is often required on busy nights, you can often get in to Jellyrolls on Disney’s BoardWalk without a fee on slower evenings.
Star in Your Own Personal Photo Shoot
Are you always looking for the ideal backdrop for your next social media photo? Then Disney World is your stage. There’s no denying that The Place Where Dreams Come True is more than just a little bit Instagrammable, but don’t let Magic Kingdom’s purple wall have all the fun! Disney resorts have just as much eye candy design and immersive details as the rest of Disney World, making them the perfect setting for your next vacation photo.
For larger-than-life themes, we like the Art of Animation, Pop Century, and All-Star Resorts. Or for something more subtle, go for the island vibes of the Polynesian or Caribbean Beach, the Spanish-inspired squares of Coronado Springs, the charming streets and sprawling estates of Port Orleans, the rustic Wilderness Lodge, or so much more.
Go on a Photo Safari
Disney World isn’t just fun for those in front of the camera – it’s also a photographer’s dream. Thanks to Disney’s intricate theming, you can easily whisk yourself from the bourbon-soaked streets of New Orleans to a pastel-colored Caribbean paradise to an African savanna all without breaking a sweat or ever having to pull out your passport. So, grab your camera and let inspiration guide you as you capture all of Disney’s best angles.
Ride on the Monorail
Disney’s original highway in the sky, the Monorail is one of Disney’s free transportation offerings. Two different tracks link Magic Kingdom park, Magic Kingdom-area resorts, and the Ticket & Transportation Center to Epcot. While most folks use it to get from the Magic Kingdom parking lot to the park’s main entrance, we like using it as a resort-hopping chariot around the various Magic Kingdom hotels. It’s the perfect way to get around for your next self-guided Magic Kingdom food tour and to sneak a peek over the wall into Disney’s most magical theme park.
Take the Disney Skyliner
All aboard Disney’s Skyliner for another aerial adventure across Disney World. The Skyliner is Disney’s newest complimentary transportation offering and carries people between the Epcot and Hollywood Studios parks as well as the Art of Animation, Pop Century, Riviera, and Caribbean Beach resorts. We love hopping on the Disney Skyliner for a resort dine-around, plus the bird’s-eye view of Disney below.
Relax With a Boat Ride
Don’t just stick to Monorail and Skyliner rides to get from Point A to Point B: Take a free Disney boat ride instead! Though not as popular as these other more well-known transportations, boats are actually connected to even more of the Walt Disney World Resort and, best of all, are still completely free. Complimentary boat transportation can be found across Disney property – specifically in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Disney Springs resort areas. While you won’t get wherever you’re going in a hurry, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the view.
Ooh and Aah at Free Disney Fireworks
There’s no better way to end a day at Disney than with a magical fireworks extravaganza. Luckily, you don’t need to have a theme park ticket to enjoy them. Some nightly fireworks displays, like those at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, are easily viewed from outside the parks. Magic Kingdom fireworks can be seen for free from any of the Magic Kingdom area resorts on the monorail loop. However, our favorite spot is from the beach at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.
The Polynesian even pipes in the music so it almost feels like you’re there. If your stomach and wallet feel like indulging, go ahead and grab a Dole Whip to enjoy during the show from Pineapple Lanai. For free Epcot fireworks, there’s nothing like watching from the Beach Club Resort with something from Beaches & Cream.
Watch the Electrical Water Pageant Float By
The Electrical Water Pageant is a true Disney classic and has been running since 1971. This twinkling display features 14 different floats – many themed to look like sea creatures – and takes to the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake each night. Similar to the Magic Kingdom fireworks, the Electrical Water Pageant can be seen (and heard) from each Magic Kingdom resort on the monorail loop, however it also floats past the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. For the best view, snag a spot close to the shore.
Visit Celebration, The Town That Disney Built
Ok, it’s time for us to come clean. Our next two suggestions aren’t actually at Disney World at all, and while they were once owned or operated by Disney, they have both since switched hands. Yet, Disney’s influence remains. The town of Celebration sits just outside Walt Disney World next to Old Town Kissimmee and Fun Spot. A community dreamt up by Disney, the town sought to be a continuation of what Epcot was meant to be, and it’s every bit as Mayberry-meets-Florida as you’d imagine. Pay a visit to the community’s picturesque and conveniently walkable downtown area. If you visit during the holidays, you may even catch a special festival!
Explore Disney’s Wilderness Preserve
The Disney Wilderness Preserve is a bit of a drive from Walt Disney World, around 45 minutes in nearby Poinciana, but it is still a worthwhile visit for thrifty nature lovers visiting the Orlando area. Part of the Greater Everglades watershed, The Disney Wilderness Preserve is now cared for by The Nature Conservancy and is a 11,500-acre testament to Walt Disney’s commitment to and appreciation for nature. Visitors can enjoy hiking as well as many plant and animal species. While admission is free, donations are appreciated.
Well folks, that concludes our roundup of our top 23 things to do for free at Disney World. We hope we’ve helped to open your eyes to what’s available at Walt Disney World. For a destination that’s so expensive, you really can find some thrifty ways to have fun with just a bit of knowledge and some creativity. Of course, if you’d like to save some cash on your Disney vacation, you can also go to Park Savers for your discount Disney World tickets. Are you a Disney cheapskate? What are your favorite free Disney World activities?
Amber is a proud former Walt Disney World Cast Member, an unabashed travel addict, and a hospitality and tourism specialist with over 10 years in the industry. She likes getting her wanderlust fix by sharing her favorite park tips and tricks with other Disney fans. When she isn’t working, you can usually catch her in a hot power yoga class or spending way too much money at Disney Springs.