One of the best “touring” routes in my experience is Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness Campground, Polynesian, and that wrap things up at the Grand Floridian. To follow this route, you simply leave Magic Kingdom via the resort monorail, get off at the Contemporary, then head to the main floor out to the boat dock. The resort boat will then take you to both Wilderness Lodge (don’t forget the Carolwood room) and Fort Wilderness. Once you arrive back at the Contemporary, jump back on the monorail and head to your final two destinations. It’s a great route and you could literally spend hours at many of these locations just exploring the grounds. Each resort truly tells a story and uncovering that story is all a part of the Disney magic.
2. Resort Specific Activities
Each Disney resort is notorious for having it’s own special events or specific experiences to enjoy. For example, Wilderness Lodge (if they still do this today) used to have a scavenger hunt around the resort of each Hidden Mickey at the property. The hunt was completely free of charge and is actually a great way to see and experience many hidden details of the resort that you may have never noticed.
Often times, if you take a few moments to really search through a Disney resort, you’ll be shocked at what you can find. In many cases, the backstory and history of the location is presented in a way that allows the guest to really unravel a story. It’s something uniquely Disney that never really had to be there, but when you discover one these unique details, it makes the experience all the more memorable.
Beyond searching through a resort, be sure to check out time sheets at any location you may visit or stay at during your vacation. Each of the Disney branded lodging locations have a variety of scheduled events for guests of all ages. I’ve seen everything from sand art, to movies on the beach, to roasting marshmallows, and so much more available for guests. These simple offerings are often times the things you’ll remember years down the road from your Disney vacation. It may not seem like much at the time, but as I stated in my book many times, it really isn’t the big things that truly make or break a Disney vacation. Rather, it’s the little moments we spend with friends and family that occur in ways that we never would have expected. In nearly every case, these moments aren’t created by the “next big attraction,” but rather by the joy you see in a friends face, or the look you get from someone in your family that sticks with you for years to come. It’s not the place that we really love in many cases, but rather the memories this place helps us create.
3. Taking In The Boardwalk Experience
In a similar way to resort hopping, touring the Boardwalk is quite possibly one of the most overlooked free offerings Disney has on property. While yes, the Boardwalk is a Disney resort, it also in many ways functions as a place to go hang out, grab an ice cream, or simply take in the views of the lake and Epcot in the distance. Throughout the night, street performers share live shows on the wooden panels of the Boardwalk itself. For many, this can be a simple highlife of their trip. I can recall many nights we’ve spent just strolling along, catching a pop-up show, shopping in the gift shop, and waiting to take in one of the simplest views of Illuminations that gets vastly overlooked.
Some nights it’s a calm and relaxing environment, and other nights it’s a little more upbeat and loud. Either way, it truly is an experience you don’t want to miss. If you decide you want to take a step away from the Boardwalk environment, take a short and relaxing 5 minute walk over to the Yacht and Beach Club to be transported to a quiet beach setting to relax and enjoy the Florida sun or to simply watch the bright lights of the Boardwalk reflect off of the water.
4. Watching Fireworks
There’s no hiding the fact that watching fireworks on Main Street U.S.A. is certainly an experience of a lifetime, but an entirely free (yet comparable) experience can be had without the price of admission. Each of the resorts on the monorail loop have a picturesque viewing area for the current Happily Ever After fireworks performance. From the beaches of both the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian, you can embrace a unique and magical view of the fireworks across the Seven Seas Lagoon. As the night rolls in, crowds may form around you, but get there early, grab a seat and prepare for a Magic Kingdom fireworks experience from a whole new perspective!
Over at the Contemporary, head to the Grand Canyon Concourse and step out onto the balcony area for a view of wishes at nearly “eye level.” Of course, you are quite a ways away from the launch sites, but there’s just something about viewing those fireworks from above that changes the whole experience and of course it is completely free to do!
5. Relaxing At Your Resort
I truly believe this is the best tip on my list, but perhaps the hardest one to convince yourself to actually do. Take a single day out of your vacation and just relax at the resort. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it for the first day of your trip (the anticipation of the parks would be hard to handle), but maybe half way through your Disney vacation plan a “day off.” take that time you would have spent in the parks and hit the pool at your resort or simply relax in the lobby. At Disney, you never know who you may bump into, and if all else fails, strike up a conversation with a cast member near by. Many individuals of the hotel cast have spent hours on end at the resort and can share with you so many things a typical guests will completely overlook.
At the end of your day, you’ll feel much more relaxed and it will give your feet a needed break from spending hours a day in the parks. It’s free, it can be a very enjoyable part of the vacation, and you leave the resort with a much greater appreciation for all it has to offer.
So, there you have it, our top 5 free experiences at Walt Disney World. You see, by simply adding one of these options to your itinerary, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and possibly experience even more of Disney that you typically would have. In your planning though, you may want to take note of a few things. One, if you try to drive to many of these resorts they may make you pay to park. Your best way to avoid that is to use Disney’s provided transportation across property by a variety of means. Also, please do not plan to use another resort’s pool. While Disney is fine with resort hopping and exploring their resort destinations, the pools are rightfully reserved for guests staying at that particular resort. Lastly, be aware that bus, monorail, and boat transportation will come to an end a short time after the park closes (typically one to two hours after close depending on means of transportation).
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