“The best things in life are free.” Believe it or not, that adage does apply to Disney World. The parks that made the term “exit through the gift shop” famous actually offer a ton of fun freebies and perks to guests. These range from free essentials you might not know about to fun treats that might brighten your vacation.
Update (8/17/16) This has by far been the most popular article on Guide2WDW, so I have gone through and updated the information. The animation class is now in a new location, and I have added freebies such as the Disney Vacation DVD, a ton of birthday rewards such as Sprinkles Cupcakes and Starbucks drinks, transportation cards, the Electric Water Pageant viewing, and more!
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Free for All Guests
Free Ice Water or Cup of Ice at Counter Service Restaurants – Free ice water is essential on a hot Orlando day. Skip the $2.50 bottles of Dasani, head to a counter service restaurant in any of the parks, and ask for a large cup of ice water. This also works for hot water, so you can bring packets of instant coffee with you into the parks.
Free International Soda at Club Cool – Club Cool is an amazing spot in Future World. They offer free samples of Coke products from around the world. This former hidden gem has gained popularity in recent years. Depending on who you ask, trying Beverly is a right of passage or to be avoided at all costs (but pretty much everyone agrees that it’s bitter and tastes terrible).
Free Art Class – Hollywood Studios used to offer a short class where a Disney artist would show you how to draw a popular Disney character, ranging from Mickey Mouse to Winnie the Pooh. Unfortunately, the Magic of Disney Animation has been converted to Star Wars Launch Bay, but there are still two ways to enjoy an art class at Walt Disney World. DisneyQuest offers a similar experience, which may be included in certain tickets but may also be an extra charge for most. However, for everyone, the Art of Animation Resort features a smaller version of the Animation Academy for free at 11 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm.
At the end of the class, you can keep your drawing as a souvenir. (Or fight back tears as you throw it away. Goofy, why are you so difficult to draw!) This has become a favorite activity for my family while at Disney World.
Free Concerts at Epcot – Throughout the year, Epcot will have free concerts at the America Gardens Theatre, near the American Adventure. With the Flower Power Concerts at the Flower and Garden Festival, the Sounds Like Summer series, Eat to the Beat during Food and Wine, and the Candlelight Processional during the Holidays, chances are that there will be a special performance at Epcot while you’re staying. Be sure to check the Times Guide for more information.
Resort Hopping – You don’t have to be staying at a Resort to visit it. Resort Hopping is one of my favorite things to do outside of the parks. Each resort is so unique. Many of them have stunning lobbies or fantastic restaurants. At a minimum, go to the hotels on the monorail loop: Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. These are very easy to get to from the Magic Kingdom. You can visit the other hotels via bus. This activity is especially great during the holidays, as many resorts have special decorations and gingerbread displays.
Free Lei at Disney’s Polynesian Resort – If you visit the Polynesian Resort, you can get a beautiful (and complimentary) lei in the lobby. This is a great fashion accessory if you choose to visit the luau.
Free Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing – If you can make your way to the Polynesian, you can watch the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from the beach without having to pay for entry to the park. They even pipe in the music. This is especially great during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, as this is the only way to watch those fireworks without buying a ticket to the party. This also works at the Ticket and Transportation Center (which provides a surprisingly nice view), the Grand Floridian, or the Contemporary’s California Grill (although you have to eat dinner there to watch the fireworks).
Free Illuminations (Epcot) Fireworks Viewing – If you’re at the Boardwalk, head towards the International Gateway (aka back entrance) of Epcot. Along this path you’ll be able to see Illuminations. Our favorite spot is the bridge near ESPN Club.
Free Electrical Water Pageant Viewing – Want a retro light parade to round out your night at Disney World? Then head to one of the resorts around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake to check out this quaint show featuring floats of a dragon, the American flag, and (my favorite) a dancing octopus. The Electrical Water Pageant takes off by the Grand Floridian/Polynesian at around 9 pm nightly and makes its way towards the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.
Free Cinderella Princess Promenade at Grand Floridian – For children ages 3-12, this character experience lets kids join Cinderella in a promenade down the grand staircase at the Grand Floridian, followed by Cinderella waltzing with the children. This takes place at 3:30 pm daily. Show up a little early at M. Mouse Mercantile at the Grand Floridian to participate. Thanks to Elle Htebazile for letting me know about this on the Guide2WDW Facebook page!
Free Birthday Dessert at Disney World Restaurants – Celebrating a birthday or anniversary by dining at a Disney World restaurant? Be sure to mention this to your waiter or waitress. Almost everytime we have gone to a restaurant at Disney World or at one of the hotels for a special occasion, they will treat us to either a delicious dessert or a champagne toast.
Free Transportation Cards – I didn’t know about this fun little souvenir until a Guide2WDW informed me. You can collect transportation cards from each of the different types of transportation at Walt Disney World: busses, ferries, and monorails. Just ask the cast members working at the transportation station you are traveling with. Thanks to Corrine White for the tip in the comments!
Free Character Meet and Greet Photo with a Disney Visa Card – Disney Visa Cardholders are eligible for a free souvenir 5×7 picture with a classic Disney Character at Epcot’s Innoventions. The hours are limited, but typically run from 1pm-7pm. Be sure to check with Guest Services for that day’s schedule.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom Cards – Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is an interactive card game that you play all around the Magic Kingdom. There are 60 cards you can get for free that are given out in blind packs of 5. These are actually great collectables, as the artwork on the cards is fantastic and some of the cards are more rare than others. When you start a new game, each player gets a pack of cards. Each player can get one free pack of cards per day. Just play your first portal of the day, then head to the Fire Station or the stand behind the Christmas Shop in Liberty Square.
Free Wilderness Explorers Sticker Badges – A great activity for kids is the Wilderness Explorers in Animal Kingdom. This Up-themed scavenger hunt sends guests all over Animal Kingdom to learn about all of the wildlife at the park. You are welcome to do this multiple times to collect all 30 sticker badges. Thanks to Stan Solo for letting me know about this via Guide2WDW’s Facebook Page.
Free Mickey Mouse Sticker – Many cast members carry around free Mickey Mouse stickers and will offer them to guests. I was not aware of this until I started traveling to Disney World with my young nephew. Suddenly, I’ve never seen so many Mickey Mouse stickers. I somehow ended up with about 10 of them on my last vacation. (Not that I’m complaining).
Free Wifi – At all parks and Disney World resorts. Stay connected without hitting your data-cap. This is vital, since the MyDisneyExperience app has become such a crucial part of the WDW experience. The Wifi at Disney World has actually gotten quite fast and reliable.
Free Ghirardelli Chocolate Samples – Head to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Downtown Disney, and you’ll see an employee near the entrance with a basket handing out free squares of Ghirardelli chocolate. Samples change season to season, so this is worth repeat visits. One square per guest per visit.
Free Sprinkles Cupcake (Birthday) – Sign up for Sprinkles Perks, and you’ll be eligible to get a free Sprinkles Cupcake for your birthday at the Disney Springs location. They also sometimes run a promo that gives a free cupcake upon signing up, so you might be able to get two free cupcakes if you’re lucky!
Free Birthday Entree at Shula’s – The Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort has an excellent steakhouse called Shula’s, which is perfect for a celebratory birthday dinner. If you join the Team Shula rewards program, you get a free entree for your birthday with purchase of another entree. Since this is a steakhouse, this is a very generous offer. Currently, you can redeem this within two weeks of your birthday.
Free Birthday Drink at Disney Springs Starbucks – Sign up for Starbucks Rewards, and you’ll receive a free drink on your birthday. You can redeem this at the two Starbucks locations at Disney Springs (but not yet inside the parks).
Free Birthday Sandwich at Earl of Sandwich – Sign up for Earl of Sandwich’s Loyalty Club and you will receive a coupon for a free sandwich on your birthday. You can redeem this at the Disney Springs location. In case it isn’t clear yet, going to Disney World on your birthday has its perks!
Free for Annual Passholders and Resort Guests
Free Personalized Magic Band – a Magic Band is included with your Annual Pass or Disney World Resort package. The Magic Band acts as your ticket, your room key, your Fastpass, and your method of payment (for Resort guests). You can choose a color and what name is printed on it at www.mydisneyexperience.com. It’ll be shipped to you before your vacation. Other guests can buy a Magic Band in the parks.
Free Parking – Parking is included with your Annual Pass or Resort stay. This can save you a lot of money while at Disney World, as parking is currently $20 a day (and likely to increase in the future).
Free PhotoPass (Platinum Annual Passholders Only) – If you are a Platinum or Platinum Plus Annual Passholder, PhotoPass is included in your Annual Pass. This allows you to download ride photos or any photo taken by a PhotoPass photographer for free. The integration with Magic Bands and the MyDisneyExperience app makes this a very seamless experience. It’s somewhat magical to go on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and then see your on-ride picture and video automatically show up in the MDE app. This is a huge perk for these Passholders.
Free for Resort Guests
Campfire Singalong at Ft. Wilderness – A nightly feature at Ft. Wilderness, the Camp Fire Sing-a-long is a fun time for the whole family, and this is open to all WDW Resort guests. Lasting a little under an hour, the sing-a-long features an appearance by Chip and Dale. Be sure to bring your own marshmallows!
Movies under the stars – Many resorts will do nightly screenings of classic Disney and Pixar animated movies, projected on a large screen outdoors. Be sure to check with your resort for the schedule.
Free Package Delivery from Disney World gift shops to your hotel – Love the idea of finding that perfect souvenir from the gift shop but hate the idea of lugging it around for the rest of your visit to the park. Don’t worry about it! If you are staying at an on-property Disney World hotel, Disney World shops offer free package delivery to your hotel lobby. So you can buy that Dooney & Bourke purse and then go on Splash Mountain without having to worry about a thing.
Free Transportation to and from the airport with the Magical Express – If you are flying in and staying at a Disney World Resort, this is an amazing perk. Not only will Disney provide you with free transportation to and from the airport, they will handle picking up your checked luggage (you have to put certain tags on them beforehand). You can also check your luggage at the resort on the day of the flight, so you don’t have to worry about the long lines at the airport. Disney has somehow made traveling with luggage on a plane simple and easy. Magical indeed.
As you can see, there are a ton of free things at Walt Disney World to make your vacation more fun, more relaxing, and more memorable. What are some other cool freebies you’ve discovered at Disney World? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll be sure to update this list, and I’ll give you a shout out if you bring something cool to my attention.
(Sprinkles Image by jessicahtam, used via Creative Commons)