12 Free Things to do Outside the Disney World Theme Parks
As I touched on in my new post on 21 Things That Are Gone From Disney World. FOREVER, the sad reality is that a trip to Disney World can be very expensive for the common human. But you don’t have to be Rick Ross or Kim Kardashian to be able to afford a trip to Disney, nor should you–every child deserves a little bit of Disney World in their life before growing up. Many who’ve never been here before don’t realize how many free things there are to do outside the Disney theme parks, but still on Disney property. I realize that walking up to the gate and spending $99 per person on admittance for a family of 8 just isn’t so practical (even for a family of 3)!
So check out my list of the 12 free things to do outside the Disney World Theme Parks:
1. BoardWalk – Disney’s BoardWalk area is alive with entertainment starting at 7PM each evening and it is free for everyone to enjoy. This is an especially romantic area for couples to visit and enjoy a date night. The area has street performers, gorgeous lighting, many places to eat and a lot more entertainment. The Atlantic Dance Hall has no cover charge and is a great place to burn off those extra calories and have fun while doing so. Many people only go to Downtown Disney and forget about the beautiful BoardWalk. So definitely give it a chance, you’re sure to have a great time. 😉
Take a stroll on the Boardwalk!
2. View “Wishes” fireworks from the Polynesian – No one does fireworks better than Disney and who could pass up a free firework show, right?! Once you see a Disney fireworks show, every other fireworks show will look pathetic to you. You can avoid the crowds and save yourself the cost of purchasing a ticket to Magic Kingdom to view these fireworks by viewing them from the Polynesian or Grand Floridian resort instead, both of which are conveniently located right along the monorail track. Once you get to the resort(s), just walk on out to the beach, grab a hammock or spot on the beach and simply wait for the show to start. They pipe the music in, so you’ll get to experience the entire show without the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds! Talk about a deal! Plus, don’t forget that parking at Disney’s Polynesian Resort (or any of the resorts) is free if you let the attendant know you’d like to explore the hotel.
Note: If you’re entering by car through the Magic Kingdom Entry Booth in order to visit the Magic Kingdom resorts, join the line on the right and let the attendants know that you’re visiting the resorts, not the theme parks. You will not have to pay a parking fee.
A free Disney firework show from a hammock, along the “beach”? Heck yeah, sure beats sitting back at the Days Inn!
3. Campfire Sing-a-long with Chip & Dale – Many don’t know this exists, making it fun but not too overcrowded. It takes place every night at the Ft. Wilderness Campgrounds. You can even bring your own smores kits (or you can purchase them at the sing-a-long for pretty cheap). After the sing-a-long, they show a movie on the big screen under the stars. Tip: most resorts also show movies in the evenings, so be sure to check the resort schedule when you check-in to see which movies are playing.
City dwellers will especially want to have the kids take part in their first authentic campfire experience! Country folks may find it a little ordinary and decide to skip it. To each their own.
4. Electrical Water Pageant – You may have seen this boat light parade floating by Magic Kingdom before at night and wondered what it is. Well, that’s the Electrical Water Pageant that starts around 9PM each night. You can view it from the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness as it slowly makes it way past all the resorts.
The Electrical Water Pageant
5. Downtown Disney – There is so much to do and see at Downtown Disney and you don’t have to spend any money to be here! Just leave the billfolds and pocketbooks in the car and slide a $10 bill into you and your spouses pockets. That’ll force you to stay frugal. There are many amazing stores and boutiques for you to window shop, you’ll find nightly entertainment at Pleasure Island (well a little bit, anyhow..) and your kids can enjoy playing with the LEGO’s at the LEGO store. If it’s hot outside, there are also a couple fountains that kids can play in – but prepare to have a change of clothes with you.
Introducing The World of Disney. It makes your toy store back home look like crap.
Take a ride on Characters In Flight, the world’s largest tethered helium balloon! It ascends 400 feet into air and provides you with panoramic views of Disney like you’ve never seen it before! It costs $12 for children and $18 for adults–far cheaper than admittance to the parks!
6. Monorail resort tour – This is always a ton of fun and it, of course, is completely free to do. Even the parking is free, as we said earlier. The monorail resorts (Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary) are absolutely gorgeous in their own ways. I love the smell of the Polynesian, the grandeur of the Grand Floridian, and watching the monorail pass through the Contemporary. There are several free things to do at these resorts as well, such as taking hula lessons or relaxing while you listen to the big band perform in the grand lobby of The Grand Floridian. Actually, back when I paid $500 a night to stay at The Grand Floridian, I found the rooms to be somewhat “old school” in the sense that they were a little outdated and actually reminded me of most traditional $100 hotels that I’ve stayed at over the years! But what I really loved about the hotel was the actual lobby and beach area, which I could have just visited for free to begin with. During the Christmas holiday, these resorts are even more breathtaking and are can’t miss places to visit.
The monorail going through the Contemporary Resort. While the Contemporary may not look so, um, “contemporary” from the exterior, it’s actually been recently modeled on the interior to once again provide you with an ultra modern atmosphere that is sure to especially appeal to the younger crowd.
Plus, if you have time stop by the Swan and Dolphin (on the other end of the property, by the BoardWalk)!
Getting back to the Polynesian… Ah reminds me of Hawaii…
The Grand Floridian is probably me personal favorite. Oh so posh.
The Grand Floridian
Plus, who wouldn’t want to sneak in a free swimming session?!
Here’s a cool shot from the nearby Wilderness Lodge.
7. Animal Kingdom Lodge Wildlife Preserve – You don’t have to visit the overpriced zoo/theme park Animal Kingdom to see giraffe’s or zebras. Just visit Animal Kingdom Lodge, walk through the beautiful lobby and head outdoors to view the animals that are out on the preserve. This is an especially great treat for those with kids who perhaps don’t want to visit Animal Kingdom or don’t have a zoo nearby.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge. If Africa is anything near being like this place then I totally want to go there.
The grand lobby of The Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Where else can you see giraffes for free? Nowhere I’ve ever been to! …Well except for the National Zoo in DC.. but that’s it!
8. Take a boat ride – Our favorite boat ride is the one from Downtown Disney to Port Orleans. While at Port Orleans, you can catch a jazz band/ musician at Port Orleans French Quarter in the evening (and be sure to eat some beignets while you’re there) or you can continue on to Port Orleans Riverside Wednesday through Saturday evenings and head over to the River Roost Lounge to catch crowd-pleasing YeeHa Bob – one of the most well-known entertainers at Disney World. We had the pleasure of catching Bob last week and boy, he had us laughing. Another favorite boat ride of ours is the ride from Hollywood Studios to the BoardWalk or Epcot. It’s very relaxing mid-morning and gives us a break from the parks so that we can go grab a yummy sweet from the BoardWalk Bakery.
9. Take a dip in the pool – Regardless of whether you stay in a Disney resort or off-property, your resort/hotel probably has a pool. This is a great way to take a break from the parks mid-day and just chill or let your kids get out all their energy so that they sleep well during naptime and before you head back to the parks for the evenings. Now, unless you’re a DVC member, you can’t pool hop, so please only visit the pool at the resort you’re staying at – you also can’t just go swimming at a resort on property if you’re staying off-resort. And that will be even harder to do soon once they get the fences up around all the pools.
A free swim at the Yacht Club anyone?
Or the Polynesian?
10. Find Hidden Mickey’s – This was always a fun activity that we liked to do as a family the first few trips. We still discover Hidden Mickey’s each trip even though we’ve been 15 times in the last few years. Our favorite book to reference is the “Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets” book by Steven Barrett – I’m sure you’ve seen this book with the yellow cover before. It’s a great way to waste some time and take a break from the parks and kids will love this type of scavenger hunt.
Not so hidden of a Mickey, but nevertheless, hands down, the coolest power tower I’ve ever seen!
11. The Disney Wilderness Preserve – 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.
The Wilderness Preserve!
Horse rides at the Wilderness Preserve!
12. Holiday Fun at Celebration: Just a ten-minute drive from Disney World is the town of Celebration, a planned community originally developed by the Walt Disney Company. This is a pedestrian-friendly, very tidy Mayberry-style small town. Explore the old-fashioned downtown area called Market Street, which has different events scheduled each month, such as craft festivals and antique car shows. Throughout December, Celebration hosts an evening event called “Now Snowing Nightly,” which features a snowfall four times a night, on the hour between 6pm and 9pm. The town provides entertainment and kids can even visit Santa in his lakeside chalet, all for free.
Well there you have it – you don’t have to spend money on park tickets to enjoy what Disney has to offer, so be sure to take advantage of some of these free items the next time you make a visit to Walt Disney World. What are some other activities that you like to do that are free outside the parks?
*PS – Don’t forget, Disney lovers will also want to be sure to check out our new post:
21 Things That Are Gone From Disney World. FOREVER.
Hope ya like it 😉