A while ago, we published some tips about FREE things you can get at Walt Disney World. Well, we’re back now with more. In addition to our previous list of freebies, here is a whole new batch of suggestions for free things you can get or do to enhance your Disney vacation experience. Thanks to the many readers who gave us ideas for additional items to include.
- Tasting portions. You’re not sure that Junior is actually going to eat that kids’ meal sweet n’ sour chicken they’re serving at the quick service restaurant in Epcot’s China? Well, ask them for a taste. Many restaurants on property will be happy to provide you with a tasting-size portion of an item to help you decide what to order. Just let them know what you need.
- S’mores. The moderate and deluxe resorts often list a campfire on their recreation schedule. These feature cast members armed with sticks, marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers, ready to share with passing guests. There’s no requirement that you be staying at the resort to participate. Campfires usually start around dusk, but schedules are variable. Unlike the campfire at Fort Wilderness, which charges for marshmallows and s’mores kits, the hotel campfires are typically sparsely attended, so they’re great if you want to just pop in for a moment or grab a second s’more without seeming greedy.
- Recipes. Find a dish that you absolutely love? Ask them for the recipe! Some restaurants get this request so often that they have recipes pre-printed on little cards. The Brown Derby restaurant at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a stack of Cobb Salad and Grapefruit Cake recipes right by the door. Yummy!
- Chocolate samples. The Ghirardelli shop at Downtown Disney routinely passes out chocolate samples to anyone who walks in the door. It’s perfect if you want a little sweet after dinner at a nearby restaurant but don’t want to load up on a full dessert.
- Fresh veggies. Well, they’re not totally free, but guests who take the low-cost Behind the Seeds tour at Epcot will be offered a sample of veggies grown right there in the Land pavilion. The second time I took the tour we got cucumber slices shaped like Mickey.
- Holiday treats. During the week before Christmas, the deluxe resorts typically offer festive snacks in their lobbies for an few hours each evening. I’ve had roasted chestnuts at the Grand Floridian, sugar cookies and cider at the Wilderness Lodge, and candy canes at the Yacht Club. Anyone passing through the lobby is welcome to partake.
- Meal-worthy condiments. Many of the deluxe resorts offer items on their condiment stations that qualify as real food – cream cheese and peanut butter, for example. You can, for example, buy your child an Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the Wilderness Lodge’s Roaring Fork for several dollars. Or you can buy a couple of slices of bread for 80 cents and use the PB&J that’s provided at the condiment bar to make your sandwich. You control how much to apply, and as an added bonus, you’ll likely have several choices of jelly flavors. The Uncrustables only come in grape.
- A sandwich. Well, this one only works on your birthday, but if you join the Earl of Sandwich eClub, they’ll send you a certificate for a birthday sandwich, redeemable at the Earl location at Downtown Disney.
MEMORABILIA and SUPPLIES
- Printables. Take a look online and you’ll find zillions of Disney-related coloring pages, pencils games and related items, many created by Disney itself. These are a great way to get your kids in the mood for your vacation, or keep them occupied during your trip. For example, an older child might enjoy this Disney attraction word scramble puzzle.
- Swag. Again, while the tour won’t be free, you can count on getting a “free gift with purchase” just about any time you take a paid guided tour at Walt Disney World. Over the years I’ve gotten a water bottle on Wild Africa Trek, a drawstring backpack on the Dolphins in Depth tour, and trading pins on the Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour, as well as on several others. I’ve also gotten a collectible plate as a gift during Dine with an Imagineer experiences. This may slightly cut down on your need to buy extra loot.
- Photo with a character. If you’re a Disney Visa cardholder, you’re entitled to a character greeting at a private location in Epcot, as well as a complimentary 5″ x 7″ photo of your child (or you) with the character.
- Personalized park maps. Use the Disney website to create custom park maps personalized for your family. They’ll mail them to your home. These can be used for planning before your trip, as a reference during your trip, or as a keepsake after your return.
- Character puppets. I wasn’t actually sure what to call these. In my house they’re “Duffy on a Stick.” (My daughter LOVES Duffy. It’s poor parenting; I know. I apologize.) Currently you can choose either a free Duffy the bear or Perry the Platypus stick puppet as your companion to take around the Kidcot Fun Stops at Epcot’s World Showcase. Just ask at any Kidcot location. You can color Duffy or Perry with the nearby Sharpies and then take him around to each of the 11 countries in the park. Cast members will stamp the back of your character or sign it in the country’s native language. Note: in the past the Kidcot gift was a mask on a stick. These are no longer available.
- Rubber bracelets. Visit the new Habit Heroes attraction at Epcot’s Innoventions and they’ll give you a rubber Livestrong-style bracelet for completing the activity. Red, blue, and green are available. If you have a bracelet color preference, choose that color line during the last task.
- A lei. Guests of the Polynesian Resort or who attend the Spirit of Aloha Luau are automatically given a faux flower lei. These are also often distributed during meals at the Poly’s ‘Ohana restaurant. If you’re at the Poly, but not staying or dining there, they’ll likely still give you one if you ask at the front desk.
- Bookmarks. Guests who participate in the story at the Enchanted Tales with Belle attraction are given a Belle bookmark at the end of their performance. When I last visited this attraction, only the guests who elected to be in the show were given the bookmarks, but you may be able to find a sympathetic cast member who will give you one even if you’re just in the audience.
- Vacation planning DVD. Disney has several trip planning videos which give loads of information about the parks and the cruise line. These are great for introducing younger kids to the types of attractions and experiences they might encounter during their visit. Note that the videos cannot be mailed to many international destinations.
- Over the counter medication. Each of the theme parks has a first aid station staffed with nurses ready to assist with minor theme park ailments such as blisters, sunburn, and motion sickness. They’ll also provide you, free of charge, with a few doses of many over-the-counter medications, including antihistamines, antacids, and acetaminophen, as well as bandages in several sizes. During my last visit, I walked into the first aid center at the Magic Kingdom complaining of a headache. They offered me a choice of regular or extra strength pain tablets, handing me two does of my choice.
- Ice packs. The first aid stations will also supply ice packs for guests with minor sprains or for nursing mothers who want to keep expressed milk chilled.
- Paper goods. Many guests economize by eating a meal or two in their rooms. If you forgot to bring paper plates, napkins, or plastic knives and forks, grab a few extra at the resort food court.
- Shampoo, soap, lotion, etc. I’m a big fan of the H2O bath products supplied in the WDW hotel rooms. I like using these products at home to remind me of the sweet smell of vacation. I could buy bottles of the stuff down in the gift shop, and sometimes I do. But I also ask housekeeping for a few extra bottles and bars to replenish my stash. I’ve never encountered any pushback on this and have often been given a dozen extra bottles of shampoo and conditioner just by asking nicely.
- Plastic bags. Need some extra plastic bags to transport your wet swimsuits home? Just ask for what you need. This really applies to anything consumable that’s in your hotel room including large and small plastic bags, paper cups, the toiletries mentioned above, or the coffee and tea supplies provided in the moderate and deluxe resorts.
- Towel animals. I’ve been assured by many cast members that if you receive a towel animal in your room, it’s yours to keep. Enjoy!
- Floatation devices. There are life vest available to borrow free of charge at all the Walt Disney World resorts and water parks.
- Trading cards. There are a number of different versions of collectible cards available for free on Disney property:
- Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is one of the popular collectibles on campus. Guests are entitled to five play cards per day. Stop by the Fire Station at the end of Main Street to get yours.
- Transportation cards are sometimes available from the monorail, boat, and bus drivers on property. Not all of them have cards, but it never hurts to ask.
- Safety cards are sometimes given to kids during check-in. I’ve recently found stacks of them near the condiment stations at Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons restaurant.
- There may be cards, or something else, distributed as part of game play with the soon-to-be-debuted Pirate’s Adventure game at the Magic Kingdom.
- Story Time. AAA members may be eligible for a special story time reading with a princess at Epcot. If you’re a AAA member, inquire with your issuing office whether this is one of your district’s perks.
- Tours. Some of the Walt Disney World resorts offer free tours of the unique aspects of these destinations. These include the Sanaa Cultural Tour or a Culinary tour at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Wonders of the Wilderness Lodge Tour at, you guessed it, the Wilderness Lodge. You may also find free tours of the plantings during the annual Epcot Flower & Garden festival.
- Concerts. If you’re at Epcot during the Flower & Garden or Food & Wine festivals, don’t forget to check out the free concerts in the America Gardens Theatre. Performers in recent years have included Chubby Checker, the Village People, Air Supply, Billy Ocean, Smash Mouth, Hansen, and Boyz II Men. Rock on! Or if you’re in a more serene mood, the holiday Candlelight Processional at Epcot features lush choral renditions of carols and hymns as well as readings by performers such as Gary Sinise, Whoopi Goldberg, or Marlee Matlin.
- Farm experiences. There’s no admission fee to visit the cozy Tri-Circle-D ranch area at Fort Wilderness. You can watch them care for the many horses that work at Walt Disney World, including the team of miniature white ponies that pull Cinderella’s carriage. Last time I visited, the blacksmith was on duty crafting custom shoes for the team. Have your resort concierge call Fort Wilderness for the exact timing during your visit.
- Piano comedy. It’s difficult to characterize the performance style of entertainer Yehaa Bob Jackson. It’s piano, comedy, interactive, audience participation, sing-a-long, silly fun. Bob performs at the River Roost Lounge at Port Orleans Riverside, typically Wednesday through Saturday, 8:30 p.m. until midnight (but double check before heading over). I guarantee that by time you leave you’ll feel you’ve been best friends with Bob forever. There is no cover charge or drink minimum, and kids are welcome.
- Poolside games. Weather permitting, all the Walt Disney World resorts offer a rotating selection of organized poolside games in the afternoon. These might include hula hooping, trivia contests, or rubber duckie races. Often there will be small prizes for the winners. Consult the resort recreation schedule that you’re given at check-in.
- DVD “rentals.” This one’s for Disney Vacation Club members. Don’t forget that you have access to a large library of DVDs at your resort when staying on points. You can borrow them for free.
- Pixie dust. If you’re looking for a little extra sparkle in your day, stop by the Castle Couture shop near the back of the castle in the Magic Kingdom. They’ll sprinkle a generous helping of “pixie dust” on your hair to give it a glittery glow.
- Live instrumental music. The lobby of the Grand Floridian is place to be for instrumental music. Late afternoons feature a pianist playing Disney classics, show tunes, and songbook standards. In the early evening, a jazz orchestra performs on the second floor balcony. Stay as long as you like.
- Meets. What’s a Meet you ask? These are small group gatherings where you participate in a special event, meet a Disney expert, or converse with other fans. These have included a runDisney meet featuring a chance to chat with celeb Joey Fatone, and Olympian Jeff Galloway; a costume contest and behind-the-scenes tour of the Haunted Mansion; and a multi-course luncheon at the posh California Grill. Meets are announced on the Disney Parks Blog and typically become fully booked within a few hours. They’re difficult to get into, but great fun if you get lucky. Similarly, keep an eye out for occasional merchandise giveaways on the Disney Parks Blog.
- Author and artist signings. The Disney Parks Blog will also announce events like author and artist signing where you can meet favorites like Ridley Pearson or Emma Walton Hamilton. Or stop by the event center during the Food & Wine festival to have your cookbook signed by a Food Network chef. It pays to make frequent visits to the Parks Blog during the month or so leading up to your trip, you never know what you’ll special event announcements you’ll find.
- Brushes with fame. I’m not talking about spotting celebs visiting the parks with their families, though that does happen. (I probably shouldn’t mention the time I
stalkedtrailed Neil Patrick Harris as he walked from the Magic Kingdom’s Plaza Restaurant to Space Mountain. He’s my imaginary TV boyfriend so it was totally OK. ) Disney being Disney, there is always a small chance you’ll get lucky and see Honey Boo Boo riding on the teacups, but you can’t really anticipate when that might happen. However, many celebrity encounters are predictable. No promises, but the odds are good that the Super Bowl MVP will visit the Magic Kingdom within a day or two of his big win, the American Idol victor will show up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios after his or her confetti shower with Ryan Seacrest, and the B-list denizens of Alderaan will show up for Star Wars Weekends. You shouldn’t plan your trip to coincide with these events, but if you happen to be around during these times, keep an eye out for your favorite stars. And if watching others hog the limelight isn’t your thing, there are plenty of opportunities for you to bask in applause at Walt Disney World.
- Vacation Planning Advice. Here’s where I give a plug for my pals at the Disney Parks Moms Panel. The Panelists are all veterans of dozens, if not hundreds, of Disney visits. They’re available to answer ANY Disney trip planning question no matter how big or small, general or specific. It’s like having your own personal vacation service, for free. Go ahead and ask them dozens of questions. They are truly happy to help.
- FASTPASSes. FASTPASS tickets are free and available to any guest in the parks. They allow you to skip sweating in line and instead visit an attraction at a specified time to ride with a minimal wait. Of course, a well crafted touring plan may obviate the need to use FASTPASS, but that’s another story.
- Boarding Pass Printing. There’s no need to stress about printing out your boarding pass for your flight home. If they have your flight information, some resorts will automatically tuck boarding passes under your door the night before your departure. If that doesn’t happen, feel free to stop by the concierge desk at your resort or the Resort Airline Check-In station out front and they’ll print you a boarding pass at no charge.
- Lounge space. In 2012, Chase Disney Visa cardholders were welcome to chill at a private lounge in Epcot during the Food & Wine festival. In addition to delicious air-conditioning, there were complimentary soda and snacks, and electronic device charging stations. Fingers crossed that this makes a return during future Food & Wine events.
- Microwave oven use. Every Walt Disney World resort has a quick service restaurant or food court equipped with microwave ovens and toasters available for guest use. There’s no requirement that you heat food purchased on site. In the parks, the baby care centers have microwaves, stoves, and filtered water that you can use to prepare Junior’s lunch.
- Art instruction. Have you ever wanted to learn how to draw Mickey? Stop by the Animation Academy (part of the Magic of Disney Animation attraction) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for lessons on how to draw Mickey, as well as numerous other Disney characters. There is new instruction approximately every half hour. Additionally, after the lesson you get to take your masterful artwork home with you as a souvenir.
- Email. The ImageWorks play area at the back of the Imagination pavilion at Epcot features several stations where you can create your own Figment character on a computer console and send it to someone via email. You won’t be able to send a long missive, but you can co-opt the “from” line to craft a brief message. This may be particularly useful for an international guest without a laptop or US carrier enabled cell. You should be able to get a “We’re safe” or “Send money now” missive to the folks back home this way.
- Storage of medical devices. The first aid stations at the parks will be happy to store bulky devices such as nebulizers or breast pumps while you’re touring in the parks. This keeps them safer than the potentially overheated park lockers.
- Shipping. If you’re buying merchandise worth more than $50.00 at one of the Arribas Brothers locations in the parks or Downtown Disney, you may qualify for their free shipping program. If you’re buying glass, crystal, or figurines, be sure to inquire.
- A hot shower. The vast majority of Disney resort hotels have locker rooms with indoor showers adjacent to at least one of their pools. This is a wonderful resource for guests with late flights home. Spend the day relaxing at the pool and then freshen up before heading to the plane.
- Transportation to the golf course. Guests staying on Disney property can get free transportation to and from the Disney golf courses. Just ask at the Bell Services desk at your resort, and they’ll give you a taxi voucher.
So frugal friends, after taking a look at this list and our past post on Disney World freebies, are we still missing anything? Let us know your fun free finds in the comments below!