Here’s some holiday leftovers for you today – a favorite topic from earlier this year, Free Disney stuff you can get during your vacation.
Free and Disney are not words that you typically think of as belonging in the same sentence, but there are indeed a number of items and experiences, both large and small, that can be had for free during your Disney World vacation. Here’s a comprehensive list of everything we could find that you can get free at Walt Disney World (although park admission is required for some). Happy savings!
FOOD and DRINK
- Baked goods or candy samples. The Main Street Confectionery often has cast member walking around with a tray full of samples for guest to try. I’ve tasted Krispie treats, cookies, bits of cake, and even cotton candy. Plus, there is almost always a tray of fudge samples sitting on top of the main display case. You won’t be able to fill up here like you might at your local Costco, but if you’re looking for just a bit of sweet to satisfy your palate after your meal, the Confectionery is the place for you.
- Soda. Stop by Club Cool at Epcot and drink your fill of eight flavors of Coke products from around the world. These range from the bubblegum sweet Peruvian Inca Kola to the, in my opinion, totally yummy, Beverly from Italy. The Club Cool drink stations are supplied with tasting-size cups, but you’re welcome to stay and taste as much as you want for as long as you want.
- Water. The water bottles sold throughout the parks cost $2.50 (or more) each. If you want to hydrate for free, simply walk up to any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water. They’ll hand it over at no charge. Add a lid and a straw to your cup, and you’ve got almost the same level of portability as a bottle.
- Ice. When answering questions for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I have often seen questions from international guests asking if ice is available at the Disney hotels and how much it costs. They can rest assured that there are free ice machines at all the Walt Disney World resorts.
- Meals for infants and toddlers. Children under the age of three will not be charged for food at Disney’s buffet and family-style table service restaurants when dining with their families.
- Dining. Disney often uses free dining plan offers as lure to entice guests to visit during historically low-crowd times. If this year follows the typical pattern, it will be fairly easy to travel to Walt Disney World and receive free dining from mid-August through early October. However, there is a definite caveat emptor with this. Depending on your eating habits and where you stay, free dining might end up costing you. Tom Bricker’s wrote an excellent analysis of whether free dining really makes sense. The numbers are a bit dated now, but the principal still applies.
- Chocolate samples. Stop by the Ghiradelli shop at Disney Springs, or the Ghiradelli chocolate display at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, and you’re more than likely going to be offered a free square of wrapped chocolate.
- A cupcake. You say it’s your birthday? Tell your server at any table service restaurant and there’s a decent chance that she’ll gift you with a complimentary cupcake. No guarantees, but worth a shot. And believe it or not, Disney really doesn’t care if your birthday or anniversary is on the exact day that you happen to be celebrating in the parks. Work and school schedules don’t always completely mesh with vacation time or birth dates; they get it. They really just want you go on your trip and create memories where you associate Disney travel with happy times. Don’t abuse the system by telling cast members it’s your birthday during every month of the year, but no worries if your birthday was during the week and you couldn’t get to the parks until the weekend.
- Other celebratory treats. My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at Walt Disney World. We received a gift basket from the Disney Vacation Club in our room (which was booked using our DVC points), two glasses of champagne at Victoria & Albert’s, two glasses of champagne at Citrico’s, and a free berry cobbler dessert at Artist Point. At V&A’s and Citrico’s our menus were printed with our names and an anniversary greeting. This is likely a high average response from Disney to a guest’s celebration. I’ve heard of guests in similar situations who received nothing and others who have received room upgrades, comped meals, and featured roles in parades. Again, the key is to tell everyone about your special day (especially any reservationist), expect nothing, and be pleasantly surprised if some love comes your way.
- A sandwich on your birthday. Unlike “surprise” Disney celebration treats which are not guaranteed, you are sure to get a free sandwich on your birthday at the Disney Springs Earl of Sandwich location. To take advantage of this, sign up in advance for their eClub to get your birthday coupon.
- Coffee. Well, not exactly. The new Starbucks locations at Walt Disney World do not currently allow you to redeem rewards points. You can, however, accumulate rewards points at the Disney locations which you can use to get free coffee off property (at home or at locations like Orlando International Airport). Remember to use your Starbucks Rewards card to pay when you’re in the parks.
- Roasted Marshmallows. The moderate and deluxe resorts often list a campfire on their recreation schedule. These feature cast members armed with sticks and marshmallows, 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 roasty marshmallow without seeming greedy.
- 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.
- Craisins. In years when Ocean Spray hosts a cranberry bog at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, they’ve also passed out free packets of craisins to any observer.
- Holiday treats. During the week before Christmas, the deluxe resorts often 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.
- 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.
- Celebration buttons. If you’re celebrating, be it a birthday, anniversary, first visit, family reunion, or anything else really, stop by the Guest Relations office at any of the theme parks and they’ll give you a free button with which to publicly proclaim your celebratory status.
- Stickers. If you spend a day a Disney World, there’s a strong chance that a cast member will hand you a sticker, or possibly many stickers, white, round, and emblazoned with the smiling mug of Mickey Mouse. It’s just something that happens.
- Maps. You’re saying, “Yeah, so?” Well, park maps are a resource you shouldn’t overlook. Save them for your scrapbook. Frame them for playroom decor. Use them for small-item gift wrap. Turn foreign-language maps into a great teaching tool for your child’s school language lessons.
- MagicBands. If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you’ll get a free MagicBand as part of your package. Beyond just serving as a room key and park ticket, there are a number of uses for the bands at home.
- Trip planning DVDs. Order a free trip planning DVD from Disney to get excited for your vacation.
- 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.
- Character puppets. I wasn’t actually sure what to call these; in my house they’re “character on a stick.” Just ask at any Epcot Kidcot station and they’ll give you a character on a stick to decorate. You can color it with markers and then take it 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.
- 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.
- Park admission for small children. Children under the age of three are allowed free admission into the theme parks. There’s no need to show proof of age. This is a great reason to visit Walt Disney World when your kids are small.
- Fireworks. You want to see the evening fireworks, but you don’t want to pony up for park admission? No problem, just head over to a nearby resort and watch from there. Great spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks viewing include the beach at the Polynesian and the bridge at the Contemporary between the main building and Bay Lake Tower. For Epcot fireworks, try the beach at the Beach Club or Boardwalk.
- Electrical Water Pageant. If you’re watching the fireworks outdoors at a Magic Kingdom area resort, stay after to watch the charming electric water pageant. This series of barges shows a sweet and simple light display synchronized to music while cruising around Bay Lake. Disney true confession time: This is one of my favorite attractions in all of Walt Disney World.
- Street performers. Weather permitting, you can find magicians, musicians, jugglers and more performing on the Boardwalk on select nights and at Disney Springs on most nights. Park yourself on a bench and enjoy the show.
- Campfire and movies. Again weather permitting, many resorts show free movies in the evening, often outdoors on the beach or by the pool. All are welcome, just give a call to your favorite resort and ask what’s playing. The most elaborate of these free movies is the nightly Chip & Dale campfire sing-along at Fort Wilderness. The chipmunks and a guitar-playing friend greet guests before the film.
- Free movies at many resorts.
- Holiday decor. From mid-November through early January, Disney is dressed in its holiday finest. Much of the best holiday decor is located in the resorts: a life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, a train display at the Yacht Club, a tree decorated with African ornaments at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and more. You’re welcome to stop and admire them with no charge.
- Play time. Do you have a Lego lover in your house? Stop by the Lego store at Downtown Disney. You can stay as long as you like, playing with unique Lego shapes and racing Lego cars.
- Animal viewing. If your kid is interested in animals, stop by the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are many viewing stations where you can observe giraffes, zebras, and other exotic species for as long as you like. Come in the evening and you may be able to borrow night-vision goggles for viewing creatures in the dark.
- 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.
- 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. Disney being Disney, there is always a small chance you’ll get lucky and see a minor, or major, celebrity riding on the teacups. My daughters recently ran into one of their favorite players from Big Brother while she was walking into Epcot; she was lovely and gracious enough to snap a photo with them. Obviously there’s no way to anticipate when a particular celebrity might be on vacation. However, many celebrity encounters are predictable. No promises, but the odds are good that the Super Bowl MVP will visit the Magic Kingdom (or Disneyland) within a day or two of his big win. There will likely be Disney Channel or ABC stars performing at the taping of the holiday parade. 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.
- Transportation to Walt Disney World. If you’re flying into Orlando International and staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, Disney’s Magical Express service is included with your room. This free shuttle to and from the airport offers a savings of about $75 over taking a cab to the World, each way.
- Transportation within Walt Disney World. Anyone who is partaking of any part of Walt Disney World is welcome to use any of the free on-property transportation, including, boats, monorails, and buses. You don’t have to be staying at a Disney hotel to qualify, you don’t even have to be visiting a theme park.
- Parking. Guests staying at Disney hotels can park for free at the theme parks. Off-site guests will pay $20 per day. Self-parking is free at all the Disney hotels and at Disney Springs.
- Photography. The PhotoPass photographers in the parks will take pictures with their cameras at no charge, but it will cost you big to actually buy the photos. Bypass this charge by asking the PhotoPass photographers to use your camera to take your picture. They’re happy to do it and most of them are pretty good at composing a shot; they do it all day long. Also be aware that some forms of WDW annual passes now include free downloads of your PhotoPass/MemoryMaker pictures.
- Wi-Fi. There is now free wireless Internet service at all the Disney theme parks at resort hotels. Huzzah!
- Package delivery. If you’ve taken the decidedly not-free step of buying merchandise in the parks, Disney will gladly take it off your hands so you can enjoy the rides, and more shopping, unencumbered. Packages can be sent for free to either a pick-up area at the front of the park, or even to your Disney hotel.
- Luggage storage. Check-out is at 11:00 a.m., but your flight’s not til 7:00 p.m.? No problem. Just drop your bags at the hotel Bell Services desk. They’ll hold your luggage in a secure location until your departure, at no charge.
- Luggage transfer. If you’re switching between two Disney hotels mid-trip, Bell Services will move your luggage between locales for you, for free.
- 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 planning service, for free. Go ahead and ask them dozens of questions. They are truly happy to help.
- FastPass+. The FastPass+ attraction reservation system is free and available to any guest in the parks (though Disney resort guests may make selections earlier than offsite guests). FP+ allows 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 FP+, 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 and you’re using the Magical Express bus service, some resorts 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. Chase Disney Visa cardholders typically have access to a dedicated lounge in Epcot during the annual Food & Wine festival. In addition to delicious air-conditioning, there are complimentary soda and snack, 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.
- Storage of medical devices. The first aid stations at the parks will 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.
- Wake-up call. Now that some Disney resorts are doing away with their in-room alarm clocks, a wake-up call from Mickey Mouse is not only a few way to start your day, but also an important way to make sure you don’t oversleep your flight.
- 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.
- Floatation devices. There are life vest available to borrow free of charge at all the Walt Disney World resorts and water parks.
- Trading cards. The Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom activity at the Magic Kingdom uses trading cards as part of game play. Guests are entitled to five play cards per day. Stop by the Fire Station at the end of Main Street to get yours.