Walt Disney World consistently tops most lists for best family travel destination. However, spending several days at the Disney theme parks can get expensive. When I talk with people about getting the best value on vacation, one tip is to mix free activities with more expensive ones. Next time you’re in Orlando, explore the Disney resorts and mix a few free things to do at Walt Disney World into your agenda. Here are eight free things to do at Walt Disney World to get you started.
Learn to Hula Dance – Disney’s Polynesian Resort offers complimentary hula classes most days in the resort lobby. Auntie Kaui, a hula dancer and instructor with 50 years experience, leads most of the classes offered Monday through Saturday at 3:45 p.m., and Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. until noon. Weekday classes are geared toward the younger set, with leis and grass skirts, while the Saturday morning lessons encourage guests of all ages to do the hula shake. And whether guests stay for five minutes or the full two-hour Saturday classes, they’ll learn a variety of chants and dances from such tropical locales as Hawaii, Tahiti and more.
Take in a Movie – Several Disney resorts offer outdoor movies. My favorite is Fort Wilderness where Chip ‘n Dale kick off the festivities with a sing-a-long and marshmallow roast. Smore kits are available for purchase or bring your own. The website Build a Better Mousetrip has a list of all the free outdoor movies available at Disney World.
View the Electric Water Pageant – I’ve always loved the Main Street Electrical Parade. I spend a few festive months as Parade Audience Control (PAC) and watched the show twice each night – it never got old. The Electrical Water Pageant is a similar experience offered nightly in the resort areas of Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. Best part is you can bring a blanket spread out and let the kids run around a bit. The show is subject to weather, so confirm times and the best viewing location with the hotel concierge. Generally you can see the parade at
- 9: 00 PM – Disney’s Polynesian Resort
- 9:15 PM – Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
- 9:35 PM – Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- 9:45 PM – Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
- 10:10 PM – Disney’s Contemporary Resort
See the Wishes Fireworks from the Grand Floridian – One of the things I love about Disney is the amazing fireworks displays, but I could do without the crowds and having to fight my way out of the Magic Kingdom afterwards. For a more laid back experience, watch the Wishes Fireworks from the Grand Floridian boat dock. Narcoosee’s restaurant on the dock receives the audio soundtrack from the Magic Kingdom, so you can enjoy the fireworks synchronized to the music.
Go on Safari – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge features 46 lush acres with over 200 animals from 30 different species. The best time to see the animals is at dusk and if you’re lucky, a Disney cast member will be on hand with night vision goggles to see the animals in the dark.
Hidden Mickeys – Spend an hour or an entire day exploring the fabulous Walt Disney World Resorts. Each one is themed a little differently and can take you on a new adventure. To keep it interesting for even the littlest in your group, search for Hidden Mickeys. These are the three circles that make up the Mickey logo. Imagineers have inserted them in subtle ways into the fabric of the resort. Want a check sheet? Here’s a Hidden Mickey Resort Guide from Steven M. Barrett and expert on the subject.
Visit Downtown Disney – Downtown Disney is a great place to shop or to spend a few inexpensive hours playing. My boys love the LEGO store play area. Don’t forget a bathing suit. Kids (and adults) can splash around in the interactive fountains.
Create your own souvenirs – At World Showcase in Epcot, children can create their own souvenirs at the park’s Kidcot Funstops located in each of the pavilions. Craftsmen teach the budding artisans how to create one-of-a-kind masks or musical instruments using their own magical touch. Ok, so this one requires you have a ticket for the theme park, but it’s a fun and free way to engage kids in World Showcase. Animal Kingdom has a similar program called Disney Discovery Kids Club. Kids collect stamps for a bonus prize.