Free and cheap activities at Disney you don’t want to miss

happy kids roasting marshmallows on campfire


There are hundreds of free and cheap activities you can enjoy on your Disney trip. You certainly don’t have to spend a small fortune at Disney and the following Disney activities on a budget are here to prove it:

Go swimming! Almost all Orlando-area hotels will have some kind of pool. All of the Moderate and Deluxe Disney resort hotels include wonderful themed elements, water slides or other features. Some non-Disney hotels, such as Radisson Resort Orlando – Celebration, Swan/Dolphin and Caribe Royale, also have elaborate waterfall pools and slides. Cost: FREE to guests of the hotel.

Play miniature golf. There are two courses: Fantasia Gardens, near Disney’s Hollywood Studios; and Winter Summerland, near Blizzard Beach Water Park.

Go fishing. This is strictly “catch and release.” There are two places to rent cane poles (worms also provided): Port Orleans Riverside (near Ol’ Man Island) or Ft. Wilderness (at the Bike Barn).
Rent a boat! Most of Disney’s Moderate, Deluxe and DVC resorts have a marina where you can rent various types of watercraft.

Visit Tri-Circle D Ranch (home of the draft horses used to pull the trolleys down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom) at Ft. Wilderness. There are a few farm animals to see and pony rides for very small children from 10 am to 5 pm. There is FREE day parking at Ft. Wilderness and you can get from the day guest parking to the farm area by special buses that run only in the “Settlement.”

Sing around the campfire and watch a FREE Disney movie. The campfire program at Ft. Wilderness is open to all Walt Disney World resort guests. It is held every evening, at about 7:00 pm in fall and winter and about 8:00 pm in spring and summer, near the Meadow Trading Post. The program starts with a sing-a-long and marshmallow roast. You can bring your own food or buy it from the Chuckwagon, which sells S’more kits and also offers other food such as pizza and hot dogs. Chip and Dale meet the guests and sign autographs. Then a Disney movie is shown on a large outdoor screen. There is some seating on bleachers and benches, or you can lay out a blanket. No reservations necessary — just show up. Cost: FREE to all Disney resort guests.

A similar outdoor campfire and movie program is offered at Beach Club Resort and at the Grand Floridian Resort. There is a campfire sing-along on the beach, followed by a Disney movie. (No characters attend this one.) Ask at the front desk for a schedule. S’more kits that make enough for about 4 people are sold there. No reservations necessary — just show up. Cost: FREE to all Disney resort guests.

Port Orleans-Riverside offers a seasonal “Campfire on de’ Bayou” with stories and sing-alongs around a fire at the Ol’ Man Island Fishin’ Hole. (No characters attend this one.) It usually runs in the winter, from Halloween through sometime in March, and only a couple of nights a week (most recently, Sunday and Thursday), weather permitting. Ask at the front desk for a schedule. S’more kits that make enough for about 4 people are sold there. No reservations necessary — just show up. Cost: FREE to all Disney resort guests.

Take a stroll. There are lovely walkways or nature trails around almost all of the resorts.

At night you can wander along the Polynesian’s beach, sit in a cabana and watch the Electrical Water Pageant and the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. Walk through the tiki-torchlit gardens between the Great Ceremonial House and the beach. It’s all very romantic. (Please keep in mind that the beach and particularly the cabanas are primarily intended for guests of the Polynesian, though there is nothing to prevent the general public from using them.)

Watch the Wishes Fireworks from the Grand Floridian boat dock. Narcoossees restaurant is nearby and receives the audio soundtrack from the Magic Kingdom, so you can enjoy the fireworks synchronized to the music. There’s a little bit of delay due to the distance, but it still works. Seeing the fireworks reflect off of the lake is beautiful.

From the Boardwalk, meander up to the back gate of Epcot, or over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios around closing time and enjoy the music and perhaps a glimpse of IllumiNations or Fantasmic!. The bridge that goes over to the Swan and Dolphin sometimes has nice views at that time.

During the day, explore the woods from the Wilderness Lodge to Ft. Wilderness.
Stroll from the Grand Floridian to the Wedding Pavilion and poke your head in. (Unless there’s a wedding in progress, of course!)

At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you can walk out to the viewing areas and see the exotic African animals roaming free. Note that the animals come out around dusk — you won’t see any during the day. (Please keep in mind that hotel guests’ rooms open right out onto the viewing areas, so quiet is very much appreciated.)

Visit the Butterfly Garden located behind Acadian House in Port Orleans Riverside’s Magnolia Bend section.
Cost for all of the above ideas: FREE.

Rent a bike and explore the trails around one of the resorts. Every Disney resort hotel has some kind of trail, but the trails around Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness are especially nice.

Rent an old-fashioned fringe-topped surrey at Disney’s BoardWalk. Bicycle around the pier and visit Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resorts and the Swan and Dolphin. Also available for rent at Old Key West. Surreys can accommodate two to four people.

Watch the Electrical Water Pageant. This floating parade is visible nightly, usually starting at 9:00, from Disney’s Magic Kingdom-area resort hotel docks and beaches. The pageant takes about an hour to move slowly around the lake, stopping at each resort in order: Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Ft. Wilderness and Contemporary. Cost: FREE.

Make the rounds of the Disney resorts and collect something! You can make your own scavenger hunt for little or nothing:
Make a list of every Hidden Mickey you can find
Get a pressed penny or a pin for each resort.
Have a drink in the lounges and save the swizzle sticks (some of them have fun themed designs).
Go on a bargain hunt. Most of the resort hotel shops have at least one shelf or table of marked-down items. You might find a great deal.

Investigate special kids’ programs at your Disney resort hotel. The Deluxe resorts usually have kids’ recreation programs such as coloring, crafts, pool games, Hidden Mickey searches, and storytelling at various times. Cost: FREE to guests of the hotel.

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