Disney World: Free things to do at the resort
It would be crazy to visit Disney World and not enter any of its theme parks. And with one-day tickets for peak season dates rising to $129, it's going to cost you dearly. But if you know where to look, the vast resort offers a number of free activities beyond the parks that can help make your vacation memorable without putting a dent in your travel budget. Here are some wonderful things to do at Disney World, all for nada:
1. See Fireworks – You don't have to be inside the parks to catch the nightly pyrotechnics. Some of the best spots for the Magic Kingdom show are the Ticket and Transportation Center, the beaches at the Polynesian Village or Grand Floridian resorts, or the bridge between Disney's Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower. You'd have to spring for dinner at the California Grill atop the Contemporary Resort (and it ain't cheap), but it's a great spot to see the fireworks — and hear them via the piped-in soundtrack. For a limited view of Epcot's Illuminations, go to the beach at the Beach Club Resort or the bridge between Epcot and Disney's BoardWalk.
2. See the Electrical Water Pageant – Sort of a mini, floating Main Street Electrical Parade, you can see the 15-minute nightly presentation from the resorts that ring the Magic Kingdom, including the Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Floridian Resort.
3. Take a Tour – You don't have to be a hotel guest to take the complementary guided tours that some Disney World resorts offer. For example, Wonders of the Lodge is a one-hour exploration of the art and architecture of the Wilderness Lodge. While you are there, be sure to see Disney's version of Old Faithful, which erupts every hour.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge offers three tours: Cultural representatives share their insight about the hotel and its influences in the African-Inspired, Disney-Designed tour; guests who take the brief Sanaa Cultural Tour can see the attractive restaurant and get a small sample of its African and Indian menu; and for more freebie food, try the resort's Culinary Tour and savor items from the restaurants, Boma and Jiko.
4. See Animals – Speaking of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, exotic animals including giraffes and zebras roam the savannah outside the hotel's lobby. Or visit the horses that work at the Magic Kingdom in their home at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, near Fort Wilderness.
5. Catch a Movie – Weather permitting, most Disney World hotels offer free outdoor screenings every night. As a bonus (more free food!), some also feature campfires with complimentary marshmallows to roast or fixings to make s'mores. Double bonus: At Fort Wilderness, you could see a flick, enjoy s'mores, join in a sing-along, and meet characters – all for nothing – at Chip 'N Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long.
6. Ride a Monorail – How often do you get to cruise around on a sleek monorail? Wind your way through Future World aboard the Epcot monorail. Or take the Magic Kingdom monorail, and stop to check out the hotels along the route such as the Polynesian Village Resort.
7. Ride a Boat – There are a number of free water taxis to board, including ones that ply the rivers connecting Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and nearby hotels as well as ones that ferry from Disney Springs to resorts in that corner of Disney World.
8. Visit the Disney Wilderness Preserve – The Disney Wilderness Preserve isn't located on Disney World's property, but it is nearby in Kissimmee. See native animals and plants and hike along the preserve's trails.
9. Learn to Draw – An artist teaches children how to sketch Disney characters in classes offered at the aptly named Disney's Art of Animation Resort.
10. Listen to Music – Depending on when you visit the lovely lobby of the Grand Floridian Resort, a jazz band or a pianist may serenade you.
11. Travel back to the airport – It's not much fun to head home, and you'll have to pay the airfare. But if you are staying at a Disney World resort, you can print your boarding pass and check your luggage at the hotel, and then take Disney's complimentary Magical Express bus to the airport.