Updated for 2014!
If you ate french fries off your child’s child’s plate as a meal so you could afford a pricey Disney souvenir, you just might be a Cheapskate Princess! Are you looking for some fun without the big expense of more theme park tickets? Cheapskate Princesses have an absolute favorite shopping spot in Orlando that, if you do it right, doesn’t have to involve any money at all…Downtown Disney. Here are 23 things to do at Downtown Disney for FREE, because a true Disney Princess loves FREE.
1) Park Your Car for free
Unlike the theme parks, you can park at Downtown Disney for free. Combine this with the fact that there is no admission to Downtown Disney, and it’s free city. If you are staying on Disney property, the bus service to Downtown Disney is always complimentary.
2) Eat Free Chocolate
Cast members at Ghiradelli’s Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop hand out free chocolate samples throughout the day. The samples are free; the hard part is not buying anything while you’re there. Be forewarned: the smell of the waffle cones combined with the aroma of chocolate is enough to entice you wallet out of your bag. Stay strong, Cheapskate Princess!
3. See Live Performances on Stage
There is an outdoor stage across from The World of Disney store. There is a large amount of seating, more comfortable in winter because you are seated in direct sun light, which can be a great place to rest weary feet. This stage is used as a performance area for middle through high school and college bands playing everything from jazz to pop. You’ll see ballet dancers, dance teams, and hear choirs singing and dancing their way through every genre of music imaginable. Disney has very high standards for acceptance as guest performers, so sit back and enjoy the free show.
4. Watch Random Performers
Speaking of free live shows, Disney has performers walking around showing off everything from acrobatics and magic to theater. Live mini-concerts pop up in various places throughout the Downtown Disney area. Our family has watched Christmas Soldiers on stilts dance above our heads, had our photos taken with mime-type performers, and listened to some of the best singers and guitar players we’ve ever heard live. Find a spot with a good view and enjoy the show.
5. Pose for Photos with Live Performers
6. Splash Around
In the section with Goofy’s Candy Co., in full site of the Rainforest Cafe, is a splashpad-type fountain. If you don’t stop to let your kids get wet, you can always hang around and watch other people let their kids get soaked. This is fabulous for children on a hot day, and funny entertainment for adults on any day.
7) Build with Legos
Head into the Lego Imagination Center over by the World of Disney Store for some free interactive Lego fun. Outside is a 3,000-square-foot play area filled with Legos. Inside and out are larger-than-life Lego models just waiting to be photographed.
8) Window Shop!
Downtown Disney is located on 120 acres along the southern shore of Buena Vista Lagoon, so you could spend half a day just trying to have a look in each of the shops. The World of Disney Store, the largest merchandise location, is 50,000 square feet and the largest character store at WDW. You’ll be lucky to get out of here in under an hour. Clothing for toddlers to adults, collectibles, toys, trading pins, watches and jewelry, arts and crafts, and food and candy provide an endless buffet of window shopping. But you’ll need to be strong to walk out without spending any money.
9) People Watch
Take a seat on a bench and watch the vacationers walk by. You see all sorts of Disney clothing from vintage to just-purchased, and watching kids squeal with delight is always fun. Be on the lookout for shoppers carrying lots of bags and eating the most appetizing treats. Shopping temptation is everywhere. This is a great time to rest your park-weary feet. Sometimes you get to watch other people rest their feet!
10) Pose for Photos with Statues
11) Take a Boat Ride
Take a water shuttle over to Port Orleans Resort, Saratoga Springs Resort, and Old Key West Resorts. Not only is the boat ride fun, but you can go look around the resorts. You might decide one of these locations is where you want to stay on your next vacation, so stop by the check-in desk for some pricing info. This may be all the incentive you need to keep your wallet tucked away to save money for future trips.
12) Hunt around for Hidden Mickey’s
There are entire books dedicated to looking for these hidden icons, and this can prove to be great entertainment for kids who might also be a little short of shopping cash.
13) See the Birds
If you walk by the Rainforest Cafe at the right time, there can be Cast Members with exotic birds giving short talks. The birds frequently talk too. If you miss the live animals, there’s always the animatronic variety outside the restaurant.
14) Watch a Sunset
#8 says to find a bench, but I recommend you find one specifically after dinner and watch the sun go down. Orlando has some of the most amazing sunsets ever, and by this time you’ll need to rest your feet some more.
15) See a Princess Parade
Coming from the World of Disney, which houses the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, there is a Princess Parade that walks past the stage over toward the store Once Upon a Toy. Join the crowd and let your inner Disney Princess free!
16) Sit on a Hog
Stop by the Orlando Harley-Davidson Shop and have your photo taken on a hog, I mean, a Harley. There are riding videos to watch, and check out the custom gas tank wall and unique tail pipe sculpture. For some real cheapskate fun, check out the prices!
17) Watch a Glass Blower
Man, my family loves a store called Arribas Brothers! It will take you some time to look over the vast selection of fine collectibles, glass, and crystal products from around the world, many of which can be personalized.
There is a glass blower and a glass cutter on staff doing demonstrations throughout the day, and my family has literally stood around for half an hour just watching these guys show off their craft. There’s not a lot of places I know where you can still see glass blowing in action these days, except maybe at Crystal Arts on Main Street, U.S.A., in the Magic Kingdom, because they are also run by Arribas Brothers. These artisans are fantastic.
18) Watch a Glass Cutter
19) Wash Your Hands
Right next door to Arribas Brothers, next to the free chocolate samples at Ghiradelli’s, is a store called Basin. My entire family will spend 15-25 minutes in Basin, just touching and smelling the soaps and trying the lotion samples. You can wash your hands with their sugar and salt scrubs for free, leaving your hands silky smooth. This is one of my favorite haunts at Downtown Disney.
20) Hydrate Your Skin
21. Listen to Musicians
Over in Downtown Disney’s West Side, in sight of DisneyQuest, the House of Blues frequently has musicians playing outdoors. Scope out a bench, and take in a free show. There are also musicians on stage over by the World of Disney store.
22. View Some Art
As far as window shopping, one of my favorite spots is the Art of Disney. I could stand around forever looking at the Disney paintings and statues, with their vivid colors and exquisite details. The air-conditioning is also pretty nice on a hot sunny day!
23. Watch live Artists at the Art of Disney Store
Now only can you view art, like a mini Disney museum, but quite often there is an artist drawing in the store, and you can watch his or her work in action, being displayed up on a big screen.
24. Watch Candy Being Created
Stop by either Goofy’s Candy Co. or Disney’s Candy Cauldron to see a Cast Member whipping up the best looking treats and snacks ever. These may be the two places I suggest you haul out a little cash, because compared to other prices, snacks at these two yummy spots are pretty reasonable. Pastries can be found at Goofy’s for $2.29 and cookies and cupcakes at the Cauldron and Goofy’s go for $3.99. If you just have to make a purchase today, these places are inexpensive as far as Disney food prices go.
25. Get a Free Sample of a Goofy’s Glacier
At Goofy’s Candy Co., they offer free drink samples in small cups just for the asking. Try a sample, which are excellent on a hot or cold day.
26. Play with Some Toys
Once Upon a Toy has the largest assortment of toys and games in all of the Walt Disney World Resort. You will find theme park play sets designed after your favorite icons, like Cinderella Castle from the Magic Kingdom theme park and Spaceship Earth from Epcot theme park, that offer lots of free fun. If you haven’t built a Mr. Potato Head in ages, this is your chance. There are also hands-on activities at interactive play stations adults and kids alike will enjoy.
27. Watch a Helium Balloon
It will cost you money to ride the helium balloon, “Characters in Flight,” but watching is all free. This tethered balloon ride floats 400 up feet into the air. While the ballon ride had been closed for a while, it’s back with a brand new balloon. Downtown almost didn’t seem the same to me without the balloon floating above the happy multi-colored buildings, so I’m glad it’s back.
I know this isn’t a photo of the most updated balloon, but this one was always my favorite.
28. See the Lights at Night
The neon lights and twinkling little lights make Downtown Disney a beautiful place to spend some time. Unless you are inside, there are not that many shady places here, so after dark, it’s much more hospitable, especially in the heat of the summer.
29. See the Mickey Mouse Topiary
There is an adorable Mickey Mouse topiary in-between The World of Disney Store and Basin. They add a Santa hat in winter, and as far as photos at Disney World, taking a picture with the pots is a must-do.
30. See Santa for FREE
Santa has a nice little house set up by the World of Disney Store. They sell photo packages, but you can also snap your photo for free. Talking to Santa about your chances of making the Nice List is also free.
31. Behold the Christmas Decorations
Downtown Disney is quite festive around the Christmas holiday season. From poinsettia trees to trees of light, choirs a caroling and street performers dressed in holiday gear, the holidays are the most exciting time of year to visit.
32. Get a Cup of Water
This might seem like a silly suggestion, but without much shade, Downtown Disney gets really hot on summer days. I wear a wide brim hat here summer or winter. It’s over a mile to walk from one side of Downtown to the other, and the water fountains are few and far between. Without knowing where they are, good luck on finding them.
Stop at the little food kiosks you see, and ask for a cup of water. You’ll pay for bottled water, but you don’t pay for cups. Ice cold water and free = what a combination.
And there you go…over 30 FREE activities to keep you busy in Downtown Disney.
My other favorite mall in Orlando?
Here is a big Cheapskate Princess warning for you.
FREE doesn’t always wind up being free when you are at such an amazing Disney shopping and entertainment complex. Downtown Disney is like the Disney Store on speed; everything looks amazing, tempting, and you’ll suddenly want to buy things you never even knew you needed. Here’s some “Keeping it free Tips” from a Cheapskate Princess.
- Don’t take your credit card, or perhaps leave it in the car for outright shopping emergencies.
- Arrive at Downtown Disney with a full tummy and maybe bring some snacks and bottled drinks from your hotel.
- Arrive with your willpower dialed up to FULL CHEAPSKATE POWER. You’ll need it to keep your day FREE.
Never been to Downtown Disney before? Here is the address for your GPS.
1780 E. Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
Want to do some research before you arrive? Click here for the Downtown Disney website.
Did we miss anything else free? Leave us a comment, and let us know if you have found anything we missed.
Thanks for stopping by for a look at FREE activities in Downtown Disney, because there’s not a Cheapskate Princess out there that doesn’t appreciate free, especially when it comes to Disney World.
Where is a good place to start planning your next vacation?
Getting a vacation quote is totally free, plus there is no hassle and no obligation. Erin, our official Authorized Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida travel, offers special rates for certain Disney vacation packages. She also offers promotions for Cheapskate Princess readers like Disney Trading Pin sets, autograph books, and free Mickey Mouse ear hats for kids under age 17. We know our readers love free…