When I heard people vacation in Orlando without actually setting foot in a theme park, I thought this was sort of a joke. Orlando is a nice town, but to go there without riding roller coasters? Orlando without going to the Magic Kingdom? In recent years it’s become…go to Orlando without visiting Harry Potter? People really drive/fly that far and don’t ride any roller coasters or get character autographs? Me personally… I live in a vacation town almost on the sandy white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. I have just short of a nine hour drive to reach Orlando. No way was I driving to that far and not go to a theme park.
Until my annual passes ran out three days before the end of Spring Break, and I wasn’t ready to pack the family up and head home just yet. I didn’t want to spend any more money on entertainment, but I wanted to hang out in Orlando for a little while longer.
Cheapskate Princess powers…activate! It was time to put that “Oh, there is LOTS of stuff to do for free!” motto I frequently yak about into actuality. Three days + no tickets = fun??
Yup, we had a blast.
1. Swam in Our Pool
Our rental house had a heated in ground pool. Of course house rentals don’t always have a heated pool, but we got a fabulous deal on a rental house in Davenport. So fabulous, that’s how we wound up in Orlando for Spring Break in the first place as opposed to renting a place at the beach 15 minutes from my house. We didn’t pay any more for this house with a pool than other houses we priced without a pool.
Think you might like a rental with a pool? You can read about our rental house adventures here:
2. Theme Park Connection Shopping
We drove what seemed like forever to a store called Theme Park Connection, a store located in a Winter Garden outside of Orando. They specialize in buying, selling, and trading Disney items. I bought nine “vintage” (translation = used and old) key chains for $1 each, plus two vintage (translation = old but brand new in the package) luggage tags. There were lots of authentic Disney parks signs and memorabilia, but most everything in the store was way out of my price range. I’m just not going to pay $300 for a framed print of the Grand Floridian Resort or $1200 for those cool Disney cruise ship models you see enticing you to book a cruise. Used trading pins here were $3 each, which is double or triple for what I pay on eBay, and used Vinylmations were $7, which is 3 times what I pay on eBay buying in bulk.
Theme Park Connection was a cool place to visit once, but unless I am on that side of Orlando, I won’t be going back anytime soon. For the serious theme park memorabilia collectors, it might be worth the drive to Winter Park, but I won’t be back unless we go to Universal or Islands of Adventure, which was about 15 minutes away from their store.
You don’t have to buy anything here; you can just window shop. It’s pretty cool to look at old Disney uniforms, resort decorations, models, books, records, and on and on Window shopping is free.
Where do I have better luck shopping? Right here…
3. The Mall of Millenia
Wow. This place was just as fantastic as I had been warned. I do need to point out that I am a mall snob. I don’t necessarily spend a lot of money in malls unless I am looking for something specific, but I love being in really nice malls. I like cool background music, a clean appearance, and lots of room in the food court. Nice bathrooms are a bonus. I enjoy window shopping, since being a Cheapskate Princess, window shopping is like my own personal sport. I am good at it.
Oh, the places the Mall of Millenea has to shop/window shop. Rolex, Apple, Louis Vuitton, and on and on. They gave me complimentary bottled water at the Vera Bradley store, and it was like a three minute mental visit to a spa.
This mall wasn’t overly crowded, and we didn’t have a hard time finding a parking spot. We did have a hard time finding our car, having gotten turned around, because it’s a big mall. It’s so big, you can pick out a sports car across the street on your way back home. This was the third Lotus we saw entering or exiting the parking lot. These three cars would be the only Lotus automobiles I have seen in my entire life. The things you see in Orlando…
You don’t have to buy anything: window shopping is free.
Use this link to see the stores we loved:
4. Character Warehouse Discount Shopping
I do a large amount of window shopping at the resorts and theme parks, because well, like many people, I don’t always have a lot of money to spend there. My kids have their own spending money; at their age, they earned it or they don’t have any souvenir money. How many $50 sweatshirts do I need? Do I need another $25 Christmas ornament? What I really NEED is a bargain, to feel like I found something that was is expensive and was marked down just for me.
That’s what you find in the Character Warehouse… Authentic Parks Merchandise marked up to 70% off. My best finds, not necessarily on that vacation, but through the years? Scarves, t-shirts, and soft computer carrying cases. I found a $30 iPhone case for $4.99.
Now again, you don’t have to buy anything; window shopping is free.
Use this link for the addresses to both Orlando Character Warehouses and phone numbers.
5. Super Target
Three miles from our rental house in one direction was a Super Walmart, and three miles the other way was a Super Target. On this day, we chose the Target. There was lots and lots of Disney merchandise, an entire section full, but Target wasn’t as crowded as some of the Wal-marts we have shopped at in Orlando.
We went shopping because we needed food! We needed groceries because we do a fair amount of cooking in a rental house to save money, and we found food prices were great as well, with costs comparable to shopping at home.
And that was the end of day one. Let’s recap.
- Theme Park Connection store
- Mall of Millienia
- Disney’s Character Warehouse
- Super Target
1) Walk by the Lake
I took our dog on a walk down to the lake in our rental house neighborhood. Many houses for rent throughout Orlando seem to be in close proximity to a lake. Our house was about .25 mile down from Lake Davenport, which is mostly undeveloped. Birds were chirping, and a nice cool breeze was blowing since Spring Break this year was a bit cooler than what I usually expect. Taking a walk by a lake is indeed very relaxing, a great way to start your day.
Not all rental houses are by lakes. I didn’t pay any more for a rental house located near a lake than I would have if there was no lake, so I call that free.
You’re really thinking about renting that house now, admit it. Here’s the link again on how we found out house and the bargain we got:
2) Lunch at Caribbean Beach Resort
I have to feed a family of five adults: with three kids in 10th, 8th, and 6th grades, we all quality as adults in terms of table service restaurants. A characters meal will cost me over $200 including the tip. So as a general rule, if we are not cooking ourselves, we stick to counter service meals. We are Pecos Bills Tall Tale Inn regulars, try to find a quiet spot upstairs at Epcot’s Electric Umbrella, and we also like to visit the resorts for a nice counter service meal there.
One of my very favorite resorts for lunch is Caribbean Beach Resort. With a food court that is reminiscent of visiting a tropical village, complete with building facades and a blue sky painted overhead, this is truly a nice place to eat.
You do not have to eat here, or really at any of the resorts, but we were there around lunch time and needed a meal. Walking around is free, but this is a great location to grab a meal.
3) Walked Around The Beach Club Resort Lake
After we left Caribbean Beach, we drove over to the Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and took a walk around Crescent Lake, taking in the sites and gift shops. They have a really cute little gift shop and a great bakery. Having grown up in a water front town, currently living near the Gulf of Mexico, I like water locations. I enjoy being around water, hearing the sounds of boat horns on the lakes, and just soaking up the “coastal” lifestyle.
Walking is free.
4. Welcome Home Wednesday
Welcome Home Wednesdays are an hour long event for Vacation Club Members held every week at the Boardwalk Resort Atlantic Dance Hall. most every week on, you guessed it, Wednesdays from 2-3 p.m. The session is a combination sales pitch for new DVC resorts, information session, and fun social time for DVC members. Everyone attending receives a coupon for snacks including apples, popcorn, caramel corn, lemonade, coffee and water. It is free to all Disney Vacation Club members. We like to attend when we can because each person receives a FREE DVC hat, which I wear all year ’round. So this wouldn’t be free unless you were a member of the Vacation Club.
If you pay DVC dues, you have paid a fee to attend, so while it’s not free per say, it didn’t cost me any extra money that day to attend. If you are not a DVC member, you can not attend, but you can do the next activity for free.
Curious about my favorite part of the DVC? Use this link:
5) Disney Vacation Club Tour
While at the Caribbean Beach Resort, I started talking to the Cast Member manning the DVC booth, who noticed me taking photos of odd things like brownies and light fixtures. He suggested we attend a DVC open House to see the Aulani Resort room. So we did. We drove over to Saratoga Springs to the DVC building to see the new rooms.
The Disney Vacation Club tour is just that, an informative tour of the newest actual-sized Vacation Club Villas, in our case Aulani and Animal Kingdom. But you don’t have to drive on your own. To arrange for a tour, you can stop by any DVC information kiosk at both the parks and resorts, call the front desk of your resort, or call DVC direct. A Cast Member in a red DVC van will pick you up at a resorts and deliver you to Saratoga Springs Resort for your tour. After the tour, which can last from 45 minutes to over an hour, your family will be treated to ice cream in their DVC ice cream parlor before being whisked away to any Disney Resort or park. A bonus if you have small children – they provide childcare for your kids while you enjoy the tour.
Just for taking the tour, each member of your family is given an instant FASTPASS card good for up to three rides in any park. These cards are usually good for four days – including the day you receive them. You can redeem them on any ride that offers Fastpass, unless all the Fastpasses for that ride have been distributed that day, so don’t go too late in the day to use them.
Another way to see up the FREE tour is to call one of my favorite people in the (Disney) World, our personal DVC representative. His name is Aldemar Ramirez, he has the most amazing accent, and his number is 800-501-8669. Be sure to tell him Amanda Major referred you, because they frequently have DVC incentives if you know the name of a current member.
6. We Swam Again
And while in the pool we listened to the BOOMs of the Magic Kingdom Fireworks at 10 p.m. Lovin’ that pool…
Day 2 Recap
- Walk by the lake near our rental house
- Lunch at Caribbean Beach Resort
- Walked Around The Beach Club Resort Lake
- DVC’s Welcome Home Wednesday
- Disney Vacation Club Tour
- Took a swim
1) Took a Swim
Yup, we started the day back in our rental house pool, which over looked a neighborhood golf course. I’m not a golfer, so I enjoyed watching all the practice swings. We had lovely weather during Spring Break, so the pool was a really nice addition to our rental house. We tried to swim nearly every day.
Where did we eat breakfast to save money? Use this link:
2) Toured Wilderness Lodge
We drove over for a snack at Wilderness Lodge. Roaring Forks snacks has lots of inexpensive priced cupcakes and brownies, and there are tables galore outside with a great view of the pool. Disney has an “open resort” policy, so touring the resorts are free, even if the snacks are not. Cheapskate Tip: bring your own snacks for a picnic snack or lunch.
Touring the Disney resorts is free.
Our favorite FREE activities at Wilderness Lodge inside and out? Use these links:
3) Toured the Contemporary Resort
We took a boat from Wilderness Lodge to the Contemporary Resort, which is free. There are benches at the end of Wilderness Lodge pier, plus a water fountain, so you can have a seat and watch the activity on the lake in the shade. The ride over is soothing and stress reliving. When the sun is shining in March, boats suddenly appear everywhere. Renting a “Mouse Boat” at $37 per half hour is not free, but boat watching is.
The Contemporary Resort is probably one of my favorite resorts to walk around and just be a part of the Disney resort atmosphere. The best part I have loved about the Contemporary Resort since I first rode a monorail through it at age 5?
Walking around the resorts is free.
4. Toured the Polynesian Resort
From the Contemporary, we boarded a monorail headed over to the Polynesian Resort. I tell everybody who asks me about our time in Orlando that making the trip to the resorts around the monorail track is one of my family’s favorite activities. It certainly helps that its free. The Polynesian Resort has a lovely beach on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon. If you are lucky there are sailboats with colorful sails afloat.
The resort lobby, inside the Great Ceremonial House, is fantastic as far as hotel theming. Be sure to walk around the rails outside the lobby as well, because the resort is peaceful and relaxing, and the tropical foliage is unbelievable. My sons joke that walking around the Polynesian is as close to being in the jungle as we will ever get.
Walking around the resorts is – still – free.
5. Toured the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
While you can take a monorail over to this next resort, we walked from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian Resort, which took us right by all the new DVC villa construction. It’s cool to see monorails zip by overhead. Once inside the resort, we took a seat and listened to live entertainment, which was a pianist seated at a marvelous grand piano, and a jazz band on the second floor playing Disney favorites. It’s a beautiful resort to walk around.
Listening to musicians at the resort is free.
Window shopping at the resort gift shops is free
Have time for a free Disney movie? Check out how you do it:
6. Window Shopping at Downtown Disney
There are parts of Downtown Disney I like as much as the gifts shops found on Main Street, U.S.A, sometimes more, because on the right day, they are not as crowded. It’s really hard not to spend any money here. Here’s a list of my favorite activities:
Two of my favorite Downtown Disney stores?
There may be no one more excited about the proposed renovations for Downtown Disney than me. I love to window shop, and the expected changes just look amazing.
7. Went swimming again
Well, if you have it, you better use it.
Let’s recap that last day:
- toured Wilderness Lodge
- toured the Contemporary Resort
- toured the Polynesian Resort
- Toured the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
- Window shopped at Downtown Disney
- Took another swim
The sun can seemingly rise and set on theme parks in Orlando, but there are so many things to do besides ride rides. We didn’t even make it to tour the other resorts and several more malls.
Did we miss any fu activities? Leave us a comment!
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Thanks for stopping by, and let us know what do you do in Orlando when you don’t have tickets!
Disney’s Cheapskate Princess