We always to suggest a “free” day to those planning a Disney World vacation. Not necessarily “free,” as in it costs nothing, but free as in you do not have regular park tickets for that day. You and the family are not waking up early, walking for miles, and shutting down a park late into the night.
Many parents new to all this Disney planning stuff don’t realize that Disney vacations are tiring, and it’s a good idea to plan a “free day” mid-vacation just to keep from stressing everyone out. (If you can afford it, we actually recommend two days if you are staying for six days or more.) For those parents not into tantrums and meltdowns, be aware that heat, exhaustion, overstimulation, and an altered schedule starts to wear out little bodies. If you are already in Orlando, you might as well make plans for a day to enjoy life beyond the theme parks, because there really is a lot to do besides roller coasters and in-park character meet and greet lines.
These are our favorite tips for a free day at Disney World.
1. Sleep Late, Go for a Resort Swim
Staying on or off property, many resorts have great swimming pools available for your use. Most kids love to swim, so put on the sunscreen and head to the pool. This is a free option in that you paid to stay there, so swimming is thus free.
If the kids want to do some more serious swimming on a free day, there are several ways to purchase tickets to the Disney World Water Parks listed below.
2. Water Park
Water Parks Fun & More Ticket Option
You can add the Water Parks Fun & More Option to any valid Magic Your Way ticket For just $60 plus tax, you and the kids can experience Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, as well as admission to one of the following for each day of your ticket:
DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme ParkThis is closing, so don’t count on this.
- Disney’s Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf
- Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
- ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
- Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course (one round) Tee times are required for Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course and are subject to availability.
Tickets for Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach start at $53 per day before taxes. With both thrill and chill rides, relaxing lounge areas, wave pools, snorkeling adventures and much more, these water parks makes your local pool look like a $20 plastic back yard kiddie pool. Both parks have areas specifically for younger children. Use this link for more info. on Disney water parks and ticket options.
3. Resort Hop
Resort hopping is simply looking around the Disney resorts where you are not staying, which is 100% allowable and 100% free. What better way to decide where you want to stay on your next trip than by looking around? Each resort has a different theme, so ask the kids which location they like best. Use this opportunity to talk about finances, because there are big price differences in the three resort levels of accommodations.
The All-Star Resorts, Art of Animation Resort, and Pop Century Resort have the most to offer young children in terms of looking around and taking pictures. Here’s our guide to making the most of time spent looking around: Disney World Resort Hopping: A Cheapskate Guide To Free Fun!
4. Disney Springs
Wow, is there a lot to do at Disney Springs, which has been completely renamed and re-imagined from Downtown Disney, with some free activities and other things to do that are definitely not so free.
- Shopping – Over 40 stores from toys and games to clothing and jewelry
- Dining- Over 40 restaurants, including kid favorites T-Rex and Rainforest Cafe
- Bowling – 30 lanes, billiards tables, live music, and dining opportunities
- Movies – 24 Theaters
- La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil. Tickets start at $59 before tax.
- DJ Kids Dance Party – everybody can dance at the Waterside Stage
- Characters in Flight – ride a balloon 400 feet up in the air
- Goofy’s Candy Co. – No trip here is complete without stopping by this delightful candy store.
Traffic and parking is nuts while Downtown Disney transforms into Disney Springs, so our recommendation is to arrive early. Use this link for our best plan of action:
Use this link for our ideas on what to do at Disney Springs for free: Over 30 FREE Activities In Disney Springs: A Cheapskate Princess Guide
Use this link for our ideas on how to experience the Disney Springs balloon and save money: Characters in Flight at Disney Springs: A Cheapskate Guide.
5. Character Meals
While you can schedule a two-hour meal break on a day when you have park tickets, why not enjoy a character meal at one of the Deluxe Resorts when you have nothing else more pressing to do? Character meals are pricey compared to counter service meals, and you will be responsible for tipping, but you are paying for an event that kids (and adults) are sure to love.
Beach Club Resort – Cape May Cafe – Breakfast and Dinner, ($30 to $60 per adult)
Contemporary Resort – Chef Mickey’s – Breakfast, Brunch, and Dinner ($30 to $60 per adult)
WDW Swan Hotel – Garden Grove – Breakfast and Dinner- ($30 to $60 per adult)
The Four Seasons – Ravello – “Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and His Pals” ($22 per child, $42 per adult) Thursdays and Saturdays only.
Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – 1900 Park Fare – Breakfast and Dinner – ($30 to $60 per adult)
Polynesian Village – ‘Ohana – Breakfast and Dinner – ($30 to $60 per adult)
Here are some suggestions from our readers about their favorite restaurants on Disney property, both in parks and resorts: The Top 20 Best Disney Restaurants, So Says the Fans!
6. See a Dinner Show
Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show
Take the kids to celebrate the spirit of Aloha with entertainment including dancers, drummers and a show-stopping fire-knife performer all within the confines of the Polynesian Village Resort’s open-air theater in Luau Cove.
Adults will enjoy Island pulled pork, BBQ ribs, roasted chicken and a vegetable medley, honey-lime slaw, pineapple-coconut bread, and for dessert, warm pineapple bread pudding with caramel sauce. The kids will enjoy mini corn dogs with tater tots, cheese pizza, and either grilled chicken or mahi mahi with rice and green beans.
The price here is over $60 per adult, and advanced reservations are highly recommended. Make those up to 180 days prior to your visit.
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
Located at rustic Pioneer Hall in Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, the Pioneer Hall Players provide two hours of Wild West dancing, singing and zany vaudeville comedy. You and the kids can clap your hands, stomp your feet, and sing along. For dinner, you will dine on buckets of all-you-care-to-enjoy fried chicken and smoked BBQ pork ribs, as well as a tossed green salad, baked beans, fresh-baked cornbread and strawberry shortcake. Unlimited draft beer, wine and sangria are included for Guests 21 years of age and up. Soft drinks are also included. Prices are $59 to $68 per adult.
Mickey’s Backyard BBQ
Over at the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, there is a covered, open-air pavilion for a music-filled hoedown with some favorite Disney Characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Chip ‘n Dale. You will enjoy an all-you-care-to-enjoy BBQ spread including barbecue ribs, smoked chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs with all the trimmings, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, lemonade, fruit punch and soft drinks, plus complimentary wine and beer for Guests 21 years of age and up.
Guests will enjoy cowboy rope tricks, a live country-western band, and line dancing with Disney friends. Several times each night, Disney Characters mingle with guests for photos and autographs. The cost is $30 to $60 per adult.
7. Visit Celebration
Just a short 15 minute drive away from the Disney property is the planned town of Celebration, Florida. Adults will enjoy the shopping, Starbucks, and restaurants. Kids will enjoy a large fountain just right for splashing by the lake, plus candy and toy stores.
Every night during the Christmas season, the snow falls at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. Stop to have your photo made with Santa, plus there is other entertainment like strolling holiday carolers, an ice rink, entertainment and more. This is our guide to locating the free activities in Celebration: Free Fun in Celebration Florida: A Cheapskate Princess Guide.
Skating is a reasonable $10.00 for a 1/2 hour minimum skate, with your skate rental included.
8. Visit Ft. Wilderness
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground offers campsites starting at just $69 (2015.) On 750 acres of pine and cypress trees, you can see wildlife like deer, rabbits, ducks and armadillos roaming the woodland trails inside this woodsy backcountry retreat. We mentioned two dinner shows located at Ft. wilderness, but there are a lot of other activities here kids would enjoy as well.
Explore the Ranch
(Day) At the Tri-Circle-D Ranch from to through the stables to see Cinderella’s Ponies and the horses of Main Street, U.S.A.. You might get to see the blacksmith make and apply horseshoes. There are many different horse breeds residing at Tri-Circle-D Ranch, including Appaloosas, Arabians, Belgians, Clydesdales, paint horses, Percherons, quarter horses, and Shetland ponies. Advise the kids that as a free activity, they will be doing far more looking than petting.
(Day) If your children want to touch ponies, for a very reasonable fee of $8.00 (cash payments only), children can take a pony ride. Offered daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. near Pioneer Hall, no reservations are necessary. Riders must be:
- at least 2 years of age
- under 80 pounds
- no taller than 48 inches
- be able to hang on by themselves.
- lead on their pony by a parent or guardian at all times.
(Night) Ft. Wilderness is home to a free campfire program sing-along and movie, although there is a charge for refreshments. This event usually begins around 7 p.m. in fall/winter and 8 p.m. after the time change in April through summer.
(Night) During the Christmas season, vacationers staying at Ft. Wilderness adorn their campers, golf carts, and tents with a huge display of Christmas lights and decorations. It’s wise to take small flash lights with you, as some of the woodsy roads through the campground are not well-lit. Smaller children with darkness issues might feel better with some extra lights.
(Night) Take an old-fashioned, 25 minute horse-drawn wagon ride on a tour of the campground property. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, wagon rides depart daily at 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM (weather permitting) from the front of Pioneer Hall. The cost is $8 for guests ages 10 and up and $5 for guests 3 to 9 years of age.
Traveling with a really big group? Group wagon rides (for 30 to 35 Guests) cost $300 per hour and are available with 24-hour notice.
For more information on any activity at Ft. Wilderness, call (407) 824-2832 for information. Here is our guide to wagon rides: Doing Di$ney 4 Le$$: Wagon Rides Under $10
9. Water Parade & Wishes
If you are resort hopping after dinner, be sure to catch a glimpse of the free nightly water show, The Electrical Water Pageant at the Polynesian Village, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Ft. Wilderness, or the Contemporary Resort. The water-light parade was originally created in 1971 for the dedication of Disney’s Polynesian Resort. In my opinion, this show is geared more for younger children, but many adults say they enjoy it too. Approximate show times are:
- Polynesian Resort, 9:00 p.m.
- Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 9:15 p.m
- Wilderness Lodge, 9:30 p.m.
- Fort Wilderness Campground, 9:45 p.m.
- Contemporary Resort 10:00p.m.
If you have stayed for the Electrical Water Pageant, now stay to watch the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks show from one of the many Disney resorts on the monorail loop. At the Polynesian Village Resort, the fireworks are visible directly across the Seven Seas Lagoon. The show music is piped in, so while you might not be at the Magic Kingdom for Wishes, the kids will still get the show feel. Before or after the fireworks, grab a bite to eat or a snack. Hang out in the remodeled Polynesian lobby, which is beautiful at night.
You will also have a clear view of the fireworks from the Ticket and Transportation Center located next to the Polynesian.
10. Mini Golf
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf
At Fantasia Gardens, you and the kids will putt your way through five scenes featuring tutu-clad hippos, marching broomsticks and pirouetting ostriches. This course is perfect for families and beginner golfers.
Fairways Miniature Golf is more challenging. Resembling a traditional golf course built on a miniature scale, this course emphasizes skill over chance. Sand traps, bunkers, water hazards and sloping greens make the Fantasia Fairways Miniature Golf Course an exciting challenge, where par-3 and par-5 holes range in length from 63 to 109 feet long.
Both courses are located in the Epcot Resort area by the WDW Swan Hotel. Prices are $12 for children ages 2-9 and $14 for everyone over age 10.
Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
The elves then built 2 distinctly different 18–hole golf experiences: a sand course named “Summer” and a snow course named “Winter.”
On the Summer Course, putt among surfboards, sand castles and ornaments hanging from palm trees, peppermint-striped inner tubes, snapping clam shells and a melting snowman. Disney advises you try not to wake sleeping Santa buried in the sand!
On the Winter Course, watch out for Squirty the Snowman, who sprays water at golfers when golf balls pass beneath him. Holiday themed obstacles include giant peppermints, hockey sticks and the drawbridge of a fantastical, melting castle. The courses combine for the last holes, and after sinking the last putt on Hole 18, you will receive a special message from Santa Claus, courtesy of the WinterNet.
The courses are located next to Blizzard Beach water Park. Prices are $12 for children ages 2-9 and $14 for everyone over age 10.
11. Movie Under the Stars
Each night at Disney resorts, a complimentary movie screening is available to Guests of Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Whether on the beach, poolside or surrounded by the woods, enjoy relaxing evening entertainment that’s fun for the whole family, plus this is FREE! Some resorts have chairs while other resorts just have guests sit on the ground, usually on their own towels, so it does;t hurt to ask what the seating arrangements are beforehand.
For movie schedules, please check with the Front Desk at your Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, or call (407) 939-2273. Movies and entertainment are subject to cancellation or change without notice.
Here is a link to our free movie guide: FREE Movies at the Walt Disney World Resorts: A Cheapskate Princess Guide*
By taking a parasail ride at Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre, think of the views of Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Magic Kingdom you have from high up in the air. For those not into getting soaked with lake water, you won’t even get wet!
Set out on a standard flight, where you’ll coast through the air for 8-10 minutes, 450 feet off the back of the boat. Or, float even higher in the sky on a deluxe flight where you’ll flutter gracefully for 10-12 minutes, 600 feet behind—that’s as long as 2 football fields!
- Come dressed the same way you would if you were heading into one of the parks; no swimsuit is required.
- Bring sunglasses along for the ride, and don’t forget some sunscreen.
- All fliers must be six years of age and up, and the combined passenger weight in the parachute must be between 130 and 330 pounds.
- If a flier is under the minimum weight requirement, he or she may ride tandem with another child or adult to reach the minimum weight.
- Please arrive 15 minutes early for check-in. Minors under 18 years of age must have an adult present to sign waivers prior to boarding.
Per U.S. Coast Guard regulations, Sammy Duvall’s parasailing excursions allow up to six passengers on board. Flyers have priority, but friends or family members can ride along in the boat free of charge, if room allows. (Rider inclusion is not guaranteed.)
Operating hours are 9 am to 9 pm, and the cost is $95 to $170 per person. Use this link for more information.
13. Rent Personal Watercraft
Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre offers two adventures on personal watercraft (PWC.)
Adventure One – Explore Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon on a guided tour, where you follow the leader to an array of one-of-a-kind sights, including Discovery Island, Magic Kingdom park and more. On this one-hour adventure, you may see animals like river otters or elusive Bald Eagles.
Adventure Two- For those who want to chart a new course, set off into our buoyed-off private riding area under the supervision of an official Sammy Duvall’s Watersports guide.
Either choice offers you an all-new view of Walt Disney World.
- All PWC drivers must be 16 years of age and up, and will need a form of photo ID present at time of check-in
- While up to 3 passengers may ride a single PWC at once, combined weight must not exceed 400 pounds
- Minors under 18 years of age must have an adult present to sign waivers prior to departure
- Any age can ride with an adult
- PWCs are governed to 35 mph
- Private riding area is approximately the size of 3 football fields, and is strictly for PWC use
- Up to 4 PWCs can be rented at once
Before taxes, the price is $135 per PWC (not per person), and allows up to 3 riders or 400 lbs. Use this link for more information.
14. Other Water Fun at Sammy Duvall’s
Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre, located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort marina, offers other water activities in addition to tubing and PWC rentals.
World-class instructors can accommodate all ages and skill levels, from first-timers to first-rate. Kids and beginners will have a private dry lesson will show you all the key tips you’ll need. More advanced skiers will enjoy top-level instruction to up your skills. The price is $165, which includes a ski boat for 60 minutes, driver/instructor, equipment and up to five guests. The cost is for the boat rental, not the price per passenger, and does not include tax. Use this link for more information.
Towed at high speeds, tearing back and forth across Disney’s Contemporary Resort marina like a true champion of the water, there are wake boarding thrills for all ages and skill levels. For kids and beginners, a private dry lesson will explain all the necessary know-how to become an aquatic wonder once you hit the wake. For the advanced, a little top-level instruction can help you improve your technique and show you how to bust that big trick you’ve been after.
The price is $165, which includes a ski boat for 60 minutes, driver/instructor, equipment and up to 5 guests. The cost is for the boat rental, not the price per passenger, and does not include tax. Use this link for more information.
15. Specialty Cruises
A free day could provide the opportunity to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy a relaxing cruise aboard a deluxe pontoon boats. Drop your anchor for the world-class fireworks of Magic Kingdom park or Epcot during an evening cruise, where you will experience the fireworks within Epcot when your pontoon boat sails up International Gateway near World Showcase Lagoon.
- 21-foot pontoons hold up to 8 guests.
- 25-foot pontoons hold up to 10 guests.
- A Captain accompanies each Specialty Cruise.
- Assorted snacks and soft drinks are served.
On the 21′ Tracker Pontoon, the Magic Kingdom show price is $292.88, tax included for your group of 8 guests. Water, soda and bagged snacks are included. The sound from the fireworks show is not provided on the boat.
On the 25′ Tracker Pontoon, the Magic Kingdom show price is price is $346.13, tax included for your group of 10 guests. Water, soda, and bagged snacks are included. The sound from the fireworks show is provided on the boat.
The price for the only IllumiNations cruise is $325 plus tax for up to 10 guests. Price includes pontoon boat, driver, water, soda and bagged snacks.
Celebration and Dining Cruises
You can transform any cruise into a “Celebration Cruise” with balloons and a banner, and order onboard feasts from Private Dining. Private Dining can deliver customized menus, personalized birthday cake, champagne and strawberries, dessert platters, and light appetizers. You could even order a full meal to be enjoyed during your cruise, from intimate brunches to reception-style dinners. Celebration Cruise packages and Private Dining are available at an additional cost. A professional Butler service is available for order as well. Call Private Dining at the Disney Resort where your cruise launches:
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort: (407) 824-2955
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa: (407) 824-2473
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: (407) 824-2165
- Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts: (407) 939-3160
Fireworks are not guaranteed = On the rare occasion, fireworks shows may be rescheduled or canceled. Guests are encouraged to call to reconfirm the fireworks schedule at least 2 weeks prior to arrival.
Also, it is customary to give your “captain” a gratuity. For more information, use this link.
16. Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage
How about a boat trip where everyone dresses up as pirates?!
Leaving from Disney’s Contemporary Resort, this experience used to be called Magical Fireworks Voyage. You will begin with cookies, snacks and beverages before you head out for a boat trip with prime viewing of the Magic Kingdom’s Wishes and the Electrical Water Pageant. Before you board, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee arrive for fun and photos, and your host for the night is “Patch.” As you sail along the Seven Seas Lagoon, Patch leads sing-along, Disney Trivia challenges, and tells the story of Peter Pan, who actually greets you when you arrive back at the dock. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance, and there is a 48-hour cancellation policy
The price is $33 for ages 3 – 9 and $57.50 for anyone age 10 and up.
17. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
Your daughter will receive her own “Fairy Godmother-in-training” who will wave her magic wand, then break out the beauty tools, and turn your darling into a princess!
Depending on what services you want to pay for, you will choose a hairstyle, make-up, and nail color. You can add accessories, a Disney princess costume, and keepsake photo in a princess-themed photo holder if your brought $$$.
Packages start at $54.95 plus tax and go up to $189.95.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can be found inside Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, but on a free day, you’ll want to visit the other location inside the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney Springs. Use this guide for more information: Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: A Cheapskate Princess Guide*.
18. Fireworks Dessert Cruise
Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise lets you see the fireworks show Wishes from a completely new viewing location. You’ll be on board one of Disney’s ferrys, enjoying all sorts of fabulous food and drinks. Guests will board the ferry at the Ticket & Transportation Ferryboat Dock one hour prior to Wishes Nighttime Spectacular.
The cost is $99 for guests over the age of nine and $69 for children ages 3 to 9. These prices include taxes and your gratuity.
19. Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea at Garden View Tea Room is held at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Afternoon Tea is offered seven days a week and is held from between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. The cost for tea and assorted finger foods range from $13 to $45, For more information including menu items and specific prices, use this link.
And there you have it, tons of activities for a day at Disney World that doesn’t include park tickets. Your “free day” can be as relaxing or exciting, or as free or expensive as you want it to be. The true beauty of a trip to Disney World is never running out of things to do. You will just never be able to see and do it all without running out of time.
Running out of money, well, that’s a different matter altogether.
Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you after you woke the family up late, headed for your resort pool and perhaps a movie at Disney Springs.
Now let our vacation planner help you plan your trip, totally for FREE!
Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from Erin, our Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida travel. She offers promotions like Disney Trading Pin sets, autograph books, and free Mickey Mouse ear hats for kids under age 17. We know our readers love free…