As most know, I am considered a “Disney fanatic.” However, what many do not know about me is that my love for Disney has not been life long. I became a fanatic after meeting my husband in law school. He was the true fanatic, as he had been going to Disney pretty much from the moment he could walk. Because my husband had been going to Disney for so many years, he was able to introduce me to a side of Disney most people do not know.
When someone mentions Disney, what is the first thought that pops in your head? Is it Mickey Mouse? I am here to tell you that Disney is much more than that. I know. Going to Disney can be an expensive endeavor. If you are the parent of a young child like me, hearing the word Disney alone can make your eyes roll to the back of your head from being blinded by the dollar signs. But there are many little-to-no-cost activities you can do at Walt Disney World. Here are some of the things you can enjoy doing without breaking the bank.
1. VISIT A DISNEY WORLD RESORT
We all know staying at a Disney World resort can be pricey. You do not have to be a guest at a resort to visit them though. Sometimes instead of going to one of the parks, we spend the day “resort hopping.” You can take any one of the resort buses from Disney Springs to do this. Most of the resorts have jogging/walking trails that you can take advantage of too. Disney puts a lot of effort into making the grounds of each resort look aesthetically astounding, which you can enjoy free of charge! And if you like gingerbread, be sure to visit the Grand Floridian Resort around Christmas time. Disney makes a giant-size gingerbread house every year that they showcase in the lobby. It makes the perfect backdrop for Christmas photos.
2. WILDLIFE PRESERVE AT ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE
If you are an animal lover, you should visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. You do not have to be a guest at the resort to enjoy seeing part of their 43-acre wildlife preserve that is home to approximately 200 free roaming animals, such as giraffes and zebras, and 130 birds. And there are usually safari guides close by who are African natives that can teach you about African culture for free.
3. RIDE A FERRYBOAT
This is one of my favorites. I am very much a city gal. I did not grow up riding boats where I was raised. Whenever I am in a sightseeing mood or just want to kill time on a dime, I take one of the ferryboats from Disney Springs for a ride. These particular ferryboats ride between Disney’s Port Orleans Resort (both French Quarter and Riverside), Old Key West Resort, and Saratoga Springs Resort (see #1 on why you should visit a Disney Resort.) And if you’re OK with spending a little cash to get a taste of some of the Disney magic, you can park at Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center for $25.00 and ride the large ferryboat that transports passengers to and from The Magic Kingdom. If you time it right, you can even see the fireworks at Cinderella’s Castle. This can add unique flair to a romantic date night or can serve as a nice after dinner activity for the family to enjoy.
4. CHARACTERS IN FLIGHT
Most people know the hot air balloon at Disney Springs called “Characters in Flight.” It is very easy to see in the air if you are anywhere near the Disney area. Yet, what I have learned is that most people (even Orlando natives) do not know that it is actually reasonably priced. Adults are usually about $20 and children are $15. According to the official Disney Parks Blog, if you visit before 10:00 am, tickets are $10 per person regardless of age. You may even find deals for it on Groupon (I did.) Compared to other air attractions in Orlando, this one is pretty cheap. However, taking flight is very dependent of the weather, so do keep that in mind.
5. THE FOUNTAIN AT THE SWAN AND DOLPHIN RESORT
My husband and I eat on Disney property on occasion. We usually try to avoid it altogether because…I mean…hey it’s not cheap. There is one place we like to go that is considered “on Disney property” without a large price tag: The Fountain at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. It is a low-key dine-in place that sells reasonably priced American food. And they also have yummy milkshakes and ice cream! We have visited The Fountain by taking the ferryboat from Hollywood Studios or Epcot. You can also take a bus from Disney Springs instead. Overall, The Fountain has everything we like when we dine: good food, friendly wait staff, and it is never crowded. (Even on weekends!)
6. DISNEY’S MAGICAL FIREWORKS
Some people have not had the opportunity to enjoy Disney’s nightly fireworks. I have never met a single person who was not taken aback by how breathtaking the firework show is to watch. And although nothing really compares to watching them up close, you do not have to pay for admission to one of the parks to enjoy them. You can watch The Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Polynesian Resort, which is pretty much directly across from The Magic Kingdom. Disney usually launches the fireworks in conjunction with a nightly show they put on at Cinderella’s Castle around 8:00 PM. Times can vary so make sure to Google an updated time schedule before you arrive.
7. DISNEY’S BOARDWALK
One of my favorite things to do at Disney is take a stroll down their boardwalk. Disney’s Boardwalk is a site that truly makes you feel like you have been transported to a totally different state–rightfully so, as it is mimicked off of the iconic Coney Island and Atlantic City boardwalks. There are many things to do on Disney’s Boardwalk. You can play midway games or enjoy watching a light-hearted musical competition at the dueling piano bar called Jelly Rolls (for a fee of course.) But if you are just looking to take a leisure walk with unique scenery, then this is the place for you.
8. FREE SAMPLES AT GHIRARDELLI!
This list would be incomplete if it did not mention Ghirardelli! This is on the list for the benefit of chocolate lovers that somehow do not know (I mean…who does not know?) that the Ghirardelli shop in Disney Springs gives out FREE SAMPLES OF THEIR CHOCOLATE. There is usually an employee standing inside the store with a basket of Ghirardelli samples (typically the samples are themed for the season like a taffy flavor for summer or peppermint for Christmas.) Fun fact: Ghirardelli actually announced in January of 2019 that they would put a halt to the free samples, but that was met with a lot of backlash because they have literally been handing out free samples for so long that it has become a part of Disney culture. To make a long story short, “Disneyites” were unhappy with Ghirardelli’s decision and the free samples have magically returned.
BONUS: DISNEY’S CHARACTER WAREHOUSE
This is not a little-to-no-cost thing to do at Walt Disney World, but is more of a “Disney hack,” if you will. I could not bear leaving it off the list, because ever since I discovered it, I added it to my low-cost Disney activities. Disney’s Character Warehouse is often referred to as the best kept shopping secret for Disney fanatics. It is an outlet store (there are actually two of them in Orlando), where you can find Disney merchandise that has been significantly marked down. I have found some really neat stuff there, like my Polynesian Resort themed plates. I have even been lucky enough to find Mickey Ears (the same ones they sell in the parks) for $5.00! Their normal retail price is $23.00. So, if you are on a budget and looking for authentic Disney merchandise, the Disney Character Warehouse is the place to go.
This list is perfect for Disney lovers and non-Disney lovers alike. Disney World is more than just its theme parks, and this list is proof of that. Plus, who doesn’t like to save a buck?