Sunday, March 2, 2014

Free Things at Walt Disney World!!



What, the words “free” and “Walt Disney World” in the same sentence?  Impossible, right? Ok, while a Disney vacation is not exactly free, there are plenty of free things that you can take advantage of on your visit: from things to see and do, to free souvenirs to take home with you. In the spirit of freebies, I have expanded my “top 10” list to include 22 (you can thank me later).

In no particular order, here are some of my favorites!

Mickey Stickers- Perhaps the first sign that you have arrived- these little white stickers are EVERYWHERE. If you walk away from Walt Disney World without at least one Mickey sticker, you likely didn’t do one of the following: go into a shop, eat at a restaurant, enter a park, visit a ride or attraction, check into a hotel, or make eye contact with a Cast Member. (If you do all of the above and still find yourself stickerless- just find a Cast Member and ask. There is bound to be a shiny new roll hanging around somewhere!) 

Mickey Confetti- along the same line as stickers, these colorful little pieces are in abundance, and make fun souvenirs. Even without trying, this stuff will follow you home (I find it in my suitcase, my washer and dryer, and all around the house for months afterwards). It is really fun for scrapbooking. You’ll find confetti throughout the streets after a parade, and if you have a celebration notated on a dining reservation, you may find some at your table as well!

Park maps- speaking of things that are both great for souvenirs and scrapbooking, be sure to grab some park maps during your visit. Even if you know the parks better than the back of your hand, these are great mementos of your trip. I can’t even begin to estimate how many I’ve collected through the years; I still have some scattered throughout my luggage. It is fun to look at old maps and see how much the parks change over time.

Animation Academy at DHS- this is an absolute favorite of mine. Tucked away in the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a special gem. Every half hour, a class is conducted by an animation instructor, who leads guests through a tutorial on how to draw a Disney character. The paper and pencils are provided, and even those with no drawing ability (me) can walk away with their own hand drawn character. (Ok, I haven't had any job offers from Disney Animation, but I have a collection of fun drawings that are a lot better than if I had tried them at home!). A different character is done each time, but the instructor takes suggestions; if there is one you really want to try, be sure to speak up!

Transportation- This is a big one. If you are a Disney resort guest, transportation from your resort to the parks and Downtown Disney is free. I am always amazed at how efficient this transportation really is. With thousands of guests travelling between dozens of locations, it is the equivalent of transporting a small city- but Disney does a fantastic job of making sure that guests get to their destinations quickly and comfortably (generally waiting less than 20 minutes).  The majority of transportation is done by bus, and you can also travel between certain destinations by boat, as well as the iconic Monorail. Even if you don’t need to ride the monorail to get to your destination, you really should build some time into your day to take a free trip (especially if you don’t yet know the meaning of the words “Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas”). The boat ride between Epcot and Hollywood Studios is also beautiful and relaxing.
 
 In 2005, Disney took their “free transportation” one step further, with Disney’s Magical Express. Not only can you travel around property for free, but Disney will actually bring you and your luggage from Orlando International Airport. This complimentary service is included with any Walt Disney World Resort stay. A few weeks before your trip, you will receive a booklet with vouchers and luggage tags. Simply attach the yellow tags to your luggage, and Disney will collect it for you on the other end. It will be waiting for you in your room within a few hours. In the meantime, if you arrive before your room is ready, you can check in, and take advantage of another free thing: your resort will hold any carry-ons you have, so you are free to run off to the parks or Downtown Disney while they finish preparing your room. They’ve really thought of everything to help you maximize every single minute of your vacation.

Resort activities- If you’re taking a relaxing break from the parks, all resorts will have free pool-side activities for the kids. These include things like dancing and hula hoop competitions, temporary tattoos, water games, and more. Also, many resorts have a free outdoor movie under the stars at night. Check with your front desk for a schedule of happenings during your visit! Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground also has a free campfire sing-along with Chip and Dale every night, followed by the movie. This is free to all guests, not just those staying at the campground.

Mug Refills- Disney recently took a program that was great, and made it even better. When you stay at a WDW resort, you can purchase a refillable mug that is good for unlimited refills at your resort for the duration of your stay. Technically, these were only good at the resort where you are staying, but were recently expanded to include all resorts with the new Rapid Fill program (the mugs now have RFID chips which will activate the fill stations). So if you are staying at Pop Century and find yourself admiring the wildlife at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you can head on into their quick service restaurant The Mara for a quick refill (and since you’re there, pick up some Zebra Domes to snack on too!)  Bonus: these are “free”  if you are using any dining plan, since each guest with a dining plan receives one mug.

Refills in parks- The current mug refill program does not include any of the parks. However, each park has at least one quick service dining location that offers free refills with your purchase: Be our Guest (lunch) at the Magic Kingdom, Sunshine Seasons and Electric Umbrella in Epcot, Backlot Express in Hollywood Studios, and Restaurantosaurus in the Animal Kingdom. At Downtown Disney you can also find free refills at Earl of Sandwich and Wolfgang Puck Express.

Club Cool- this is a nice little spot in Epcot where you can cool down and take in a free drink or two. Here you can sample Coca Cola flavors from around the world. The selection recently changed- but DON’T PANIC, Beverly fans. Disney and Coca Cola know how much you love Beverly, so it is still there. If you’re unfamiliar, try it! You’ll LOVE it ;)

Celebration Buttons- While each guest is treated to their trademark hospitality and wonderful service, Disney especially loves to make celebrations extra special. If you find yourself celebrating something (such as a birthday, anniversary, first trip, graduation etc), you can ask for a free button to wear and announce your celebration. You can also pick up a generic “I’m Celebrating” button that can be personalized for whatever your special celebration may be. You can find these at your front desk upon check in, or at Guest Relations at any park and Downtown Disney. A button is like a magnet for special attention from Cast Members- you will definitely receive a lot of congratulations and shout outs while wearing one. While nothing more is guaranteed, we often visit to celebrate our anniversary, and have received little perks like complimentary champagne, cupcakes, and cookies. Warm fuzzies are included at no extra cost as well.

Wi-Fi- One of the biggest guest complaints in past years was the lack of Wi-Fi at Disney resorts. This has recently been resolved, as WDW rolled out free Wi-Fi not only in resort rooms, but throughout the parks and all other public guest areas. This is especially great in connection with My Magic Plus and the My Disney Experience app- which is (you guessed it) free!

Resort Hopping- we always build in some time during our trip to check out the different WDW resorts. Each resort is uniquely themed and offers much to explore; we find them as fascinating as the parks, and love to find new details on each visit. Because of the free transportation mentioned above, they are easy to access. At Christmastime especially, the resorts really come to life, with wonderfully detailed and themed decorations and music.


 
Ghirardelli- Did you know that you can visit Gharardelli at Downtown Disney for some free chocolate? Hold on, let me repeat that. FREE CHOCOLATE. If the heavenly smells aren’t enough to lure you in, you can almost always find someone handing out free squares inside the shop. For most of the year, this is mouth-watering milk chocolate squares filled with caramel, but for the holidays they often give out peppermint bark (my personal favorite). It is located right across from the large World of Disney store- so it might be a good idea to go buy yourself a hat and sunglasses for a disguise, and come back through the line for another sample.  

Package delivery to your resort- this is another genius idea to help make your trip easy and efficient. Disney resort guests can have their purchases from anywhere on property sent for free to the resort where they are staying. You will simply fill out a slip with your name and resort info at time of checkout, and the cast member will give you a receipt. By the afternoon of the next day, your package will be waiting at the gift shop at your resort. Because this does take at least a full day, you cannot use this service on the last 2 days of your trip (if you are checking out on a Saturday, the last day you can use this when purchasing is Thursday, for Friday pick up). If you are not a resort guest or are at the end of your stay, and find yourself making purchases you don’t want to carry all day, you can have your items sent to the front of the park for pick up at the end of the day. 


Parking for Resort Guests- if you are staying at a Disney resort, you have the option and convenience of free transportation.
However, if you prefer to drive to the parks, free parking is included with your resort stay.

Smells- If you’ve gone, you get it. Smells are such a big part of a WDW vacation, that certain scents at home will quickly trigger memories of your vacation. Many of these smells have become so popular that they even have Facebook fan pages devoted to them. Some fan favorites include oranges in Soarin, Rome in Spaceship Earth, baked goods at bakeries- even the distinct smell of the water on water rides. Disney recently realized this as well, and has started to sell air fresheners with certain scents- such as turkey legs and Mickey waffles.

Magic Bands- the newest, coolest accessory for your WDW trip is also included for free. These bands are replacing the old Key to the World cards, and will serve as your room key and park ticket, and store info for your dining plan, Memory Maker, Fastpass Plus, credit card, and more. After you link your reservation in My Disney Experience, you will be able to personalize the bands by choosing the color and name to be printed on the inside of the band. They’ll ship to you (free!) shortly before your arrival, and can be kept as another fun souvenir from your trip.

Disney Visa picture- If you are a Disney Visa rewards cardholder, you can take advantage of a special character meet and greet inside Epcot, with a complimentary 5x7 picture. Simply present your card to be given access to this feature, located at Innoventions West daily from 1pm- 7pm.

Kidcot Fun Stops- If you’re looking for something fun to do with your kids as you explore the pavilions of the World Showcase, Kidcot is a great free activity that also makes a nice souvenir. At your first stop, you can pick up a cutout of Duffy the Disney Bear, and have your child decorate it with the free art supplies provided. As you tour the countries, be sure to stop at each Kidcot stop to get a stamp from that country. Kids can also interact with the cast members at each stop, learning how to say “hello” in different languages. 

First Aid- If you find yourself needing minor medical attention while at WDW, there are First Aid stations located in each park. Here, you can find the solutions to simple needs (such as bandaids and headach relief). I was even given a bandage wrap once when I hurt my ankle, as the result of a runaway stroller incident. Most shops have a variety of over the counter medication for sale, but if you are near a First Aid location, check there first since it is free.

Electrical Water Pageant- this glowing light parade on the water floats by the Magic Kingdom resorts every night. It is a bit cheesy and outdated, but that is part of its charm. Colorful sea characters are unveiled one at a time, and dance to the music (which sounds very similar to the Main Street Electrical Parade). It begins each night at 9- starting on the Seven Seas lagoon for viewing from the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, and making its way to Bay Lake to be seen by the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness.  Times may vary based on the scheduled time for Wishes, so check with the front desk at any of these resorts.  


 Soap and Shampoo- I saved the best for last. Oh yes, the free shampoo, conditioner, soaps, and lotions that can be found inside your Disney resort room. All bath products are H2O, but the type varies by resort
level. I am guilty of bringing my own products with to use during my vacation, so I can save these in my luggage and use at home. If you end up loving them as much as I do, you can find them for sale in many resort gift shops, and even online through the Disney Store. Just smelling these takes me back to my happy place!

This is not an inclusive list of all the free things available at Walt Disney World- there is more to be found.  Have fun seeking them out on your next trip!

Carissa











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