A trip to Walt Disney World is a vacation rite of passage for many families, but while your visit to the most Magical Place on Earth will leave your heart feeling full, your wallet will probably feel quite a bit lighter when you head home. Hotel rooms, park tickets, food and souvenirs add up quickly, and a number of offerings that used to be included in the cost of your vacation, like FastPass+ and complimentary MagicBands plus airport transportation via Disney’s Magical Express for resort guests, have all been replaced with paid alternatives.
But, if you know where to look, there are still quite a few things you can get “for free” during your Disney parks vacation that can all add up to make your stay feel even more magical. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Celebration Buttons
If you’re celebrating something special during your visit, stop by Guest Relations, your Walt Disney World Resort front desk, or the register at many shops throughout the theme parks to pick up a celebration button. There are dedicated buttons for many special occasions, from birthdays and anniversaries to first visits, plus a general “I’m celebrating” button that works for almost everything else.
A Cast Member can personalize your button with a permanent marker and, when they see you wearing one, they’ll say something — making guests feel extra special by acknowledging button wearers with appropriate celebratory greetings.
2. Cups of Ice Water
Disney World days can be sweltering, even in the dead of winter, so hydration is always key to a meltdown-free day in the parks. It’s always a good idea to bring a reusable water bottle to keep filled — Disney World continues to add more bottle-refilling stations. But you can also always ask for a free cup of ice water from any quick-service location with a fountain drink machine, so there’s no need to spend money on overpriced bottles of water.
3. Scavenger Hunts
There are scavenger hunt adventures — sometimes hiding in plain sight — throughout Disney World’s theme parks and resorts. Some, like EPCOT’s seasonal scavenger hunts tied to festivals, cost money, but most others are free. Scavenger hunts are a great way for frequent and returning visitors to look beyond the rides and attractions to discover new details in the parks. They are also a great way to spend some time on a busy day when wait times are long or you’re passing the time between Lightning Lane return times. Here are some of our favorites.
Wilderness Explorers at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
To enjoy one of the most extensive free scavenger hunts at Disney World, aspiring Wilderness Explorers can pick up a handbook from the Wilderness Explorers headquarters kiosk or a number of other locations throughout this park. Cast Members stationed throughout the parks will guide participants by sharing animal fun facts, directing your attention to certain animals and their unique features or behaviors, showcasing props and more. Collect more than 25 badges in your handbook along the way.
A Pirate’s Adventure—Treasures of the Seven Seas
Explore Adventureland in Magic Kingdom by joining this interactive treasure hunt. Visit the Crow’s Nest, a kiosk near Pirates of the Caribbean, for one of five different souvenir treasure maps for missions that each take about 20 minutes. During each mission, you’ll scan your MagicBand or card at different tap points to reveal hidden details and unlock special effects. After completing each mission, visit the Crow’s Nest for a special collectible card. Complete all five missions and you’ll receive a special sixth card signed by Captain Jack Sparrow.
Disney’s DuckTales World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT
This interactive free game based on the “DuckTales” reboot on Disney+ runs off the Play Disney Parks App and takes players on missions through seven World Showcase pavilions: China, Mexico, Norway, Germany, Japan, France, and the U.K. The game uses a combination of animated videos on your device and physical effects hiding in plain sight and activated around World Showcase. Some of the missions will even score you some secret goodies — but we won’t spoil the surprises by telling you what they are.
Kidcot Fun Stops
A great way for kids to explore EPCOT’s World Showcase, Kidcot Fun Stops are stations in each of World Showcase’s 11 country pavilions where kids can pick up a Ziploc “suitcase” and collect postcards and stickers with information about each country. Staffed by cultural representatives, Fun Stops typically have an activity like coloring that kids can do during their visit. Kids can also take a postcard and sticker to go and fill in the picture on the back of the postcard later.
4. Resort Scavenger Hunts
There are even free scavenger hunts around Walt Disney World resorts. At Disney’s Riviera Resort, stop by the Disney Vacation Club desk for a free Signature Art Collection Search that takes you on a hunt to discover Disney-inspired works of art around the resort.
You’ll get a map and a set of stickers to use to mark each artwork on the map when you find it. Return with your completed map for a free postcard-sized foam-mounted print of the resort. Resort scavenger hunt timing and availability varies by resort — ask at the front desk for more information.
5. EPCOT Festival Completer Surprises
Each of EPCOT’s four annual festivals includes a sort of culinary scavenger hunt with an edible prize: Emile’s Fromage Montage during the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival, the Wonderful Walk of Colorful Cuisine during the International Festival of the Arts, the Garden Graze during the International Flower & Garden Festival, and the Holiday Cookie Stroll during the International Festival of the Holidays.
To participate, get a stamp in your Festival Passport each time you purchase a menu item from the list of eligible dishes. Once you’ve collected five stamps, you can visit a redemption kiosk for an edible “completer surprise.” Past surprises have ranged from a cookie to a Dole Whip in a souvenir cup.
6. Marshmallow Roasting at Disney Resorts
Many Walt Disney World resorts hold nightly campfires for guests and offer unlimited complimentary marshmallows and provide sticks for roasting. They also sell s’mores kits with chocolate and graham crackers for an extra charge, but if you just want to load up on marshmallows, they’re free!
7. Sample Sodas from Around the World
Sip free samples of sodas and still drinks from across the globe at Club Cool. Located in EPCOT’s World Celebration area, this Coca-Cola shop has a wall of self-serve soda stations where you can fill up sample-size cups with soft drinks from countries like Russia, China and Madagascar. Taste unexpected flavors like sour watermelon, sour plum and Sprite Cucumber.
And make sure you try the most polarizing drink all — Beverly from Italy. Capturing the taster’s reaction to the bitter Italian aperitif has become something of a social media phenomenon, as tasters tend to either love it or (more often than not) hate it, and their expressions don’t lie.
8. First Aid
If you get caught off guard with an unexpected headache, blister, bug bite or other minor ailment, First Aid stations in the theme parks have an arsenal of free single-use remedies like Band-Aids, over-the-counter pain relievers, and even bug bite ointment.
9. Community Hall Activities
Several of Walt Disney World’s Disney Vacation Club Resorts have “Community Halls” — free, air-conditioned spaces that offer games, activities, arts and crafts, books, TV and movies. They’re perfect for a rainy afternoon break from the parks — my kids love to visit and do the free activities like making their own bookmarks and doing coloring pages.
More involved crafts are available for a small fee, such as suncatchers, ceramics, animation cels, mugs, plates, wine glasses and coasters. Note: You don’t need to be a Disney Vacation Club Member to stay at a Disney Vacation Club resort; they are open to all guests for cash bookings as well.
10. Free Disney PhotoPass Downloads from Disney Visa Character Experiences
You do need to be a Disney Visa cardholder to nab this free benefit, but there are two no-fee Disney Visa cards available — the no-annual-fee Disney Visa Credit Card and the Disney Visa Debit Card. Simply show your Disney Visa card to access exclusive character experiences at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These experiences typically have little to no wait, and you’ll get free downloads of your Disney PhotoPass photos from the experience.
11. Free Disney Transportation
free transportation between resorts, hotels and Disney Springs, and while a free bus ride might not sound too exciting, some of Disney’s transportation options are so enjoyable they practically double as rides.
Soar through the skies aboard the Disney Skyliner, a gondola system that connects EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios with several Walt Disney World Resorts. Take in the views around the Seven Seas Lagoon and get an overhead look at EPCOT on the Monorail.
Our favorite Disney transportation method lets you take a sunset water taxi ride from Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort or Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. You’ll get an idyllic evening cruise to one of Disney’s immersive resorts for dinner and a free view of Magic Kingdom’s fireworks.
12. Movies Under the Stars
Walt Disney World Resorts show free Disney movies on giant outdoor screens most evenings (just check the schedule at your resort). Bring a picnic blanket and mobile-order a meal from a nearby quick-service restaurant for an inexpensive dinner and a movie alfresco.
13. Poolside Games and Entertainment
In the afternoons at Disney World Resort pools, Cast Members host daily rounds of games, trivia and other entertainment poolside. Kids who participate and win a round often end up with little prizes like rubber duckies or other small toys to take home.
If you’ve ever been with a kid having a meltdown within earshot of a Cast Member at Disney World, there’s a good chance you’ve witnessed what I jokingly refer to as the “sticker swoop.” Like magic, it seems there’s always a Cast Member with a roll of stickers nearby, at the ready to distract a kiddo who needs a pick-me-up.
No tears are required though — if it’s stickers you’re after, nearly every Cast Member manning a desk or register will have stickers on hand. You can always find plenty of stickers at any Disney Vacation Club kiosk. Stickers often vary by area and park too, so it’s fun to see how many different ones you can collect.
15. Souvenir Autograph Cards
Some guests love to collect autographs during character meet-and-greets, but some characters either aren’t able to sign autographs because of costume limitations or autographs aren’t offered due to time constraints. When this is the case, character attendants will often hand out laminated souvenir autograph cards with character autographs printed on them. Autograph cards are also handed out at some character meals, like breakfast, lunch or dinner with Winnie the Pooh and Friends at The Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom.
16. Live Entertainment from Big-Name Bands and Celebrities
From live music at Disney Springs and acrobats and magicians on Disney’s BoardWalk to a prime view of Magic Kingdom’s fireworks with music piped in on the beach at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, there is free entertainment around every corner across Walt Disney World properties.
In addition to those already mentioned, more of our favorites include seasonal concert series during EPCOT festivals, which regularly bring big-name musical acts to the America Gardens Theatre. This fall, catch acts like Boyz II Men, Air Supply, and Hanson during the Eat to the Beat Concert Series.
During the holidays, EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional features celebrity narrators. This year’s line-up hasn’t been announced yet but last year’s included Josh Gad, Neil Patrick Harris, Angela Bassett and Gloria Estefan.