9 Free or Cheap Things to Do at Disney World Outside the Theme Parks
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Disney World theme park tickets are certainly expensive — but it’s possible to vacation at Walt Disney World without setting foot in a theme park at all. Some of the best free things to do in Orlando exist on Disney’s property.
Walt Disney World in Florida consists of four theme parks and two water parks. Given the substantially greater size of Walt Disney World versus Disneyland, there’s also far more to do in the Florida version.
If you’re seeking ways to spend time on Disney World property without needing a theme park ticket, here are nine ideas of cheap — roughly $30 or less — or even free things to do near Disney World theme parks.
1. Resort hop via the monorail
Most folks think of rides when they think of Disney, and one of the most famous rides, Disney’s monorail, doesn’t even require a ticket. The monorail travels across two routes: The primary route circles the Seven Seas Lagoon, which serves as the foreground of the Magic Kingdom Park. The second route runs between Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center and travels to the Epcot theme park.
To experience both routes, you might start at Epcot (the monorail route beginning here offers slightly better views than riding it the inverse direction). Note that Epcot has two main entrances on opposite sides of the park; you’ll be able to hop on the monorail just outside the gates of the Future World entrance.
Upon arrival at Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center, you can transfer to another line that makes many more stops. They are:
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort.
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Magic Kingdom Park.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Hop off and on at each of the resort stops to explore. Each hotel has a stunning lobby and unique aesthetic. Here’s what you can expect at each resort:
Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
Step off this monorail station and into tropical vibes. If you have time for a full meal, try the noodles served at Ohana, the hotel’s buffet restaurant. Otherwise, don’t leave without tasting a Dole Whip (which is pretty much pineapple soft serve) or an adult drink at Trader Sam’s, a beloved tiki bar.
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
You might catch a pianist tickling the ivories from the lobby of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Sure, the fanciest of folks will fork over the $295 to taste from the prix fixe menu at Victoria & Albert’s, which is Disney’s most premier restaurant and winner of the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award every year since 2000.
But if you’re seeking fancy dining at a more reasonable price point, dine at the “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired Enchanted Rose. The lounge is divided into four spaces themed to the movie, and the menu is mostly French food, including a charcuterie board and croquettes.
Disney's Contemporary Resort
This hotel is perhaps most unique for monorail riders given that the track passes through the hotel and the station is within the lobby.
Check out the 90-foot-tall mural by Disney legend Mary Blair, who is famous for her work designing Disney’s It’s a Small World attraction.
2. Ride the water taxi to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Hop on a water taxi (no tickets required) at Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center or the entrance to the Magic Kingdom Park, and head toward Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
Bask in the six-story lobby of this National Park-inspired resort. Among the wonders inside are two 55-foot-high totem poles and an 82-foot-tall fireplace. There’s a bubbling hot spring inside the lobby that leads outside, eventually turning into a waterfall that spills into the pool. Nearby the pool you’ll also find Fire Rock Geyser, a 120-foot geyser that erupts hourly.
If you’re hungry, the resort’s Whispering Canyon Cafe is a must-visit for its signature, all-you-care-to-enjoy skillets serving Western fare including buttermilk-cheddar biscuits, sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, maple-chipotle barbecue slow-smoked pork ribs and country potatoes. Just be forewarned: The servers at this restaurant have a reputation for sassing customers.
3. Hike, fish and canoe at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
The neighbor to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. The resort is unique in that its “hotel rooms” are private cabins, campsites where you can pitch a tent or hookups for you to roll up in your own recreational vehicle. In fact, RV rental company RVshare said its top RV delivery destination in 2021 was The Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.
There’s no better spot to engage in outdoor, recreational activities — many of which are free (even if you aren’t staying there). They include:
Hiking or jogging: The 3.1-mile path is mostly shaded and easy to find.
Horse riding at Tri-Circle-D Ranch: This stable, located near the resort, is home to the same horses that work for Disney. Anyone can visit the stables during the day — for free — to meet the horses that accompany Cinderella’s carriage and the vehicles that ride down Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A. Visitors who weigh under 80 pounds and are 48 inches tall or less can take a pony ride for less than $10. Everyone else can sign up for 45-minute horseback trail rides at a higher price. Holiday sleigh rides are available seasonally and for an upcharge.
Fishing: Fishing gear like casting rods are available for rent at the Bike Barn (fishing is catch and release only).
Canoeing and kayaking: Rent a watercraft from the Bike Barn for less than $15 per hour.
Biking: Bike rentals start at $9.
4. Shop, dine and play at Disney Springs
It’s not difficult to spend a whole day at Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex. With dozens of restaurants, the area has food options for every palate and price point.
Even if you have no intent to buy anything, many shops are interactive. There are photo opportunities and pleasant views from the rooftop of the Coca-Cola Store, and the larger-than-life Disney Lego models at the Lego Store are museum-worthy. There are also plenty of Disney-themed shops, including The Art of Disney for gallery-style framed prints, DisneyStyle for on-trend fashion, Disney's Candy Cauldron and Disney's Days of Christmas.
If you’re willing to go beyond free or cheap, you might splurge on other higher-cost activities here. Those include going to a performance of a Cirque du Soleil show (it’s Disney themed), riding a vintage Amphicar (a vehicle that can drive on land and float on water), bowling at Splitsville Luxury Lanes, soaring in a tethered, helium balloon or catching a movie at the AMC theater.
5. Dine and dance at Disney’s BoardWalk
While not nearly as large as Disney Springs, another shopping, dining and entertainment area is worth visiting — Disney's BoardWalk. It’s a Coney Island-style boardwalk that frames Disney's BoardWalk Inn hotel, and it’s also walkable from a few resorts, including Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, as well as the Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme parks. It’s also accessible via Disney’s free-to-ride boats or gondola lift (more on that later).
Two highlights are the Atlantic Dance Hall, an adults-only nightclub, and Jellyrolls, an adults-only dueling piano bar (Jellyrolls commands a cover charge).
Though it's not technically on the boardwalk, head across the way to Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and grab ice cream at its retro soda fountain called Beaches & Cream Soda Shop.
Don’t miss the Kitchen Sink, which claims to serve four (but could realistically serve many more) and consists of eight scoops of ice cream loaded with every topping available. It’s all served in a kitchen sink, of course.
6. Sail on the Friendship Launch boats
There are a few different boat rides available on Disney property, but the Friendship Launch boats are some of the most delightful (and free) ways to get around.
One of the boats’ routes operates within Epcot, so that doesn’t fit this guide’s criteria. But the other runs between Epcot and Hollywood Studios — no ticket required — with stops at a few resorts along the way.
7. Take in views on the Skyliner
The Disney Skyliner is an aerial gondola that also connects Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot. The views on the boats are relaxing, but the bird’s-eye views from the Skyliner are unbeatable.
And unlike the boats, the Skyliner branches off to a few different hotels that can be fun to wander, including Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. That resort is an Instagrammer’s dreamscape that can easily be explored via a 1.38-mile, lakeside trail that passes colorful courtyards inspired by movies including “Cars,” “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” Its “Finding Nemo”-inspired Big Blue Pool is the largest pool on property.
You can get on and off at any station (no ticket required), but don’t miss the route between Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney's Riviera Resort for one of the most scenic views.
8. ‘Safari’ at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
You don’t need to pay for a ticket to Disney's Animal Kingdom Park to see live animals. The nearby resort, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, offers views of four savannas that over 30 species of African wildlife, including zebras, giraffes, gazelles, kudu and flamingos, call home.
Head through the lobby to the back patio, where you’ll find rocking chairs and designated animal-viewing platforms to take in the safari animals.
If you’re seeking a refreshment, sip on South African wines at the hotel’s Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar. Or — while not exactly cheap — sample foods you might not necessarily find at home at onsite restaurant Boma. At about $50 per adult for the dinner buffet, Boma has all-you-can-eat African dishes including lamb bobotie, Senegalese Yassa-style salmon, Durban chicken and sweet corn pudding.
9. Watch the fireworks
Some of the best viewing sites of the Magic Kingdom fireworks are outside the confines of the theme park anyway.
The dock of the Transportation and Ticket Center — which is where you’ll find the monorail, many boat departures and many bus lines — provides a pretty epic, free view. Or head back to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and watch the show from the sands of the beach — an itinerary that aligns perfectly with post-fireworks drinks at the onsite tiki bar.
(Top photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)
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