10 Free Things to Do with Kids at Disney World

Dozens of Disney characters, dancers and performers star on parade Photo by Courtesy Disney
By Mary Waring and AJ Wolfe
www.wejustgotback.com


There are times when it makes a lot of sense to visit Disney World without a ticket. Perhaps your flight arrives in Orlando late in the day, or your departing flight takes off after midday. Without buying a ticket for an extra day, you can score a lot of free fun at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Two Disney World experts— Mary Waring of MouseSavers.com and AJ Wolfe of www.disneyfoodblog.com—share their favorite experiences that are possible without theme park tickets.

Tip: If you're entering by car through the Magic Kingdom entry booth in order to visit the Magic Kingdom resorts, join the line on the right and let the attendants know that you're visiting the resorts, not the theme parks. You will not have to pay a parking fee.

Photo Caption: Dozens of Disney characters, dancers and performers on parade
Lego dragon in the Downtown Disney lake outside the Lego store. Photo by Chad Martin
This shopping and restaurant zone is perfect for a family stroll. While in Downtown Disney, check out the interactive fountains where children may enjoy playing and getting wet.

Crazy about LEGOs? The LEGO Imagination Center has a free 3,000-square-foot outdoor play area filled with thousands of LEGO blocks, plus huge LEGO sculptures for you to admire. There are also free magic demonstrations at the Magic Masters shop.

Photo Caption: A LEGO dragon in the Downtown Disney lake outside the LEGO store.
The charm and flavor of the 1930s Mid-Atlantic coast is recaptured at Disney's BoardWalk. Photo by Courtesy Disney
Disney's BoardWalk, built along the edge of a lake, is reminiscent of Cape May or Coney Island in the 1930s. It's fun to walk around and enjoy the old-fashioned atmosphere, and kids will love checking out their reflections in the funhouse mirrors.

In the evenings, you can enjoy street performers such as jugglers, comedians, fire-eaters, and jazz ensembles.

Photo Caption: The charm and flavor of the 1930s Mid-Atlantic coast is recaptured at Disney's BoardWalk.
A special-themed swimming pool is the centerpiece of Disney's All-Star Music Resort. Photo by Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resorts
If you're looking for a fun photo opportunity, consider visiting one of Disney's Value Resorts: All-Star Sports, All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, Pop Century, or the Art of Animation Resort. Each of these hotels features enormous models of pop culture icons. Take a family photo in front of a 35-foot Buzz Lightyear at All-Star Movies, with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head at Pop Century, or in a mock-up of Radiator Springs from Cars at the Art of Animation.

Just tell the gate attendants that you'd like to visit the resort, and they'll give you a free three-hour parking permit.

Photo Caption: A special-themed swimming pool is the centerpiece of Disney's All-Star Music Resort.
Getting around Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is a snap thanks to monorails, boats and motorcoaches free to guests. Photo by Courtesy Disney
There is no charge to ride, and you can get a bird's-eye view of the Magic Kingdom. You can even ride up front with the monorail driver if you ask the cast member at the gate. Usually the drivers are very friendly and will give kids a special certificate.

Photo Caption: Getting around Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is a snap thanks to monorails, boats and motorcoaches free to guests.
Guests can gather 'round the campfire, roast marshmallows, make S'mores and sing songs at Chip n Dale's Campfire Sing-a-Long at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Photo by Courtesy Disney
This rollicking outdoor event is the perfect place to unwind. Located at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, the evening includes a sing-a-long around the campfire (marshmallow roasting kits are available for a fee), followed by an under-the-stars screening of a kid-friendly Disney film.

The campfire usually begins around 7:30pm when Chip 'n Dale stop by. This is one of the only places in Disney World to hang out with characters for free.

Photo Caption: Guests can gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows, make s'mores, and sing songs at Chip 'n Dale's Campfire Sing-a-Long at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
Vivid colors and visual effects will tell a thrilling story headlined by fairies and pirates during the Summer Nightastic! Fireworks Spectacular at Walt Disney World Resort. Photo by Courtesy Disney
Seeing the Magic Kingdom's fireworks display is a rite of passage for Disney World guests, but you don't need to fight the crowds (or pay to get into a theme park) to catch a great view. Bring a picnic to the beach at Disney's Polynesian Resort, relax in a hammock, and catch the brilliant fireworks show from across the lake. You'll have a full, clear view of the entire show unfolding over Cinderella Castle.

Remember: Parking at Disney's Polynesian Resort is free if you let the attendant know you'd like to explore the hotel.

Photo Caption: Vivid colors and visual effects will tell a story headlined by fairies and pirates during the Summer Nightastic! Fireworks Spectacular at Walt Disney World Resort.
Walt Disney World Resort is filled with "hidden" Mickeys - silhouettes and abstract images of Mickey Mouse hidden across the Vacation Kingdom. Photo by Courtesy Disney
Disney's Imagineers have a fun tradition of incorporating "hidden" Mickey Mouse head silhouettes into their designs and construction. Disney's Wilderness Lodge has a special self-guided Hidden Mickey hunt available to everyone. Just stop at the front desk and ask for the paper describing the clues for the hunt, then spend an afternoon exploring the hotel and searching for the famous mouse.

While you're there, be sure to stop by Fire Rock Geyser down by Bay Lake to see it erupt on the hour. Again, parking is free at the resort.

Photo Caption: Walt Disney World Resort is filled with "hidden" Mickeys -- silhouettes and abstract images of Mickey Mouse hidden across the Vacation Kingdom.
Giraffes and other exotic animals at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge bring the excitement and splendor of an African wildlife reserve to Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista. Photo by Gene Duncan/Disney
Head straight through the lobby of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Arusha savanna, where cultural guides will answer all of your questions about the giraffe, zebra, ankole cattle, kudu, and other incredible animals you'll see. The Animal Kingdom Lodge also has seated and covered viewing areas throughout the hotel. Bring binoculars if you have them.

Tip: Visit early morning or at dusk, when the animals are most active.

Photo Caption: Giraffes and other exotic animals at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge bring the excitement and splendor of an African wildlife reserve to Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista.
In Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, diners are treated to a restaurant   Sanaa   where the menu reflects the art of African cooking with Indian flavors. Photo by David Roark/Disney
Also at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, the three restaurants—Jiko, Boma, and Sanaa—offer an array of African and Indian dishes. To help folks feel comfortable with trying new tastes and flavors, the restaurants offer pre-dinner tasting tours featuring samples of their dishes. To tour Boma and Jiko, meet at the Jiko podium at 4pm; to tour Sanaa, meet at the Sanaa podium at 4pm.

Who knows? This might be a great way to help your picky eater open up to new possibilities.

Photo Caption: In Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, diners are treated to a restaurant Sanaa where the menu reflects the art of African cooking with Indian flavors.
The founders of Celebration started down a path of research, study, discovery and enlightenment that resulted in one of the most innovative communities in Orlando. Photo by Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.
Just a 10-minute drive from Disney World is the town of Celebration, a planned community originally developed by the Walt Disney Company. This is a pedestrian-friendly, very tidy Mayberry-style small town. Explore the old-fashioned downtown area called Market Street, which has different events scheduled each month, such as craft festivals and antique car shows.

Visiting in December? Celebration hosts an evening event called Now Snowing Nightly, which features a snowfall four times a night on the hour between 6pm and 9pm. The town provides entertainment; kids can even visit Santa in his lakeside chalet, all for free.

Mary Waring is the editor of the Disney deal-finding site MouseSavers.com (www.mousesavers.com), and AJ Wolfe writes the unofficial Disney food review site The Disney Food Blog (www.disneyfoodblog.com). WeJustGotBack.com is an award-winning family travel site.

Photo Caption: The founders of Celebration started down a path of research, study, discovery, and enlightenment that resulted in one of the most innovative communities in Orlando.
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