How to Do Disney World for Free (or Very Little Money)

Updated on April 30, 2020
You can have fun at Walt Disney World, saving money and avoiding crowds, by taking advantage of activities outside of the parks.
You can have fun at Walt Disney World, saving money and avoiding crowds, by taking advantage of activities outside of the parks. | Source

How many times have you been to Disney?

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Growing Up in a Disney Family

My dad has two big sisters. One has her name inscribed on a cobblestone in front of the Magic Kingdom. The other has a time share in the Disney Vacation Club. I'm pretty sure they both have annual passes to Walt Disney World. When it comes to Disney, they know EVERYTHING.

I have been to Disney World more times than probably most of my friends combined. But the thing is, just because I'm staying in Disney World, doesn't mean I'm going into the parks. Most of the time, we don't go into the parks. The tickets have literally doubled in price since the first time I can remember going to Disney, and it's not cheap.

I love Disney, and sometimes I would totally dish out the money to go in the park. But here's the thing...once you've crossed under the threshold of the "Welcome to Walt Disney World Resort" sign, you have entered a magic kingdom, where anything can be yours. least, you are entitled to take advantage of all the magic Disney has to offer.

Let me give you some examples.

Earn a $50 Gift Card

Look for a Disney Vacation Club booth at the parks, Disney Springs, or one of the hotel lobbies. If you sign up for a DVC preview, you will get a $50 gift card to use anywhere at Disney. You will also get a few extra fast passes, and an ice cream sundae! It will take about

1-1 1/2 hrs.

You can ride the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, through Epcot, or to the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian and the Contemporary Resorts.
You can ride the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, through Epcot, or to the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian and the Contemporary Resorts. | Source

The Monorail

The monorail is one of my favorite things in Disney World. When I was a little kid, I thought it was so cool that you could get on a ride at Disney without even going into the parks. Actually, I still think it's cool! Tired of walking in the hot sun? Hop on the monorail.

There are three monorail lines through Disney World, all of which can be accessed at the Transportation Station near the Magic Kingdom. From there you can board an express monorail, which will take you straight to the Magic Kingdom and back, zipping through the Contemporary Resort on the way. Not the monorail you want to be on if you are actually trying to end up at the resort.

But no worries, you can just jump off at the Magic Kingdom and skip across to the monorail on the other side and it will take you right back where you want to go. The resort monorail goes from the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Resort, and the Grand Floridian Resort, before circling back around the lake to the Magic Kingdom. It is a beautiful ride at sunset.

View from the monorail of the sunset and the Grand Floridian
View from the monorail of the sunset and the Grand Floridian | Source

Riding the Rails

My family loves to ride the monorail to each of the three resorts and explore the different lobbies. When Disney decorates, they go all out. At the Polynesian Resort, you feel like you are in a jungle. At the Contemporary, in a modern art museum. At the Grand Floridian, you feel you are of the highest class, a member of high Victorian society, with servants and waiters at your beck and call.

Even the pools are decked out, and it's fun to just walk around the different hotels and enjoy the scenery.

And while we're at it, we take our collection of Disney pins to trade. You can get a starter set of pins for a pretty affordable price, and then you can trade any of them for any pins found on a Disney staff member or on a resort's "pin board." Just go to the desk and ask to see their pin board. It's fun and free, as long as you have some pins.

The beach behind the Grand Floridian Resort
The beach behind the Grand Floridian Resort | Source
Themed pool at a Walt Disney World Resort
Themed pool at a Walt Disney World Resort | Source
Not all pin boards are so nicely organized. It's a scavenger hunt to find the ones that you think are cool.
Not all pin boards are so nicely organized. It's a scavenger hunt to find the ones that you think are cool. | Source

My parents like to pretend that they are guests in the Grand Floridian, so they take their trusty Disney mugs, fill them up in the restaurant, and chill in the lobby. What's that? What is a trusty Disney mug, and how can I get one? I'm glad you asked.

An activated Disney mug can be filled up any time, anywhere.
An activated Disney mug can be filled up any time, anywhere. | Source

If you go to any food court at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you will see stacks of different mugs. They are equipped with a microchip in the bottom of the cup that needs to be activated in order for the pop (or as most of you call it, soda) machines to work. You can pay to activate if for as long as you would like, for your whole trip or just part of it.

Once you have activated your mug, the world is yours. Meaning you can be like my parents and take your fancy schmancy mug to the lobby of a fancy schmancy resort and pretend you are staying there. Or you can just travel around to enjoy the different atmospheres, and when you get thirsty on your venture, fill up your mug. If your mug is activated, you can refill it as many times as you would like at any of the Disney resorts.

Enjoying the scenery in the Disney Resort Lobbies: Life-size Gingerbread House
Enjoying the scenery in the Disney Resort Lobbies: Life-size Gingerbread House | Source
A porch scene on the Disney gingerbread house
A porch scene on the Disney gingerbread house | Source
"Good day to you, sir!"
"Good day to you, sir!" | Source

Alternative Modes of Transportation: The Disney Boats

After exploring the resorts along the monorail route, there are many more to be discovered by riding the boats around the Disney waterways. Especially nice on those hot Florida days, a breezy ride around the water may be just the thing to take a load off your feet and help you regain your energy. Trust me, I know how draining vacation can be.

The boats will take you to different resorts around the lake.
The boats will take you to different resorts around the lake. | Source

Steamboat Willy

If you take the monorail back to the Contemporary Resort, there is a dock there with boats that travel between the Contemporary, the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. The Wilderness Lodge is an especially neat place to explore because every hour, "Old Faithful," a geyser imitating the one in Yellowstone National Park shoots off.

There are other lakes and other boats for explorers to discover. Any resort that's located on the water should have boat transportation. And to get to different resorts not accessible by your current boat, take a bus to any theme park gate or Disney Springs, and take another bus to the resort to which you are trying to get.

A reflection of a Disney boat on the water.
A reflection of a Disney boat on the water. | Source

Back to the Future

Back on the monorail, don't forget that this futuristic train travels right through the heart of the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. Better known as EPCOT. The ride offers great views of the park during the day, but for the best experience, ride it at night.

About 9:00 every night, there are firework shows across the kingdoms. If you are in the right spot at the right time, you can get a great view of these shows without paying a dime.

One of my favorite Disney memories is riding the Epcot monorail through the park right as the grand finale of their firework show was lighting up the sky. I only saw the lasers and sparks for a moment, but it was a magical moment. Seriously.

So keep track of your time, and board the Epcot monorail (which you can find at the Transportation Station) just before 9:00. Keep riding until you have seen one of the most incredible firework shows ever explode in your window.

View of EPCOT from the monorail
View of EPCOT from the monorail | Source

Free Fireworks

Fireworks can also be viewed from the monorails around the Magic Kingdom, but if you want to stand in one place (and perhaps hear the sound of soft waves lapping against the sand while you watch), stop at one of the resorts near the Magic Kingdom. The fireworks are huge, and can be seen from all around the area.

I watched a show from the poolside at the Contemporary Resort, on the opposite side of the Magic Kingdom. For an even better view, there is an observation deck outside of the fourth floor, by the monorail stop. Or relax on the beach at the Grand Floridian and look up. How romantic!

Magic Kingdom fireworks, viewed from the pool at the Contemporary Resort.
Magic Kingdom fireworks, viewed from the pool at the Contemporary Resort. | Source

The Water Parade

**Unfortunately, the water parade is no longer at Walt Disney World Resort. But you can check with your resort when you get there about the activities they have scheduled that week such as free movies or marshmallow roasting.**

Before the evening ends, any resort on the lakes around the Magic Kingdom are treated to another show of lights on the water. Little boats travel around to each different resort and light up, complete with fun Disney music.

Check with the concierge for specific times. It is different for each resort.

A float in Disney's water parade
A float in Disney's water parade | Source

A Few More Things

It must have been a long day of exploring and firework watching. But if you're looking for a little night life (or if you get bored during the day), Disney has several options.

Disney Springs is free to get into and has a section of shopping and dining and a section of entertainment. Of course, you'll have to spend money once you get there, but it's cheaper than going into a park, and there is still plenty to see without buying much.

If you're feeling nostalgic, what better place to spend the night than on Disney's Boardwalk? There are stores open there during the day, but at night it really lights up! Games, jugglers, food stands, and a dance hall.

Something delicious in the Boardwalk Bakery.
Something delicious in the Boardwalk Bakery. | Source
The Boardwalk at Disney.
The Boardwalk at Disney. | Source
The dance hall at Disney's Boardwalk, with the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in the background.
The dance hall at Disney's Boardwalk, with the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in the background. | Source

The Happiest Place on Earth

It may be a tad expensive, but Disney World is supposedly the "happiest place on earth," and I couldn't agree more. Just being on Disney property brings out a childish spirit and a magical feeling in all of us! So plan a trip to Disney, and enjoy as much of it as you can, while paying as little as you have to.

Questions & Answers

  • Where can I buy mugs for our trip in Feb?

    You can buy mugs at the cafeteria at any of the resorts.


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    • profile image


      14 months ago

      I've had character breakfast st Contemporary and Ohana but never thought to visit other resorts. I'll change that next week since I want to eat at Fort Wilderness. Thanks for very helpful information.

    • jjheathcoat profile image

      JJ Heathcoat 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Absolutely great article. The last time I went to a Disney resort I was 4. Suffice to say I remember very little of the experience. When my daughter is a little older I'd love to take her. (She's absolutely obsessed with Mickey Mouse!) I'll definitely have to bookmark this for future use!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      I would love to see Disney World, my sister-in-law has been there while on holiday there and has nothing but praise about it, I actually envy her as she is lucky, we live in NZ, I can't see myself ever going there, but I enjoyed the walk through Disney World with your interesting photos. Thanks for sharing them.

      Congratulations for HOTD.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD!! Very interesting perspective.

      I've been to the Disneyland in California, exactly 3 times.

      The first time, with a girlfriend upon our high school graduation.

      The second time, on my belated honeymoon with first husband (when our first child was 4 months old; left her with the in-laws)

      And the last time, back in about 1978 when I took my own two kids on a western-states driving vacation, ending at Disneyland.

      Back then, it was still affordable. Now, my husband and I see the TV ads for "only $1200 for a family of four," and we look at each other, stunned, and say, " 'Only' does NOT belong in the same sentence with that amount of money!"

      He and I would like to go again someday, but at those prices, we don't see it happening on our current fixed income.

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • Adam Allcroft profile image

      Adam Allcroft 

      5 years ago from Sheffield

      I love Disneyworld and reading this brought back a lot of good memories. Heck, Orlando is just brilliant because it isn't just Disney if you want a break from it. I loved Sea World, though the film Blackfish has soured the taste of that trip.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      5 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      Congratulations on the hub of the day! This is a very useful advice and good information. Thanks for sharing.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great tips Julia. And congratulations on the HOTD. I'll remember this on our next trip to DW.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      I have been to Epcot only, and would love to go back to Disneyworld. We were short on time there, and it was years ago. I am more familiar with Disneyland in Southern California, which I love so much. I am sure they are pretty similar. Thanks for sharing, and the ideas on minimizing expenses are so great, because price can be such a hindrance for people. Thank you!

    • Joyfulcrown profile image


      5 years ago

      I love Disney World. I grew up about 4 hours away so I got to go often. I am on the west coast now. I've been to Disney Land but its just not the same.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      What great ideas! I think it may be a little difficult to skirt around Disney with children but this is certainly an excellent idea for adults and an excellent HOTD.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      It looks wonderful. We might go later this year, I have saved your tip top hub. Thank you.

      voted up and all.


    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Lots of great info. I live in Orlando and didn't know half of this. You didn't mention parking.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      5 years ago from Chicago Area

      I have a friend who is heading to Disney today! She loves it there and will be tweeting her a link to your post. Congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      5 years ago

      I think you have done a real service here for parents with young children. Good job!

    • eilval profile image


      5 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      The Theme Parks are indeed magical and brought back memories . Informative hub . Congrats on HOTD !

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      5 years ago from West By God

      When I loved in Deltona, Florida, we had a friend that lived with us for a few and we got in for free a couple of times. My husband, at the time, aslo worked for Universal Studios and we got into that for free many times.

      Congrats for the HOTD! Thank goodness you hub is a recent one.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Congrats on HOTD! I live in S. Florida and I remember well when word got out that Walt Disney planned this huge park near Orlando. My Hubby and I laughed and said who in the world would go to a place that far out in boonies! Walt was a pretty smart man!

      One of my daughters worked at Disney while she attended college in Orlando. She was one of the dwarfs.

      Great Hub with good info about one of my favorite places. Voted UP etc.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Your description of the theme park makes me want to plan another Florida vacation. We lived there for years, in fact, during the time that the park was first built around 1971 and have been there countless times since then. Whenever people came to visit us, they naturally wanted to go to Disney World. When we go there now that we live out of state, we divide our time between the different parks with a day of rest in between.

    • mySuccess8 profile image


      5 years ago

      I love the magical Disney theme parks, and have visited Disneyland in 2 different countries. Because queuing time for rides can be long, one has to also take into consideration the size of crowds when selecting and planning the best time to visit the park or each attraction. I haven’t been to Disney World, but with its much larger size and more attractions, you have given great tips on planning my Disney World vacation. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I love this write up and photos. Makes one want to go there! Thanks for your good work at sharing the magic.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This was a very informative hub. I have been to some of the places you mentioned. Disney World is an incredible place! Yet it can be very expensive, so thanks for the info.

    • RoddyJDryer profile image

      Roddy J Dryer 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      To add to my other point, cast members can be bartered with, but let's just keep that between us...

      Those from Universal and so forth often swapped tix with Disney folks. It isn't as easy as it used to be for Disney Cast Members because many privileges have been abused, but I know tix trade out a lot for, oh, help with things like repairs or other valuable aspects of knowledge.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I worked at Disney for nearly 12 years and my wife still does. In fact, she was on the opening crew for Epcot. So, I can attest this was quite helpful to offer as a potential day of fun on little money.

      Plus, allow me to one-up and state that if you can do these things often enough, try to befriend a cast member who can offer their benefit of getting friends in to the parks.


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