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101 Frugal Disney Tips ~ Activities, Sites and Entertainment

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101 Frugal Disney Tips ~ Activities, Sites and Entertainment

101 Frugal Disney Tips

Disney is one of our favorite places and we’ve also just become Disney Vacation Club Members.  I’ve compiled a list of frugal Disney tips to help your family save money and enjoy the Disney experience to the fullest.  There are tips, activity ideas and must see items.  Some of these are inside the park and do require park admission.  Not all of them are free but I tried to stick with reasonable cost items. Keep in mind, Disney may change any of these at anytime.   Thanks to some of my great readers for their help compiling these.

  1. We love staying at the Fort Wilderness campground.  Each camp site allows 2 tents with up to 10 people. If you travel with another family you can split the cost of a site.  Plus, you can cook your own meals on the campground. They do not allow campfires, but a charcoal grill is on each site.
  2. Take a soft cooler into the park with drinks and snacks to save on food purchases. Here is a previous video I did on Disney Savings.  We always take waters, PB&J’s and trail mix with plenty of snacks.   Sharie says, “When we stay down there for a weekend I pack the jogging stroller basket with apples, granola bars and bottles of water to limit our trips to the restaurants.”   The  Picnic Time Zuma Insulated Cooler Backpack is our favorite and we freeze water bottles the day before.  These act as ice packs and nice refreshing drinks when they melt. (Karen).
  3. Share meals while you are there.  If you have snacks with you, you may not be that hungry for a meal and sometimes they are bigger than the kids will finish anyway. ~ Melissa
  4. Stick spray bottle in the freezer with ice water in it for about an hour before you hit the parks — it’s nice to have the spray bottle with COLD water for spraying yourself off with! ~ Melissa
  5. Many of the resorts, including Fort Wilderness and Saratoga Springs offer free outdoor movies. You can check your resort for schedules.  Our favorite is Fort Wilderness because there are fire pits to make smores and there are Disney Characters there before the movie. There are also ‘smores kits’ available for purchase or you can bring your own supplies. ~ Suz
  6. Instead of buying the autograph book and pen that is overpriced, use a park map and a sharpie for the characters to sign.  Ask them to sign in their favorite place in the park on the map.  We did this at Chef Mickey with the Magic Kingdom map and it worked out perfect ~ Sharie
  7. While visiting Disney take the kids to the Largest McDonald’s in Florida located at Sand Lake and International Drive, It is a Bistro McDonald’s so you can get a nice breakfast there with some pretty decent coffee and stuffed waffles for the kids (we had these the last time we were there). It has a large play yard and it is right in the middle of the I-drive so you can walk up or down the road and see many different attractions right around you. ~ Evans S.
  8. Park for free at Downtown Disney and take buses to the parks, saves money and gives you dining, drinking and shopping options later. ~ Chris S.
  9. If you are traveling with young children who cannot ride certain rides yet, make sure you get a ‘switch pass’ from the Disney employee at the stand by line.  Part of your family waits in the standby line to ride, then when you come back, you can use that pass for up to 3 people in your party to use the fastpass lane.  We do this a lot when our daughter is scared of a ride.  One of us waits with her, while the other rides with our son.  Then when we are done, we switch and the other adult takes our son back on the ride.  Our son gets the best of this deal!
  10. If you’re staying at Disney Resort, consider purchasing the resort refillable mugs.  It’s a nice souvenir and you can refill them your entire stay.
  11. Each day, one of the parks opens 1 hour early or stays open late just for resort guests!  This is what Disney calls Extra Magic Hours.  For example, we chose to go to Magic Kingdom on Sunday, because they stayed open till 1am for resort guests.  We like to hang at the pool in the morning, then take an afternoon nap.  We arrive at the park around dinner time.  Everyone is refreshed, and ready to play.  The crowds are slightly smaller and the sun is going down.  Remember to bring  your resort key card for every member of your family.  After regular closing hours, they only let resort guests on the rides.  You must show your card to the employees before getting in line.  For us the lines have never been over 20 minutes, except for Space Mountain.
  12. Check your resort for movie rentals you can rent for $3 each (free for DVC Members).  The resort rooms usually have a DVD player in them.
  13. When you are staying at the Disney Resorts DVC Members (Disney Vacation Club) can pool hop to any of the other Disney resort pools.  There are some exclusion dates for popular dates, but check with your resort.  It’s a great way to see other resorts and experience new kid play areas and slides!
  14. The Community Hall at Saratoga Springs has complimentary ping-pong, Foosball, arts and crafts, video games, board games and more.  With your Key to the World card, you can also check out complimentary basketballs and tennis and shuffleboard equipment for use at the sport courts, plus grilling tools for the charcoal barbecue pavilions near the quiet pools.  Several resorts have the Community Centers, so ask when you check in. 
  15. View the Electrical Water Pageant for free weather permitting) at resorts along the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake: Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
  16. Visit the Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness and see the famous Main Street Clydesdale’s and other breeds for free.
  17. Share accommodations with another family or grandparents.  Sometimes getting a 2 bedroom is less expensive than 2 separate 1 bedrooms.  Or even local home rentals and include a private pool can be cheaper.
  18. Get a room with a kitchen or kitchenette so you can do some cooking in your room. You’ll save on meals this way. Or ask if they serve a free breakfast.
  19. Many budget hotels on the outskirts of the park offer free transportation to the parks.  We’ve stayed at a few that were walking distance from Downtown Disney and you can take buses from there to any of the parks or resorts.
  20. Check to see if the place you’re staying has a Laundromat or in room washer and dryers.  This will save you from packing more than you need.
  21. If your family wants to do a character meal, schedule it during breakfast or lunch when the rates are cheaper.  This is a great time to get autographs and pictures with characters.   We’ve done the Tusker house inside Animal Kingdom and it’s a buffet.  So make that your ‘large’ meal of the day and snack later.
  22. Ice Water is free in the parks at the quick service restaurants.
  23. Look at Orlando Walgreens,  and dollar stores and more for less expensive Disney souvenirs.  Even Publix locations have Disney gear!
  24. Take your own photos instead of the Disney employees doing it for you.  While taking the pictures is free, you have to pay to order them.  Spot another family taking pictures and offer to take one for them, inevitably they will return the favor.  We made taking family photos a bit of fun by encouraging the kids to find crazy and fun locations to do them in.  Like my son pretending to feed the ducks by a sign that says, “please do not feed the ducks”.  Enjoying a sense of humor with my kids is priceless.
  25. Buy Disney lanyards and trading pins on ebay.
  26. Another cheap souvenir and collection idea is the penny press machines ($.51) and then you can buy a book to keep the collection in. My kids LOVE those machines and we do them EVERYWHERE we go! ~ Melissa
  27. If you have AAA, check with them for resort, car rental or ticket discounts.
  28. Catch some of the theater shows inside the parks.  They are air-conditioned and a great place to relax for a while and some are even dark enough to get a little one to sleep for a bit.
  29. View the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian resort.  The music is piped into speakers around the resort.
  30. Downtown Disney has a stage where there are free performances. Last time were were there they had dance teams performing.  Nice entertainment and free, includes seating for those that need a rest.
  31. In addition to the tip above, we enjoyed all the extra musicians around Downtown Disney during St. Patricks Day weekend.  Check these out on specials weekends and events.
  32. Visit the Lego store in Downtown Disney.  They have an outside play area that is great to entertain the kids (and adults) for a while.
  33. Take a free boat ride from Downtown Disney to several Disney locations.  Great way to see the property and fun for the kids. (Free)
  34. Another boat option is the friendship boats that sail around Crescent Lake between Epcot and Hollywood Studios, with stops at the Swan and Dolphin, the Yacht/Beach Club, and the Boardwalk.
  35. There are two boats that sail around the lake in front of the Magic Kingdom. One loop goes past the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness, and the other visits the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom.  Any of the Disney Resorts are worth checking out and touring.
  36. In addition to pool hopping, you can park hop.  I mean the kids parks..with swings and slides!  Check out the resorts that have them, and enjoy an adventure.
  37. The Grand Floridian lobby features an enormous gingerbread house with a gift shop inside, during the Holidays.
  38. Avoid purchasing the high priced light up toys during the night festivities at the park by purchasing your own at Target or other outside the park stores.
  39. Disney resorts also offer free pool activities for kids.  Check the resort schedules.  Keep in mind some of these do have an additional cost, like t-shirt tidying.  Stick to the free ones, like hoola hoop contests!
  40. Visit the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  This is a totally free must-see. You don’t need to stay at this resort to enjoy it’s beauty and the culture it represents. This resort boasts one of the largest collections of African art in the world and most of it can be enjoyed up close and personal. Take the tour and enjoy the Savannah viewing area.
  41. Animal Kingdom Lodge has a Hidden Mickey Tour. Ask for the list. If you find them all you get a neat “freebie”.
  42. Celebrating a birthday at Disney?  Be sure to visit guest services at the resorts or parks so your special person can get a Birthday button and run recognition from the park employees.  An employee told us to wear it our entire vacation, not just the actual BIRTHday.  This can be for any occasion from a first visit to an anniversary.
  43. My son had on his Birthday Button while we ate at Planet Hollywood.  The waitress submitted his name and a Happy Birthday, Disney Style, showed up on the many screens in the restaurant.
  44.  As you tour the world pavilions in Epcot look for the Kidcot stations sponsored by Sharpie. Each station provides a make-and-take craft for the kids representing that country. At the end of their trip around the world, your kids have a totally free, totally cool Epcot souvenir that they made themselves.  A great way to learn and make it fun for the kids.
  45. Dine at the Whispering Canyon Cafe inside the Wilderness Lodge.  Not it’s not free but the staff offer fun entertainment while you eat. Be careful asking for ketchup, as you just might end up with every bottle in the joint, on YOUR table. (reservations are recommended)
  46. Take the free Garden tour at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort.
  47. Look for clearance Items inside the Disney gift shops.  They do not usually have a ‘clearance section’. You’ll have to look at the tags for a clearance sticker.
  48. Attend the seasonal Lady Bug release at the Polynesian Resort.
  49. Resort guests get free transportation to and from the airport.
  50. Take the kids on a monorail ride.  It’s free and a great way to relax in air condition and do some exploring.
  51. Club Cool (formerly Ice Station Cool) is an attraction located in the Innovations Pavilion at Epcot that allows people to cool off and drink complimentary Coca-Cola soft drinks from around the world.
  52. Stroll through the Boardwalk,  located in the Epcot resort area.  There are shops, places to eat and free entertainment during certain times.
  53. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is very popular – but check the barber shop on main street for a most cost effective Disney experience.  Cost for a haircut is $19 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Colored hair gel, $5. Beard and mustache trims are $10. “First Haircuts” is the establishment’s specialty and the  kiddos get extra special treatment.   They give you a certificate to commemorate the date, a lock of baby’s hair for you to cherish, and a pair of pint sized mouse ears with the words “First Haircut” embroidered on the back! I do believe you have to make reservations now.
  54. You can get a free autographed picture of your favorite Disney character. Just send a letter to:Walt Disney Company ATTN: Fan Mail Department 500 S. Buena Vista Street Burbank, CA 91521Include the name of your favorite Disney character and the address you want the autographed photo mailed to. Do this far in advance so your picture arrives in time. Pack it up and ‘surprise’ the kids with an arrival gift!
  55. If you go to Downtown Disney pack a change of clothes or bathing suits for the kids.  There is a play area where water fountains out of the pavement.  Little kiddos LOVE playing in water and it’s free entertainment.
  56. Create scavenger hunts for the kids with things like, “Find a hat with Goofy on it”. Then the kids can take pictures with the hat on for a memory.  It gives them fun things to do while you are there and it’s free entertainment.  Use your imagination and have fun with it.
  57. If you are flying, consider shipping items like bottled water or diapers directly to the hotel.  In many cases this is cheaper than paying an extra baggage fee.  Contact your resort to see if they charge a fee for this service.
  58. Consider using an outside company such as MagicStrollers.com to rent your stroller.  In many cases the prices are better and they also deliver to the resort for you the day of your arrival and pick it up for you the day of your departure.
  59. Disney used to offer free dining options during off season times of the year.  I have hear they are significantly reducing this, but look into it before you travel. It could save you hundreds and help you pick dates to travel.
  60. Remember this is Florida, so sun is abundant and the mosquitoes can be also.  Buy your sunscreen and bug spray ahead of time and keep with you.  It’s much cheaper than having to buy it on site.
  61. It’s also a good idea to pick up a few ponchos from the Dollar Store before your trip and keep them with you.  Afternoon showers in Florida are a daily occurrence during some months.  Melissa says a couple spare trash bags are good to bring to cover strollers in case of rain.
  62. If you want to dress your kids in princess or pirate gear, buy them in advance from local thrift stores or off ebay.
  63. Melissa share this great Disney World Vacation Ultimate Packing Check list.  A wonderful resource so you don’t forget anything.
  64. Located near the train station in Storybook Circus, Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station is a circus-themed water play zone where children can cool off  in the heart of New Fantasyland (Inside Magic Kingdom). Might want to bring a change of clothes. 🙂
  65. Try the Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World showcase adventure in Epcot. First, visit a recruitment center at Odyssey Bridge, Norway Pavilion, Italy Pavilion or near the International Gateway to receive your assignment and pick up an interactive handheld device that will guide you on your mission.
  66. While at Magic Kingdom, try Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.  Join Merlin’s elite squadron of apprentice sorcerers at the Firehouse on Main Street, U.S.A. or behind the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square, where you’ll be given all the tools you’ll need to help you on your quest.  Complete as many missions as you want.  This is included in your theme park admission.
  67. Enchanted Tales with Belle in Fantasyland (Magic Kingdom).  A storytelling experience where you might be chosen to participate in the story.
  68. Meet the Disney Princesses at Town Square Theater.  Check the site for schedules.
  69. If you are visiting Magic Kingdom, the Main Street Electrical Parade is NOT to be missed!  It’s my very favorite parade and it’s not in the heat of the Florida sun.
  70. Find Princess Jasmine and Aladdin in an oasis at the edge of the Morocco Pavilion while you’re in Epcot.
  71. Meet Ariel at her Grotto in Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom.
  72. Meet Aurora or Belle in the France Pavilion in Epcot. Meet Mulan in China in Epcot.
  73. Meet Meridian at Fairytale Garden in the Magic Kingdom.
  74. Meet Pocahontas in Animal Kingdom near Bradley Falls.  For more Character sightings, go here.
  75. You can fish in any water [canal, lake] but you can not fish off the docks because of the foot traffic.  Buy your bait at Walmart before you go fishing.  Buying it on site will cost you more. All fishing at Walt Disney World Resort is catch-and-release only.
  76. The Dapper Dans performances on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom are a site you won’t want to miss.  When my son had on his Birthday Button one visit, they spotted it and broke out into “Happy Birthday”.  Talk about making a kid feel special.
  77. If you’re near the Disney Boardwalk, peek in at the ESPN Club and you might catch a live interview with a celebrity athlete at one of these high-spirited sports-radio talk shows.
  78. Catch the US Flag lowering each day in the Magic Kingdom on Main street.  Pledge allegiance and hear patriotic songs as the flag is lowered, folded and a special Guest is selected to participate.
  79. If you are visiting Disney during the Holidays and you’ll be in Hollywood Studios, be sure to stay for the Osborne Spectacle of Lights.  It’s free with park admission and a NOT to be missed event.
  80. Play some family basketball while staying at any of the 5 resorts that have courts. Equipment and access to basketball courts are complimentary to Guests staying at select Walt Disney World Resort hotels and can be obtained using a valid Resort ID.
  81. While it’s not exactly frugal, if you need a romantic evening with your spouse check out one of the 5 Children’s Activity Centers can be found at 5 convenient locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort.  An hourly rate is charged per child.  Pamper yourself at Mandara Spa or dine at Shula’s Steak HouseTodd English’s bluezoo or Il Mulino New York Trattoria and receive up to 2 hours at Camp Dolphin free!
  82. There are several Jogging trails on Disney properties.  Ask your Resort for a map.
  83. Fort Wilderness has pony rides.  My kids have done this and it’s a cute little figure eight patter they follow.  There is a $5 fee but it was totally worth it for my kiddos.
  84. Beach Volleyball courts –  Any Guest of a Walt Disney World Resort hotel may access the volleyball courts, and equipment can be obtained using a valid Resort ID. Disney Vacation Club members may check out equipment free of charge; for all other Guests, an associated fee applies.
  85. Hammocks on Disney properties are a nice place to relax or let the kids have a little swing fun.
  86. Disney Resorts also have fitness centers free for guests staying at the resort. Check with yours for location and hours.  Some of these have age restrictions.
  87. Tennis Courts – Any Guest of a Walt Disney World Resort hotel may access the tennis courts, and equipment can be obtained using your Key to the World card or a valid Resort ID. Disney Vacation Club members may check out equipment free of charge; for all other Guests, an associated fee applies.
  88. Kid’s Discovery Club inside Animal Kingdom. Kids can discover nature’s wonders at these fun, hands-on learning stations located throughout the park.
  89. Playstation Pavilion – Home to 17 fully loaded PlayStation 3 consoles and the latest video games. 30 minutes of game time is $5.
  90. Tomorrowland Transit Authority People mover is one of my favorite ‘take a break’ rides inside Magic Kingdom.  If you need a sit down break and the kids still want to ‘have fun’ this is a good calm experience.  I may or may not have taken a 5 min nap on there before. 🙂 It’s good for all ages.
  91. The Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom railroad is another relaxing ride for parents, I mean fun for the kids!  Hope on at the front and ride to the back of the park to work your way backwards and maybe avoid some crowds.  Or just use it as a quick way to get back to the exit at the end of the day.
  92. Check out the phones in the parks, One in Tomorrowland under the TTA and Astro Orbiter.  There’s also one in one of the shops on Main Street (candy store).  I believe there may be one in the Main Street Railroad Station?  Pick them up and listen to the interesting conversations.
  93. Right next to the Paris pavilion in Epcot is a walkway that will lead you in and out of Epcot. Take this for a 3 minute walk to Disney’s Beach Club Resort where you can dine at “Beaches and Cream” and divulge in the best ice cream sundae of all time, the Kitchen Sink. Make sure you have several people with you, this Sunday is Huge!
  94. Check out the Hedge maze in the back of the UK in Epcot.
  95. If you stand in a resort lobby on Wednesdays between 8 and noon, the WDW florists come in and change the flowers. You can get some of the old ones!
  96. The animals near the Animal Kingdom Lodge have their own territory and do not return to the Kilimanjaro Safari area. Since Animal Kingdom closes at dusk, the Lodge is one place where you can observe animals at night.  The feeding troughs are filled at 5pm so go early to catch a view.
  97. You can visit any resort even if you aren’t staying on site.  Just tell the security gate you are going to eat at the resort restaurants.
  98. Main St. Emporium (Magic Kingdom) sells, or at least used to sell, a scavenger hunt book, cost was about $4.00.
  99. Animal Kingdom: On the walk from the train to Conservation Station there is a garden on the right hand side. Kids are given cards and have to find the bugs in the garden.  Don’t worry the bugs are not real.  My daughter has a bug phobia so maybe this will help her.
  100. Take a free tour of The Fort Wilderness Lodge. Check with guest services for times and details. There is also a hidden Mickey hunt (list available from guest services)
  101. Visit the Petting Farm at Ft. Wilderness. The petting farm is open 7 am to dusk and there is free day parking at Ft. Wilderness.

Have any of your own tips?

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