If you’ve never been to a Disney resort hotel, you are missing out! Lucky for you, the following post will send you on your way to becoming an in-the-know Intelliguest. The best part is, you don’t even need to stay at the resorts to enjoy these benefits. However, I must add a note on visiting resorts that you are not staying at, so please read my caution at the bottom. With that caveat out of the way, read on to learn about free activities at the Disney resorts!
- Watch a movie. The Disney resorts show a free movie every night that anyone, not just resort guests, can watch. Several resorts even show the movies on giant blowup (we’re talking air, not Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular) screens on the beach- how fun is that! This is one of my favorite free activities at the Disney Resorts. You can find the movie schedule at Build a Better Mousetrip, or by calling the resorts.
- Pin trade. In addition to the cast members with lanyards, many resorts have pin boards or fun themed alternatives. The Polynesian has a Pin Tiki, for example. Wilderness Lodge even has a pin book, which contains the largest selection of Cast Member tradable pins I’ve seen anywhere on property.
- Go exploring. There is so much more to the resorts than the lobbies (although each and every one of those is stunning in its own unique way, and I recommend you visit them all). Even after years of visiting the resorts, I continue to find new things. Many of the resorts are subdivided into sections with variations of the main theme, and the subsections are lovely and often quite distinctive from the main lobby. For example, the Coronado has several tucked-away courtyards, each lovely and different from the others. Port Orleans has several sections of rooms, each styled uniquely. I encourage you to walk around and see what you can find!
- Enjoy a campfire. The resorts have free campfires (here’s a list) to enjoy. I’ve experienced them at the Polynesian and Boardwalk, where they even provided toasting sticks and marshmallows for free! At Fort Wilderness you can get the feeling of a campfire in the woods, and will even get the opportunity to hang out with Chip and Dale. They have a free sing-a-long every night, and you can purchase s’mores kits there or bring your own.
- Watch the Electrical Water Pageant. This involves small barges with a colorful light show and accompanying music. It’s one of the more magical of the free activities at the Disney resorts! See the schedule and suggested viewing locations here.
- Watch fireworks. It may seem counter intuitive, but in some ways watching the fireworks from the resorts is even more impressive than seeing them in the parks- and it’s certainly more convenient and gentler on the pocketbook! Seeing the fireworks from a distance shows how huge they really are. Plus, avoiding that park-closing traffic is a huge bonus. Worried about missing out on the music? No problem- In certain locations, Disney pipes it in for you! My favorite is watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Polynesian Beach, but you can also see them from the Grand Floridan or the Contemporary. You can get reasonably close to the Epcot fireworks from the bridge near the International Gateway, accessed from the Yacht Club/Beach Club/Boardwalk resorts.
- Go for a walk. If you have a packed schedule, extra walking may be the last thing on your mind. But if you have time to relax, walking around is one of my favorite things to do at the resorts. Some have dedicated jogging paths, but I enjoy simply walking through the gorgeous areas. There is also a nice little path through the woods that connects Fort Wilderness to Wilderness Lodge, and a walking path from Boardwalk that goes to Epcot and Disney Studios.
- Listen to live music. If I had to pick one favorite of the free activities at the Disney Resorts, this would probably be it. The Grand Floridian, swankiest of Disney hotels, has free live music. In the afternoons and evenings (see specific times here) there is an amazing pianist. If that weren’t enough, even better is the talented big band ensemble- here is the schedule. You will usually see some fellow listeners who aren’t able to keep their feet still. What music do they play? Disney, of course! It can be fun trying to recognize the songs when they don’t sing the lyrics, it’s harder than you’d think. They also play Big Band classics, which are always enjoyable to hear.
- Browse the shops. True, this may tempt you to violate the “free” nature of this list, but looking is free! Personally, I get nearly as much fun looking at the Disney souvenirs as I would by actually purchasing them. It feels more relaxed to browse the resort shops than to try to make time when I’m inside the parks. Many of the shops are themed to fit the resort they reside in. For example, the Polynesian BouTiki sells Hawaiian print clothes and Macadamia cookies in addition to Disney gear (much of which is centered on Lilo and Stitch and Moana, of course).
- Enjoy random Disney fun. Some of the resorts have sporadic free activities. I certainly enjoyed the free cookie tasting around Christmas at the Polynesian! Kenny the Pirate has a great rollup of the resort activity schedules.
- Go to a “Museum” or “Zoo”. There is an educational side to many of the resorts, which adds to their feeling of authenticity and enjoyment. Who knew you could learn something from free activities at the Disney Resorts! At the Animal Kingdom lodge you can view African animals, or for the more art-inclined there are Chihuly glass lamps in the DVC lobby. The lobby of Wilderness Lodge has informational signs and displays about geography and Native Americans. What other educational tidbits can you find at the resorts?
- Admire the pools. While only resort guests are allowed to use the pools, looking at them is at least half the fun! The Coronado has a giant Mayan temple, the Beach Club has a pirate ship, and the Grand Floridian has Alice in Wonderland themed buckets and fountains. All the other resorts have beautiful pools too, and not just the main ones. I’ve found many quiet pools tucked away in courtyards that are often tricky to locate but worth the search.
- Go on a character scavenger hunt. Some of the resorts have lots of obvious characters, notably the Art of Animation, or the Fantasia characters at Port Orleans. Others have more subtle ones- can you find the Peter Pan floor art or the Mary Poppins fountain at the Grand Floridian?
- Hunt for Hidden Mickeys. We’ve seen some in the viewing areas of the Animal Kingdom Lodge and in the nets in the lobby at the Polynesian. Orlando Fun Tickets has a list of some HM’s to hunt for, give it a shot!
- Ride the monorail or boats. The monorail isn’t just for getting to Magic Kingdom! Since it gives you a nice view of the castle and the front gate without having to pay to get inside the park, it’s definitely in the ranks of the best free activities at the Disney Resorts. It also takes you on a nice trip around the MK resorts (Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary). At the TTT you can also switch to the Epcot monorail, which gives you a good view of that park. It’s a nice way to get a little sneak peek without spending a dime! There are also boats you can take between some of the resorts, Epcot, or Disney Springs. You can see all the routes here.
A note of caution before proceeding with the wealth of free activities at the Disney Resorts:
When you enter a resort parking lot, you will need to talk with the security guard and show them your ID. The guard will then choose to allow you to park, or not. If it’s a busy time they won’t let you in, especially to one of the resorts with easy access to the theme parks, such as the Yacht/Beach Club and Boardwalk for Epcot, or the Contemporary and other monorail resorts for Magic Kingdom. You can always park if you have a restaurant reservation. Please be honest about your intentions– the guards will sometimes check lists of reservations, so don’t pretend you have one if you don’t. If you intend to eat at a casual restaurant without a reservation, you can mention that.
If the guard does not let you in, there are still ways to get to the resorts. For a $20 fee (or free if you’re an Annual Passholder) you can park at the TTT and take the monorail, boats or buses to any of the resorts. Or, you could park at Disney Springs and take the free boat to Port Orleans and take buses from there.
What’s your favorite of the free activities at the Disney resorts?