ORLANDO, Fla. – We’ll bet you never thought the words “Disney” and “cheap” could go in the same sentence. Well, guess again.
While the Disney theme parks are great and full of fun, they can also get very crowded, and when the sun is out, the temperatures can drain you of all your energy.
We’ll show you how to have fun on Disney property without ever scanning a MagicBand or swiping your credit card.
Everything on our list is free. The only reason you’ll spend money is if you plan on doing any shopping or decide to buy a drink or two. Enjoy!
If the "Happily Ever After" fireworks are on your bucket list, consider watching them from high above Cinderella Castle. Nothing can top a view of the Magic Kingdom at night. Our favorite place to take in this serene view is from the top of the contemporary resort at the California Grill.
You could make a dinner reservation and eat there, but we recommend you go up to the lounge (no reservation needed), order a drink, walk out onto the balcony and enjoy the show.
You can also get a great view of the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks from the beaches at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Wilderness Lodge.
Insider tip: If you're venturing up to the top of California Grill, be sure to watch the door out to the rooftop. Usually 10 minutes prior to show time, the velvet rope will be removed, allowing guests to walk outside and find a good place to watch.
Scenic boat rides
Another idea is spending the morning at Fort Wilderness. We recommend having breakfast at Trails End then climbing aboard one of its boats for a ride to the Magic Kingdom. Even if you don’t plan on visiting the park, the scenic ride is relaxing and gives you a chance to rest after that large breakfast you just inhaled.
Another great boat trip is aboard the Friendship Boats that travel between Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
Staying off property but want to see the larger-than-life characters and fun themed hotels? Park at Disney Springs and take one of the buses to the many resorts. The resorts are more than just places to stay. You can find food options, great photo opportunities and of course, you can do a little shopping.
Here are the best options while resort hopping:
- Art of Animation — Take Instagram-worthy photos inside your favorite Disney movies.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge — See animals grazing on the savanna.
- Fort Wilderness — Join Chip ‘n’ Dale for a campfire singalong.
Movies under the stars
Many of the Disney World Resorts offer free outdoor movie nights. The movies are projected onto large screens usually by the pool, and feature classic, family-friendly Disney and Pixar animated movies.
Forget buying a movie ticket and instead enjoy time with your family under the stars, watching a movie everyone will surely enjoy.
Electrical Water Pageant
While it's no Main Street Electrical Parade, the Electrical Water Pageant takes place every night on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, featuring 14 floats that are lit up to depict different objects and creatures.
Head to the docks and beaches of the Magic Kingdom resort hotels to watch.
For the best viewing, check out these resorts:
Polynesian Village Resort — 9 p.m.
Grand Floridian Resort — 9:15 p.m.
Wilderness Lodge — 9:30 p.m.
Fort Wilderness — 9:45 p.m.
While the pageant usually follows the schedule above, check with a guest relations booth or another cast member to confirm show times. This is an outdoor show, so weather can cause the pageant to be canceled.
This spot remains one of our favorites. The rum-serving terrace is perfect for a night out under the stars surrounded by Tiki lamps. Let’s not forget you’ll receive a tropical serenade from a ukulele.
Who could complain?
Insider tip: We recommend sitting outside. However, here are the pros and cons of sitting in and outside.
- You drink from souvenir cups.
- The decor is very immersive.
- You're served your drink in a very fun way.
- It's very loud.
- There aren't a lot of places to sit.
- Wait times can vary.
- You get to enjoy the Orlando weather.
- You can listen to soothing ukulele music.
- There are many places to sit.
- You can watch fireworks while sitting outside.
- Depending on weather, you can sit by the heaters.
- You don’t get the souvenir cups, unless ordered.
- Lighting isn’t ideal.
- Dealing with pesky mosquitos.
This excursion is definitely NOT free, in fact, a tab can add up quickly here. Be warned.
All right, we want to hear from you!
This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.