Many of the extra, special experiences that people put into their vacations come at a price. Think, for example, of dressing up your kids at The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, The Pirates’ League, and even Harmony Barber Shop. There are many options of table service restaurants like the famed Le Cellier Steakhouse, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and 50’s Prime Time Café. You can schedule reservations for dessert parties during nighttime shows or set up one or more of the various Disney World tours that are available. Did you know that you can even swim with the dolphins and other sea creatures that are in The Seas with Nemo and Friends aquarium, or go on a night safari around the Animal Kingdom Lodge? Not to mention the various concerts and holiday parties that require an event ticket.
I’ve rounded up my Top 10 Free Extras at Walt Disney World and I’m putting them right here for you. This isn’t to say that the things that cost extra aren’t worth it. It’s just that my family is thrifty. Going to Disney World is a big deal for us. We find magic and joy in lots of cheaper ways. And I think you will too. So, here they are, in no particular order:
1. Autographs from Around the World
This is one of my favorite Disney World tips to share. I’m sure that plenty of other people have done this, but I came up with the idea before our first vacation with kids. In Epcot’s World Showcase, most of the Cast Members are from their representative country. So, in the Morocco Pavilion, the employees are actually Moroccan, the workers in France are French, and so on with each country. I thought it would be so fun to get a message at each country for our autograph books. It only seemed to catch one CM by surprise. I could tell that most of them were used to doing this because the majority knew exactly what they’d write.
The easiest way to do this was to go to a Kidcot Fun Stop because those Cast Members weren’t busy doing something else; they were there just to meet with guests. Their messages turned out to be one of my favorite keepsakes from the trip.
Tip: Have a pen or pencil with you so you can write the translation down after they tell you what it means.
2. Kidcot Fun Stops
Getting autographs from around the world brings me to #2: Kidcot Fun Stops. Each country in World Showcase has a Kidcot Fun Stop for you to find. Yes, it’s called “Kidcot,” but you can do it even if you don’t have kids with you. My husband and I did them on our honeymoon!
At your first stop, you’ll receive a poster board character attached to a stick. You can choose between Duffy the Disney Bear (Mickey’s stuffed animal friend) or Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb. There are tables and markers at each station so you can color your character. Also, at each Kidcot Fun Stop, you’ll get your Duffy/Perry stamped. (They’ll do this along the handle.) They will also draw or write something on the back. Usually, this is the country’s flag or your name, written in their language.
It is fun to meet the Cast Members, ask them questions if you want, and give yourself and your family a little culture lesson as you walk around the Pavilions.
3. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a free, interactive game that uses really impressive technology. It’s really fun. Plus, you get free “trading cards” (spell cards) when you play. In other words: free souvenirs!
The story is: Hades wants to take over the Magic Kingdom, but he needs to find the four shards of the Crystal of the Magic Kingdom in order to do it. The Disney Villains are helping him. It is our job to become Apprentice Sorcerers and help Merlin put a stop to the bad guys! To play, sign up in the Firehouse on Main Street USA (next to City Hall)
or at a booth behind Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square. When you sign up, you’ll get a key card to unlock each portal, a map of the lands and their portals (Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, and Frontierland), and 3 sets of spell cards. If you’ve never played, they’ll help you get started right when you sign up. (Be ready to be blown away by how these portals appear!)
And then you’re on your way. You can play it anytime. Find a portal….ride a few rides…find a portal… Or even continue your quest on another day. The system knows where you left off.
You’ll know a portal by locating a “lock” and a bronze Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom crest on the ground in front of it (and they’re on your map). To activate the portal, hold your key card or Magic Band to the lock and then stand on the crest.
Each one shows you a villain who’s up to no good. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to cast a spell (or even two) to stop them. Stand on the crest and hold up a spell card of your choice. That spell will actually appear on the screen and will stop the villain. (You can even double up and show two cards at one time!) It’s so cool! My husband and son loved doing this quest together. It was one of their favorite parts of the whole trip.
Here is a video that I captured of one of the portals. If you look closely, you can see the cameras that read the spells. They’re in the music note that’s on the frame to the left and the letter O in the frame on the right. So cleverly disguised! (Sorry about the Parade noise outside.)
Remember This: You can connect several people on one key card when you sign up. (Or you can get more than one key card, if you’d rather.) Each day that you play, each person can get 3 new packs of spell cards! That’s 15 free cards per person each day! Who doesn’t love getting free stuff?! Many guests are serious about this game. You’ll see big folders full of spell cards and people will likely ask you if you want to trade cards or if they can have your doubles. Go ahead if you want. Personally, we wanted to keep them all so the kids could play with them at home.
4. “A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasure of the Seven Seas” Game
This is another interactive game at the Magic Kingdom. “A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasure of the Seven Seas” consists of 5 treasure-finding quests in Adventureland.
You sign up in a little building between Pirates of the Caribbean and Frontierland. They’ll give you one map at a time. You’re free to do as little or as much of the adventure as you’d like. You can also start the game and come back to it later in the day. Each quest takes about 20 minutes to complete. New in 2016 is a Collector Card that will be given to guests who complete a mission, with 5 different Collector Cards (one for each quest) available. The technology in this game is just as amazing as the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. As you find the clues, you’ll hear Captain Jack Sparrow himself narrating the story of your quest and telling you what to do next. You also make amazing things happen around Adventureland. I’ve only personally completed one map, but this is something I’d like to spend more time on in the future.
Tip: Each map has a warning not to go to a specific place unless you’re told to do so. Traditionally, when signs at Disney World say “don’t,” they really mean “do and something fun will happen.” Our quest never told us to go there, so we tried it at the very end (after we’d found the treasure) and it wouldn’t work. So, I don’t really know about this one, but when I get to play again, I’m doing those spots first!
5. Disney Dollars
OK, so this one actually involves money, so I can’t say that it’s entirely free, but, everyone spends some money at Disney World, whether it’s on food or souvenirs or–likely–both. I’m not telling you to spend more, I’m just saying to spend it in a way that’s more fun!
You can get Disney Dollars at your resort hotel’s concierge or front desk and at Guest Relations in each Park. Trade your cash for Disney Dollars: dollar for dollar. They’ll even lay out your options, so you can pick the design on your money. Then, they’ll put it in a Disney Dollars envelope that has a little window so you can see what’s inside. These bills come in $1, $5, and $10 denominations. So, even if all you’re going to buy is a postcard, you can use a Disney Dollar to buy it! Maybe you’ll want to use it as a behavior incentive. We’ve let our kids earn dollars while we’re there. (Or you could let them earn the money at home and trade it in at Disney World.) Maybe your kids are bringing their birthday money and you’ll let them trade it in for Disney Dollars. On our last trip, I cashed in $20 for each of our sons: a ten, a five, and five ones, so we had a little of each kind. I usually save $1 to bring home for our scrapbooks. So, where can you spend Disney Dollars? Practically everywhere! Ticket booths, resort hotels, food and drink locations, merchandise stores, recreation venues, and even Disney Stores across the U.S. Disney World’s website has FAQs if you need more information.
Updated 7/2/16. Disney Dollars are still spendable at Disneyland and Walt Disney World (if you already have some), but you can no longer get them. Sad news.
6. Transportation & Transportation Cards
If you’re staying at a resort that’s not on the monorail line, you don’t really have a need to ride transportation other than the shuttle buses. But, it can be fun to take a break to ride the monorail or ferry. You can take strollers on both of these modes of transportation, without folding them up. The monorail can be a great spot for naptime; however, some tracks aren’t direct trips. You may need to get out at the Transportation and Ticket Center and walk around to a connecting monorail. If you catch these when they’re not crowded, the monorail and ferry can be relaxing and really are an attraction in themselves.
If you’re traveling by shuttle bus, monorail, ferry, or other watercraft, you may be able to get a free transportation card. Ask your driver if they have any available. Oftentimes, they don’t have any on hand, but sometimes, they do. One sweet driver, at the end of his day, dragged out his bag and gave us a few of each kind of bus card that he had. The cards give details about the kind of transportation, along with Hidden Mickey clues, and character trivia. The picture on the cover even has a Hidden Mickey in it! They’re also just a fun (and free!) reminder of the different modes of transportation that you used on your trip. Being a family with two, young boys, we love this. I always tell my kids that we’re going to ride everything when we go to Disney World: our car, airplane, bus, train, boat, and monorail. That’s pretty exciting! So, make the most of it by trying to collect these little extras.
Tip: An attendant once suggested that I ask for bus cards at the little, green booths before the shuttle queues when you leave the Parks. I’ve only tried that once and had no luck, but it’s worth a try!
7. Make a Wish with the Blue Fairy
Did you know that you can make a wish with the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio Village Haus Restaurant? I first heard about this from Temporary Tourist. After reading their post, I knew this was something that I wanted to do on our next trip.
Pinocchio Village Haus is in Fantasyland, near the carousel. It’s an ornately decorated building that will remind you of the Germany Pavilion in Epcot. The food there is pretty good. My favorite is the Italian Flatbread Sub or the Caprese Flatbread Pizza (without the Balsamic Glaze, even though a Cast Member told me that was his favorite part). After you eat, set out to find the Blue Fairy’s Wish Book. It’s in a small room near the windows that overlook “it’s a small world.”
Bring a pen with you and write your wish in the book. Then, find a Cast Member so your wish can be granted. The Blue Fairy will make magical, twinkling sounds as you make your wish. My husband thinks this is the cheesiest thing ever. I think it’s adorable. Just another clever “extra” at Disney World!
8. Rider Switch Passes
This one does’t apply to everyone, but most families could make use of it. A Rider Switch Pass is an amazing thing that allows one adult to sit out from an attraction with a child who is too small to ride, to nervous to ride, or who just isn’t interested in the attraction. When the group is finished riding, the waiting adult (and two others from the group) can ride the attraction without waiting a second time. This means that the older (or braver) kids–and some adults, depending on the size of your group–get to ride twice in a row!
If you’re riding an attraction that offers Rider Switch (Most “large” attractions do, especially if there is a height requirement.), you’ll need to ask for one from the ride attendant who is standing at the end of the FastPass line. They will need to see the waiting adult and the child, so bring them up with you. (This is just so they know they’re not getting scammed and that you really do have a kid who isn’t riding.) Give the Rider Switch Pass to the waiting adult and then they’re free to do whatever. They can go to a gift shop, a nearby attraction, or even halfway across the Park (although that defeats the purpose of the card’s convenience).
We got a Rider Switch Pass for Splash Mountain, but since it’s a long ride and I (the waiting adult) don’t enjoy that huge drop, we opted not to ride it twice in a row. We realized later that the Pass expired 3 weeks later! So, my family got to ride it again on our next Magic Kingdom day, without waiting in the regular queue and without having to have a FastPass scheduled.
After the first group is done riding, you can trade off with the child and up to three people can ride again by jumping in the FastPass line and showing them your card. You don’t get to go straight to the front of the line the second time through, but you get FastPass entry. Depending on when you visit the Parks, that can be a pretty short line.
My son loved it! He got to ride Splash Mountain twice, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train four times, Test Track twice, Star Tours twice, Soarin’ twice, and more. We only have two kids, but my sister was with us, so we adults benefited with extra rides too!
9. Spend Wait Time in the Parks
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, there is bound to be a big line for the shuttle after the Park closes. What would you rather be doing: waiting in a line or hanging out in the Park for a while longer? … That’s what I thought. If you have to wait somewhere, it may as well be inside the gates.
At least at the Magic Kingdom, shops close a little after the official closing time of the Park. In the Magic Kingdom, shops on the right side of Main Street USA (looking at the castle) close about 30 minutes after operating hours. The Emporium on the left closes a whole hour after. Even if it’s Extra Magic Hours until 1 AM, The Emporium will be open until 2 AM. (In talking to some Emporium Cast Members, we learned that they’re usually there 3 hours after the Magic Kingdom’s closing time, which can be as late as 5 AM in the summers!) Some of the smaller shops start rushing people out a bit, but The Emporium is used to late shoppers. As time passes, they’ll close the doors except the one on the very end of the building, closest to City Hall.
People also take their time on Main Street USA, finishing up a Dole Whip or a Plaza Sundae, taking pictures of the sites, or just sitting on a bench. This is when some photo-saavy people set up tripods and take cool nighttime shots. I saw one mom just letting her tiny toddler run and dance around. She practically had the whole street to herself.
Be respectful of the Cast Members having jobs to do and wanting to go home, but we’ve been some of the very last people to leave on a few different occasions and no one seemed to mind. Make your way to the front of the Park (They won’t let you hang around on the back side of the Parks.) and just take it all in before you leave. There’s no happier way to close out your day than to have a peaceful, nighttime view of the Happiest Place on Earth. Way better than being in a swarm of people making their way to the shuttle lines right after the nighttime shows!
10. The Kiss Goodnight
Last, but not least, is the Kiss Goodnight. When I’d heard people talk about this, I thought they just meant how the castle lit up at night. It wasn’t until I experienced it myself, standing in the foreground of Cinderella Castle or on Main Street USA, that I understood how magical it was. The Kiss Goodnight happens about every 30 minutes after the Magic Kingdom closes. All of a sudden, you’ll hear a twinkling and Cinderella Castle begins to sparkle. Then a choir of voices sings the tune of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” As the castle changes colors, a comforting narrator’s voice greets guests saying,
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: On behalf of everyone here at the Magic Kingdom, we thank you for joining us today for a magical gathering of family, friends, fun, and fantasy. We hope that your magical journey with us has created wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. Walt Disney said that the Magic Kingdom is a world of imagination, hopes, and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, magic and make-believe are reborn and fairy tales come true. The Magic Kingdom is a place for the young and the young at heart–a special place where, when you wish upon a star, your dreams really do come true. Until we see you again, have a safe trip home. Thank you and goodnight.”
Mickey Mouse chimes in with, “So long, everybody! See ya real soon!” as the music crescendos with the end of the song, this time, singing the words: “You wish comes true!”
The lighting on the castle returns to normal, the Main Street music starts to play again, and you’re left with this warm, fuzzy, almost-in-tears feeling. It’s magical and beautiful and, if you stay late enough, you can see it 3 times.