1. Resort Hop: The resorts at WDW are among the most intricately themed in the world. From the flavor of the south seas to an African animal reserve or an Atlantic seaside boardwalk, the WDW resorts transport guests to other times and places. Lobbies are ideal for people watching and feature opportunites for shopping and dining. Consider sharing a different snack or treat at each resort you visit. Everyone gets a bite or two and you literally sample the flavors of each resort. (Obviously, the snacks are not free!) Throughout the holiday season, the WDW resorts feature free entertainment and sometimes even free refreshments like Snickerdoodles or roasted chestnuts. Local choir groups and musicians appear in lobbies during the Christmas season and characters are known to make special appearances in holiday garb for fantastic photo ops. Take advantage of the Disney decor and shoot the perfect image for your own holiday card.
2. Boat Rides around the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Resorts: Numerous nautical voyages await you at the WDW resort. From the nineteenth century inspired steam boat -like ferries that shuttle guests back and forth to the Magic Kingdom and the Friendship launches that whisk guests off to Epcot and Hollywood Studios to the “surrey boat” launches that plow Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, there is no shortage of options for free boat rides. Although you may be required to disembark and reboard to allow other waiting guests to board, a cruise on the Dinsey waterways can prove to be the most relaxing and tranquil part of your day. For example, hop on a launch to the Fort Wilderness Campground and let the kids frolic on the swing set, play with a giant checkers game, and explore the campground and its pioneer charm. Then grab a launch back to the Wilderness Lodge for further exploration. Check out the Old Faithful geyser and be sure to visit the Lodge’s lobby. From Bay Lake, the Wilderness Lodge is said to look like a bear, with dormers forming his eyes and windows his snout and face. Board yet another launch back to the Contemporary where a short walk will take you to the Magic Kingdom buses and a short ride to anywhere on property. The ferry boat ride from the Ticket and Transportation Center is particularly enchanting at night or sunset when the spires of the Grand Floridian and the longhouses of the Polynesian are back lit by the sun setting to the west. Tiki torches line the shores and the glow of Cinderella Castle beckons.
3. Port Orleans to Downtown Disney Boat Ride: Head over to Port Orleans Riverside resort and enjoy a hearty Magic Bar in the food court before boarding a launch like the Florida Queen to the Downtown Disney Marketplace dock. This 20 minute long peaceful ride along the Sassagula waterway passes the French Quarter Resort, the Saratoga Springs Treehouse Villas, and countless golf holes. Listen to the waves slapping the shore line and keep a keen eye out for the occasional river otter and frequent water fowl. The views upon entering the lake fronted by Downtown Disney are spectacular and are especially striking at night. Kids marvel at the neon, the Characters in Flight balloon, and the sporadic fiery eruptions of the Rainforest Cafe volcano. Once on dry land, be sure to make a pit stop at Goofy’s Candy Company where cast members often free samples of Slurpee style drinks. Mosey over to Ghiradelli for your free piece of chocolate and settle onto a bench to people watch and enjoy free entertainment at the soundstage in front of the World of Disney.
4. Spend a Day at the Pool: Luxuriate at your resort’s pool and melt away the stress. Give your tired feet a break and let the Disney pool staff entertain the kids. Pool games and trivia contests will keep the little ones busy while you read a book, catch up on some rest, or sing along to the DJ. Grab a hula hoop yourself and show your kids how it’s done! For more action, jump on a water slide, under a waterfall or jet, or into a whirlpool. Many Disney resorts also feature night time movies and early evening campfires.
5. Watch Fireworks from Balcony or Beach: Besides being free, watching the fireworks from a resort beach or your own balcony keeps you out of the crowds and close to the comforts of your room. Many resorts feature prime viewing areas for the fireworks. The beaches at the Polynesian and Fort Wildreness Campground afford views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The boardwalk itself and the beach at the Yacht and Beach Club offer views of Illuminations. Bring a towel from your room and settle in on the grass or a bench for this classic Disney nightime entertainment treat.
6. Stroll Downtown Disney: Window shop and browse the stores at Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) for a much needed and free break from the parks. Relish in the live music and entertainment that abound at the Marketplace and West Side. Places like Raglan Road and Bongos feature music and performers that can be heard and/or seen from outside the restaurants. Performances also sometimes take place in the courtyard area between Fulton’s Crab House and the Portobello Yacht Club.
7. Ride the Monorail: This unique mode of transportation fascinates both young and old and its novelty never seems to wane. Board the resort monorail and visit the three resorts that ring the Seven Seas Lagoon. We like to bet on what color monorail will be pulling into the station next. (For an adult version of this game, the person who correctly guesses does not have to buy the first drink on the “monorail pub crawl.”) Alternatively, board the Epcot monorail for a late afternoon or evening trip across Disney property and into Epcot. The monorail actually travels into Future World in Epcot and provides a glimpse of its attractions. Look out for deer in the trees under the monorail tracks. Note that you may be required to exit the monorail at the Epcot station and reboard if there are other guests waiting. Riding the monorail at night or sunset offers a completely different perspective as does riding in the rain. Time your trip well and you may enjoy Illuminations or the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the train.
8. Design your own Scavenger Hunt: Spend some time designing a scavenger hunt for kids and/or adults in your group. For example, ask participants to take a picture of particular buildings, signs, or cast members who speak certain languages. Scavenger hunts where participants must find actual objects can get tricky at WDW. Younger members of your group can look for animals like squirrels. ducks, egrets, otters, and rabbits. Avoid tasks where participants have to bother other guests.
9. Watch a Movie at the Pool: Most Disney resorts feature movies at their pools after sundown which can be viewed from lounge chairs, whirlpools, or from within the pools themselves. Bring your own snacks and beverages from your room. At some resorts, the movies are shown in a courtyard (Port Orleans Riverside) or on the beach (Yacht and Beach Club). Titles are appropriate for all ages and are Disney films. Sometimes the selections are even first runs, like the 2013 premiere of Teen Beach Movie on July 19 at Disney resorts.
10. Search for Hidden Mickeys: Hidden Mickeys abound throughout WDW. Several great books and websites are dedicated exclusively to Hidden Mickeys. Some of these even include searches you can initiate at WDW alone or with a group. There are searches at all different skill levels. Ask cast members to at resorts to point out there favorite Hidden Mickeys. Other guests are a great source for new and difficult to find Hidden Mickeys.