Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Free Disney Fun

A vacation in Walt Disney World is all kinds of fun, but it can also cost all kinds of money. There's the cost of the vacation itself (hotel, travel costs), tickets to the parks, meals, endless souvenirs, sunscreen, and snacks, to name but a few. But there are some free ways to entertain yourself in the Happiest Place on Earth too. Here are a five fun ways to spend part of the day or all of it, without dipping into your rapidly-thinning wallet.

1. Downtown Disney -- as long as you can trust yourself to window shop and you avoid the tempting treats and restaurants, it's actually very easy to while away some pleasant and cost-free hours wandering Downtown Disney. The Westside is more modern and more varied. You can find everything from candy bars to designer sunglasses and clothes, so window shopping is a must. There is also House of Blues, where live shows featuring top artists are a nearly daily occurrence and fans have been known to haunt the stage door in the hope of grabbing a photo and an autograph during daytime sound checks. Check out the other side of things at Disney Marketplace (once known as Disney Village). The shops here are more Disney-focused, notably the massive World of Disney. There is also a Lego store complete with huge, intricate Lego sculptures outside where you can feel free to touch and poke and take pictures. Inside the store are tables full of those iconic plastic bricks, where customers of all ages are encouraged to build and play.

2. Disney Hotels -- Disney theming extends much father than just the theme parks. The Walt Disney World Resort includes 19 hotels, all beautifully decorated and well worth their own visits. This is especially true during the holiday season, when some of the hotels even offer special tours of the more spectacular sites. Take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom hotels, like the Polynesian or the Grand Floridian, or take a walk to the EPCOT resorts like the Boardwalk or The Yacht Club. The Animal Kingdom Lodge even has its own Savannah views, with animals that live specifically on the hotel's property. A short walk from Downtown Disney is Hotel Row and are even more hotels whose grounds also offer a lovely way to while away from time. All the hotels -- both Disney property and the Hotel Row properties (including The Royal Plaza and the Hilton -- check out the turtles in the Hilton's pond!) There are shops and restaurants in all of the hotels, so take your time and explore.

3. Boats and Monorails -- The Disney Water transportation and monorails cost nothing to ride, though once you arrive at the parks you'll need tickets to go inside, and while the rides are short, they can be pleasant and relaxing. The monorail in particular can be a great respite on boiling hot days; it's always cool and comfortable inside the monorail! You can even request to ride in the front car along with the driver and you'll receive your own pin when you're done!

4. The Boardwalk -- A short walk from EPCOT or just a Disney bus ride away is the Boardwalk, a line of shops and restaurants modeled after the classic East Coast boardwalks. It's a quarter of a mile long and is on the border of Crescent Lake, one of the many man-mad lakes at the Walt Disney World Resort. The Boardwalk offers food, drinks, shopping and entertainment. It's a great place to wander and people watch, and things definitely heat up at night with street performers, street vendors and entertainment. A lot of it is free, so take a walk on the Boardwalk and enjoy the sights.

5. Celebration -- Take a Disney shuttle from the theme parks to Celebration, the planned community just minutes from the parks themselves and home to approximately 8000 lucky (and definitely upper-upper middle class and higher) home owners. Celebration has small-town atmosphere and a quaint downtown area that includes some great restaurants, interesting shops and a movie theater. There's also the romantic and lovely Celebration Hotel, with a charming lobby reminiscent of early 20th century inns. Check out the piano bar, too.


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