Well, if you've read the other three installments of this series, Disney World Tips and Tricks - The Basics, Disney World Tips and Tricks - What to Wear, and Disney World Tips and Tricks - Halloween, you should be more than prepared to move on to this installment, which will feature things that you can enjoy for free at Disney World. And there are more than you would think.
Of course, some of them are more whiz-bang than others, but free is free.
This was our first visit to Disney World. Never fear - Disney World has a button for that!
The boys were given these buttons immediately upon check in at the hotel. However, they are also available at Magic Kingdom's City Hall as well as Guest Services in Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, or Epcot.
And, not only do they have buttons for first visits, but they also have buttons to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, honeymoons, reunions, the list goes on. Make sure to ask for a button once you're there and to display it prominently. They will garner special attention from cast members and make nice mementos once you're home.
Character Interactions and Autographs
If your kids are old enough to understand larger than life characters, then they might enjoy having their photo taken with them or even getting their autographs. Don't forget to bring a small notebook with you, a pen for characters with regular hands, and a large Sharpie for characters with "exaggerated" hands. They will sign your autograph book before posing for photos.
Autographs are not necessarily limited to autograph books. As long as you have your item and an appropriate writing instrument ready to go on a firm surface, characters can sign T-shirts, hats, your child's favorite Disney storybook, photo mats, canvas tote bags, etc. Use your imagination!
PhotoPass Family Photos
The idea behind Disney PhotoPass is that Disney photographers are stationed strategically around the parks in front of particularly "scenic" locations. They will pose your family in these areas and give you a card to access and purchase the photos for 45 days after the date the photo was taken.
But that's not FREE, you say!
The free part is that most often these same photographers offer to take the same photos with your camera. And since they are trained photographers who take photos all day, you get a pretty nice group shot of your family in a prime location for FREE.
Here are a few photos of our family taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers on our camera:
Finding Hidden Mickeys
A hidden Mickey is a representation of Mickey Mouse that has been subtly inserted into the design of a ride, attraction, or other location on Disney property.
This one is free and definitely something that you can only do in Disney. However, "play" at your own risk. Once we told the boys about hidden Mickeys we had to stop approximately every two seconds to observe the manhole covers in Disney World - nearly all of which have a Mickey head in the center. (Note: I am quite certain that these are not "hidden" Mickeys - what with them not being hidden and there being approximately 24,000 of them.)
Although approximately 1,000 hidden Mickeys have been recorded, Disney has never compiled a complete list of all the intentional Mickeys, so there is no way to confirm or disprove every Mickey sighting.
This is the one true hidden Mickey sighting that we had on our trip. We found these "cracks" in the pavement in the Dinoland section of Animal Kingdom.
Tomorrowland Speedway Driver's License
While this ride probably isn't the most thrilling of rides in Disney World, your kids will probably want to ride it because it's there.
If your kids want to drive around the little race track, they WILL walk away with a nifty collectible in the form of a Walt Disney World Driver's License.
Dumbo Airlines License
The Dumbo Ride is new and improved.
There are now two Dumbo rides that run simultaneously and although we walked right onto the ride both times we rode it, I understand there is now a fantastic interactive play lounge to help when the queue is longer than anticipated.
And much like the Tomorrowland Speedway, your child will receive a Dumbo Airlines License upon entry to the ride, which makes a nice keepsake.
AAA Story Time with a Character Photos, Autographs, and Bookmark
If you book your trip through AAA, not only do you get to take advantage of the AAA discounts for the entire trip, but you will get to take advantage of the Story Time with a Character that is only available to AAA members who booked their Disney trips through AAA.
You won't know who the character will be until you get there, but the BEST part is that the Story Time is in a very small theater in Innoventions West in Epcot and you'll be guaranteed a very small audience. (When we went, there were maybe 8 kids total including our 2.)
Our character turned out to be Mary Poppins. She read the Mary Poppins story from a large storybook and then signed autographs, took individual photos with the kids, and even obliged us in taking a family photo.
They provide each child with a bookmark that the character will also sign in addition to your autograph books.
Wilderness Explorers Handbooks and Pencils
The Wilderness Explorers Club is a club inspired by the movie Up! This is Russell, who is one of the main characters in the movie, you can see him here with all of his Wilderness Explorers badges:
Once you enter Animal Kingdom, you can stop by the Wilderness Explorers station in the Discovery Island section.
The Guides will provide you with a handbook, a Walt Disney World pencil (golf-sized), and instructions for completing the activities to earn "badges" (stickers).
As a handy tip, if your child wants to earn all of the stickers, read ahead in the book. We didn't realize from the verbal instructions we received from the Guide that some of the stickers were earned from riding on rides, visiting attractions, etc., and we had to go back and get those on a second visit to that park.
A Pirate's Adventure - Treasures of the Seven Seas Map
In the Magic Kingdom, there is another game configured to help Captain Jack Sparrow locate the treasures of the Seven Seas. To play, visit the game headquarters in Adventureland. You will be assigned one of five adventures and given a corresponding map.
You will follow the clues on the map to different areas nearby. Each quest takes about 15 minutes and the pirate map is yours to keep once you complete the quest.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom Collectible Trading Cards
This is another interactive game in the Magic Kingdom that focuses on Merlin recruiting new apprentices to battle Disney villains.
To play, either visit the Firehouse near the entrance on Main Street or the stand behind Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square, where each member of your party will be given a set of 5 collectible trading cards, a key card, instructions for play, and a game map.
Using the map, you will set out on your mission throughout Main Street, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Liberty Square. You will unlock Magic Portals using the key card and challenge Hades and the other villains using spell cards.
We learned to not look for portals, but to look for locks for the key cards to unlock. The portals can look like anything, but all of the locks look the same.
If your kids are into collecting trading cards, then this is the game for you. Everyone in your party can pick up one new pack of cards each day of your trip. And if you happen to finish the whole game during your trip (we didn't), you can start all over with new sets of cards. Of course, you may receive duplicates, but you'll never know what you get in your new pack so keep trying!
Epcot Food and Wine Festival Passport
The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is held every Fall at Disney. So, if you happen to be travelling during the time when this event is occurring, keep this tip in mind. This little gem was certainly a handy way to keep the kids busy in Epcot, although we were pleasantly surprised with the number of things at Epcot that the boys WERE interested in. This just sort of added to the fun for them.
The purpose of the passport is SUPPOSED to be for people to get it stamped as they try food and wine from the different "countries" in Epcot. However, a nice cast member spotted the boys and offered the passports to them not soon after we arrived.
The vendors were more than accommodating to stamp the boys' passports as we passed through each "country" - even though we did not buy food or wine each time they asked for stamps.
What I thought was particularly nice about this was that this was a good substitute for the Epcot World Showcase passports that Disney sells for the purposes of entertaining children. Obviously, it's not the exact same (it focuses on food and wine) BUT considering we spent the least amount of our trip in Epcot and this served the same purpose (visiting different areas and soliciting stamps), it turned out to be an awesome find.
Sum of All Thrills - Access to Design Roller Coasters and Play Games at Home
If you have the opportunity, visit The Sum of All Thrills at Innoventions East in Epcot. You will be able to design and ride your own virtual roller coaster. That's Aidyn and me riding on "Blue Steel" - the roller coaster that Aidyn designed.
When you leave the ride, you are given your card that allows you to access your roller coaster, design other roller coasters, and play other games.
This one might seem counterintuitive - what's so special about a FastPass?
Disney will be moving to the FastPass+ system very soon, which means that guests will be able to reserve their priority order in line on preferred rides prior to even entering the park. And even though regular FastPass will still be available (at least in the near term), it is quite possible that they will be moving away from the old paper system.
So, I'm not necessarily suggesting that you waste a FastPass by acquiring some that you won't even use, but if you happen to come home with an unused set (these were from a time slot when the ride was down due to technical difficulties), you might want to hang onto them. Paper FastPasses, I suspect, are going the way of the dinosaur.
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