Disney Off the Beaten Path and On the Cheap

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Disney World is expensive. Okay, so that’s not a newsflash or anything, but not everything at Disney World costs money. Some of my best moments have been on the cheap or pretty close to it. Sitting on a bench and people watching? Absolutely free and one of the few places on the planet where you can see every stripe of humanity pass by on their way to have some fun. Watching the castle turn colors after the park closes? That’s something most people miss but one of the quintessential Disney “moments” you’ll remember long after your trip.  Whenever someone asks me what they can do at Disney World that costs little or no money, I often find myself suggesting these experiences:

5. Pack a lunch and eat it at Tom Sawyer Island.

A lot of people skip Tom Sawyer Island on their way to bigger and brighter attractions in the Magic Kingdom, but it’s one of the most quiet and calming places in the park with tons of places to explore and climb. If you’re a kid, it’s heaven, but it’s also a nice spot for adults. If you bring a lunch into the parks, consider having lunch here. There are lots of shady spots to choose from.

4.  Get a haircut at the Main Street Barber Shop.

You can get your hair cut for under $20 in the Magic Kingdom. That’s a pretty good price anywhere, but there’s something special about getting your hair cut in the happiest place on earth. Sparkly stuff at the end is optional, but go ahead: Live a little and get some.

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3. Resort hop.

If you’re visiting Disney World and not resort hopping, you’re missing out on great theming and dining, especially during the holidays, when each resort gets its own unique decorations.  Next time you’ve got a few hours, pick a couple resorts and explore.  They’re easy to get to–just use Disney transportation or take your own car.  You can enjoy just about everything the resort’s have to offer, excluding the pools.

2.  Let your kids do the Kidcot activities in Epcot.

For the longest time I rushed past the Kidcot craft tables in Epcot wondering why any kid would want to sit and color when there was so much to do in the park. Finally, my daughter wore me down and we stopped one day last month. Forty-five minutes later, she and her twin brother left with two cute face masks they had happily colored, illustrating a good point to this mom:  Sometimes kids just want a low-key activity.

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1. Take a walk from the Poly to the Grand Floridian.

Some of the prettiest real estate in Walt Disney World exists on a walkway almost no one ever takes, from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian.  Leaving the Poly you’ll pass the pool and watercraft in a lagoon, then you’ll make your way down to the path that follows the beach.  If you look carefully, you’ll see how the lush, tropical vegetation of the Poly turns into more local foliage as you pass the wedding pavilion. The wedding pavilion itself is worth a quick look–you may even catch a glimpse of a happy bride and groom.  Right now, construction mars the pretty shoreline as you get closer to the Grand Floridian, but with a projected opening date of October 2013, this should once again prove to be a peaceful walk. It’s my favorite spot in Walt Disney World.

What are your favorite activities that cost almost nothing? Have you found something you’d like to share with us? Please do so in the comments.

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About Christina Wood

For more travel planning articles by Chris, check out her Disney travel blog, Everything Walt Disney World. Chris is also a member of the Mouse Chat podcast team and an authorized Disney travel planner with Pixie Vacations, and visits the parks about 55 days each year. To get free planning and assistance with your next Disney vacation, please call her at 919-889-5281 or email at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com. You may also fill out a quick Disney Vacation Quote form here.
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10 Responses to Disney Off the Beaten Path and On the Cheap

  1. Mike Conrad says:

    One of my favorite walks is from the Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios. It is a path that walks along the water and most times you can beat the boat. It is relaxing and I just love it there.

    Surprised you didn’t mention the boardwalk. At night you can go and watch entertainers, or play carnival games. Very inexpensive and fun at night. You can rent a 6-person surrey bike and ride around the boardwalk to the beach club.

    Monorail resort hopping is a great way to cool down and get a break from the Magic Kingdom. Take a ride to the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian hotels.

    I also like to Deer watch on the monorails! You can take the hotel loop or even better go to the ticket and transportation and take the Epcot monorail. It’s fun to do to count the number of deer you see along the way. Best time is around sun down. You can also do this in the early AM.

    How about taking the boat to Fort Wilderness and walking around? There is a nice path to the Wilderness Lodge as well.

    Sooo many fun, inexpensive things to do. All the above is some nice quiet, relaxing time for parents too :)

    • Chris Wood says:

      These are good comments–thank you. I actually thought about bringing up Boardwalk but I get such mixed messages from people on that one. I like it though- a lot. And I love the walk from there to DHS. It’s actually one of my favorite walks in WDW. I love beating the boat–you’re right, it’s often faster.

  2. Barbara Jacobs says:

    I love the walk from Poly to Grand Floridian! I found it as I was trying to find some way to walk all the way around Seven Seas Lagoon and actually I start at the Transportation and Ticket Center and walk through Poly. Once as I was passing the wedding pavilion, a wedding party was lining up to blow bubbles at the bride and groom as they made their way from the pavilion to their carriage.

    • Chris Wood says:

      I love that. One time there was a bride and groom all alone. They were so cute. I don’t know where their wedding party was but they were just so happy. They were like “hey, take our picture” so I did. Very cute.

  3. The Mommy says:

    Our kids (now 10, 8, 6, and 4) have all had their very first haircuts at the Main Street Barber Shop. Easily, the best value for your money in all the World. You get ears that say “first haircut”, a certificate, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for around $15! You can’t beat it!

    I really like hanging out on the Boardwalk. That’s also a great place to people watch and you don’t have to have park admission to enjoy it, so it’s a great first or last day outing when you don’t want to use a day of your pass.

    • Chris Wood says:

      BW is a great place for the first and last day. Good point.

      I think I’m doing back to school haircuts next week at the barber shop for my kids. We start back in early August so they’ll be looking spiffy.

  4. DisneyMike says:

    The best “on the cheap” experience at WDW is to spend an evening at Downtown Disney. There are usually musicians and DJs playing outdoors in several places, and the DJ who does the dance party at the big Waterside Stage in the evenings is very entertaining. Plus, it’s actually “cheap” because there’s no admission charge.

    Honestly, nothing inside the parks can be considered “on the cheap,” because of the cost of admission and the fact that you can experience pretty much every attraction at ho extra cost.

    Resort hopping is a great, inexpensive experience. Taking the boat transportation fro the Wilderness Lodge/Fort Wilderness to the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom is great fun. Even the boats from Downtown Disney to Saratoga Springs, Old Key West or Port Orleans can be a nice way to spend some time.

  5. Jillian says:

    On our last trip to Disney, we had bus transportation to and from Allstar Sports Resort which we used everyday of our trip. On the last day, we had a half day at Magic Kingdom before heading home and decided to ride the train that took us all around the park and then ended the day with monorail resort hopping. Best idea ever! It gave us a chance to see the different resorts along the way and that was really when we made our decision to become DVC members. If you have will power to stay out of the resort gift shops, it can be a cost-free experience that your family will definitely enjoy.

    • Chris Wood says:

      I love to resort hop but a lot of people look at you like you’re crazy when you suggest it. It’s nice to see what other resorts have to offer–I guess you liked it a lot of if you bought DVC! BLT? I love it over there.

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