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Lou’s Inbox: Free Activities at Disney Resorts and How to Get There

Editor’s Note:  Lou’s email inbox is often full to overflowing with questions from listeners.  As such, he has enlisted the WDW Radio Blog writers to assist him in answering some of your questions.

“Hi, Lou. I’m going to WDW in February with my best friend and her family. When we first arrive at our resort (Saratoga Springs Treehouse Villas :D), we will have a couple hours of free time and do not want to spend money on a park ticket for such a short time. I was planning on having lunch at Disney Springs and then exploring some resorts, but my question is how do I travel from resort to resort? Do I have to get on a bus to a park, and then back to another resort, or is there some way I can move directly between resorts? Thank you very much, Liam”


Hi, Liam. I jumped at the chance to answer your question because quite a few Disney trips of mine have relied on this same principle. As I have spent the past several years traveling to Orlando with fellow college students, our budgets were certainly not the most elaborate. We always had to think creatively about how to maximize our time and make good use of our money, and a huge part of that became learning how to maneuver around Disney property using free transportation.

If it’s resorts you’re interested in seeing, I would recommend selecting which ones you want to visit before you arrive. However, it may make it simpler to choose your sights based on their proximity to each other. While you could race around property from resort to resort extraneously, it’s going to be a lot less stress on your part to choose what you might call a “collection” of resorts all within the same area and tour at a relaxing pace among them.


saratoga springs - disneyThe Saratoga Springs factor
Before going any further, maybe you’d prefer to jump around or the resorts you want to see are nowhere near each other. Since you’re staying at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, this will be easier for you than for most others. If there is a specific resort you want to visit, simply take a short walk or boat ride to Disney Springs, where bus transportation is provided to all on-property Disney resort hotels.


Disney Springs area
The most logical place to start based on your plans and your home resort would be the Disney Springs area. Boat transportation is available from Disney Springs to Disney’s Saratoga Springs ResortDisney’s Port Orleans – Riverside, and Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter. Of particular interest at Port Orleans is the beautiful architecture, enchanting dining, and the exuberant entertainer YeHaa Bob Jackson (who Lou discussed on The Show back in 2008).


Epcot/Disney’s Hollywood Studios area
Between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the ever-pleasant BoardWalk of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. It can be thought of as a mini Disney Springs with a seaside theme and attached hotel rooms. This area includes several walk-up counter-service spots serving a variety of items such as pizza, ice cream, bakery foods, and more. ESPN Club provides table-service option. Jellyrolls and Atlantic Dance Hall offer adult hangouts. Atmospheric entertainment provides clever magician acts along the entire promenade. The ambiance outside, especially at twilight, is pure bliss. Other neighboring resorts within walking distance are Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club and Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. You can see some of the fireworks from IllumiNations from the bridge connecting BoardWalk to Beach Club, but it certainly isn’t a prime viewing location and the show’s music does not play. This entire area can be reached by taking a bus to any of these resorts from Disney Springs or any park. Another option is to walk from Disney’s Hollywood Studios or the back entrance of Epcot.


Wishes from the Contemporary ResortMagic Kingdom area
The most bang for your (nonexistent) buck in undoubtedly the area surrounding Magic KingdomDisney’s Contemporary, Disney’s Polynesian Village, and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resorts are all connected via Monorail. The nearby Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort are just a boat ride away from Magic Kingdom or the Contemporary. Take a bus from Disney Springs or any park to any of these resorts, and then accessing them all is very easy from each other.

Not only are the theming and architecture of all of these locations among the best on Disney property, but some of them offer quite substantial free activities. Each day at [3:30]Grand Floridian hosts a dance with Cinderella and Prince Charming in its lobby. Each evening, Fort Wilderness holds a campfire sing-along with Chip and Dale followed by a Disney movie screening. The Polynesian and Contemporary are among the best locations for Magic Kingdom‘s nightly fireworks (even including spots inside the park). The Polynesian‘s beach has excellent panoramic viewing, while the Contemporary‘s balconies have a unique elevated experience. (The balconies can be accessed via the fourth floor, but don’t stop there; it’s much too crowded. Keep walking up the stairs until you inevitably have a balcony all to yourself.)


Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
One place I would say merits an out-of-the-way trip should you want to make one is Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. The lobby holds a free animation class where a Cast Member teaches guests how to draw a favorite Disney character. Supplies are provided, and guests get to take home their creation. It’s a scaled-down version of a similar experience that used to take place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and makes for a great souvenir.


zebra domes - awDisney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge tours
Another worthwhile out-of-the-way stop is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. It offers two free tours, one showing off the resort’s detailed cultural influences and another previewing its wonderful restaurants (including a significant helping of free samples… like those beloved Zebra Domes!). No registration is required for these tours, though call ahead to confirm the times they’re offered. The resort is a quick bus ride away from Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


Disney Vacation Club tour
Saratoga Springs offers a sales pitch-like presentation for Disney Vacation Club. The tour is private for each family. It includes a conference room session with a Cast Member explaining essentially what DVC is and how it works, followed by a walkthrough of mock-up rooms from different DVC locations from around the globe, including Aulani. At the end of the free presentation, you’ll get two extra FastPasses for any attraction, free ice cream at a private ice cream parlor, and complimentary, private transportation to anywhere on Disney property you’d like to be taken. There is no obligation to become a DVC member, and it’s a great way to, at the very least, learn about what DVC is and, at the very most, get some awesome perks (including getting to your next destination hassle-free). Tours can be booked ahead by telephone or at the DVC kiosk in Disney Springs.


What you can’t do…
Swimming pools are exclusive to guests staying at that resort, and are often enclosed by a gate requiring a roomkey for access to enforce this rule. I’ve found that pretty much anything else Disney is ok with and happy to let visiting guests do even if they’re not staying overnight at that resort. I recently brought my laptop to the Polynesian to get some work done, and the front desk was more than willing to charge my phone for me while I worked, even though I wasn’t staying there overnight.


Liam, I hope this helped you and other readers grasp a scope of truly how much there is to do even when you’re not in the parks and especially when transportation or finances are taking top priority. Have a magical visit!


Saratoga Springs image © Disney.
Wishes image by Blake Taylor.
Zebra dome image by Alyssa Wiseman.


Mickey - Blake


Blake graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production/Broadcasting and Film. He is currently a participant of the Disney College Program. Blake’s favorite attraction is the hub grass. You can find him on Twitter @blake_242 or at BlakeOnline.com.