It's a Great Big Beautiful World! Let's Discover it Together

Showing posts with label FREE Activities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FREE Activities. Show all posts

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Savers - Resort Window Shopping

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at some of the fun and enjoyment to be found throughout the various Resort Hotels at Walt Disney World.

Like the theme parks, Disney’s resort hotels are all highly themed and beautifully maintained.  Some of the resorts’ lobbies and public spaces are truly gorgeous.  Just as the price level differentiates the hotel offerings and amenities, it can separate the level of thematic elements and detail – BUT – that doesn’t mean that only the Deluxe or Moderate hotels are worth exploring! 

The Value Resorts (Disney’s All-Stars Movies, Music & Sports, Disney’s POP Century, and the newest value category resort Disney’s Art of Animation) all have their own unique stylings, and are well worth a visit.  The over-sized icons, graphics and elements that convey the overall theme of each resort are beautiful, and great for photo opportunities.  Some of my favorite design elements can be found at POP Century and All-Star Music! 

As you move up the price chain, the level of landscaping and overall building design increases.  All of the Moderate and Deluxe resorts, especially, have extraordinary theming and are well worth a visit.  In the Moderate realm, Disney’s Port Orleans and Disney’s Coronado Springs resorts, and in the Deluxe realm Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Disney’s Polynesian and Disney’s Grand Floridian resorts do an exceptional job of utilizing theme appropriate-landscaping to augment and convey and evoke the locale and time period represented.  Personally I feel that two of the Deluxe level resorts go well above and beyond exceptional in creating evocative environments, and fully immerse the guests into the environment being conveyed – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.  Both of these resorts are absolutely breathtaking. 

The pools the various resorts are delightful:  at Coronado Springs the pool looks like a Mayan ruin; Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club includes a huge "shipwreck" containing a water slide, and is one of the largest sand bottomed pools in the United States; at the Wilderness Lodge follow the “spring” in the lobby and watch as it passes under a bridge, then cascades down a waterfall passing under another bridge, appearing to go into the pool and then down into the adjacent Bay Lake!; at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge-Kidani Village, there is an entire pool / water play complex known as Uwanja Camp where fanciful fountains, flowers and other devices spring to life dousing guests; at Disney’s Polynesian guests can slide down through a volcano!   There are so many terrific designs just in the pools alone, that you’ll want to explore each one.  (Note that pools are for use of the registered hotel guests
Each of the resorts offers an array of free or nominal-fee activities.  Check the lobby upon your arrival to see if anything appeals to you.  Some resorts even offer free tours, whether you are a guest of that resort or not, such as Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Grand Floridian and others (usually in the mornings, so get there early if you are interested).

If you are staying on property and don’t have your own transportation, simply use the FREE Disney transportation to get to your chosen destination.  You won’t be able to get to a resort directly, but the journey is part of the fun, right?  Take a bus (or boat, or monorail) from your resort to the nearest theme park, water park, or Downtown Disney, and then transfer to a bus going to the resort you’re looking for.  Or if you do have your own wheels to get around, simply drive to your resort of choice and you can get a FREE 3-hour parking permit from the gate attendant.  Now go out and enjoy looking around! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday Savers - Campfire Fun at the Fort!

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at some campfire fun to be found at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

The campfire program at Ft. Wilderness is open to all Walt Disney World resort guests.  There you can sing around the campfire and watch a FREE Disney movie, in a rustic, wooded environment, which is quite fitting to the campfire experience!

The campfire is held every evening near the Meadow Trading Post.  It starts at about 7:00 pm in the fall and winter, and at about 8:00 pm in the spring and summer.  It starts with an old fashioned sing-a-long and marshmallow roast.  Guests are welcome to bring their own food or they can purchase supplies from the Chuckwagon, which offers S'mores kits for around $9-10.  These kits have enough supplies to make s’mores for about 4 people, so plan accordingly if you don’t bring your own supplies.  The Chuckwagon also offers other food items such as hot dogs, pizza and soft drinks.

Chip and Dale will come out and meet the guests and sign their autograph albums – and of course let you take a picture. Following the campfire program, a Disney movie is shown on a large outdoor screen., similar to the poolside movies shown at other resorts.  The Fort does offer some seating on bleachers and benches, but many guests prefer to lay out a blanket on the grass.  

There are no reservations for this program – simply show up and enjoy.  The best part of it all is that it is FREE to attend, and only a nominal charge if you want to make s’mores. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Savers - Downtown Disney

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at what's going on at Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney includes three distinct sections:  Marketplace, Pleasure Island and the West Side, and is filled throughout with fanciful shops, restaurants, a marina, 24 screen movie theatre, small pay-to-play attractions for the young or young-at-heart such as the small carousel and train ride, or for the more-adventurous at heart the "Characters in Flight" balloon ride.

If you like to shop (or are more like my lovely bride and prefer to window shop), you'll enjoy this festive,  fun, and attractively designed outdoor mall-like area situated along the shores of Lake Buena Vista, across from Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort.  There a number of FREE entertainment offerings, plus several of the locations give out samples or provide free things to do while there.  If you are staying on property in one of the many Disney-owned hotels and resorts, or even at the other “official” Walt Disney World hotels not owned or operated by Disney (Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, or the 7 Downtown Disney Hotels along Hotel Plaza Blvd, you can use Disney transportation to get to Downtown Disney.  If you are staying at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort or one of the 7 Downtown Disney hotels, you can even walk from your hotel.  Disney’s Old Key West, Disney’s Port Orleans and Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resorts all also offer boat transportation to and from Downtown Disney, which is of course, free to use.  If you stay elsewhere, then you’ll probably need to drive or take a taxi, although there is a bus stop for the local Lynx bus service, route #111, which does make a stop at Downtown Disney on it’s way from Orlando International Airport (with outbound service as well). Parking at Downtown Disney is FREE.

Here are some of the FREE and inexpensive things you can do at Downtown Disney:

The Lego Imagination Center has a FREE 3,000-square-foot play area filled with thousands of LEGO blocks, plus some absolutely amazing and huge Lego sculptures for you to admire! Also, it normally participates in the Monthly Mini Model Build (usually first Tuesday of the month, starting at 5:00 pm), where kids ages 6-14 can build and take home a FREE mini model! Click here to see upcoming events at the store.

The stage along the waterfront, near the World of Disney store is often filled with guest performances of the musical variety, as this stage is one of the primary stages used by the Disney Magic Music Days program – part of the Disney Youth Program.  High school performance groups can often be found on this stage singing or playing their hearts out.  Stop in and enjoy some FREE entertainment for a while.

There are a couple of different playful and fun, interactive fountains at Downtown Disney where children (and playful adults) may enjoy playing and getting wet. This is especially nice on those hot summer days.

While most of the restaurants are pricey to very expensive, it is entirely possible to enjoy a meal for about $10 per person (sandwich, side and drink) at Earl of Sandwich in the Marketplace section, near Once Upon a Toy.  You could also enjoy making a meal of a pretzel dog and drink for about the same amount of money at Wetzel’s Pretzels in the West Side section.  

Visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and they’ll give you a FREE chocolate sample (this is a must-do on our family’s list each visit!).  Or if you prefer an actual ice cream treat, go to the Soda Fountain side and you can get a sundae or shake for about $7 or less (you could spend more – but there’s no need to).    We have also found that Ghiradelli offers a multi-person sundae – the “Family Favorite” (similar to the “Kitchen Sink” at Beaches and Cream over at Disney’s Beach Club) for about $4 less than the Kitchen Sink, with about the same quantity of ice cream.

House of Blues frequently offers free live music at its Front Porch Bar - enjoy for the cost of a drink! (21 and over)

Raglan Road often has free live music in the bar, particularly on weekends - enjoy for the cost of a drink! (21 and over)

Other wandering performers do show up from time to time, though don’t plan on this as there’s no officially published schedule for it.  If you happen to be there when someone or something shows up to entertain – just relax and enjoy it!

Each fall, Downtown Disney hosts the “Festival of the Masters”, which features award-winning artists and entertaining experiences, and it is a highly anticipated annual event for art lovers.  The festival offers FREE fun for the entire family, with hands-on activities, live musical performances, and all of the various beautifully displayed artwork – many of which are one-of-a-kind and limited-edition painting, photography, sculpture, jewelry and more.  This year’s festival takes place November 9-12, 2012.

Going to a movie isn’t all that inexpensive any more, but the AMC 24 Pleasure Island does provide some alternative fun that doesn’t have to break the bank. 

Every person is different, but there's bound to be something of interest for you at Downtown Disney!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Savers - Nighttime Fun at Disney's Boardwalk Resort

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free. Today we'll take a look at what's going on at Disney's Boardwalk Resort.

Disney's Boardwalk is built around Crescent Lake, just to the west of the International Gateway at Epcot, and a little to the north of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Its design is reminiscent of Atlantic boardwalk resorts of the 1930’s & ‘40’s. The resort itself has many fun things to see and do, and really “comes alive” at sunset and on throughout the evening hours with numerous FREE and inexpensive entertainment offerings.  It's a fun place to just walking around and enjoy the atmosphere! While some of the restaurants are open at lunchtime, the best time to visit the BoardWalk is after sunset. It's beautifully lit up, and really “comes alive” after dark.

Some of the FREE and relatively inexpensive things you can do at Disney's BoardWalk include:  
  • Rent an old-fashioned fringe-topped surrey (for up to 6 guests) and ride around Crescent Lake.
  • Watch the various street performers (jugglers, comedians, sword swallowers, fire-eaters, musicians, etc.)
  • Get some delicious, relatively inexpensive treats at the various food vendors, shops & restaurants around the water’s edge.  Seashore Sweets includes both candy and ice cream treats, including hand-dipped cones, and shakes. 
  • Try your luck at carnival-style games – these aren’t free, but can be great fun.
  • Sit and watch the Friendship Boats come and go - or sit and watch the upper parts of Illuminations from Epcot (much of the show is lower level pyrotechnics, but many do go over the tops of the Boardwalk Inn and are quite visible).
  • Visit Jellyroll's (a dueling piano bar featuring sing-a-longs to pop tunes). There is a cover charge of about $10 per person cover charge – and everyone must be 21 or over to enter.
  • Check out Atlantic Dance Hall, which has dancing, usually with no cover charge. Everyone must be 21 or over to enter.

If you drive to the Boardwalk, you can get a FREE 3-hour parking permit from the lot attendant.  If you are staying on Disney property, you can use Disney transportation to get to the BoardWalk – either by bus or by boat.  By bus you will need to get there from one of the theme parks, water parks or Downtown Disney – as there are no resort to resort buses.  So if you are going straight from your resort – hop on any theme park bus and then transfer  over to a Boardwalk bus.  By boat, you can get there from either Disney Hollywood Studios or Epcot’s International Gateway (you could walk from either of these locations in a short amount of time).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Savers - The Disney Wilderness Preserve

It’s time once again to take a look at inexpensive options in or around Walt Disney World to augment your vacation experience.  Things that you might do on your own or with your traveling companions that are FREE or close to being free.

Today we look at the Disney Wilderness Preserve.  No, I’m not referring to the recreated African savannahs at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park – but rather, an actual wilderness preserve (vs. an Imagineered one) at the far southern end of Walt Disney World, at the headwaters of the Everglades ecosystem, or about 20 miles south of Orlando – it’s The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve, a 12,000 acre wildlife preserve that has been left in its’ natural state, where flora and fauna abound in nearly complete undeveloped beauty along the shores of Lake Russell.  It is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, and here you can observe native plants and animals by hiking a 2 1/2-mile trail.

The Preserve is open 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Monday-Friday and is closed on most major holidays. Admission is FREE, though donations are appreciated. Due to potential flooding or restoration activities, access can be limited, so make sure you call the preserve at (407) 935-0002 before driving out to it.  For more information on the preserve visit