10 Things At Disney World Hotels That You Can Do For Free

All kinds of people visit Walt Disney World. Disney folks run the gamut from sun-up to sundown park hoppers to lackadaisical resort loungers. Even if you rarely spend any of your waking hours at the hotels, it's still nice to know that if you decide to take a rest day, there are activities for everyone that don't cost a dime. Some options, like Movies Under the Stars, are hotel-wide, while others, like bonfires or Skyliner crawling, are hotel-specific. Frequent WDW visitors have their favorite hotels for multiple reasons. For example, the atmosphere and access to the free riverboat that takes you to Disney Springs add to the experience of staying at Port Orleans French Quarter.

Each Disney hotel has its own benefits that you may only discover once you visit once, twice, or a dozen times. However, they all have free activities for you to enjoy (often even by guests staying at other Disney hotels). After all, Port Orleans Riverside's Yehaa Bob Jackson needs audiences, even if you're staying at Pop Century or Grand Floridian. When paying Disney hotel prices, you want to track what each offers as part of your reservation costs. These freebies change from time to time, though for the most part, they're steady, get rejuvenated, or receive an upgrade as time goes on.

1. Movies Under the Stars

Each Walt Disney World hotel offers a version of Movies Under the Stars by providing its own film lineups during a particular week. In the pre-COVID days, cast members would also hand out bags of popcorn so that you could enjoy a showing of "Frozen" at Art of Animation with a tasty and free snack in hand. Alas, it seems those days have disappeared for good. Still, you can bring your own snacks and drinks to the events. Just be mindful if you have one too many at the pool bar since kiddos are usually the primary audiences at the Movies Under the Stars series.

The films chosen don't necessarily relate to the hotels that show them, though sometimes it feels that way. For example, a viewing of "Moana" at Caribbean Beach Resort. A beachy, island film offered at a beachy, island-themed hotel? Coincidence or good branding? We may never know. Each night also features a different movie, so if the thought of watching "Cinderella" one evening doesn't thrill you, pop back another day.

Sometimes, the films also change unexpectedly, so keep an eye on the signage around the resort. You can ask the front desk if you have questions about the roster for a given day. Calling on your room phone may redirect you to a cast member outside your hotel who may not know that night's movie. So, checking the signs usually posted near the lobby area or wandering down to the front desk will be your safest options.

2. Skyliner crawling

Frequent visitors know that one of the perks of staying on the property is visiting the different hotels using the various Walt Disney World transportation options. Whether you hop over to Grand Floridian for a drink at the Enchanted Rose Lounge or go to Animal Kingdom Lodge for a safari, you'll be amazed at how much you'll miss if you never venture to the other spots. That's doubly true for hotels linked by a Skyliner. There's even a scavenger hunt specifically for the Skyliner resorts!

The only hotels connected directly to the Skyliner are Riviera, Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, and Pop Century. Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club Resort, and Beach Club Resort are also within walking distance. If you aren't staying at one of these locations, the cheapest way to get to them is to hop on a bus to one of the theme parks and then take the bus to that hotel. Otherwise, you could get an Uber or Minnie Van (Disney's collaboration with Lyft) to pick you up and drop you off.

Any Skyliner-connected hotels can provide a map and directions for the scavenger hunt. Each resort features four questions, which could quickly eat up a free afternoon if you are serious about it. Once you're done with the scavenger hunt, you can bring your completed answers to one of the hotel front desks to receive your choice of finisher prize.

3. Monorail crawling

Along the same lines as Skyliner crawling, riding the monorail to the three connected hotels is a real treat. That's because the Polynesian, the Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian are some of the top-ranked resort hotels at Walt Disney World. They each vary wildly from one another, making them fun to explore, especially if the Grand Floridian has its giant gingerbread house built for the holiday season. It's becoming increasingly common for other hotels on the property to have a gingerbread house display, though this is not an annual tradition yet. 

The Polynesian, the Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian are a blast to investigate without any plans. You can see the immense details that set them apart from other accommodations. You and your family could even create your own scavenger hunt along the way or wander around looking for hidden Mickeys–- a feature you might have missed on your last trip to Walt Disney World. Why not see who can find the most?

One way to do a monorail crawl is to position each stop strategically (which will cost money for food or spa treatments). For example, grab breakfast at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary, followed by a spa treatment at the Grand Floridian, and finish the crawl with a cocktail at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar at the Polynesian. You'll need reservations at Chef Mickey's and get in a competitive first-come-first-served line at Trader Sam's.

4. Scavenger hunts

Certain Walt Disney World hotels offer free scavenger hunts, and you don't have to be a guest to participate in them. Plus, if you complete the scavenger hunt, each hotel gives you a site-specific prize like an animal toy or bracelet at Animal Kingdom Lodge: Jambo House or some appropriately groovy gear at Pop Century. Adults and kiddos are welcome to participate in the scavenger hunts; there are no age limits on fun with this free Disney hotel activity.

Each hunt involves answering questions about details hidden around the respective hotel. You could finish every hunt and collect all of the prizes. No matter how many you take on, you'll have fun while learning facts about the resorts you would have otherwise missed. Some of these quests are more complex than others, like the French Quarter scavenger hunt, which can take hours, versus the Riverside hunt, which can require less than 30 minutes. It should be noted that hotels can change the type of prizes at any time.

The hotels that offer scavenger hunts are Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, the Polynesian Resort, Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge and Boulder Ridge Villas, and Animal Kingdom Lodge: Jambo House. These locations span the range of hotel price points at Disney, from value resorts like Pop Century to the deluxe Animal Kingdom Lodge.

5. Live performances

You can find live performances at some moderate and deluxe hotel options, like musicians at Scat Cat's Club at Port Orleans French Quarter. Despite its name, jazz is not always on the musical menu at Scat Cat's. If a Disney hotel has a lounge without a cover charge or need for reservations, there's a good chance that it also frequently has live performers. Yehaa Bob Jackson's shows at Port Orleans Riverside are always free and a hoot -– or a yeehaw?

Over at the Grand Floridian, a live pianist often hangs out in the stunning hotel lobby. You'll hear these classical tunes throughout the day, offering respite from the often chaotic sounds emanating from all over Disney World -–magic can be noisy. Live performers are scattered about the BoardWalk area outside of EPCOT. While there is no shortage of excellent, free live entertainment in this area, the spontaneous nature of the performances along the BoardWalk is a great way to mix it up or take a break during the day.

Although not entirely the same, there are occasionally random character appearances at hotels. These surprise meet and greets are not scheduled anywhere publicly; you have to be prepared for the spontaneity of Mickey and his pals. You could stay on the Walt Disney World property multiple times and only spot a surprise character visit once or not at all.

6. Campfires

All the Walt Disney World hotels feature campfire activities, usually including s'mores (for an additional cost). They happen at the same time every night as long as the weather cooperates, but some hotels like Fort Wilderness Campground kick it up a notch. At Fort, you can enjoy Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-Along, where you can spend some off-park time with the adorable chipmunk duo. Unlike the hotel's beloved Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, the campfire sing-along is free for anyone who wants to attend.

Generally, the campfires happen nightly from 5:30 to 6:30 pm in whatever iteration they take. Not every hotel has them daily, so checking before heading over is essential. Locations like All-Star Movies and Caribbean Beach have nightly campfires, while the Contemporary only has them on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. Even without the additional paid s'mores kits, the campfires can be a fun way to end an exciting day. Activities like the sing-a-longs or storytimes don't cost extra, plus you could always meander over to the Movies Under the Stars after the campfire has concluded.

You can bring your own s'mores supplies for the campfire; they don't have to be purchased directly from the hotel to participate. If you don't want to crush the graham crackers in your luggage, you could have them delivered with Instacart or a similar service. That's a good idea if you have a bigger group since the Disney s'mores kits can be cost-prohibitive in large numbers. Luckily, marshmallows on their own are easy to pack.

7. Animal watching

No, this isn't dedicated to the adorable, chubby squirrels that can be found all around the Walt Disney World property. At Animal Kingdom Lodge, the stars of the show are the African wildlife who live on-site. They can be seen frequently throughout the day, though they are most active at dusk -– perfect for the back end of a half-park day. Across the AKL are three eleven-acre savannas for the animals to romp in and enjoy: Sunset Savanna, Arusha Savanna, and Uzima Savanna.

Each Savanna is worth exploring because they all house different varieties of creatures. At Sunset, you can see creatures such as bongos, impalas, African crowned cranes, and Thomson's gazelles. At Arusha, there are giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and pelicans, among others. Finally, at Uzima, the animals include kudus, blesboks, and more giraffes! Plus, there are frequent babies in one of the savannas, like the pair of zebra foals born on the AKL property in 2023. 

The hotel can provide a handy animal guide with sketches, names, and information about each animal you may see. If you're staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, consider picking one up at check-in and give yourself the entire trip to find all of them, like your own personal, animal-centered scavenger hunt. Even if you aren't staying at the hotel, you can grab one of the guides from the front desk to make the most of your visit.

8. Christmas decorations

A play on resort hopping, during the Christmas season, it can be a lot of fun to go around and see all of the different decorations the resorts put up to celebrate. What makes this especially fun is that they can be specific to the themes of the hotels, like the Grand Floridian's very Victorian Christmas aesthetic. In true Disney fashion, all hotels do something for the holiday season; however, some go bigger for Christmas than the rest. While it's usually too hot to enjoy hot cocoa in Walt Disney World, wandering through the air-conditioned lobbies of the resorts is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a cup (or two).

The best places to visit for holiday decoration self-guided tours are Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Wilderness Lodge (campers go big), BoardWalk Inn, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs. Like resort hopping, it's fascinating to see how these hotels can showcase creativity so differently from one another — especially a place as colorful and artistic as the Gran Destino Tower. Christmas tree lovers, in particular, need to visit the Contemporary. The giant pine tree there gets decked out in an appropriately retro light and ornament display, but the tree is also one of the oldest on WDW property. That historical context matters since it's rooted in an iconic hotel focused on mid-century modern styles.

9. Animation classes

Walt Disney World's Art of Animation sometimes offers free animation classes, which likely doesn't come as much of a surprise given the resort's name. Like the other activities, these Teach to Draw classes are open to any Disney World hotel guest, regardless of where they stay. They aren't just any old drawing lessons, either. Disney artists teach them and are genuinely masterclasses at what they do. This unique opportunity allows guests to delve into the magical world of animation and learn from some of the very best in the industry.

On top of being a terrific experience, these drawings can become memorable souvenirs for burgeoning artists. One option to consider is to go with the whole family every time you visit WDW. See if a cast member can provide some scrap cardboard to keep the drawings safe (and flat) in your luggage or bring your own. You have to protect your work of art! Especially for young artists, this is an incredible way to track their progress through the years. Who knows, maybe they'll be the artists teaching the classes one day! There aren't a lot of free souvenirs offered by Disney, so it's worth noting when they exist.

Unfortunately, the Teach to Draw classes don't always make it onto the activities schedule. If you discover this will be the case during your stay, you can enjoy a similar format via the Animation Experience at Conservation Station. You'll need to head to Rafiki's Planet Watch at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park to participate in the 25-minute session.

10. Pool area activities

This is the wildcard of the free Disney hotel activities because each hotel does it differently. There are frequent activities or games for the kiddos at specific points of the day to keep the fun going, with varying degrees of creativity. For example, at Port Orleans French Quarter in 2022, there was a day when the kiddos could all make slime on the pool deck with cast members. Making slime next to the pool might feel a little weird, but everyone can have a great time if they embrace the novelty.

Another typical pool deck activity over at Pop Century is, no surprise, tie-dye. It's the most fitting free activity for a hotel with a pool called the Hippy Dippy Pool. It sounds like the ideal place to learn how to do tie-dye. The hotel should also offer bead necklace-making to keep with the theme, though that could get dicey on a pool deck.

Paying attention to what free craft activities are offered at your individual WDW hotel is the best way to get some free souvenirs. What's more, no matter what you do, these souvenirs will be unique to you, your family, and your individual experiences on vacation. Itineraries for the week are posted throughout the hotels, though you can always ask the front desk if you need confirmation.