That’s how many days I’ve spent “on property” at Walt Disney World (WDW) near Orlando, Florida. You can see why here. Few of those have been for free. Our family has stayed at various Disney resorts, with friends and family, and at rental homes near the happiest place on earth. We spent an incredible 45 days there in one year. We have a few favorite things to do there as I’ve described here. So I know a little bit about the parks.

I’ve studied the Disney parks history, admire Walt personally for his vision, and delved into Disney corporate philosophy as part of my MBA leadership studies. So I know a little about how Disney works and why. Most importantly, my wife and I have been there many, many days with kids – and a few without. We’ve spent a lot of money investing in family memories.

But we have also spent a few days at Walt Disney World for almost free. I’ll share how in the next few blog posts.

Here’s how you enjoy an almost free day at Walt Disney World:

  • Forget about going into the parks. If you want free – or at least very limited cost – forget going into one of the four parks: The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios will all cost you a little under $90 a piece for one day. You can get them for less per day if you visit for multiple days – always the best pricing option. The annual pass is the best deal provided you can visit more than ten days or so in the year. But if you’re looking to get a taste of Disney without dropping at least $360 for a family of four, it’s a different plan you want.
  • Visit Downtown Disney.  You can explore more here but this is one of the few truly free areas at Walt Disney World that is open to the public. You don’t have to pay anything to park. You might have to be patient to find a spot on a busy day. Of course, Disney assumes you will likely shop — perhaps at the massive World of Disney store or the Lego store — and spend or play and spend and eat and spend – you get the idea. But you don’t have to. A little self-control can give you a few hours of fun if you prepare the kids — and Dad — to know they will not be on a spending spree.

A life-size dragon at Downtown Disney made entirely out of Legos

  • Visit the resorts. With about twenty resorts on property, there are always a few we haven’t seen yet. We enjoy visiting each of the uniquely-themed resorts.

Watch animal feedings at The Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney doesn’t seem to mind since by visiting you increase the chance that you’ll return later for a paid stay. Many of them have playgrounds that the kids can try out. Most other amenities are understandably reserved for resort guests.

Exploring Fort Wilderness near the Trail's End at the Settlement

Most have a variety of restaurants, either quick-service or sit down. You’ll likely need reservations for the sit-down ones, and they will cost more. I suggest you stick to the quick-service. A few of our perennial favorites for eating at resorts while holding down costs are: The Trail’s End at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian Resort, any of the themed All-Star resorts food courts, the Pepper Market at the Coronado Springs Resort, or The Mara in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Of course, there are plenty of other options — none of which are free — but the food is always excellent.

We especially recommend the oriental stir fry at Captain Cooks as one of the best–tasting values on property. Plus you can eat in the lush gardens of the Polynesian Resort. Time your visit right and you can just happen to finish up right as the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks begin across the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Magic Kingdom. The music is piped in along the beachfront so you can watch the show at a distance and in stereo.

Tomorrow: How to get free rides on your almost free day at Walt Disney World.

Have you been to any of the destinations I mentioned? What other ways have you found to visit Walt Disney World and keep the costs down? Share a comment — and some pixie dust.

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