The best things in life are free, right? Hard to believe when you have scrimped, saved, and added some credit card debt to go on a Walt Disney World vacation.
But I have to admit, there are several Disney things I’ve acquired over the years that didn’t cost me anything extra, but have brought me extreme joy.
Maybe it’s because I already have multiple mouse-ear hats and headbands, spirit jerseys, popcorn buckets, Pandora charms, and pins. Have I reached a souvenir plateau? I doubt it. Just look at the Baby Yoda t-shirts and phone cases I had to have last weekend.
Whatever the case, it recently hit me that there are several Disney items in my home that I didn’t actually purchase, but give me a boost every time I see them.
Now don’t go crazy here. The stuff I’m talking about is by no means high-dollar swag. And I understand that the cost of all of it is probably wrapped into the price of my vacation—so not truly “free.” But they came my way unexpectedly. Basically, I didn’t need to tap my MagicBand to bring them home.
Here’s a favorite from each park.
My first visit to Oga’s Cantina was during a grown-up trip in January. In the end, we had a foursome of really cute coasters in front of us. When I cashed out, I asked the bartender if I could take the coasters home and she said, “of course.”
Back home, the coasters are in my living room, and every morning when I place my morning coffee on an Oga’s coaster, I smile and remember my first sip of blue milk (which, by the way, was a thumbs down for me).
Our last trip to the Magic Kingdom happened to be on a rainy day, and it was amazing. Lines were really short, and we were able to accomplish from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. more than I can usually get done in a whole day. When the rained slowed mid-afternoon, the park loaded up quickly. We decided to head out, but not before stopping at the fire station for a free pack of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom trading cards.
Normally, this is something we do in the morning so the kids can use the cards to do battle throughout the day. But today, we just wanted a fresh pack of cards to add to our collection or trade. These cards are a nice quality and are beautifully designed. Plus, we give duplicates to any friends we learn are going on a first-time vacation to Disney. It’s a great way to get them excited about an upcoming trip.
My favorite free thing of all time is the free art lesson I got at the Animal Kingdom’s Animation Experience at Conservation Station. It was incredible, easy to do, and my kids and I got to meet a real Disney animator. More importantly, we came home with a piece of Disney art we drew ourselves and could be proud of.
We did get a FastPass for the experience because we wanted a seat in the front row. But in hindsight, it wasn’t necessary. There was plenty of space for both FastPass and standby-line guests and the big screens made it easy to see the animator’s instructions.
Now that Club Cool is gone, the Kidcot Fun Stops get my vote for favorite Epcot freebie. Each country in the World Showcase has a Fun Stop. There you’ll receive a collectible card with information about the country you are visiting, a sticker, and sometimes a cast member will write your name out in that country’s language. The activity is geared toward the younger set, but I know a lot of older kids and adults who like to collect the cards, so don’t opt-out if it appeals to you.
Confession: As a mom, what I like most are the Ziploc bags that cast members usually hand out to help carry and protect the Kidcot cards. (The Magic Kingdom’s Splash Mountain hands out free bags, too.) Because the bags have a cute Disney design, I wash and reuse them over and over back home.
Now that the individual H20 toiletry bottles are slowly going away (which makes me sad, but truly is the right thing to do), I look forward to the Disney bookmarks I get with each Disney resort visit. They are just paper with a Disney character and an inspirational quote, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used these bookmarks. They are probably the Disney souvenir I encounter the most in my home.
Of course, there are several other freebies I haven’t mentioned: the character stickers (have you ever gotten one of the honorary custodian stickers?), the Wilderness Explorer guidebooks, the flower leis at the Polynesian and Aulani resorts, the big celebration buttons (never be too shy to wear one, you’ll be greeted with kind words all day!), and the character autographs.
For a lucky few, one of the best, best, best of all free magical treats is when a cookie or lunch box tart comes off the tray broken, and a cast member asks if you’d like to have it!
Again, these are the quiet, unexpected things that sometimes greet you on a Disney vacation. They aren’t the things you go to Disney for. They often represent small moments. But they do have the uncanny ability to find their way home with you, and they like to sneak up on you when you least expect it, just to give you a boost. And that feeling truly is free!
I'm a writer living in East Lansing, Michigan. I have loved Disney ever since my first visit in 1977, and I always keep my Annual Pass in my wallet just in case the opportunity to visit WDW comes up (you never know). I publish a weekly e-newsletter called MAIN STREET POP IN and can be found anytime at www.mainstreetpopin.com.