Some of Disney’s best-kept secrets include some of the best free or almost free things to do at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Of course all rides and shows in the parks are included in the cost of admission, but there are some freebies and extra bonuses that any guest can appreciate whether or not they are on a budget. These food samples, keepsakes and opportunities can make your Disney day extra magical. Some of them make great souvenirs. They don’t cost anything or cost very little, and that makes my wallet happy too.
Keep in mind that there are many legends circulating the Web about free things at Disneyland. I decided to debunk these myths and provide you with the facts as they come from our Frog Family’s experience and from the mouths of actual Disney Cast Members.
Best Free or Almost Free Things to Do at Disneyland
1. Get a celebration button
In either park you can get free buttons from various locations such as the park entrance, information booths and even some food locations (such as the Tiki Juice Bar). If you are celebrating a birthday, they will personalize it with your name and age. When Lily celebrated her birthday at Disneyland, the day was made extra special due to that free button. Disney employees and park guests told her, “Happy birthday, Lily!” all day long. You can also get buttons for your first visit or to celebrate other events like a wedding, anniversary or family reunion.
2. Find free stickers
Some survey takers in the parks will give your tadpoles some Mickey Mouse stickers in exchange for your time in answering some quick questions. Street sweepers sometimes carry stickers too, so be sure to be friendly to them and you might get a treat!
3. Sample the chocolate
The Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop in Disney California Adventure gives each guest a free piece of Ghirardelli chocolate. This is Mommy Frog's favorite treat ;)
4. Sample the bread
The Boudin Factory tour in California Adventure gives each guest a free piece of sourdough bread. This comes in handy as a little snack, and the bread you see getting baked as you walk through the bakery is served at Pacific Wharf Café, next door. You can read all about that restaurant and others in the Best Quick Service Restaurants in California Adventure.
5. Take an art lesson
If you are in California Adventure visiting Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome in Animation Academy, hop on over to the Royal Academy next door for an art lesson from a Disney artist in sketching Disney characters. You can keep your artwork. The last time we visited we learned how to draw vintage Minnie Mouse.
6. Be a Jedi
One of the coolest interactive experiences in the park takes place in Tomorrowland. In Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, young padawans undergo training so that they can face off against Darth Vader and Darth Maul. This was hands-down Tad's favorite experience when he was younger, and now it's one of Lily's. The process for getting chosen has changed, so be sure to read up on it before you go.
7. Take a cruise and then pick up a map
OK, this map will actually cost you a ride on the Jungle Cruise and either a jungle animal sound (Ribbet ribbet!) or a jungle joke. But seriously, after your ride, approach the cast member at the desk and ask for a map — it makes a great souvenir.
8. Collect pressed pennies
Various stores in Disneyland have machines that can press a penny into a souvenir keepsake. This is fun for the kids to make and will only cost you $0.51. Plus it doesn’t take much to carry this tiny keepsake around or take home in a suitcase. You can also get a Pirate Red card from a machine near Pieces of Eight in New Orleans Square or a Shrunken Ned card (good for a laugh) at the South Sea Trader in Adventureland. Mommy Frog has more money saving tips to share as well.
9. Store your souvenirs
Speaking of managing souvenirs, if you do happen buy something too big to carry around, they will hold it for you for free at the information booth near the exit.
10. Get free beads
You can sometimes get free Mardi Gras bead necklaces in New Orleans. Musicians sometimes hand them out to particularly enthusiastic audience members. One visit during the real Mardi Gras time of year, the Frog Family was lucky enough to catch some beads that were thrown from the balcony of the Disney Dream Suite above Pirates of the Caribbean.
11. Get a free replacement
The following items are not necessarily free (since they replace an item for which you paid), but they can save you money on a replacement if something goes wrong. If you buy a balloon and it pops or flies away, just bring the broken balloon or weight to a balloon seller and they will replace it for you for free. When Tad dropped his ice cream he was a sad little froglet, but we told the ice cream shop what happened and they immediately turned his frown upside down with a replacement cone. We did not even have to wait in line. The same goes for broken souvenirs.
12. Snap a pic of your ride photos
Many rides, especially thrill rides, take your picture while you ride. The pictures are displayed on monitors for a short time immediately after the ride. You can purchase a copy in some locations, but Disney also allows guests to snap a picture of the image on the screen with their own device. Try that at any other amusement park and you will get a harsh reprimand. After you exit Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters you can use the screens to email yourself the photo souvenir for free.
13. Get free short-term parking for Downtown Disney
You can get three hours of free parking at Downtown Disney, and if you eat at a Downtown Disney table service restaurant be sure to get your parking ticket validated for an additional two hours of free parking.
14. Build with Legos
In Downtown Disney, Lego fans of any age can build with Legos outside of the Lego store. Builders can construct a vehicle and race it against other kids’ vehicles. This free playtime also works as a physics lesson as the kids experiment to see what adaptations make their car roll faster or slower than another car. There are some brick-building stations inside the store as well.
15. Pick up free FASTPASSES
If you are willing to give up 60 to 90 minutes of your time in exchange for saving time later by skipping the lines, you might want to stop by the Disney Vacation Club office in Downtown Disney. If you listen to their presentation they will give each member in your group (including kids) three free FASTPASSES (good for almost any ride except Radiator Springs Racers). They have videos and toys to entertain the kids while you listen to the presentation.
Mythical and Legendary Freebies at Disneyland
There are some fake stories circulating the Internet about free things to do at Disneyland. Let the Frog Family set them straight. There is not and has never been a “death certificate” at the Haunted Mansion, and the employees who work this attraction must be tired to death of explaining this to guests. The origins of this myth come from when they gave some particularly scared children a certificate (during the Year of a Million Dreams) that said something like, “I survived the Haunted Mansion.” Somehow this got shared on the Web and was turned into a legend of the death certificate but there is no longer a certificate of any kind associated with this ride.
Do not attempt to give birth (or lay tadpole eggs) in the park. Years ago, when a baby was accidentally born in the park the child received a lifetime admission to Disneyland. As word got out, Disney found that women were trying to induce labor in the park just to receive free Disneyland visits for life, so that policy stopped many years ago.
Hopefully you can use this list of free things at Disneyland to make your next trip just a little more special. This is not a complete list, but these are the ones we consistently find and enjoy taking advantage of when we are visiting the parks. We always want to know of any new free or inexpensive things to do at Disneyland, so let us know your discoveries too. Share them in comments below!