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15 Secret Disney Theme Park Perks Even Hardcore Disney Fans Don't Know

Make the most of your trip to the most magical place on Earth.

The cost of a trip to a Disney theme park could give anyone sticker shock. There's the hotel, the dining plan, the souvenirs, and, obviously, the cost of admission to the park itself. When you think about it, that's way more expensive than booking a flight to a tropical island and lounging in a beach chair all day. Still, as any Disney-lover will tell you, a trip to Disney is worth it. After all, it is The Happiest Place On Earth.

To make your Disney vacation even more incredible, we've uncovered the top-secret Disney perks that even the most seasoned park-goers don't know. From how to earn free gift cards to how to find free entertainment, these tricks will absolutely change your trip for the better.

You can get free water just by asking for it.

Close up of mother and daughter toasting with water bottles.

If there's one thing you don't want to deal with on vacation, it's dehydration. Thankfully, Disney has made it insanely easy to stay hydrated on its premises for free. To get water, simply ask for it at any quick-service restaurant (or Starbucks!) at the park. Just make sure not to bring ice into the park as it's forbidden.

You can ride in a secret car on the Disneyland Railroad.

the interior of the lilly belle car in disneyland
Alan Lam/DisneyPhotoBlography

For a more fulfilling experience on the Disneyland Railroad, get to the park extra early and ask for tickets to the Lilly Belle car. Named after Walt Disney's wife, the car is decorated like a Victorian parlor and only sees a few guests a day. Securing these tickets is difficult, but definitely not impossible, according to the Disney blog This Fairytale Life. And keep in mind: this car doesn't have A.C., and so it sometimes closes on super-hot days.

You can get a free Disney gift card by opting out of housekeeping.

Housekeeping in Hotel secret disney perks

Disney Resort hotels in the value and moderate categories (see the full list of hotel designations here) allow guests to decline housekeeping services in order to obtain a gift card worth $10 for every night of their stay (except for the last night, that is). "I've used this while traveling alone or with my fiancé and the $60 or $70 has covered one of our dinners," says Brittany DiCologero, a Disney expert and founder of the Castle Party Blog.

Those who decline are still able to call in fresh towels and trash removal, they just won't get the full top-to-bottom cleaning. So if you're the type of person who likes making your own bed and doesn't need the carpet vacuumed each day, you could save a major chunk of change.

You can have your souvenirs delivered to your hotel for free.

Disney gift shop secret disney perks

Making a bulky purchase and don't want to carry it around the park all day? As long as you're staying at a Disney Resort, you don't have to. Simply tell the retail clerk that you'd like to have your souvenirs delivered to your hotel, and they'll arrange for your purchase to be sent right to where you're staying. You can also have the store send your merchandise to a designated location near the front of the park. Again, just ask the clerk.

You can view the animals at the Animal Kingdom without buying a ticket.

Guests look out over a wildlife-filled savanna on Wild Africa Trek, where adventure comes alive in an exciting experience at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The add-on offering invites intrepid explorers to up-close encounters with the park's wildlife. As part of their expert-led adventure, guests take safari vehicles to a serene overlook where they can savor Africa-inspired food and beverage while observing giraffes, elephants, gazelle and more. Disney's Animal Kingdom is part of Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

If you're only in town for a few days and can't devote enough time to the Animal Kingdom to make buying a day pass worth it, have no fear—you can still see a ton of animals on your trip. Simply head over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, says DiCologero. "You can view the savanna from overlooks around the resort, so if you aren't using a park ticket, you can still see many of the animals," she says.

Plus, there are a ton of educational activities at the Lodge, too. One highly recommended tour is the Starlight Safari, which takes guests on a nighttime drive through the savanna. Adult tickets cost just $74, compared to the $109 for a one-day pass to the Animal Kingdom.

If you play your cards right, you can score major savings on dining.

Guests at a preview of Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort enjoy craft beers, select wines and artisanal cocktails in Barcelona Lounge. Gran Destino Tower opens July 9 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

One of Disney's most generous discounts is the one time a year it offers its Disney Free Dining promotion. The value of the promotion depends on which level resort you're staying at, but at the very least, you can expect a free quick-service dining plan (which gives you credits to use at counter-service locations; not table-service meals), with the option to upgrade to the Disney Regular Dining Plan, which involves pre-paid meals at more than 50 restaurants for $22 per adult and $4 per child, according to WDW Prep School. (That plan typically costs $75 per adult and $27 per child.)

In 2020, the free dining plan will be offered for those checking in between June 27 and September 8 (blackout dates apply). And since there is only a limited quantity of these free dining plans available, you'll need to be one of the first ones to book. That means following every Disney social media account and every Disney blogger to get the inside scoop on when this coveted deal goes live.

You can enjoy a free campfire celebration every night at more than two dozen Disney Resort hotels.

Toasting a marshmallow over an open flame at Christmas market winter wonderland in London

Twenty-six of the park's hotels, including the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney's Wilderness Lodge, offer free campfire nights every day of the week, weather permitting. If your resort participates (find out by checking this list), call the front desk to find out where and when to head down for free games and marshmallows. The campfire night at the Fort Wilderness Resort even includes a sing-a-long and a meet-and-greet with Chip 'n' Dale. (Remember, as long as you're a Disney Resort guest, you can attend the free activities at any Disney Resort.)

There are free movie screenings.

Disney cinderella castle at night

Along with campfire celebrations, most Disney Resorts also show Movies Under the Stars. That means they screen a different Disney movie somewhere on the resort's grounds each night of the week. "It's a great way to spend time doing something as a family on a day when you want to turn in early or you don't want to use a park ticket," says DiCologero. Again, you'll have to talk to a front-desk associate for specific times and locations. The movies typically begin right after the campfire event.

You can run a magical race through Disney without paying a hefty fee.

chewbacca running a marathon with marathoners

The Disney Princess Half Marathon is a ton of fun—but it doesn't come cheap. And the $205 race sounds especially pricey once you learn that several Disney Resorts offer weekly fun runs for just $15 (check out DiCologero's cheat sheet for which hotels offer them). For example, Disney's Port Orleans Resort – Riverside hosts a 1.5-mile Beignet Fun Run every Sunday at 8 a.m. Upon finishing the race, you'll receive a finisher's medallion and, obviously, a delicious beignet. Check the recreation tab on your hotel's website or ask a Disney employee for details.

You can get a sprinkling of pixie dust for free.

girl putting makeup on little girl at a disney theme park

While a sprinkling of pixie dust might not give your kids the ability to fly, it just might make them the happiest children on the planet. And if you go to Castle Couture, the gift shop right behind Cinderella Castle, or Harmony Barber Shop in the Magic Kingdom, you can get them dusted for free. "They'll say a quick spell and pixie dust you with a wand," says DiCologero.

You're entitled to three free Fastpass+ selections per day.

Disney Park line Fastpass+ secret disney perks

The Disney FastPass+ allows you to reserve access to select experiences (think Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Mission: SPACE) as early as 30 days before your trip. That means you can zip to the front of the line instead of waiting on standby for who knows how long. And while this service sounds like it'd cost a pretty penny, you actually get three free FastPass+ selections per day. Simply use the Disney app, in-park kiosks, or online portal to make your selections.

You can ask a Disney photographer to take your photo for free.

Mary Poppins smiles at a young child as she leads a line of children in song and dance in front of Cinderella's castle during Disney's 60th Diamond Celebration.

A Disney vacation is a magical experience that you'll want to remember for years to come. But when Disney's Memory Maker photo package costs some $170, it can be tempting to skip the photo thing altogether. Fortunately, there's a workaround: Disney's photographers aren't paid on commission, which means they're typically happy to take a photo of you and your family for free on your personal device. Just be polite and ask!

You can have lunch with an Imagineer at Disney World.

Clean Plate Club – Bop into a fabulous fifties kitchenette at Disney's Hollywood Studios where diners get

If your love for Disney runs deep, you might want to book a lunch with an Imagineer, "one of the creative minds that brings Disney magic to life." The lunches can accommodate up to 10 guests and take place at either Disney's Hollywood Brown Derby or Citrico's at the Grand Floridian Resort. As they discuss the creative process that goes into the theme parks, feel free to ask every question you've ever wanted to know!

You can make use of the single-rider line to get on some rides faster.

roller coaster in disney theme park

Similar to other amusement parks, Disney World offers several single rider lines that singletons (or childless groups whose members don't mind riding alone) can use to save time. Simply enter the single rider line and wait to fill an empty seat created by an odd-number group in the regular line. Right now the option is available at Disney World's Test Track in Epcot, the Rock 'n' Roll Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios, and Expedition Everest in the Animal Kingdom.

You can get a special tour of the Magic Kingdom before it opens.

two girls with mickey mouse ears carry a bunch of balloons

Each day, the staff at Disney World pick a "family of the day" to enter the Magic Kingdom before anyone else and receive a special tour of the park's Main Street. So how do you get picked for the exclusive (and free!) experience? Disney insider blog Magical DIStractions suggests getting to the park early (think 6:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. opening) and putting on every piece of Disney gear you own to let your enthusiasm shine through. Make sure to chat up the greeters, too! It's a long shot, but you could get lucky. For more tips and tricks on Disney theme parks, check out the 35 Amazing Facts About Disney World Only Insiders Know.

Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
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