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Contemporary Resort Monorail image

The resort hotels at Walt Disney World are like mini-attractions in their own right. Heavily themed and packed with activities, each spot immerses visitors in a specific time and place. Nature is celebrated at Fort Wilderness and the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The Grand Floridian recalls the elegant Victorian era. Pop Century is filled with pop culture nostalgia.

What you might not know is that anyone is free to explore all of the official Walt Disney World resorts. You do not need to be a guest at that hotel, or even staying on site at all. You are generally welcome to self-park for free at each hotel for a maximum of three hours per resort. On holidays and particularly busy weekends, however, you might need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, Downtown Disney, or one of the theme parks and take Disney transportation.

You must be a guest at a specific hotel to use its pool, or to participate in very limited capacity programs such as the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sunrise Safari. Everything else, however, is open to all. Here is a list of 6 free things that anyone can do at the Walt Disney World hotels.

6. Campfires

Fort Wilderness CampfireFort Wilderness CampfireThe Fort Wilderness Campfire with Chip and Dale is my personal favorite! Image: Copyright Disney.

When the sun goes down, 12 different Walt Disney World resorts light campfires. Depending on the venue, the program might include Disney characters, sing-alongs or special presentations. S’mores kits are available for a nominal fee. The campfire is often followed by a free Disney movie under the stars. My favorite campfire program is at Fort Wilderness, a heavily wooded campground where Chip and Dale join in the fun.

5. Fireworks viewing

Fireworks From Contemporary ResortFireworks From Contemporary ResortWatch the fireworks without the crowd on the fourth floor balcony at the Contemporary Resort.

Both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot launch spectacular fireworks displays every night, which are viewable from around the Walt Disney World resort. If you do not want to enter the parks, the best viewing locations are the fourth floor deck at the Contemporary and the beach at the Polynesian. Both spots provide excellent views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks, with the accompanying music piped in to speakers all around

It is usually very easy to find a spot, although it is best to arrive an hour early on holidays. Even on the most crowded days of the year, however, when the parks are packed literally shoulder to shoulder, you will find a bit of breathing room at the resorts.

4. Polynesian torch lighting

Polynesian Resort Torch LightingPolynesian Resort Torch LightingCatch the Polynesian's evening torch lighting with an authentic fire dancer.

On Tuesday through Saturday nights at 6 p.m., a fire dancer welcomes guests to the Polynesian Resort. The show begins in the lobby, and then moves outside for approximately 7 minutes of drumming and dancing culminating in the dancer using his wand to light the nearby torches. He also performs some impressive theatrics, including fire eating. It is probably not worth making a separate trip just for this show, but if you can time your visit to the Polynesian to include the show, it is well worth your time.

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