Budget-savvy vacationers have their work cut out for them when it comes to being wallet-conscious at the Disneyland Resort. Even die-hard Disney fans and Annual Passholders acknowledge they’re hemorrhaging money on any park visit.
Whether you’re planning a trip, want to convince someone the Walt Disney Company isn’t best represented by Scrooge McDuck, or are simply curious (or shocked) by this blog’s title, here are 5 ways to get something for free in the Disneyland Resort. Yes, absolutely free!
1. FREE BUTTONS
Is it your first trip to Disneyland? Did you just get engaged or married? Maybe it’s your birthday!
If any of the above apply, you can head straight to City Hall to claim your free button!
For those who are casual or first-time visitors to the Disney parks, let me back up. Upon entering Disneyland, the first land you walk through is Main Street U.S.A. This charming street is based on turn-of-the-century idealized Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney’s hometown. There are shops and eateries like you would expect in any small town’s Main Street, and also municipal buildings like a Firehouse and City Hall.
City Hall operates like a fantasy version of a real-life City Hall. All ride elevator permits are on file at Disneyland’s City Hall, and you can go there for questions, or to file compliments or complaints about Cast Members, just like you would go to discuss civic issues in your own city.
Once they realize it’s not a ride or show, many people pass by City Hall without entering it. If you’re a Disney fan, I highly encourage you to go inside and chat up the Cast Members if it’s not busy. They’re usually thrilled to talk with non-tourists and gab about Disney lore. They’ve got some cool stuff in there, too – old photos and the like.
What’s especially awesome about City Hall, though, is they give out a variety of buttons to celebrate certain occasions. For free. And if you wear the button, Cast Members and park guests will acknowledge the happy occasion that earned you the button or spark up a conversation with you! (If you don’t want to encourage conversations with Cast Members or questions from strangers, then grab the button and put it in your pocket or purse and secretly relish that you just got something for free.)
So, if you want one of the buttons below, be sure to tell City Hall on your next qualifying visit. All you have to do is walk in and say, “Hi, I’m on my first visit/celebrating my birthday” or “Hello, we’re engaged/married/celebrating our anniversary/enjoying our family reunion”
- Happy Birthday
- First Visit
- Just Engaged
- Just Married
- Family Reunion
- Honorary Citizen
- I’m Celebrating
2. FREE CHOCOLATE
Who doesn’t love free chocolate? Other than dieters or vegans, probably no one. In Disney California Adventure, you have the ability to get two free food items. With Disney park food prices being what they are, that’s a steal!
Even better, both are located just a few footsteps away from each other.
In Disney California, head over to the Fisherman’s Wharf area in between Cars Land and Paradise Pier. Approaching from the Cars Land side, you’ll see a Boudin Bakery and Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory sign. This is your stop.
Enter the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory and greet the Cast Member who will smile and hand you a free sample of chocolate. Then you can grab a menu and order, or just walk straight through the shop (and back into the front door to grab another free piece of chocolate, like I usually do!)
3. FREE BREAD
After you’ve enjoyed your free chocolate, head next door to the Boudin Bakery for some free sourdough bread!
Once you enter, you’ll receive a torn-off piece of freshly baked sourdough bread. Delicious! You can stop and chew while you watch the intro video of Rosie O’Donnell explaining Boudin Bakery’s sourdough baking process, or you can continue walking to watch bakers in real-time baking the bread!
I find this interactive peek into the baking process much more exciting than what the Ghiradelli shop offers, but I suppose if you have chocolate, you don’t have to try as hard.
Before Ghiradelli, Mission Tortilla used to sponsor the spot across from Boudin Bakery. That was awesome because you got to see how they made tortillas, similar to the Boudin walk-through. However, I think they probably sold a lot less than the Ghiradelli soda fountain does today, which may be the reason why the sponsorship wasn’t renewed. The Fisherman’s Wharf area is more aptly themed now, too, with two San Francisco originals instead of just one.
4. FREE STICKERS
If you ever see a Cast Member in a white shirt and/or a navy jacket holding a device that looks like an iPad, they’re probably a survey taker.
You’ll see these folks scattered through Downtown Disney, Disneyland, and Disney California Adventure. They’re supposed to pick people at random, so if you go up and offer to be surveyed, they’ll kindly let you down. (I love taking surveys so this embarrassing scenario actually happened to me.)
If you just stand around, or maybe walk away and then walk back and smile or appear inviting, you may get chosen! (Just like the little green aliens in Toy Story!)
You’ll chat for a few minutes, with the Cast Member asking you questions. For a Disney fan this process is neat because you get some insight into what things the Disney Company cares about at the moment.
Once you finish the survey, the Cast Member will thank you and give you a free sticker!
5. FREE PHOTOS
In my opinion, one of the biggest tourist scams is outrageously priced souvenir photos. They’re so ubiquitous, even those of us who know they’re a ripoff have bought a few (which are now likely lost somewhere under a bed or in a closet stuffed in a long-forgotten box).
As expected, Disneyland loves charging you for photo opportunities. They have free-standing photographers located at primo locations throughout the park, and several of the thrill rides snap a photo of you at one point. You have to pay for all of these… except for one.
How Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters escaped the paid photo frenzy, I have no idea. Maybe Disney put these in for free, and planned to make us pay for it later, but forgot. Either way, when you exit the Buzz ride in Tomorrowland, you encounter some photo kiosks where you can flip through the most recent photos to find yours and email it to yourself, completely for free. In rare form, Disney even set these up before they make you walk through the gift shop.
If you’re wondering where the photo opportunity is, it’s in the last and largest room of the Buzz ride. Right as you enter the room with the huge Zurg animatronic, your ride vehicle will no longer let you spin it around. This is to slow you down and face you towards the camera.
Bonus: Free Refills?
Although I didn’t include it above, I have heard of a hack to get a free soda refill.
My high school chemistry teacher, who will remain nameless to protect his or her identity, was a former disgruntled Disneyland Cast Member. He told us that if you accidentally spill your drink, Cast Members will give you a refill for free. It’s the least Disney can do to ensure your trip isn’t completely spoiled. So even if you “accidentally” spill it, if you go and whine to the nearest Cast Member, you’ll get a refill for free. (No promises whether that refill won’t come with some free spit, though, depending on how convincingly “accidental” your spill was).
This is no big deal to Disney, either, considering that they get the soda free of charge from Coca Cola. In the Coke vs. Pepsi battle, the chance to convert or confirm that many millions of people into Coke drinkers is worth it for the company to provide the drinks to Disney for free.
I’d like to know if anyone has tried this and can share whether or not it worked for them?
Do you have any special tips for getting freebies in Disneyland Resort? Please share in the comments!