Free prizes for kids and a free kitchen for adults? Disney’s theme parks have many hidden gems for harried parents and their hyper children.
I’ve been to Walt Disney World more than 100 times. Seriously.
For five years, I lived less than 20 minutes from the famous theme parks. I thought I knew every ride, kiosk, and restaurant.
But it wasn’t until I brought my 2-year-old daughter to the Magic Kingdom a few months ago that I discovered a secret spot right inside the front gate.
It’s called the Baby Care Center, and it’s hiding in plain sight. It’s just one of the places and activities that Disney offers parents and children. Weirdly enough, these aren’t widely advertised, which means you can get even more out of them because they aren’t mobbed by the usual mass of tourists. So, let’s begin exploring Disney World secrets…
1. All parks: The baby care center
If my phone wasn’t dying, I never would’ve discovered this place.
I had stopped by Guest Relations — located right inside the Magic Kingdom entrance — to charge my phone when I saw a door with a sign that read “Baby Care Center.”
When I asked what that was, the woman at the counter said my daughter and I could go inside. Here’s what I found:
- a small kitchen equipped with a microwave, sink, and oven
- feeding high chairs
- big, comfortable couches
- a television
- a rocking chair
- baby items for sale, including formula, diapers, baby food, juice, wipes, and sunscreen
- the cutest, tiniest 2-foot-high training toilet I had ever seen
As I was cleaning up and unwinding from a day in the park, I got to thinking: What other hidden surprises does Disney offer for parents like me? So, I contacted Disney World’s public relations department and discovered each park offers something special for free. I also found out every park has a Baby Care Center.
2. Epcot: Kidcot fun stops
Children of all ages can occupy themselves (and not their parents) with Kidcot Fun Stops. At the first location you stop at – there’s no particular order – your child receives a free cardboard cutout of Duffy the Disney Bear.
Who’s that? Mickey Mouse’s teddy bear that Minnie Mouse gave him to take on his global travels. He can be personalized and decorated with free supplies provided at each station, ranging from crayons to glitter.
At each station, a cast member (that’s what park employees are called) also spouts interesting “did you know” facts about the country and offers a collectible stamp of Duffy in that country.
3. Animal Kingdom: Wilderness explorers
Children can become Wilderness Explorers — just like Russell, the over-eager character in the Oscar-winning movie “Up.”
Your child can earn up to 30 “badges” (in this case, stickers) by completing various activities and solving puzzles, learning about everything from fossils to fish.
Not only are the stickers free, but so is a keepsake “field guide” that can hold all the stickers. To get one, just ask any cast member. Don’t worry, they’ll know what you’re talking about.
4. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
Parents and children can become Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, which allows them to work together or compete to defeat Disney villains who are wreaking havoc throughout the park. We’re talking about everyone from Ursula in the Little Mermaid to Snow White’s evil stepmother, led by Hades from Hercules.
The plot is just complicated enough: You must stop the villains from stealing one of four shattered pieces of Merlin’s crystal ball. To accomplish that, you follow magic symbols throughout the park — hidden in fountains and mirrors.
How do you find them? Ask a cast member for the special (and free) “Merlin’s Mystical Map.”
You’ll also get five “spell cards” for every day you spend in the park. Use these to defeat the villains in crazy ways — like holding one up to a mirror that reflects back a villain.
Problem is, defeating all the villains requires 70 cards. That’s two solid weeks of park visits. But even with fewer cards, it’s an engaging game to play with your children.
5. All parks: Pin trading program
Wherever you venture in Disney’s parks, you can trade pins. To collectors of all ages, these are highly prized — and there are literally thousands of them. You have to buy your pins, but it’s easy to upgrade because cast members will trade with your child.
Not surprisingly, cast members are awful hagglers: Your child will always get the better end of the deal. Pin collecting is also a great icebreaker among other children, since they can walk up to each other and strike deals to swap.
6. All parks: Hidden Mickeys
The biggest secret at Disney World is also the oldest, and you don’t win anything for playing. The tradition of Hidden Mickeys dates to the Magic Kingdom’s origins. As each ride was built, the design teams always added Mickey-shaped objects in the scenery.
For decades, guests young and old have had a blast trying to spot these Mickeys. If you haven’t found the one in the image above, wait a few seconds and it will appear. Here’s another example: One can be spotted in the Haunted Mansion (built in 1971) dinner and dancing scene. On the table is a dinner plate and two small saucers placed above it that symbolize Mickey’s head! If you want to cheat, there’s a guy who catalogs them.