Yeah, visiting a theme park can cost a lot of money. But if you know where to look — and whom to ask — you can get some extra value from your theme park ticket with the freebies that many parks make available.
My favorite? Probably the "draw it yourself" Disney cartoon character sketch anyone can learn to draw at the Animation Academy demonstrations at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney California Adventure, and Hong Kong Disneyland. A Disney Parks animator will teach you and the rest of class how to sketch a specific Disney character, step by step, and you can keep the sketch you draw as a free souvenir. I love these sketches because they're great mementos of something you did, as opposed to something you simply bought or got.
The most well-known freebie at the Disney parks might be the souvenir buttons that Disney hands out for just about any occasion — a birthday, honeymoon, anniversary, first visit, etc. If Disney doesn't have a specific button for your occasion, they'll give you the catch-all "I'm Celebrating" button. Just ask at any ticket booth or guest relations office (such as City Hall on Main Street USA) to get your button. If you get your name written on the button, cast members will be greeting you by name all day long. "Yes, my name really is Heisenberg. Really." ;^)
Into collectible cards? You can get free "transportation" trading cards from many Disney World cast members working the ferryboats, monorails, and buses around the resort. Ask nicely if they have any cards, and don't be disappointed as sometimes locations run out. But many Disney fans build quite a collection over their visits.
You also can collect quite a few cards playing the "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom" game at Disney World, too, as cast members will give you free cards to get you started when you stop by the Main Street Firehouse.
For a more flavorful freebie, Club Cool in the Innovations West pavilion at Epcot serves samples of Coca-Cola products from around the world. The selection varies over time, but if you catch them after a good restocking, you can fill up on an exotic selection of free sodas. (And let the debate over Beverly resume in the comments.)
If you need more liquid refreshment during your visit, free water is available at many major theme parks. Just ask for a cup at any counter service restaurant.
The freebies are not limited to Disney. If you're planning on going to Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights, follow @HorrorNights on Twitter. Creative Director John Murdy tweets a maze and password before each night's event, and if you give that password at the entrance to that maze that evening, you'll get some freebie (while supplies last).
Let's turn this conversation over to you now. What's your favorite theme park freebie?Tweet
I'm also a sucker for the fresh tortillas at the Mission factory in DCA.
The Kid-COT crafts are also very cute, and there are more freebies in EPCOT than I could possibly list here.
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You can ask for water where they dispense beverages. On hot days this is a great free item. Surprising how well a cool drink of ice water goes down!