For years, Disney touted its timeshare program (Disney Vacation Club, or DVC) as the “Best Kept Disney Secret,” implying that by learning about it you were getting away with something, and saving a bunch of money. It was marketing genius, of course, and the program has been wildly successful. But DVC is hardly a secret anymore, and they don’t use the phrase these days.
But there *is* a best-kept Disney secret, and this is one they really DON’T want you to know about if they can help it: free ice water.
There’s apparently a state law in Florida that mandates theme park operators MUST give out a free cup of water to anyone in their parks who asks. They do this, presumably, because the state gets hot and miserable many months of the year, and dehydration is a clear and present danger. Note that they are not required to include ice, nor is there any requirement to use a large cup (indeed, at Universal you’ll get a small clear plastic cup).
Disney parks usually make use of regular soda cups and they are happy to give you ice with it, so the drink is a bona fide replacement for a $3 soda. Clearly, this isn’t something Disney (or Universal or SeaWorld) want to advertise particularly, as it would hurt soda sales quite a bit.
The trick is to ask for a “cup of water” – not just “water” (you might end up with a $3 bottle of Dasani water if you do the latter). I usually say “just a cup of water” to add extra emphasis that I’m looking for the free version.
If the restaurant lacks a drink/soda cell, it’s likely they can’t help you (carts, for instance, will just point you to a nearby counter-service restaurant).
The Internet is full of good tricks about bringing your own water bottle (or even better, FREEZING your water bottle the night before, so it stays cold and slowly melts throughout the morning), but the free ice water on demand is hard to top.
Refill stations are not at every restaurant, and many that have them are converting to the new RapidFill technology, where an RFID chip inside the cup itself limits how many refills you can have. The good news is that ice cubes and plain water are dispensed from these machines even if you have no RapidFill cup or chip nearby, so the ice water is plentiful and free. At Universal, where increasingly there are Freestyle soda machines around many corners, you can similarly dispense water and ice with no upcharge cup.
So stay hydrated, stay safe, and keep a few extra dollars in your pocket. This is one trick you can’t live without in Florida!