Whether you’ve seen it on TV or been there in person, just about everyone knows about Walt Disney World. It’s a place filled with wonder and excitement and is somewhere we can go to forget about the outside world for a while. Much of the wonder of Disney World is familiar to us, such as Cinderella Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Magical as these things are, let me present to you the top 12 underappreciated things about Walt Disney World:
1. Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom)
First introduced at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the Carousel of Progress has become a nostalgic staple at the Magic Kingdom. Rarely is there a line to view it, as most visitors these days prefer either Space Mountain or Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin located in the same area of the park. You’ll probably recognize the voice of the narrator. It’s Jean Shepherd, writer and narrator of, “A Christmas Story.” Take the time to see the show. The tune is catchy, the audioanamatronics are engaging, and the theater is air-conditioned. What else do you need?
2. Liberty Square River Boat (Magic Kingdom)
It’s dock is nestled next to the Haunted Mansion. This Mississippi paddle boat makes for a nice ride around the Frontierland area and provides a nice, relaxing break from the typical hectic day. You almost think Tom and Huck will be waiting for you at the end of the ride!
3. Tom Sawyer Island (Magic Kingdom)
It starts with the short pontoon boat ride over to the island and grows from there. You are transported into the story of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as you walk down paths, through tunnels and over barrel bridges. Keep your eyes open for a paint brush and if you see it, grab it and bring it back to your pontoon boat driver. You will be happy once your ride back ends.
4. Jungle Cruise (Magic Kingdom)
The Jungle Cruise has been around as long as the Magic Kingdom itself and the ride features show it. The animation features are a bit dated compared to many of the other attractions. So why ride it? Well, this one is all about the ‘boat pilots.’ We’ve had some great pilots over the years. They get that the ride seems a bit dated and they play on it. The jokes are corny and if you’ve ridden a few times, predictable but somehow you still laugh. We’ve also found that the later in the day you ride, the funnier the pilot gets. It’s still great fun and worth the 10-minute ride. Just be careful about what you’re wearing. The pilots tend to pick on folks with yellow t-shirts and black shorts. Take it from ‘Banana Guy.’
5. Innoventions Fountain (EPCOT Center)
Big deal, it’s a fountain. Well, stick around for a bit. At various times throughout the day what appears to be a simple fountain explodes into a well-choreographed musical show. The water and music work in perfect synch and provide some fabulous video moments for you to capture. Take the time to see it at least once.
6. Ice Station Cool (EPCOT Center)
You’re thirsty and right now you just don’t want to pay another $4.00 for a drink. The water fountain is an option but not a great option. Enter an area with all of the free soda you would like! Ice Station Cool provides soda from all over the world at no charge to Disney World guests. The flavors aren’t what you may be used to but there are some interesting options. There is a watermelon soda from China, lemon soda from Israel, a vitamin soda from Japan, one called Mezzo Mix from Germany, ginger ale from Mozambique, and a curious soda from Italy. Do yourself a favor and watch some of the reactions to the Italian soda. They are priceless.
7. Malestrom (EPCOT Center)
In the Norway section of EPCOT resides a ride called, ‘Malestrom.’ This is a log-flume style ride that gives you a bit of Norwegian history and folklore along the way. Malestrom is my older daughter’s favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World and coming from a 15-year old, that says something. Don’t rush through the movie theater after the ride ends either. There is a nice, short film that gives you a glimpse into Norwegian life.
8. Animation Academy (Hollywood Studios)
If you’ve ever wished you could be a Disney animator, this is for you. Each day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests can learn to draw some of their most beloved characters at no charge. Groups are led into a room set up just like an art studio where they receive a sheet of drawing paper emblazoned with the Hollywood Studios logo. A Disney animator then randomly chooses a character from audience suggestions and teaches everyone in the room how to draw it. This is a lot of fun as it is a hands-on lesson plus you get to take home your artwork. Don’t be afraid to make multiple stops here on your Disney visit.
9. Jammin’ Jungle Parade (Animal Kingdom)
Disney’s parades have always been focal points of a visit but the Jammin’ Jungle Parade is still the new kid on the block. This parade incorporates some unique scenes and isn’t nearly as hard to get a good viewing spot to see as the Magic Kingdom’s afternoon parade. Another fun aspect of this parade are the number of families randomly chosen each day to become part of it. If being in a Disney parade is something you’ve always wanted, this one provides your best opportunity. Find out its schedule as you enter the park and inquire about being part of it.
10. Music (All Parks)
I’m not talking about music from the shows and parades. I’m talking about the music played all day, every day in each park. As you stroll through, really take a listen. Much of the music has been chosen for a purpose. If you really pay attention, you’ll notice the subtle changes as you go from section to section. For us it has gotten to where my kids often hum the tunes while doing their homework as a reminder that vacation isn’t that far away!
11. Aromas (All Parks)
There are some truly wonderful smells in this place. Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom provides the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Boulangerie Patisserie in the France section of EPCOT Center brings you the sweet aromas of French cakes and pastries. At the hub of the Hollywood Studios you get the salty, buttery smell of fresh-popped popcorn like you might have at a grand movie premier. The Animal Kingdom holds the Flame Tree Barbeque that defies your mouth not to water from the aroma of its sauce as it wafts your way. These are only a handful of the many pleasant scents you will find on your visit.
12. The Cast Members (All Parks)
These people are the unsung heroes of the Disney parks. They can make a great experience even better. Over the years we’ve taken time to talk with several Disney cast members and have come away with some wonderful stories as well as some unexpected surprises. Take the time to chat with as many as you can. I think you’ll be happy with the results.
Those are my 12 top underappreciated things about Walt Disney World. What are some of yours?