Disney World is so much more than fairy castles and character meet-and-greets. The Orlando, Florida-based park comprises of four gigantic theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park. Each park has its own roster of musical performances, fireworks, parades, rollercoasters, and other special programming and events, but among the classic and the overlooked hidden gems, the following attractions are some of the best Disney World has to offer.
Splash Mountain is one of the park's most iconic attractions and the long lines prove it's also one of the most popular. Many people look forward to the huge splash-making drop on this log-flume ride, but actually much of the ride is spent meandering past the whimsical figures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and other animatronic characters singing along to the music. It's a delightful ride and one of Disney World's most iconic experiences.
Pirates of the Caribbean
This classic attraction in the Frontierland area of the Magic Kingdom dates back to the original Disneyland in California, but by the 21st century, Pirates of the Caribbean had become a low-key, no-line-up attraction. The ride had the appeal of nostalgia, but it was mostly overlooked by park guests.
Its popularity didn't soar until the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released in 2003. After the movie's success, the ride was revamped to prominently feature the lovable Jack Sparrow as its main character. Now as riders float along to the jaunty pirate tunes, they can enjoy Jack and his nemeses, Barbossa and Captain Davy Jones, in their full animatronic glory.
Visitors to Disney World should make sure to end up, one night, in the Magic Kingdom at the right time for the Happily Ever After Nighttime Spectacular fireworks display which takes place at the Cinderella Castle.
Try to view the fireworks from a spot that's either in front of the Castle or on Main Street, to see Tinkerbell flying in the sky. The fireworks schedule varies at different times of the year, and on peak days the display may happen twice, so make sure check the calendar on the Disney World website. Over the years, the show has been updated with modern entertainment technology that includes animated projections and lasers.
World Showcase at Epcot
Epcot will probably not be your kids' favorite theme park, but you still shouldn't miss a visit to this unique place. The name stands for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, a dream of Walt Disney's, who died years before Epcot opened in 1982. The park still shows its origins in its dedication plaque: "May Epcot Center entertain, inform, and inspire." The Future World area has interactive displays of new technology, and the World Showcase is often compared to a World's Fair.
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster
The Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is arguably the most fun ride in Disney World's Hollywood Studios. The ride's storyline follows the famous rock band through a rocking medley adventure at 57 miles per hours, a speed it only takes 2.8 seconds to reach. Expect loud music and thrilling drops.
Toy Story Mania!
This fast-moving 4-D ride is in the style of a carnival midway game: players put on 3-D glasses, board their vehicle, and swing through different areas where players can try to rack up big scores by shooting targets. The Toy Story ride is lots of fun for toddlers, kids, parents, grandparents. Players who want a challenge can figure out strategies to get higher scores.
Kilimanjaro Safari is an outstanding attraction that will wow even those visitors who think they don't like theme parks. You'll feel half a world away from Orlando once you board your safari vehicle and head out into the 100-acre African savannah. You'll see hippos, rhinos, giraffes, antelopes, and elephants all right outside your window. During the middle of the day, the big cats like cheetahs and lions are sleeping, so the best time is visit is towards the end of the day when the temperatures start to cool and the sun begins to go down.
Expedition Everest is the fourth and most recently-built "mountain coaster" at Walt Disney World, the others being Splash, Thunder, and Space mountains, which are also on this list. Everest towers 200 feet high in Animal Kingdom and is a fun thrill ride, with a scream-inducing reversal of direction and a plummeting grand finale.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
With a low top speed of 36 miles per hour and its Wild West theme, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is exciting enough for younger kids without being too intense. The ride sends passengers below ground into an abandoned mine shaft, where your cart will narrowly dodge boulders and swerve out of the way of exploding dynamite effects. The drops are small, but it's still thrilling enough for all ages with dark passages and exhilarating bumps.
A challenge for anyone afraid of the dark, Space Mountain is an indoor coaster that takes place in mostly total blackness to create the illusion of traveling through outer space. A favorite ride with teens, you can expect intense drops and futuristic space effects. Not knowing what comes next is part of what makes this ride so scary and exciting!
Kali River Rapids
Moving from Africa to the Asia area of Animal Kingdom, head to Kali River Rapids and prepare to get soaked. This is one of the few "wet rides" at Disney World. Guests ride in circular rafts that seat twelve people, and several of them will get absolutely drenched. It's always a mystery who will wind up directly under the waterfall! If you're concerned about your belongings, there is a place in the center of the raft to stow bags so they stay dry.
Fantasmic! is one of Walt Disney World's crowning achievements and always extremely popular, so make sure you get there early to get a good seat.
The show is a combination of lasers, images projected on towering "screens" of water, real-life pirate ships, pyrotechnics, and more "Wow!" special effects. During busy times of the year, two performances may be offered, and the second performance may be less crowded.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
This attraction is a 35-minute live-action show, so you'll need to do a bit of planning to catch a performance. Depending on the time of year, five or more shows might be offered per day. The performance has acrobatic stunts, audience participation, and great special effects: the excitement starts as Indiana Jones narrowly escapes a giant rolling boulder, and continues right through with a series of injury-defying stunts and explosive effects.
Based on the Star Wars movies, Star Tours, a motion-simulator attraction, has 3-D effects and multiple storylines, so you can ride multiple times and aways experience something new. The set up for the story is the same with guests boarding the Starspeeder space vessel, which is haplessly piloted by the iconic droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, but what happens next could be one of over 50 possible combinations. After a random guest is identified as a rebel spy, your ship will be whisked off to one of the many fantastical planets in the Star Wars universe like the desert world of Tatooine or the underwater city of Naboo.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
This is a don't-miss attraction for two reasons: its repeated freefall giant drop and its terrific theming that's based on the fifties-era "The Twilight Zone" television series. Guests enter an eerie hotel and encounter Rod Serling, back from the past. The prequel to the ride and build-up to the drop is the best part. Even if you're not familiar with the series, you're sure to have a thrilling time on this classic Disney World ride.
The World Showcase
Like a World's Fair, this area of Epcot has pavilions from 11 different countries: France, Norway, Morocco, China, Japan, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the American Adventure, which retells American history through animatronic figures resembling the Founding Fathers.
Each section has a pavilion, restaurants and shops, and scheduled performances. Most adults can happily spend hours touring and dining in the World Showcase, but it may be less interesting for small kids looking forward to meeting princesses and riding rollercoasters.
The outstanding high-adrenaline attraction in Epcot is Mission Space, a motion simulator where the riders are team members about to embark on a mission. Each rider is given a task to contribute to the mission, which adds an element of participation that makes the ride even more engaging and fun for everyone involved.
You'll have the choice between the Orange Mission, a journey to Mars for a more intense ride, or the Green Mission, an easier trip around the Earth better-suited for families looking for a gentler experience. The Orange Mission can be pretty intense, so if motion sickness is a concern, go for the Green Mission.