Some Disney World attractions, such as the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are iconic. Nearly all visitors to the theme park resort are familiar with these classics and know that they are must-rides. More recent, splashy attractions such as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar Flight of Passage at Pandora the World of Avatar in Disney's Animal Kingdom generate huge buzz. They also regularly make it onto guests' itineraries and typically have long lines. (To help deal with lines, learn how to make advance FastPass+ reservations.)
There are some rides and shows, however, that are often overlooked. And that's a shame. Some of them are quite good and deserve your consideration. For a place as popular as Disney World, it might be overstating it to identify any of its attractions as "hidden" gems. Let's just say that some are more under-the-radar than others.
To help you plan your next visit to Mickey's Florida getaway and get some of its less heralded gems on your radar, let's run down the best of Disney World's underappreciated rides.
Let's start at Disney World's most popular theme park, the Magic Kingdom. (Actually, it perennially tops attendance charts as the world's most popular theme park.) In 2012, Disney expanded the park when it opened New Fantasyland. Most visitors are familiar with the land's new rides, Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, as well as its ultra-famous Dumbo the Flying Elephant. But Enchanted Tales with Belle often gets lost in the shuffle.
It's a charming walk-through attraction that ends with a brief interactive show. Some of its animatronic characters, particularly a remarkably fluid Lumiere the candelabra, are striking. The target audience for Enchanted Tales with Belle is young children. Unless they are Beauty and the Beast fans or Disney diehards, tweens, teens, and adults without children would probably want to skip it. But it is one of Disney World's best attractions for kids, and kids and their entourages should not miss it.
When guests go to the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland, they generally make a beeline for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and (especially if they are thrill ride fans) Space Mountain. But there are three other attractions in the futuristic land that are worthy of your attention.
One is the classic Carousel of Progress. It is one of the four attractions that Disney developed for the New York World's Fair in the 1960s, and was among the first to feature a cast of animatronic characters. Audiences in a revolving theater see depictions of three different eras of technological progress in the 20th century as well as the latest gizmos and gadgets. It features the hummable song, "There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
The emission-free ride system uses linear induction motors to propel its vehicles along an elevated track around Tomorrowland and into some of its other attractions for a sneak peek. There is rarely a line, and the 10-minute duration of the attraction can make for a nice respite. It's more of a showcase for a mass transit system (like the original monorail at Disneyland) than a blockbuster attraction in its own right, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. Passengers get to see a scale model of Progress City, which represents Walt Disney’s original vision of Epcot as an actual, functioning, experimental prototype community of tomorrow.
Fun side note: No matter how many times my wife, who is a thrill ride wimp, rides the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, she freaks out as the vehicle enters the Space Mountain show building. “Are we riding Space Mountain?” she nervously asks me.
Another Tomorrowland attraction you should consider is Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, which features Mike Wazowski and his buddies from Pixar's Monsters University and Monsters, Inc. Using real-time, on-the-fly animation, an impressive innovation from Walt Disney Imagineering, the onscreen characters are able to interact with live audiences. The comedy can be hit or miss, but you're bound to have a few chuckles—and you'll be wowed by the technology. The concept of on-the-fly animation as the basis for an attraction was introduced with Turtle Talk with Crush (see below).
The very first attraction to feature audio-animatronics was the Tiki Room at Disneyland. The Disney World version of the show, which is located in the Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, is based on the historic 1963 original. The show, with its singing birds and flowers, holds up well today. Adults appreciate its significance and bask in its nostalgia, while kids delight in its timeless charm.
When it firs opened, Epcot had more of an "edutainment" focus. That's been changing as it evolves and introduces more family friendly characters and attractions. But many visitors still think of the park as being primarily for adults. Hdden inside the former Living Seas pavilion, however, are two of Disney World's best attractions for kids. They are also two of the resort's most overlooked attractions.
One is The Seas with Nemo & Friends ride. Guests board "clamobiles" and watch an adventure unfold featuring Finding Nemo characters. The genius of the attraction is that the animated scenes are seamlessly projected onto the pavilion's saltwater tank, and Nemo and his buddies appear to frolic amid the actual fish in the aquarium.
Nemo's pal, Crush, stars in his own show in a theater next to The Seas ride. It was the first attraction to feature Disney's groundbreaking real-time animation. Compared to the similar Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Turtle Talk is more intimate, more charming, and, generally, funnier. (Because it is interactive and largely improvised, performances can vary.) The technology is so invisible that young kids completely buy into it and nonchalantly, if delightedly, chat with the righteous turtle dude. Parents, meanwhile, stare in disbelief and wonder how an animated sea creature is able to converse with their children.
Don't just walk past Epcot's Mexico pavilion thinking that there's probably little more than a restaurant and a gift shop inside. Yes, there IS an eatery and a gift shop with sombreros and the like, but there is also a cute boat-based ride. Part Mexican travelogue and part Fantasyland-like dark ride, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros combines animatronics, projected media, practical sets, and other theme park trickery. It features Donald Duck and his two south-of-the-border amigos, Panchito and José Carioca. It's not as sweet or as engaging as the more famous "it's a small world," but it's still fun.
Not to be confused with the Journey of the Little Mermaid ride at the Magic Kingdom, this show at Disney's Hollywood Studios uses puppets, media, live performers, and special effects to tell the tale of the underwater princess. The beloved movie's songs, including “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World” are featured in the presentation.
The show, located in the base of the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, incorporates a 3D movie featuring characters from the movie, A Bug’s Life. Granted, 3D films, which are routinely screened at cineplexes everywhere, have lost their special appeal, but the Disney attraction is funny and compelling. It also includes some great in-theater effects. (Watch out for the demonstration of a stink bug’s defense mechanism. Eww!)