To the rookie Disney traveler, Disney World often seems like it will be one gigantic theme park full of hour long lines that is so loud, so crowded and so expensive that they will just want to get in, ride the rides and get out at the end of the day! That is the case with many theme parks after all! This uninitiated Disney traveler couldn’t be more wrong though! There is a reason that it is called Walt Disney World Resort after all! They say that there is so much to do at Disney World that it would take one person more than a year to do it all, so sure, a Disney guest can pack their day as full of rides, character greetings and fast food as they choose. But if they do, they will miss so many Disney touches that make Disney, well “Disney” and not one of those other theme parks. Here are 6 of these top hidden Disney gems at the Walt Disney World Resort that are available to any guest, whether staying on property or not.
1. The Polynesian Beach and Walkway to the Grand Floridian Resort:
Just a short monorail or water-taxi ride away from Magic Kingdom and Epcot is a spectacular oasis where one can restore their sense of inner peace after all of the hustle and bustle of the parks. The Polynesian Village Resort sits on the south side of the Seven Seas Lagoon, directly across from Magic Kingdom. Here you will find a spectacular white sand beach, carefully designed to give guests the impression that they have been magically transported to the South Pacific. Guests can relax in hammocks or play in the sand. This is the perfect place to take a mid-day break only minutes outside the parks, or watch the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle at night, particularly with little kids who might be scared by the loud sound of watching closer to the action.
From here, there is a mile long walking trail along the Seven Seas Lagoon that leads to the Grand Floridian Resort. It is quiet and peaceful and leads guests past the Disney Wedding Pavilion, the Senses spa and the new Grand Floridian Villas. This is Disney’s most expensive resort and is worth taking a look. If you’re lucky, you might even see a bride on her way to the Wedding Pavilion in Cinderella’s Coach! After a stroll around the Grand Floridian grounds, or a brief meander through its shops, guests can board the monorail again and be back in the park within a few minutes.
2. The Boardwalk:
To someone who has never been to the Boardwalk, it might seem like just another group of hotels, not worth a visit unless one is staying there. In reality though, it is so much more than that! The Boardwalk is a quarter mile promenade along Crescent Lake, featuring unique shopping, a range of dining options, midway games and nighttime street performers that is reminiscent of some of America’s iconic boardwalks.
It is located between Epcot and Hollywood Studios and is accessible by a short stroll or water-taxi ride from either park. It is home to three luxury hotels, the Boardwalk Inn, the Yacht and Beach Club and the Swan and Dolphin, each of which also has its own unique theme. Dining options range from corn dogs and funnel cake stands, to character dining at the Beach Club, to a chef’s wine-tasting dinner at the Flying Fish Café. The Boardwalk Bakery is a great place to find unique and delicious Disney treats and the candy store features salt-water taffy that is a must at any seaside boardwalk.
This is also where sports-loving guests will find the ESPN Sports Club, a restaurant where guests can watch sporting events broadcast from all over the world. It also hosts the Sports Central television and radio studio show, which features live broadcasts with celebrity athletes. If you’re lucky, you might just see someone famous and score an autograph!
During the day and early evening, the Boardwalk is a wonderful place to escape the nearby parks for a bit of downtime, or a destination for shopping and dining all on its own. Families can cruise around the lake on rented surrey bikes, play midway games and watch street performers. Later in the evening, it becomes an adult playground, with the Atlantic Dance Hall, which plays music from the 80’s, 90’s and today, and Jellyrolls, a piano bar featuring dueling pianos and audience sing-a-longs. Both venues serve guests 21 and older.
3. The Spas:
A luxurious day at the spa is probably not what most people think of when they first think of Disney, but you most certainly can have that here too! Disney has two Senses spas, found at the Grand Floridian (on the monorail) and Saratoga Springs (near Downtown Disney) and a Mandara Spa at the Swan and Dolphin (on the Boardwalk). All three are full-service spas featuring a full-range of services for women, men and teens. At the two Senses spas, mom and young daughter aged 4 to 12 can also do a manicure and pedicure together.
4. The Wilderness Lodge Activities:
All of the resorts have a broad range of recreational activities available, but the Wilderness Lodge has a number that are unique and worth checking out. In addition to the typical bike rentals, fishing and motorized boat rentals that you can find at some of the other resorts, Fort Wilderness Lodge also offers canoe and kayak rentals for ages 11 and up and group archery lessons for guests 7 years and up. Class sizes are limited and lessons are not offered every day, so reservations are recommended.
Fort Wilderness Lodge is also home to the Tri-Circle D Ranch, where guests can see Cinderella’s ponies and the horses from Main Street. Guests can also explore the stable which houses a number of types of horses, including Clydesdales, Arabians and Shetland ponies and they can watch a blacksmith make horseshoes. Guests aged 9 and up can go on a trail ride, while younger guests weighing less than 80 pounds can take a pony ride, led by their parent. Guests of all ages can enjoy wagon and carriage rides through the resort.
All of these activities are accessible by Disney transportation from the Wilderness Lodge Resort.
5. Campfires and movies:
Many of the resorts have campfires in the evening, where guests can roast marshmallows and make smores. The campfires are followed by complimentary screenings of Disney movies. The campfire at Fort Wilderness Campgrounds also features Chip and Dale for a little extra fun. Sitting down on the beach roasting marshmallows at one of the resorts with a beach can make guests feel that they are at a real seaside resort.
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6. Animal Kingdom Lodge:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is unlike any other resort in North America. The African-inspired hotel is built in the center of 4 savannas featuring over 200 types of African animals and birds. The animals can be seen roaming free from numerous viewing areas and there are guides available to educate guests regarding the animals and their upkeep. At night, the animals can be viewed using night vision goggles available in select spots at the edge of the savannas. You do not need to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy these views. The lodge is located a short bus-ride from Animal Kingdom park and is accessible by Disney transportation from any park.
Animal Kingdom Lodge has several excellent dining options featuring African and more traditional North American food, however, one restaurant provides a unique experience that you will not find elsewhere. Sanaa is an East African restaurant featuring a wall of windows overlooking the savanna, which allows guests to observe the animals close up while dining on a family feast of Indian and African food, with the option of burgers, pizza and chicken for the kids. There is also a special option to dine at a private table with an animal specialist who will educate guests on animal care and Disney’s current field research and conservation efforts. This experience ends with an up-close encounter with the radiated tortoises. This experience is only available to 12 guests, so reservations are crucial.
Although it might seem out-of-the-way at first, a few hours at Animal Kingdom Lodge spent viewing the animals, followed by a delicious meal at Sanaa can be a very relaxing and eye-opening experience for the whole family. It can easily be paired with an afternoon at Animal Kingdom Park.
By taking advantage of some of these hidden gems, a trip to Disney World can easily incorporate some peaceful and unique experiences that will make guests feel that they really did get away and may provide an opportunity to try something new for the whole family. That is why it is called the Walt Disney World Resort after all!
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