Everyone has their favorite part of visiting Walt Disney World, but no matter how familiar you may be with Disney, chances are there are some hidden gems in and around the parks that you may not be aware of. To help bring us all up to speed, we asked Disney experts for some insider tips on things to see and explore on your next Disney vacation.
From kids to adults, inside the parks to resort attractions, they’ve pulled together 11 hidden gems to supplement your next Disney experience.
Meet The Disney Experts
- Laura Liden has been a travel advisor since 2011 and, prior to that, she spent 15+ years working in various areas of the hospitality industry. Laura also interned with the Walt Disney World College Program in 1995.
- Chris Cook-Leitz has worked in the travel industry since 2008 and opened her own travel advisor company in 2015. She specializes in booking Disney and Universal vacations for families.
- Seana Beard has worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. She now works as a travel advisor and loves curating special Disney memories for her clients.
- Maria Hernandez worked at Epcot as a PhotoPass Photographer before joining the TravelAwaits team as an in-house editor.
1. Behind The Seeds Tour
If you liked the Land With the Living boat ride, you will love this up-close and personal walking tour. Behind the Seeds Tour explores the fish farm and four greenhouses in The Land Pavilion. The one-hour tour will introduce you to hybrid striped bass, tilapia, catfish, and freshwater shrimp. You will also encounter extra large fruits and vegetables and unique crops from all over the world. You can also experience hydroponics — growing produce without soil. Liden recommends this behind-the-scenes tour for its uniqueness and low cost. It’s one of the least expensive tours at Disney.
Fun Fact: Maria Hernandez shared that “the food, such as the lettuce, that is grown in the Living with the Land attraction is served to guests at the park in restaurants like the Garden Grill.”
Pro Tip: Advanced reservations are highly recommended. Wear comfortable shoes because you are walking for the entire 60 minutes.
2. Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise
Looking for an outstanding way to enjoy the fireworks at Magic Kingdom? Cook-Leitz says, “Standing in the middle of a crowded street waiting for the show to start is not for everyone.” Upgrade your experience with Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise tickets. Cook Leitz says it’s “a great way to enjoy the show (and some snacks) without the Main Street USA crowds.”
Offered on select Wednesday and Saturday nights, the cruise costs $99 for adults and $69 for children ages 3-9 and reservations are strongly recommended. Before boarding an iconic Disney ferryboat, you will check in at the Ticket and Transportation Center where you will enjoy a refreshing beverage. Once on board, you will have a selection of signature treats and specialty drinks to pick from and will be provided with special “Mickey Vision” glasses to help enhance your firework viewing experience.
3. Walt Disney Presents
Beard recommends checking out Walt Disney Presents at Hollywood Studios as a good way to both learn and get away from the bustle of the day. “Walt Disney Presents is a great walkthrough exhibit highlighting the life and growth of Walt Disney’s career,” she said. “It is an enchanting collection that often gets overlooked.”
Fans of Walt Disney have the opportunity to explore an exhibit full of historic memorabilia, original storyboards, photos, and art pieces. The most intriguing aspect of this experience is the “Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream” documentary that showcases the life and achievements of Walt Disney. His creativity and legacy are on full display here. You’re sure to leave this experience with a new appreciation and understanding for the hard work and dedication that it took to build The Walt Disney Company and its several resorts around the world.
4. Electrical Water Pageant
Seven Seas Lagoon
An underrated experience that is sure to add some magic to your evening is the Electrical Water Pageant. Concerning the pageant, Liden said, “It’s a delightful nighttime parade of twinkling lights that floats past the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Polynesian Village Resort, Contemporary Resort, Wilderness Lodge, and The Campsites at Fort Wilderness Resort to both a Disney and a patriotic soundtrack.”
The pageant includes a view of different sea creatures as they light up the lagoon. Unique 50th-anniversary floats are available for a limited time. What’s great about this experience is that it’s free, happens every night, and doesn’t require a resort stay. Depending on when you leave Magic Kingdom, you may catch the Electrical Water Pageant on your way back to the Ticket and Transportation Center if you ride the ferry back on the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Alternatively, you could take the boat ride from Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian Resort and watch the pageant from the dock by Narcoossee’s that overlooks the lagoon. It’s truly a spectacle to be admired that I highly recommend everyone to experience during their stay at the happiest place on Earth.
5. Starlight Safari
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Another Disney hidden gem that can be enjoyed without having to enter a theme park is the Starlight Safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Available on select evenings, this tour is approximately one hour long and is available for guests eight years of age and up.
Reservations are required for this tour that Cook-Leitz listed as one that should not be missed. “You can enjoy animal views without going on the safari. The Animal Kingdom Lodge has several viewing areas that are open to the public and many offer comfy seating,” she said. “Many Disney Resorts offer complimentary evening campfires, and guests can purchase a s’mores kit and roast a marshmallow or two. The Savanna Overlook (located on the back side of the Uzima Springs Pool), hosts nighttime animal viewing and provides night vision goggles for guests to use. Best of all — you don’t have to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge to take advantage of these offerings.”
When you look back on your vacation, this will be one of the experiences you will remember again and again because it is exciting and out of the ordinary. You’ll remember the look on your grandchild’s face as they get an up-close look at the beautiful animals living on Disney property. They will get to learn more about these animals and feel inspired to inquire about the world around them. This is an excellent time to bond with family and friends in an environment that isn’t crowded or busy, but still extraordinarily Disney.
Note: This nighttime tour lasts approximately one hour. It’s available exclusively to guests 8 years of age or older. Guests under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a participating adult who is 18 years of age or older.
6. Wilderness Explorers
Attention adventurers! This hidden gem, Wilderness Explorers, sends adventurers on an educational quest throughout Animal Kingdom to collect Wilderness Explorer badges. Beard recommends this one for those traveling with younger explorers or those not looking for a wild ride. “This is a great enhancement for the little ones to help them trek through this park,” she said. “Animal Kingdom has some great thrill rides, so this is a great way for the non-thrill seekers to be engaged!”
Young children are sure to love this because exploring the theme park won’t feel like a chore, but rather an interactive experience. Young explorers will be eager to visit every crook and cranny of the park as they collect every Wilderness Explorer badge. Along with the sense of accomplishment and adventure, they will have learned some wilderness skills and about the wildlife that live there. Therefore, it is also a wonderful learning experience.
7. Port Orleans Resort — Riverside Activities
If you’re looking for some different and extra activities, Beard recommends some of the gems offered at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside. “If you visit this resort, you can rent bicycles and traverse the grounds, enjoy an evening carriage ride, and even take a step into the past for cane pole fishing,” she said. “These are great activities if you have built in a ‘resort day’ to kick back and relax.”
Pro Tip: After an eventful resort day with the family, pop by the Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, and visit Scat Cat’s Club for delicious Mickey-shaped beignets covered in powdered sugar. If you have ever tried the beignets at the French pavilion in EPCOT, they’re just like those. Make sure you try this special treat with delectable chocolate or strawberry dips. These beignets are messy to eat, so I suggest getting plenty of napkins and laying them over the table before you dig in.
8. Art Of Animation Resort Grounds Walk
Another option for those looking for more than rides, the Art of Animation Resort is a hidden gem that offers the chance to walk around the grounds to experience the amazing theming at the resort. “Each section has larger-than-life icons from their movie theme and makes for great photo ops,” said Liden. “Any fan of Cars, Lion King, Finding Nemo, or The Little Mermaid must experience this resort. Yes, you can visit if you’re not staying there. It’s a quick trip on the Skyliner from EPCOT or Hollywood Studios.”
Along with walking around the themed grounds, the resort boasts unique retro theming in the lobby. You’ll find old sketches of beloved characters from well-known Disney films throughout time and vintage memorabilia from those films along the walls. There is also a distinctly themed gift shop and cafeteria that are worth a visit.
Pro Tip: If you have time on your hands, make sure you take a scenic walk over to the Pop Century Resort to see more great Disney theming.
9. Harmony Barber Shop
A true hidden gem — something you may not think of — Beard recommends a visit to the Harmony Barber Shop. “Everyone clamors for a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique reservation, but this gem on Main Street provides a unique experience as well,” she said. “Folks can enjoy a haircut (at a value price) and even a sprinkle of pixie dust! They have adorable cute packages for first haircuts as well.”
You’re sure to get amazing photos of the little ones getting their first haircut at this barber shop. A special certificate and ears are provided to babies receiving their first haircut ever. You may even be visited by the Dapper Dans while you’re there, especially if you are the first guest of the day. Adults will enjoy this experience as well as they immerse themselves into the vintage surroundings. This is an atypical experience at Disney that will make a great story and provide lasting memories.
10. Dumbo’s Big Top Tent
Looking for a spot where you can cool off? Cook-Leitz recommends this hidden gem for those visiting Magic Kingdom to get some relief on a hot or rainy Florida day at Dumbo’s Big-Top Tent in Fantasyland. The theming is astonishing and sure to immerse you into Dumbo’s lively world.
“Inside, you’ll not only find a children’s playground, but there is plenty of seating,” she said. “Best of all, you don’t have to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant to take advantage of the waiting area. If you do choose to ride, a cast member will provide you with an electronic pager that will alert you when it’s your turn. This is a great spot to let the kids run around for a bit or to have a little quiet time in the middle of the day.”
This is a true hidden gem for anyone interested in doing a little shopping while visiting EPCOT. In the Japan Pavilion, head over to Mitsukoshi, a Japanese staple for shopping. “Housing anything from gadgets to origami paper to Pokemon and Hello Kitty, this is a wonderful place to escape for some air-conditioning,” said Beard. “Head toward the back of the store for an extra special experience — Pick a Pearl! You can select an oyster from the tank and watch as it is opened and pearls are harvested. For an extra cost, the pearl can be set in a ring or necklace of your choosing.”
Some of the best merchandise in the park can be found in Mitsukoshi, especially if you enjoy Japanese culture. I recommend buying some chopsticks, a tea set, and some Japanese snacks and drinks because they are functional souvenirs that will remind you of your vacation while you’re at home.
Pro Tip: As is the case with any attraction — hidden gem or not — take advantage of the My Disney Experience Mobile App or the Disney website. In these spots, you can check for possibly closed attractions and hours, see what is open and how late, check on where you may need reservations, and so much more.