Let’s face it – we all love Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Tower of Terror and Soarin’! But, every once in a while, it’s great to be able to get to a part of the park that is a little less-traveled — where you can stop and smell the roses, and feel like you might be the only person exploring. It’s even more fantastic to go off the beaten trail as you get toward the end of a six or seven day stay in the “World!”
Here are five of my favourite places in the “World” that are a little off the beaten trail — and you should definitely check out.
When you walk out through EPCOT’s International Gateway, you begin to make your way down a quiet pathway that takes you past and through some of Disney’s deluxe resort properties.
Veer to your right as you leave EPCOT, and you’ll begin to walk toward Disney’s Yacht Club, Disney’s Beach Club, and Disney’s Beach Club Villas. Take a peek in to the Yacht Club to catch a glimpse of how the “other side” live on holidays. The lobby has a fresh sea-breeze scent that is incredibly posh. It may not be as big as the Grand Floridian, Polynesian or even the Wilderness Lodge — but it’s just as nice, in a very New England kind-of way.
Leave the Yacht Club and continue down the pathway. When you get to the bridge veer left to continue to Disney’s Board Walk. Opened in 1996, Board Walk continues with the east-coast theme echoing memories of the Atlantic City boardwalk. Atlantic Dance Hall lights up at night with great dance parties, dueling pianos are the feature at Jellyrolls, and everyone catches up on the big game at ESPN Club. If you’re just looking to browse, I highly recommend Seashore Sweets for a great selection of candy and ice cream.
If you continue to walk north past the ESPN Club, you’ll come up on a really nice veranda that overlooks Crescent Lake. If there are no weddings or special events going on, you can lounge about and just relax by the waterside. It’s a great spot to cozy up with a book on your Kindle or iPad!
Turn back around and continue walking toward Hollywood Studios. You pass by the Swan and Dolphin — two privately managed hotels that are not owned by Walt Disney World, but were part of the resort area’s late-80s/early-90s expansion that included (at the time ) Disney-MGM Studios. No need to go inside — a lack of theming leaves the inside of these hotels uninspired. But the peach-and-teal exteriors are a great representation of the contemporary vision Disney had in their resort design at the time.
After passing the back-side of Board Walk Villas, you’ll find yourself on a nice, quiet walking path with few visual or aural distractions until you get to Hollywood Studios. It can be a nice way to reset your brain after being constantly pummeled with theming music throughout the resorts and parks. Watch out for joggers and runners along the way – especially if you’re visiting in the lead-up to one of the many marathons at the resort.
The total time for this journey is about 30-40 minutes, plus whatever time you decide to spend inside the various resorts and shops along the way. A great leisurely – and quiet – stroll!
2. LIVING WITH THE LAND
Want a 15 minute break in a comfortable, air-conditioned setting that you can practically walk-on to?
“Living with the Land” is one of my favourite ways to catch my breath during the day at EPCOT. The story is great, and it’s always interesting to see how far along the crops have come up in the greenhouse.
If you’ve always brushed it off as a boring, educational throwback to old-EPCOT that reminds you of an elementary school field trip… embrace it! It’s a great way to cool off, and get the kids settled down after a day of ingesting sugar!
3. THE ART OF DISNEY
It’s not just another Disney retail store!
The Art of Disney – at Downtown Disney – is almost like a contemporary art gallery where you can get a chance to see how some modern artists are interpreting Mickey and the gang in new and different ways. And, because the price point on many of the pieces of art are out of reach of most of the average families spending the better part of a week in the ‘World,’ there’s no chance of making an impulse purchase. But the art is fantastic, and it’s great to spend some time here to just soak it all up.
4. LUNCH AT WILDERNESS LODGE
If you take the “Backstage Disney” tour, there’s a good chance you’ll get to have lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe at Wilderness Lodge. But if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t take a trip to the resort and spend some quality time enjoying the sights.
The attention to detail at Wilderness Lodge is truly spectacular. From Disney Horticulture finding trees and plants that serve as fantastic lookalikes for the natural growth of the pacific northwest, to the amazing view overlooking Bay Lake, Wilderness Lodge is an amazing work of art.
The servers at Whispering Canyon – by the way – do anything but whisper. It’s a fantastic show in its own right, and is worth the price of the meal alone.
5. THE MONORAIL LOOP
Get yourself to the Ticket and Transportation Centre, and board the Monorail to resort hop around the Seven Seas Lagoon!
The Polynesian resort is your first stop, and is worth taking a look inside at (although you don’t need much time.)
Then, hop on the next monorail and head over to the Grand Floridian. And — how grand it is! Especially for the holidays. Christmastime at the Grand Floridian takes the cake (well, the gingerbread anyway!) A two-story gingerbread house, a gigantic tree, and poinsettias as far as the eye can see.
When it’s not Santa’s season, the Grand Floridian is still a spectacular sight. There’s a reason why it is the crown jewel of the Disney properties.
Hop back on the monorail, and stay on as you travel past the Magic Kingdom, and end your trip at the Contemporary. Take a good amount of time to lounge around on the fourth floor concourse of the hotel to what the monorail whizz by, and to take ample time to check out the mural by legendary Disney artist Mary Blair (who also is the visionary behind “It’s a Small World.”) The detail is fascinating!
So, there you have it — five of the “World’s” best-kept secrets are now a little less secret. But, when you need a break from Fastpasses, long queues, and little princess meltdowns in the middle of the parks, you now have some options! Want to add anything to the list? Leave them in the comments!