Overlooked Attractions: WDW Deluxe Resorts

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 17, 2015 Issue #808 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.


If you're a regular, longtime reader of AllEars®, you've seen our columns over the years urging you to take the time to observe the little things at Walt Disney World. After all, it's the details that set a Disney park or resort apart from all the non-Disney counterparts in the world.

A few years ago, I took a look at these "stop-and-smell-the-roses" details that you can find at the Walt Disney World resorts. With so many changes happening all around the "World," I figured it was high past time to refresh this list of things (many of them free!) that you can find if you take some time before you rush off to ride that next roller coaster. That said, here are what we like to call the "Overlooked Attractions" in Walt Disney World's Deluxe resorts.

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BOARDWALK INN
and BoardWalk Villas
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Disney's BoardWalkWhen talking about the Epcot area resorts, I have to start with the BoardWalk. The BoardWalk itself is one of my favorite Disney areas outside the theme parks, and in my opinion is often overlooked as something to do or somewhere to just BE.

Try taking a walk along the BoardWalk in the cool of the morning -- on a sunny day, is there anything prettier than the sun sparkling on the bright blue water of Crescent Lake, with the gulls chattering as they glide by? Sigh. Oh, to be there right now, sipping a cup of coffee and munching on a cinnamon roll from the BoardWalk Bakery!

If you've never ventured over there, there are lots of other reasons to not miss the BoardWalk area, including all the shops and restaurants. For a fun night out, there's Jellyrolls with the dueling pianos, or there's the brew pub at Big River Grille, or there's the ESPN Club if sports are your thing. There are midway games for the kids, typical of those found in seaside resorts like Atlantic City -- shoot some baskets to try to win a big stuffed animal. And several nights a week you'll find street entertainers performing along the BoardWalk -- maybe a magician, a juggler or even a one-man band.

If you're feeling energetic, you might want to rent a surrey bike. Don't miss this chance to terrorize innocent pedestrians as you pedal your way around Crescent Lake!

Inside the lobby that the BoardWalk Inn and the Villas share, be sure to notice how architect Robert A.M. Stern created the atmosphere of the 1920s and '30s Atlantic Seaboard with vintage furnishings. In particular, note the odd accent chairs with faces over near the fireplace. According to the sign nearby, these are "Nanny chairs," so-called because they were non-moving and placed on 19th century European carousels for adults to sit on while the children rode the moving animals. If you look at the back of these chairs, you'll note that one is named "Todd," the other "Paul." If you ask me, their faces are creepier than that of the resort's clown slide, which so many folks find nightmarish.

I wonder if they talk about these chairs on the BoardWalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour? I haven't taken it yet myself, but this 45-minute stroll around Disney's BoardWalk Resort begins at the Belle Vue Lounge, then moves on to the miniature carousel in the lobby and on to the boardwalk itself. The BoardWalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour takes place every week, Wednesday through Saturday, and departs from the Belle Vue Lounge promptly at 9 a.m. Admission to the tour is free of charge and no sign-up is necessary, but check in at the Belle Vue Lounge 15 minutes prior to the start of the tour.

Speaking of the Belle Vue Lounge, is this a great spot to hang out or what? Located on the BoardWalk Inn side of the resort, I like to relax there after dinner, enveloped in the overstuffed furniture listening to the old-time radio dramas playing on the antique radios. There are also tables with checkerboards and backgammon, if you want some mental stimulation while you sip your after-dinner cocktails. And don't underestimate the relaxation of sitting outdoors on the balcony, overlooking the goings-on on the BoardWalk down below.

The entire Boardwalk resort complex has been beautifully landscaped -- stroll the grounds. You'll find colorful flowers, quiet surroundings, fountains and benches. There are other quiet spots located around this resort, though -- in particular, Luna Park (the main pool area) in the morning; the quiet pools; and the balcony located off the lobby.

If you are hooked on fishing, be sure to inquire about the guided fishing excursions -- not free, but easily overlooked with all of the other things there are to do at this resort.

Stand on the bridge that leads to the Boardwalk for a great view of the IllumiNations fireworks (if the wind's blowing in the right direction you can faintly hear the music, too). Walk over to the Boardwalk vending carts and you can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks, too!

It's hard to overlook the Friendships that sail between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, since they are the primary mode of transportation connecting the Epcot resorts to these locations. But don't miss the opportunity to treat the Friendships as an attraction on their own. If you're not in any hurry, try riding one for its entire circuit, or take it to one of the other Epcot area resorts and then walk back to the BoardWalk. It makes for a peaceful overview of the area.

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YACHT AND BEACH
CLUB
including Beach Club Villas
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The Yacht and Beach Club resorts are so intertwined, it's difficult to separate the things that make each unique.

First of all, they share a common pool and restaurant area, an area which in itself is a great, if not exactly overlooked, attraction. You can only swim in the pool area, Stormalong Bay, if you're staying at the resorts, but that doesn't mean you can't visit Beaches and Cream restaurant and order a regular milkshake or sundae and sit poolside.

While you're contemplating this mini-water park, which, with 795,000 gallons of water, is possibly the largest sand-bottom pool in the world, take a look at the life-sized shipwreck named the Albatross. A spiral stairway takes swimmers to its 150-foot mast, which is at just the right angle to make it the perfect slide that slopes down toward a rocky outcropping, and is followed by another 150 feet of spins.

While you're out by the pool area, walk out past the pool bar, Hurricane Hanna's, and you'll find a kiosk selling pick-your-own pearls, fresh out of the oyster. Once you find a pearl that pleases, you can have it set in some beautiful jewelry to make a lasting keepsake.

It's easy to miss Martha's Vineyard, the 60-seat lounge located around the back of the Beach Club. Closed during the day, it looks like it might be abandoned. But at night, it's a quiet little nook for hanging out after a long day of park-going.

Don't just walk by the beautiful sand sculptures adorning the walls of the Beach Club, or those that decorate the Cape May Buffet restaurant. Some of the framed sand art on the walls even sport little Hidden Mickeys! Take the time to look them over carefully!

If you're in the Beach Club Villas area, be sure to stop by two of the quietest locations on property. First, the Drawing Room is a lovely sitting room with watercolors, paper collages, etchings and a Victorian dollhouse. There are also vintage posters and black-and-white photos that recall days gone by. The secluded Solarium, reminiscent of a Victorian-era sun porch, overlooks the main entrance and gardens of the Beach Club Villas.

You can sit on the beach at the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, as well as any of the Epcot area resorts, and see the high pyrotechnics from Epcot's IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.

As with other deluxe resorts, there are fishing excursions and other watercraft rentals at the Yacht and Beach Clubs -- call at the Bayside Marina to make arrangements.

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ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE
Jambo House and
Kidani Village
====================

Animal Kingdom Lodge Igbo Ijele MaskAh, the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is chock full of little touches that you might take for granted and walk by -- we could almost dedicate a whole article to this resort alone.

Start with the impressive lobby. Just take your time examining the hand-carved furnishings, African art and the giant fireplace. (Remind you of the Wilderness Lodge? Yep. Same architect!) Among the artworks you'll observe are: a Guro mask from the Ivory Coast, that is part animal with horns yet has the face of a human; an elephant mask with a chicken-feathered cape that illustrates the power of animals and the power of man; the 16-foot tall, 8-foot wide Igbo Ijele (pronounced e-bo e-gelay) mask, created by the Igbo people of Nigeria specifically for export to represent all aspects of the Igbo life -- no other Ijele is known to exist outside of Igbo land.

If this art inspires you, make the time to browse the traditional textiles and basketry, along with books on African arts and crafts, on sale in the Zawadi Marketplace.

When you're at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it's impossible to overlook the main attraction -- the animals roaming freely on the savannas. But you might pass up a few of the viewing spots beyond the obvious ones. The Sunset Overlook is a fabulous place to watch for animals, but you could also walk down some of the other hallways, where you'll find large windows looking out onto animal areas. On the ground level, there's an additional pathway leading to more viewing just beyond the Arusha Rock -- there's often a cast member on hand to help you spot and identify the animals.

If you stop in the Sunset Overlook room, be sure to study the artifacts in the cases and shadowboxes on the wall. This is a quiet spot for reflecting, and it's also the spot where rainy day children's activities are held -- don't miss it!

Because the Animal Kingdom Lodge is such an unusual resort, it seems to have more than its share of special programs for guests, adults and children alike. In the past, they have held flamingo feedings, animal tracking and horticulture programs, art and culinary tours, a "cultural safari," and have even had special nighttime animal viewings with night-vision equipment. Be sure to ask at the Concierge desk about special activities and programs that may be offered during your stay -- most of them are free, and all of them are interesting.

The Lodge also offers a few little-known paid events open to all that are well worth your time. Every Wednesday at 3 p.m., Jiko offers a South African wine tasting for $25 plus tax, that features a sampling of fine vintages as well as accompanying cheeses. And at noon Wednesdays and Saturdays over at Sanaa in Kidani Village, you can enjoy an "Untamed" lunch with an Animal Specialist for $49 (adults) or $29 (age 3-9, although the program is recommended for ages 8 and up). You can book the wine tasting online; both programs can be arranged through the Lodge's Concierge desk.

The Lodge also has a few paid events that are exclusively for its guests -- a night-time safari ride around the grounds, and the Wanyama Safari, which takes you around the savannas at Kidani Village and Jambo House, and includes dinner at Jiko.

And don't miss what's easily the most overlooked attraction at the Lodge -- the staff. Many of the cast members here are natives of Africa, or have lived there, and they are storehouses of knowledge about the differences in cultures, as well as the animals. There are many formal opportunities for hearing from the staff, such as the nightly storytelling at the Arusha Rock Firepit, but don't hesitate to strike up a casual conversation to find out more about the Lodge itself, and perhaps another part of the world.

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MAGIC KINGDOM
RESORTS
====================

Electrical Water PageantIf you're staying in a resort in the Magic Kingdom area, you might think there's nothing else to do or see besides the Magic Kingdom. There it is before you, in all its glory -- that beautiful, graceful castle... the sleek, futuristic Space Mountain... and in the distance you can sometimes even catch the wolf howl beckoning from the Haunted Mansion.

You might be so taken in by the immediacy of the Magic Kingdom that you might not see all the little things right there in your resort... the things that make it so much more than just a place to sleep or grab a bite to eat.

One treat that comes with staying at a Magic Kingdom resort that's not as publicized as it should be (in my opinion) is the Electrical Water Pageant. This convoy of beautifully lit floats makes a musical circuit around the Seven Seas Lagoon nightly, weather permitting, passing in front of the Polynesian around 9 p.m., the Grand Floridian at 9:15 p.m., the Wilderness Lodge at 9:35 p.m., Fort Wilderness at 9:45 p.m. and ending at the Contemporary around 10:05 p.m. Good viewing spots can be found along the beaches of any of these resorts, as well as from select restaurant locations -- Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian, for example, affords an on-the-waterfront seat. Try to see it if you can!

If you love to be on the water, the Magic Kingdom resorts offer you a few fun ways to set sail. They aren't free, of course, but fishing excursions can be arranged at the marinas of any of the Magic Kingdom deluxe resorts, as can specialty cruises. If you want to try your hand at some fun "catch and release" bass fishing, you can try a two-hour trip for up to five people. The specialty cruises run the gamut from a daytime picnic to a nighttime dinner/fireworks cruise. Be sure to check at your resort's Lobby Concierge desk for up-to-date info.

The individual resorts each offer their own unique "Overlooked Attractions" as well.

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CONTEMPORARY RESORT
and Bay Lake Tower
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The Contemporary may lack the exotic setting other resorts boast, but it still has plenty of fun and different activities that might be easily overlooked. For a touch of romance, try taking the launch from the Contemporary to Fort Wilderness/ Wilderness Lodge (and back again!). The gentle ride is relaxing and very beautiful on a warm evening -- and if it's cold, that's all the more reason to snuggle in closer with a loved one! If you time your ride just right, you'll also be able to watch the Magic Kingdom's fireworks show, "Wishes," from the water. The boat captain will dim the onboard lights and maybe even let the boat idle during the show, so that you can watch it to the very end. Even though you miss some of the ground effects, it's truly a unique and breathtaking view of the fireworks!

Don't be in such a rush to get to the monorail or Chef Mickey's that you pass the famous mosaic mural on the Contemporary's 4th Floor Grand Canyon Concourse. The 90-foot high mural, by artist Mary Blair, took 18 months to construct in 1971. Study the scenes depicting various aspects of the American Southwest and maybe you'll spot something unusual: the five-legged goat, which faces the monorail track.

If you're craving some "extreme" thrills, the Contemporary is home to some you won't find elsewhere on Disney property. Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre, which will outfit you (for a price, of course) for a wakeboarding, water-skiing or parasailing adventure is located out at the resort's marina.

I've said it repeatedly, but at this resort in particular, be sure to obtain the list of special recreation activities occurring during your stay. The Contemporary has been known to host pin-trading events, complimentary beer tastings and much more with very short notice. These are things you surely wouldn't want to overlook!

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GRAND FLORIDIAN
RESORT AND SPA and
Villas
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The Grand Floridian offers some special programs for children that you won't find anywhere else on Disney property, but most of these do come with a price tag. There's the Pirate Cruise, which sets sail with young buccaneers looking for treasure, while the Wonderland Tea Party is hosted by characters from Alice in Wonderland. For those looking for something different that's a real splurge, you can try the My Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Garden View Lounge.

Other "little things" at the Grand Floridian aren't so expensive. For example, there's the lovely white sand beach and don't forget that the Electrical Water Pageant passes this way around 9:15 most nights.

As mentioned earlier, the restaurant Narcoossee's is a great spot from which to watch the Electrical Water Pageant make its nightly rounds around the lagoon, but it's also an ideal spot for viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks. You do miss some of the special effects that are projected on the castle, but if the weather permits you can sit on the porch with your drinks and have an unobstructed view of all the aerial pyrotechnics.

While you're on the beach, the kids might want to check out the nightly campfire and find out what the Movie under the Stars is for the evening. (Most deluxe resorts host these nightly "Movie under the Stars" programs, in fact. Be sure to ask at your Lobby Concierge desk.)

Even if you don't have a meal at the Grand Floridian's 1900 Park Fare, you might want to stop in to see Big Bertha, the huge band organ that sits 15 feet above the floor in the restaurant. Built in Paris, the organ is almost 100 years old and periodically plays a brief concert, featuring pipes, drums, bells, cymbals, and a xylophone, all at the same time.

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WILDERNESS LODGE and
The Villas at Wilderness Lodge
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Carolwood Pacific Room at Wilderness Lodge VillasSpeaking of resort tours, the Wilderness Lodge offers a tour of this grand representation of a Pacific Northwest lodge. Wonders of the Lodge affords a special insight into the architectural details of both the interior and exterior of the lodge. This tour is usually offered on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 9 a.m., but check with Lobby Concierge for times and days the tour will be offered during your stay.

If you're wandering around the six-story lobby of this resort, be sure to check out the totem pole outside the general store. It's not your normal Native American totem -- it features some familiar Disney faces!

While you're in the lobby, walk to the back and set a spell in one of the rough-hewn rocking chairs. There you can people-watch while listening to the sounds of the babbling brook that actually starts inside the resort and flows out to the pool area.

If you follow that stream, you'll find something pretty unusual for a Disney resort -- an actual geyser, just like Yellowstone National Park's Old Faithful. At the Wilderness Lodge, it's called Fire Rock Geyser and it shoots up 120 feet every half hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Take a walk out the back of the resort and head toward the pool area -- you'll see signs pointing you to the geyser viewing area.

If it's a cool day, you may prefer to just spend some time sitting in a huge rocker in front of the lobby's gigantic stone fireplace. Or if you crave more seclusion, take the elevators on the store side of the lobby to go up a floor or two (or three or four) and find the sitting areas overlooking the lobby.

If you're looking for an activity for the kids, ask at the Lobby Concierge desk for the lodge's Hidden Mickey list. My son and I once spent a good long while trying to find the images of the Mouse placed inconspicuously around the resort by the Disney architects and Imagineers, but we could only find one -- maybe you can do better! (In fact, searching for Hidden Mickeys at all the resorts can be a fun pastime. You may want to consider purchasing Steve Barrett's Hidden Mickey guide.)

Don't forget to stop by the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge. Its art and architecture tell of the pioneers who built and stayed in late 19th century railroad hotels in the national parks region of the American West. Railroad enthusiasts will enjoy the Carolwood Pacific Room, a sitting room that features railroad memorabilia. Featured here is a special exhibit on loan from the Disney family with two of Walt Disney's personal scale-model train cars and a piece of the original track.

And after you check out the mementos, this room is the perfect place for a game of checkers (gaming tables provided) or simply whiling away the hours on a rustic rocker in the peace and quiet, either inside or out on the porch with a view of the rustling pines.

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POLYNESIAN VILLAGE
RESORT
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Sadly, I've had to place The Polynesian at the end of my list, because, quite frankly, there's so much construction going on over there at the moment, who knows which of our previously discovered "Overlooked Attractions" there are going to survive? I'm hopeful that once all the renovations are complete and the construction walls are down, we will once again be able to enjoy the grounds of this beautiful resort and find new "little things" to enjoy. The first phase of new construction, along with the resort's main pool, are scheduled to open in a few weeks, on April 1 -- we'll have to run over and research soon thereafter!

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These "little things" are just to get you started. There are so many other details that offer chances for funny photos or magical memories -- all you have to do is take the time to look for them! And if you don't see them, ask a resort cast member -- chances are good that they'll know a little something special about the place in which they work.

Do you have a favorite "overlooked attraction" in one of the resorts that I've left out? Drop me a line at dcdeb@allears.net to share your story!

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RELATED LINKS & VIDEOS
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Resort Fact Sheets

Resort Video Galleries

Carolwood Pacific Room at Villas at Wilderness Lodge

Wanyama Safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Searching Disney with Hidden Mickey Guy Steve Barrett

Overlooked Attractions in the Animal Kingdom
Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom
Overlooked Attractions in Epcot
Overlooked Attractions in Disney's Hollywood Studios


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.