Under the Radar: Walt Disney World's Underrated Attractions

by Evan L. Weston
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 11, 2017 Issue #929 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.


Evan Weston

It's the peak of the afternoon. The pathways are slammed with guests, sardines packed tightly into a mouse-shaped can. You check your MyDisneyExperience app. The E-ticket attraction queues are filled to the brim, with waits for the most popular rides exceeding two hours. You just ate lunch, and you have four hours to kill until your next big FastPass+. What's a family to do?

Fortunately, Disney isn't just about the headliners. Sure, experiences like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Frozen Ever After, and the all-new Avatar Flight of Passage get the lion's share of the attention, but each Disney park is filled with attractions that slip under the radar. Here, we'll recommend the best of the best for when the park is at peak and you'd rather not resign yourself to the resort pool for an afternoon snooze.

Note that we're looking not just beyond the top tier here, but even into the second tier of attractions like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Star Tours, and Kilimanjaro Safaris, where wait times can easily exceed 45 minutes to an hour on most afternoons. Those attractions are best done early in the morning or late at night, with your FastPass+ reservations covering the biggest E-ticket experiences.

Magic Kingdom: Learn to Love the OmniMover

One of the great innovations of the early Disneyland days was the OmniMover technology. Conceived by First Imagineer Roger Broggie and partner Bret Brundage in 1968, this capacity-enlarging breakthrough saw riders board their cars on moving walkways, where the ride vehicles are lined up tightly and never stop for the hassle of loading and unloading passengers. This enables the ride to put through several hundred more guests per hour, thus reducing wait times significantly.

Magic Kingdom is full of these fantastic OmniMover attractions, many of which usually have reasonable waits. The lone exception is Peter Pan's Flight, which is a must-FastPass+ if you decide to do it at all.

Haunted Mansion sits at the top of the class. This Disney classic was originally built for the Anaheim park in 1969 and made its way to Magic Kingdom in 1971 with the opening of the Orlando resort. The horror concept seems bizarre for a family park, but the Haunted Mansion is totally in on the joke, which is the genius of the ride. It leads off with its best (and only true) scare in the stretching room, and then proceeds to get goofier and more musical as it goes along, leading to the big "Grim Grinning Ghosts" finale number in the graveyard. Hold your kids tight during the actually frightening pre-show and enjoy the rest of the attraction comfortably.

Other OmniMover delights at Magic Kingdom include Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, whose wait time is often fairly short. After a beautiful walk through Eric's castle, guests board a clamshell and follow along with the story of the film, dipping under and back out of the ocean along the way. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, straight across from the ultra-popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland, is not technically an OmniMover, as the cars are individual and do stop and start for loading, but the concept is very similar. Adapted from the brilliant Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, considered by some to be the best Pooh story of all time, the ride takes you on a whimsical journey with Pooh through windy gusts and a lovely rain shower, along with the clear highlight, Pooh's dreams of Heffalumps and Woozles.

Also worth a look are Magic Kingdom's two famous boat rides, "it's a small world" and Pirates of the Caribbean, both of which feature very high capacity and less extreme wait times.

Epcot: See "The Seas"

Our OmniMover discussion segues nicely into Epcot's hidden gem, nestled away in the park's northwest corner. Formerly known as The Living Seas, Epcot began to transform this pavilion in 2003 with the release of mega-hit Finding Nemo. Now called The Seas with Nemo and Friends, this pavilion hosts a wonderful variety of attractions and experiences, often with very little wait. It's a bit out of the way, as guests must travel west through Future World's central area and turn north past the much more popular Land pavilion, but that helps keep the waits down!

The main attraction inside The Seas is the eponymous OmniMover ride, which again has guests board a "clam-mobile" for an undersea adventure. But unlike the Magic Kingdom's Under the Sea, which can easily follow the musical plot of The Little Mermaid, Nemo and Friends opts to write an all-new story set after the events of the film, this time with Nemo scuttling off on his own for a bit of whimsical fun. Guests ride along the EAC with Crush and Squirt, meet Bruce and his shark friends, and close with the absurdly catchy song "In the Big Blue World," which just wiggled its way into my head while I was writing this.

Once disembarked from the clamshell, guests are released into the pavilion proper, where the real stars shine. With little to no wait at all, guests can circle a large aquarium that rivals SeaWorld's best exhibits, featuring dolphins, turtles, and massive schools of fish. Of special note is a tank featuring the endangered manatee, which can often be seen adorably consuming gigantic heads of lettuce. Younger guests will also enjoy Turtle Talk with Crush, an interactive film experience where Crush speaks directly with the audience. Extend your time in this pavilion by grabbing lunch at the Coral Reef restaurant, where you can sit directly against the aquarium window.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Rainbow Connection

Hollywood Studios is in a bit of an odd spot at the moment. The park is awaiting a massive expansion that will see a Florida-exclusive version of Toy Story Land, with the heavily anticipated and as-yet untitled Star Wars Land to follow in 2019. While incredibly exciting for the future, the construction has left a good chunk of the park closed, including the two attractions I'd normally rely on for peak times at DHS, the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and the Studio Backlot Tour.

This leaves Hollywood Studios with four marquee attractions (Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock n' Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours) and a seeming lack of depth. That's only true if you're not looking hard enough. Hollywood Studios boasts one of the funniest family 3D films ever to debut at a theme park in Muppet*Vision 3D.

The Muppets have seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years with the 2011 release of their self-titled film and the 2014 follow-up Muppets Most Wanted. Strangely, that hasn't led to an increase in interest in the theme park film, which remains a walk-on at most times. Sure, it's a bit dated, having premiered in 1992, but the Muppets' style of self-referential humor never goes out of style, and the film features great moments for all of the franchise's signature characters, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and my personal favorite peanut gallery, Statler and Waldorf.

Disney's Animal Kingdom: Don't Forget the Animals

Disney has a huge hit on their hands with Pandora: The World of Avatar, which opened Memorial Day weekend to universal critical acclaim and enormous crowds. Even with the rush of opening weekend gone by, Flight of Passage routinely sees wait times approaching three hours, and FastPass+ is nearly impossible to come by for either the E-ticket or Na'vi River Journey any sooner than 59 days out.

Luckily, this frees up the rest of Animal Kingdom substantially. It's now possible to see waits under half an hour for Kilimanjaro Safaris during peak times, though you're still better off riding in the morning or at sunset for the most possible animal viewings. Expedition Everest was always fairly easy to get on quickly via the single rider line, but now the roller coaster regularly sports waits of 30 minutes or fewer, even during busy times in the afternoon. Dinosaur, a sorely underrated ride tucked into the bottom right corner of the map, is thrilling and generally quick.

However, Animal Kingdom's greatest treasures require no wait at all. Put on your hiking books and trek back to Asia for the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where you can see a wide variety of different creatures, highlighted by an incredibly beautiful group of tigers. Africa features the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (previously called Pangani Forest), where the titular apes reign supreme atop a large hillside with a massive open-air viewing area. The gorillas possess enough intelligence to playfully interact with and entertain the masses, making for some remarkably funny smartphone videos!

So don't stress if your MyDisneyExperience app shows 90 minutes-plus for the top attractions. There's always something magical and fun to do at each Walt Disney World theme park!

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RELATED LINKS
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FASTPASS+

My Disney Experience

Haunted Mansion

Muppet*Vision 3D

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Read Evan's previous article for AllEars®:
How to Not Break the Budget

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Evan Weston is a Disney and theme park enthusiast from Central New Jersey who has lived in Orlando since summer 2015. When not enjoying Disney World or Universal, he works as the radio voice of Orlando City Soccer Club, along with television play-by-play for Stetson University athletics. He considers himself a Sorcerer Mickey superfan and visits the parks at least once weekly.


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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.