Overlooked Attractions: Magic Kingdom Area Resorts

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the October 2, 2012 Issue #680 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.

grand floridian More than a few years ago, AllEars® ran a series of features on what we called "Overlooked Attractions" around the parks and resorts. You know, those little things that actually make you detour from your plan, the additional touches that demonstrate Disney's well-known attention to detail and make the World the fascinating place that it is. So much has changed at Walt Disney World over the last few years, that we realized that our overlooked attractions lists have themselves become somewhat overlooked. We updated the Overlooked Attractions lists for the theme parks not too long ago, but have been waylaid in addressing the articles covering the resorts. In the process of updating, I realized that many of these items are of a "did you know that this was there?" nature, but still a lot are "stop-and-smell-the-roses" details (often free!) found at the Magic Kingdom area's resorts: Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary, Polynesian, Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, and the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, including the Disney Vacation Club units at Wilderness Lodge Villas and Bay Lake Tower.

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If 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. I mean, 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. 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 take a two-hour trip. The specialty cruises run the gamut from a daytime picnic to a nighttime dinner/fireworks cruise. Be sure to check at your resort's Guest Services desk for up-to-date info.

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

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I'll admit that I'm prejudiced. I just love the Polynesian.

The Polynesian manages, through its exotic setting and attention to detail, to transport you to another place. Even if you're a serious parkgoer who has to ride every ride and see every show (like me), I think the Polynesian's atmosphere will slow you down and get you to stop and smell a few roses. Or other tropical flowers, as the case may be.

Start with the lobby. Just spend some time walking around the palm trees and listening to the water gently trickling from the indoor waterfall. Ahhh. Doesn't that make your blood pressure drop just a few ticks? All that greenery (75 different species of plantings in what is the largest indoor collection of tropical and subtropical plant life in Florida) just has to make you feel better, particularly if you're on vacation from a cold, wintry clime.

While you're in the lobby, stop by the Island Guide desk located just at the entrance. Island Guides will greet you with lovely Polynesian-style leis, and will answer any questions you might have about the Polynesian islands. Be sure to ask the Island Guide for the schedule of children's activities — they run programs on lei and bracelet making, as well as other arts and crafts.

Do you like to shop? The Polynesian offers a few unusual options. (I know I said that many of these "overlooked attractions" are free — technically, it IS free to shop, just as long as you don't buy anything! But you may find it hard to resist here.) Several years ago, the Polynesian combined a number of its lobby shops into one big store — the whimsically named BouTiki. Many of the items here have a South Seas Island flair, and kids will find it fun to check out the numerous tiki gods who populate the shop. The Polynesian is also home to a branch of Wyland Galleries, known for its artworks (paintings, sculptures and more) dedicated to marine life and the sea.

The Polynesian is also home to two specialty items to tickle your tastebuds. For lovers of really good coffee, the Kona Island Coffee Bar serves rich Kona coffee in the mornings, a welcome relief from instant or some of the less savory in-room coffee choices. From 5 p.m. on, this same location transforms into a sushi bar, presenting an array of beautiful dragon rolls, sashimi and nigiri.

The grounds of this resort are so lovely, especially in the evening when the tiki torches are lit. What? You didn't know they hold a torch lighting ceremony most nights at the Polynesian? It's a short Polynesian ritual that welcomes the night, with an authentic Polynesian dancer performing a traditional fire-knife dance, and lighting the torches leading into the resort's Great Ceremonial House. Check with the Guest Services desk for the time.

Don't miss the chance to take a stroll around the grounds, breathing in the lightly scented air. On a warm and humid Florida night, you can just about imagine yourself on a remote South Pacific isle. Head down toward Luau Cove, even if you're not going to the Spirit of Aloha dinner show — it's a wonderful little walk.

The Polynesian's beach is another great place for a moonlit stroll, with the water lapping gently on the shore. You can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from this spot, or find a vacant hammock and watch the lights from the Magic Kingdom twinkling across the water. Aloha!

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While the Contemporary lacks the exotic setting of the Polynesian, 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!

Speaking of fireworks, you can also get a great view from the walkway that connects Bay Lake Tower to the main Contemporary building. It can be a bit cool and breezy up there, but the panorama is well worth a few shivery moments.

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 wakeboarding, water-skiing or parasailing adventure is located out at the resort's marina.

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There are lots of changes afoot for the Grand Floridian — construction is underway that will result in a whole Disney Vacation Club wing. In conjunction with that addition, there is also some renovation taking place, so we can't guarantee that all of our old suggestions are still valid. Guess we'll just have to make a trip over there to check things out in the next few months.

In the meantime though…

The Grand Floridian offers a few special programs for children that you won't find anywhere else on Disney property: the Pirate Cruise, which sets sail several days a week, taking young buccaneers looking for treasure; and the Wonderland Tea Party, which is hosted by characters from Alice in Wonderland.

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 100+ years old and periodically plays a brief concert, featuring pipes, drums, bells, cymbals, and a xylophone, all at the same time.

The Grand Floridian hosts a variety of live music year-round right in its lobby — sometimes it's a solo pianist, tickling the ivories of the baby grand piano that sits in the middle of the floor, other times the strains of a swinging jazz band waft down from their perch on the second floor. You can just sit in the overstuffed chairs and sofas around the lobby and soak it all in, or go up to the lounge and listen while sipping a beverage of your choosing.

For beverage lovers of another type, the Grand Floridian offers a traditional afternoon tea from 2 to 5 p.m. daily in the Garden View Lounge. A very civilized affair, it is just as welcoming to the youngsters as it is to adults.

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. It's also an ideal spot for viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks. You do miss some of the special effects of "Wishes" that are projected on the castle, but if the weather permits you can sit on Narcoossee's porch with your drinks and have an unobstructed view of all the aerial pyrotechnics.

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The Wilderness Lodge is an architectural wonder — truly, the resort's accents and details are worth studying. And if you sign up for the "Wonders of the Lodge" tour, offered on various days beginning at 9:30 a.m., you can do just that. A "ranger" will be your guide, sharing interesting facts about the lodge along the way. Check with the Front Desk for availability.

If you're wandering around the six-story lobby of the Wilderness Lodge on your own, 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 go all the way to the top floor of the lobby, you can even go out on the roof at the front of the resort.

If you're looking for an activity for the kids, ask at the Lobby Concierge 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!

Don't forget to stop by the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge. The 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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The campground hosts a campfire program with no admission that is open to all Walt Disney World resort guests. It generally begins around 7 p.m. during the fall/winter season and 8 p.m. after the time changes in April through the summer. It is held near the Meadow Trading Post in the campfire area. The program begins with a sing-along led by a Disney cast member and a marshmallow roast around two campfire rings. Chip and Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs and the evening concludes with an outdoor Disney feature.

For the outdoorsy, guided horseback rides are offered several times a day, weather permitting. For the little ones who want their own equine experience, there are also pony rides.

If you'd rather talk to the fishes than horses, you can do that at Fort Wilderness, too. Fish in one of the canals around the campground — you can rent Casting Rod Fishing Equipment and purchase worms or wrigglers and nightcrawlers at the Bike Barn.

Can you believe that Fort Wilderness also offers a 90-minute Archery Experience? Both novice and expert marksmen are welcome; an archery guide at the Bike Barn offers training and tips on how to hit the bulls-eye with a Compound Bow. Open to resort guests and non-guests alike, ages 6 and up.

Joggers/runners will be glad to hear that there are plenty of places to stretch your legs around the campground, including along the Swamp Trail, a 3/4-mile loop along the shore of Bay Lake, and the Fort Wilderness Exercise Trail – 2.3 mile paved and sand path that runs between Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge.

Finally, for romance, don't miss the nighttime carriage rides that depart from Pioneer Hall. If you're lucky, your carriage driver will find a nice spot for you to watch the fireworks.


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? Drop me a line at dcdeb@allears.net to share your story!


About the Author: Debra Martin Koma, AllEars.Net's Senior Editor, fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit there — when she was 35! She's lost count of how often she's returned to her Laughing Place in the ensuing years, but knows that she still isn't tired of it. (And doubts she ever will be.)

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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.