Overlooked Attractions at Disney’s Deluxe Magic Kingdom Area Resorts

by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 6, 2004, Issue #237 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 reader of ALL EARS® you've probably read our periodic columns on observing the little things at Walt Disney World. I'm sure many of you already do that, but perhaps some of you are thinking, "What are they talking about? What 'little things?' I'm in a hurry to get to (Splash Mountain, Test Track, Rock n' Roller Coaster, fill in major attraction of your choice)."

This is another in ALL EARS® occasional series designed to give you an insight into some of the little things you might have missed — some of those "stop-and-smell-the-roses" details (often free!) that help enhance the magic of a Disney trip. This week we're pointing out what we like to call the "Overlooked Attractions" in Disney's Deluxe and Home Away from Home Resorts in the Magic Kingdom area. (Overlooked Attractions for Deluxe and Home Away from Home resorts in the Epcot and Animal Kingdom area will be covered in a future installment of this series.)

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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.

Another treat that comes with staying at a Magic Kingdom resort that's not as publicized as it should be 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 try a two-hour trip, starting at $160 plus tax 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 Guest Services desk for up-to-date info.

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

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OK, I admit it — I'm prejudiced. I just love the Polynesian, ever since I stayed there a few years ago. Of all the Disney resorts I've stayed at (and that's almost all of them), the Polynesian is my fave. That's why I'm starting with it.

The Polynesian manages, through its exotic setting and attention to detail, to transport you to another place. Even if you're a serious park-goer 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.

The grounds of this resort are so beautiful, especially in the evening when the tiki torches are lit. What? You didn't know they held a torch lighting ceremony some nights at the Polynesian? It's a short Polynesian ceremony 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. If you're ambitious, you could even walk all the way over to the Grand Floridian. But maybe it would be better to find a vacant hammock and just 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!

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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You already know about the lovely white sand beach at the Grand Floridian if you've walked over from the Polynesian (see above) and you'll remember that the Electrical Water Pageant passes this way around 9:15 most nights. But there's so much more to the Grand Floridian than that.

The Grand Floridian offers a number of special programs for children that you won't find anywhere else on Disney property. There are three: the Pirate Cruise, which sets sail with young buccaneers looking for treasure; the Grand Adventures in Cooking program, which allows little chefs the chance to bake (and eat!) their own cookies; and the Wonderland Tea Party, hosted by characters from Alice in Wonderland.

Kids and grown-ups alike will appreciate the eco-friendly Lady Bug Release held every Thursday at 11 a.m. in the courtyard behind 1900 Park Fare. Lots of photo ops, and you're promoting all-natural pest management.

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.

As mentioned earlier, the restaurant Narcoossee's is a great spot from which to watch the Electrical Water Pageant make it nightly rounds around the lagoon, but it's also an ideal spot for viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks. With the advent of the new show, "Wishes," 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.

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Speaking 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 Guest Services 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 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 Guest Services 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 — bet you can do better!

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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If you're a regular reader of this newsletter, you'll know that we recently profiled Fort Wilderness, and mentioned a lot of the activities there that take you beyond the normal theme park experience. Rather than reiterate all of those, I've just included a few of my favorites:

For the kids — the petting zoo and pony rides. Be sure to look for the peacocks!

For romance — 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.

For families — the nightly hayride and/or the campfire sing-along with Chip and Dale, followed by an outdoor movie. Bring your fixings for s'mores, or buy them at the campfire, for even more gooey fun!


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 [email protected] to share your story!


Related Links:

Overlooked Attractions in the Animal Kingdom: http://allears.net/tp/ak/issue183.htm

Overlooked Attractions in the Magic Kingdom: http://allears.net/tp/mk/issue140.htm

Overlooked Attractions in Epcot: http://allears.net/tp/ep/issue099.htm

Overlooked Attractions in Disney-MGM Studios: http://allears.net/tp/mgm/issue085.htm

Overlooked Attractions in at Disney's Value and Moderate Resorts: http://allears.net/ae/issue205.htm

More Overlooked Attractions: http://allears.net/tp/ola.htm

Electrical Water Pageant: http://allears.net/tp/ewp.htm

Specialty Cruises: http://allears.net/btp/spcruise.htm

Fishing Excursions: http://allears.net/btp/fish.htm

Other ALL EARS® Articles by Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm