Five Hidden Gems at Walt Disney World

I’ve talked about traveling to Walt Disney World before and had promised further tips. Here are five neat things at the Magic Kingdom that are easy to overlook amidst the flashier attractions.

Sleepy Hollow Refreshments – Just over the bridge towards Liberty Square from the castle lies this quick service stand. It serves waffles (with fruit or nutella), funnel cakes, coffee, and ice cream floats — great late-night desserts. Until 5 o’clock, it also has two savory waffle sandwiches, which are unlike anything you’ll get elsewhere in the Magic Kingdom. I recommend the sweet and spicy chicken.

It has outdoor seating, some of which lies behind the stand under an overhang. You’ll have to keep an eye on the ducks and birds that lurk nearby waiting for your scraps, but the location is the other reason why this spot is a hidden gem. While it’s a terrible place to view the castle and the fireworks shows, this refreshment stand sits right alongside the parade route. Get there early to grab a good viewing spot and have a funnel cake while you wait.

(You can read someone else’s more in-depth review here. Holy cow, someone has a whole blog devoted to reviewing food at Disney parks! Why didn’t I give myself that job?)

PeopleMover – It doesn’t seem like much of a ride, does it? You take a slow-moving tour of the other attractions in the Tomorrowland section of the park. There aren’t any dips or twists or surprises or animatronics. However, I’ll take it over Stitch’s Great Escape any day.

The PeopleMover’s charm is that it’s relaxing. The ride is much longer than a roller coaster, plus it’s shaded the whole time. It’s high up, so you get a good view of that part of the park. If you have great timing, you can enjoy an awesome view of the castle during the fireworks show as you ride by. Best of all, the line is usually short. It’s a great way to take a break and get off your feet for a few minutes.

Dumbo’s queue – This is brilliant. Disney should do this with every ride they can. Let’s say your kid wants to ride Dumbo. There’s a 30 minute wait, and as hot as it is, the Storybook Circus area of the park always seems to feel hotter still. But once the line gets inside the big tent, it leads to a circus themed indoor playground. You are handed a pager and get to sit down in the air-conditioning while your child climbs around. After your pager goes off, you can resume standing in line. But that break where you are out of the heat and your kid can play? Priceless.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – This gem only pretends to be hidden, but that’s part of the charm. When you first go into the park, you may spot a sign saying, “Sorcerers Wanted” and asking such fell magic wielders to report to the Main Street USA Firehouse. There, you are given a brief run-down of the “secret” Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game and a handful of cards, each depicting a Disney character and their game stats. A map you are given shows you where to find the spots where the game is played.

Finding those spots can be a fun little hunt in and of itself. They are disguised as mirrors, shop windows, or posters but once your magic key activates them, you are treated to a brief animated segment featuring a Disney villain and their lackeys, who you will “fight” by holding up a card and using the power of the associated character. Then you will be told which “portal” you will need to access next to play the next part of the game. It’s really neat, and great fun for those who enjoy geocaching, scavenger hunts, or collectable card games.

(Here’s a good place for more in-depth information — though figuring it out yourself is, I think, part of the fun.)

Cast Members not dressed as Disney characters – Not that Mickey, the princesses, and all the other recognizable characters don’t do a great job. I can’t imagine maintaining my poise in the Florida heat wearing one of those costumes, let alone while trying to be magical for an unending parade of children. However, as a park goer you’re not going to spend more than five minutes in the company of any one of those characters and the interaction is bound to be rushed.

On the other hand, any other Cast Member at the park is just as devoted to being wonderful and magical as Mickey himself, but doesn’t have a queue to wait in and can actually be helpful if you need assistance. When I started writing this entry, I only had in mind the performers who stroll around Main Street, and their ilk. The Wife and I have gotten our pictures with Main Street’s Mayor and had a lovely chat with him and his wife. They are “in-character” enough to be fun but aren’t so constrained that they can’t have a conversation. However, even the cast members who aren’t playing a role at all can be fun to talk to, especially if you are a people person like the Wife. Plus, they sometimes have FastPasses or stickers in their pockets.

Honorable mentions

Push, the talking trash can – This little guy was unfortunately retired just a year or two ago, but was the perfect example of those little, extra-special touches that makes Disney more than just another amusement park. This robot looked exactly like the trash cans that inhabit Tomorrowland. Every now and then, you’d see it scooting around but it would usually just lurk someplace, waiting until you tried to throw something away in it. Then — surprise! — it’s a moving, talking robot.

Tom Sawyer’s Island – Easy to miss because you have to get there by ferry, Tom Sawyer’s Island gives kids a place to do something they actually don’t have much opportunity for at Walt Disney World: run around and play. I’m only giving this an honorable mention because it’s been years since I’ve set foot there. However, as I recall, it has many nooks and crannies to explore. The big feature, though, is the fort — it’s got toy guns and cannons you can’t help but train on the Liberty Square Riverboat! Between that, the mill, the caves, the whole place is an enormous stage for play-acting outdoor adventures. If your kids need a place to stretch their legs (you know, after all that walking and standing in line) and just play for a while without leaving the park, this is the spot.

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