Space Mountain. Expedition Everest. Soarin’. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. If you’ve ever been to the Walt Disney World Resort, chances are you have gotten Fastpasses or have waited in long lines for these headliner attractions. These are what Walt Disney would call “weenies.” The big time, visually stunning attractions that would draw you into a land or area in one of the theme parks. I, probably like you, absolutely LOVE all of these attractions and I look forward to riding them each and every trip. I don’t worry about using Fastpasses or waiting in long lines because these are the BIG TIME things that I have to hit on almost every trip (and I’m in WDW an awful lot). But that doesn’t mean I don’t also make time for the little, oftentimes overlooked experiences in Walt Disney World as well. There are so many things that I do with my family in WDW that I usually keep to myself for fear of the word getting out and making them more popular. I am going to tell you about just a few of them in this blog post, though, but this is just between us, okay? Here are a few Hidden Gems of Walt Disney World.
Tusker House Character Dining – Kind of a weird place to start, right? Tusker House isn’t really hidden and is actually pretty darn visible when walking through the village of Harambe in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The thing is, this restaurant opened with the park in 1998 as a counter service restaurant and I think there are still a whole lot of people who think that is still what it is today. Disney converted Tusker House into a table service restaurant years ago and in my opinion it is one of the ABSOLUTE BEST character dining experiences in all of Walt Disney World. Let’s run through the list: Fab Five characters? Check. Great food? Check. Great cast members and service? Check. Fun for kids and adults alike? Check. It’s often a much easier dining reservation to get, too! While Chef Mickey’s, 1900 Park Fare, and Crystal Palace are all snapped up at the 180 day mark, Tusker House is sometimes available within weeks of your vacation. Go, enjoy the Jungle Juice (trust me), and have a great time!
Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness – If you’re an outdoorsy type, you definitely need to head on over to the Tri-Circle-D Ranch at the Fort Wilderness Resort. There you can enjoy wagon rides along trails and scenic waterways, horseback riding along wooded trails where you might see some native wildlife like deer and armadillos, and horse-drawn carriage rides all around the rustic resort. It’s also really fun just to stroll around the resort (yes, sometimes I imagine that I’m a cowboy, please don’t judge me) and check out the stables where the horses who pull the trolleys on Main Street USA live when they’re not working. It’s pretty amazing that you’re so close to the Magic Kingdom that you can hear the train whistle going off but seem so far away and removed from it all at Fort Wilderness. If you haven’t been, you really have to give it a try. Maybe you can even stop by Crockett’s Tavern for a drink, or better yet Trail’s End for some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever have! Even for someone like me, who’s idea of roughing it is not bringing my cell phone to the theme parks, it’s a lot of fun to relax and enjoy the laid-back, western feel of the Ranch.
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto – Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Resort is one of my favorite places on the entire planet. It blends the hokey fun but adventurous feel of The Jungle Cruise with great food, great drinks, and a great atmosphere and special effects. That is why I was so excited when it’s cousin, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, opened at the Polynesian Village Resort in Walt Disney World. In Disneyland, you can’t miss Trader Sam’s, even if you try. There are signs, flaming torches, and a lot of noise that makes it pretty noticeable. At the Poly, however, it’s almost like a speakeasy! If you’re not looking for it, you may walk right past it! When coming from the lobby, walk past Captain Cook’s (another place you HAVE TO try, especially for the Chicken & Waffles) and there’s a little door on your right hand side. If you walk outside, you’ve gone too far. Stop in, order the lettuce cups which are pretty fantastic, get a Krakatoa Punch, and have a fantastic time!
Yehaa Bob Jackson – My absolute favorite hidden gem on this list isn’t a place or a thing, it’s a man. In fact, it is the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Yehaa Bob Jackson. Bob sings and plays a one-of-a-kind piano over at the River Roost Lounge at Port Orleans Riverside Resort to packed houses several nights each week (Please click HERE to see him in action). His free shows are absolutely can’t miss as he is one of the best, if not THE BEST, entertainer anywhere in Walt Disney World. Yehaa Bob’s shows are loud and highly entertaining, and crowd participation is not only encouraged, it’s an absolute must! I GUARANTEE you will have an amazing time at Bob’s show, and it really is the perfect way to cap off a long day in the Disney theme parks. You can grab an adult beverage (or a couple, I do!) or your favorite soft drink from the bar or you and your kids can even bring food in from the Riverside Mill Food Court next door to enjoy during his show. Yehaa Bob is a true Disney treasure and my family’s trips to WDW aren’t complete without seeing his amazing performances.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short list of Walt Disney World’s lesser known but incredible experiences. I could probably go on and list another fifty Hidden Gems, but those are for you guys to go out and find on your own. WDW is an enormous area and there is so much to explore and discover while you’re on your vacation. I’m sure you all have your favorite Hidden Gems and I’d love to hear what they are! Please comment here on this blog, email me at [email protected], send me a Facebook message HERE, or tweet me @ear_to_there with your Hidden Gems of Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Thank you so much again for taking the time out of your day to read this, it is greatly appreciated! Please enjoy the rest of your stay here at Ear To There Travel!