When most people think of Walt Disney World, they think of its iconic rides and attractions. The mere mention of the theme parks brings to mind the exhilaration of coasters like Expedition Everest, or the magic of soaring over Neverland on dark rides like Peter Pan’s Flight. Attractions like these are the stuff Fastpass dreams are made of!
However, they’re not the only attractions in the parks. It’s easy to forget about smaller, older rides that perhaps aren’t as flashy or thrilling as some of their E-ticket neighbors. They aren’t featured prominently on the website or in any commercials, but the parks wouldn’t be what they are without these lesser-known attractions to round them out.
What follows are my top 5 overlooked attractions at the resort I call home. Sure, they may not be the newest and the shiniest, but they’ve got a magic all their own.
5. Tom Sawyer’s Island
Located at the back of the Magic Kingdom, this oft-overlooked island sandwiched between the Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain is far more than meets the eye. At first glance, many guests even assume it’s inaccessible. Take one of the nostalgic rafts over to the opposite shore though, and you’re transported to Mark Twain’s adventure-filled America!
Riddled with caverns and tunnels just below the winding paths of the island’s surface, there’s plenty of opportunity to get in trouble – I mean, explore – just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. When you emerge from the caves, a short bridge takes you to the old fort, replete with barnyard animals, armored lookout posts, and an escape tunnel!
For those who like to take it more slowly, comfy rocking chairs on Aunt Polly’s porch are a great place to relax and just watch the Disney world go by.
Perhaps the reason this amazing attraction goes unvisited is due to the fact that it takes a while to experience. If that’s the case, making time on the next visit to sail on over to Tom Sawyer’s Island should be any adventure fan’s top priority.
4. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
Guests who prefer to watch the action unfold rather than experience it themselves will love Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! over at Hollywood Studios. First opened in August 1989, it combines gymnastics, martial arts, and pyrotechnics, revealing just how much work goes on behind the scenes to create amazing stunts for action movies like Indiana Jones.
Long overshadowed by its newer, high-octane sibling Lights, Motors, Action!, this thrilling attraction is more up-close and personal. At the start of the show, audience members are even invited down onto the stage, joining the stunt actors and Indiana Jones himself in the scene!
Much like Tom Sawyer’s Island, guests often fear this show just takes too much time to fit into their busy day. With much of the park currently closed for refurbishment, there is now plenty of room in the itinerary to fit this one in – and who knows, it might even be a new favorite!
3. Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth, otherwise known as “The Golf Ball” or “That Big Metal Thing,” is the very first thing guests see as they enter Epcot, or even as they enter the parking lot. Yet, upon passing through the turnstiles, most walk right past the iconic landmark, assuming it is just that – an unnamed landmark.
Housed inside the world’s largest geodesic sphere though, lies a sort of time machine, taking you from the Stone Age all the way up to the early days of the PC. Narrated by the wonderful Dame Judi Dench, the slow-moving ride tells the story of humanity’s amazing technological innovations.
At first blush, this does not sound like a good time. After all, no one particularly wants a history lesson while they’re on vacation. That being said, the ride’s charm is derived less from the actual educational bits, and more from its endearing quirks.
Whether that happens to be the delicious, slow-roasted barbecue smell of Rome burning, the amazing platform-wedge-wearing computer programmer, or simply remembering to thank the Phoenicians, it’s the small, silly details that make this ride a cult classic.
Constantly hovering around a ten minute wait, there is no reason not to catch this Epcot classic the next time you’re in the park. Take a trip through time and discover exactly what it is you have been missing out on this whole time.
2. Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Most commonly referred to as just the PeopleMover, this is another attraction that proves rides do not have to be fast to be fun. Achieving top speeds of a whopping seven miles per hour, the TTA takes you on a relaxing scenic tour of Tomorrowland, weaving in and out of buildings and above the bustle of the crowded land below.
Providing an overview of the entire land, this is a great ride for people-watching. Bring your favorite drink and a friend along, and you can enjoy the best in tourist pageantry for ten whole minutes. Well, except for the part where you’re in the dark of Space Mountain.
Did I mention that the PeopleMover runs through Space Mountain?! Prolonged sitting in the dark certainly isn’t for everyone, but the few minutes riders spend gliding through Space Mountain are out of this world! On rare occasions, the lights have been left on and TTA travelers can even catch a glimpse of the mechanics of the classic coaster inside.
Disney buffs will also geek out at the model of Walt’s original concept for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – E.P.C.O.T. for short. Epcot may have changed plenty between concept and reality, but the PeopleMover’s model is a loving homage to what might have been.
What I love about the PeopleMover is its sheer lack of artifice. It never pretends to be cooler than it is. Laid-back and chill, it’s the perfect early morning or mid-afternoon ride for when you inevitably need a break from the hustle of the Magic Kingdom. Or from the kids.
Dinosaurs, time travel, and a daring escape from extinction: this ride has them all!
DINOSAUR puts you on board a vehicle called the Time Rover, an unwieldy all-terrain vehicle that sends you back through time to the late Cretaceous period in search of an adorable Iguanodon. What ensues is an awesome dino field trip involving raptors, meteor showers, and a Carnotaurus bent on making you his meal.
The only thrill ride to make my list, this one scares me every single time. Halting, jerky movements and strobe lighting disorient riders, causing confusion and panic to set in. Add to that quick snapshots of the horrific Carnotaurus, caught in flashes of light as it rapidly approaches the vehicle, and it’s enough to set anyone screaming.
Overlooked in large part due to its location at the very back of Dinoland at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this is another attraction that rarely has a long wait. All the better, because once you step off the ride, you’re sure to run right back around to the entrance and do it all again.
In the ever-changing, constantly growing world of Disney theme parks, it’s important to remember that sometimes, the best things aren’t necessarily the biggest. Hidden gems like these are proof that great things often live in the shadows, merely waiting for you to discover them.
Which are your favorite overlooked Disney attractions? Did any of yours make the list? Let us know what not to miss in the comments!