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The 21 most underrated things at Disney World: What to see, do and eat that many guests miss

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There are things that everyone knows and loves at Walt Disney World Resort that are popular for good reason. We have lists of the best hotels at Disney World, the best restaurants at Disney World and even the best outdoor restaurants at Disney World.

But what about all those things that aren’t necessarily the best but are definitely underrated and easily overlooked in place of the big, flashy, well-known must-dos?

After a few recent more “low-key” trips to Disney World, where we were looking to get off the beaten path a bit (and crowd-sourcing a bit with friends), we’ve come up with a list of underrated things to do, see and eat at Disney World. As a bonus, since these really are largely underrated, it means they are also often available with shorter waits and less competition than the big-name restaurants, attractions and hotels.

Related: Are the Disney Visa credit cards worth it?

Underrated things to do at Disney World

Living with the Land

This 15-minute boat ride in the Land Pavilion at Epcot is, to me, a must-do on an Epcot day.

Riding tram at Walt Disney World

However, many overlook it in favor of its neighbor Soarin’ Around the World (which is great, but everyone knows that). Living with the Land is a great mix of educational, interesting and relaxing, and it is pretty much five stars if you ask me. This is especially true during the holidays in the evening hours when it gets a festive overlay that takes an already great underrated attraction to an even higher level.

If you enjoy this ride, look into taking the Behind the Seeds tour, as that is another underrated tour at Disney World that gets rave reviews and only costs $30.

Turtle Talk with Crush and the entire Sea Base aquarium

I’d say that the most underrated section of any Disney World theme park is the SeaBase aquarium area of Epcot. It doesn’t have a big-name attraction, so it’s easy to skip, but that’s a mistake if you have some time on your hands and want to get out of the sun (or rain).

Sea Base Aquarium

Turtle Talk with Crush is a 15-minute “live” interaction with an animated Crush turtle on the big screen and the audience. If you’ve been on a Disney Cruise, you may have had something similar in Animator’s Palate, but you don’t have to take a cruise to experience this fun show. Crush will interact with a few people in the audience — often choosing adorable kids seated in the front of the kid sections on the floor at the front of the auditorium.

Sea Base Aquarium

While you’re in the aquarium, look around to enjoy one of the largest aquariums in the U.S. and see fish feedings, manatee rehab, sharks, rays, dolphins, and so much more. It would be easy to spend hours here, though, of course, that’s sometimes tough when Epcot is so packed with must-dos. At a minimum, head here when you want an indoor break.

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

This ride has Walt Disney’s vision all over it, and it’s easily skipped over on your way to Tron or Space Mountain.

But this leisurely 10-minute ride accelerates using magnets and provides looks (and narrated information) at Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and even into the Star Traders shop. You’ll also see some models that inspired Epcot.

It’s a great way to get off your feet for a bit and feel the breeze in your hair as you enjoy a classic attraction, usually without very much of a wait.

Disney water parks

The two Disney water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, are easily overlooked in favor of theme parks and even some of the best Disney resort pools.

However, if you want a day with more activity than a resort pool but not as expensive or involved as a park day, consider a water park. Tickets to the water parks are much cheaper than the theme parks; parking is simple; and if you go when they open, you can probably enjoy most of the rides you’re after by lunch — especially during shoulder seasons.

Disney water parks really remind me of a 1980s-style trip to Disney, where everything is simple, fun, easy and relatively affordable. And that wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon creates some seriously big waves that are absolutely reminiscent of 1980s- and 1990s-style fun.

Walt Disney Presents

As you head into Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ve likely walked past Walt Disney Presents. However, if you are into Disney history, you should step inside.

Inside, you’ll find Disney historical artifacts about Walt’s life and the company’s history. There’s also a 15-minute film, “One Man’s Dream,” that is a must-see if you like historical Disney information. It may even make you feel a little emotional — in a good way.

Live entertainment

The Dapper Dans on Main Street U.S.A, the piano player outside of Casey’s Corner, stage shows such as Festival of the Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, the entertaining evening piano show at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside and other live entertainment is also easy to walk right past when you’re heading to use your next Lightning Lane.

But to skip the live entertainment is missing a huge portion of what makes Disney World what it is, so make time to take some of it in, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Walt Disney World Railroad

Whether you want to use the Walt Disney World Railroad to get from Main Street U.S.A. to Frontierland or Fantasyland while saving a few steps, or you want to enjoy the full 20-minute narrated loop around the Magic Kingdom, a ride on the vintage steam trains is a great way to spend some time at the Magic Kingdom off your feet and with a nice breeze, usually without any wait.

I like to use it for a full loop for a nice break and then strategically get off in the portion of the park we want to enjoy next.

Scavenger hunts

If you have kids who don’t really want to go around the countries in Epcot with you, the best $10 you can spend is probably for a scavenger hunt that makes it more fun for them. The scavenger hunts change throughout the year, but you’ll be looking for things like small character statues. When you’re done, you’ll get a prize like a character cup, a puzzle or a figure to paint.

Scavenger hunt sign

Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

You could include Fort Wilderness in all of the underrated categories: things to do, eat and where to stay. But we’ll put it in the things to do category for now.

Fort Wilderness is massive, and it’s home to not only a fantastic campground and cabins (and you can have recreational vehicles delivered and set up for you), but it’s also where you’ll find train rides, put your kiddo on a $10 pony ride, visit the horses of Disney World at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, take archery, go fishing, experience a wagon ride, rent bikes, see the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show and a lot more.

It’s an extremely different experience than what the Magic Kingdom has in store just a mile or two away, but it’s different in a great way if you want to mix things up.

Watch the evening flag retreat at the Magic Kingdom

If you want to feel nostalgic and patriotic all at once, don’t miss the flag retreat at 5 p.m. under the train station on Main Street U.S.A. This moment involves a marching band, the Dapper Dans and a U.S. military service member, and it feels like the Walt Disney World I imagine Walt wanted to create.

Band plays at Walt Disney World

Related: 5 ways using an authorized Disney vacation planner will improve your trip

Underrated places to stay at Disney World

Rent Disney Vacation Club points

We scream from the rooftops about how you can save money renting Disney Vacation Club points, but it’s still a very underrated way to experience Disney World. It can legitimately take 50% off the cost of your lodging at resorts ranging from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian and Animal Kingdom Lodge, so if you’ve skipped over that option thinking it’s not for you, keep it in mind next time you want to go to Disney but your bank account has other ideas.

The pool at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter

While not bookable with DVC points, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter is absolutely underrated.

This moderate resort is typically one of the more affordable options in its category, is easy to get in and out of due to its manageable size, it’s the only place on property you can get Mickey beignets, has a festive vibe, and you can easily share in the amenities of the attached Riverside side of the resort.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

Disney’s Pop Century Resort gets overlooked among the value resorts in favor of the theme of the Art of Animation or the size and value of the All-Star resorts, but Pop Century is on the convenient Skyliner route, usually well-priced and easier to get around than massive All-Star properties.

Walt Disney World Swan Reserve

There are plenty of people who know about and enjoy the Swan and Dolphin hotels, but I’m going to say that the Swan Reserve is still a bit underrated.

Maybe it’s the confusing name (since there’s a Swan hotel next door), the opening in the midst of some of the pandemic, or the fact that it’s just a little more nondescript and set back than the Swan and Dolphin. However, it’s by far my favorite of the three and nicer than most of the deluxe resorts at Disney World.

There are a lot of suites you can potentially upgrade to here; the service has always been very nice and the rooms are still new. Also, if you have Marriott Platinum Elite status, the amenity of snacks, drinks and more you can choose at check-in is handy and easily worth $40 to $50.

Related: Who is the fairest of them all? Comparing Marriott’s Dolphin, Swan and Swan Reserve Disney resorts

Underrated places to eat at Disney World

Liberty Tree Tavern

Let’s start here in the underrated dining section, as this entire article was inspired by a recent meal at Liberty Tree Tavern within the Magic Kingdom. It was a chilly fall evening, and after a busy day, the family-style turkey; stuffing; oven-roasted pork; macaroni and cheese; salad with mixed greens, apples, cranberries and cheese; and toffee cake with vanilla ice cream was exactly the right food at the right moment.

It’s affordable for a sit-down meal by Disney standards at $42 for adults and $23 for kids (plus 10% off if you have an annual pass like I do). I might not personally opt for this one for lunch on a hot summer day, but as the weather starts to cool, or when you want a lot of food at a lower price than some similar restaurants, head to Liberty Tree Tavern.

Garden Grill

If you want to dine with classic characters like Mickey and Pluto but you don’t want the noise and crowds of somewhere like Chef Mickey’s, go to Garden Grill. It’s smaller, the food is pretty darn good (with some actual veggies included) and you’ll get plenty of time with the characters. It’s a sleeper hit among classic character meals in my book.

The Plaza

It’s easy to forget this place even exists in the Magic Kingdom, with spots like Cinderella Castle, Be Our Guest and even the nearby Crystal Palace serving as larger attention-getters. While not necessarily the best restaurant option in the park (I’d say that’s Skipper Canteen), it is underrated if you want to sit, people-watch from the large windows and enjoy a milkshake, salad or crabcake sandwich … or share all three.

A great thing about this restaurant, unlike many others in Magic Kingdom, is that you order a la carte so your family can order things to share instead of everyone being locked into a set-price menu.

Ale & Compass

If you want a dimly lit, relaxing place for a fantastic burger after a day in the parks, head to Ale & Compass at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. It feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the parks. If you’re hungry, get the bacon and Vermont cheddar burger with the caramelized onions on a Parker House roll.

Nine Dragons Restaurant

If it’s hot and you’re in Epcot and want air conditioning and are maybe even dying for a vegetable or two, go to Nine Dragons in the China Pavilion. It’s easier to get a dining reservation here than in many other restaurants. On the menu, you’ll find a tofu and veggie stir fry, salt and pepper shrimp with noodles and even a kid’s menu option that comes with shrimp, chicken, carrots, broccoli and egg fried rice.

Sebastian’s Bistro

I’m going to admit this one is so underrated I haven’t been there yet, but it was overwhelmingly recommended as an underrated gem when I asked around on Instagram that I’m including it here — and going as soon as possible. Located at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, this meal’s menu gives some ‘Ohana vibes, but with a Caribbean twist and a lower price point at $38 for adults and $20 for children three to nine.

On the all-you-care-to-enjoy menu, there are inclusions such as pull-apart rolls, roasted citrus chicken, slow-cooked pork with mango, salad and even house-made coconut pineapple bread pudding. You can add fried coconut shrimp for a $10 upcharge.

Columbia Harbour House

Magic Kingdom is not known for its cuisine or healthy food options, but whether you want to find a table with air conditioning or you need something beyond fries and chicken fingers (though it has those, too), go to Columbia Harbour House near the Haunted Mansion. Some options include grilled shrimp with rice and green beans, a lobster roll and grilled salmon, among other dishes.

Inside the Columbia Harbour House restaurant
Columbia Harbour House. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Head to the second floor for a table, as you can usually find one tucked away up there, even on the busiest of days in the Magic Kingdom.

Bottom line

You probably don’t want to miss the tier one (aka Disney eTicket) attractions at Disney World like Tron: Lightcycle Run, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and classics like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, but you already know that.

If you want to wander off of the path of the greatest hits at the most magical place on Earth, then this list of underrated favorites at Disney World is for you.

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