4 Hidden Gems of Walt Disney World
The E-ticket attractions. We know them. We love them. We engage in Byzantine planning to ensure we get to ride them. From Flight of Passage and Rise of the Resistance to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and the forthcoming Tron Lightcycle Run, these masterpieces of Imagineering are the gold standard in theme park entertainment.
But what if I told you that there was a whole world of delights waiting just outside those attractions? Beyond the well-known delights of the Haunted Mansion or Spaceship Earth? In the next episode of the Celebrations Disney Podcast, we discuss these oft-forgotten treasures in-depth. To get you ready for that smorgasbord of Disney goodness, here’s a little appetizer.
Swiss Family Treehouse
I know. There are a lot of stairs to climb (116 if you’re counting). But over half a century since the attraction opened in the Magic Kingdom, it remains just as magical as it was on opening day.
Located in Adventureland, the attraction towers over its neighbors at70 feet tall and 80 feet wide. Despite the realism of the tree, it’s actually made up of steel, concrete, and stucco. But that didn’t stop Disney from giving it a proper scientific name: Disneyodendron eximus, which translates to “out of the ordinary Disney tree.”
A few more quick facts? There are over 300,000 leaves on the tree and over 500,000 flowers, which adorn 1,600 branches. Feel free to count them yourself if you want to double-check my math.
Wandering through the treehouse feels like stepping into the classic 1960 Disney film, but even if you haven’t seen it you can enjoy the attraction. After all, what child hasn’t dreamed of adventure on a desert island or living in a treehouse? Just because you grow up, doesn’t mean that secret desire doesn’t linger.
Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival
Located in the Magic Eye Theater in the Imagination Pavilion, the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival has been entertaining Guests at Epcot since its debut in December 2015. The “film festival” itself features three short films (currently Get a Horse!, Piper, and Feast). Each is enhanced by 4D effects. Together, they run a total of 18 minutes. But there’s more to the attraction than that.
Before entering the theater, you’ll see some of the artists’ concept drawings for the films you’ll be viewing. Then, you’ll be treated to a brief video package detailing the evolution of animation.
A word of warning: there are hydraulics built into the theater chairs. So, your backside will be rocking and rolling a bit during portions of the show. They’ve actually been there for a while, as the effect was featured in both Captain EO and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.
An added benefit? The theater is delightfully air-conditioned, so it’s a perfect way to beat the Florida heat for a bit.
The Discovery Island Trails
We all know and love the Tree of Life. It’s the definitive icon of Animal Kingdom, dominating the landscape and adorned with the figures of 325 animals. It’s one of the most photographed spots in all of Walt Disney World.
What a lot of Guests don’t seem to know is that there are some gorgeous trails located around the base of the tree that offer plenty of rewards for those willing to explore. The Discovery Island Trails take you on a winding journey around the base of the Tree of Life, through cave-like tunnels and over wooden footbridges. Along the way, you’ll get a close-up look at the figures decorating the tree of life, as well as encounter a variety of flora and fauna.
Among the wildlife to see, there are Asian small-clawed otters, Galapagos tortoises, lesser flamingos, ring-tailed lemurs, and macaws, to name just a few. Once upon a time, you could even see capybaras (the world’s largest rodent) but sadly they are no longer part of the attraction.
For an added treat, ask a Cast Member what time they’ll be feeding the tortoises. You’ve never seen pure contentment until you’ve seen a tortoise slowly chomping on a bit of food.
If you’ve listened to the Celebrations Disney Podcast for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me prattle on about my love of the Muppets. So, it should come as no surprise that the hilarious Muppet Vision 3D is on my list.
Located in Hollywood Studios, the attraction is a 15-minute, 3D film featuring Kermit, Gonzo, and the rest of the Muppet gang. it is one of the very last projects that Jim Henson worked on before his untimely death in 1990 and features him in the role of Kermit the Frog. It was also one of the final projects of puppeteer Richard Hunt, who performed the roles of Scooter, Statler, Beaker, and others.
Aside from the delightful film, the attraction is filled with Easter eggs for the dedicated fan. Take a peek under the doormat beneath the sign indicating that the crew is out and will return soon. You’ll find they’ve left behind a key for you. Inside, you’ll also find some silly visual puns. There is a net full of jello hanging from the ceiling. Say that five times fast and you’ll notice it sounds just like the name of legendary Mouseketeer Annette Funicello.
One of the show’s most exciting surprises occurs when the character Sweetums shows up in the theater. Not an audio-animatronic, but a flesh and blood character who goes running about. To ensure the performance was spot-on, Henson Studios sent some experts to train the performer so that his movements and mannerism would be perfect.
At the risk of peering too much behind the curtain, there’s one more little point of interest. The figures of Statler and Waldorf, who sit in their box off to the side of the main stage, are not quite as they appear. In fact, each figure has three arms. The arms you see waving white flags during the show, as the characters cower out of sight, are not actually attached to their bodies.
Hidden Treasures Everywhere
Of course, there are plenty of other hidden treasures scattered throughout Walt Disney World. A veritable treasure trove of imagination and wonder that is just waiting to be discovered by Guests willing to venture off the beaten path. To learn a few more of our favorites, make sure you tune into the next episode of the podcast.