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Disney In Depth: 10 Most Overlooked Walt Disney World Attractions
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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If you have the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World, you must know which rides and shows everyone queues up for at the start of the day. At Epcot, all race toward Soarin’ or Test Track. For Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest, and Kilimanjaro Safaris bring the longest lines. But many attractions are often unfortunately overlooked, namely because many other spectacles distract guests’ attention.

The purpose behind this Disney In Depth is to honor the many shows, exhibits, films, and rides that may be forgotten in the mix of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World. Here are my 10 Most Overlooked Walt Disney World Attractions.

10. Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable

My fervor for The Lion King is explicit, and its presence in Walt Disney World can be found in many places. The dated, though still relevant film at Epcot’s environmentally focused The Land pavilion engages viewers in the importance of conservation and consideration of our natural resources. Simba educates Timon and Pumbaa about the consequences of changing untouched landscapes. Similarly, even the youngest viewers can be exposed to these sensitive issues in a non-condescending and thoughtful manner. Despite the gravity of the topic, the comical characters lend much humor and some awesome quotes to this 12-minute film. It may not get as much notice now due to its age and location right near the popular Soarin’, but Circle of Life deserves a visit at least once.

Circle of Life film at Epcot poster (Photo by Brett Nachman)

9. Flights of Wonder

It’s definitely about birds, not planes. This Animal Kingdom show features everything you would want to know about our feathered friends in an informative and rather entertaining fashion. There are puns a plenty, nicely tailored guest participation, fun facts, and a sincere message about respecting the birds we coexist with on this magnificent planet. Walt Disney World is a vacation destination that provides its guests with relaxation and entertainment, but also very meaningful benefits, such as the inspiration to learn more about a subject matter. I’m sure many a kid has walked away from Flights of Wonder wanting to go bird-watching. This is a not-to-be-missed attraction at Animal Kingdom.

8. Carousel of Progress

“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.” Several Walt Disney World attractions possess songs you cannot get out of your head. Carousel of Progress, which originated at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, later relocated to Disneyland, and now calls Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom its permanent home, has perhaps my favorite musical piece. Its upbeat mood and toe-tapping arrangement can cheer up any negative soul. I consider it overlooked, for while it occasionally draws crowds on busy days, is overshadowed by surrounding attractions like Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. But Carousel of Progress may be most overlooked by senior management, as likely no attraction needs an update more than this one. The “futuristic” scene, last extensively updated nearly two decades ago, contains obsolete electronics like virtual video games. Not very progressive.

7. O’ Canada

What do you think of when you ruminate about Canada? Maybe its citizens, many of whom speak French. Perhaps its lush landscapes. How about Martin Short? The actor who never seems to age, nor lose his signature sense of wry comedy, is the host of this Circle Vision 360 presentation about the country he was born in. The theatre-in-the-round ideally envelops viewers in amazingly shot aerials of Canadian regions, as well as showcasing the various sports and entertainment that the country is known for. Some guests bypass the film in favor of dining and shopping options, but O’ Canada is one fine film at Walt Disney World that merits some attention.

6. Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Give more time to show support of The Lion King and visit the mandrill’s conservation station at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. This exhibition at the back of the theme park originally went by another name, but in order to entice guests to check it out – signifying its overlooked status – its name was changed to feature Rafiki. While cardboard cutouts of the mandrill and the occasional character appearance are the most Rafiki you will find here, there is enough to explore that not catching the sage primate will not disappoint. A nice petting zoo, live-animal demonstrations with informative Cast Members, Tamarin-themed exhibit, and other educational offerings provide a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of much of Animal Kingdom. Rafiki’s digs rock!

5. Maharajah Jungle Trek

Swinging around Animal Kingdom, another must-see attraction that may not get much foot traffic is this immersive wildlife trail featuring Asian creatures. Hang out with some fruit bats and admire the Bengal Tigers. The assortment of animals proves diverse enough to appeal to all nature lovers, and the environments they inhabit are themed intricately to fit the environments in which they would typically live. Photographers enjoy taking pictures of the creatures, myself included. You cannot help but admire the detailed crafting of this attraction, which possesses some intriguing creatures you won’t find at your typical animal wildlife park or zoo.

Tiger at Disney's Animal Kingdom (Photo by Brett Nachman)

4. The Hall of Presidents

Cue President Obama, George Washington, and the other 41 presidents. You history buffs will know Grover Cleveland is often counted twice. Other than a wax museum, mural or an odd presidential-themed dream, you cannot find all of these living/dead figures in one space. The historic Magic Kingdom attraction is unique to Walt Disney World. While some guests use the roughly 20-minute presentation as time to take a nap, how could you sleep when having this rare chance to see Nixon and Roosevelt simultaneously? The figures that talk are rather life-like – in fact, some guests during the park’s early years even believed they were actors. Then again, guests who may have had a bit too much to drink at Be Our Guest restaurant may think the very same thing. Regardless, The Hall of Presidents represents a Walt Disney World attraction that, like great wine, gets better with age (through continually improved renovations and the additions of new presidents).

3. Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Unique combinations of figures coming together is likewise exemplified at Epcot’s Universe of Energy, where Bill Nye, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alex Trebek, Michael Richards and Albert Einstein participate in an atomically awesome film/show. Ellen DeGeneres is the star here, playing a version of herself – complete with her 1996 hairdo, when the movie was filmed – who learns about the value of various forms of energy while competing in a game of Jeopardy and being mentored by Nye. Guests embark on a 45-minute adventure that combines elements of a dark ride and film. Among the fantastic components of this aging, but continually loveable attraction include an enrapturing dinosaur scene, a top-notch soundtrack by Bruce Broughton, funny performances, sophisticated technology, and a whole slew of jokes. Ellen’s Energy Adventure is “da bomb” (pun intended for you readers who get the energy reference).

2. Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream

Discover the man behind the institution that bears his name. This exhibit/film at Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened to commemorate Walt’s 100th birthday back in 2001, but the gallery once intended as a temporary attraction has become a longtime success story. Then how you call it overlooked? Many guests walk right by this on their way to ride Toy Story Midway Mania. Others only come in for 15 minutes. To truly appreciate this exhibit that gives background to Walt Disney’s life and his creations means dedicating a good hour of your time. The huge batch of artifacts are only part of the picture, though, as the attraction concludes with a respectable short movie that gives an overview of Walt’s childhood and career.

1. Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Some may not consider this ride, themed as a form of transit around Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom, as anything special, but I call this the most overlooked attraction in all of Walt Disney World. Why so? This peaceful tour of the futuristic land, at around 10 minutes long, gives its passengers a break from the chaotic rush from one E-ticket to another by observing Tomorrowland from above. While only a portion of the ride offers relief from the Florida heat, the indoor portions peek into exciting Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear, among others. As for the outdoor portions, there are many opportunities to see landmarks like Cinderella Castle from a special point of view (see picture below). The kinetic music and unmistakably comfortable vibe that the TTA, as it is referred to, provides guests tops my list.

View of Cinderella Castle from aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (Photo by Brett Nachman)

Which of these attractions are some of your favorites? Do you think I overlooked any other notable attractions? Share your thoughts.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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