The Top 5 Hidden Gems at Orlando’s Theme ParksBy Samantha McNesby, Wednesday, July 17, 2013 10:00
From the moment you arrive in Orlando, you will be overwhelmed with advertisements, billboards and commercials tempting you with some of the area’s biggest and best attractions. While there is no doubt that the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is truly amazing, or that it really is a “small world after all”, there are some great things to see and do in the area that are not very well known. Depending on how much time you have and where you are headed, add one of these hidden gems into your next trip – you’ll be glad you did.
5. Club Cool (Epcot)
Stop in Club Cool, located next to the giant dancing fountain in Epcot. Club Cool is hosted by Coca Cola, and offers a variety of carbonated beverages from around the world. What’s so great about soda? For starters, the drinks here are free—making this a fun, line-free, spend-free place to cool off. The drinks themselves are interesting too, from a sweet, syrupy watermelon soda to a crisp ginger ale. Italy’s aperitif style Beverly is too tart for most folks, so sip this one with caution if you go. Club Cool offers free, self-serve, sample sized beverages throughout the day at Epcot, with little to no waiting in line.
4. Ollivander’s Wand Shop (Islands of Adventure)
While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not exactly a secret, Olivander’s Wand Shop is often overlooked on the way to bigger, more eyecatching attractions. Ollivander’s actually offers a fun presentation and show—one that shouldn’t be missed.
As in the books, the wand really does choose the wizard, and if you are a Harry Potter fan, you’ll want to see the process in person. You can do so throughout the day at Ollivander’s. Crowds of about 20 guests are admitted at a time for the show—and one is chosen to test out the wands. This is absolutely magical if you are the chosen one, and still fun to watch if you are not. See this gem in the morning, before lines get too long. Because this is a low-capacity experience, lines can be long at peak times.
3. Chip and Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along (Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort)
Head toFortWildernessany day of the week for a free nightly movie and sing-along. You do not need to be staying atFortWildernessto attend, just show up ready to enjoy a movie under the stars. Your night begins with a fun half hour of old fashioned live campfire music with hosts Chip and Dale. You can roast marshmallows over the campfire, enjoy the music and then relax for a full length feature. Movies vary from High School Musical type teen films to Pixar animation and classic Disney movies. There is no admission fee, and you can drive, or take a bus or boat to get to the campfire. This is a fun family event that is a nice switch from the bustling activity of the theme parks.
2. Camp Minnie-Mickey (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
Want to meet Mickey Mouse himself? You have a few options. You can wait in line at Epcot for about an hour, pay for a pricey character meal at Chef Mickey’s, or get a Fastpass and head away from the rides and back down Main Street USA in theMagicKingdom. Each of these “meetings” will cost you time, money or both.
There is an easier way to meet Mickey (and Minnie, Donald and Goofy as well). Head toCampMinnie-Mickeyin Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Camp Minnie Mickey is over by the Festival of the Lion King, and if you time your visit just right, you’ll have the characters all to yourself…talk about Disney magic! Head to Camp Minnie Mickey about a half hour after the stated start time for the Festival of the Lion King – the characters will be out and about, and you won’t see many people in line. With short lines, Mickey will be able to spend more time with each guest, and you’ll be able to see each of the characters in turn. You’ll finish up just in time to see the crowd emerging from the Festival of the Lion King show; leave the area when this happens, as about 1,000 people will be heading your way.
1. Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove, SeaWorld’s hands on mini exploration park is often overlooked and overshadowed by other local attractions. The price tag may scare away guests as well, but the experience is totally unique and one of the best hidden gems in theOrlandoarea.
Discovery Cove is open to only 1,000 guests per day (for a size comparison, about 46,000 people visit Disney’s MagicKingdomon an average day). The small crowd size means Discovery Cove functions as kind of a private luxury resort. The best part? You’ll get to interact with the park’s marine inhabitants throughout the day. The highlight for most people is swimming with dolphins, but there is a ray pool, coral reef pools and other interactive exhibits as well. The high-end environment and all-inclusive day at Discovery Cove is expensive (you’ll spend about $200 per person), but it is a unique and totally memorable experience that can’t be duplicated elsewhere.