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The 8 Best Places to Catch Your Breath at Disney

Everyone loves a Disney theme park vacation. It’s a magical experience for millions of guests each year. A day at the park can also be a bit trying. The massive crowds, vast amounts of walking, and frustrating hours spent waiting in line can wear on a person. Sometimes, you need a break from the fury. Here are eight of the best places to catch your breath at Walt Disney World.

Playing with the animals

Image: DisneyIn 1998, Disney opened a theme park that doubled as a functional zoo. Three years later, they introduced a hotel with an identical concept. When visitors walk out the back door of the lobby at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, they’ll find several species of exotic animals frolicking outside.

By spending time here, you’ll receive many of the benefits of spending the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You won’t have to fight the traffic, though. This place gets only a fraction of the daily traffic as its accompanying park. Even the hotel guests seem content to watch the animals from their hotel rooms rather than up close.

The Animal Kingdom area already feels like it’s on an island from the rest of the Disney campus, meaning you’ll have the hotel animals almost to yourself when you spend time here. You’ll feel like a zookeeper, only without any of the aggravating responsibilities.

Walking on the beach

Image: DisneyOne of the most brilliant aspects of the Walt Disney World campus is that it recreates environments from other popular vacation destinations. To wit, Orlando is a landlocked city, yet you’ll find plenty of beaches on the Disney campus. Some of them are manmade while others are natural due to lakes (formerly swamps) in the area.

When you’re stressed, the relaxing sensation of sand between your toes is a marvelous way to unwind. The perfect place to experience this feeling is on a stretch of land between Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. A walkway connecting the two resorts is right by the water. You can walk the beach between two of Disney’s most luxurious resorts. It’s a serene atmosphere that’s wholly disconnected from the intensity of a park visit.

Riding a boat-car

Image: DisneyOne of the oddest entertainment options at Walt Disney World is available at Disney Springs. A restaurant called The BOATHOUSE proudly proclaims that they have something that nobody else in the world does. They operate Amphicars each day.

What’s an Amphicar? You know when James Bond drives his car into the ocean and then keeps driving? His car becomes a boat. This idea isn’t fictional. For a brief time during the 1960s, Amphicars seemed like the future of transportation. For no apparent reason, the decision-makers at The BOATHOUSE picked the least reliable vehicles from that era and punched them up to the point that the Amphicar fleet is the only one of its kind on planet Earth.

Riding an Amphicar is momentarily disorienting, as human instinct is to fear the thought of a car heading into a lake. Once the vehicle stops driving and starts sailing, the experience is inimitable. You’ll spend 15 minutes floating past some of the most dazzling sights at Disney Springs. Plus, you’ll be looking at them from a previously impossible perspective. An Amphicar ride isn’t cheap, but it’s the most original way to catch your breath at Walt Disney World.

Pro tip: wear a hat. On sunny days, the direct light can be a bit much.

Sitting in a lobby

Image: DisneyMany of Disney’s resorts are much more laid back than you’d expect. Over the years, the company has offloaded hotel check-in thanks to emerging technologies. With a Magic Band or smartphone in hand, you don’t need to visit the lobby to unlock your hotel room door or learn your room number, for that matter.

The pleasant offshoot of this change is that several lobbies are quite relaxing. I’d include Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, and the Polynesian near the top. For the optimal experience, you should visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where the theming embraces tranquility. The architecture mimics the style of lodges at national parks, with a multi-story chimney as the star of the open area. When you sit for a spell in this lobby, you’ll feel at one with nature even though you’re inside.

Staring at the castle

Image: DisneyOne of the most incongruous places at Magic Kingdom is the area directly across from Cinderella Castle. It’s a garden, at least according to its name. The Main Street Plaza Gardens section of Main Street, U.S.A. is one of those quiet spots hidden in plain sight.

While park visitors are single-mindedly walking toward their destinations, Disney experts sit calmly in the garden and people-watch. The smartest among them pack a picnic or grab some to-go food via Mobile Ordering. It’s a beautiful spot to appreciate the majesty of Cinderella Castle. Photography enthusiasts and illustrators, in particular, love it here. They can take pictures or draw the castle in an unexpectedly tranquil environment.

Travel to Mexico or France or…

Image: DisneyThe easiest park to catch your breath is unquestionably Epcot. The back half of the park is the World Showcase. It is comprised of 11 different pavilions, each of which includes an indoor area. When you need a break from the chaos, walk into one of these buildings. You’ll find spectacular architecture, a comfortable environment on a cold/hot day, and lots of seating.

My favorite two pavilions for much-needed breaks are Mexico and France. The Mexico pavilion is an open space with shopping stands and art exhibits that all feature breathtaking artistry. At the France pavilion, you’ll find a recreation of the Eiffel Tower. It builds the illusion that you’re visiting Paris. You can grab an espresso and sit on one of the benches or possibly even the side of a fountain. Out of all the pavilions at the World Showcase, I find it the best for escapist fantasy. My problems wash away when I sit here.

Visiting the Island

Image: DisneyParents tend to think of Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyer Island as free babysitting. They send their kids to this spot and then look for the nearest joint that sells alcohol. It’s an understandable reflex, but it’s a mistake. The entire Tom Sawyer Island visit represents an opportunity to calm down during a busy day at the most crowded theme park in the world.

You’ll take a raft over to the island. This step alone is enough to justify the suggestion. It’s a rustic journey that gives you an opportunity to collect your thoughts. Once you arrive on the island, you’ll discover a treasure trove of rocking chairs. Feel free to sit down and take a quick cat nap. It’s scientifically proven to reduce stress.

Watching a show

Image: DisneyI’m generally avoiding attractions in this article, particularly rides, as they feel like a cheat. I’m going to make an exception for a handful of shows, though. All four theme parks host delightful shows that can fundamentally alter your mood. One moment, you’ll be on the verge of totally melting down in front of dozens of strangers. Then, you can turn your day around by taking in a show.

The trick is to pick one that’s indoors. The combination of a darkened environment and soothing air conditioning will help you forget that you’re in the middle of the maelstrom that is Walt Disney World. At Magic Kingdom, Mickey’s PhilHarmagic is an ideal 12-minute escape. The Circle-Vision 360° movies are glorified travelogues, but they’re among the emptiest places on the Disney campus.

Hollywood Studios is home to several delightful shows including my favorite, Voyage of the Little Mermaid. And Animal Kingdom hosts the most popular one, Festival of the Lion King. It’s also the most kinetic and hectic, which makes it less appealing than some of the other shows listed here.