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5 Hidden Refuges at Walt Disney World You Probably Have Never Heard Of

3. Behind the scenes of the parks (including the Magic Kingdom tunnels)

VIP Tour Guides in front of Cinderella Castle with Mickey

Image: Disney

You would think that becoming a Walt Disney World Cast Member is the only way to get a peek backstage at Walt Disney World. However, tours of the Disney backstage in all four of their parks have been regularly available at the Most Magical Place on Earth for decades. Despite being available, however, many guests never even consider tagging the cost of a tour onto their vacation. How cool can the backstage of the parks be?

Speaking for myself, I would say the Backstage Magic and Keys to the Kingdom tours have been some of the most fun experiences I had at Disney, particularly the tours I took as a teenager. For Disney superfans, getting to hear the secrets of the Most Magical Place on Earth and see the inner workings of the tunnels beneath Magic Kingdom (which aren’t actually underground—rather the park is built on a second story!) or the backstage of the other three parks gives a whole new perspective on Disney. If you’ve never done one of these tours and seen the Walt Disney World backstage, it’s well worth the price of admission!

4. The Disney Wilderness Preserve

Beautiful crane at Disney Wilderness Preserve

Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Flickr (license)

While not located directly on Disney property, The Disney Wilderness Preserve, run by the Nature Conservancy, is one of the true gems most Disney guests have never heard of. A large portion of Disney’s property in and around the parks has long been dedicated to wildlife preservation. These areas aren’t particularly accessible to guests (The Disney Institute used to offer tours and classes to visit them, but alas, these are no more), so the next best thing is a trip down to the Wilderness Preserve. As Disney’s parks and resorts have expanded and shifted, so have the conservation wetlands in and around the Preserve.

The Disney Wilderness Preserve isn’t directly associated with Disney parks, but many people still call it Disney’s secret park. As part of the Everglades ecosystem, the Wilderness Preserve feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Orlando and Kissimmee. While the preserve can be visited by car, the real highlight guests love is the hiking trails. In the preserve’s pristine wetlands, guests can find over 1000 varieties of plants and animals, and those looking for some peace and quiet away from the parks will love it! Especially if you’re hoping to do some birdwatching, this is a must-visit experience for nature fans.

5. Walt Disney World’s waterways

Shadow of a bird in front of the Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake

Image: Disney

Back on the main Walt Disney World property, there is one other beautiful refuge hiding right under guest’s noses. Besides a quick trip on the ferry or a friendship boat, most guests never take the time to explore Walt Disney World’s gorgeous waterways. The easiest way to do this? Rent a boat!

Boat rentals aren’t necessarily cheap at Walt Disney World, but if you plan your trip accordingly, you can make one heck of a day exploring Bay Lake, the Seven Seas Lagoon, and the winding waterways of the Most Magical Place on Earth. Boat rentals range from small kayaks to family-sized pontoons, and restrictions vary how far you can venture from the marina where you rented. Guests particularly rave about the Sea Raycer Speed Boats, which can be blasted to full speed in wake zones in Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. While boats can be rented at the Beach Club Resort (and in the past, even at Old Key West), most visitors say the best experience is renting boats from the Magic Kingdom resorts.

Love Disney secrets? Renting a boat is one of the only permitted ways to get a closer look at the exterior of the long defunct Discovery Island and River Country water parks. The latter might already be inaccessible due to upcoming construction, but you can still find some pretty neat little islands, coves, and streams throughout the Walt Disney World waterways to feed your inner explorer. Don’t forget bottled water and a hat!

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