5. The hidden dock on Tom Sawyer Island (Magic Kingdom)
Set apart from the bustle of Frontierland, Tom Sawyer Island doesn’t seem at first like much to look at. After all, it doesn’t offer any rides, and any visit here requires an investment of time to wait for a raft to shuttle you across the Rivers of America to its mysterious docks.
This investment is well worth it. Tom Sawyer Island is probably one of the most underrated attractions in Walt Disney World.
We’ve written before about the island’s surprisingly-creepy caves, forts, and barrel bridges, but the real beauty of Tom Sawyer Island is found in its peaceful corners. For a place that touts Mystery Mines and play trails, the island is surprisingly calming, and there are so many places to just sit back and enjoy a few minutes of quiet.
Our favorite spot on the island is a little out of the way—so much so that most visitors miss it entirely. A little ways past Fort Langhorn, if you continue alone the island’s edge, you eventually reach a dock with a few rocking chairs. There’s a sort of unspoken code about this spot—if no one is making noise, you don’t either. Across the river, Big Thunder Mountain looms, guest shouting in delight as they wheel through its tracks on runaway mine trains. Despite the noise from the mountain, there’s something incongruously calm about the spot. It’s an amazing place to get a few pictures, enjoy a picnic, or just sit and think.
It’s not always possible to find it unoccupied, but if you do, you might just feel like the luckiest person in the Magic Kingdom…
6. The World of Pandora on a quiet night (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
Catching Animal Kingdom’s World of Pandora on a less-busy night can seem quite a challenge—after all, it’s one of the biggest attractions in the park. If you manage it, however, you may just be treated to one of the most entrancing shows in Walt Disney World.
The World of Pandora is stunningly beautiful at night. You don’t have to care a thing for Avatar or even step foot onto a ride—the whole place glows with otherworldly beauty, hypnotizing the eyes wherever you look. High above, floating mountains shimmer with bio-luminescent flora. All around, trees, flowers, moss, and mysterious animals glow with fluorescent light. The planet’s jungle calls with the sounds of life all around, and haunting melodies encourage guests to linger long as you wish.
While Pandora is certainly enchanting during the day, at night the outpost buildings and science-fiction bunkers disappear into this explosion of color and light. It’s well worth it to forget the rush for the next ride and just take it all in.
7. Senses Spa (Disney’s Saratoga Springs and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resorts)
On the best of days, a Disney vacation can be stressful. Long walks leave feet and shoulders aching and managing all of the moving parts of a family trip can quickly rattle the calm you were hoping to enjoy. If this is often your situation, this hidden gem could prove a game changer on your next vacation.
Senses Spa, located at both Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, specializes in melting stress away. Both spas invite guests into a hidden oasis of relaxation lounges, steam rooms, spa tubs, and pampering. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Saratoga Springs spa with my husband, and we can’t wait to go back. Both spas offer a wide range of relaxing services including facials, body treatments, manicures, pedicures, and of course, massages—I recommend the warm stone massage in particular to soothe away muscle tension.
Both spas offer guests all-day access to the spa amenities with any treatment (excluding salon appointments—manicures work though!) as well as a free glass of wine or hot tea after your treatment. The Grand Floridian Spa offers a slightly more intimate setting with separate men’s and women’s relaxation lounges while the Saratoga Springs Spa offers a few extra amenities (like a eucalyptus-infused steam room) with a co-ed lounge. Oh, and if normal spa locker rooms stress you out, Senses Spa has the advantage of being a keep-your-bathing-suit on sort of spa—they offer services for well-behaved kids too.
8. The beaches and walking paths
Sometimes, we all just need to take a peaceful walk…
Disney’s resorts are full of winding paths and hidden coves where guests can get away from the noise and just breathe. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, this could mean a stroll around the resort savannah, pausing at your leisure to watch the animals graze. At the Epcot resorts, guests can enjoy a quiet walk around the lagoon or in between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A consistent favorite among guests is the nature trail in between Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge. On this beautiful path, guests can take in Florida’s natural charm with frequent visits from local birds, rabbits, lizards, and even deer.
After your walk, you can’t go wrong with a little downtime on one of Disney’s resort beaches—our favorites are at The Polynesian Resort, The Yacht and Beach Club, and the Swan and Dolphin. Find yourself a swing, a hammock, or deck chair to lay back and let the stress melt away. These are great spots to catch an evening sunset or even to watch the fireworks paint the sky.
It might be a little while before we can all get back to Disney parks, but from Theme Park Tourist we want to give this encouragement—it will be all right. The sun still rises. Take a breath, find your feet, and we’ll all face tomorrow together, one day at a time.
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