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Image: Disney

It’s sort of an amazing time to visit Walt Disney World…

I know times are still weird—the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made travel challenging, and at Disney parks, strict requirements surrounding social distancing, temperature checks, sanitation, and mandatory masks may make it seem like the worst time imaginable to visit The Most Magical Place on Earth.

Not necessarily.

There’s no question that for many families, it is not an ideal time to visit Walt Disney World, whether for safety reasons or because of certain entertainment experiences like character greets and fireworks shows are missing. However, for others, this may actually be an ideal time to visit the parks—particularly if you enjoy exploring.

We recently visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a quiet weekday and were shocked how much space we had to explore. Areas like Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities and the Millennium Falcon spaceport were surprisingly empty, and we had a great time hanging out in Star Wars Launch Bay (which is currently designated as a relaxation zone). It ended up being one of our favorite visits in recent memory. While crowds have increased somewhat at this park, limited park capacity means that attendance is still far lower than average.

This really got us thinking, what other places in Walt Disney World might be ideal to explore while the parks are quiet? If you like a bit of unhurried wandering without the press of crowds, you may want to plan these stops into your next visit.

1. World Showcase

Japan pavilion arch with Spaceship Earth framed
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

This is a broad one, but this really is a great time to explore World Showcase. Epcot’s portal to the nations has always been one of our favorite places to drift, but some guests are reporting that it’s a particularly pleasant time to enjoy World Showcase’s quiet corners.

Horticulture has always been one of Epcot’s strong points, and this is an ideal time to take in Epcot’s gardens. Some of our favorites include China’s lily-pad dotted reflecting pool, Japan’s serene bonsai garden, and Canada’s vibrant tribute to Victoria’s Butchart Gardens. The United Kingdom pavilion also holds a small quaint garden with a waist-high hedge maze.

Probably our favorite stop in World Showcase is the courtyards of Morocco. It never fails to amaze me how mesmerizing this pavilion is. Its intricate corridors and stone courtyards feel a world away from the rest of Walt Disney World, from whispering fountains to lanterns of dazzling colored glass. My favorite spot is the little resting area just a bit beyond Restaurant Marrakesh—it’s magically peaceful.

Oh, and don’t miss the chance to hang out in Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. It’s a relaxation zone during this season.

2. Tom Sawyer Island

Rocking chair on deck at Tom Sawyer Island
Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Tom Sawyer Island remains one of our favorite underrated attractions in Walt Disney World (even if it may hide the scariest attraction in the entire resort). We were actually surprised when Disney opted to leave the island open during this season—after all, how do you socially distance in the Mystery Mine or Injun Joe’s pitch dark murder cave?

It looks like Disney figured out some procedures to make it work, including one way travel in the tunnels and limiting access to some of the island’s play areas. They’ve also limited capacity on those usually-packed-like-sardines rafts to get people to and from the island. If access to the island is open during your visit to Magic Kingdom, take advantage of the chance to enjoy this classic Disney attraction with a little more space to breathe. For both kids and adults, the island remains a massive playground, and it also houses some of the most peaceful places to kick back in all of Walt Disney World. We’re particularly fond of the rocking chair deck that overlooks Big Thunder Mountain.

3. Walking trails at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Tiger mom and cubs at Maharajah Jungle Trek
Image: Disney

I love Kilimanjaro Safaris, but I’ve always felt that the walking trails at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are the highlight of that park if you want to soak in nature. In particular, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek remain two of the most beautiful areas in Walt Disney World.

Both Gorilla Falls and Maharajah Jungle Trek offer unmatched opportunities to get to know Animal Kingdom’s residents. The problem is the Gorilla Falls Trail is often known for being over-crowded. Even the Maharajah Jungle Trek loses its magic sometimes when too many chattering families pass through, quickly hurrying from one exhibit to another.

This is the season to slow down while visiting these trails. We’ve seen so many fascinating behaviors when we take time to watch the animals go about their day. This particularly applies to the aviaries. After waiting long enough, we’ve seen birds curiously approach guests, weavers quibble back and forth over nesting materials, and even saw a calling demonstrating from a massive… pheasant? Bustard? I don’t know what it was, but it was one big bird, and he had love in his eyes for a passive stroller.

Oh, and don’t discount the Discovery Island trails. They may not sound that exciting as the other two treks, but you can really enjoy some peace and quiet wandering through the riverside paths under the Tree of Life.  

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