Monday, May 9, 2011

Team Post: Off The Beaten Path

Today the Growing Up Disney family discusses our favorite "off the beaten path" parts of Walt Disney World.

DisneyDad:  Amy once posted a picture here of Tink smelling a flower at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa with a caption reminding us to “Stop and Smell the Roses”. It is a reminder to appreciate the little things. At WDW there are lots of places to stop and smell the roses. From Old Key West, Saratoga Springs and Port Orleans resorts, you can rent a boat to explore the waterways that are out of view. If you don’t want to rent a boat there are water taxis available to travel to Downtown Disney. These are wonderful ways to enjoy the one of the waterways that are out of the normal places people visit.

In the parks there are many nooks and crannies that most people miss. In the Magic Kingdom, for instance, there are a couple of places where there are white rocking chairs up next to a building that most people RUN past. The rocking chairs make a great place to rest and people watch (one of my wife’s favorite pastimes.) At EPCOT there are several places that are good places to rest. At the UK pavilion there is a nice garden behind the Twinings Tea shop. The garden where the British Invasion plays is a nice place to rest when the music is not playing. If they are performing, just get up and dance and sing along with the music!

If you have a young child along on your trip, like we have had on our last 2 trips, a nice place to rest becomes even more important. At EPCOT we let Tink nap and then fed her lunch inside the Liberty Inn. Not real quiet, but it is air-conditioned and that makes it real nice on a hot day. At the Magic Kingdom we found one place that was under the former Skyway in Tomorrowland near Space Mountain. It was quiet, allowed Tink to nap and had benches we could sit on. It was quiet, that is, until a rainstorm brought in lots of people trying to stay out of the rain.

Slow down and keep your eyes open when you visit a park. There are lots of out of the way places you can sit, rest, or like Tink, take a nap.

Ridge: If you have been to Disney only once, five times or 50 times there are little things you can do to make your Disney experience a little more magical and exciting. One thing that found to be a great off the beaten path activity are the tours that Disney offers. In February I took the Keys to the Kingdom Tour at the Magic Kingdom. It was really a great way to learn some of the behind the scenes info and history of the Walt Disney Company and of the man himself. The guides are all extremely knowledgeable and mine was very funny and I think that really helps to make everything more memorable. There are lots of other tours available and one of the newest and most talked about is at the new jungle trek at Animal Kingdom.

Hidden Mickeys are another fun way to search for other things that aren’t necessarily main stream yet. There are books and websites on the matter. If for some reason you are reading this and not sure what a hidden mickey is, they are little ways in which the imagineers can sign their work since they can’t actually write their names on the attractions. So make a game out of finding them. Get a copy of Steve Barrett’s book Hidden Mickeys Guide that are now even sold at WDW and start hunting. It can add a whole extra layer of fun to a trip.

There are lots of things that are edible that are often also overlooked. One of the little gems I found a while back and wrote about was the Carrot Cake cookie at Writers Stop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’re wondering though Epcot, there are always little things to try in each country and one of my favorite places to try something new is Japan. Mitsukoshi Department Store is the place to go to find everything that should and shouldn’t be tried by the squeamish. They have snack sized crabs that I am guessing are lightly killed and flavored, cooked and packaged for your enjoyment. If that isn’t your style, there are large varieties of candies, gums and sodas. All of the pavilions have little hidden gems of goodness just waiting for you to find them. Take a picture; tell your friends.

Amy:  One of my favorite things I've discovered off the beaten path in the last couple of years is the carrot cake cookie.  I hear they are now found in other spots as well, but they are the claim to fame of the Writers' Stop at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  I have to admit I used to walk right past this little shop, but now I find it a great place to grab a delectable snack and rest a bit.  

Sadly, I never made it there, but Storytime with Belle was an off the beaten path attraction I have wanted to see for a while.  (It's now a greet and play with Tangled characters.)  There is a very small theatre tucked into the landscaping of the castle as you cross into Tomorrowland.  It wasn't really an age appropriate activity for me before Tink but I like to see everything at least once, so I am sorry I didn't slow down here.  With one daughter and another baby girl on the way, I am sure we'll be visiting here in the future.

Please don't yell at me, but I still haven't made it to Beaches and Cream.  It's just been off the beaten path for me.  As much as I want to try a No Way Jose (a peanut butter and hot fudge sundae,) I haven't made it there.  

One place I rarely miss but is off the beaten path for most guests is Garden View Lounge at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  Afternoon tea here is a real treat and as much as I love the theme parks, I adore this time of quiet and refinement, most usually shared with my mom.  

Another off the beaten path afternoon treat is the Tune In Lounge at 50's Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Chris and I have stopped here for a cool beverage and appetizers on a couple of trips.  I don't see it on the current menu, but they used to have some tasty fried Boursin cheese with jam.  On one visit, and my husband was with us for this experience, one of the Streetmosphere Cast Members wandered in and joined us.  He hung out with us long enough to break character a few times but it was quite a hoot cutting up with him and the other guests.  It's never been a crowded spot, so I wonder if people know you can eat at the bar.

For an off the beaten path activity, I recommend mini-golf at Winter Summerland.  It's got a really cute theme and is another nice break from crowds, especially during a long visit or a busy time of year.

Not that I've made it out the last few trips, but a morning jog at Walt Disney World is usually rather fun.  It's interesting to watch the World wake up.  I especially like it when my path takes me over to Downtown Disney.  It's oddly still in the morning and it's fun to see the little princesses coming out of Bibidi Bobidi Boutique.  

One of my favorite off the beaten path restaurants is Olivia's at Old Key West, our DVC home resort.  It's not too big and has a very relaxing atmosphere.  The service is usually good and not as rushed as some larger, more popular locations.  One of my favorite things here is the mozzarella and tomato salad.  They use good ingredients and it's a nice light meal when you've overdone it on park food.  

What are your favorite attractions, restaurants, shops, or other activities that other people seem to walk right past?

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