We’ve already shared some of the Walt Disney World experiences we believe are overrated, but what about the underrated rides, restaurants, and hotels? Well, you’re in luck, because there are a ton of them! In fact, our list of underrated experiences is longer than the overrated ones. Just like the overrated list, this list is based upon quality exceeding hype, price, or wait times.
One pitfall with a list like this is conflating experiences (mostly attractions) for which we’re nostalgic with attractions that are actually underrated. Despite our nostalgia-driven love of some attractions, many have flaws that preclude them from being underrated. For this reason, you’re not going to see Carousel of Progress (one of my all-time favorite attractions, but also an attraction that still plays to decent audiences despite an incredibly dated final scene and poor maintenance) on this list, nor will you see Maelstrom (kitschy fun, but still reasonably popular despite similar issues). These are just a couple of examples; other attractions for which we wax nostalgic are not present for similar reasons. After all, it’s a list of underrated experiences, not a list of the “Best Stuff for Embracing Nostalgia.”
Just like the “overrated” list, this topic is inspired by our Facebook page, where commenters haven’t been afraid to share conflicting opinions on what we review and deem things “overrated” or “underrated.” Just like the underrated list, this list does not take into account any of your opinions we’ve read; it only contains our opinions (as such, places like Trail’s End and Pepper Market where we haven’t eaten in our adult years are not included). Because “underrated” is widely subjective based upon personal tolerances, financial circumstances, and wait-tolerance, we’re really hoping for some feedback from you on what you think is underrated at Walt Disney World in the comments!
Sanaa – We’ve been praising Sanaa as one of the most adventurous and under-appreciated restaurants at Walt Disney World for the last couple of years, and we’ve received feedback from a number of readers who have given it a chance and have loved it. It’s relatively easy to get same-day dinner reservations at Sanaa, and it’s not uncommon to have a 75% empty restaurant if you’re there for lunch. Due to the lack of other guests, our service at Sanaa has always been phenomenal, and we regularly receive appetizers or desserts “compliments of the chef.” If you only try one new experience as a result of this list, Sanaa should be it.
Studio Catering Co. – Between the two of us, Sarah and I have had every entree on the Studio Catering Co.’s menu, and we have liked each one. It seems like this counter service location, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios dining in general, is underrated based on the food we’ve had. The food isn’t particularly inventive and there aren’t any “signature” items or cult favorites here, but there are a few solid choices that make Studio Catering Co. worth trying.
Kona Cafe – Breakfast at Kona Cafe is pretty popular, but it’s usually overlooked at dinner in favor of ‘Ohana. While‘Ohana is great, so too is Kona Cafe. The menu has some adventurous options as well as delicious “safe” choices, including a surprisingly delicious New York Strip Steak. The only downside is the noisy and uninspired open air seating area, but it’s still a great choice!
Captain Cook’s – Captain Cook’s has a self service ordering system that includes a lot of options, many of which are unique to Captain Cook’s and are quite delicious. The adult grilled cheese is a popular choice here, but there are many much better options. Dessert options include a couple of cupcake choices and the highly regard (and if the “overrated” article comments are any indication: overrated) Dole Whip in self-serve form.
The Wave - Another newer restaurant that has had a difficult time finding an audience (unless there’s a convention at the Contemporary), The Wave has a large menu, and a lot of modern twists on old favorites. As far as Walt Disney World goes, this is about as “trendy” as dining gets. There are a lot of sustainable and local options here, and just about everything is great. Menu prices vary substantially, so this can be a cheap lunch option if you want, or a pricey dinner. It all depends upon what you order.
Contempo Cafe – Included for basically the same reasons as Captain Cook’s, minus the self-serve Dole Whips. Varied made to order menu with some excellent choices. Usually a great spot for interesting cupcakes, too!
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater – Years of poor reviews have placed Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater on many “Worst Of” lists. However, a substantial menu overhaul in 2011 has substantially improved the quality of food at Sci-Fi, to the point where it’s now one of our favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World. The ambiance here has always been great, so due to its poor reputation alone, Sci-Fi is highly underrated.
Caribbean Beach Resort – The Moderate tier of resorts seem to be where “best” and “worst” debates rage most fiercely, with Caribbean Beach Resort often finding itself on the “worst” list. Much like Old Key West Resort below, Caribbean Beach Resort is very lush. It also has a great and colorful tropical theme, and a really cool pool. Of course we wouldn’t want to live somewhere with such vibrant and clashing colors, but on vacation, it’s fun. I don’t know how this breaks down in most reviews of hotels, but Caribbean Beach Resort is the second best hotel for enjoying a sunset (scientifically speaking, of course). All in all, there’s a lot to love about this much-maligned resort. While Coronado Springs Resort or the Cabins at Fort Wilderness would also be viable “underrated” Moderate Resort candidates, they each have their legions of fans, leaving Caribbean Beach Resort as the undeserved ugly duckling of the group.
Animal Kingdom Lodge – When it comes to Deluxe Resorts, the Epcot resorts and the Magic Kingdom resorts seem to get all of the love. Due to its location out near Disney’s Animal Kingdom (park), not as many people are interested in Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is crazy! Animal Kingdom Lodge has some of the nicest themed rooms (Sarah’s favorite on property) and has incredible dining options in Jiko, Sanaa, Boma, and The Mara. The beauty all around the lodge is incredible, surpassing even Wilderness Lodge (except at Christmas). For a couple interested in a relaxed, resort-oriented vacation, Animal Kingdom Lodge cannot be beat.
Old Key West Resort – Old Key West resort has large rooms, lush grounds, and a relaxed atmosphere. Despite all of this, it (along with Saratoga Springs Resort) is one of the least popular resorts at Walt Disney World, and one of the first to be heavily discounted. Sarah understands why, as she dislikes the sprawling size of this resort and its theme. I strongly disagree. To me, Old Key West feels like a “resort” rather than a hotel. Its mature vegetation and design adds to the feel that you’re in the “town” of Conch Flats, making it a fun environment to explore. I can understand that it’s not for everyone, but it does not deserve to be so unpopular.
Country Bear Jamboree – After my opening statements about avoiding nostalgia, this might seem like an “interesting” first pick. It’s not. Country Bear Jamboree has a lot of nostalgia attached to it, but it has even more quality attached to it. I’ve long been of the opinion that Country Bear Jamboree is an extremely intelligent show, and its irreverence and sharp humor make it an easy pick here. Maintenance-wise, it’s in much better shape than most other “classic” attractions, and although there are occasional issues with audio levels, it’s arguably in better shape than newer attractions like Soarin’. If you’re the politically correct type who can’t look past a few wry jokes by singing bears as they parody stereotypical Southern life, Country Bear Jamboree probably won’t be for you. Those who enjoy irreverent and clever humor will enjoy Country Bear Jamboree.
Gran Fiesta Tour – The attraction that replaced the cult-favorite El Rio del Tiempo doesn’t receive much love. It rarely has a line, and the fan community doesn’t seem to care for it. With the exception of the excellent El Rio del Tiempo music that is now gone, I think Gran Fiesta Tour is a better and far less-dated experience. It weaves culture together with Disney characters to make for an enjoyable and more dynamic experience. Normally, I wouldn’t be thrilled with the “toonification” of an attraction, but Three Caballeros, a film that itself blends culture with animation, works perfectly here.
Impressions de France – We think that Impressions de France is the best film in all of Epcot. That wouldn’t be saying much if only including the World Showcase, but that also includes Future World…which includes The Land pavilion. Impressions de France doesn’t have the same “experience” that Soarin’ has, but it does have a beautiful, chills-inducing score, a new digital projection that’s free of debris, and breathtaking visuals. Even though the substance hasn’t been updated since 1982, it still feels fresh (with the exception of a few dubious outfit choices of folks in the travelogue). I don’t expect anyone else to agree with us that Impressions de France is better than Soarin’ (which admittedly has its own excellent score, visuals, and is a really fun experience), but the fact that the two can even be reasonably compared makes Impressions de France, which rarely plays to more than half-full theaters, underrated.
Stitch’s Great Escape – Okay, stick with me here… I’ll bet not many of you expected to see this, and might even be “disgusted” that it’s present. I poke fun at Stitch’s Great Escape a lot, and it’s far (FAR!) from being my favorite attraction. I’m still bitter that it replaced the witty and dark Alien Encounter, but I’ll give credit where credit is due and say this isn’t as terrible as it’s cracked up to be. The pre-show (with Skippy!) is entertaining, the main show has some cool effects, and the Stitch Audio-Animatronics is highly advanced and impressive. It doesn’t do the best storytelling and the chili dog smell is disgusting, but Stitch’s Great Escape actually isn’t all bad. It’s not even close to being the worst attraction at Walt Disney World, as some claim.
Monster’s Laugh Floor – Monster’s Laugh Floor (can’t include that “Inc.” or else we have an acronym that isn’t very family friendly! ) doesn’t draw a lot of guests (since the shows are so long it often comes close to filling up its seating area) and it’s not at all popular with Disney fans. It seems most people take issue with its location rather than the substance of the show, though. Substantively, we think the Laugh Floor fires on all cylinders, with great guest interaction and humor that appeals to a wide range of audiences. It’s repeat-ability is high, as the jokes change depending upon the audience. We can understand shy guests not liking this attraction due to uneasiness about being picked on, but otherwise, we think Monster’s Laugh Floor isn’t praised nearly enough for its great humor and interactions.
Great Movie Ride – Once a flagship attraction of the Disney-MGM Studios, the Great Movie Ride doesn’t receive nearly as much attention these days. Many guests complain that it’s stale and needs a refresh. To the extent that I think the whole tour guide shtick doesn’t really work anymore, I agree. To the extent that people think newer or Disney movies needed to be added to the attraction, I wholly disagree. It’s an attraction focusing on great movies, not current movies. That many current-day guests don’t recognize these movies says more about the guests than it does about the attraction. Granted, there are a couple of broad genre scenes that could be replaced, but suggestions I’ve heard that National Treasure or Pirates of the Caribbean should be added to the Great Movie Ride are beyond ridiculous. It remains an excellent attraction the takes guests on an engaging tour of the highlights of American cinema. The incredible sets and Audio-Animatronics in the attraction are reason alone that it should be a popular attraction.
Living with the Land – I know nothing about, and have absolutely no interest in, gardening. Yet I find Living with the Land to be a highly underrated experience, and one that weaves together elements of a traditional attraction with some “edutainment” components. If even my curiosity is piqued by the experimental horticulture techniques showcased in The Land greenhouses, then just about anyone should find it interesting. Living with the Land is a testament to human ingenuity, and it’s a shame that more people aren’t interested in experiencing this relaxed boat ride.
Hall of Presidents – For years, Hall of Presidents existed solely as an attraction dealing in nostalgia. It was boring and dry, and best used as a place to take an air-conditioned nap. In our opinion, this all changed with the refurbishment that brought in President Obama and narrator Morgan Freeman, and now the attraction starts with an inspiring patriotic film followed by a Lincoln speech, presidential introductions, and a speech by Obama. The pacing of the presentation is much better, and it’s engaging throughout. Young kids still probably won’t enjoy it, but they like to play with cardboard boxes, so what do they know!
Flights of Wonder – Thanks to incredibly poor timing, we haven’t seen this show in years. Assuming that it hasn’t changed much since when we did last see it, it’s definitely underrated. This type of show that is high on both entertainment and educational information about birds, should be more prominent in Animal Kingdom. It’s the kind of experience that differentiates the park from a zoo. Unfortunately, it’s a show that you rarely hear about in comparison to Finding Nemo: The Musical or Festival of the Lion King. It’s not theatrical like either of those shows, but it’s entertaining and slightly humorous in a way that almost humanizes the birds. It’s too bad it seems to be so overlooked, as Animal Kingdom could use more animal-driven entertainment like this and less dry zoo-like content.
One Man’s Dream – Highly regarded in the fan community, One Man’s Dream is often overlooked by normal park guests despite being in a high traffic area. If you haven’t given it a chance because you assume it’s a dull museum, commit 10 minutes to it on your next trip. You’ll likely find yourself spending a lot more time inside as you pore over the many interesting pieces that have made the Disney empire what it is today.
That’s it for the list! Part of me regrets leaving off some borderline favorites like Columbia Harbour House and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, but I think many of these favorites are fan-favorites in general, and aren’t really underrated as a result. That, or maybe I want the quiet upstairs at Columbia Harbour House to remain quiet, so I don’t want to share that little secret with too many people! In any case, there are a ton of things at Walt Disney World that can be viewed as underrated, so no reasonably concise list can be complete!
What do you think is underrated at Walt Disney World? We’d love it if you’d share your thoughts on anything at Walt Disney World that you believe is overrated, whether that be attractions, restaurants, hotels, or something else entirely! What do you agree or disagree with on our list?