Underrated Disney World Experiences
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.
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.
One pitfall with a list like this is conflating things for which we’re nostalgic with things that are actually underrated. Despite our nostalgia-driven love of some attractions, many have flaws or are low-rated for good reason. We’ve tried to keep those attractions off the list. After all, it’s about underrated experiences, not a list of the “Best Stuff for Embracing Nostalgia.”
We’ll start with attractions, which we should honestly revise and expand upon a bit. When we originally wrote this list, Flights of Wonder, Great Movie Ride, Stitch’s Great Escape (no joke!), and Ellen’s Energy Adventure all made this list. We’ve had to remove all of those attractions from the list in the last year. Nonetheless, many of our sleeper hits remain…
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.
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.
We’re such big fans of Impressions de France that we actually did a trip to real-world locations in France from the film, and one of our bucket list travel goals is to visit every location in the film. We’re halfway there!
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. The addition of the Audio Animatronics figures at the end are also a nice touch.
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 most cylinders, with guest interaction that usually works, 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.
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.
Walt Disney Presents – Highly regarded in the fan community, Walt Disney Presents (formerly 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.
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.
Contempo Cafe – Often taken at face value–and overlooked as a result–because it doesn’t have much in the way of theme besides “basic food court with monorail overhead” and is a loud place to eat with Chef Mickey’s next door.
If you can deal with the mall food court vibe and potential for a loud meal, Contempo Cafe is a great spot for a counter service lunch at Walt Disney World. The menu is deep, varied, and mostly made to order. It’s lower volume as compared to other counter service restaurants also means that entrees are more ambitious. We often sneak away to Contempo Cafe during our Magic Kingdom days, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had anything less than a good meal here.
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 improved the quality of food at Sci-Fi, to the point where it’s now one of our favorite themed restaurants at Walt Disney World.
While we don’t think the food here is underrated (it’s fine), we do think people don’t give the restaurant enough credit. The ambiance at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater has always been great, which is an important criteria when choosing Walt Disney World restaurants, so by that measure along Sci-Fi is highly underrated.
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.
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!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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?
Sanaa is wonderful. We ate there for the first time this weekend and everything was fantastic…food, service, atmosphere, and the view. I’m glad it’s underrated because we were able to get a same-day reservation on a Friday as we were driving through Orlando.
If Stitch’s Great Escape is not the worst attraction – in your opinion – then what is?
The Aladdin spinner.
My whole family loves Carousel of Progress, even my 5 year old. We wish they would create a second wheel picking up where the original left off.
I agree with most except the wave, we had a horrible dinning experience there and will never go back. The server we had was horrible, the food was OK but way overpriced and the one reason we went was based on the seasonality of the food and had a vegetarian with us and thought it might be a good pick. The server looked at us as if we were crazy asking for a vegetarian menu and had to go ask the chef what was vegetarian. I know we will never go back, except for a drink on our resort hopping.
We went to the Laugh Floor really late during extra magic hours, and we were already so tired and giggly, we were crying from laughing so hard by the time it was over – everyone played along perfectly. My daughter loved CBJ, and it was such a great memory for her and I to share while my son and my husband rode Big Thunder. Columbia Harbour House and Studio Catering Co. are both welcome choices for vegetarians who are tired of eating salads. We stayed in a pirate room at CBR 2 years ago, and we really enjoyed everything about it – they have a fantastic turkey sandwich with cranberry mayo (I still randomly crave it once in a while.) We are big gardeners, so we all enjoy Living with the Land (we’re planning to try the Garden Grill just for a better view of it next time) and I can never make it through One Man’s Dream without crying. I don’t know where the American Adventure rates for most people, but I sweet-talked my family into going, and I was completely blown away (just the idea of how ALL those animatronics are designed and work together is amazing!) My daughter was 5 at the time, and even she enjoyed it. After reading this, we will definitely add Impressions de France and Flights of Wonder to our must-do list for next time.
First of all, in general it sounds like you have good taste.
If people don’t rate American Adventure as one of the best attractions at Walt Disney World, they’re underrating it. In general, though, I don’t think it’s underrated. I think most people love it. Besides those pesky communists! 😉
I am so glad to see Caribbean Beach Resort and Monster’s Incorporated Laugh Floor on this list, and mentioning Columbia Harbor House. In 2010 my husband and I took our twins for their first trip to WDW. It was the first time he and I had been there since high school. Now we are in the “every other year WDW” group. We stayed at Caribban Beach and I was glad after the trip that I hadn’t researched the resort that much because I probably would have listened to the negative reviews. Our rooms were across the bridge on the parking lot side of the cluster of buildings. Not once did the walk cross the resort bother us or our then 4 year olds. We are ambiance people, though, so maybe thats why the layout didn’t bother us. We felt like the hike to and from our Lion King room last year at Art of Animation was just as long or longer, and I don’t think it actually was.
The laugh floor is one of the top attractions on our list. But I hope it keeps it’s short wait times after Monsters University came out this summer. A new batch of Monster fans are out there now & I don’t worry about them increasing the wait time for me…I mean my kids. Of course, the kids.
Columbia Harbor House – my accidental favorite. I agree with you, keep it a secret! When we went in 2010 we were hungry, and it was there, so we ate. The food was great for counter service in my opinion, but the best part was that even though it was peak lunch hours, it was quiet, comfortable, and not at all crowded.
We did Laugh Floor last week. It was cool to see elements from Monsters U seamlessly incorporated into the show!
Great article! I have experienced most of these and agree. I especially agree with the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor. We found it HYSTERICAL! So did my three-year-old daughter.
I would have also added Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot. It is more interactive and funny for kids and adults! We were almost crying we were laughing so hard. The kids get so into it. There was no problem getting a good seat and the show just flew by.
I am dying to try Sanaa, but sadly, I do not have a very adventurous family. Boma is incredible though!
Why is it the attractions that tend to be the least popular seem to be the most enjoyable?
I will refrain from answering your last question as my answer would probably insult the general public. 😉
I will refrain from answering your last question as my answer would probably insult the general public. 😉
I remember going to CBJ when I was 4 years old back in 1974. I’m clearly much older and have been to the parks 7 or 8 times since then and have never been back to see the show, it always sort of creeped me out (like Showbiz Pizza did in the 80’s). Anyhow, I’m heading back with my wife and daughters in May and I think I’ll have to give it another shot.
I had to Google Showbiz Pizza because I had never heard of it. Wow… That. Is. Awesome.
Maybe “awesome” isn’t the right word. It’s something, though, that’s for sure! 😉
Country Bears???? Don’t even know why they keep this show in Disney (as well as Carousel of Progress). We absolutely hated it!!
Some of your other suggestions we are going to try out in 2 weeks when we are in Disney. Thanks for the info!!
You may not like my other suggestions if you don’t like those two attractions! 😉
Great article! First of all let me say that I could not agree more with your inclusion of both the Laugh Floor and Stitch’s Great Escape. While I am of the opinion that the quality of Alien Escape was certainly superior to its current iteration, it was absolutely out of place in MK. To the point that it really seemed like an attraction better suited for Universal or at the very least Hollywood Studios. Stitch’s Escape is a fitting use of that character and it fits in an attraction that was built completely independent of it surprisingly well. He is also represented quite well in audio-animatronic form.
As for the Laugh Floor, I agree in that the show is quite witty and the performers are often on point with their reactions to the attending audience. Plus Mike Wazowski is always awesome!
One addition that I think could be added to your list is the Animal Kingdom park itself. As a park it is critically underrated in the Disney community. It is one of the most beautiful theme parks ever. Walking through the front gates and strolling through the Oasis is such a pleasurable and beautiful experience that I rarely feel the need to race my fellow guests to the nearest FP distribution point. The entire trek around the park is a feast for the senses. Not to mention that this park has four of the best attractions in all of WDW in Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, and Dinosaur. While I realize this park sees it’s fair share of visitors I feel like it is often playing third and often fourth fiddle in the overall pecking order. I can honestly say that any day that I’ve ever spent at AK has been completely amazing. I certainly can’t say that for HS, and maybe even the other two.
I hear that argument a lot about Alien Encounter not being appropriate for the Magic Kingdom, and I suppose I can understand it to an extent. At the same time, Hall of Presidents and any attraction with a higher height restriction also aren’t aimed at children. Personally, I don’t see a problem with having well-themed attractions that appeal to a range of demographics. The same guests who are going to the Magic Kingdom are going to DHS, so if it wasn’t appropriate for them at Magic Kingdom, why would it be okay at DHS? Just like the whole “alcohol in the MK” thing, I think it’s more a matter of tradition than it is anything else.
A lot of people think Animal Kingdom is underrated, a lot think it’s overrated. I think it is a solid park filled with unrealized potential. It needs a better balance of attractions, in my opinion.
I’m not at all saying that Alien Encounter wasn’t an awesome attraction. At the time it was the coolest thing that Tomorrowland had to offer. I only mean to say it’s theming seemed to not work with all of the “happy” and “kiddie” — centric attractions that surrounded it. It was a great attraction that was possibly in need of a different location. I say this not because I am worried about frightening children or whatnot, more because I take a great interest in the overall flow of the attractions. I would say the same thing about Avatarland. While I am not at all interested in Avatar I can see how it could give life to some really cool E-Ticket attractions. However, I do not think these belong at AK. Blue aliens may be neat to some people but I don’t really see what they have to do with animals and conservation.
I pretty much agree with everything you have on here. AKL is one of my favorite resorts (DVC Home) and that includes all of it’s restaurants!
Stitch’s Great Escape is not a good ride, but it has possibility. If they just went back in to redo the script and take out the chili dog smell it could be closer to the greatness that was Alien Encounter. At least they still have Skippy! (On a side note, I don’t do the whole vinylmation thing, but had to get the Alien Encounter one when it came out. ;))
I definitely agree with a lot of your choices! Some of the restaurants and resorts I haven’t been to/stayed at of course, but I’ll take your word for it! I agree with OKW, stayed there with my family and loved it. I’m staying at Kidani in October, cannot wait to try Sanaa!
I really agree with Country Bears and Flights of Wonder! I’m a bird person, I have a pet cockatiel, so I love seeing all the different birds, even if the whole tour guide angle could definitely change! I hope one of the previous commenters is wrong about them possibly cancelling it.
Also, my husband also loves Columbia Harbour House’s upstairs! It’s good to keep quiet about that one! 😉
It’s quite interesting to see the Country Bear Jamboree and the Hall of Presidents on the list, though you are correct that they are underrated today by visitors to the Magic Kingdom. What’s fascinating is how times have changed. In the years just after the park opened, they were among the biggest draws and the most popular attractions, even more so because they had not been replicated from Disneyland, but were Magic Kingdom originals. Before Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain were added, the original “E” tickets were the Haunted Mansion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it’s a small world, the Jungle Cruise, Country Bear Jamboree, and the Hall of Presidents. Before the days of Fast Passes and extravagantly detailed vacation planning, the basic plan for those in the know was to get to the park as soon as it opened and then high tail it to the popular “E” tickets before long lines developed. The Hall of Presidents and Country Bear Jamboree were both extremely popular and well-loved, with long wait times if you didn’t get to them quickly. We would rush to the Haunted Mansion first, then work our way down, next to the Hall of Presidents, then to the Country Bears, then finally to the Jungle Cruise (sometimes we would switch the plan and omit the JC to rush over to 20,000 Leagues instead). Though the Bears have always proceeded from a foundation of corniness and the Presidents was (and is) undoubtedly “history lite,” they are incredibly sophisticated attractions for those who care to notice (and no, they are not beyond criticism). That they are underrated by the current populace doesn’t, I sadly admit, really surprise me. It’s doubtless the result of many factors, including disinterest in history, shorter attention spans and a spastic need to keep moving. But I think the main factor may be the lack of cynicism in both shows. Their simple messages and their Walt-Disney-style-optimism probably just don’t signify for a lot of people today, especially those who go to the parks without a great appreciation for Walt Disney’s body of work and place in American culture, those people who really just want an amusement park with fast rides.
I mostly agree with your estimations here, but I think it is sometimes a mistake to compare how bad people say something is vs how bad it really is.
Based on the level of hatred Stitch gets you’d think it kills small children. Clearly it doesn’t.
Before my recent WDW trip, I asked my blog readers to choose 3 bad park experiences that I would be forced to participate in. Stitch’s Great Escape won enough votes to force me into its doors. But so did Journey into Imagination with Figment over at EPCOT. Having promised to follow through with the choices my readers made, I took in both of them. As brainless as JIIwF was though, I didn’t have the sinking feeling of suck wash over me there like I did at SGE. That thing Blooooowsss!
To be fair, I didn’t do any of the things you listed above as worse, so maybe I can only be forced into such things.
Sci-fi Dine-in is a great themed experience, but the burger I had there was completely without taste! I honestly have never had a burger that bland before in my life. In the future I’ll probably only go there for ice cream or drinks.
I love Great Movie Ride. However, I think something needs to change. Whether it’s script, scenes, etc. I don’t know.
Last trip I made in Sept. I had a GREAT guide. He actually was making “jungle cruise” type of jokes within the ride. Something I had never experienced before with GMR. It was a pleasent surprise, and made for a great experience. Curious if that has happened to anyone else? I think maybe give the guides more of an opportunity to go off the script would make a nice change of pace.
Pretty good review. CBR is our favorite resort. A lot of people complain that it’s too big, but that’s why we love it! Everytime we get back from the park, it feels like we’re in our own personal paradise, swinging on a hammock and running our fingers in the white sand while watching the sun set over the lake….sigh….
Also, I love Living with the Land. Just a great ride and we do it MULTIPLE times everytime we’re down there!
On another note, did I read that you’re from Indiana? Where about? I live on the north side of Indy. Keep the great articles coming!
I agree with you 100 percent on OKW A great underrated resort. Has the largest rooms, and it looks like a resort not a hotel. Great place to stay excellent landscaping. You cannot go wrong
Living with the Land and GMR are tolerable at best and always have a line. Both are attractions we ride on every visit. I am a huge Stitch fan. HUGE! He’s easily the most creative thing to come out of feature animation in the last fifteen years. And I don’t understand why he gets so much hate in the fan community. But I have a feeling Great Escape has a lot to do with it. The storyline is very anticlimactic and the attraction itself feels half finished. Not underrated in the least bit.
Living with the Land always has a line? That surprises me, I’ve literally never seen it have any line.
When I say line I mean a wait of anything more than five minutes. But I have waited thirty minutes to ride it in the past. My wife loves it. I think watching tomatoes grow is about as interesting as watching tomatoes grow.
I’ve only seen it have a line right after the Soarin’ rush and on NYE.
It’s almost always a walk-on.
When me and my husband visited the last week in August 2012, there was like a 20 minute wait, the queue(cue? weird word) lines were completely filled. I was amazed. I love that ride! But I’ve really never had to wait either. We thought that week was going to be slow, but there was actually a pretty good amount of people in the parks, apparently due to school starting the week after in the north (we’re from Georgia, so schools here start the beginning/middle of August). So, it’s not always empty!
For smaller kids and their families, an underrated (or never mentioned) attraction is T. Rowe Price’s Great Piggy Bank Adventure in Innoventions West. It’s a fun set of games for a group to work together, the piggy bank character and props are cute, and you may learn something about money too. A favorite among the choices in either Innoventions pavilion.
Interesting pick! We’ve never done it (for obvious reasons) but that’s good to know!
We loved The Great Piggy Bank Adventure! It is a great way to help kids visualize money concepts, and you can access more from home after your trip.
Most of that list I expected based on your reviews, but Stitch was a surprise. And one I completely disagree with! I’d also take exception to Sci-Fi diner (I disliked nearly everything about the experience) and the Wave (we were looking forward to it, but both had mediocre meals).
I’d agree with the rest of the list – wholeheartedly so for Saana. We ate there for a second time earlier this week and loved it.
Impressions de France is underrated. I like Soarin’ as an overall experience better, but the score and film quality are far higher in France. This was my daughters’ first trip tall enough to ride Soarin’ and I had to explain what the large black things on the screen were (dust blobs).
Not surprised by the Stitch hate, but am about Sci-Fi and The Wave. When did you eat at each of them? The Wave should have been good regardless of when. Disappointing that you had a bad experience there.
I love both Soarin’ and Impressions, but ultimately, Impressions wins out. I think it’s mostly due to the visuals…if they redid that, I don’t know how they could EVER top the current cinematography.
We ate at the Wave 12-1-11. I had a pretty mediocre steak, and the rest of the meal didn’t wow me. I don’t recall what my wife had but she wasn’t excited either.
For Sci-Fi, I’ll put the caveat that my wife enjoyed the meal. I disliked sitting in two rows (we’re a family of 3) more than I thought I would, my meal wasn’t great, I really disliked that the low lighting in the cars meant my food was backlit and I couldn’t see what I was eating, I didn’t like that the clip cycle was shorter than the meal so that you had to watch many (most?) of them twice, and it turns out I don’t like watching campy sci-fi clips while eating my dinner. That’s about it. 🙂 I’ll agree with you that they do a good job of making it feel like an outdoor drive-in. I just turned out to be not what I was looking for in a dinner.