AttractionsWalt Disney World (FL)

The Most Underrated Walt Disney World Attractions

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t_logo_fbWell, you did it. I hope you’re happy with yourselves. We weren’t the first to pass that way, but soon we’ll be the last, because Maelstrom, the troll-tastic boat attraction located in Norway at Epcot, is officially closing its doors on October 5th 2014 to make way for a new themed area celebrating “Let it Go.” But as sulky as I and others may be about it, it makes you realise something. The Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Test Track at Epcot. The bag check line at the front gate. There are a lot of Disney World attractions that people tend to think of immediately before any others, and for good reason. They’re big, flashy, exciting, and Patrick Warburton’s voice is like buttah. But it’s easy to get stuck on the big ticket thrill rides, or just the attractions with the most flash and that new magic smell and think of the rest as “filler.” Kids can basically be dazzled by just about anything, but teens and adults are harder to win over if something doesn’t involve at least three inversions and an animatronic yeti. Most of the time, when people talk about Disney World attractions, there’s a handful that always get brought up, and some that, well, just don’t as much as they should. Here’s a list of just some of the best, most underrated Disney World attractions the parks have to offer, and why you should make every effort to catch them on your trip, too. As for the most overrated attractions, well… that’s a whole ‘nother flame war, and my flame-retardant suit is in another castle.

And hey, when you’re done reading and you’re back from your trip, make sure you fill out the Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World Survey to help refine our ratings and our information for the future. Teens, nobody but us needs to know you really thought Wishes was the most spectacular thing ever… your cool, detached demeanor is safe with me.

Disney's Maelstrom at Epcot's Norway Pavillion
Disney’s Maelstrom at Epcot’s Norway Pavillion

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress – Is it cheesy? Yes. A little goofy? Sure. But this 21 minute long animatronic show located in Magic Kingdom is still one of the most impressive things Disney World has done. Guests sit down in theater style chairs on a revolving floor that takes them through a series of scenes following a family through the seasons, and through the years. The characters don’t age, but the emphasis here is on, well, progress. Little things, like how the icebox works, the cost of food, travel times, all of it is presented in such a way as to provide a great example of how much things have changed. All of this is narrated and acted out by a series of remarkably well articulated animatronic folks. (Still not as creepy as CGI Jeff Bridges.) Most amusing of all, the most “recent” era the show will take you through is going to feel pretty recent indeed thanks to new technology like the Oculus Rift and even “smart” ovens, despite being something the show clearly intended to be futuristic. Light-hearted, silly, and yet still relevant and interesting, it’s a great way to relax. Just don’t expect to get that song out of your head anytime soon.

Mickey’s PhilharMagic – Located in Magic Kingdom, this gorgeous, feast for the eyes, ears, and nose 3-D production takes you on a musical journey lead by Donald Duck as he stumbles through every movie from Aladdin to the Lion King and beyond when he makes a mistake he has to correct before Mickey shows up. It’s Disney, so it goes without saying that the animation is beautiful, but the comedic storyline is effortlessly woven into classic, fan-favourite songs like A Whole New World, and tosses in a few exciting scenes like the carpet ride to boot. Plus? One of the only 3-D movies you’ll ever encounter to use smells to delight you rather than gross you out. Anyone who has ever felt 3-D is cheesy owes it to themselves to see something that’ll make it feel magical again.


Muppet Fountain (photo by Tom Bricker)
The fountain outside Muppet Vision (photo by Tom Bricker)

Muppet*Vision 3D – Speaking of 3-D, take a trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to remind yourself how awesome frogs are. And pigs. And rats. And king prawns… With a few lackluster recent motion pictures behind them, a lot of people simply don’t know Jim Henson’s beloved goofball crew the way those of us who grew up with The Muppet Show did, and this is a great way to show everyone how effortlessly funny and smart The Muppets can be. Though it sports a pre-show that’s long enough to make you wonder if you’re still the same age you were when it started, Muppet*Vision 3D is not only one of the funniest shows you can see at any age in the parks, it also has some of the best theming within and without, packed with details and references everywhere in the area to make it worth your time to just spend a while exploring.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! – Sometimes it’s hard to take someone on a themed attraction if they aren’t familiar with the source material, but this campy-and-cheesy-in-all-the-right-ways stunt show in Hollywood Studios makes it ridiculously easy. “What’s it about? It’s about explosions and sword fights and bad jokes and acrobatics and audience plants and death by propeller. Also there’s whips. Why are you still standing there?” Less a rehash of the iconic film franchise and more an example of how a lot of the action sequences get done, with a healthy dose of audience participation to liven things up. The cast seems to have perfected its pacing, and never lets explanations or examples drag so long that little kids will start to get impatient, and if you’re a fan of (smart) physical comedy, this one should be right up your alley.

Ellen’s Energy Adventure – Okay. I admit it. It’s a 45 minute long air-conditioned edutainment short in Epcot starring Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye. But then again… it’s a 45 minute long air-conditioned edutainment short starring Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye. Working in the video games industry myself, I’ll tell you that making something educational is easy, but making something educational and genuinely fun and engaging is much, much harder. That Ellen’s Energy Adventure pulls it off (provided you’re into Ellen’s brand of oddball, silly, borderline-deadpan humour) makes it all the more remarkable, as the show knows how to blend jokes with facts without making you feel like you’re being hit over the head with either, even if it’s probably time some of the information in the show got an update. Besides, having been born in the mid-eighties, I am required by birth to defend to the death anything Bill Nye is involved with. Don’t make me put on my war tie. (It’s like a regular bow tie, but with the skulls of my enemies. Very impractical to wear, and Victoria and Albert’s never seems to appreciate it.)

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail – Alright, so it’s a path. But it’s what this path goes through in Animal Kingdom that’s what makes it worth the foot travel. In a lot of theme parks, and even elsewhere in Animal Kingdom itself, you never really lose that feeling like you’re in civilization, that there are Starbucks and Big Macs right on the other side of those trees… usually because you can see it peeking over top. With so much dense foliage and beautiful scenery, however, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail has no such problems, and it’s easy to get caught up in just, well, exploring as you take in all the different animals and their craftily constructed enclosures. At a time when you’re probably being bombarded with souvenir shops and tickets and electronics, this serves as an awesome reminder how gorgeous and wonderfully weird the world itself. Boom de-ah-dah, boom-de-ah-dah…

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Originally from the Canadian wilds, where I rode a polar bear to work every day and had to fend off moose to get to my daily ration of Nanaimo Bars and maple syrup (all true), I immigrated to Florida in 2007 when my husband and I got married at Epcot. A professional video game reviewer and editor since 2008, I use theme parks to help me unwind and fulfill my sass/shenanigan requirements, with passes to Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, and Disney World, all within an hour's drive. If you want the scoop on Halloween Horror Nights, or on how many molten lava cakes you should stuff into your face hole at Food and Wine (SO MANY), or anything in between, I'm your gal.

6 thoughts on “The Most Underrated Walt Disney World Attractions

  • “Besides, having been born in the mid-eighties, I am required by birth to defend to the death anything Bill Nye is involved with.” While I don’t care for Ellen in the least, this I wholly agree and support!

  • Good list. I even agree with Ellen. On a recent trip we decided to ride Energy Adventure , even though it wasn’t on my touring plan, instead of going back to our hotel for a break. I though it was fun and my kids (3 & 5) really liked it, especially the dinosaurs. I’m not saying it’s a must do. Heck I don’t think it’s a must do for Ellen herself, but it was entertaining, if outdated.

  • It has been years since I rode the Ellen ride… but all others are faves here!! #RIPMaelstrom

  • I agree with the list except for Ellen- I can’t stand that except for the “get out of the heat reason”. Also Maelstrom prior to its closing should be on this list as should Canada.

    • Maelstrom actually WAS on this list when I started writing it, but since its closure was announced, I opted to rewrite the opening to fit instead. 🙂

  • You had me up until Ellen. The only things that ride has going for it are that it is long, air conditioned, and slow enough to take a nap on. The information is way out of date, and most of it was at least misleading even when it was new. I supposed it’s slightly better than yet another empty pavilion in Future World, but I think the imagineers could do much better with that space.


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