12 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Watching Movies

Like most of the country, Chicago is currently experiencing a heat wave. It’s been in the 70s, even hitting 80 degrees, and this in a month in which snow would not be unexpected. It was so warm yesterday that I had a momentary desire to turn on the air-conditioning! I resisted, but thinking about air-conditioning reminded me of the joy of walking into an air-conditioned building during a hot, sticky, humid day in Walt Disney World. It’s particularly nice when you can sit down in those air-conditioned buildings, and the movie-based attractions tend to be good places to do just that. (Although, there are a few movies during which you do have to stand.) So, today I’m going to cover things to do in Walt Disney World if you love watching movies (the air-conditioning could be just a nice bonus).

I already did a post on the 3-D movies in Walt Disney World, so the first five items on this list are described there.

1. Mickey’s PhilharMagic
2. Captain EO starring Michael Jackson
3. Muppet*Vision 3-D
4. It’s Tough to be a Bug!
5. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

6. Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

This attraction is themed as a comedy club, but since the monster comics you see are all on screen, I’m considering it a movie-based attraction. In addition to the corny humor, you also get the benefit of possibly being part of the show yourself! Several audience members appear on screen at different times, so be prepared!

Buddy Boil greeting the audience ("Hello, humans!") at Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

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7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Gardening

Yesterday the 2012 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival began. From now until May 20, Epcot guests can enjoy presentations by HGTV personalities and the Flower Power Concert Series, which features acts from the 1960s and 1970s. Even if guests don’t seek out the festival-related events, they can’t help but notice the Disney character topiaries that can be found throughout Future World and World Showcase during the event.

Here are a few of my and my friend’s photos of the topiaries from the 2010 and 2011 festivals.

Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tick-Tock Croc topiaries at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival 2010

Snow White and Dopey topiaries at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival 2010

Pumbaa topiary at Epcot International Flower & Graden Festival 2011

If you love gardening, this festival is clearly for you, but if you don’t happen to be in Disney during the event, you can find gardening-related activities in the parks all throughout the year. Here are seven things to do in Walt Disney World if you love gardening.

1. Plaza Rose Garden

While beautiful flowers and foliage can be found all over Walt Disney World, one often overlooked spot is the Plaza Rose Garden in Magic Kingdom. It’s located just off the bridge to Tomorrowland from the Hub. Wander through and enjoy looking at the wide variety of species of roses.

Plaza Rose Garden in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

2. Topiaries

As I mentioned earlier, topiaries are a big part of the annual Flower & Garden Festival in Epcot, but they can also be found throughout the year scattered throughout the theme parks. Here are a few examples.

Sorcerer Mickey topiary in Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World

Sorcerer Mickey topiary in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Mickey and Minnie Mouse topiaries in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

Mickey and Minnie Mouse topiaries in Magic Kingdom

Sea serpent topiary and entrance to Plaza Rose Garden in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

Sea serpent topiary in Magic Kingdom. You can see the entrance to Plaza Rose Garden behind it.

3. Living with the Land

If your garden features produce rather than flowers, you’ll love Living with the Land. This boat ride is all about agriculture, and it takes you through greenhouses where you can see a variety of growing techniques. The food grown there is actually served in the restaurants in the Land Pavilion. Keep an eye out for pumpkins and other fruits and vegetables that are “earning their ears.”

Pumpkin "earning my ears" in Living with the Land in Epcot in Walt Disney World

This pumpkin is just starting earning its ears. You can see a more fully grown one in the background.

4. Behind the Seeds at Epcot

Greenhouse in Living with the Land in Epcot in Walt Disney WorldIf you want to learn more after experiencing Living with the Land, sign up for the Behind the Seeds walking tour, which takes you through the greenhouses you rode through on the boat ride. You’ll get to see the plants up close and even release some lady bugs. The tour lasts an hour and currently costs $18 per adult and $14 per child.

5. Gardens of the World tour

Victoria Gardens in Canada Pavilion in Epcot in Walt Disney World

Victoria Gardens in Canada Pavilion in World Showcase

This is the one item on today’s list that is only available during the Flower & Garden Festival. This tour, led by a horticulture expert, takes you through the countries of World Showcase, showing the unique landscaping in each. Your guide also talks about horticulture techniques used throughout Walt Disney World and provides gardening tips you can use back home. This tour lasts about three hours and is $60 per person.

6. Wild by Design tour

Tree of Life in Disney's Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney WorldIf you prefer your gardens a little more naturalistic and less orderly than those in World Showcase, you might enjoy the Wild by Design tour of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. On this tour, you learn about how the Disney team transformed Florida wetlands into the lush jungle and grassy savannah areas you see in the park today. This tour is three hours long and is $60 per person.

7. DiVine

Close-up of DiVine, stilt walker in Disney's Animal Kingdom

While you’re in Animal Kingdom, you’ll want to try to spot the “plant” that comes alive: DiVine. I’ve mentioned her on several posts (on street theater and costuming), so I won’t go into detail here, but it’s worth seeking her out.

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The number of tours on today’s list makes it impossible to have all of these experiences in one day, so you can pick and choose which ones are most essential for you or stretch your gardening-themed vacation over a few days. (I vote for the latter!)

Before your trip, you’ll need to consider the tour times and make your reservations by calling (407) WDW-TOUR. Wild by Design is usually offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8:30 a.m. During the Flower & Garden Festival, Gardens of the World is normally offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 9 a.m. Behind the Seeds is offered much more frequently. You can sign up for same-day tours at the desk located near Soarin’.

Your tours will determine which park you go to when. Just make sure you stop off in Magic Kingdom to see the Plaza Rose Garden and look out for DiVine while you’re in Animal Kingdom. Keep your eye out for interesting topiaries wherever you go.

If you could go on any of the tours I talked about today, which one would you pick?

10 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Boat Rides

Last Thursday, I covered boating-related activities outside of the theme parks in Walt Disney World. Today, I’m going to talk about all the boat ride attractions, and assuming I didn’t miss any, there are ten of them spread between three parks. By the way, I’m not counting any attractions at the water parks, because they’re not exactly boats, but if you love water slides in addition to boating, you should definitely spend a day or two at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.

So, here are ten things to do in Walt Disney World if you love boat rides:

1. Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney WorldI’m starting with one of my favorites: Splash Mountain. If you haven’t ridden this attraction, you probably just associate it with the big drop at the end, which can be seen from outside. But before you get there, you go through several scenes filled with singing critters, plus a couple fake-out drops. Trust me, when you’re getting to the big drop, you’ll know it. I wish someone had told us this the first time I rode when I was a kid. I had glasses and we were a bit paranoid that I would lose them, so I was supposed to take them off before the drop. But we didn’t know when the drop would be, so I took them off at the beginning and ended up riding the whole attraction blind, with all the cute animals as fuzzy blobs of color. In the future, we knew that I could wait to take them off until the steep incline at the end, when the vultures taunt you with “Time to be turning around, if only you could” and “If you’ve finally found your laughing place, how come you aren’t laughing?”

2. it’s a small world

"Welcome to the happiest cruise that ever sailed" sign at it's a small world, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldThis boat ride is “the happiest cruise that ever sailed.” The theme song may have a bad reputation, but as I mentioned in my post on vintage Magic Kingdom, it’s really a heartfelt wish for peace. The kids love it too, even the babies. There’s so much to look at, and there’s nothing scary. It really is a perfect family attraction.

3. Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise loading area, showing Senegal Sal boat, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldLike it’s a small world, Jungle Cruise is an opening day attraction, so it’s full of vintage charm. Also, cute elephants.

4. Liberty Square Riverboat

I talked about the Liberty Square Riverboat in my post on Mark Twain. What’s a little confusing is that the attraction is named Liberty Square Riverboat, but the ship itself is called the Liberty Belle. Either way, it’s a boat, and you can ride it.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean

Sign outside of Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney WorldAnother classic Disney attraction, this boat ride through pirate-infested waters is one of the many ways to encounter pirates in Magic Kingdom. If you can’t get enough of pirates, be sure to check out my recent post on pirates outside Magic Kingdom as well.

6. Raft to Tom Sawyer Island

This is a true boating experience, because the rafts to Tom Sawyer Island are not on a track or guiderail. They take actual skill to pilot. Robert Niles, a former pilot says that “driving a TSI raft is, without a doubt, the most pleasurable and satisfying job in the Disney parks.” You can read more of Robert’s thoughts on being a raft pilot on his Tom Sawyer’s Island Appreciation Page.

7. Living with the Land

Now, we move over to Epcot. While the theme of Living with the Land is, you know, land, it is still a boat ride. This attraction is underrated but charming in its own way. Keep an eye out for the Mickey-shaped pumpkins!

8. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros

Donald Duck pinata in Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros in Mexico pavilion, Epcot, Walt Disney WorldI’m not sure why, but it was just a few years ago that I figured out that there was a boat ride inside the Mexico pavilion. Gran Fiesta Tour replaced the original attraction, El Rio del Tiempo, in 2007, but I have no memories of that one either. If you like Donald Duck, this attraction is a must-see. It’s fairly simple, and like it’s a small world, there’s nothing scary, so it’s good for the little ones.

9. Maelstrom

Now, this one I definitely have childhood memories of. I remember the “back, back, over the falls” scene feeling much more dramatic than it does now. This attraction has popped up on a surprising number of lists on this site already: bears, snow, rain, and Halloween. It’s unique one, to be sure.

10. Kali River Rapids

Our list concludes with the one boat ride in Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Kali River Rapids. You’re going to get wet on this one, likely more wet than you got on Splash Mountain. Just make sure your valuables are in a plastic bag and you should be good to go!

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I do have to throw in one honorable mention here: Peter Pan’s Flight. Although you’re not in water, you are technically riding in a boat: a pirate galleon… that just happens to be flying. You can decide whether or not to include this attraction in your day of boat rides, which will be long enough as it is.

You’ll need to hit three parks, so getting started as early as possible in the morning is important. Begin at Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, whichever opens earlier. Epcot is excluded from being the first park because even if Epcot opens early, World Showcase won’t be open yet, so you won’t be able to ride Maelstrom or Gran Fiesta Tour. Today, for example, Epcot opens at 9 a.m., but Future World doesn’t open until 11 a.m. Magic Kingdom open at 9 a.m. So does Animal Kingdom, but it also has Extra Magic Hours starting at 8 a.m., so that would be the place to start (assuming you’re staying on property, which entitles you to Extra Magic Hours).

You also want to consider the closing times. Today, Animal Kingdom closes at 5 p.m., Epcot at 9 p.m., and Magic Kingdom at 10 p.m. So, in this example, it would be good to end at Magic Kingdom.

Also consider that you’re going to be getting wet on Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids. If it’s cool outside, try to do these in the middle of the day when the sun is the warmest. (Or be a wimp and wear a poncho.)

What’s your favorite boat ride on this list?

5 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Boating

It’s not exactly boating weather here in Chicagoland, but since it’s one-year anniversary of the Disney Dream’s christening, I thought boating would be an appropriate theme for today. You are definitely in luck if you’re in Disney World and love boats, because they’re everywhere! That’s because there are also bodies of water everywhere: Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, World Showcase Lagoon, Crescent Lake, Rivers of America, Discovery River, Echo Lake… I’m sure I’m missing a few. In fact, there are so many boats in Walt Disney World that today I’m only going to focus boats that aren’t considered attractions. Boat-ride attractions are so numerous that that will have to be a separate list for another time.

So, let’s get started. Here are four things to do in Walt Disney World if you love boating.

1. Magic Kingdom Ferryboat

If you are driving rather than relying on resort transportation, and you’re going to Magic Kingdom for the day, you will need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center. From there, you have two options to get to the Park: monorail and ferryboat. Since you love boating, we know which one you’ll pick! It’s actually been years since I’ve ridden the ferryboat, since we usually stay on property and use the buses, but it’s a lovely old-school way to arrive at the Park.

2. Resort Water Taxis & Friendship Boats

Friendship Boat headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios, seen in front of Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

Friendship Boat headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios, seen in front of Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

If you’re staying at a hotel in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Downtown Disney resort areas, you likely have some sort of water transportation available to you. Specifically:

  • Water taxis travel between Magic Kingdom and Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Fort Wilderness, and Wilderness Lodge.
  • Friendship Boats run between Disney’s BoardWalk, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and nearby hotels: Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels.
  • Ferryboats travel between Downtown Disney and Port Orleans Resort (French Quarter and Riverside), Old Key West, and Saratoga Springs.

3. Specialty Cruises

If you want a boating experience that’s not simply transportation (but still not technically an attraction), the specialty cruises are for you. You could choose a fireworks cruise, dining cruise, or a celebration cruise. The fireworks cruises include a Wishes cruise, the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage (mentioned in my posts on Peter Pan and pirates), and an IllumiNations cruise.

You could also charter The Grand 1, a 52-foot Sea Ray Sedan Bridge Yacht. (I don’t know what that means exactly, but it sounds impressive.) The Grand 1 accommodates up to 18 people (17 if you want a butler!) and travels around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.

You can check out the prices for all these cruises on the DIS. Booking information is available on the Disney website.

4. Watercraft Rentals

Marina at Port Orleans Resort in Walt Disney World

Ferry and rental boats at the marina at Port Orleans Resort

With all the lakes, rivers, and lagoons around, there’s plenty of water for independent-minded individuals to pilot their own craft. Depending on your style, you could choose a motorized or non-motorized watercraft including Sea Raycers, sailboats, pontoon boats, Boston Whaler Montauk boats, pedal boats, kayaks, and canoes.

Rentals are available at most of the deluxe and moderate resorts as well as Downtown Disney Marketplace. Tubing and parasailing is also available.

5. Fulton’s Crab House

If you’ve been to Downtown Disney, you’ve probably noticed the huge riverboat with “Fulton’s” on the back. This is now Fulton’s Crab House, but it used to be the Empress Lilly after Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian. It was christened by Lillian herself in 1977, and it has always been a restaurant (with a submerged concrete foundation), not a working riverboat. Still, it looks an awful lot like a boat, so I’m including it on this list.

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This list is deceptively short, because there are a lot of options under #2-4. If you’re going to be a completist and ride all of these watercraft, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. It won’t be possible to complete this list in one day, because the fireworks cruises are all around the same time. Still, you have to start somewhere, and it’s easy to fill a day with boating activities without ever even stepping into a theme park.

You can begin your day with a ferryboat ride to Magic Kingdom, but don’t go inside. Instead, take a water taxi to one of the Magic Kingdom resorts. After you’ve ridden to and from as many of those resorts as you’d like, you’ll need to hop over to the Epcot resort area to ride the Friendship Boats. Next, it’s off to the Downtown Disney resort area to experience those ferries. When you’ve had your fill of transportation, rent the watercraft of your choice from the resort of your choice. Then head back to Downtown Disney for dinner at Fulton’s Crab House. Wrap of your day of boating with a romantic or fun-filled fireworks cruise. By the end, you’ll have experienced a wide variety of watercraft, with even more yet to experience (including all the boating attractions). Stay tuned…

6 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Reading

When you think of Walt Disney World attractions, you probably think of attractions that are based on movies, such as Dumbo The Flying Elephant or Toy Story Mania!, or attractions that inspired movies, some popular (e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean) and some less so (e.g. The Country Bears). There are also attractions inspired by books, although many of them went first from book to movie before becoming an attraction. In recent years, due primarily to author Ridley Pearson, yet another category has been added: attractions that inspired books. What this talk of inspiration means is that if you love reading, you can connect that love to your Disney experience. Here’s how…

1. Tom Sawyer Island

As I mentioned in my post on Mark Twain, this island in Magic Kingdom was inspired by two novels: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While there is a Disney movie based on these novels (1995’s Tom and Huck), the attraction predated the movie by twenty-two years, and, to my knowledge, the only change that was made to the island as a result of the movie was the renaming of Fort Sam Clemens to Fort Langhorn. Therefore, it’s the most “literary” attraction on this list, and the one you’ll appreciate most by reading the books first. All names on the island are mentioned in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; see if you can figure out all the references! (I’ll admit I still need to do this.)

2. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

While it’s true that this attraction was inspired by Disney’s animated shorts about Winnie the Pooh, it’s also undeniable that A.A. Milne’s books play a key role. After all, at the start of the ride, you enter through Chapter 2:

The beginning of The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction in Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World

I love the incorporation of the book pages throughout the queue and attraction (as well as in the 1970s shorts and the recent film Winnie the Pooh). If you’ve never read the original stories, you simply must. They’re full of awesome quotes, such as:

“What?” said Piglet, with a jump. And then, to show that he hadn’t been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice in an exercising sort of way.

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore, “However, ” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
(The House at Pooh Corner)

3. Swiss Family Treehouse

This attraction exists because of the 1960 Disney live-action film, Swiss Family Robinson, but that film was based on the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss. To be honest, I’ve never read the novel, but the attraction is so rich in detail that it would be interesting to see how much was accurately translated from book to film to attraction.

4. Mad Tea Party

This is admittedly a simple attraction—spinning around in a tea cup—so you can’t expect much for literary references. Still, it’s another attraction based on a movie based on a book, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Perhaps, to make the attraction more educational, you can think about the answer to the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” as you spin.

Bonus: if you’re a fan of the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, look for a plaque near Mad Tea Party with a quote from Pausch.

5. Kingdom Keepers

Now we’re transitioning from attractions based on books to books based on attractions. The Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson is about a group of teenagers who get mixed up in magical plot by the Disney villains to take over the Disney Parks (and then the world!). The first book, Disney After Dark, is set primarily in Magic Kingdom. The second, Disney at Dawn, focuses on Animal Kingdom. The third, Disney in Shadow, takes place in Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The fourth, Power Play, starts in Downtown Disney and then jumps between the Parks. Future books will involve the Disney Cruise Line and Disneyland. The books are aimed at young adults, but they’re fun reads for grown-up Disney fans too.

I actually got to meet Ridley Pearson a couple years ago when he did a talk at my teacher friend’s school. He was a great speaker, and he mentioned how the character Wayne from the books is based on a real cast member who is a ride operator at Splash Mountain. I went to WDW a couple months after that, and I saw Wayne! I didn’t get a picture, but it was an exciting moment.

6. Bridge to Neverland

This book, by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, is currently a standalone, but it’s related to the Peter and the Starcatchers series. That series tells the story of how Peter Pan became Peter Pan and ended up in Neverland. Bridge to Neverland is set in modern day and tells the story of two teenagers who have read Peter and the Starcatchers and discover evidence that the events in that series really happened. The attraction Peter Pan’s Flight ends up playing a role in the plot. Again, this book is written for YA readers, but adults will enjoy it too. I do recommend reading the four Peter and the Starcatchers books first to get the most out of the story.

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A reading-themed day in Walt Disney World will long begin before your trip—first, you have to read all the books! Here’s your official reading list:

  1. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  2. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  3. A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
  4. A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
  5. A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
  6. A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six
  7. Johann David Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson
  8. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  9. Ridley Pearson, Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark
  10. Ridley Pearson, Kingdom Keepers II: Disney at Dawn
  11. Ridley Pearson, Kingdom Keepers III: Disney in Shadow
  12. Ridley Pearson, Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play
  13. Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, Peter and the Starcatchers
  14. Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, Peter and the Shadow Thieves
  15. Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon
  16. Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, Peter and the Sword of Mercy
  17. Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, The Bridge to Neverland

Once you’re in the World, you’ll find most of the book-related attractions in Magic Kingdom. Experience Tom Sawyer Island, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Swiss Family Treehouse, Mad Tea Party, and Peter Pan’s Flight. Then you can seek out the locations of your favorite scenes from the Kingdom Keepers books (maybe stop by Splash Mountain to see if Wayne’s there!). Bonus points if you take your books with you and read them in the Parks!

Well, I have some reading to do. How about you? Have you read any of these Disney-related books?