These Disney World experiences are seriously underrated

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There are a few non-negotiables when visiting Walt Disney World. No trip to the Orlando, Florida, theme park complex would be complete without taking a trip on Splash Mountain, fighting the First Order in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge or meeting Mickey Mouse, for example. But there are some lesser-known restaurants, rides, attractions and experiences that are seriously underrated. So, while there are plenty of park secrets Disney doesn't want you to know, these semi-secret gems are worth seeking out.

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Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen

Be Our Guest and Cinderella's Royal Table get all the name recognition, but Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen quietly tops the list of the best restaurants at Magic Kingdom. This Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant features plenty of gags and immersive theming, from hostesses and servers who deliver some particularly punny puns to menu items that are self-referential. While the jokes at Jungle Navigation Co. are light, the food here is bursting with flavors of Africa and Asia. Menu standouts include the S.E.A. Shu Mai appetizer and Sankuru Sadie's Seafood Stew, which features mussels, shrimp, scallops and octopus.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan's Flight may get all the hype, but The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is quietly one of the best rides at Magic Kingdom. This surprisingly speedy tram through Tomorrowland gives you a tour of this part of the park, allowing you to peek inside Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and gift shops. The PeopleMover also displays the original scale model for Epcot, an important piece of Disney theme park history.

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Country Bear Jamboree

Tucked in an unsuspecting show building in Magic Kingdom's Frontierland, Country Bear Jamboree is charming and hilarious. This audio-animatronics display features a Grand Ole Opry-inspired show starring a bunch of singing, banjo-slinging bears. Kids will love the silly bears and some of the jokes have a surprisingly adult slant to them (including a song with the lyric "All the guys who turn me on turn me down.") This old-fashioned show is a true joy right up there with some of the best Disney theme park attractions of all time.

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Maharajah Jungle Trek

Disney's Animal Kingdom is one of the best trips for animal lovers, and look no further than the Maharajah Jungle Trek to understand why. The flashy Kilimanjaro Safaris gets all the love for great animal spotting, but in this walkthrough attraction, you can see stunning Asian tigers as well as gibbons, eld's deer, Komodo dragons, over 50 species of birds and more. In addition to all the animals, this self-guided walkthrough attraction also features gorgeous stone work and murals - keep your eyes peeled for the numerous hidden Mickeys.

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Living With the Land

The Land pavilion at Epcot seems dominated by the presence of Soarin', but don't sleep on Living With the Land. This calming boat ride displays different ecosystems in the first half and later shows off different horticulture techniques and sustainable food practices. The lettuces, herbs, fruits, vegetables and fish you see near the end of this ride are actually served at Sunshine Seasons and Garden Grill, two of the best restaurants at Epcot.

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Behind the Seeds Tour

If you ride through Living With the Land and find yourself fascinated by the goings-on in the greenhouses, don't miss out on the Behind the Seeds Tour. This one-hour tour costs an additional $25 per adult ($20 per child), which is a bargain because you get an up-close view of Epcot's fish farm and four greenhouses. You'll learn about the latest plant-growing techniques and exactly what sustainable food is.

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Toy Story Mania

Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers may be the shiny new attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios' Toy Story Land, but Toy Story Mania, which has been open since May 2008, is actually the most fun ride in this area. On this 3D spinning attraction, you play against the others in your car in five different midway-style games. Full of Easter eggs and new ways to win, this ride is better than any ol' board game.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

Walt Disney Presents

One of the biggest rookie mistakes you can make at Disney World is spending all of your time in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios. On your way to those bustling new lands, be sure to stop by Walt Disney Presents. This walkthrough gallery features memorabilia from the early days of the Disney studios and also includes rotating exhibits from new and upcoming films. The movie "One Man's Dream" screens here and tells Walt Disney's story, though previews of new movies will replace it from time to time.

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Voices of Liberty

The America Gardens Theatre may get all the hype with big-name performers (such as Neil Patrick Harris, Rick Springfield and A Flock of Seagulls) taking over during Epcot's various festivals, but for an all-American show, head across the sidewalk to The American Adventure building. Inside, there's a moving musical show called Voices of Liberty. American history buffs will enjoy the a cappella group dressed in 1800s costumes. They sing under the rotunda, which provides near-perfect acoustics for patriotic songs. 

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Bijutsu-kan Gallery

There's no shortage of cute stuff at Walt Disney World, but if you want to learn about all things kawaii, take a stroll through the Bijutsu-kan Gallery in Epcot's Japan pavilion. Right up there with the coolest museums in the world, here you'll see displays of cosplay outfits, cute food and adorable plushes of favorite anime characters that will have you booking it across the pavilion to Mitsukoshi to buy your own Japanese merch.

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Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros

The Mexico pavilion in Epcot is hiding one of the best rides at Disney World: the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. This dark boat ride features Donald Duck's bird friends and bandmates, Jose Carioca and Panchito, as they travel across Mexico's famous landmarks to find Donald. The ride is funny, charming and features a song that will never leave your head. The best part? It's tucked in the very back of the pavilion, so it very rarely has long lines.

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Taking a boat to Magic Kingdom

Sure, you can take the monorail or a bus to Magic Kingdom, but the best way to get to a whole bunch of fun rides is to, well, take a fun ride. Ferries travel between Magic Kingdom and the Transportation and Ticket Center, but if you are staying at (or simply exploring) the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, Fort Wilderness or Wilderness Lodge, you can also take a water taxi to the theme park. The boats tend to be less crowded than the other modes of transportation, and the cool lakeside breeze sets you up for a stress-free Disney vacation.

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Resort hopping

You don't have to stay at one of the deluxe resorts to enjoy its atmosphere, dining, shopping or bars. Take a day off your theme park tickets and spend it bouncing around from resort to resort. Not only is this one of the best ways to save money at Disney World, it's seriously fun. Take some Instagram-worthy photos at Art of Animation after riding the Skyliner, grab a drink at the ridiculously fun tiki bar Trader Sam's at the Polynesian and eat some New Orleans specialties like jambalaya and beignets at Port Orleans. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/David Roark, photographer

Movies under the stars

Walt Disney World already feels like a place where movies come to life, but sometimes you just want to watch a classic Disney movie. Movies like "Aladdin," "Frozen" and "Sleeping Beauty" are screened most nights at most resort hotels. Time and location vary, but this relaxing, family-friendly activity is always free.

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Campfires and marshmallows

Not too far from all of the shiny rides at Magic Kingdom is the relaxing campground and RV park at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. Here, you will find a wide array of activities including Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long. This complimentary activity features campfire singalongs, a visit from Chip and Dale and movies under the stars. In addition to this event, other resorts such as Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary Resort, Saratoga Springs, Port Orleans and more also light campfires.

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Camping

In addition to campfires at Disney's Fort Wilderness, you can just go camping at this resort. Park your RV or pitch a tent to sleep among the pine trees, deer, rabbits and ducks at this picturesque site. Camping at Fort Wilderness is particularly ideal during the holidays, when guests will deck their camping areas with some seriously impressive lights. But that's just one of the many reasons you should visit Disney World during the holidays.

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Horseback riding and carriage rides

Fort Wilderness is a seriously underrated resort with tons of recreation options including archery, fishing, biking and horseback riding. Guests 9 and older can ride a horse through the lush woodland full of wildlife, and if riding a horse doesn't sound like fun, horse-drawn carriage rides are available as well. This leisurely activity is just one of the best things you can do at Disney World without a park ticket.

Courtesy of Disney

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness is one of America's longest-running dinner shows and a good ol' fashioned country hootenanny. This high-spirited vaudeville-style show is unlike anything you'll find nowadays, and the food is pretty darn good too. For $64 and up, you can have all-you-care-to-enjoy soda, beer, wine and sangria as well as a buffet of ribs, salad, baked beans, cornbread and fried chicken that rivals the best fried chicken in America.

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Disney's Boardwalk

If you're looking for one of those boardwalks that will send you back in time, well, go to Disney's Boardwalk. Attached to Disney's Boardwalk Inn, this area features classic boardwalk games, biking, dining, bars and dancing. And no Disney trip for the 21-plus crowd is complete without a stop at Jellyrolls, a festive piano bar with dueling pianos, singalongs and cocktails. 

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Animal watching at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge may be relatively far from Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, but it's worth checking out. This resort hotel has over 30 animal species like giraffes, gazelles, kudus and zebras roaming its grounds. Grab a classic cocktail at one of the hotel's five bars and take a stroll on the walking paths. You never know what beautiful creature you may stumble upon.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Preston Mack, photographer

Dining at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Don't just look at the animals at Animal Kingdom Lodge, be sure to eat while you're at this breathtaking resort hotel. The hotel features three table service restaurants: Boma, Jiko and Sanaa. Boma is a bustling buffet themed to an African marketplace. The stars of the menu here are the deeply flavorful and satisfying soups, which can include carrot-ginger soup, Ghanian oxtail stew, harira soup and more. Sanaa infuses African cooking with Indian flavors and boasts a deservedly much-hyped bread service; this must-get menu item features five breads and nine accompaniments (such as tamarind chutney, roasted red pepper hummus and cucumber raita). Perhaps the most high-end of these eateries is Jiko, where a wood-burning oven perfectly cooks the likes of a wild boar tenderloin appetizer and Moroccan lamb shank.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/David Roark, photographer

Mini golfing

If you enjoy miniature golfing with your family and are looking for a more budget-friendly activity at Walt Disney World, go to one of the resort's two mini-golf spots. Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf has two 18-hole courses. The gardens course has wonderous scenes ripped straight from "Fantasia," including water-squirting dancing broomsticks. Meanwhile, the fairways course is a genuine challenge, with holes that go up to par 5. Winter Summerland is one of those places where it's Christmas all the time with snow, Santa, elves and favorite Disney characters on two different 18-hole courses.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Mariah Wild, photographer

Water parks

Among the many ways that Disney World has changed since it opened is that it now has two water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Blizzard Beach is themed to a ski resort that has melted and features Summit Plummet, a 12-story body slide that is one of the tallest and fastest of its kind. Legend has it that Typhoon Lagoon is a town that was hit by a typhoon stranding the Miss Tilly boat and leaving the area around it in ruins. Here, you'll find North America's largest wave pool and Miss Adventure Falls, a raft ride with some serious splashes.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Kent Phillips, photographer

Swimming in the pools

One of the Disney World hacks everyone needs to know is that the best way to tackle the parks is to go early in the morning and late at night. In the middle of the afternoon, head back to your hotel and take a dip in one of the pools. Every resort hotel has several pools, and some have some seriously rad theming. Must-visit pools (at must-stay hotels) include Stormalong Bay, a 3-acre mini water park at the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts with a 230-foot-long waterslide; the Big Blue Pool at Art of Animation, which features giant set pieces of Nemo, Crush and other "Finding Nemo" favorites; and the Lost City of Cibola at Coronado Springs, which has replica Mayan ruins.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

Eating at Disney Springs

Disney Springs has a surprising number of celebrity chefs who have opened up great restaurants. Options here include Jose Andres' Jaleo, chef Art Smith's Homecomin', Rick Bayless' Frontera Cocina and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, among others. If you don't get that hard-to-land reservation at Jaleo, don't sweat it; just keep checking. Knowing to refresh your dining options over and over again is one of the Disney vacation planning secrets only insiders know.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney World/David Roark, photographer
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