Chilling Out at Walt Disney Worldby Jeff Kober, contributing writer
You don't pay the kind of money you pay to get into a theme park at the Walt Disney World resort, simply to sit around and do nothing. If you're like many people, you're planning all of the different rides and attractions you want to enjoy. I remember doing this, especially as a kid when I was going to Disneyland. I had it down to a science as to how I would spend each ticket in my coupon book, and I learned which attractions to do at what time, so I didn't wait too long in line. I was going to max out my stay.
And then came my first visit to the Hungry Bear Restaurant. More than a counter-service location, this place has a beauty all of its own. And I soon found that just kicking back and watching the boats passing along the Rivers of America took me to a place I still remember today. I try to stop there whenever I'm back at Disneyland Park.
So what about Walt Disney World? This resort has been likened to the Disneyland Resort on steroids. And, with millions passing through each year, there's reason to feel that way. Still, there are corners in the parks that are really quite tranquil and enjoyable and I've listed my top 10. The qualification is that it is a place to sit back and enjoy--without paying an additional price. For instance, I would note that eating on the patio at San Angel Inn Restaurante in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot is a wonderful treat, but you will pay for the real estate. The choices here are ones you can grab at any time without paying additionally for it beyond the price of theme park admission.
10. Storybook Land Upper Terrace. This is the newest quiet spot in the Magic Kingdom. I must say there are several niches in the New Fantasyland where you can sit back and enjoy. But with construction still going on, it's hard to see the complete picture. This is also the largest of the spaces to relax. Part of it is beneath the yellow tent, but there are also some areas out in the sun looking down on Casey Jr.'s Splash 'N' Soak. If you have younger children who want to play, you can pretty much enjoy your time sitting back while keeping an eye on them. Small snack stands surround this setting, but I would suggest grabbing a treat inside Big Top Souvenirs before taking a seat.
9. The Patio at Tomorrowland Terrace. Sometimes Disney management gets really possessive of this space, using it for dessert parties and the like. And it doesn't help when the counter service restaurant isn't open. Still, the views are lovely and there's usually plenty of space to find a seat. The patios off of Cosmic Rays and even the dock landing from the former Swan Boats aren't too bad as well.
8. Victoria Gardens. What a gorgeous location. This would be higher on my list but there aren't very many places to pull up a seat. And with a Kidcot area at the exit to O Canada, you can let them enjoy the crafts while you grab a stool and take in the view. Again, if nothing else, meander through this and the accompanying Rocky Mountain cascade falls nearby. If it's rainy, it's not a bad thing to grab a bench inside the queue for O' Canada.
7. Animal Kingdom Backside Trail. The trail between Africa and Asia has a little meandering path on the side that follows over a little brook. It's perhaps the most beautiful of locations. The challenge is that it has gone back and forth from being a smoking area to being a non-smoking area. I have no problem with those who choose to smoke, it's just that some of the best locations in the parks for chilling are now smoking areas. The other challenge is that this space also goes back and forth from having chairs and benches to not having them. Still if you do nothing else than meander through, it will be worth it.
6. Magic Kingdom Rocking Chairs. It's one thing to have a seat. It's another thing to enjoy a rocking chair. The Magic Kingdom is wonderful in providing many of these along the porch at Town Square Theater. Get there early before a parade, and you won't regret it. For intimacy, there's a small nook that adjoins The Hall of Presidents. But you'll be fortunate to find a moment when someone isn't occupying it.
5. Tomorrowland Transit Authority. So far I've only described locations with park benches and/or tables. Describing a ride is very much a departure, but, in Tomorrowland, the TTA is a great way to literally get above it all. You see Tomorrowland from every perspective without having to walk around. It's very casual, and, sometimes, when the crowds aren't crazy (early in the day or late at night) you can ask the cast member on duty to just stay on board and ride it again.
4. Rainforest Cafe Patio. One of the many hidden treats at Disney's Animal Kingdom is actually outside the park. Most people are familiar with the Rainforest Cafe. Few know about the back patio area that borders the restaurant and the park itself. Just hang a hard right as you exit Oasis. Sometimes—but not often enough—there is an open stand for drinks and snacks. Just grab something on Discovery Island and simply enjoy your final moments in the park sitting back. Or, use this as a meeting place for entering the park. You'll find there is practically no line at the queue to enter.
3. Echo Lake Terrace. My biggest complaint about a park that I truly love is that Disney's Hollywood Studios does not have enough little places to sit and watch the world go by. Still, twilight around Echo Lake is really serene. I love the tables and chairs on the west side, but there are benches to be found along the east side, as well. Grab a light refreshment from Min and Bill's Dockside Diner, and you're completely set. It's a great place to camp out while others choose to do some last-minute shopping along Hollywood and Sunset boulevards.
2. World Showcase Cafes. Anywhere along World Showcase is a great place to stop and watch the world go by. But there are several eateries along World Showcase that provide a nice little respite. Tangierine Cafe in Morocco; Kringla Bakeri og Cafe in Norway; and the new patio at La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico are not just great eateries, but they provide a nice place to enjoy the outdoors and the views—even if you don't get something to eat. All of these places can be found along the promenade, which allows you to people-watch as you kick back. For pure respite, there isn't anything quite like the patio at Katsura Grill in Japan, which is set against a beautiful garden filled with ponds, koi fish, and bonsai creations.
1. The Dock on Tom Sawyer Island. Go figure that my No. 1 location would be around the Rivers of America. But this time, we're taking a break from the island side. Many are familiar with the veranda-style seating near old Aunt Polly's, facing Liberty Square. But my preference is on the other side of the island in a little dock-side location that overlooks Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the open wilderness. Here you'll find not only chairs, but a checkerboard game. It takes a raft ride to get here, but when you're ready to have a vacation from your vacation in the theme parks, this is the place to go.
Do you enjoy kicking back at any of these places? Or is there a place you enjoy that we haven't listed? Share yours, and be sure that the next time you're between E-ticket adventures, that you take time to stop and smell the roses. After all, it is a park.