My Disney Top 5 - Things I Surprisingly Haven't Done at Walt Disney Worldby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and well.
As we sail into August here in New York, Tropical Storm Isaias is barreling down on me as I write this, more than half of my town is without power, schools are preparing to reopen in whatever strange new way they can, my sons are getting ready to go away to college for the first time, there's been a rash of shark sightings at our ocean beaches here on Long Island and…I don't even think I have to comment on the craziness that seems to be happening everywhere else in this country. Weird times indeed. Right about now, I could use a good Walt Disney World fix to right my mood. We would probably have been there right about now. We typically go during July or August - and no, we're not crazy, it just usually works out to be the best time for us despite the Orlando swelter. We've especially been fans of late August when prices drop and the southern regions of the country head back to school resulting in some better prices and less crowds. That obviously didn't happen for the summer of 2020, but it was supposed to.
I can't really complain. We're all healthy and haven't experienced any real loss as compared to many other families out there. Still, our family vacation time is precious to us. We're doing our best here at home, but we were truly looking forward to heading to Walt Disney World this summer before our twin boys went off to college. Despite being there for an awesome long weekend in the fall of 2019, which included our first time to the amazing Galaxy's Edge, not to mention Mickey's Halloween party and the final night of Illuminations, I am definitely finding myself especially missing Disney this summer. I suppose with the last few months of insanity, I could use a little magic right now.
In the past few articles I've been talking about the things we'd do if we were able to go tomorrow, the restaurants we'd want to go eat in if we could right now, places we'd want to go if we could snap our fingers and just be there, and the things on my Walt Disney World bucket list that someday, if all things go well and I have some money to burn, I want to make sure I experience. That got me to thinking about the crazy fact that after all this time and all of our trips to Disney, there are still some pretty basic things that I just never seem to get the chance to experience. These aren't bucket list splurges like staying in a Polynesian bungalow on the Seven Seas Lagoon. These are things that everybody seems to do at some point in their Walt Disney World fandom, but we just haven't made it to yet. There's no particular reasons either. It's not like I've been avoiding things at Disney. I've had it in my mind to do everything there is to do in my favorite place but that's sometimes incredibly difficult. But it's all part of the charm of the place, so let's see what I'm missing with my Top 5 things I surprisingly haven't done at Walt Disney World. I crafted this list with the things I haven't done, and I'm not dying to do at the bottom, and the things I really want to do at the top.
5 - The Hall of Presidents
That's right. Opening day attraction. A Walt Disney World classic. A Disney classic. Not once have I set foot into the Hall of Presidents. How can that be? There are a few reasons. There's a line from an old favorite Dom Deluise movie called Fatso. His younger brother is trying to convince him to lose weight and he says to him, "The problem is you love bread, I don't love bread. I like bread." I can say the same thing about American history. I like American history. Of course I do. I'm interested in where we've been and where we're going with the great American experiment. Problem is, I just don't love American history enough to spend a half hour of my Magic Kingdom day listening to a history lesson about our presidents. Never mind the fact that - and this is not a political piece - there are several men in that ending roll call that I'm not particularly all that fond of. So why go in? Even though I never have the desire to make it into the hall, I did come close just once.
The Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square may be a Disney classic, but it's one of the few places in that park that I haven't set foot in. Photo by Donald Fink.
July 26th, 2018. My 50th birthday. There were 27 of us down in Walt Disney World for about 8-9 days of magic to celebrate my half century mark. My daughter's best friend Syd was along with us. Syd's like a fourth child to me. He had never been to Disney before and Syd? Syd LOVES bread and by bread I mean politics and American history. On our drives from New York to Vermont to go skiing, Syd would come along and plead to stop at museums and home sites of obscure political figures along the way. I, of course, denied his pleas. I did promise him that I would break my streak and go with him into the Hall of Presidents on my actual 50th birthday, a day which we intended to spend entirely in the Magic Kingdom as per my request. We saved it for later in the day and as we headed over to Liberty Square, lo and behold, it was closed. Not sure why, but it was an omen of sorts. It just wasn't meant to happen that day. It didn't happen on the rest of the trip either and quite honestly, I'm perfectly content with it not happening. Until they open something new, this is the only attraction in the Magic Kingdom that I haven't been to.
4 - Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue
This Fort Wilderness dinner show has been entertaining Walt Disney World guests since 1974. Think about that date for a moment. That's 46 years ago. There are only a handful of things you can do down there that have been continuously operating since the 1970's. It's one of the longest running dinner shows in the country and has played over 35,000 performances to over 10 million people. So, how is it that I haven't made it over there to check this out after all these years? Once again, as I said above, I don't really have a solid answer. Maybe it's the notion of buckets — literally metal buckets — full of fried chicken and beans for dinner? That doesn't sound all that bad actually but it's not on our typical menu for sure, even on vacation. Hoop Dee Doo also takes some effort. It's not terribly convenient to get to from the other Disney resorts. Although I do enjoy the boat ride over to Bay Lake from the Magic Kingdom. Then there's the price. It's a little pricey at $60-$70 a head for adults. I realize it's bottomless buckets of food, but that's at least $300 for the 5 of us.
The cornbread looks delicious, but it still hasn't gotten me over to Pioneer Hall for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Perhaps it's the whole dinner show thing? Despite staying at the Polynesian twice, I still haven't seen the luau either. Maybe it's just not my kind of thing. Despite it having a sort of legendary Disney status, i just haven't had the desire to spend the cash, make the trip and be away from all of the other stuff that we love so much. I'm not knocking it — I can't since I've never seen it — but I suspect I'd just assume spend another night walking around World Showcase, something I can never get enough of. Maybe someday I'll be the Walt Disney World completist and make my way over to Pioneer Hall, but for the time being, I'm alright with this one being off my list.
3 - Blizzard Beach
I've been skiing since I was four years old. i don't remember learning. As far as I know, I've always skied. It's a huge part of my life, always has been and always will be. I've spent my entire life on a island surrounded by water. I've swam, sailed, water skied, windsurfed, surfed, kayaked, tubed, fished and did any and everything associated with being on, in, or under the water my whole life. And, rather obviously, I love Disney and Walt Disney World. Let's take it one step further, we typically have traveled to Walt Disney World in August and we all know what that means weather and temperature-wise. So…why is it that when the company and vacation destination I love most builds a park combining snow, water sports and a guaranteed way to escape the Orlando summer swelter…I stay away? It makes no sense. We've been to Typhoon Lagoon to see the awesome wave pool. We had a great afternoon there. But that was it. We've never gone back and we've never been to Blizzard Beach and we do actually like going to water parks.
The whole skiing theme appeals to me and yet, the top of Mt. Gushmore at Blizzard Beach always seems out of reach to me. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Here's the thing, though. When I go to Walt Disney World, I need…Peter Pan's Flight. I need The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain. I can't wait to be in World Showcase or in Pandora or most recently Galaxy's Edge. These are things I can't do anywhere else and they are things that scream Disney to me. One of the consistently top ranked water parks in the country, Splish Splash, is about an hour from my house. An extra half hour in the other direction will bring us to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in New Jersey which is a pretty great water park as well. No, they're not Disney water parks which take the medium and inject it with a combination of creative steroids and undefinable Disney magic. But I have to tell you, I'd just rather spend my day in one of the four parks or relaxing at my Disney resort. I can do great water parks at home. I can't fly over London on a pirate ship, or climb Everest, or pilot the Millennium Falcon at home, so I'll skip the water parks for now. That said, I put this dead center on the list because there's a part of me that wants to see what the Imagineers did with Blizzard Beach in person, so maybe some day, when I'm there for a nice long 10 day vacation, I'll kill a morning over in Blizzard Beach.
2 - The France and China Films
I absolutely adore Epcot and, more than Epcot itself, I adore World Showcase. We tend to stay at the Yacht Club for several reasons, one of which is being able to walk right into World Showcase and stay there as long as possible knowing that home is only a short walk away. I don't really favor any one of the eleven nations more than the other. I'm quite fond of both the France and China pavilions. I'm a big fan of the crepes and Grand Marnier slush from the kiosks in France out by World Showcase Lagoon as well as breakfast from Les Halles Boulangerie on a quiet morning.
This gargoyle is in the central waiting area of Impressions de France; the 20 minute film in Epcot's France pavilion which continues to elude me. It was constructed from a casting made from one of the actual gargoyles at Notre Dame in Paris. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
I love walking around the reflecting ponds in China and gazing up in wonder at the incredible Temple of Heaven. I just haven't gotten around to seeing the films in each pavilion.
Beyond the domed ceiling inside the Hall of Prayer is the waiting area for the movie, Reflections of China. I've been inside the dome many times, but not the theater for the film. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
I'm going to sort of cop out and blame my kids for this. When you go to Walt Disney World with three kids in tow, stopping to see the films in Epcot never seemed to present itself as a viable option. I could never get them to sit and watch the Norway film after going on Maelstrom and the only time I saw O' Canada was when my wife and I were there on our grown-ups only trip. I suppose that was the time to hit the other films but, we just never got around to it. We did other grown up things like dining upstairs at what was then Bistro de Paris in France or shopping for hidden treasures at the House of Good Fortune in China. Unlike the previous three experiences on my list, I actually want to go see these films one day so, hopefully, on our next trip I'll tick them off the list.
1 - 'Ohana
I've been chasing a reservation at 'Ohana since we started going together as a family 17 years ago. There are other Disney classics that I still haven't eaten in. Le Cellier in Epcot comes to mind, as does The Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios. But 'Ohana and being in Walt Disney World just seems like a natural fit. I mean the restaurant's name means family for crying out loud. 'Ohana has been open at the Polynesian since 1995 and has been one of the most popular restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. I want to try 'Ohana. I've tried many, many times to go there. We've stayed at the Polynesian twice and couldn't score a reservation either time for breakfast or dinner. We've actually had reservations twice on other trips and both times had to cancel them.
This view is the closest I can seem to get to dining at 'Ohana. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
One time, during the Year of a Million Dreams, we were on our way out of the Judge's Tent in Toontown after meeting Mickey Mouse himself and we were surprised with Dream Fastpasses for all five members of the family. This immediately changed our early dinner plans for 'Ohana. We called ahead and cancelled and spent the rest of the day and evening using FastPasses for every single attraction in the park. Keep in mind that, at the time, the kids were too young for Big Thunder, Splash and Space Mountain so my wife and I got to split 5 passes for each of them! Worth missing dinner at 'Ohana? Absolutely. The other time I have no idea why we cancelled. Our plans changed and I remember not believing I was actually going to cancel yet another 'Ohana reservation — one of the only two I could ever score mind you! I want the pineapple bread and the wings and the skewers of freshly grilled meats and the view of the fireworks off in the distance and the ukulele player and the coconut races. At this point, it's a quest and someday I will get there and it better be worth the wait.
As you can see, these are just a few classic Walt Disney World experiences that I just can't seem to either put under my belt or I don't really care enough to put under my belt. Don't get me wrong. I think someday I'll make it over to Fort Wilderness and check out Hoop Dee Doo and I'm hoping to go back with Syd and suffer through the Hall of Presidents - with you and you only Syd! I'm sure I'll make it to Blizzard Beach and into the World Showcase films. One of these days the Disney tiki gods will shine on me and I'll make it back to the Poly for a dinner upstairs at 'Ohana. All things considered, I've done a ton of things throughout Walt Disney World and I consider myself lucky that these few things are some of the only experiences still on my list to hit.
The wonderful thing is there are new things to look forward to as well. I've been to Galaxy's Edge but haven't made it onto Rise of the Resistance yet. I can't wait for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. Ratatouille and Tron are coming soon and maybe someday I'll actually have a steak and some cheddar cheese soup at Le Cellier. All things considered, when I look back at this list, it's not too bad. It's not like I've never been on Test Track or Big Thunder Mountain or anything like that. Am I missing anything by not experiencing these 5 things? I'm not so sure. I seem to have been having a pretty amazing time at Disney all these years even though I haven't been in the Hall of Presidents or been called upon for audience Participation at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. Consider it this way. My favorite attraction is Peter Pan's Flight. It's 2 minutes long. That means I could ride Peter Pan 12 times in the same amount of time it takes me to sit through the Hall of Presidents presentation once. At least from this writer's point of view, that's not even a discussion. Peter and Tink will win every time.
That's all for this time. As always I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, let me know your thoughts on this list and share the things that you still haven't gotten to do at Walt Disney World. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
We have not done:
4. Not our type of food; while on vacation we tend to do all signatures, nor our type of entertainment.
3. We don’t do water parks.
All the rest we’ve done and enjoyed, although ‘Ohana was a one and we’re done kind of place for us.
Thanks for your lists.
I've only been to Disney World twice, and I have managed to do almost all of those things. I haven't done Ohana or seen the China film.
That being said, I don't really remember the France film all that well, but I got a great picture of the kids next to the gargoyle statue. I fell asleep at Hall of Presidents. Didn't spend a lot of time at Blizzard Beach, and I chickened out of doing the really big slide. I really did enjoy Hoop Dee Doo though. The food was good and the show was entertaining.
5. I've been to the HOP several times over the years, though not during the current administration, and love it, but then I love history.
4. Saw HDD when I was teenager on a school trip. It was fun but I don't need to go back.
3. I'm not interested in water parks so I've never been to BB. Many years ago I walked around Typhoon Lagoon just to see it but that is as close as I have ever come.
2. I think both films are beautiful and have seen them several times, though not on every trip.
1. Never been to Ohana, though I have been to the luau and I'm told the food is similar. Wouldn't mind checking it out someday, but it isn't a priority.
The only thing I can think of that I have never done but would like to, is staying at a deluxe resort. I've stayed at value and moderate resorts but just can't seem to justify the expense of a deluxe for the amount of time I spend there. Maybe someday for a special occasion, though I am afraid I'll get spoiled and won't want to go back to the less pricey resorts!
I unfortunately have not been to WDW in 7 years (for various reasons), but have been going to Disneyland instead (only 400 miles away from me!); that being said, I had visited WDW approximately 16 times before then, with all but one visit just being me & my hubby. Since we go so seldom, we spend up to 7 days at WDW spaced out over a couple of weeks. Since it's always been just adults, I've luckily done everything on your list (hubby is a big fan of the water parks), although it's been decades since we saw HDD (too remote and expensive!).
I think we have done everything we wanted to do that was open before 2013 (although I always had wanted to eat inside King Stephan's Hall)...now there is tons of things to experience the next time we FINALLY get there...Galaxy's Edge (although at least we have that out here!) and Pandora to name two!
Your very welcome.
I just want the chance for 'Ohana to be once and we're done, but it keeps eluding me.
Hey jerm. We need to get you to WDW more often!! Hopefully someday soon!
I have to say, I was extremely satisfied with our moderate experiences - Caribbean Beach 2x, French Quarter 1x, Riverside 5x. As you can see, we really loved Riverside. It became our go to resort. And then we caught a 40% off deal and stayed at The Yacht Club. Boy oh boy. You're right. It is tough to go back. The deluxe resorts are beautiful, more spacious and we love, love having a balcony. Plus you just can't beat walking into Epcot from the BoardWalk resorts. That's a trip changer. We have done the Poly, Wilderness, BoardWalk and many times Yacht. Love the Yacht Club most. That said, I have returned to Caribbean Beach once and Riverside once when it was just my sons and I and I didn't need the extra space. Still loved them both. Stayed at All Stars when I was a chaperone with a class trip. I really couldn't fit there with my family of 5 so I don't see myself headed back but we had a great time there. Any Disney resort is better than none at all.
Jeez Pammer...you have a TON of new stuff to see and enjoy. I hope that opportunity comes sooner than later.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
Um, after reading this it seems to me that you are a communist (No hall of Presidents) and you hate to have fun (no Blizzard Beach)
I am so sorry. Painful to read after all the good columns prior....
“Here's the thing, though. When I go to Walt Disney World, I need…Peter Pan's Flight. I need The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain.” This statement fits me perfectly and major reason I usually skip 5 items on your list plus water parks, Disney Springs, recreational activities, frequent table service meals, or Wide World of Sports.
5. HOP – I do this show infrequently. Although I enjoy American history and I am patriotic but Disney trips are escapism for me including tuning out politics and avoiding reminders of sad events in our past. The main reason for visiting HOP is the audio animatronics. I love the details of the AA Presidents plus curiosity when there is addition of a new President AA, regardless of political affiliation.
4. HDDMR – Fun show, nice atmosphere, and delicious food but not a “must do” because of high prices and inconvenience of transportation.
3. BB – Well done and well themed waterpark but my choice of waterparks is Typhoon Lagoon because of Crush N Gusher and TL version of the wave pool. I haven't done BB or TL in over 10 years.
2. France/China Films – Its been over 15 years since I’ve seen either film in person. I watch the films occasionally via fan videos on YouTube. Although I like both films, I skip them because I am guaranteed to get uncomfortably drowsy or even fall asleep.
1. Ohana (dinner only) – Fun atmosphere and abundance of delicious foods but not in a rush to go back since it is pricey. I would eat here again if I am staying at Poly and confined to dining at Poly.
Here is my 5 in no order:
1. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – I always collect the free cards for souvenirs but I have never attempted it.
2. Liberty Tree Tavern, Tony’s Town Square, and Cinderella Royal Table – I spend the bulk of my WDW trips inside the MK and I have eaten at all MK establishments but I have never stepped foot in either of these 3 restaurants.
3. Fantasmic – I’ve only seen the Disneyland version. Historically, we spend only one morning at DHS on a week long WDW trip. The very few nights I’ve been to DHS, we missed Fantasmic because of late dining, Fantasmic was super crowded or chose Jingle Bam instead.
4. Updated Star Tours/Mission Space Green – I’ve been on the original ST and MS:Orange. I usually try a new or an updated attraction at least once but both the original ST and MSO made me nauseous therefore no rush to try the updated/alternate versions.
5. Coral Reef – I have dined at all World Showcase countries plus Garden Grill and frequented Living Seas/Seas with Nemo but I barely know where CR is located in the Seas.
5. Hall of Presidents: I've done this a fair number of times over the years, but it may have been several vacation trips before I got around to it for the first time.
4. Hoop Dee Doo : I've never been over to Fort Wilderness yet. We considered this (or the Luau at Poly) on a family trip about 6 years ago, but decided against both of them due to the long duration (my nieces were 5 and 6 at the time, so patience was a concern.)
3. Blizzard Beach : I'm not even a pool person, so you can imagine where I am on this. . I've been very near it to go mini-golfing at Winter Summerland a few times.
2. France/China Films : I've seen them both, but certainly don't prioritize any of the films on any given trip. In general it's more like "hey I've got time and it's been a long time since I've seen this" type of decision to go in and watch the films. I might make an exception and seek one out when I know something is recently updated.
1. 'Ohana : I've done this twice. Once on the family trip, and then once solo. The solo trip I had a very good angle to view the MK fireworks, so that was cool.
For myself, if I start counting up all restaurants in each park and resort, it would be a really big list! . I've done quite a few, but there are just so many! (which is my normal response to the servers when they always end with the "we hope you come back soon" ending of the meal. As great as anything may be, I want to try a variety over the years. Not to say I don't do repeats, I certainly do for favorites.)
1) MK : As crazy as this sounds, I'm not sure I've ever ridden any of the Main Street vehicles from the front to the hub. I've also never been on Magic Carpets of Aladdin. Nor have I done anything for Sorcerers (might have one card that I forget how I got it).
2) Epcot: I've never sat through Turtle Talk with Crush, but that's basically something to entertain the little kids, right? I visit the aquariums at The Seas quite regularly, just never was in the area where they do this when it was going on.
3) DHS: It's relatively new, but I forgot to check out Lightning McQueen's Racing Academy so far. It's on the list of "check it out next time", whenever next time ends up being. I also haven't done Rise of the Resistance yet. It wasn't open yet during my last solo trip, and didn't try for the craziness of doing the whole boarding party routine when I was there with my mom for a few days before Christmas (she would not have had a huge interest (we were there to mostly enjoy the Christmas offerings), and It would have made the day WAY too complicated if I got up early and obtained a boarding group for myself and then had to organize the rest of our shared day around that one thing).
4) DAK: I've never done Triceratops Spin.
5) Disney Springs: I've never done the Balloon ride, and I'd really like to (formerly Characters in flight, I forget what it's named now). I've also never done the Amphibious Cars, but that's more of a "maybe" than "I want to make sure to do it some trip".
6) General: While this is a personal preference in vacation mode of operation, I've never been on a regular Disney bus (Magical Express or transportation between resorts/parks). I generally am more comfortable with the flexibility of driving around to get from place to place. Though I will use Monorails and Friendship Boats (or walk/Skyliner for EPC to DHS) if I'm in one park and want to temporarily go to another and return to where I started. I did purchase the "Express Transportation" pass they did a trial of I think 3 years ago (a park to park bus that dropped you beyond the front gate so you didn't need to go through security each time you hopped - that bus I loved!)
Maxbuffmelvin, I would not worry about Mission Space Green. It is FAR milder than Orange. None of the spinning that makes Orange so intense with the G-Forces.
In general, I think a lot of the responses demonstrate that no matter a restaurant reputation/difficulty to get am ADR, etc, it's highly dependent on general likes/dislikes. One person's "one and done" can be favorites for others. For me, the "one and done" that many people rave about is Boma for dinner. I did it once, and while I did not dislike it, I wasn't into it enough that I feel the need to return anytime in the immediate future.
Responding to Dave1313’s Top 5:
1.MK: I also have never ridden a Main St Vehicle. I just prefer to walk and take in the sights and sounds. I’ve never played Sorcerers. Zero interest. I might play it if I were with someone who wanted to do it. Magic Carpets was one and done. I hate that this attraction has ruined the look and atmosphere of classic Adventureland.
2. Turtle Talk- one and done.
3. DAK: Never done Triceratop Spin either. No interest.
4.DS: We did the balloon at night and would like to do it in the day sometime.
5. General: We never take a car so we are hostages to the bus system. We do love the Skyliner.
PS: Boma is the only buffet we go to and usually we do it every visit!😝 Which proves your point!
I need to get to one of the resorts some day...after Covid though. My son and masks do not mix.