Any links in this post to a merchant may contain an affiliate link, which means that if you click on that link and then buy something, I may earn a commission from it. However, all opinions in this link are 100% mine and 100% honest. If I didn't believe in a particular product, I wouldn't recommend it to you.
There are so many things to do at Disney World that it is impossible to do it all in one trip. Additionally, some of the greatest things to see and do at Disney World are off the beaten path which makes them even easier to miss. To make sure you experience the best that Disney World has to offer, here are 7 of the best hidden gems at Disney World. (Updated July 1, 2020.)
Harmony Barber Shop
Looking for a special experience for your child’s first haircut? Want an haircut in an old-fashioned barber shop? Then step into the Harmony Barber Shop.
The Harmony Barber Shop is near the Fire Station in the Magic Kingdom’s Town Square just after you enter the park. Inside, it looks like a turn-of-the-century barbershop.
From the moment you walk in, you can tell this is a special place for a haircut. And if you’re lucky, the Dapper Dans, Disney’s barbershop quartet, will perform while you are there.
All ages are welcome here, but the specialty at Harmony Barber Shop is “Baby’s 1st Haircut.” They really go above and beyond to make sure that first haircut is a happy experience for every child.
For a first haircut, your baby will be treated to Mickey Mouse stickers, confetti, bubbles, or some other type of “entertainment” during the experience. Afterwards, your little one will be presented with a certificate commemorating the occasion and a pair of mouse ears which say “First Haircut.”
We had my son’s first haircut here and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. It was awesome and worth every penny! Norma, the barber, was so good with him! She took her time and made sure he was calm the whole time. She saved his first locks for me without even being asked.
Haircuts at Harmony Barber Shop are $19 for adults, $18 for children, and $25 for first haircuts. You can make an appointment in advance on Disney’s website. They will also accept walk-ins.
Tom Sawyer Island
Tom Sawyer Island is literally an island in the Rivers of America in the Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland. To get there, you must take a raft from the dock near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Once there, kids can explore this Mark Twain era playground. The island is full of trails, caves, bridges, a water wheel, and even a fort! From the upper levels of the fort, kids can shoot toy guns out of lookout slits at the Big Thunder Mountain trains zooming by on the other side of the river.
There are also little areas around the island to play checkers or just sit and enjoy the view. It is usually not very crowded on the island, so it is a great place to get away from the masses. It’s one of my favorite places to let kids burn off some energy.
My son can’t get enough of Tom Sawyer Island! He loves playing there.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Next on our list of the best hidden gems at Disney World is Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Part of the fun of Rafiki’s is just getting there. You can only reach it by taking the Wildlife Express Train from the back of Africa, near Kilimanjaro Safari’s.
Once you arrive at the train station, you must walk down a trail past several educational exhibits which teach kids about conservation. At the end of the trail is the Conservation Station and Affection Section. Affection Section is an outdoor petting zoo.
Inside the Conservation Station, you have several opportunities to learn about animal science, nutrition, and how they care for the animals at Disney World. You can also have an up close encounter with a small animal if you are lucky.
One of the highlights of this area is the window into one of the veterinary exam rooms where the Animal Kingdom veterinary staff provide care to the animals that live at the park. You never know what you may see in the vet clinic! The last time we were there, they were giving a frog a check-up!
There are sometimes character meet-and-greets out at Rafiki’s too. Because it is off-the-beaten path, the lines for these characters, including Rafiki, are never long. And some large animal cut-outs scattered throughout make for fun photo ops.
The Conservation Station is a great place to cool off and get away from the crowds. This is a must-do on all of our visits to Animal Kingdom.
Kids will enjoy becoming a Wilderness Explorer (like Russell in the movie Up!) at Animal Kingdom. To get started, pick up an official field guide at the Wilderness Explorers Headquarters located on the bridge between the Oasis and Discovery Island at the front of Animal Kingdom.
As you explore the various areas of the park, your kids can complete challenges to earn wilderness explorer badges. There are over 30 sticker badges in all. The challenges are all easy to complete and educational at the same time.
For example, to earn the music badge, your child must play the drums in Africa. In Dinoland USA, they can earn a badge by learning about dinosaur fossils.
This is another activity that my son loved! Unfortunately, we didn’t start this until our last day. So, he was only able to earn about 10 badges before we had to leave. He learned a lot in a short amount of time though! This kept him engaged and opened his eyes to a lot of details throughout the park.
Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
There are two miniature golf courses at Disney World: Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens. We have tried Winter Summerland twice now. We love it! I can’t believe we didn’t do it earlier! It is such a nice break from the parks.
Winter Summerland is next to Blizzard Beach Water Park. There are two 18-hole courses here: one winter themed and one summer themed. All of the holes are cleverly designed. The winter side is filled with snow, igloos, and ice hockey. The summer side has sand, water, and surfboards.
It’s never too crowded at Winter Summerland. The staff does a great job of spreading out the start times of parties, so that you never feel rushed or that you are rushing the people in front of you. If you book a vacation package from Disney, you will receive vouchers for a free round of mini golf for 4 people in your party. Who doesn’t love free mini golf?!?!
Animal Viewing Areas at Animal Kingdom Lodge
If you have read our article about the animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris, you know we love looking at animals. To see more animals, head over the Animal Kingdom Lodge for another hidden gem of Disney World. The back doors of the lobby open up to the animal viewing areas on the savannah there at the lodge.
This is a different savannah than you see on the safari ride. There is quite a bit of room here to view the animals. And you can stay as long as you like.
You can see giraffes, zebras, ostriches, gazelles, Watusi cattle, and many others. Even if you are not staying at the lodge, it is worth it to travel over there to take a look for any animal lover. You can get there on Disney Transportation.
Animal Trails at Animal Kingdom
Speaking of animal watching, another hidden gem at Disney World is all of the animal trails in Animal Kingdom. Unlike zoos, the animal exhibits here are tucked away down little pathways and trails, giving them some peace from all the crowds.
There are two main trails: Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. The Maharajah Jungle Trek is in Asia and features excellent viewing of bats, tigers, birds, and other animals.
Meanwhile, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is in Africa. The stars of this trail are, of course, the gorillas. There are a few different areas to view them.
Both of these trails made our list of the most magical must-do’s in Animal Kingdom. (Also check out our magical must-do’s in Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot’s Future World, and Epcot’s World Showcase.)
In addition to these two trails, there are also lots of little pathways off the main walkways that will lead you to animal exhibits. You will find several of them around the Tree of Life. It is also fun to take a break from running from ride to ride and watch the animals on these paths.
There you have it: seven of the best hidden gems at Disney World. Not only are they entertaining things to do, but they provide a nice break from the crowds. I hope you take time to discover these hidden gems at Disney World on your next trip.