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. This means it’s easy to overlook some of the best things. 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. Here are 7 of the best hidden gems at Disney World that you should not miss on your next trip. (Updated February 27, 2020.)
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 that this is a special place for a haircut. If you’re lucky, the Dapper Dans, Disney’s barbershop quartet, will perform while you get your ears lowered.
All ages are welcome here, but their specialty is “Baby’s 1st Haircut.” For a first haircut, baby will be treated to Mickey Mouse stickers, confetti, bubbles, or some other type of “entertainment” during the experience. Afterwards, baby 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! He was calm the whole time. She saved his first locks and wrapped them up for me too.
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. On our last trip, my son couldn’t get enough of Tom Sawyer Island! He made us promise to take him to the island on every future trip.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
The most remote area of Animal Kingdom is Rafiki’s Planet Watch. You can only reach it by taking the Wildlife Express Train from the back of Africa, near Kilimanjaro Safari’s. Once you arrive, you 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 upclose encounter with a small animal at times too. One of the highlights of this area is the window into one of the veterinary exam rooms where the Animal Kingdom veterinary staff works on 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 putting a frog under so they could give him a check-up!
There are sometimes character meet-and-greets out here too. Because it is off-the-beaten path, the lines for these characters, including Rafiki, are never long. Some large animal cut-outs 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 but educational at the same time. For 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! 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 too! This kept him engaged and opened his eyes to a lot of the details in 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. We all really enjoy it!
Winter Summerland is next to Blizzard Beach Water Park. There are two 18-hole courses here: one winter themed and one summer themed. This is where Santa and the elves come when it’s not Christmas time. Christmas music plays throughout the course. 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 never seems too crowded here either. 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. If you also enjoy it, then you have to make a trip to Animal Kingdom Lodge. 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. 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 off the beaten paths.
There you have it: seven of the best hidden gems at Disney World. We try to do all of these on every trip. Not only are they entertaining things to do, but they are usually not that crowded. I hope you take time to discover these hidden gems at Disney World on your next trip. For more ideas on what to do in the parks, see our magical must-do’s for kids. Need help planning your trip? Read our step-by-step guide, best resources, and quick tips. Happy travels!
P.S. Want more help planning your next Disney World trip? You can find a Disney trip planning worksheet, a packing list, and several other tools in our Travel Resource Library. See the box below to find out how to get the password for access.