When I think back on all of the memories that my family and I have accumulated in Disney theme parks, I’m often surprised about what the most memorable moments turn out to be. They aren’t what you expect when planning your first vacation, though you would be forgiven for assuming that a slow-motion recollection of floating through the air on Dumbo would be one of them. Instead, the moments that stick with me are much more unique than what you expect from the promotional videos seen in that coveted planning DVD I used to hang out for back in the day before it was released on the internet.
I mention memories a lot in my articles, mainly because that is what these Disney vacations are all about. Sure, we enjoy the rides and the thrills, the food and the music, but those moments are fleeting. What’s left in the vast aftermath of the few days we spend on site is the time you’ve spent with family and friends, forming bonds, connecting, and making memories. That is where the magic really happens; in the moments recorded in our minds for a lifetime. And it’s in that beauty that I’ve noticed my own memories aren’t embedded in the trilling drop of (what was) Splash Mountain or the unpredictable twists of Kali River Rapids. No. They are threaded in the smaller moments.
If you are planning a family vacation, the once-in-a-lifetime kind that might never be matched, do not overlook the smaller offerings that Disney can make that sometimes get lost in the E-ticket attractions. Those super popular rides often come with long wait times. Sometimes that time is better spent elsewhere enjoying a show or meeting characters, doing things others might skip. Here are twelve Disney experiences you shouldn’t miss if you are looking for moments of connection with your family.
Festival of The Lion King – Animal Kingdom
The Festival of the Lion King is one of many throughout Walt Disney World that are produced at an exceptional level, but there is something about the way the performers are encircled by the audience that makes it feel more intimate. Watching this one with the whole family will be something you will never forget.
Build Your Own Lightsaber or Droid – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Building your own Lightsaber or Droid in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a fantastic way to make some stand-out memories if you have any Star Wars fans at home. Way better than simply buying one off the shelf; the experience itself is part of the fun. And if that wasn’t enough, you take your work home with you as the ultimate souvenir.
Kilimanjaro Safaris – Animal Kingdom
Okay, so this one is actually a ride, but it’s a ride of a different kind. The slow-moving Kilimanjaro Safari tour is a wonderful experience and an excellent way for families to see some special animals in a way you never have before.
Plaza Ice Cream Parlor – Magic Kingdom
Something as simple as an ice cream cone can be a perfect way to reset and enjoy something unique. It’s a bit cliché, but ice cream is the sort of special treat you would expect to see in a movie where a family is visiting a theme park. However, it’s a cliché for a reason. It’s a classic! Take a moment to reflect on the day so far and sit down for a cold refreshment.
Aerophile – Disney Springs
Have you ever seen the Walt Disney World Resort from the sky? The answer is likely no. When visiting Disney Springs, catch a hot air balloon and take to the skies for an UP!-style view of the surrounding area. The photos you get will be different from anyone else’s. This short ride will surely be one of the most memorable things you will do.
Explore Cinderella Castle & Cinderella’s Royal Table – Magic Kingdom
Everyone has a photo outside Cinderella Castle, but the inside is just as beautiful, with the extra touch of making you feel like it was made just for you. The stained glass windows and subtle decorations are lovely to wander past as you make your way up to Cinderella’s Royal Table, where high ceilings and grand rooms bring your fairytale to life.
Pandora at Night – Animal Kingdom
If you want to see something that will take your breath away, be sure to visit Pandora at night while you are in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The effect of bioluminescence is something spectacular that you’ll never see any other way when this land of adventure awakens as the night sky appears.
Experience a Dessert Party
A dessert party is a great way to sample many delicious Disney sweet treats while enjoying time with your loved ones. Often offered as part of a nighttime show or fireworks package, you might also be able to skip the queue and enjoy prime seating for the second part of your evening.
Pull the Sword in the Stone – Magic Kingdom
A classic part of Fantasyland that is often overlooked. Be sure to stop by the Sword in the Stone and try your luck at pulling it out. Legend has it; it can be done, and wouldn’t that be a story you would never forget in the years to come? Give it a try on your next visit.
The “Kiss Goodnight” – Magic Kingdom
When the day is done and the park has nearly emptied, visit Cinderella Castle as it offers one last glimmer of enchantment with a Kiss Goodnight. About 30 minutes before the park closes, the music swells with When You Wish Upon A Star, as Magic Kingdom whispers goodnight to guests before they leave for the day.
Enjoy a Character Meal
Never will my son forget the day when Stitch stole his pancake. Above all other memorable moments from that particular trip, our vacation was made by enjoying the antics of the characters we met at our breakfast. Hugs with Mickey, shenanigans with pluto, and pancake stealing with Stitch. If you have never done it before, don’t miss a character meal.
Watch Fantasmic! – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
If you are in Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a night when Fantasmic! is playing, be sure to make time to see it. This show-on-water is a stunning culmination of Disney storytelling filled with music, characters, and lights that will give your family an unforgettable experience.
Those are just a few of my favorite memory-making experiences that you can find at the Walt Disney World Resort. What is your favorite thing to do with family and friends that made for an unforgettable moment?
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.