The Orlando theme parks of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort offer some of the greatest attractions in the world, but there's more to explore than just the rides. Sometimes taking a detour off the beaten path can uncover new places to discover, and unlock opportunities for your family to create new memories that'll last a lifetime. Here are some of the best hidden areas worth exploring in the Orlando theme parks.
Tom Sawyer Island at Disney’s Magic Kingdom
The greatest place to have a little adventure at Magic Kingdom, no matter your age, is Tom Sawyer Island. Set in the center of the Rivers of America, you must first take a log raft across the river to get on the island. Once there, you'll be immersed in the world of Mark Twain's classic stories. Wander across creaky suspension bridges and explore secret caves filled with stalagmites and strange fossils – if you're brave enough! Then climb onto an old fort and early pioneering settlement with a watch tower, stables, blacksmith shop and even an escape tunnel. The wooden mill offers panoramic views of Frontierland you won't be able to see anywhere else in the park. It's worth setting aside time to visit the island for the memories and unique photo opportunities, as well as the adventurous fun!
Victoria Gardens in Epcot's Canada Pavilion
When you're dining at Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada Pavilion inside of Epcot's World Showcase, you'll pass through the spectacular Victoria Gardens. An often-overlooked gem of Walt Disney World, this colorful garden features different flowers and plants depending on the time of year. A relaxing stream flows by, and waterfalls cascade down near the back of the area, drowning out the sounds of the park. The gardens here are the largest and most labor-intensive of all the pavilions of World Showcase for Disney's horticultural team. You will also encounter the area when exiting the pavilion's show, "O Canada!" starring Martin Short. The entrance to this 360-degree theater also features a massive waterfall and towering rocks that help to isolate the area from the rest of Epcot, making for a unique little getaway.
Pandora to Africa Bridge at Disney's Animal Kingdom
When Pandora – The World of Avatar opened at Disney's Animal Kingdom, it brought with it exciting new rides, delicious and unique dining experiences and fantastic themed. Most people don't realize that it also saw a brand new bridge added to the park. This long wetland boardwalk bridge spans from the back of Pandora to the left side of Harambe Village, the Africa section of the park. If you start your day at Pandora in the morning, this hidden passageway is a great way to get to the Festival of the Lion King show next. Along the bridge, you'll pass over a waterway filled with colorful fish, and you may even be lucky enough to spot a turtle or two. It's a quiet spot worth traveling through, not only to save you time walking, but also to get away from the hustle and bustle of the park.
Camp Jurassic at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Kids love playing, climbing and spraying water at the Camp Jurassic play area in Universal's Islands of Adventure. In addition to all of the easy-to-find slides, nets and towers, there are also some hidden caves worth exploring. When you enter the Camp Jurassic area, head straight to the back, near the exit for the Pteranodon Flyers ride. Climb up the stairs and look to the left. There you may see an opening to a cave. Inside are beautiful water features and a colorfully lit lagoon. You can explore the caves and cross suspension bridges that connect several different areas inside. Be on the lookout for escaped dinosaurs, though. You may even hear the echoing roar of one while in the tunnels!
Knockturn Alley at Universal Studios Florida
Tucked away on the side of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley inside of Universal Studios Florida, Knockturn Alley is a dark corridor where it's always nighttime, even in the daytime! Filled with shops devoted to the Dark Arts, Knockturn Alley is where wizards that are up to no good tend to shop. It's the perfect place to explore while trying to get out of the sun, especially since this area is actually air conditioned. The main shop inside is called Borgin and Burkes. They offer magical wares for your Dark Arts practices, as well as unique Harry Potter merchandise you can't find anywhere else. There are even real movie props from the films on display, including the Vanishing Cabinet used by Draco Malfoy.