I’m a planner. Whether it’s my daily “to-do” list, my grocery list (which has now migrated to Alexa), or my travel plans, I really enjoy it. Looking ahead and planning is half the fun. Sometimes it’s even more than half the fun! Yet I’ve always found that “hidden” treasures can be the most memorable parts of any trip.

Walt Disney World and its sister parks, here and abroad, offer opportunities beyond those “must-do” rides and shows that can be found in any of the dozens of guidebooks out there. For most first timers, a plan is mandatory, if only to be sure to catch the attractions that your kids, or grandkids, are longing to enjoy. All families will come home after that right-of-passage trip to face the same type of question from those who have gone before: “Did you ride (insert one of about ten big rides here)?”

Going on the premier rides isn’t just for first-timers either. My wife and I continue to do some attractions nearly every visit, and living in Florida means lots of visits. She loves The Haunted Mansion, I join Jose and his Tiki Bird friends to sing “like the birdies sing” at least every other visit. We also anxiously anticipate new rides from the first rumors on the internet fan sites till we can line up within those first few weeks of opening.

But hidden amongst the classic rides and shows are those hidden experiences just awaiting discovery. Do you NEED to look for them? No, they will be looking for you, so you only need to tune your senses to hear and see them. For example, as others stare down Main Street USA to Cinderella Castle upon arrival at the Magic Kingdom, look sideways and marvel at the storefronts that call up the early 1900s. On one side street an artist makes silhouette cutouts in the middle of a street full of flower carts and wrought iron benches. Stop for 5 minutes and either watch the pictures unfold, or sit for one yourself. In our age of digital photos, this experience provides a souvenir from another time.

While everyone must walk down Main Street USA, after that, the crowds tend to head down the main struts of the hub, the center of the park, towards the seven themed lands. Do that to get the perspective of the layout, but keep your eye open for those back pathways, like the one that exists behind The Christmas Shop in Liberty Square. It leads past a pretty gazebo that often hosts a character like Peter Pan or Princess Tiana, ready for quick greetings. It also opens to views of Adventureland’s real inhabitants…ducks and swans lazily floating down the stream under the bridge ahead. Kids love seeing these real animals amongst the many Audio-Animatronics (Disney for robots) around the park.

The word itself “hidden” at Disney takes on a special meaning when you combine it with Mickey. Spread throughout all the Disney parks are “hidden Mickeys” – those three little rings that align to form the structure of the mouse’s head. They can be painted, or made of metal or wood in a restaurant, along one of those pathways previously mentioned, or even in the middle of a ride like the Living with the Land boat ride at Epcot. My grandson can recall exactly where he’s seen some even after months away from that spot! Those are magical memories.

Disney cast members, as all employees are called, often provide the best unexpected happiness. Whether at an attraction entrance, a gift shop, or even while strolling toward an attraction, stop and chat with a cast member. With their name and their hometown on their badge, it is easy to strike up a question. Even the person cleaning up the street knows more Disney trivia than you’d ever think. They are all so proud of Walt’s creation, a little conversation will leave a bigger impression on you than some of the more famous rides you might enjoy.

Wandering and keeping your senses about you is so easy at Disney, probably because you are so transported to the relaxing environment continued within its berms. Just be sure to stick that “to-do” list in your back pocket at times, and I’ll promise you unique memories from your trip.

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