Educational Attractions at Walt Disney World Resort and Theme Parks in Orlando, FL
Fun and Learning Go Hand-In-Hand at the Walt Disney World Resort and Theme Parks
A trip to Disney World can be a lot of fun but Disney is also the master of "edu-tainment" - entertaining and educating at the same time. With very little effort, your Disney vacation can teach some new information or reinforce the things your kids are already learning. Here is a list of attractions at the Disney Theme Parks for use by homeschoolers, teachers, lifelong learners, parents, grandparents or anyone taking their children out of school for a trip to Disneyworld.
All photos are my own. (c)Stephen Johnson.
Educational Attractions at Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park.
- Hall of Presidents ~ See all of the nation's presidents in this Audio-animitronic presentation of America's history.
- Liberty Square Riverboat & Tom Sawyer Island.~ An authentically detailed, steam-powered paddle wheeler. Perfect for those interested in the history of transportation or studying Mark Twain's literature
- Swiss Family Treehouse ~ may be a fun "visual aid" for anyone reading this book in Literature.
- Carousel of Progress ~ (open only seasonally). This attraction looks at the homes of four generations of the same family from the days before electricity to present day. It shows how times have changed do to inventions and innovations.
- Peter Pan's Flight ~ an excellent example of the use of proportion and scale in making models.
- Crystal Arts Gift Shop - A glass blower / glass artist gives daily demonstrations. This obviously has artistic value but is also useful for students learning about solids & liquids as they see the effect that the application of high heat has on the solid glass, but you'll need to discuss this with your young student; they probably will not intuitively pick up on this scientific principle.
Educational Attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios Theme Park - Disney's Hollywood Studios was previously called Disney-MGM Studios
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - and - Lights, Motors, Action! Epic Stunt Spectacular ~ Two 30-minute shows that look at stuntmen, special affects, and what it takes to make an action movie look real.
- Tower of Terror ~ Wanna see gravity in action? This is the place! This attraction actually pulls you down faster than the rate of gravity so it is especially good if you can watch "The Science of Disney Imagneering: Gravity" before your vacation, where they explain the whole thing.
- Walt Disney: One Man's Dream ~ An interactive gallery that won't hold most kids' interest for too long. This attraction has a movie that presents Walt Disney's life as a great example of the rewards that come with hard work and persistence.
Educational Attractions and Activities at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
This whole park offers something educational at every turn. The Cast Members (Disney employees) here are among the best and can answer questions about the attractions, plants and animals.
- Wilderness Exploreres ~ For children. Get the free "Wilderness Explorer's Field Guide" and earn sticker badges when you complete self-guided activities throughout Disney's Animal Kingdom park.
- Animal Encounters ~ Throughout the day, cast members in Safari garb holding a bird, reptile, or small mammal give short talks
- Goodwill Ambassadors ~ Asian and/or African cast members are available to share about their country and its wildlife. They are found in Harambe and along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Africa or in Anandapur and along the Maharaja Jungle Trek in Asia.
- The Oasis ~ Lush paths feature tropical plants, ponds, waterfalls, exotic birds and animals. Cast Members are available to answer questions.
- Africa ~ The "Kilimanjaro Safari" is a fun and informative look at African animals. See naked mole rates, okapi, meercats, gorillas and more on the "Pangani Forest Exploration Trail".
- Rafiki's Planet Watch features a train ride out to the Conservation Station where you'll learn about the environment, conservation, & animal well-being. Veterinarian procedures can sometimes be observed. There is also an animal petting area.
- Asia ~ "Kali River Rapids" is a short but fun raft ride that touches on some of the dangers of destroying the rainforests. See tigers, bats, the Komodo Dragon, and more on the "Maharajah Jungle Trek". The "Flights of Wonder" is a 25-minute show featuring more than 20 species of free flying exotic birds performed several times a day.
- Discovery Island ~ The very fun Animated 3D "It's Tough to Be a Bug" gives the bug world a chance to earn some much earned respect as they share there contributions to our world.
- DinoLand USA ~ "Dinosaur" gives a very exciting tour of a jungle full of vegetarian and carnivorous dinosaurs. "The Boneyard" playground gives younger kids the opportunity to play archeologist.
EPCOT - Part One - Educational Attractions and Rides at Disney's Epcot - Future World
Epcot draws its inspiration from the World Fairs and is filled with valuable educational opportunities. This is "Edu-tainment" (Education + Entertainment) at its finest. This park has a reputation for not being kid-friendly but I think the park has a lot to offer families. Let the kids know that this park is a little different than typical theme parks but assure them that they're going to have a fun day. Consider a character meal at this park to make things a little more "Disney".
Epcot is a huge theme park with two major area: "Future World:m, which focuses on scientific discovery, and "The World Showcase", which highlights countries and cultures. Because there are so many educational opportunities at this park, we're breaking up our list into these two sections as well.
- Spaceship Earth ~ This gentle 16-minute ride takes you through the history of human communication. scene highlights include: the New Kingdom of Egypt where the papyrus was invented, 9th century BC Phoenicians invent the alphabet, Renaissance in Italy, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Ancient Greece, Dark Ages and Destruction of Rome, the Age of Enlightenment, and the invention of the printing press.
- The Living Seas / The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion
---The star of this attraction is a huge saltwater aquarium tank (203 feet in diameter & 27 feet deep) featuring a man-made coral reef that is home to tropical fish, sharks, rays, dolphins, and the types of colorful lifeforms thatcan be found in a Caribbean reef.
---Turtle Talk with Crush. This theater experience features a 3D computer animated version of "Crush", the surfer-dude sea turtle from "Finding Nemo". The screen looks like a window into the ocean. The show lasts about 20 minutes and is interactive, meaning that "Crush" answers questions from the audience about sea turtles. This attraction gets rave reviews!
---Nemo and Friends! -- A Great Barrier Reef display that includes Stingray and Jellyfish viewing habitats.
---Life Support Systems Exhibit & Undersea Robotics ~ A model of a futuristic undersea research facility. You can climb into an open backed diver's suit and try to use your hands. This exhibit features robotic submersibles, and communication systems used by oceanographic institutes.
---Manatee exhibit ~ See rescued manatees that are being rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Some think that the mermaid legends came from sailors seeing these animals but we suspect "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" may have been a factor in this misidentification!
- The Land Pavilion -
---Living with the Land ~ Visit the Tropics Greenhouse, the Aquacell, the Temperate Greenhouse, the Creative House, and the Production greenhouse - each unique indoor plant growing areas - on this calm 14-minute boat ride.
---The Circle of Life ~ Scenes from this wide-screen movie about the environment were filmed in 30 countries. Some of the scenes are breathtakingly beautiful but the movie, in our opinion, is just an educational movie. There are better - and more interactive - attractions at Epcot.
---Soarin' Over California ~ (Geography) This is a very cool attraction introduces you to the wealth of wonders (natural and man-made) found in California. You'll see the Redwood forests, Napa Valley, Yosemite, California desert and more.
- Innoventions Pavilion ~ This tends to be popular with teens although many exhibits are geared for families. Email a photo postcard of yourself to family and friends. Make a 30-second video to send home. Other exhibits include forest trivia, There is also a Segway Human Transporter demonstration (must be at least 16 to try), a plastic production exhibit, electricity test lab, a fire safety interactive game house and more.
- Imagination! Pavilion
---Journey into Imagination ~ This attraction is popular with young kids and teaches about the senses (sight, smell, etc.)
---Imageworks - The Kodak "What If" Labs ~ Interactive labs let you conduct an orchestra, use stepping stones that create sounds, and look into a special body distorting mirror, among other activities.
- Mission: SPACE ~ This space attraction features the combined efforts of NASA advisors, astronauts, scientists, and Walt Disney Imagineers. Guests get a very intense and very realistic simulation of lift off and the experience of weightlessness in outer space, although a "no G-force" option is also available and is quite good.. The entrance features inspirational quotes from well-known astronauts and astronomers like Galileo and Kalpana Chawla, who died in the Space shuttle Columbia accident. There is an actual Lunar Rover on loan from the Smithsonian. After the ride, guests can explore the interactive "Advanced Training Lab".
- Universe of Energy Pavilion ~ Ellen's Energy Adventure. Bill Nye the Science Guy helps Ellen DeGeneres beat her college rival at Jeopardy by teaching her all about the sources of energy and present-day energy needs and concerns. The attraction goes through an impressive Audio-animatronic Dinosaur diorama.
- Test Track ~ this fun attraction lets you be the "crash dummy" in a "test vehicle". The queue area displays things like electromagnetic chambers, airbag testing, and impact-resistance.
- Jammitors - Do you have a drum player in the family? If so, you'll want to take time to see this "garbage can percussion" group that performs 10 minute sets at various times throughout the morning. Check your times guide for exact times. They usually perform in the Innoventions breezeways.
EPCOT - Part Two - Educational Attractions at Epcot's World Showcase
This list will focus on the live entertainment and attracations found in Epcot's World Showcase Area. The World showcase has eleven country pavilions that circle around the World Showcase Lagoon. Experiencing these pavilions can give children some context for geography lessons and provide an introduction to other cultures.
Each of the pavilions have at least one restaurant which adds another educational element - you have the opportunity to try the food of another country or culture. These are all mass produced, American-ized versions of these foods but that's okay; not everyone is ready to try absolutely authentic food. We recommend avoiding the food in the America and Chinese pavilions as you can find better examples of these cuisines anywhere.
- Agent P's World Showcase Adventure - this is a new interactive adventure that probably isn't very educational but it sure is a lot of fun and it does a good job of helping you see the World Showcase pavilions, which may indirectly pique your kids' interest in other lands and cultures.
- Mexico Pavilion ~ "Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros" is a 6-minute boat ride with a slightly "It's A Small World" feel. This isn't a first rate attraction but does offer a light introduction to the landscape and cultures of Mexico. There is also an "Art of Mexico" museum style exhibit.
- Norway ~ The Stave Church replica is worth a visit. There are 28 similar churches still existing in Norway and these 600 year old buildings are the oldest wooden structures in the world today.
- China Pavilion
---The Circle-Vision "Wonders of China: Land of Beauty, Land of Time" gives a spectacular look at the Great Wall, the Forbidden City of Beijing, the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia, the Yangtze River and the tropical rain forests of Hainan Island. The circle-vision movies are neat because you stand in the center of the room and the images are projected onto screens all around you. My favorite scene included a herd of horses - look one direction and you see the backs of the horses "in front" of you; look another direction and see the fronts of the horses "behind" you. The China movie is my personal favorite off the two circle-vision movies at Epcot (there's another in the Canada pavilion)
---This pavilion includes a gallery with an exhibit of Chinese artifacts on display - currently, you can see replicas of the terra-cotta warriors that were unearthed in China. This display will hold the attention of most children for at least a few minutes.
---Jeweled Dragon Acrobats. This group of Chinese acrobats performs several times throughout the day, five days a week and is certainly worth seeing. (20-minute show)
- United States Pavilion - The American Adventure ~ Audio-Animatronic Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain introduce guests to the Pilgrims and the Mayflower; the Boston Tea Party; the writing of the Declaration of Independence; Valley Forge and the Revolutionary War; slavery and the Civil War; the suffering of the Native Americans; the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition; the founding of Yosemite National Park; World Wars I & II; and other images from recent history. There is also a wonderful film montage of famous Americans. (30 minutes). There are two musical groups that appear most days (check current schedule) in this pavilion: The Voices of Liberty are an a cappella group that sing patriotic songs.
- Japan ~ The Bijutsu-kan Gallery has continuously changing cultural exhibits. Be sure to check out the Japanese drummers (called Matsuriza) who perform on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday - Saturday. You can also see "Honobono Nimway" - a Japanese storyteller on Sundays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
- Morocco ~ The "Gallery of Arts and History" displays the science, music, and technology of Morocco. This is a really neat pavilion so plan to spend a little time - the kids might even get to try a moroccan drum.
- France ~ This pavilion features the "Impressions de France" film which is a French travelogue set to classical music. Scenes include: Normandy, Loire Valley, Cognac, Cannes, Paris, and more. Frankly, for most kids, the movie is very dated looking and its main value is in providing an air-conditioned spot for a nap. It might appeal to someone who has been to or is going to France.
---Serveur Amusant. This is a balancing act, which may not be strictly educational but is worth seeing. The 20 minute performances are offered on Tuesday - Saturday several times daily between 12:30PM and 4:40PM.
- Canada ~ "O Canada" is a 17-minute Circle-Vision film with views of Canadian people, places, and events.
Poll - How Important Are Educational Theme Park Attractions to You? - Do you go to Walt Disney World to learn or to play?
Are educational attractions at Walt Disney World a big deal to you?
Other Educational Opportunities at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida
All of the attractions listed above are included in the price of your theme park admission ticket. There are additional activities and educational opportunities available but these will incur an extra expense and some have age restrictions. There are "Behind the Scenes" Tours, and special dining opportunities like "Lunch with an Imagineer".
Disney also offers a host of activities that provide new experiences: you can take a balloon ride in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), create your own simulator roller coaster experience in DisneyQuest, take a golf lesson, go on a horseback trail ride, or take an archery lesson at Disney's Wilderness Lodge resort. Guests from land-locked areas might enjoy renting a boat or kayak. Carriage rides are fun but also present a look back at a life before motorized transportation.
For that matter, Florida's climate may be very different from your climate at home - if so, take time to notice the birds and plants around the resort. You may even see deer, alligators, or armadillos.