Downtown Disney is a great place for shopping and dining with the whole family. But there are also some learning opportunities here if you know where to look and your timing is right.
The AMC Movie Theater may not seem like an obvious educational spot. But in addition to the popular popcorn flicks it shows, the theater sometimes screens nature and art films. This is always the place to catch premieres of DisneyNature films, which has included Earth, Oceans, African Cats, Chimpanzee, Bears, and Monkey Kingdom.
This AMC theater also participates in Metropolitan Opera simulcasts, so you can catch live performances of famous operas straight from New York.
Check out the AMC website for show times and more information.
FL Sunshine State Science Standards:
SC.K.L.14.3, SC.1.L.16.1, SC.1.L.17.1, SC.2.L.17.1, SC.2.L.17.2, SC.3.L.17.1, SC.4.L.16.3, SC.4.L.17.4, SC.5.L.15.1
Have you ever walked through Tomorrowland and spotted that giant stone ball near Auntie Gravity’s and thought, “what the heck is that?” There is no label or placard, but it’s a Kugel Ball.
Kugel Ball fountains are engineering wonders. They consist of a large granite or marble sphere floating on a very thin plane (less than the thickness of a credit card) of water in a perfectly fitted socket. The water, pumped from below, lubricates the stone and creates a pressure such that the solid, heavy stone is easily rotated!
Kugel Ball fountains exist all over the world, and some sport images of maps or globes. The Kugel Ball at Walt Disney World is carved with a sky map. Next time you’re walking by, give it a roll!
STEM Topic: Science, Engineering
FL Sunshine State Science Standards:
SC.K.P.13.1, SC.1.P.12.1, SC.1.P.13.1, SC.2.P.13.4, SC.4.P.12.1, SC.5.P.13.1, SC.5.P.13.2
Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of Walt Disney World’s most popular attractions. It’s a pretty amazing experience and fun for all ages. Board an open-air safari truck and get out your cameras to observe and learn about African animals in natural habitats. The 18-minute tour takes you through the Disney-created Harambe Wildlife Reserve, and promises lots of animal sightings.
The learning begins in the queue. Placards throughout the line match African animals and their Swahili names, or give fast facts about the animals. Did you know that Simba means “lion” in Swahili? There is also a short video that plays as you get closer to the loading dock. The video introduces us to the warden of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, and teaches more about animal behavior and factors that are threatening those animals in the wild.
During the safari you can use overhead animal spotting guides to help you identify the animals that you see in the Reserve. But be sure to listen to your safari guide as well. He or she will help point out the animals and is sure to share lots of information about them. On our last safari, we learned quite a few new things. For instance, cheetahs are the only big cats that purr!
Kilimanjaro Safaris is a great educational attraction and a must-do for animal lovers. The ride is always different because you never know which animals you’ll spot! FastPass+ is usually recommended for this attraction during busy seasons.
FL Sunshine State Science Standards:
SC.K.L.14.3, SC.1.L.14.1, SC.1.L.17.1, SC.2.L.17.2, SC.4.L.17.4, SC.5.L.17.1
Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival is a fantastic annual springtime celebration of the outdoors. There is a lot to explore for guests of all ages from gardening tips to crafts to delicious produce-inspired food and wines. Disney Vacation Education presents this year’s Flower and Garden Festival educational finds in two parts. Part 2 focuses on the Garden Displays.
A big part of the Flower and Garden Festival is the various gardens you’ll find throughout the park. Each one is unique and themed, and most provide an opportunity to learn something new.
In Future World, look for gardens big and small that have a focus on learning about plants, animals, and the environment. The Gardener’s Palette garden not only shows which plants work together for sunny and shady spots, but also teaches a bit about the color wheel. Prehistoric Plants shows examples of plants that have been around since dinosaurs walked the earth. The Cactus Road Rally uses interactive flip cards to explain how different desert plants survive. And the Trial Garden shows and explains how certain plants are tested for their ability to grow in Florida and at Epcot.
The Nature Rocks and Backyard Habitat displays show how kids can really get involved in and inspired by nature, encouraging them to get outside and explore. There is also a Health and Healing Garden that has some interesting examples of plants that have been and are still used in medicines and herbal treatments.
This year there are two awesome wildlife displays – the new Purple Martins display and the popular Butterfly Garden. As the beautiful purple martins fly around you, you can learn more about their habits and their habitat, how they help your garden, and how you can play host to them in your own yard. The Butterflies on the Go Garden is a fun spot to take in the beauty of butterflies and to learn more about different species, their life cycle, and migration. This is also a favorite spot for photographers.
Throughout World Showcase you’ll find even more themed gardens. Some favorites that have an educational twist are the Pepper Fire Garden in Mexico that shows different varieties of hot peppers, and the Pollinator’s Paradise garden in United Kingdom that tells how bees and other pollinators do their important work. The new Shakespeare Garden in United Kingdom is also fun for older students who might be reading Shakespeare. You can read some famous flora-related quotes and match up the real flowers to the quotes.
As you can tell, there’s a lot to take in and Epcot’s Garden Displays have something for everyone. They’re beautiful, relaxing, impressive, and educational. Be sure to spend some time wandering through and reading up on all that nature has to offer!
Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival is a fantastic annual springtime celebration of the outdoors. There is a lot to explore for guests of all ages from gardening tips to crafts to delicious produce-inspired food and wines. Disney Vacation Education presents this year’s Flower and Garden Festival educational finds in two parts. Part 1 focuses on the Festival Center.
The Festival Center is housed in the former Wonders of Life Pavilion, tucked between Universe of Energy and Mission Space. Here you’ll find guest lectures and presentations by renowned figures in the gardening and landscaping world, as well as Disney Horticulturalists and representatives from University of Florida to help answer your gardening questions.
The Greenhouse Stage presents speakers who offer tips and usually a take-home craft or planting. These sessions fill up quickly, so be sure to check the Times Guide and get in line early. At the Fresh Epcot Stage you can find presentations that range from gardening to outdoor entertaining. The Spotlight Stage is where you can listen to and ask questions of representatives from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. These talks are usually geared toward Florida specific living and conditions. No matter which presentation you attend, you’re sure to come away learning something new.
As you make your way through the Festival Center, you’ll also find tables set up for various local organizations, such as the Audubon Society, Bonsai Club, and Simple Living Institute. We watched a fascinating demonstration of Ikibana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. The experts are there to answer them, and many have helpful handouts you can take home.
A film about the making of the Flower and Garden Festival and an exhibit about Disney Horticulture round out the offerings. Be sure to spend some time in the exhibit. It shows the evolution of horticulture at Walt Disney World, how they make those iconic topiaries, and some pretty neat facts about the diversity of plant life throughout Walt Disney World. You can also read about all the different jobs that Disney Horticulturalists do to make the parks and resorts look the way they do.
It’s easy to spend a few hours in the Festival Center. Presentations at each stage occur twice a day and the experts are there until 5:00pm. Each weekend offers something new and is usually themed, so check back throughout the Festival to learn new stuff!
The Land is one of the most popular pavilions in Future World. It’s home to Soarin’, which remains one of the busiest attractions on Walt Disney World property, and two terrific dining options. But many guests also really enjoy the Living with the Land attraction, with good reason.
Living with the Land rarely has a very long wait, and it’s full of fun scenery and interesting information. The boat ride begins with a tour through several ecosystems. You’ll learn how water and nutrients reach the soil, and how different life forms thrive in such different landscapes.
The boat ride continues with a description of farming practices around the world and a look into future concepts for growing food. As you travel into the greenhouses, you’ll see dozens of plant species growing all around you. Some are grown with some pretty cool techniques. (How can a plant grow with no soil?!) And a lot of the fish, fruits, and vegetables in the greenhouses end up in those terrific dining locations we mentioned. Talk about fresh!
Living with the Land is a great way to spark the discussion about where our food comes from and the farm-to-table movement. Kids and adults will be wowed by what Disney horticulturists can grow right in the heart of Epcot.
STEM Topic: Science, Technology, Engineering
FL Sunshine State Science Standards:
SC.K.L.14.3, SC.1.L.14.2, SC.1.L.17.1, SC.2.L.17.2, SC.3.L.14.1, SC.3.L.14.2, SC.3.L.17.2, SC.4.L.17.4, SC.5.L.17.1, SC.7.L.17.1
Downtown Disney is a great place to do some serious shopping, dining, and even dancing. But it’s also a fun place to search for learning opportunities. Even we were surprised when we happened upon this one.
Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth. The sundaes range from traditional to tremendous, and they offer a wide range of shakes, floats, and cocoas.
If you make a restroom stop here, check out the posters in the hallway. One poster describes how Domenico Ghirardelli came to San Francisco to start his chocolate business in 1852 and what made his chocolate process different from others of the time. Another poster shows that process in more detail. And a third tells about the distinctive marketing campaigns that the Ghirardelli company started in the late 1800s to ensure that homemakers all over the country knew its name.
Learning something new is a great excuse to stop in for a bit!