The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando is home to 43 square miles of dramatic attractions, loveable characters, and magical parades spread throughout four fabulous theme parks. With all of this excitement, it’s super easy to pack a family trip to the House of the Mouse with man-made adventures from dawn to dusk. But there is a natural side of Walt Disney World Resort that balances out the world of roller coasters, princess merchandise and high-tech thrills. Here are five ways families can slow down during their next Disney vacation and immerse themselves in some of nature’s wonders.

 Rendezvous with Critters at Walt Disney World Resort

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Photo Credit: Debbie Allan Photography

When it comes to children, animal encounters are one of the best ways to nurture a love for the natural world at an early age. Home to more than 1,700 animals, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, with its foundation in education, conservation and research, is a great place to start.

At Epcot, the Seas with Nemo and Friends features 200 different species of marine life including sharks, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and a rainbow of tropical fish. Both Disney Parks offer special tours designed for tweens, teens and adults that allow even more interaction with the animals, while younger guests at Animal Kingdom can participate in the park’s Wilderness Explorers activities.

Get on the Water

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Photo Credit: Gina Vercesi, Unplugged Traveling Mom

There are many ways to explore the abundant waterways around the Walt Disney World Resort. If captaining a vessel appeals, a wide variety of watercraft are available to rent from marinas at several Walt Disney World resorts. Sail on the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Polynesian, paddle a canoe or kayak from Fort Wilderness, or chug around Crescent Lake in a pedal boat from the Yacht Club Resort.

Tours are another option, including everything from kids’ pirate-themed cruises to guided bass-fishing excursion. Port Orleans Riverside and Fort Wilderness also offer cane-pole rentals for younger fisher-people looking to cast a line from shore.

Visit the Walt Disney World Resort Ranch

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Photo Credit: Gina Vercesi, Unplugged Traveling Mom

Walt Disney loved horses and it is a little known fact that all of the horses you see on Disney property live at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch at the Fort Wilderness Resort. Spend a couple of hours strolling along the paths that wend their way around corrals and lead to the large barn where you can visit the draft horses that pull the park’s trolleys and take guests on carriage rides, the huge, black Percheron who carries the Headless Horseman in the Halloween parade, and Cinderella’s snow white ponies. The Fort offers wagon rides, pony rides and trail rides as well.

Plant a Seed

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Photo Credit: Gina Vercesi, Unplugged Traveling Mom

Botany and Horticulture abound throughout Walt Disney World Resorts property, from the spectacular landscaping that is everywhere you look, to the produce grown in the greenhouses at the Land pavilion at Epcot, to the majestic trees that shade visitors in the parks. More than 600 cast members make up the Horticulture team at Disney World that cares for more than 4,000 landscaped acres, plants edible landscapes for the animals at Animal Kingdom Park, grows more than 30 tons of produce each year to be served in resort restaurants, and educates guests in plant sciences.

The team’s tour de force is the annual Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot that takes place for about 2 months each spring. A stunning show of more than 100 character topiaries, beautiful educational displays, gorgeous themed gardens and delicious outdoor kitchens, the festival is an incredible experience.

Look and Listen

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Photo Credit: Gina Vercesi, Unplugged Traveling Mom

Nature is everywhere at Walt Disney World Resort. Whether it’s a bunny snacking happily on a patch of clover by the lagoon in Epcot, a band of salamanders darting into the bushes, a heron swooping overhead or a particularly beautiful flowering tree. Taking the time to pause and observe the wonders of nature during your Walt Disney World vacation is a must. Doing so will reward you with a deeper connection with your family and moments of natural beauty that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.