Prior to my most recent trip, I had been to Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista , Florida four times. But it had been at least 15 years since my previous visit to the world’s number one vacation destination.
Finding a place to stay is the first and perhaps most important decision you must make. The neighboring community of Kissimmee (www.FloridaKiss.com) provides guests with a wide variety of lodging options: national chain hotels and motels, condos, villas, suites, private vacation homes, campgrounds, and time-share units. Nearly 45,000 area-lodging options are priced to satisfy any travel budget, from budget-conscious families to luxury suites. The Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration ( www.radisson.com/orlando-celebration), for instance, is such a terrific choice for families that you might be tempted to stick around this picturesque venue and skip some time at Disney. The hotel has 718 well appointed guest rooms, double and king bed options, high speed internet access, 20 acres of lavishly landscaped grounds, a giant free-form pool with waterslide and waterfall, a heated pool, two outdoor spas, a children’s pool and playground, a fitness center with sauna, a sand-based volleyball court, two lighted tennis courts, a full service restaurant, on-site Pizza Hut pizza, a 50’s style diner and deli, a snack bar, sports lounge, gift shop, game room, and laundry facilities. Located only 1.5 miles from Disney, the hotel provides free transportation to the Disney theme parks, Sea World and Universal Studios. Kids eat free while those aged 18 and under can stay in their parents room at no cost.
For families traveling together, this place is just perfect. A family consisting of two grandparents, two parents and their kids can be accommodated perfectly. When making reservations, ask for this neat configuration: one king, one “sea” room for the kids and another with two double beds. The kids will go wild in the “sea” room, which feature bunk bed, thematic tables, chairs and games.
The stylish and recently remodeled guest rooms and suites at the hotel are richly appointed with custom crafted Italian furniture and luxurious marble and granite bathrooms. Just recently, notes director of sales and marketing Steve Crist , the hotel introduced an entertainment director who is providing activities for families and children.
Once you are settled in at the hotel, get ready for the time of your life at Disney. My most important piece of advice is to be organized. One day is never sufficient to see a single park, but it’s likely you will be forced to follow such a schedule. So get there early, grab a guide map and take at least five minutes to plot your strategy. Immediately find out where you can get a Fastpass, a superb feature which cuts your waiting time on the most popular attractions in each park. Look for the “FP” symbol and head to the attraction where you will find the Fastpass kiosk. A sign up above will tell you what time you can return, minus the lineup once you insert each admission ticket from your party into the automatic machine and receive Fastpass tickets. You usually have to let an hour pass before you can try for a Fastpass elsewhere.
The Magic Kingdom represents true Disney, so make this your first destination. Seven happy lands transport guests to worlds of fantasy, adventure and wonder at Magic Kingdom . Nestled on the shores of the picturesque Seven Seas Lagoon, from the moment guests step through the Magic Kingdom turnstiles they enter a storybook realm filled with Disney characters at every turn, classic attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and dazzling entertainment such as “Cinderellabration,” “SpectroMagic,” “Share a Dream Come True” and “Wishes.” Arranged in a circular layout with the golden spires of Cinderella Castle towering over the center, the seven lands of the Magic Kingdom are Main Street, U.S.A., a re-creation of a bustling thoroughfare in early 20th century America, complete with horse-drawn trolley and vintage barbershop. Major attractions include the Walt Disney World Railroad, a vintage steam engine that provides a scenic trip around the park with stops in Frontierland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Adventureland is an exotic land of jungles and wild animals. Major attractions include Pirates of the Caribbean , a rollicking buccaneer boat ride; Jungle Cruise, a tongue-in-cheek trek down the world’s most famous rivers; and The Enchanted Tiki Room — Under New Management, which puts a humorous spin on Disney’s first attraction to feature the three-dimensional storytelling of Audio-Animatronics. Frontierland brings you tall tales of the Wild West as cowboys and miners roam. Major attractions include Splash Mountain , a zip-a-dee-doo-dah log ride in search of Br’er Rabbit’s “laughing place”; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a roller coaster ride through towering mesas and an unstable mine; and Country Bear Jamboree, a raucous revue of singing bears.
At Liberty Square you can step back to the age of colonial America in this land honoring the country’s early heritage. Major attractions include the Haunted Mansion, a gothic manor containing a host of family-friendly frights from 999 happy haunts; and the Hall of Presidents, a stirring Audio-Animatronics® salute to the United States’ chief executives and the struggles that built America. Fantasyland features fairy tales springing from storybook pages in a whimsical land of castles, princesses and flying elephants. Major attractions include the amazing Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a 3-D “sym-funny” of Disney music and characters presented in cutting-edge computer animation; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which sends guests on a gentle journey through the Hundred Acre Wood; and Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, a beautifully preserved merry-go-round of mighty steeds. Mickey’s Toontown Fair features Mickey, Minnie and the gang live in this quaint country neighborhood. Major attractions include The Barnstormer, a kid-friendly roller coaster that zooms through Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm; and Mickey’s Country House, a walk-through tour of the famous mouse’s house where guests have an opportunity to meet Mickey privately. Then there is Tomorrowland, where you will leap forward into the future in this neon-lit land of rocket ships and aliens. Major attractions include Stitch’s Great Escape! a close encounter with the naughty alien of “Lilo & Stitch,” Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, a whirling interactive battle against Evil Emperor Zurg; and Space Mountain, a high-speed roller coaster ride through the cosmos.
There are a lot of new things to explore here. At “Cinderellabration,” Disney’s most beloved princesses gather for Cinderella’s glittering coronation ceremony in this lavish daily stage show adapted from a popular production at Tokyo Disneyland. Stitch’s Great Escape is set before the events of Walt Disney Pictures’ animated comedy “Lilo & Stitch.” This fun new Tomorrowland attraction showcases the pandemonium caused by the mischievous “Experiment 626” — a.k.a. Stitch — at the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center . “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” involves moments and music from classic Disney animated films through widescreen 3-D . In “Wishes” the voice of Jiminy Cricket narrates a story-in-the-sky fireworks spectacular about making wishes come true — the biggest, boldest pyrotechnics display ever presented at Magic Kingdom . And in Share a Dream Come True” Mickey Mouse leads a fanciful daily parade of larger-than-life snow globes, Disney characters and live performers from Frontierland to Main Street, U.S.A., in a celebration of Disney animation.
Epcot was always one of my favorite stops. This is where can you travel to four continents, soar over the richly diverse landscape of the Golden State, take a rocket ride to Mars, explore land and sea adventures, experience future technologies today and journey into your imagination. Recognized as Disney’s celebration of human achievement and discovery, Epcot features Future World and World Showcase. The former is a high-energy, high-tech land where guests interact with exhibits, visit a home of the future, thrill to the pulse-racing liftoff of Mission: SPACE, and experience Soarin,’ an exhilarating aerial adventure that immerses guests in a multi-sensory experience, complete with sights, sounds, scents and the caress of warm breezes. The latter includes a world of multi-cultural enchantment, featuring marketplaces bustling with international flavour and a dazzling display of countries that transports guests through the magical worlds of 11 nations with just a few steps.
There’s something new around every corner at Epcot, including “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” a thunderous fireworks spectacular like no other. Family fun continues at “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” “Ellen’s Energy Adventure,” “Turtle Talk With Crush” and Innoventions. Epcot is the site for one-of-a-kind world entertainment and special events, including the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, one of the world’s largest outdoor festivals of its kind; Epcot International Food and Wine Festival; and Epcot Summer Series, featuring world-renowned live entertainment.
From toddlers to teens, “Epcot kids” will discover hands-on activities, high-tech adventure and thrills at every turn. In World Showcase, young guests can create their own Epcot souvenirs at the park’s Kidcot Funstops. Craftsmen teach the budding artisans how to create a one-of-a-kind mask or a musical instrument using their own magical touch. Want to meet your favorite Disney character? At World Showcase, you might spot Mickey and his friends at The American Adventure, Belle and the Beast at France , Snow White in Germany (home to a miniature train and village), or Jasmine and Aladdin in Morocco . You may even see the whole gang coming your way in a double-decker bus ready for a sing-along.
The Disney Princesses — Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Ariel, Alice and Mulan — are special guests at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway . The World Showcase eatery, inspired by the famous 14th century Castle Akershus in the city of Oslo , Norway , is the perfect setting for a “royal” breakfast, lunch or dinner. Make reservations through 407/WDW-DINE. In Future World, kids can make friends with Crush, an animated sea turtle that chats with them at The Living Seas, or explore their imaginations with Figment at the Imagination! pavilion. Soarin’ gives Epcot guests a bird’s-eye view of California with a breathtaking glide over the majestic natural wonders and varied terrain of the Golden State . Epcot’s newest attraction is an exciting, wind-in-your-hair adventure above towering redwoods, picturesque snow-capped mountains, expansive sun-kissed deserts and the crashing waves of the Pacific coast. Soarin’ is located at The Land presented by Nestlé USA .
Mission : SPACE is considered Disney’s most thrilling attraction ever, now taking cadets into deep space. Located in Future World, Mission : SPACE uses the same technology created by NASA to train their astronauts. The result is a heart-pounding liftoff and spectacular trip through space sure to bring guests back for more. Thanks to Disney’s FASTPASS, featured at Soarin’, Mission : SPACE, Maelstrom, Living with the Land and “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” kids and their parents can reduce wait time and enjoy more time in the park — and there’s no additional charge.
Spaceship Earth is Future World’s landmark adventure. Dramatic scenes in the attraction and its post show depict life in the 21st century’s Global Neighbourhood. With narration by actor Jeremy Irons and an impressive musical score, guests experience a time-travel journey from the beginning of time to the electronic age. Soarin’ takes guests on an exhilarating aerial journey over California , with a bird’s-eye view and an extraordinary sensation of free flight. Using stunning cinematic artistry and Imagineering-developed motion-based technology, the experience is intensified with sweeping winds and the fragrance of orange blossoms and pine trees. Mission : SPACE presented by HP offers guests a one-of-a-kind simulated space adventure — from heart-pounding liftoff to the weightlessness of outer space. Test Track, presented by General Motors, invites guests to buckle up and brace themselves for the longest and fastest ride ever in Vacation Kingdom history. Universe of Energy features “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” with Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Lee Curtis and Bill Nye the Science Guy. DeGeneres plays a woman who dreams she’s on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” As part of the show, guests venture into a re-creation of the primeval world complete with moving, roaring, life-size dinosaurs. Imagination! presented by Kodak includes Journey Into Imagination with Figment, featuring the playful purple dragon demonstrating the power of imagination; ImageWorks-The Kodak “What If?” Labs; and the 3-D sensation “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.”
The Land, presented by Nestle USA, features Soarin'(our fast pass told us to come back in five hours and we returned to no lineup and an experience I won’t soon forget); the motion picture “Circle of Life,” an environmental fable starring several characters from “The Lion King”; and the Living with the Land boat ride through greenhouses of the future. The Living Seas includes the world’s largest saltwater aquarium, featuring a two-story viewing area of a coral reef filled with colourful marine life, and “Turtle Talk With Crush,” a real-time animated character that talks, plays and jokes with guests. Innoventions, a dazzling showcase where guests can be among the first to experience the technologies of today that will shape their lives tomorrow. Wonders of Life, now operating seasonally, features Body Wars, a flight-simulator thrill ride through the human body, and a variety of shows and activities celebrating human life.
Across World Showcase Lagoon, 11 nations display authentic wares, ethnic cuisine, shows, entertainment and architecture representing their cultures. World Showcase ambassadors come from across the globe to represent their homelands. As part of the show, holidays and festivals are commemorated by the ambassadors in ways they would be celebrated “back home,” allowing Epcot guests to join in these international celebrations. Even the landscaping changes from country to country around the 1.3-mile promenade. Clockwise around the promenade you have Mexico, with an authentic marketplace, lively Mariachi bands and a boat ride through Mexican history; Norway, where guests embark on a voyage through time beginning in a 10th century Viking village; China, with unique live entertainment and a Circle-Vision 360 film, “Reflections of China,” that showcases past and present China and takes guests to seven cities around the country; Germany transports guests with authentic surroundings inspired by towns along the Rhine and in Bavaria; Italy, romance and beauty featured in a reproduction Doge’s Palace of Venice; The American Adventure showcases important moments in U.S. history; Japan, featuring spectacular gardens and outdoor entertainment; Morocco, where 19 Moroccan artisans spent months re-creating the intricate, colorful tile masterpieces of this North African country; France, the setting for fresh bakeries, beautiful shops and gardens, artists and an enchanting film tour through its cities and countryside; United Kingdom, with lovely flower gardens, cobbled streets and corner pub; and Canada, with entertainment by a bagpipe band and a Circle-Vision 360 film through some of Canada’s most picturesque regions.
This was my first time visiting Animal Kingdom. Conquer a forbidden mountain guarded by a mysterious yeti. Travel back in time — way back — to a world of ferocious dinosaurs. Surround yourself with the music and magic of a Broadway-caliber performance in the “Festival of the Lion King” show. Hop aboard a real safari and explore the wilds of Africa . Ride raging rapids through a threatened rainforest, or marvel at tigers, fruit bats and other creatures amid the ruins of an ancient Asian village.
Expedition Everest, featuring screaming coaster-like thrills up, down and through a towering mountain full of amazing effects, is the latest adventure awaiting guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Laid out in a classic hub-and-spoke Disney style, this newest and fourth major theme park at Disney first welcomes guests into The Oasis, a lush gateway to adventure populated by deer, anteaters, tree kangaroos and other animals. The park’s fun-filled lands radiate from the centrally located Discovery Island, where The Tree of Life park icon towers 145 feet above guests and houses the hilarious 3-D film and special effects attraction, “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” From there, guests can explore Asia, featuring the new Expedition Everest, a white-knuckle adventure into the unknown world of a mystical yeti; Kali River Rapids, a white-water raft adventure; Maharajah Jungle Trek with tigers, gibbons, Komodo dragons and other creatures; and “Flights of Wonder,” an exotic bird show. Africa is home to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Harambe village, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Wildlife Express steam train. DinoLand U.S.A. , with Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama! “mini-land” featuring Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin, the DINOSAUR thrill ride, The Bone yard excavation play area and Cretaceous Trail. Camp Minnie-Mickey , with the “Festival of the Lion King” stage show, Pocahontas in the “Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends” stage show, and Disney character meet-and-greet pavilions featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and other favorites.
A mountain range is peaking in Asia at Expedition Everest. Explorers encounter surprises aboard a runaway train adventure that combines coaster-like thrills with an encounter of the hairy kind. The story of yeti as protector of the sacred mountain is told throughout the mythical village rich with Himalayan culture and tradition. Kali River Rapids is a white-water rafting expedition in the land of Asia . Guests are launched on 12-person rafts into the turbulent Chakranadi River for a wet journey of twists, turns and fiery adventure. A surprise awaits around every turn, including an abrupt drop into racing, splashing waters.
Asia ‘s other main attraction, Maharajah Jungle Trek, is a breathtaking journey through the lush home of myriad animal and bird species. In this rainforest environment, Nepal , India , Thailand and Indonesia all are represented through architecture, animal carvings and ruins scattered throughout the village. The exotic animals are visible from the top of a parapet, through a stand of bamboo and from a bridge that stands amid the ruins near an old herb garden.
“Flights of Wonder,” a humorous show highlighting the beauty and diversity of birds at Caravan Stage outdoor amphitheatre, is also a part of Asia . The setting for “Flights of Wonder” is a crumbling Asian town where macaws, ibis, pelicans and other birds emerge from their alcoves to soar overhead. Which birds show off on any given day is part of the surprise, but all birds are being taught to show off their natural talent, not “do tricks.” Trainers demonstrate how birds respond to special audio or visual clues, how they hunt and eat. “Flights of Wonder” is one of many shows and demonstrations in Disney’s Animal Kingdom designed to entertain while inspiring guests to a greater awareness of animals and what threatens them around the world. Bugs are another matter. They may not shake the earth, but they know how to shake up an audience in “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” at The Tree of Life Theatre. With advanced 3-D and Audio-Animatronics technology combined with surprising special effects, this insect adventure leaves guests laughing and screaming for more. The magical music of the Disney classic “The Lion King” combines with dance, acrobatics and elaborate staging and costuming to inspire one of the theme park’s most talked-about shows, “Festival of the Lion King” at Camp Minnie-Mickey.
At the heart of DinoLand U.S.A., guests discover DINOSAUR, where they board time-traveling vehicles to zoom back 65 million years on a twisting, lurching journey to save the last dinosaur from extinction before the crash of a fiery asteroid. A busy paleontological “dig,” The Boneyard, provides plenty of fun activity for children as they climb, crawl and slide throughout the well-preserved skeletons of triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex. Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama! captures the essence of a campy roadside fair. Guests can take a spin on Primeval Whirl, a fun-filled family coaster, or TriceraTop Spin, a playful open-air, toy-top attraction. Old-fashioned amusement games round out the fun. From the thrilling era of the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago, Disney guests can travel on to an African savannah of today, where rare and wonderful creatures such as black rhinos, hippos, African elephants and lions roam openly. On Kilimanjaro Safaris, passengers experience a true African safari in vehicles that bounce over rutted roads, ford through pools of hippos and pass herds of zebra, giraffe, gazelle, elephants and other animals. We attempted to Fast Pass this attraction, but chose to wait in line for 50 minutes rather than return in four hours.
At the end of the 20-minute safari, visitors can follow Pangani Forest Exploration Trail into an Eden-like world of streams and splashing waterfalls. Pangani Forest is home to a troop of endangered lowland gorillas. Hippos — viewed from under water — meerkats and tropical birds live along the shady walking trail. For an up-close look at more of the real animals inhabiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests can board the Wildlife Express steam train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. An interactive backstage look at how the park’s animals are kept happy and healthy, Rafiki’s Planet Watch features: Animal Cam, with a peek into animal care areas; hands-on displays for the opportunity to participate in conservation and species-survival efforts; and The Affection Section, where guests can meet and pet small domestic animals such as goats and sheep. A wondrous audio experience transports guests into a threatened rainforest.
Animals have played an important part in Disney stories from the earliest Mickey Mouse films to the “True-Life Adventures” television series in the 1950s to “The Lion King” in feature motion pictures.
And a few more tips: reserve some time in your schedule to spend a night at Downtown Disney, featuring blocks of shops full of delights from music to memorabilia. There’s plenty of food and activities. Finally, consider the park hopper option when purchasing your ticket. It allows you to see more than one park on a single day. With Disney’s superb in-house and free transportation system this is a task made much easier.
For more information on Walt Disney go to http://disneyworld.disney.go.com