Once upon a time, in a land far, far away… and so began the magic envisioned by Walt Disney, more than 90 years ago. I have just returned from a wonderful visit to Disney World and, albeit my fifth time, the magic was stronger than ever.
I recall my first visit, sometime in the seventies, when the Magic Kingdom was the only park in existence. Being swept through the ghouls and goblins in the haunted mansion was offset by the bellowing bears in the Country Bear Jamboree. Watching the animatronics in the Hall of Presidents was mind boggling and seeing pirates come to life in the Pirates of the Caribbean experience was breathtaking. I cannot say enough about my first visit, and was equally thrilled this time around.
Disney knows how to do it and they do it right. It is not the cheapest locale in Florida to visit, but if you want perfection, you will find it there. Besides, it is almost an obligation to take your children and grandchildren, the way our parents and grandparents took us.
The best and easiest way to live the experience is to stay at one of the more than 25 magical resorts. When you arrive at the airport a Disney coach whisks you to your hotel (I had to wait less than 10 minutes). Check in was very fast and simple. You see, Disney lets you pre arrange a number of things:
Before you leave, buy your tickets – this is a must or you will have nothing but headaches. There are also some specials for Canadians, which ease the currency exchange. I was excited when I received an email indicating that my ‘wristbands’ were ready to load up. One click and it took me to all my reservation details. The next step was to select some of the attractions I wanted to do. You can choose up to three per day at specific times, which means a very short, if any, lineup. You can switch on the fly while you are there, but some of the more popular attractions, such as the new Avatar exhibit, will quickly fill up.
You always have the option of not using the ‘FastPass’ system and waiting in line, but why bother if you can avoid it. You can also make dinner reservations before you go, and I would suggest you do. You may want to change your mind when you are there, but Disney Florida caters to 60,000 people a day and they all get hungry. What I ended up doing was eating a good breakfast, having ice cream for lunch and eating dinner around 5. That way I avoided the dinner rush and the lineups.
There are four parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios; plan on doing one per day. There is also Disney Springs, a great shopping and eating area, with the largest Disney store in the world. I found that getting up at 6:30 each day, being in the restaurant for 7:30 and on the bus at 8:15 would get me to the park of the day by 9 (opening time). I had planned to go to the most popular attractions first (to beat the rush) and managed to do that. You have to pick and choose and cater to your wants (or those of your kids), and make a list before you get to the park.
Each park has a great evening fireworks display and for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios I would recommend pre-booking with FastPass. People flock to them, otherwise you could be waiting in excess of an hour. I decided to only spend half a day at Hollywood Studios (after I saw Indiana Jones, A Wrinkle in Time and the Star Wars show). I then took the bus and went to Disney Springs for a few hours of shopping and eating. I returned to Hollywood for the evening performance, which was spectacular.
Another great benefit is there is free Wi-Fi in each hotel and everywhere in each park. All of your itinerary, planned events, reservations, etc. are all on your smart phone. Simply put your phone into ‘Airplane’ mode, turn your Wi-Fi on and it won’t cost you a cent. You can make any changes to your itinerary on the go, and yes, even answer those all important emails from back home.
The Magic Kingdom is very similar to the way it was 20, 30 and 40 years ago. The Jungle Cruise ride still takes you through fierce animatronic creatures and the climb up the Swiss Family treehouse remains an adventure. I sang along with Tiki birds, watched a massive parade and did a handful of other attractions.
Animal Kingdom features an animal safari through the jungle, where you will encounter real giraffes, rhinos, hippos and elephants, not to mention a few dozen other animals. The new Avatar exhibit is spectacular, but be aware lineups are long if you do not use FastPass.
I still like Epcot and the 11 different countries in the World Showcase. Lunch in France, dinner in Germany and a snack in Morocco is the way to spend a day. There are several new exhibits, which are worth seeing.
Hollywood Studios is the refurbished Disney’s MGM studios from years ago. Star Wars has a massive attraction and lots of visibility. The Indiana Jones exhibit has not changed, but it is still as thrilling as ever.
In the evenings do not miss the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom, the Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom, Fantasmic in Hollywood and Illuminations in Epcot.
There is no need to carry cash, as the wristband will allow you to charge everything from food to souvenirs and it doubles as a room key (yes , there are limit restrictions you can impose for kids… or your husband).
No matter how old you are or how many times you have been, Walt Disney World is still a great destination for couples, families or groups. To think, it all started with a mouse.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com