No matter what age, how many times you’ve come, Walt Disney World delights

by Karen Rubin

Disney still has that magic. No matter what age you are, how many times you’ve come, there is always something that astounds, thrills, astonishes, makes you laugh, even makes you think.

Walt Disney World still has the magic: arriving at sunset by ferry to Magic Kingdom © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We made this visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando (the themepark capital of the world) with an adult child, but it seems that on the sheer-delight meter, I may well have been more the kid than he.

There is always so much to see and do – the trick to getting the most out of two days at Disneyworld is to check the schedules – see which parks are open the latest and have the nighttime parades.

With this in mind, my philosophy is to start with the second favorite place (not the most) – because it takes time to get in the groove of a themepark visit, you will be a little tired from your travels, so you probably aren’t going to be as efficient.

For our two-day visit with a Park-Hopper Pass, we were able to visit three parks, starting with Hollywood Studios (a sentimental favorite).

If you are staying at a Disney Hotel, you can get priority access to attractions; otherwise, you can use your ticket to plug in a time to return to an attraction without waiting on the bigger line.

Another trick is to go on the singles line. This works superbly when you have an older or adult child, especially when you don’t wish to do all the roller coasters, yourself, and if you don’t mind not riding together. (If you are prone to motion sickness, take Dramamine or Bonine so you can take best advantage of the rides.)

At Animal Kingdom, guests stroll in Asia, with the snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest incongruously in the background; it holds one of the best roller coasters anywhere © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Our first stop was Hollywood Studios, which has great appeal regardless of age, and was open until 8 p.m. that night.

One of the charms of Hollywood Studios is that it is a working film, TV and radio studio, as well as a theme park set on 135 acres.

Checking the show schedule, we realized we needed to take advantage of the last show of the day of the incredible Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt show – totally thrilling, you just can’t believe how these stunts are done for movies, performed in front of you so you can see they are the real thing (they also use modified cars and all sorts of techniques so that these are not tricks that can be replicated at home).

One of the surprises (for me) was how popular the “American Idol Experience” was – where all day long, park guests were able to audition and ultimately make it to the finals. The theater filled early (audience members were able to vote), but we were able to watch some of the final performance on a big screen outside the theater.

We were able to enjoy some of our favorites: the Indian Jones Epic Stunt spectacular, the Muppet*Vision 3D (it was a breakthrough when it first opened), and the Great Movie Ride where you get to “travel” through classic film scenes (a bit dated).

There are also the serendipitous entertainments you come upon, like the Block Party Bash and the Hollywood Boulevard Party Zone and Echo Lake Party Zone.

Beginning our ascent to Expedition Everest-Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a high-speed train ride with encounters with a fierce Yeti © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

My initial plan was to go over to EPCOT which was open late that night, for their laser show. But the rest of the family was too tired after our travels.

Next day, we headed for my favorite of the Walt Disney World themeparks, Animal Kingdom.

I think Animal Kingdom is a true masterpiece – the pinnacle of creativity and artistry, which also manages to educate.

It is all so realistic: in the Africa section, when we took the Kilimanjaro Safari, where you taken an open-air vehicle through an African-style savannah to see giraffes, gazelles, elephants, rhinos and lions roaming freely, we were thinking about our son in South Africa, who had just done a safari to Botswana and to Kruger National Park and spent 8 hours in a car and never saw a lion (we got to see two). Instead of just driving you around to see animals, you become immersed in a hunt for poachers and help save an elephant baby (another clever teaching device; as for poachers, they are a very real and serious problem – our son said he saw some come in with helicopters).

When we came out of the safari, we came upon the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail – a walking trail where you see birds, fish, hippos (you view from underwater), and most spectacularly, a huge environment for silverback gorillas where we were transfixed watching their behaviors and interactions with each other.

The Kilimanjaro Safari provides a close encounter with a giraffe (and other animals), which comes right up to a safari vehicle © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

When we came out, we happened upon the preparations for the daily parade, which uses much of the creative costuming elements of the Lion King Just as the parade ended, a thunderstorm hit and we took shelter in one of the amazing shops that are throughout the Animal Kingdom (they are all different).

It is all so picturesque (and realistic) here – I was determined to overcome my motion sickness to take the Expedition Everest-Legend of the Forbidden Mountain coaster, which is one of the iconic attractions of the park. It was sensational.

We figured out the trick of using our pass to get a ticket for a timed return so you don’t spend so much time waiting on lines – unfortunately, a thunderstorm prevented us from taking the Kali River Rapids ride, a whitewater rafting adventure down the Chakranadi River.

We took advantage of the rain to walk into the base of the Tree of Life (one of my favorite things), to see “It’s Tough to be a Bug” 3-D movie – as much fun as ever. Here there are Discovery Island Trails where you can discover creatures like Galapagos tortoises, African crested porcupines and lemurs.

Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom is one of the best zoos anywhere; take the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail for a closeup view of silverback gorillas interacting with each other © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I love the educational elements that are just about everywhere. In Rafiki’s Planet Watch there is Habitat Habit where you see cotton-top tamarins and learn about sharing the world with animals; Conservation Station, and Affection Section, a petting yard where there are a number of rare domesticated breeds from around the world.

At the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia, you wander through the ruins of an ancient palace inhabited by exotic animals such as giant fruit bats, birds, tapirs, Komodo dragons and tigers.

The details are just marvelous – as you wait in the queue for the Safari, for example, it is like going through an outpost. The signs read, “Esteemed safari guest,” “eat of it,” “do not block view of guest whilst snapping photographs.”

DinoLand U.S.A. reminds people that North America has a fantastic legacy of dinosaurs (there are active digs in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana), so this area has a delightful western theme. You go into the restaurant, even, and see a display identifying the different dinosaurs. There is a marvelous playground, The Boneyard, which is a play maze built around dinosaur fossils – you can even dig up wooly mammoth bones.

The major ride in DinoLand, Dinosaur, takes you back 65 million years to save the last dinosaur.

The daytime parade at Animal Kingdom uses much of the creative costuming and puppetry of the Lion King © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In Dinoland you will find “Finding Nemo – the Musical” an absolutely sensational original musical stage production that you can easily imagine coming to Broadway in the way of “Lion King.” It is amazing to see the animated film re-created by merging puppetry with actors. It is not to be missed.

I timed our visit to Animal Kingdom so that we were literally the last guests out, and still had time to go over to Magic Kingdom, which was open until 9 p.m. We drove over to that lot, and opted to take the boat over to the park (instead of the tram) which makes you feel as if you have really traveled, and also gives you a spectacular view of Magic Kingdom in the setting sun, as the sky darkens and the lighted buildings become more pronounced (all of this in the matter of minutes it took to take the boat ride).

We arrived just as they were setting up for the Electrical Parade and managed to get a terrific spot at the Town Center.

After the parade, we got some giant hot dogs at Casey’s Corner (a baseball themed restaurant), before getting an amazing spot to see the fireworks above Cinderella’s Castle. This was easily the most amazing fireworks display I have ever seen in my life (how they managed to make the pirate skull and bones out of fireworks, is beyond me..)

We had time for a few of the rides – an altogether different experience at night. We were the last riders on Space Mountain coaster (another experience I wasn’t going to deny myself), in Tomorrowland (a Jetson’s view of how the future would look, now marvelously quaint), and when we came out, the second Parade was coming through. This time, we got a view just in front of Cinderella’s Castle, absolutely exquisite

Planning Tips

"Finding Nemo - the Musical" at Animal Kingdom is not to be missed; it is amazing to see the animated film re-created by merging puppetry with actors © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Wednesday is typically the least crowded day at the theme parks. Check the WDW website to get a schedule for the parks – which are open late, when the parades and the fireworks are scheduled, and special events to help you plan. Pre-planning will really help get the most out of your visit.

I suggest not doing your favorite park on the first day – you will be tired from traveling and you also have to get oriented to the way the parks operate.

Take advantage of singles lines – frequently get you in faster.

Take advantage of FastPass system, offered at certain attractions, where you can get a time to return (it spans an hour) and you just breeze in, so you don’t have to wait on the regular line. You are only allowed to get one FastPass per hour, though. The way it works is that each of your part inserts his or her Park ticket into the Fastpass kiosk and get a ticket with a return time.

They are great about posting how long the wait is for the Standby line, and what time the FastPass is returning.

Get all the info you need and do your vacation planning at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/, or call: Vacation Package Booking, 407-939-7675; Resort Room-Only Bookings, 407-939-7429, Tickets, 407-939-1289; Dining Reservations, 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463); or general guest information, 407-939-6244.

A stuntman is set ablaze during the Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt show at Hollywood Studios © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Themed Resorts

It is particularly fun to stay within the Walt Disney World resort, and hop on the local transportation, and truly be a part of this fantastical world.

Walt Disney World resort has 34 properties (including seven Disney Vacation Club properties) in a variety of price points featuring nearly 28,000 hotel rooms; 3,187 DVC units (2-bedroom equivalents); 799 campsites.

Disney’s Value Resorts (from $82/night): Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort (1,920 rooms), Disney’s All-Star Music Resort (1,704 rooms/215 family suites), Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort (1,920 rooms), Disney’s Pop Century Resort (2,880 rooms).

Disney’s Moderate Resorts (from $149/night): Disney’s Port Orleans Resort-Riverside (2,048 rooms), Disney’s Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter (1,008 rooms), Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (2,112 rooms), Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (1,917 rooms).

The skies are ablaze with the fireworks over the Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Disney’s Deluxe Resorts (from $240/night): Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (972 rooms), Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (727 rooms), Disney’s Contemporary Resort (655 rooms), Disney’s Polynesian Resort (847 rooms), Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (621 rooms), Disney’s Beach Club Resort (576 rooms), Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (867 rooms) and Disney’s BoardWalk Inn (372 rooms).

Disney’s Deluxe Villa Resorts (from $275/night / units are 2-bedroom equivalents): Disney’s Old Key West Resort (549 units), Disney’s BoardWalk Villas (280 units), The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (114 units), Disney’s Beach Club Villas (576 units), Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (924 units), The Villas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (449 units), Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (295 units/ opening August 2009).

In addition, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground offers: Disney’s Wilderness Cabins (409 cabins, from $270/night), and Disney’s Campsites (799 campsites, from $44/night)

Official Hotels of Walt Disney World Resort include: Walt Disney World Swan (756 rooms), Walt Disney World Dolphin (1,509 rooms), Buena Vista Palace (1,013 rooms), Regal Sun Resort (626 rooms), Doubletree Guest Suites Resort (229 rooms), The Hilton (814 rooms), Holiday Inn (323 rooms), Hotel Royal Plaza (394 rooms) and Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel (325 rooms). Shades of Green on Walt Disney World Resort (586 rooms) is a U.S. Armed Forces Recreation Center for vacationing servicemen and women from all branches of the armed forces.

2011, The Year of ‘Disney Dream Vacations’

Count on Disney for the most spectacular fireworks show anywhere © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

2011 will be a year of “Disney dream vacations,” both figuratively and literally. Disney offers travel experiences and opportunities that go way beyond themeparks – cruises, family adventures to exotic locales. Guests will be making memories over the horizon in Egypt, Hawaii and Alaska, on the aqua waters of the Bahamas, under the sea, over croc and rhino gullies and beyond the solar system.

During 2011, premieres will include an Adventures by Disney itinerary to the land of the pyramids, a Disney Parks virtual itinerary in stunning 3-D to the galaxy of Star Wars, a Disney’s Animal Kingdom ‘Wild Africa Trek’ into the domain of fearsome and fascinating critters, and an experience at Disney California Adventure that plunges guests into the realm of “The Little Mermaid.” Meanwhile, Disney Vacation Club will celebrate the opening of its first property away from the U.S. mainland, in romantic Hawaii, and Disney Cruise Line will launch the Disney Dream and expand the horizons for its existing ships.

Here are some of the details of what’s in store:

Launch of Disney Dream (January 2011) – A first-of-its kind water coaster that sends guests racing above the upper decks of the ship. An animated turtle that engages children in conversation about life in the ocean. A sophisticated lounge where the sun sets over the skyline of a different world-famous city each night. The Disney Dream, newest ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, will bring to life these innovations and more, offering a cruise experience from stem to stern that caters to preferences of the whole family.

The Disney Dream, slated to set sail on Jan. 26, 2011, from Port Canaveral, Fla., will have three-to-five-night Bahamian itineraries. The ship has a capacity of 4,000 passengers. For a “boatload” of information about the new ship, go to www.disneycruise.com, click on the Ships & Activities tab and choose Disney Dream.

The Electrical Parade ends up at Cinderella Castle © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

New horizons for Disney Cruise Line (beginning January 2011) – The Disney Wonder cruise ship will “go west” in early 2011. New West Coast itineraries for Disney Cruise Line will include, for the first time, Alaska cruises sailing from Vancouver. The Alaska cruises will combine the natural wonder and adventurous spirit of Alaska with the unparalleled guest experience provided by Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Wonder also is scheduled for cruises out of the Port of Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera, before and after the summer Alaska cruises. To learn more about Disney Cruise Line or to book a vacation, guests can visitwww.disneycruise.com, call Disney Cruise Line at 888/DCL-2500 or contact their travel agent.

An African trek … in Florida (beginning January 2011) – A ravine of menacing-looking crocs, pools of hippos, bushwalks along untracked terrain and other thrills await guests on Wild Africa Trek, a unique wildlife experience launching Jan. 16, 2011, into the deepest, most-remote reaches of Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort. The three-hour, expert-led adventure will immerse small groups in an “up-close-and-personal” experience with African wildlife species that make their home in Pangani Forest as well as other areas of the park’s Harambe Wildlife Reserve. Reservations can be arranged at 407/WDW-TOUR (939-8687).

Egyptian wonders ahead for Adventures by Disney (beginning April 2011) – Once upon a time, there were “seven wonders of the ancient world.” Today, one remains: the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Adventures by Disney guests will step off of planes, cruise ships and camels into living chapters of history during seven- and nine-night Egypt itineraries. The pyramids and Great Sphinx in Giza, a Nile River cruise and days and nights in Cairo are all part of the experience. In 2011, Adventures by Disney will offer 25 itineraries, six to 13 days in duration, on six continents – experiences unique in the luxury tour market for their attention to the family in every aspect of the adventure. Guests can learn more at www.adventuresbydisney.com.

New Star Tours adventure out of this world (2011) – Bridging that “long time ago” between the two Star Wars trilogies, new Star Tours adventures debuting in 2011 will take voyagers at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland Park in California – for the first time – to Coruscant and other destinations in the Stars Wars galaxy. The power of the Force and the magic of Disney will combine with the breathtaking immersion of 3-D – for the first time.

A patriotic flourish to Magic Kingdom's Electrical Parade © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Disney Vacation Club says ‘Aloha’ (scheduled to open Aug. 29, 2011) – Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai’i that includes traditional hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club villas, is being built on 21 acres of oceanfront property in Ko Olina, approximately 30 minutes from Waikiki. Aulani draws its inspiration from the traditions and heritage of the people of Hawaii. Walt Disney Imagineers, with the help of local architects, artisans and historians, are weaving Hawaiian stories into the buildings, interiors, art and gardens of the resort. Upon completion, Aulani will include 359 traditional hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas with views of the ocean, mountains and the lush grounds. More information about Aulani is available by visitingwww.disneyaulani.com.

Coming attraction gives new meaning to “immersive experience” (2011) – With the premiere of The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Disney California Adventure will take guests “under the sea” to experience magnificent scenes and magical songs from the popular motion picture. The attraction represents the next big milestone in the ongoing expansion of the park. For information on new attractions and vacations at Disneyland Resort, visit www.disneyland.com, call 866/60-DISNEY or contact local travel agents.

Peeking over the “boards” to a reimagined Fantasyland – The largest expansion project in Magic Kingdom history is underway at Walt Disney World Resort, featuring attractions and experiences in an area that will nearly double the size of Fantasyland. The Walt Disney World project began in early 2010 and will be completed in phases with most new experiences open by 2013.

Changes to Downtown Disney

Meanwhile, Disney is working on a completely re-imagined Pleasure Island and other one-of-a-kind experiences as Walt Disney World Resort continues to bring new stories to life at Downtown Disney.

A nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier will evolve Pleasure Island into “Hyperion Wharf.” By day, the bustling port district will draw guests in with its stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants and by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.

Guests leave Main Street as Magic Kingdom closes for the night © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Taking its name from Hyperion, the Greek god of light, as well as the street on which Walt Disney built his first major animation studio, the wharf district also will feature a relaxing lakeside park and enhanced pedestrian walkways.

In addition to the new wharf district, numerous other projects are underway at Downtown Disney, including: an extensive renovation of Lego Imagination Center, which will increase its overall footprint by nearly 3,500 square-feet and add new Lego exterior models featuring scenes from classic Disney movies; enhancements at AMC that will take the movie-going experience at Downtown Disney to the next level with new digital technology, a paradigm-shifting Concession Stand of the Future and Florida’s first Fork & Screen Theater; and numerous new or renovated retail shops and merchandise vignettes, as well as additional atmosphere entertainment, throughout Downtown Disney.

Other recent additions to Downtown Disney include: new entertainment, such as the Characters in Flight tethered balloon ride, the ETX theater at AMC and an enhanced outdoor performance area; unique shopping experiences like D Street, littlemissmatched, RIDEMAKERZ, Tren-D and Disney’s Design-a-Tee; and immersive dining, like T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family Adventure, Paradiso 37 and the recently opened Pollo Campero and Fresh A-Peel, a new quick-service restaurant combining authentic Latin-style chicken and side dishes, as well as fresh, healthy creations such as salads, wraps and gluten-free desserts.

Thursday, 06 January, 2011


© 2011 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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