Rachel Herrity enjoys a fairy tale first visit to Walt Disney World in Florida
Rachel Herrity is won over by Walt Disney World in Florida
IT WAS while enjoying a delicious breakfast of waffles and maple syrup that the reality of where I was finally hit me. I felt a sudden tap on the shoulder, turned round and found Mickey Mouse smiling down at me.
Just another typical breakfast at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
It was a first time visit to Walt Disney World for my partner and I, and, being a lifelong Disney fan and ‘big kid’, I couldn’t wait to see everything. My partner, having a more cynical head on his shoulders, was less certain. But I had a feeling he would be won over pretty quickly.
As guests of a Disney resort hotel, we took a complimentary airport transfer on the Disney Magical Express bus, directly to the Boardwalk Inn, one of Disney’s Deluxe Resort hotels. Located within the Epcot theme park, the resort surrounds the beautiful Crescent Lake and captures the charm and elegance of 1940s Atlantic City.
Our family-sized room offered plenty of space to relax and get a good night’s sleep after the flight.
After enjoying the above breakfast, we felt suitably refreshed to really let the magic begin and headed straight for the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World’s first, and arguably most famous of its four theme parks.
The 107-acre park certainly lives up to its name. From the moment we walked in I felt as though I’d been transported into a Disney fairy tale. It consists of six separate ‘lands’ surrounding the iconic Cinderella’s Castle. We stepped into the Main Street USA area and from here it was a short but fascinating stroll up Main Street to what is undoubtedly the symbol of Walt Disney World – Cinderella’s Castle.
Magic Kingdom has some of Disney’s World’s most famous rides, including Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and my personal favourite, the Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road, but also caters for younger guests with the Mad Tea Party and the ever-popular Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride.
All Disney theme parks get very busy during the day but the free FASTPASS system meant we didn’t have to spend half our day standing in queues. Simply inset your park entry ticket into a machine to get a Return Time and go back when it’s your time. Disney resort guests also have the convenience of complimentary transportation between the parks and resorts.
After a delicious dinner at The Flying Fish Cafe on the Boardwalk, we returned to the Magic Kingdom for one of the highlights of the trip... the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks display at the castle. The choreographed display told the tales of various Disney characters, set to some of their best loved film scores. It was the perfect fairy tale end to our first day in Disney.
After another delicious breakfast at the Old Port Royale Food Court in Disney’s charming Caribbean Beach Resort, we headed off for a morning at Typhoon Lagoon, one of two water parks at Walt Disney World. The park features water coasters, rapids and a wave pool for thrillseekers or you can enjoy a slower pace of life drifting along the Castaway Creek.
After a quick shower, it was time to head to the Hollywood Studios theme park. Everywhere you look there are attractions based on well known films including the Star Tours Star Wars simulator, Pixar Place where you can meet your favourite characters, and Toy Story Mania, a hilarious moving version of a fairground shooting gallery.
Slightly scarier (but no less fun) was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which takes screaming participants soaring up and down in a make-believe lift. Definitely one to try if you have the stomach!
We rounded off the day with the Fantasmic! show at the Hollywood Hills Ampitheatre. Sorcerer Mickey Mouse battles a range of Disney villains in an amazing spectacle of water, fire and lights. The whole effect is jaw-dropping and very memorable.
The next day we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, a 500-acre site divided into seven separate lands, and home to more than 1,700 animals.
Top of our to do list was a Kilimanjaro Safari trip over African- style savannah and bushland where, from the safari vehicle, we were able to get up close to an array of animals.
After this we strolled around the rest of the park, soaking up the atmosphere.
There are also plenty of chances to see Disney’s own collection of animal stars with shows featuring The Lion King and Finding Nemo.
Walt Disney World may be rightly proud of its theme parks but there is so much more to do. We headed over to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort for an afternoon of getting back to nature and opted to have a go on a Segway.
After a quick but informative lesson, we were ready to roll (quite literally) on the hi-tech two wheel machines and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon riding around the beautiful surroundings.
There are more than 475 places to dine throughout the Disney parks and visitors could be forgiven for finding choosing where to eat rather daunting. However, all resort guests can take advantage of the Disney Dining Plan, a convenient, money- saving option which allows you to choose your dining options when booking your holiday.
There are many choices of cuisine to try and we sampled some of the finest at the award- winning California Grill restaurant. Our amazing meal included delicate sushi served with a fiery wasabi sauce, brick oven-baked flatbreads, perfectly cooked black grouper fillet with stir-fry vegetables, oak-fired beef with truffle-whipped potatoes and mushrooms in a red wine sauce, and pistachio crème brulee.
On our final day we visited the Epcot theme park. Twice the size of Magic Kingdom, Epcot is dominated by the iconic Spaceship Earth golf ball.
The park has great attractions including Soarin’, Test Track, Mission: SPACE and, for younger ones, Turtle Talk.
But Epcot is so much more than the rides. The World Showcase section consists of 11 pavilions, each representing a different country, surrounding a lagoon. Visitors can enjoy a fascinating stroll through the countries, which all have authentic-looking buildings, stores and restaurants.
To round off our last night, we wanted some suitably spectacular entertainment – and Epcot’s IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show more than provided it. This live pyrotechnic show uses bursts of fire, lasers, video displays and fireworks, all backed by a stirring musical score.
Our final day dawned and, after using the convenient early baggage check in with Virgin Holidays, we were ready for some retail therapy.
Downtown Disney is open day and night and is a Disney shopper’s paradise.
The World of Disney is the largest Disney store in the world and anything you can’t buy here just isn’t worth getting. Even my partner couldn’t resist buying a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and baseball cap – a true convert to the Disney magic.
And that’s the special thing about Walt Disney World... the fun and magic just engulfs you. No matter what your age, it makes you forget your cares , turns you into a big kid again and makes you believe that maybe, just maybe, fairy tales really can come true.
RACHEL and her partner travelled to Walt Disney World in Florida with Virgin Holidays’ Rockstar Service from Gatwick Airport.
The Rockstar service includes use of the v-room, an exclusive airport lounge at Gatwick and Manchester which allows passengers to start their holiday in style. It includes free food and soft drinks, a children’s play area, free internet access and a selection of video games. Virgin Holiday guests can also take advantage of special Disney holiday packages which include Disney Dining Plans.
Seven nights at Walt Disney World with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 5V Boardwalk Inn on a room only basis with transfers included starts from £1,489. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures from 13-31 January 2012. Use of the v-room is £20 for adults and £12 for children.
(You can also combine your Disney holiday with a four night cruise on the Disney Dream, visiting Nassau and Disney’s Castaway Cay island in the Bahamas). For more information or to book, visit www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859 or visit one of the 50 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.