Disney's true magic: Resort isn't quite what you imagined -- it's much better
Jon McCarthy/QMI Agency
A trip to Walt Disney World is like going to the Masters.
From a golf writer that is high praise, indeed. If you’re wondering whether I can find a way to relate everything in life to golf, the answer is yes. But, after trading my clubs for Mickey ears and spending a week at the Florida resort with the family, it seems like the best way to put it.
For readers not familiar with the Masters tournament, it’s held annually at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, and it’s known for never disappointing. It’s also known for being absolutely picture perfect. Without fail. Every year.
On TV, the greens look greener than green, the water looks bluer than blue, the azaleas are always in bloom, and the white clubhouse seems as though it was painted yesterday. If you are lucky enough to visit Augusta National, you’ll quickly discover the Masters is one of life’s rare experiences that completely lives up to your imagination.
Well, so does Walt Disney World.
Like the Masters, when you see commercials or photos about Disney it looks too perfect. It seems so clean, the colours so vibrant, the smiles so big. It’s no surprise the adult in you might be skeptical. Well, that all disappears when you arrive at the Magic Kingdom and find yourself walking down Main Street U.S.A. It’s the world of childhood dreams. There’s an ice-cream parlour, a candy shop, a hot dog joint. There are balloons, music and famous characters. At the end of the road is Cinderella’s castle, as iconic an image as Mickey himself.
Also like the Masters, everyone seems genuinely happy to be there. And both places have special names for people. At the Masters fans aren’t fans, they are patrons. At Disney World staff isn’t staff, they are cast members. Two things I didn’t come across over the course of a week was an unpleasant cast member or a piece of garbage on the ground for more than 30 seconds.
People have become so used to being over-promised, it’s refreshing when an experience over-delivers.
For those who haven’t been to Disney World, let’s go through the basics. It’s in Lake Buena Vista near Orlando, and opened in 1971. It’s a sprawling campus covering 111-sq-km and made up of four main parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Guests who want to stay onsite have their choice of nearly 30 resort hotels. Those staying onsite have access to a free shuttle system to get around. Actually, the shuttle system begins at the airport, where you meet your first cast member and are led to a bus that takes you to your resort.
Another convenience of staying onsite is upon arrival you receive Magicbands for everyone in your party. These waterproof wristbands resemble a bracelet or a Fitbit and allow you to travel lighter at the park.
The Magicband has a sensor and is used for park admission, as a room key, a payment method, to connect to Photopass pictures taken by park photographers, and also to check in at Fastpass+ entrances.
You just have to make sure your kids don’t lose it, which, of course, one of mine did. Although nobody’s pointing fingers, investigation showed she had it before she met Mickey, but not after. Pluto is looking into it.
Most people who visit theme parks are familiar with the Fastpass concept, which allows visitors to reserve times for rides or experiences and avoid long lineups. Disney's Fastpass+ reservations can be changed at any time via a Disney To Go mobile app that gives you both the security of knowing you won’t miss meeting your kids’ favourite character or ride and the flexibility of modifying your plans throughout the day.
Your must-see attractions likely will depend on the age of the loudest person in your party. Travelling with young children, it’s all about meeting Disney characters and, apparently, eating frozen treats. No matter which park you visit, there are plenty of both.
Epcot is a sprawling park with plenty for older kids to enjoy. Its World Showcase is a relaxing place to spend time. Pavilions from 11 countries surround a reflective lagoon and give Epcot the feeling of a world fair.
Hollywood Studios transports guests to Tinseltown and is a must-see for lovers of Disney films. Its Streets of America is a nice place for adults to walk while kids daydream. Replicas of San Francisco and New York make it feel like a movie set. Although there are more rides at some of the other Disney parks, the Tower of Terror is a must for thrill-seekers and the Frozen sing-along will make parents of little ones feel right at home.
Animal Kingdom is the largest single Disney park at 202 hectares. The 14-storey Tree of Life can’t be missed and the Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition will be a hit with animal lovers.
Everything comes back to Magic Kingdom -- the park people imagine when they think of Walt Disney World. It has something for everyone and is the be-all-and-end-all for young children. From Cinderella’s castle to the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Magic Kingdom is the most iconic theme park in the world. Its daily parades and fireworks make every day feel like a holiday.
With new possibilities ahead after the success of Frozen and the upcoming release of new Star Wars movies, this world that Walt Disney started “with a dream and a mouse” isn’t close to finished yet.
NEED TO KNOW
-- For information visiting Walt Disney World, see disneyworld.disney.go.com/en_CA. Download the “My Disney Experience - Walt Disney World” app so you can get used to it before you arrive. The app allows you to get information on all the attractions, manage and share your plans, check wait times, manage your Fastpass+ experiences and more.