Walt Disney was a dreamer, innovator, and entrepreneur – but I think even he would be overwhelmed to see his legacy as Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its 50th anniversary.
If you’ve visited a Disney Park, you’ll know that there’s magic at every turn, from interactions with Cast Members to incredible rides and nighttime spectaculars.
To mark Walt Disney World Resort’s anniversary, an extra dash of pixie dust has been sprinkled on all four of Orlando’s parks. Each park offers a unique experience, and you don’t need to be a super-fan of a particular movie to get a kick out of being transported to otherworldly lands. Disney’s imagineers weave a level of detail into the rides and throughout the parks that can be admired no matter your level of familiarity.
Magical Lands Beckon
Magic Kingdom is where Disney fantasies turn into reality. Take flight with Dumbo, explore Ariel’s grotto, or ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
You’re never too old to meet favourite characters, or to wave as Disney’s Festival of Fantasy Parade passes by. When the sun sets, it’s difficult not to be swept up in the magic of Enchantment, the all-new light show and fireworks spectacular that illuminates Cinderella’s Castle. Gaze skyward and you may see Tinkerbell take flight.
The Call Of The Wild
Going on safari has never been easier – or more fun! At Animal Kingdom, guests can transfer into an open-air vehicle and tour the African Savannah. Cheetahs, giraffes, and lions are easy to spot as they roam, free grazing or sunning themselves.
The fanciful world of Pandora: World of Avatar is a must-see attraction. Check out the stunning baobab, Tree of Life, which towers over the land at 45m (145ft) tall. I found myself flying on the back of a mountain banshee during an exhilarating 3D ride that hade me hanging on with white-knuckle delight.
Mickey, Donald, and Chip ‘n’ Dale don their best safari gear as they make their way down the river, waving to eager guests above.
A Dash Of Hollywood
Woody welcomes guests to Toy Story Land with a hearty “Howdy!”. The sounds of guests squealing just beyond signal the fun ahead on Slinky Dog Dash Rollercoaster.
Blasting my way around the 4D Toy Story Mania carnival arcade ride was more my speed, followed by a delicious grilled cheese sandwich at Woody’s Lunchbox. While my favourite ride was the family-friendly Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Train, a brand-new trackless dark ride filled with animation, I also highly rate the Star Wars Ride Of The Resistance.
Visiting Epcot during the International Flower and Garden Festival was a treat, with colourful blooms and character topiaries dotted around the park. I took some time to smell the roses, then hot footed it past the park opening to Remy’s Ratatouille 4D ride. There, I joined others virtually shrinking down to the size of Chef Remy, to scurry through Gusteau’s famous restaurant.
Braver souls were on a mission to ride the family-thrill coaster, Guardians Of The Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind for an intergalactic chase through time and space. Nothing could entice this ride-wimp to experience the first Disney coaster to offer reverse launch, but my travel buddies told me it is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.
In the evenings, guests can gather by the World Showcase Lagoon to watch the new “Harmonious”, which celebrates Disney music with pyrotechnics, choreographed moving fountains, lighting, and massive LED panels.
Hot tip: Keep an eye out for your favourite characters cast in gold! Disney’s Fab 50 Character Collection sees cast favourites featured in statue form throughout the parks.
Maximising The Disney Magic
It’s no mean feat, keeping pep in your step with so many rides, attractions, and shows to explore across the four parks. Maximising your time is key to a successful Walt Disney World Resort holiday.
Sleeping at a Disney resort
Staying at Walt Disney World Resort property will not only keep those daytime Disney vibes going, but you’ll be rewarded with a bonus half-hour in the parks. Guests staying at Disney Resorts get access to the parks before they open to non-resort guests. In Disney time, half an hour is gold! Making a beeline to the most popular rides will have you waltzing up with little to no wait time. If your goal is to have time in the park without other guests photo-bombing, this is also the time of day to capture those beautiful Disney moments.
If being immersed in larger-than-life Disney is your thing, then you can’t beat a stay at Disney’s Art Of Animation Resort. Fans of Disney and Pixar’s classic animated movies will love staying in themed rooms based on Finding Nemo, Lion King, Cars, and the Little Mermaid. Walking around the resort is like stepping into these animated films. Photo opportunities abound, and kids will love swimming in the Finding Nemo Pool with Crush, Nemo, and pals. Accessible buses and Skyliner gondolas (also accessible) are available to transport guests to the parks.
For guests preferring to recharge their batteries in a calmer environment, Disney’s Colorado Springs Resort is my pick. The hotel combines excellent accessible accommodation with subtle nods to Disney. Don’t worry, the resort Cast Members still have the Disney spirit! Colorado Springs Resort also has accessible buses for transporting guests to the parks.
Hot tip: Disney Resorts offer pool hoists in all pools and spas, too!
Genie In Your Pocket
Downloading the Walt Disney World app allows guests to access the Disney Genie Service, a complimentary tool which helps guests to organise their day. Forecasted wait times and ride descriptions are listed on the app, as well as dining options.
If your budget can stretch to purchasing Genie+ (an additional $15USD, plus tax, per person at time of writing), you will save time by gaining entry to the Genie+ Lightning Lanes throughout the parks. Genie+ has replaced the previous FastPass system.
Accessibility At The Parks
Walt Disney World Resort offers extensive accessibility information on its website, so that should always be your first virtual stop in planning your visit.
Disability Access Service (DAS) is a program offered at Walt Disney World theme parks to assist Guests who have difficulty tolerating extended waits in conventional queues due to disability. Eligible Guests can now pre-register for DAS Advance virtually with a Cast Member, using live video chat. Note that you may pre-register 30 days in advance of a park visit, but no less than 2 days before arrival.
Maps with information regarding wheelchair accessibility at the parks are available at the entrance, or at Guest Services. These can also be downloaded from the Walt Disney World Resort’s website.
Hot tip: head to First Aid if you require a bed to change an older child or adult.
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.