Amanda Keenan visited ‘the happiest place on earth’ where everyone can be a kid again.
Strapped into my seat within a ghostly hotel’s elevator shaft suspended 199-feet above a magical Floridian wonderland, I realised that when heading abroad on holiday , it just Disney get much better than this.
It had been almost 25 years since I first arrived wide-eyed at the gates of Walt Disney World and attractions like the infamous Tower of Terror I was now captive within were just drawings on the planning boards of the company’s incredible imagineers.
But one thing you learn about this place is nothing stands still – and that is part of the magnetic pull that makes it one of the world’s most popular attractions, with 52 million people coming through the gates here every year.
My partner Brian and I flew from London courtesy of Virgin Atlantic , whose transatlantic expertise made sure the nine-hour flight flew by and provided the perfect lift off to our trip.
After a short transfer, we arrived at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, where timeless Victorian splendour and opulence meet to create Disney’s crown jewel and the company’s flagship resort.
The Grand Floridian is situated on the doorstep of the Magic Kingdom, enjoying a breathtaking waterside view of Cinderella’s castle. All of Walt Disney World’s parks, shopping and dining are easily accessed by an internal boat, bus and monorail system, free for guests’ use, making it the perfect place to enjoy everything on offer.
But what started out in 1971 as a single theme park born from the creative genius of Walt Disney has now grown into a vast magical nirvana that is much more than just home to Mickey and Minnie.
Walt Disney World is now a combination of the very best in dining, accommodation and entertainment, and while the most important thing to still pack when coming here is an unbridled sense of adventure and fun, Disney’s new free dining plan offer means you should also remember to bring along a healthy appetite.
The plan offers guests the chance to eat at over 100 locations spread across the resort when you book a stay for five nights or more at a Disney deluxe hotel or villa. And if you are thinking you will be tucking into an endless mountain of burgers, fries, pizzas and milkshakes, think again.
While there are still self-service pit stops dotted around the parks providing fine, hearty fare, Disney is also home to unparalleled cuisine within its array of signature restaurants – and with the dining plan you can enjoy all of this without having to worry about any damage to your spending money.
Guests are given credits that they can allocate to book tables wherever they fancy, meaning the stress of planning and budgeting to eat during your stay is gone. It is easy to keep track of what points you have used through the Disney MagicBand given on arrival, an innovative little gadget if ever I saw one.
This incredible device keeps track of everything Disney, storing all your photos from around the parks’ attractions and toting up the points left on your Disney dine package.
Using the plan we enjoyed lavish meals at The Boathouse – where the lobster, steak and the baked Alaska need to be sampled to be believed – The Hollywood Brown Derby, where you will be transported back to the film industry’s golden era, and Citricos, a five-star culinary experience featuring a fusion of Mediterranean and American cuisine.
There is nothing Mickey Mouse about the level of service, decadence and food each of these boast – and the friendliness and diligence of staff are typical of the attention to detail that has become Disney’s signature.
Special mention must go to Brian’s fillet mignon and my lobster at The Boathouse. Sitting enjoying a meal here as you watch the various parks’ closing fireworks illuminate the night sky will be a holiday highlight for even the most ardent, far-flung traveller.
But of course, no travel piece from Disney would be complete without a mention of the incredible parks. While the Magic Kingdom remains unbeatable for sheer character and wonderment, new attractions at Hollywood Studios, Epcot and aquatic haven Typhoon Lagoon make every part of the 40 square mile resort a must-see.
Movie fans are in for a real treat though at one of Disney’s newest draws which takes visitors on an amazing trip to the world of Pandora, made famous in James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar. Your jaw will literally drop when you first witness the floating mountains, but the biggest treat in this alien world is saved for incredible 4D ride, Flight of Passage.
The feeling of sheer exhilaration as you climb aboard one of the flying banshees and swoop across Pandora’s visually stunning, lush landscape is completely incredible. It is the most immersive, captivating and engaging of experiences and one that truly transports you to another world. You will feel the wind in your hair and the spray of the ocean on your face as you hurtle through the sky. This is Disney’s newest attraction and was so good we both went straight back to ride again. Prepare to be amazed.
Other personal highlights were teaming up with Buzz Lightyear in the superb Toy Story Mania shooting gallery, thundering through the mines of the seven dwarves on a runaway train and tearing along at over 100kmh in your own specially-designed car on the thunderous Test Track.
One word of caution. The Tower of Terror, as mentioned at the start of my piece, is best experienced before taking advantage of your dining plan lunch stop! The ride is a scream – in every sense of the word – and an absolute must-do when visiting Hollywood Studios.
What started life as a spark in the imagination of one of history’s most ingenious minds has grown into a truly wondrous place that combines the very best in dining and family entertainment.
The week we spent at Disney in Florida were magical in every sense. Walt’s world is better than ever, a kingdom where everyone can be a kid again, even just for a day.
The happiest place on earth? I’d say so.
Attraction Tickets Direct is now selling hotel, ticket and dining packages to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and guarantees to be the cheapest place to buy a Disney hotels package including Free Dining Plan. Amanda and Brian stayed courstesy of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (Delux resort)
-14 nights including 14 Day Ultimate park tickets with free Memory Maker and free dining plan is from £8,584 for two adults and two children (aged 9 and under).
-14 nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge including 14 Day Ultimate park tickets with free Memory Maker and free dining plan is from £5,182 for two adults and two children (aged 9 and under).
-14 nights at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort including 14 Day Ultimate park tickets with free Memory Maker and free dining plan is from £4,006 for two adults and two children (aged 9 and under) sharing a preferred room.
-14 nights at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort including 14 Day Ultimate park tickets with free Memory Maker and free dining plan is from £2,791 for two adults and two children (aged 9 and under) sharing a standard room.
To book visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk
by Amanda Keenan – dailyrecord.co.uk