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Plan ahead to make the magic happen at Disney World

Covid pandemic forced a few changes, but the Orlando parks have lost none of their charm

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Jackson and Mya Ferguson at Disney World in Florida

Jackson and Mya Ferguson at Disney World in Florida

Mickey and Minnie at Disney World

Mickey and Minnie at Disney World

Matt Stroshane, photographer

Jackson and Mya Ferguson at Disney World in Florida

Jackson and Mya Ferguson at Disney World in Florida

The wonderful Shula's restaurant at the Swan and Dolphin resort

The wonderful Shula's restaurant at the Swan and Dolphin resort

The magnificent Swan Hotel in the heart of Disney

The magnificent Swan Hotel in the heart of Disney

The shuttle boat The Swan hotel to take you to Hollywood Studios and Epcot

The shuttle boat The Swan hotel to take you to Hollywood Studios and Epcot

Expedition Everest ride at Animal Kingdom, Disney World

Expedition Everest ride at Animal Kingdom, Disney World

Seven Dwarfs

Seven Dwarfs

Disney

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Jackson and Mya Ferguson at Disney World in Florida

Stamina, patience, perseverance and a determination to succeed. Preparation and attention to detail are key. Anything from six months to a year.

Put the hard yards in and the rewards will be great. It’s all about stealing a march, giving yourself an edge.

Apps will need to be downloaded, research conducted, early reservations made and daily itineraries finalised well in advance.

On this trip, spontaneity is eroded before you step foot on the plane.

Yet it works.

The magic of Disney World, Orlando, Florida is only intensified by a well co-ordinated and pre-planned trip.

Purchasing Disney tickets — currently there is a deal to buy a 14-day pass for the price of a seven-day pass — will no longer guarantee entry to the parks. Blame Covid. Instead, at your earliest convenience you must reserve a place each day at either Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. Failure to do so or leaving it last minute is likely to end in disappointment.

Of course, there is the option of the Park Hopper ticket, which allows you to move to a different theme park during the day after 2pm. As the holiday goes on, it’s a great alternative to have at your disposal.

Then you have an added extra of Genie Plus, a type of fast pass service which when I was there allowed you to book a time slot for rides every two hours, starting from 7am if staying in a Disney resort. With the expected large queues and where waiting times can be two hours, it’s a small price to pay to jump the line. As is a Lightning Lane pass, but only one attraction can be purchased from the app each day such as The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom.

Your smartphone will be crucial and, on this trip, your greatest asset. With the My Disney Experience App downloaded, it can plan your day, be your park tickets, order and pay for food and drink, check on queue times and be the special pass you need to use Genie Plus.

Your phone basically dictates your movements throughout the day, but the best way of looking at it is that Disney is ultimately for children, and by doing some prep you are giving them the best holiday possible, enriching their experience.

As with my seven-year-old twins, you’ll still have that raw excitement as they edge closer to Magic Kingdom on the monorail, trying to catch a glimpse of the attractions inside. Then comes the wow factor as they step onto Main Street, USA, and look up at Cinderella’s enchanting and mesmeric castle.

With four lands (Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland) along with Liberty Square to explore in the theme park and huge crowds throughout, it can be overwhelming for the little ones.

So, whisk them off to Splash Mountain for the first plunge of the day, hang tight around the Thunder Mountain, take in the incredible set designs on Pirates of the Caribbean and allow yourself to be thrown around on the high-octane Space Mountain before being pleasantly surprised at exhilarating nature of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Intersperse these signature rides with the most authentic, charming and memorable meet-and-greets, along with the regular, high-energy parades led by Mickey and Minnie.

For a slower pace, be amused at the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, be scared in the Hunted Mansion, be a sharpshooter on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger spin, drive carefully around the Tomorrowland Speedway and take in the magnificent animation on the Peter Pan and Under the Sea rides.

In terms of sustenance for these great adventures, use the app on your phone to order waffles and fruit at Sleepy Hollow, with Mickey-shaped waffles for the kids. An ideal place for brunch with great coffee.

For dinner — and reservations are encouraged to be made 60 days in advance — the Liberty Tree Tavern is a great spot for good old-fashioned turkey, spuds and lashings of gravy. A traditional Thanksgiving-style set meal, served by waiting staff in character dress, adds to the ambience.

Of course, the day is not complete without the sensational daily evening fireworks in front of Cinderella’s Castle, which rivals London’s spectacular New Year’s Eve display.

While Magic Kingdom’s fireworks, titled Enchantment, are perfect for kids, Epcot’s breathtaking version, Harmonious, from the park’s lake, I feel, appeals more to adults, but both leave you in a state of wonder.

Magic Kingdom is naturally the signature theme park of Disney, yet Animal Kingdom is a personal favourite with its stunning design, imaginative layout, wonderful music and relaxed vibe. It also has, in my opinion, the best roller coaster in any of the parks, Expedition Everest. Set in the heart of their Asia territory, you’ll see and hear the attraction long before you queue up for it.

It’s a heart-stopping, high-speed ride up the famous mountain with an unexpected twist — you’ll suddenly propel backwards at great velocity away from a frightening Yeti.

Asia is also home to the wettest ride in the park, the hugely dramatic Kali River Rapids, but with it being central Florida, the hot weather will have you dry within 30 minutes.

Across in the territory of Africa, the Kilimanjaro Safaris bus tour allows you to see magnificent animals up close, including crossing crocodile alley, while one of the top shows of the day is just a short dander away — a 30-minute singalong production of The Lion King.

While I much prefer electrifying roller coasters, the 4D ride Dinosaur should be admired for its creativity, while Avatar Flight of Passage is by far the best 3D simulator of them all. Incredible visuals make the whole production so amazingly realistic as you fly on native mountain Banshee.

You can easily spend full days at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, and provided you use Genie Plus wisely, it can remain exciting and captivating.

In contrast, Hollywood Studios and Epcot have to be attacked tactically. For instance, it’s best to do a meet-and-greet with Mickey and Minnie early doors in Hollywood Studios, then possibly the Tower of Terror and one of the most underrated rides at Disney, the ridiculously fast Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith.

In Toy Story land, Slinky is hugely popular and there are extremely long wait times, but if you return to the park at night and head to the ride just five minutes before closing, the cast members have to let you on the roller coaster and the line is much smaller.

A Skyliner ride away is Epcot and all the 3D and 4D rides you could ever want. While the kids enjoyed flying across the world in Soren, landing a spaceship on the Mission Space simulator and Ratatouille having incredible effects, I much preferred taking a stroll through all the countries that are decorated around the park.

The best frozen strawberry daiquiris I’ve ever tasted are sold from a vendor in the Mexico district, and with a long line just around the corner for a meet and greet with Donald Duck and a equally big queue for the Frozen ride, those cocktails make waiting around just a little bit more tolerable.

In terms of a place to stay, the first decision is on or off site. Considering the territory owned by Disney is similar to the great city of San Francisco, there is so much choice, from luxurious resorts down to budget hotels. But I found the Swan Hotel, noticeable for miles around for their proud sculptures on their roof, to be the best of both worlds. It’s a privately owned hotel in the heart of Disney which comes with all the benefits of on an on-site resort, including early entry to the parks, regular free bus shuttles to all the Disney theme parks and free boat shuttle to Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

It’s a great base and rooms, there are 756 in total, are comfortable and a decent size, even for a family of four sharing two king-sized beds, but what makes the Swan a great choice is the location: Hollywood Studios is just a 20-minute walk along the Disney Boardwalk, which also leads to the Skyliners for Epcot — and amenities including one of the best steak houses in the world.

The fact the Swan is twinned with the Dolphin Hotel, a two-minute walk across a passageway, allows guests to have double the choice when it comes to swimming pools, recreation for the kids, snack bars and quality restaurants. In total there are 22 places to grab some food and drink, but to narrow it down, enjoy a hearty breakfast at Garden Grove, coffee and pastries from Java, and sumptuous Italian cuisine and a great choice of wine at II Mulino New York Trattoria.

For a special night out, reserve a table in Shula’s Steak House. Don Shula is regarded as one of the greatest American Football coaches in history, and his Miami Dolphins team of 1972 still holds the record for the only undefeated team throughout an entire NFL season. The restaurant, which the great Mr Shula founded, is an American football aficionado’s dream with so much memorabilia in and around the fancy establishment on the first floor of the Dolphin.

The premium black Angus or Wagu steaks, accompanied with delicious sides, are cooked to perfection, there is an extensive wine list, the service is attentive but not overbearing and the rich desserts are made to order and to share.

Disney has some great eateries, but it’s definitely worth making time on your itinerary for the restaurants at the Swan and Dolphin.

From a family perspective, the fact the resort also has a coin-operated laundry room was a great help during a two-week holiday, along with an evening kids’ club and The Fountain — for those special ice cream and milkshake treats.

With Disney World, Orlando celebrating its 50th anniversary, Covid hasn’t detracted from the magic and charm of the four theme parks.

And it’s worth every second of the nine-hour flight from Dublin.

Just make sure to plan in advance.

Factfile

How to get there: Aer Lingus operate regular flights from Dublin to Orlando International Airport - www.aerlingus.com

Where to stay: The Swan Hotel is a beautiful and modern resort with all the amenities you could ever wish and need. It is the perfect base to enjoy Disney World. For best rates and special offers visit – www.swandolphin.com

What to do: Disney World, Orlando is the ultimate family holiday. Four amazing theme parks along with water park, Typhoon Lagoon.
For all the latest deals, ticket information and how to plan your holiday of a lifetime, visit www. disneyholidays.co.uk


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