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Walt Disney World is a Happening Place

Stepping into Walt Disney World in Florida for our first family visit, we joined the March break crowds heading for the Jungle Cruise. Luckily, just in front of us in the long lineup was a mom who had perfected the logistics. "Under this beam, we're about a 45-minute wait to the front," she commented as she jiggled a two-year-old on her hip and tried to keep her four-year-old from climbing the barriers. "When we've reached that corner by the ropes, we're about 25 minutes. Then you turn to wind back the other way. By the time you've got to the post up there, you've only got about 10 more minutes to wait." Boy, did she ever have her timings down pat. Likewise her strategies. "This is the best time of day for this ride," she praised enthusiastically. "You're close to Main Street so you can rush up there afterward and be just on time for Mickey's Parade at three o'clock."

I guessed that this family had visited Walt Disney World before. "Oh, we try to drive up about every second weekend," the Florida resident explained. "We camp at Fort Wilderness so it's not too expensive and then use our annual pass to see everything. This is probably the fourth time this year we've taken the kids on the Jungle Cruise." Nevertheless, she still shrieked when our Amazon Annie river boat rounded a corner and a hippo appeared.

It's not just Floridians who demonstrate such loyalty to the Disney experience. There's a Canadian family in our neighbourhood who has bought a Walt Disney World lifetime membership so that every time a birthday rolls around, they can celebrate it Disney-style. The folks at all three of the Disney theme parks, (the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Centre and MGM-Studios) keep these families coming back by constantly upgrading the attractions, adding new spectacles and expanding its domain.

For both first-timers like us and experienced Disneyites, here's what's new at Walt Disney World as well as some don't miss sure-fire hits.

THE MAGIC KINGDOM: The 25th Anniversary party comes to a close on January 31, 1998 when Cinderella's fairy tale castle will shed its pink "icing" coating. Disney's Magical Moments Parade, however, created to salute returning guests, continues throughout the year with the Little Mermaid, the Lion King and even Pinocchio roving down Main Street, U.S.A. dancing and making music with visitor participants. Mickey's Toontown Fair, an old-fashioned country fair-themed playground, solves a parent's greatest dilemma: how to find Minnie and Mickey, Donald and Goofy in the flesh? They're all here. A new low-tech mini-roller coaster, The Barnstormer, is piloted by Goofy. Perennial favorites: Pirates of the Caribbean (though young children may be frightened by the skeleton pirates), Peter Pan's Flight and Splash Mountain. My 12-year-old neice refused to leave this watery, 5-storey drop-off until she'd been up and down five times.

EPCOT CENTER: How many visitors actually know what Epcot stands for? Though some may joke that it means Every Person Comes out Tired, it actually is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Watch for Test Track, the longest, fastest ride in Disney history; this high-speed racing car that banks and skids is certainly not Herbie, the Love Bug. Don't miss Honey, I Shrunk the Audience featuring "mice" running along the floor of the theatre and a giant dog on the screen that sneezes on the audience.

DISNEY-MGM STUDIOS: Fans of the popular Goosebumps series can meet some scary characters from the books at the Goosebumps HorrorLand Fright Show and Funhouse. Fun for parents is the Hunchback of Notre Dame musical show and the Hercules daily parade with 41 performers, marionettes, inflatables and puppeteers while the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror's drop of 13 floors may become addictive for some teenage thrill-seekers.

DOWNTOWN DISNEY: Now open for business is a new 66-acre area site that offers a 10-block non-stop action centre of shopping, entertainment and dining. Of particular interest to kids at Downtown Disney Marketplace is the Lego Imagination Center, an interactive playground filled with dinosaurs and other creations made from the famous bricks and Ronald's Fun House restaurant named after the foremost Ronald on the planet. At Downtown Disney West Side, teens should appreciate the Virgin Megastore, a music, video and book store featuring 20 stations for previewing movies and eateries such as Planet Hollywood and the House of Blues.

DISNEY MAGIC: Most exciting for families who love to cruise is the new Disney Magic poised to set sail from Port Canaveral next March. With more space in the cabins, some 84 suites that accommodate five people (Hallelujah), and about 15,000 square feet of deck space dedicated to kid's own lounges and activities, this ship should be a hit with families. But that's another column that's far beyond the nostalgiac Jungle Cruise.





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