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4/3/2013 10:51:28 AM

With that in mind, Thrive has already done the advance scouting for you so it will indeed be the Happiest Place on Earth for you and your brood.


First, some basics:

Disney World covers 47 square miles outside Orlando, Fla. It has four theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom. Within the complex are accommodations (at all price points), golf courses, in-park restaurants, a pair of water parks and miniature golf. Offsite is Downtown Disney, a complex of shops, restaurants and movies.

People who stay at one of Disney's own properties can ride the free buses that travel continuously to and from all hotels, parks and attractions.

All rides at Disney parks are included with your park admission ticket. Visitors who stay at Disney properties are able to enter early, or stay later, at selected parks on certain days and times (the "Extra Magic Hours" incentive).

Disney offers all park visitors a free FastPass option for the busiest rides. You scan your ticket at a kiosk and are issued a pass to board the ride later, via a shorter waiting line.


In the Magic Kingdom, Beast's Castle now rises as the new signature of Fantasyland. It's a highly detailed creation inspired by the Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" -- and it houses the grand Be Our Guest restaurant down below.

Be sure to see Beast's Castle up close, but know that everyone else in the park will want to see it, too. Same with the restaurant. Inside, your dinner is served in the grand ballroom where the Beast waltzed with Belle and the mysterious West Wing, where a rose fatefully drops it petals. We'll mark this dining event as a must-do -- but good luck, because you'll want to make dinner reservations at the absolute earliest opportunity. Everybody wants in at Be Our Guest, so get a seating ASAP -- call (407) WDW-DINE or book online at www.disneyworld.com/dine . Lighter fare is served for lunch with less pomp and circumstance, but the lines are just as long. As a back-up, consider counter service at Gaston's Tavern, which serves roasted pork shank and a non-alcoholic apple-and-fruit foam concoction called LeFou's Brew.

Over at EPCOT, the popular Test Track attraction has been redesigned as a speed-and-design experience. The old line for the ride has been replaced by a stylish demo of power and aerodynamics, leading to a computer bridge in which you create your own dream car on an oversized touch screen. Test Track saves your creation, because after your wind-whipped ride in the six-passenger racers, your own design choices are rated against those of others for their speed and performance.

Also opening since last vacation season are Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, an Animatronics/multimedia dark ride in a seashell car; Enchanted Tales with Belle, in which people interact with a real-life Belle;Ariel's Grotto, a pay-to-play character breakfast and lunch; and the Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station, a circus train that cools off the kids with water sprays (and if it's the dead of July, maybe they'll let the parents play in it, too).


If it's been several years since you've been to Disney, here are some things to know.

The Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain has just reopened after a three-month refurbishment, and the entertaining "Star Wars"-themed Star Tours action ride, which debuted at Hollywood Studios in 1989, has been upgraded to a 3D animated experience with 54 possible storylines, so you never know how your adventure will unfold or end.

At EPCOT,Disney has revived the Michael Jackson interactive film "Captain EO," a collaboration by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. The 17-minute movie is equals parts entertainment and '80s nostalgia. (Trivia: Check out the dancers behind Michael Jackson. One of them is Lori Vaughn, a DeRidder High and McNeese graduate.)

There's news from two places to eat in EPCOT's World Showcase. In Italy, there's a new wood-fired Neapolitan pizzeria with outdoor seating. In Mexico, the Cantina de San Angel has expanded to feature 400 seats with outside seating for lunch and the nighttime IllumiNations fireworks show.


Know the routine already? We'll skip to the advanced Cliff's Notes:

--The Fastpass system is worked to a level of mastery by experienced Disney visitors. It doesn't reduce the early-morning rush, however; it just redistributes it. Example: Within the first hour of opening during our visit at Hollywood Studios, the Fastpass kiosks for the Toy Story arcade ride were issuing return times of noon and beyond. Essentially, there's a certain breed of early birds who speed-walk upon the rope drop -- they churn toward either Toy Story or the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. They're rushing for a set of Fastpasses while the rest of the family hustles over to other prime rides, and all of them seem to forget that they're on vacation.

--Non-Disney bloggers are reporting that Disney may roll out a "Fastpass Plus" system later this year that allows guests to make Fastpass choices before even arriving at the park, rather than just on-site.

--Downtown Disney is coming to an end, at least in name and appearance. It's being transformed into Disney Springs, a walk-through area with more shopping, dining and entertainment in open-air promenades. Construction starts this month and is expected to be completed in 2016. The site remains open during the project.

--The next round of Star Wars Weekends will take place at Disney's Hollywood Studios every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from May 17 to June 9.


Whatever your level of Disney experience, your smartphone can be your friend on vacation. You can track wait times for rides, check reservations, follow park hours, or simply figure out where you are.

Thrive used the apps My Disney Experience, Disney World Wait Times and Disney World Maps on three different iPhones throughout the trip and all worked reliably all

There are plenty of other Disney apps, free and not, available as well. They range from Disney World InPark Assistant (free) to Hidden Mickeys, an exhaustive guide to mouse-ear imagery concealed all over the resort ($7.99). Tip: Download a free appwell before you leave, and have others in the household do the same -- with different apps -- and compare notes.

Posted by: Brett Downer | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Entertaining  |  Summer

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