A world of emotions

Excitement levels run high in Walt Disney World. Carolyn Gilbey reveals how to make sure that your tension levels don't rise as well
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The Independent Travel

On any family trip to Disney, the one certainty is a tantrum. What I hadn't counted on during our recent trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando was that the tantrums would start so soon, or that my husband would throw the first hissy-fit. We'd just entered the Magic Kingdom and already we were bickering about what to do first. The thing is, when you're on an "I've invested my soul" trip of a lifetime, you want to make sure that every second counts. But once you step into the shadow of Cinderella's Castle and encounter the inevitable crowds, queues and heat, tensions can run high.

On any family trip to Disney, the one certainty is a tantrum. What I hadn't counted on during our recent trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando was that the tantrums would start so soon, or that my husband would throw the first hissy-fit. We'd just entered the Magic Kingdom and already we were bickering about what to do first. The thing is, when you're on an "I've invested my soul" trip of a lifetime, you want to make sure that every second counts. But once you step into the shadow of Cinderella's Castle and encounter the inevitable crowds, queues and heat, tensions can run high.

It's the sheer size of Walt Disney World that is so awe-inspiring. The 47-square-mile complex is home to four theme parks, two water adventure parks, six golf courses and more hotel rooms, restaurants and shops than any one can count. It's no wonder that so many people on first entering the fantasy playground are stumped by the simple question of what to do first.

Swotty as it sounds, doing your homework before you set off can save on trauma later. There are those who take such planning to extremes, creating elaborately engineered "time lines" to plot their every move. But such military precision isn't necessary: a list of top "must dos" should suffice.

In the face of queues and crowds, well, it's just great to be British. We can take advantage our quirky holidays and half-terms, which often coincide with Disney's less busy periods. Another plus is jet lag. The one piece of advice you hear over and over again from Disney veterans is to get there early. So for once the five-hour UK/US time difference plays in our favour. We can be up with the larks and at the front of the queue for "Big Thunder Mountain" before local vacationers have stirred from their Chip'n'Dale-themed bunks.

A Disney time-saving measure that can benefit sleepless Brits is the "Extra Magic Hour". Each morning one of the four theme parks opens an hour early for the exclusive use of guests staying at the resort. However, it's worth noting that if you're not staying at the resort then it's best to avoid the "magic hour" park as, having drawn in hordes of eager early birds, they are liable to be extra crowded that day.

Whatever day or time of year you go, there'll be queues. It's an inevitable part of the theme-park experience. However, Disney has instigated some queue-busting measures of its own. Many of the more popular rides now offer a "Fastpass" system. Instead of waiting in a long, long line, you pop your entrance ticket into a special machine and receive a Fastpass slip denoting a one-hour window of time when you can return to the ride and zip straight in with little or no wait. Disney claims that by using this system, you can cut queuing time during the day by up to two hours. The downside is that you can hold only one Fastpass slip at a time, a neat Disney trick that is likely to drive you into a shop or a restuarant while you wait for the appointed hour to arrive.

For my six-year-old daughter one of the highlights of the trip was ambushing the many Disney characters that were out "meeting and greeting". She joined throngs of autograph-book-wielding teeny fans, who made it their mission to pursue Cuddly Critters wherever they should go.

The best way to meet costumed friends is to attend one of the character breakfasts, where a selection of cartoon chums join the kids for a cuddle over their bacon and eggs. By far the most popular is the Once Upon a Time breakfast in Cinderella's castle, but places at the Royal Table are much-coveted. The only way to guarantee a seat is to book well in advance.

The height restrictions on some of the snazzier - and frankly more exciting - rides are the real tantrum-trigger. After hearing for years from their friends how "awesome" Space Mountain is, it can be heartbreaking to get to the front of a queue only to discover your child is two inches short of the magic mark. Check the restrictions in advance to avoid tears later.

Dining with Disney can be a dismal experience, as you jostle in long lines for a soggy plate of expensive but mediocre pizza. However, there are a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, some of which are worth taking a detour for. The Flame Tree Barbecue in Disney's Animal Kingdom features a divine assortment of wood-roasted meats, served in an outdoor African setting, and there's a funky bar serving interesting and refreshing cocktails. Just don't forget your passport, as you won't get served alcohol without ID, even if you look old enough to be the bartender's grandmother.

Disney's great strength is that it is always changing and improving. Just when you think there couldn't be a better ride than Space Mountain, along comes another which blows it out of the stratosphere. The latest star attraction is Epcot's Mission: SPACE, which is about as close as you can get to Space Shuttle launch without actually donning a space suit. Based on NASA's astronaut training techniques, the heart-stopping simulated take off gives riders the sensation of g-force and weightlessness.

The evening parades and firework displays round off the day neatly. Gone are the days of elbowing your way along Main Street in the hope of getting a good spot. The display is now so large and so spectacular that the colorful blasts and explosions can be seen from almost anywhere in the resort.

Come six o'clock, most kids are in full melt down mode. But that, my husband surmised, is the sound of kids who have had such a good time that they can't take any more good times for the moment. So in essence, a Disney tantrum should be cherished as the mark of a highly successful, not wasted a minute, trip of a lifetime.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Rooms at Disney's Value Resorts start at £22 a night. Five-day Park Hopper ticket prices start at £130 for children under 10 and £164 for adults. Tickets allow unlimited access to the parks plus two visits to a water park or one of the other attractions. Once inside a park all rides and "Fastpass" tickets are free.

Budget and suit hotels are plentiful, most within five minutes of the Disney resort and most provide a shuttle service. For availability and booking try www.orlando.com. For more information on packages inclusive of room and ticket prices, see www.disney.co.uk

Opening times:

Magic Kingdom: generally 9am-6pm/9pm.

Future World: 9am-7pm

World Showcase: 11am-9pm

MGM: 9am-7.30pm/8pm

Animal Kingdom: 9am-5pm

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