Orlando

Imagine Disney World without the queues; easy access to all the thrills without getting overheated; and a rural retreat to keep the grown-ups happy. A Florida fantasy worthy of Walt himself? Not if you know when to go and where to stay, says Wendy Berliner
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The Independent Travel
Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is undoubtedly a children's paradise, but for parents it can be hell. Ask any adult who has roasted in an hour-long queue, waiting to be terrified by a spitting, hot- breathed alien while strapped immovably into a seat in total darkness.

The parks can be crowded and are expensive but, unless the child within is packed down too deep by adult preoccupations, they are also terrific fun. With a little careful management even adults who prefer Tosca to Terror Towers, Anna Karenina to Alien Encounter, can enjoy themselves.

As a veteran of five successful visits to Walt Disney World in Florida, I feel qualified to offer the kind of advice that doesn't always appear in guidebooks. It boils down to eight essentials. Go in the autumn if you can; stay somewhere peaceful; get a ticket that gives you unlimited access to all the Disney attractions; target what you want to do; take breaks in the heat of the day; build in relaxation time; allow at least a week so you can take in other local attractions too - and spend the last few days elsewhere (preferably on the coast).

The first time we went was in October. Skies were blue and the weather deliciously warm. We walked straight on to rides wondering what on earth all the narrow corridors or railings in front of them were for. Those railings are, of course, for the queues, which are particularly long at the peak seasons: Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays.

Staying somewhere quiet is essential. This summer we forsook all the Ramadas and Hiltons in the area and opted for a gem of a B&B. It was one mile, as the crow flies, from the gates of the Magic Kingdom. My husband found Perri House, a family home with six bedrooms for guests, through the Fodor guide to Florida. Nick and Angi Perretti, the owners, are in the middle of converting the 20 acres that surround the house into a bird sanctuary. And there's a library.

The house itself is off a rural back road and when we arrived in early evening after a long and tiring journey we were greeted by bird song, rabbits hopping about the front lawn and the warmest of welcomes from Angi and Nick. Staying with the Perrettis is like staying with good friends. You feel that comfortable.

Most of the guests are American, many from Florida itself. It felt like authentic America.

Walt Disney World, meanwhile, is authentic Disney - its relationship to the real world non-existent, with its litter-free streets and re-creations of things that were never that perfect, whether this be Fifties childhood or the Wild West.

It consists of three parks and three water parks. The Magic Kingdom was the original, and probably has the greatest concentration of activities for very small children - the Snow White tendency. Having said that, Alien Encounter is also there - the ride that left me quaking.

EPCOT, short for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or Every Person Comes Out Tired), is the largest park. It is the best for older children (our son is 10) and very popular with dads. This is where Disney meets the Science Museum and there are large numbers of interactive things do: virtual reality headsets, binary maths games, computers. It also has one of the funniest shows, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and the best nightly fireworks display, above a vast lagoon.

At the MGM Studios, with its pre-war setting, some real filming does go on. You can also visit Terror Towers here, where you are taken by lift to the top of a haunted, abandoned hotel - and something nasty happens to the cable.

To get the best entertainment and value, you do need to target what you want to do. Try to get there as the gates open and get into the queues before they go bananas. Have an early lunch in an air-conditioned Disney restaurant, then see how the queues are doing. Maybe do another ride or two, and go back to your hotel for a swim (or a lie down in a darkened room). Life quietens down at tea time, but the evening is busy in peak periods.

This summer we bought a Disney Five Day World Hopper giving unlimited access to all the parks and a seven-day pass to the Disney water parks, which amazing. One is like a mountain river swimming-hole, another like a ski resort, with water rather than snow, another like a tropical island. For the three of us, that cost around pounds 450. There are cheaper tickets, but with those you have to do a park a day so there is no spending a morning here and an evening somewhere else, which is what makes it tolerable for adults.

If you stay more than a week, it makes sense to explore life beyond Disney. We went down to Marco Island on the edge of the Everglades, where loggerhead turtles could be seen swimming in the sea by day. At night, they lay their eggs on the beach and police tapes mark out the spots so you don't disturb them. Wildlife and theme parks: the combination made a satisfying holiday for adults and children aliken

Mouse essentials

Mousebound: Wendy Berliner flew from Gatwick on an Airtours charter, an experience she and her family do not intend to repeat after a delay of more than 50 hours on the return leg.

Scheduled airlines operating non-stop to Orlando include British Airways (0345 222111) from Gatwick and Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick and Manchester. American Express (0345 700400) has a fare of pounds 313 on Virgin Atlantic or pounds 328 on British Airways (including tax) for weekend departures in late November.

Mouseholes: The Berliner family paid $90 per night for a room sleeping three, including industrial-sized breakfasts and use of the pool, at Perri House, PO Box 22005, Lake Buena Vista, F1 32830, USA (tel 001 407 876- 4830; fax 001 407 876-0241).

Mousetickets: There are numerous opportunities for buying tickets for Walt Disney World and other Orlando attractions in advance, for example through Ticketshop USA (0181-995 8225) and Keith Prowse (01232 232425). Or you could wait until you get to Florida, and check out the booths on International Drive. There is something of a grey market in tickets at rates well below what you might pay at the door, sometimes by selling unused portions of season tickets.

Mousetraps: If you are renting a car, beware of extras for airport charges, the Florida environmental levy, personal insurance and other charges. These can add pounds 200 per week to the cost of the car.

Mousefacts: The US no longer has a tourist office in London. The Florida Division of Tourism uses a premium-rate number, (0171 727 1661), while the Orlando Tourism Division representative is available at normal rates on 0171-243 8072.

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