Taking the Mickey in Orlando

Emily Hatchwell sneaks a look at Disney's future themes
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The Independent Travel
If you've been thumbing through your Walt Disney World brochures or watching that free Disney video advertised on TV, think twice before picking up the phone to make a booking. There are good reasons for putting off your trip to Orlando until 1998.

Disney's Animal Kingdom, due to open in May 1998, is Walt Disney World's first new theme park for nine years, complementing the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney-MGM Studios. It will feature Disney's usual winning combination of storytelling, magic and thrill rides, but, for the first time, living animals will also make an appearance. (You have to wonder how Disney, in its meticulously controlled fantasy world, will accommodate real animals whose behaviour cannot be programmed and which cannot learn a script.)

Described as "a new kind of live-action adventure park", this is no Windsor Safari Park. It sounds more like a cross between Born Free and Jurassic Park. Visitors will go on safari to Africa where they will experience, according to the publicity, "true-life adventure stories of mystery, danger and humour" - though it's not explained what role the herds of giraffe, lions and other animals will play. Given Disney's obsession with safety, it's unlikely that you'll be chased across the savannah by a pack of salivating hyenas. The other two elements of the Animal Kingdom are more old-school Disney - where Audio-Animatronics technology brings to life a world of dragons and other fairytale creatures and then whisks you back 65 million years to a prehistoric land inhabited by dinosaurs.

For its competitors in the entertainment industry, watching the Disney Corporation at work must be both awe-inspiring and depressing. In its latest bid to outdo the rest, in 1998 Disney will launch two cruise ships from Port Canaveral, a couple of hours' drive from Orlando. Cruise ships with knobs on, Disney's ocean liners will be 25 per cent bigger than average, with almost an entire deck dedicated to kids, plus special "adults-only" and family areas. (That the three- or four-night cruises will include a day on a private beach in the Bahamas is almost by the by.) The maiden voyage of Disney Magic, the first ship to be launched, on 12 March 1998, is already fully booked, but there are plenty of vacancies for the subsequent twice-weekly sailings. Its sister ship, the Disney Wonder, is due to set sail in November 1998.

You can buy cruise-only packages, but the idea is that you buy a package combining a stint in Walt Disney World with a cruise. The cost for a family of four, in the cheapest category, will be around US$3,575 (pounds 2,234) for four nights in Walt Disney World and three nights at sea, flights not included. A week in Walt Disney World alone costs around US$1,770 (pounds 1,106) - excluding flights - for a family of four.

Other new developments seem rather trivial by comparison. Pleasure Island, with its teen-oriented nightclubs, and the shops of Disney Village Marketplace, are being added to and jazzed up to form a new entertainment zone called Downtown Disney. New shops, restaurants and clubs are opening here over the next year, but the largest-scale attraction won't be launched for another 18 months. This is Cirque du Soleil - the Canadian circus act that first hit the big time in the Eighties. Its eccentric blend of circus arts, street entertainment and music will be on permanent show at Walt Disney World from winter 1998.

Disney would hate you to look as far ahead as 1998. They want you next year but they want you this year too. If you aren't persuaded to resist the magic of Disney until 1998, book now: cheap and moderately priced rooms at Walt Disney World are already booked up for much of the summer.

For a free 30-minute video about Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, dial 0990 000 000.