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disney magic A recent visit to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, USA, created unforgettable memories for us as it has done for generations of visitors KAMAL AND KEWAL GILL THE FIRST query we had while entering the welcoming archway into the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, USA was, how big is the resort? Miles of wide roads, edged with perfectly manicured lawns and undulating greens, nestling ponds and lakes, not to mention grooves of tall trees and colourful shrubs, were a perfect foil to resorts and hotels, theme parks within theme parks… it appeared to be never-ending. “It’s big, bigger than Manhattan (23.7 square miles),” said our guide. We calculated that if 1 square mile is equal to 640 acres, then this contiguous 40-square-



mile, world-class entertainment and recreation centre is 25,600 acres. This definitely is the biggest of the Disney properties. Imagine this: There are four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom); two water adventure parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon); 33 resort hotels (23 owned and operated by Walt Disney World); 81 holes of golf on five courses; two full-service spas; Disney's Wedding Pavilion; Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex; and Downtown Disney, an entertainmentshopping-dining complex encompassing the Marketplace, Pleasure Island and West Side. It’s mind-boggling! A world within a world. We stayed in a charming room with a balcony at the Disney’s BoardWalk–a 372room, old-fashioned Atlantic seaboard resort steeped in the 1930s nostalgia, alongside a lake. We spent many a late night out on the balcony, watching the night sky as we discussed nocturnal philosophy between mugs of coffee and chocolate biscuits. Like all Disney properties, this hotel, too, was complete in itself as it offered shopping, a children’s activity centre, health club, tennis courts, themed pool and a 20,000-square-foot conference centre. You also have two speciality restaurants, a pub, a nightclub and a bakery. We found it truly remarkable that this Orlando resort employs around 62,000 ‘cast members’–as they are referred to–or staffers who help to create Disney magic every day, all year round. We spoke at random to many young and senior ‘cast members’ and found a

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startling consistency in the fact that most have worked here for long periods of time–a great testimonial to Disney magic! What represents Disney magic is the largerthan-life experiences that you register. Take, for instance, our amazement when we took a ride into Animal Kingdom, one of the theme parks. We imagined it would be an artfully disguised zoo, as we hopped on to the motorised trolley that looks and feels exactly like a large safari vehicle. Instead, we were flummoxed by a 500acre park divided into three areas: The Real, The Mythical and The Extinct. The Real area features live animals in exotic landscapes and provides a safari-like experience. Except for the fact that each species’ enclosure is a bit smaller than a game reserve in Africa or India, it is a genuine safari experience. In The Mythical area, guests come face-to-face with magical

and make-believe creatures. In the Extinct Area, dinosaurs come to life. It is this sheer scale of imagination that makes Disney so wondrous. It’s not just children who are smitten; adults, too, enter a fantasy world because each mental image has been created into a fully functional entity. And so you have Cinderella’s vast turreted castles with steeple shapes jutting into the sky, real bridges spanning a moat around it, and regular, orchestrated music filling the skies, as the Prince and Princess enact their stories, with a live audience (me, included) standing by. This theme park is known as Magic Kingdom. It has rides, shows and attractions divided among seven fantasy areas. It is here that we found all our favourite Disney characters and attractions. An incredible experience in Magic Kingdom was the new parade (introduced in February 2009) that takes place every afternoon. It’s called the “Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It!” Street Party, and no matter how hot it was in May-end (temperatures above 40 degrees Centigrade), toddlers, excited children, teenagers, parents and grandparents were out in force to see it. The travelling parade showcased acrobatic performers, singing and dancing Disney characters, and floats decked-out as gift-wrapped packages, inviting Magic Kingdom guests to mix and mingle. We tried hard to capture the excitement of the parade, the heat and the sheer excitement on cameras. The hi-voltage energy was for real and I understood that the fact that every bit player acted their hearts out in their roles is



what brought the Disney magic alive. During our three-day stay, we could not cover every attraction, but we managed pretty well, on account of the fact that as special guests, we had VIP side entrances, did not have to queue up and other such facilities that saved precious time. Since 70 mm Imax memory images are a recurring feature of Disney, it was all one big, triple-giant, cotton-candy experience wrapped into our memories. Unwrapping a few vintage moments, I remembered the Pixie Hollow–Disney Fairies which opened in November 2008, where deep in the heart of Neverland, we entered the enchanted world of Tinker Bell–Disney’s most famous fairy–and four of her fairy friends. The ambience reached deep into the recesses of one’s memory and the resultant nostalgia made the time spent here, very special. Another special moment was a ride which took us past the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which showcases new characters and features from the blockbuster film franchise. Woven into some of the attraction’s most memorable scenes, Captain Jack Sparrow and his nemesis Barbossa are seen interacting with the buccaneers. The fact that a large number of guests shouted out the dialogues, only underlined how well-loved the movie and its characters are. Vying for special status in our unforgettable memories’ album was a special screening of the


D interactive ride through video game, starring popular Disney-Pixar Toy Story characters. We felt we had shrunk to the size of a toy as we hopped on a fanciful ride. At each game booth, we individually aimed for animated targets, using our very own special, on-board, spring-action shooters. If ever we felt like kids again, this was it! We got to see the “Block Party Bash”, another interactive and moving Disney-Pixar spectacle filling the theme park streets. It was as good as the earlier parade Street Party we had experienced and just as interactive. The other event we went stratospheric about was the Festival of the Lion King, which left us entranced. It was a virtual explosion of colour, music and dance by magnificent performers. Zany, trampoline acrobatics left us open-mouthed, as a blaze of colour, feathers, beads and head-dresses of costumed singer and dancers performed within touching distance.

pop culture phenomenon, American Idol. We were taken from a side entrance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as part of a starry-eyed audience watching a real auditioning programme, which debuted in February 2009. Up-close and personal, we got a taste of the performers onstage in competition, as the judges gave their opinions in a live, interactive setting. As part of the audience voting, we voted for our favourites and left wondering if they would make it to the finals. The American Idol attraction joins an allstar line-up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Among the new adventures are Toy Story Mania! where we immersed ourselves in a 3-

Talented stilt walkers danced to the pounding beat with apparent ease. The enormous moving stages in an amphitheatre, with metal benches that surrounded the stage, made it an interactive experience, which had us singing and dancing along with other guests. It was really a spirited, hi-energy performance. Disney magic extends to the world of science, we discovered the next day. We spent time at Epcot, visiting the Spaceship Earth Relaunch, which treated us to an innovative “interactive” attraction, with really exciting scenes, costumes and set decorations, and fabulous lighting and special effects. We had visited Innoventions about three


years back, and we were delighted to find it fresh as ever, with new inputs of technology. This hands-on exposition of the world’s newest products and inventions is an absolute treat, and we spent a neat hour exploring cyberspace, testing the latest developments in computers and discovering the latest breakthroughs in virtual reality and communications. Back to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we visited the Finding Nemo-The Musical’s live musical stage show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, featuring the story of Marlin and Nemo, through a dazzling production that combines puppets, dancers, acrobats and animated backdrops. The one experience that melted my knees and brought my heart into my mouth, literally, was the Expedition Everest ride on a high-speed train bound for Mount Everest,

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which took us through rugged terrain, along icy mountain ledges and inside dark, snowy caves. It was when we had reached the top of Everest and were preparing for a nerveshattering drop, that we realised what a shock we were in for... the train went backwards at full speed, with everyone, including us, screaming our heads off. We have to confess, we vowed this would be our last scary ride. We had to pass up the Indy Racing Experience, which opened recently at the Walt Disney World Speedway, due to various reasons, but we promised ourselves we would share what race fans and thrill-seekers enjoy and would take the next opportunity to buckle-up and ride in IndyCar series race cars. Although we dined with our hosts at Disney at some really enjoyable fine-dining restaurants, enjoying their hospitality and

excellent company late into the night, an unforgettable evening that created magic was spent at the German pavilion at Disney’s World Showcase. The clouds were building up into a storm and we hurried for over half an hour past several world pavilions, spotting one iconic landmark after another. The wind was strong and the air moisture-laden. It began to rain just as we entered the German pavilion. We dined at Biergarten, where we were treated to a live music trio, folk dancing, yodelling and folk music. Traditional German food was served in an Oktoberfest-style atmosphere. The buffet offered great food– sausages, rotisserie chicken, Frankfurters, wine kraut, potatoes and spatzle. Desserts included apple strudel and German-style cheesecake. We were seated at long, wooden, communal tables and shared the table with couples from other nations. Post-dinner, we stepped out... it was drizzling and as we opened our umbrellas to make our way back, the fireworks began. We, along with dozens of other spectators, held on to our umbrellas as the fireworks began... it was a spectacular show with sophisticated fireworks and lasers filling the skies, even as an illuminated giant sphere floated in the middle of the lagoon, telling us the story of the earth. The Disney magic was everywhere... in each raindrop which magnified the sky, lit up with a mind-blowing laser show, the silhouette of dozens of couples sharing umbrellas and holding on tightly to each other... and their dreams. Thank you Disney for bringing it all alive.



AMUSEMENT WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT AMUSEMENT WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT 76 A recent visit to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, USA, created...