Two years ago, my family went on a trip to Japan. We questioned whether we should take the kids (aged 7 and 9) to Tokyo Disneyland, as we thought they wouldn’t know many of the Disney characters. Boy, were we wrong.
For kids born in the 2000s, Disney is Star Wars, Avatar, Toy Story and Tangled. Disney has added all of these franchises – and so many more – to its theme parks.
Nowhere is the update more evident than Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Walt Disney World opened on October 1 1971, with Magic Kingdom, two hotels and a campground.
It now comprises four theme parks, 27 themed resort hotels, two water parks, several golf courses, a camping resort, and a shopping district – Disney Springs.
And it’s about to get even bigger.
President George Kalogridis says Walt Disney World is currently undergoing “the most significant transformation in 20 years”.
It started with Pandora – The World Of Avatar at Animal Kingdom – this fantastic world blurs the lines between the film Avatar and reality. From luminescent footpaths to the sound of fantasy birds and the looming limestone cliffs draped with tropical plants and exotic flowers, Pandora looks and feels like a whole other world. This is what Disney does so well; its theme parks create an illusion, a fantasy. Even if you never saw the film, you will love this place.
The most popular ride in Pandora is Avatar Flight Of Passage, which takes visitors on a thrilling ride through Pandora on a mythical banshee. Avatar Flight Of Passage was designed in collaboration with Avatar director James Cameron; on opening day, Cameron was the first to ride it, alongside Australian actor Sam Worthington, who starred in the award-winning film. It mixes motion-simulator technology with 3D video, vibration and multi-sensory effects, so not only does it look like you’re riding a banshee, it feels like it too. You’ll believe you can feel the banshee breathing between your legs. You’ll feel the salt spray of the waves as you swoop past them. This is what it’s like to be in Pandora.
In June 2018, Walt Disney World opened Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios. It was a clever choice; Toy Story hits a sweet spot with kids, parents and even adults riding solo. When it was released in 1995, many parents were in their teens or early 20s. The latest film – Toy Story 3 – hit cinemas in 2010, and has been part of the early childhood of many primary-school-aged kids. Toy Story 4 is due out in 2019 – just in time for another generation to fall in love with Buzz and Woody.
Upon entering Toy Story Land, Disney makes you feel like you have shrunk to the size of a toy – everything looms large. The swirling saucers game has been brought to life, and families will love riding Slinky Dog through Andy’s backyard on the Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster.
If you’re considering a Disney holiday, hold tight – it’s about to get even better. Kalogridis says Walt Disney World is going “for the trifecta”, with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge set to open in 2019, first at Disneyland in California and a few months later in Orlando. The sheer size of this place is mindblowing.
Guests “will be able to run their hands alongside a full-size Millennium Falcon” reveals Kalogridis. In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, families can get caught up in a battle between the Empire and the Rebels, then retire in a fully immersive Star Wars hotel, where the windows will look out on a galaxy far, far away. Just like Toy Story, Star Wars transcends generations. Adults will love this land just as much as kids.
Epcot doesn’t often get much attention in Orlando. Most people know it as the home to space rides and an expo-style world exhibition. But Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, says Disney has plans to transform Epcot into a place that is “more family, more relevant and more timeless”. And they’re going to do it with superheroes.
“The real will become fantastic and the fantastic will become real in whole new ways at Epcot,” Chapek says.
Epcot’s new Guardians Of The Galaxy show, featuring a Chris Hemsworth lookalike, drew huge crowds over the summer. It’s just a taste of what’s to come; Disney’s Guardians Of The Galaxy World at Epcot’s Future World will open in 2021, to coincide with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. Disney has released very few details, but we do know that the centrepiece will be a mammoth rollercoaster, promising to be one of the world’s longest enclosed ones.
For now, though, families will still find plenty to love about Walt Disney World and Disneyland. If you have ever thought it wasn’t relevant, you need to think again – Disney is a whole lot of fun.
Virgin Airlines fly from Sydney to Orlando via Los Angeles.
Toy Story World is located at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, Orlando Florida.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers families the chance to sleep in the African savanna.
Kids of all ages and every family type.
Best time to go:
Avoid big holidays such as July 4. March to May are the coolest months.