Savvy Traveler: Disney’s Florida complex, a magical day for all ages

Not all that many years ago people joked that “Ma Bell,” the phone company, was taking over the world. That was a scary thought.

Today the same might be said about the Disney theme parks. The major difference is that the thoughts are all good. The conglomerate that was spawned by a little floppy eared rodent and the imagination of Walt Disney has been thrilling generations of kids of all ages. And there seems to be no end in sight.

From is start in Anaheim, California to the major complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida to parks in Europe and the Far East, Disney is arguably the most famous destination in the world. The magical world Walt Disney dreamed of and created never disappoints.

Walt Disney World in Florida, the second location (the first was Disneyland in California), boasts four major parks, water parks, nearly two dozen themed resorts with accommodations from economy to luxury, and covers an area roughly the size of Boston. But Boston’s government could learn a thing or two about running a city from Disney. But more about that later.

While the focus for youngsters is the Magic Kingdom, adults and children both will enjoy EPCOT. A “Park Hopper pass” that, in addition to the base ticket permits the holder to visit any and all of the parks, is the best value available.

Visitors entering EPCOT can’t miss the huge sphere that is Spaceship Earth and the symbol of the park. This should be a must see for any visitor. Lines into the exhibit move quickly and smoothly. The ride takes visitors through the history of the earth from dinosaur days to the space age, concentrating on the history of communication.

Animatronic figures, and no one does this as well as Disney, give every step of the way a lifelike feeling and draw the guest into the tableau.

It should be noted that while entry to some of the rides and exhibits requires walking up a ramp or steps, those who have difficulty in mobility or are in wheelchairs only have to ask one of the Disney team for help. Each and every ride and exhibit at every Disney park makes provision for people with physical challenges.

In most instances, there is a separate entrance that will bring the handicapped person and those with him/her directly into the building with no fanfare so as not to bring attention to that person. This is a gesture appreciated by physically challenged people.

Walking a bit further into the park is the Mission: Space ride. Previously, this was Horizons. No matter the name, it gives the participant the feeling of riding in an actual spaceship from takeoff on earth to landing on the Red Planet.

“Crew members” are given the option of an easy ride or more intense experience. Anyone with a problem of motion sickness can still enjoy the exhibit by opting for the less intense experience.

“Test Track” would give Mario Andretti goose bumps. The open cars zip through a structure that goes from dark tunnels to open air and reach speeds of up to 65 miles an hour.

Keep on moving around the lagoon to the international exhibits. There are restaurants from Norway, Germany, France, England, Canada and more. Each has the flavor of its home territory from food to souvenirs. Most prices are quite reasonable.

Drop in to Germany for a meal of wiener schnitzel; at the Chinese pavilion there is delicious honey chicken, and in France, foods prepared by world class chefs are delivered with the aura of a fine Parisian restaurant.

There is always something interesting going on. In the Africa section, you can buy a walking stick imported from Kenya.  Or you could move a few feet to the next kiosk and watch an African craftsman in the process of carving walking sticks, giraffes and lions. Everything is for sale although some of these handmade items are a bit pricier.

If you want to dine less expensively, each of the pavilions also has a variety of eateries set for any family budget.

At about 9 p.m., crowds gather along the waterfront at the lagoon and the sky lights up with an amazing fireworks and laser display. The display is so big that it can be seen literally miles away at hotels in Orlando.

The transportation system at Disney is ready and able to move people en masse following the fireworks when many opt to head home. There is a monorail, and boats that go from one park to another and to the myriad hotels on the property. There is no charge for any of this.

Buses taking guests to off-property hotels all come into a designated area and the transfer is smoother than the huge New York Port Authority terminal. Disney could have a terrific start-up business helping major metropolises plan their traffic patterns.

Smart visitors to any of the Disney properties will purchase a multi-day Park Hopper pass, come early and leave late for the experience of their lives.

Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists.

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