As Disney World celebrates 50th anniversary all the new experiences and films to explore


WHETHER you are four years old or in your forties, there’s just nothing like the magic of ­Disney.

As The Sun’s Chief Film Critic, I spend more than my fair share of time in front of cinema screens, but ask me my most memorable movie characters and my mind goes straight to Disney.


The Sun’s Dulcie Pearce combined holidays with movies by going to Disney WorldCredit: Disney
The Star Wars section of the park is huge at Disney World


The Star Wars section of the park is huge at Disney WorldCredit: Disney
The Guardians Of The Galaxy ride is a brilliant 'reverse coaster' that goes 360 degrees


The Guardians Of The Galaxy ride is a brilliant ‘reverse coaster’ that goes 360 degreesCredit: Kent Phillips

From classics such as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs And Broomsticks, 101 Dalmatians, Honey I Shrunk The Kids and The Lion King, to more recent blockbusters such as Frozen and Cruella, the famous studio ­has created so many favourites.

So I was thrilled to combine two of my big loves — movies and holidays — by visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

After a smooth, nine-hour flight with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to Tampa, it was an easy transfer to the Walt Disney World Resort.

And as the Cinderella Castle and Magic Kingdom, with its Thunder Mountain ride, loomed into view, flutters of excitement filled my tummy.

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This year is the resort’s 50th birthday, and with plenty going on to celebrate this milestone I was surrounded by big-screen references that I loved — except this was real, and interactive.

But Buzz Lightyear would still be there in the morning and first I needed a decent night’s kip.

My home for the week as part of my Virgin Holidays package was the deluxe Animal Kingdom Lodge, an enchanting Africa-inspired hotel which, with its comfy rooms, pool with waterslide, and authentic restaurants, sits within its own wildlife Savannah where zebra, giraffe and flamingos roam free.

There’s so much to do and see at Walt Disney World that it can feel a little overwhelming.

So, whether it’s a family trip or couple’s treat, I’d strongly recommend making an itinerary so you don’t miss out on any of your must-do moments.

The My Disney Experience mobile app is a great way to make plans and reserve restaurants up to 60 days ahead of your arrival.

Then, once you’re on site, the in-app Genie service lets you plan your day, and gives tips and information on ride times and park and show hours.

As part of this, the Genie+ gives you the chance to buy access to express queues called Lightning Lanes at the most popular attractions.

From 7am on the day of your visit — and I’d suggest doing it as early as possible — you can book your first ride.

Depending on when you visit, prices range from £15 to £30 per person, per ride.

Inspired by my hotel, my first stop was Animal Kingdom, but the wildlife was out of this world in one of the park’s latest lands, Pandora — World Of Avatar.

The faithful recreation of the smash film franchise’s location was stunning, and the signature ride, Flight Of Passage, took me flying on the back of a Mountain Banshee over the floating mountains of Pandora — not exactly your typical afternoon activity.

The Animation Experience in Animal Kingdom gives you the chance to have a go at sketching your own animal-inspired Disney character.

Great fun, but let’s just say I’m definitely better at watching films than drawing them.

Reverse coaster

With the Florida temperatures soaring it was great to settle down in the shade to watch the incredible Festival Of The Lion King show, with songs, puppets, colour, life and loads of joy.

Disney is known for its incredible fireworks displays — and there are unique shows for the 50th anniversary right now.

Wish you were ear - our Dulcie with Frozen's Olaf


Wish you were ear – our Dulcie with Frozen’s Olaf
Hey Mickey - Dulcie rubs shoulders with the Mouse


Hey Mickey – Dulcie rubs shoulders with the Mouse
It's chew 'n me - Dulcie with Chewie in Star Wars Land


It’s chew ‘n me – Dulcie with Chewie in Star Wars Land

But for those who prefer their thrills on the quieter side, the Tree of Life Awakenings show at the Animal Kingdom is perfect.

We watched as fireflies magically appeared after dark and stirred to life the animal spirits in park centrepiece the Tree of Life.

Dazzling displays of colour and animation were accompanied by favourite Lion King songs.

The next day was all about taking in the classic rides, from thrillseeking to sedate, in Magic Kingdom, where you are surrounded by nostalgic characters, including Mickey and Minnie.

But film buffs have new experiences and films to explore in Walt Disney World’s other two parks, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

At Epcot we joined the Guardians Of The Galaxy on an urgent mission in Cosmic Rewind, which sends you spinning through the outer reaches of space on a brilliant reverse-launch coaster that rotates 360 degrees.

And in Disney’s Hollywood Studios I was blown away by the authenticity of Star Wars — Galaxy’s Edge.

This vast land recreates an outpost on the planet Batuu with two attractions, Star Wars: Rise Of The Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.

But there’s so much more here, from authentic restaurants to gift shops plus the chance to build your own drone or lightsaber.

You can even meet your favourite Star Wars characters at the Launch Bay.

An afternoon in Toy Story Land brought the classic film to life, and the magic continued after dark with Fantasmic — a musical extravaganza where the forces of evil battle it out in Mickey’s dream.

There’s stunts, pyrotechnics and projections, plus appearances from a host of characters from my favourite animated Disney classics.

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Whatever your age, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the magic this place envelops you in.

For a movie buff like me, the chance to live and breathe those memories of my childhood and beyond was a dream come true.


GETTING / STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ room-only at the Disney All-Star Movie Resort is from £1775pp including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow to Tampa on March 15 and 7-Day Magic Tickets.

Seven nights’ at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is from £2,575pp including flights on March 5. See or call 0344 557 3859.

MORE INFO: For details on planning a holiday to Walt Disney World, Florida see

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