Inside Mickey's Magical Worlds | Nat Geo Traveller India

Inside Mickey’s Magical Worlds

Reliving childhood at Florida's Walt Disney World through Avatar-themed rides and carnivalesque parades.  
Sun, Sand, and Pirates on a Disney Cruise 4
Highlights at the Walt Disney World resort include the Expedition Everest roller coaster, whose backdrop is built to resemble the mountain’s basecamp. Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

Spread over land that’s the size of two Manhattans, Walt Disney World’s four theme parks are where tiaras and pirate scarves are worn like badges of honour. Soap bubbles precede gaggles of kids and lightsaber wars break out the second a parent slows down. Shrieks from roller coasters are the constant soundtrack.

Mickey-shaped ice cream in hand, I stand under the giant floating mountains of Pandora. This world of Avatar, lush with a bioluminescent forest, opened at the Animal Kingdom park only last year, but is already its calling card. It is impossible not to be sucked in—not when you can mount a mountain banshee and ride high above Pandora like a fierce Na’vi hunter. My stomach sinks as I free-fall from mountains, curving above oceans, almost crashing into raging animals. I forget I am on a 3D ride, on a machine—in my defence, it is designed to throb around my knees, like the real banshee. How is a rider to discern?

After the carnivalesque Festival of Fantasy parade, spectators often queue up at designated spots for photo ops with their favourite characters. Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

After the carnivalesque Festival of Fantasy parade, spectators often queue up at designated spots for photo ops with their favourite characters. Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

One of my companions, a 24-year-old writer from Dubai, frequently erupts in squeals through the four days we spend in the parks. The first to buy Frozen and Toy Story merchandise, she is reliving her childhood, one Disney scene at a time. At the Victorian-style Grand Floridian Resort, when the Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, Alice, and Pooh drop by, she gives them all an extra squeeze and collects autographs zealously. She grins toothily for pictures outside the emblem of Disney—the Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom park. We are separated during the Festival of Fantasy in Magic Kingdom Park, the extravagant parade in which Cinderella, Wendy, Rapunzel among other Disney characters glide by in larger-than-life floats shaped like purple dragons, undersea shells, and Scottish bagpipes. But I am sure she, like thousands of families sitting on the ground of the park, must have teared up. At night, when a light-and-sound show and fireworks light up the castle, she claps the hardest.

Epcot park seems geared for budding princesses, who patiently wait in 45-minute queues to meet Elsa and Anna (“That’s it? I once waited two hours to shake hands with Mickey,” I overhear). They thaw on a musical boat ride through Frozen’s world, Arendelle, or while strolling along vast sections recreated like Norway, which inspired the film’s scenery.

I don’t know too much about happy endings, and am drawn to swashbuckling pirates and crashing elevators. At Magic Kingdom, I get into a “boat,” during the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We venture into Dead Man’s Cove and catacombs, into the high seas where drunk buccaneers charm me with “Yo Ho, Yo Ho.” I am speechless at the scale and detail of the figures. Captain Barbossa is baying for blood at one turn, a bride is being auctioned in a marketplace, while Jack Sparrow makes an appearance towards the end. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I step into the Hollywood Tower Hotel, for the Tower of Terror ride. Beyond a cobwebbed library, I step into an elevator in which a family of five disappeared one Halloween night in 1939. My insides churn as the elevator passes an eerie boiler room and slowly rises 13 storeys. I plunge to the sound of snapping cables and clanging metal, almost reaching the fifth dimension the ride warns us about.


To read about Disney’s magical Dream Cruise to the Bahamas, go here.


It is economical to get a four-day ticket at Walt Disney World that allows entry to all four parks (; 4-day ticket from $360/Rs23, 205 for ages 3-9 and $380/Rs24,500 for ages 10 and above).

  • Kareena Gianani loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes. She is the former Commissioning Editor of Nat Geo Traveller India.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?