The Disney Diaries

Want to get the most out of a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth? It's all about having a plan. Our expert tells how to map out a successful visit

July 16, 2006|By TONI SALAMA | TONI SALAMA,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WALT DISNEY WORLD, Fla.

You would think that Celine Dion would have gotten the best seat in the restaurant that night. But no, there the pop diva was -- our gossipy waiter had pointed her out -- filing in from the open-air observation deck with the rest of the crowd. Meanwhile, I sat regally at a table by a vast window and, between courses, enjoyed an unobstructed view of the very same fireworks that poor little Celine had schlepped out to see.

I didn't have special tickets or celebrity status or Disney connections or even press privileges to pave my way. As a greenhorn to Walt Disney World, I didn't even have a prior visit for a frame of reference.

No, I had something better than all that: the expertise of Bruce Pecho, authority on Walt Disney World and lifelong Disney enthusiast, making his 41st trip to Disney to light my way. As a kid who had already been to Disneyland in California, Pecho studied everything he could get his hands on about the new park opening in Florida in October 1971. With that knowledge, he convinced his parents that Walt Disney World was the place for the family's summer vacation in 1972. He's been studying it ever since. Now, as a proud uncle, he vacations here with his brothers and sisters and their children, and is such a frequent guest that on our visit, when Snow White spotted him from her parade float at Disney-MGM Studios, she pointed to him and mouthed "I remember you."

The fireworks dinner was only a prelude to six full days of Walt Disney World According to Bruce. I came away with a depth of knowledge, experience and appreciation that only veteran visitors can claim.

Stick with Pecho's advice, and you will too.

THE MUST-DO LIST

THE HAUNTED MANSION

A FIRST-TIME VISIT TO WALT DISNEY WORLD CAN BE OVERWHELMING, BUT NOT IF YOU HAVE A PLAN. HERE ARE A FEW RIDES, PARADES AND EXHIBITS THAT OUR EXPERT SAYS SHOULD BE AT THE TOP OF YOUR TO-DO LIST.

MAGIC KINGDOM

HAUNTED MANSION

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR'S SPACE RANGER SPIN

"SPECTROMAGIC" PARADE

SPLASH MOUNTAIN

DISNEY-MGM STUDIOS

"VOYAGE OF THE LITTLE MERMAID"

TWILIGHT ZONE TOWER OF TERROR

"BEAUTY AND THE BEAST -- LIVE ON STAGE"

"DISNEY STARS AND MOTOR CARS PARADE"

THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE

ANIMAL KINGDOM

KILIMANJARO SAFARIS

DINOSAUR L KALI RIVER RAPIDS

"MICKEY'S JAMMIN' JUNGLE PARADE"

EXPEDITION EVEREST

EPCOT

"ILLUMINATIONS: REFLECTIONS OF EARTH"

SOARIN'

THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE

SPACESHIP EARTH

TEST TRACK

FOUR STEPS TO A HAPPIER TRIP: PAGE 4R

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