Disney dominates: dizzying array of options

You’ve come a long way, Mickey.

First came the cartoon, then the Mouseketeers and the theme park with the souvenir ears. Now the adventures extend to Tokyo and Hong Kong, family-friendly cruises and Costa Rican rainforests.

Disney dominates, and the entertainment giant’s work is far from finished, especially in the Orlando area. The conglomerate continues to add layers that make it attractive to all generations.

It’s not just a Goofy place for children, and the Magic Kingdom is merely one magnet for visitors.

Consider Gay Days at Disney World, tolerated but not sponsored by the theme park operator, which annually brings together more than 100,000 gays and lesbians during the first weekend in June.

Disney’s long-running Fairy Tale Wedding program recently was enlarged to include commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples. Everyone who celebrates a special occasion at Disney should feel welcome and respected, a company spokesman explained to media in April.

What else is new at Disney?

* Epcot takes the IMAX film experience to novel heights, literally, with its new Soarin’ attraction that straps guests into gently swaying seats that rise and decline 40 feet at a time, inside an 80-foot dome.

The audience, surrounded by film clips of remarkable and vivid scenery, swoops and smoothly glides over San Francisco Bay, Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon and other locations. Mild breezes and fragrances – orange blossoms to pine cones – engulf the senses.

It is as close as you’ll feel to flying without entering an aircraft, virtual reality at its finest. The ride – like most – is short, but worth the wait in line.

* Cinderella’s castle, the Magic Kingdom’s most iconic structure, was built to include a suite that Walt Disney and his guests could use as posh overnight quarters. More recently, this fourth story interior had fallen into disrepair.

Now the accommodations are revamped and plush – fit for a princess, with marble floors, stained glass windows, a fireplace in the bedchamber, lush linens and amenities. An imposing portrait of Cinderella turns into a flat-screen TV. Behind an antique desk is Internet access.

The suite is meant to be a modern-day dream getaway, and one park guest each day is chosen at random to spend the night there with up to five relatives/friends. The privilege includes after-hours park tours, the royal treatment during the daily parade and dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table.

It’s a thrill that money can’t buy, and one way that Disney this year is fulfilling the dreams of its customers.

* The company recently introduced Adventures by Disney as its newest vacation endeavor. A dozen types of guided vacations, typically one week in length, take families around the globe.

Destinations include Costa Rica rainforests, Wyoming rivers for rafting and castles in Tuscany. The cost – roughly $2,300 to $3,800 – depends upon length of vacation, destination and number of people sharing a room. Discounts sometimes are available. Itineraries are designed to be of interest to children and adults.

For more: www.adventuresbydisney.com, 877-728-7282.

Also new: Disney Cruise Line European Cruises, beginning this summer, for 10 and 11 nights on the Mediterranean Sea. Rates begin at about $2,400 per passenger.

The season ends with a 14-day trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise, to bring the ship back to Florida in August. Per-person rates begin at about $1,100.

For more: www.disneycruiseline.com, 800-951-3532.

The dizzying array of Walt Disney World attractions charms children, preoccupies parents and can easily bust the household budget. It’s more than $70, including tax, for one person who is age 10 or older to enter one of four theme parks.

That’s for a single day of vacation, plus gas, food, lodging, souvenirs and waiting lines. Add Disney water park access for another $39, plus $10 per parking slot. Discounts tempt families to stay longer and do more, spend more.

The awe, options and excess of the 40 square miles that Disney properties occupy near Orlando are not unlike Las Vegas. Both are lands of fantasy and escape. Money can quickly seem meaningless, thanks to gambling chips on the Vegas blackjack table – or Disney’s Key to the World, which allows resort guests to charge everything from theme park admission to snack cart, fine dining and shopping purchases at Disney businesses.

For more about Disney attractions and lodging: www.disneyparks.com, 407-939-7500.

Orlando’s Walt Disney World was the location for this year’s subsidized Society of American Travel Writers’ Central States Chapter conference.