As significant as air conditioning in making the state what it is today, WALT DISNEY WORLD turned a wedge of Florida farmland into one of the world’s most lucrative holiday destinations. The immense and astutely planned empire also pushed the state’s media profile through the roof: from being a down-at-heel mix of cheap motels, retirement homes and alligator zoos, Florida became a showcase of modern international tourism overnight.
Disney World is the pacesetter among theme parks. It goes way beyond Disneyland – which opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955 – delivering escapism at its most technologically advanced and psychologically brilliant, across an area twice the size of Manhattan. Its four main theme parks are quite separate entities and, ideally, you should allow at least a full day for each. The Magic Kingdom is the Disney park of popular imagination, where Mickey mingles with the crowds – very much the park for kids, though at its high-tech best capable of captivating even the most jaded adult. Known for its giant, golfball-like geosphere, Epcot is Disney’s celebration of science, technology and world cultures; this sprawling area involves a lot of walking, and young children may grow restless. The smaller Disney’s Hollywood Studios takes its inspiration from movies, TV and music, offering some good thrill rides and live shows that will appeal to all ages. The newest of the four, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, brings all manner of African and Asian wildlife to the theme-park setting.
Along with the main parks, other forms of entertainment have been created to keep people on Disney property for as long as possible. There are two excellent water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, a sports complex called Disney’s Wide World of Sports and Downtown Disney, where you can eat, drink and shop to your heart’s content.