Experience the Magic of Walt Disney World
Arguably the number one resort vacation destination in the world, Walt Disney World near Orlando has attracted more than a half billion visitors. In this article (which originally appeared in Northeast Weekend Flyers magazine), Cara Schmid Mocarski describes how she and her family flew there on vacation in the family Piper Seminole, and includes all the information you'll need to do the same: airports, FBOs, parking, ground transportation, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.
Fun, fun and more fun! That's what you will experience when you visit Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the number one resort vacation destination in the world! Disney World has it all, from impeccably manicured resorts, exquisite dining facilities and world-class shopping, to the latest recreational activities, imaginative theme parks and exciting nightclubs.
Since the resort is in a near-constant state of expansion and modernization, it's impossible to get bored at Disney World. That's what makes the resort such an ideal vacation destination for people of all ages. To date over five hundred million visitors have passed through the gates of the Vacation Kingdom.
Now is the time to make arrangements for a trip to Orlando. The Vacation Kingdom has planned a major expansion with nine future projects set to open over the next few years.
Once you've caught the Disney bug, that's it, you are hooked! Our family has visited there three times and we plan more trips.
Flying to Disney
Rather than fly commercially, we chose to make the 893 NM journey in our Piper Seminole. It was the experience of a lifetime as we flew from our home base of Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Bridgeport, CT (BDR) to our final destination of Kissimmee Municipal Airport (ISM), the closest airport to Disney. Flying via V299 to Kennedy, V1 to Myrtle Beach, then V1 to V267 to Orlando, and direct ISM, we had a birds-eye view of seven states — we flew at an altitude of 8,000 feet heading south and 7,000 feet going north.
What's more, we saved money! Our fuel bill totaled $536 round-trip, while a commercial flight and the associated limousine costs from our house to LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York would have totaled approximately $1,500, nearly triple the cost!
Norfolk, VA was our first stop to refuel and eat lunch. We then stayed overnight at Myrtle Beach, SC to refuel and eat more. Here we had access to a courtesy van in Myrtle Beach, SC, through the Best Western Landmark. The driver gave us a complimentary ride to our hotel on the Grand Strand and recommended a nearby restaurant popular with many pilots, the Spring House Restaurant. The food was tasty and reasonably priced.
The next day we completed the final leg of our journey to Kissimmee.
We were airborne for six and one-half hours and made two stops en route to accommodate the needs of our two preschool children.
About 83 nautical miles away from ISM, we started a gradual decent from 8,000 feet. By the time we were 8 NM out we were at 1,500 feet. The tower at ISM is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Contact them at 124.45.
"Breathless" and "awesome" were some of the expletives we uttered as we flew within eyeshot of Disney World. As our Piper began its visual approach, we spotted familiar sights from the air such as Spaceship Earth at Epcot, Disney's 15-story Contemporary Resort and Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom.
Pilots will have no problem spotting the Kissimmee Airport with runway 15/33 measuring 6000' by 100', and runway 06/24 measuring 5001' by 150'. Since this area is densely populated, avoid the noise sensitive area to the northwest of the field. Watch for helicopters, low-flying banner-towing planes and blimps to the east and west of the airport during the winter.
Tim Shea, Kissimmee's Airport Manager, noted, "ISM is a busy airport with 150,000 operations annually. We have many projects outlined in our long-range plans, including the installation of a precision approach and a new terminal with a restaurant."
Both runways have pilot controlled lighting on 122.725. Flight information can be found on the Jacksonville Sectional Chart. Note that in the Airport/Facility Directory ISM is listed as Orlando-Kissimmee Airport because it is situated 16 miles SW of the Orlando VOR. However, the airport is listed under Kissimmee Municipal Airport in the IFR Approach Charts.
Since ISM is located in Orlando's Class B Airspace, you must contact Orlando Approach on 119.4. You can obtain the weather conditions at the airport through AWOS-3 on 128.775. There is an NDB on the field (329). Other instrument approaches include a VOR-DME, a GPS-A approach and an R-NAV approach to runway 15.
Marathon, one of two FBOs, has been at Kissimmee Airport for over 30 years. There are many tie downs on the ramp, but contact them on their ARINC at 122.775 to find out exactly where to park. The airport is busiest during the months of March and October.
Marathon offers a pilots' lounge, an aviation store with unique pilot gifts and reasonably priced catering by Red Lobster. There is no restaurant on the airport grounds. Marathon is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and has a repair shop on the premises. There is no landing fee, but tie down fees are $5 per night. Parking discounts are given for stays of a longer duration.
Kissimmee Jet Center, also located on the field, is a full-service FBO offering Texaco brand fuel products aircraft maintenance, 24 hour on-call line service, well-lighted tiedown areas and hangar space availability. Jet Center is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and overnight tiedowns are $4 per night with discounts for extended stays. Their ARINC is 122.875.
There are two airport-based car rental companies. Kelley Rent-A-Car is stocked with cars for daily usage. Enterprise Car Rental is available through Kissimmee Jet Center. Budget Rent-A-Car is located close to the airport and offers a range of rental options. They will pick up and drop cars off at the airport.
No hotel in the Kissimmee/Lake Buena Vista area provides free transportation from the airport.
Taxi service is provided by A Affordable Transportation and the fee from the airport to Disney World is about $18 for the ten-mile ride, which takes about 10 minutes to complete. You can also utilize Kissimmee/Orlando Airport Limousine if you want a more luxurious ride.
Disney World is a special place of fantasies, memories and magic, from the enchanted Cinderella Castle of the Magic Kingdom Park to the silvery sphere of Spaceship Earth in Epcot to the whimsical Earffel Tower of the Disney-MGM Studios.
This time we planned a leisurely visit to Disney with a nine day package. This extended stay enabled us to see all the sights we wanted, yet gave us extra time to enjoy recreational activitiesBe sure to inquire about park hopper passes in order to chalk up additional savings.
Our first stop inside Disney World was the Magic Kingdom to see Mickey and Minnie. This park features 41 major adventures on a 100-acre site. There are seven lands with attractions, restaurants and shops based on favorite Disney themes: Adventureland, Liberty Square, Frontierland, Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Mickey's Starland. We especially enjoyed the new, upbeat "Mickey Mania" parade down Main Street, U.S.A.
Epcot, which stands for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow should not be missed. This international showplace covers three hundred acres and is divided into two distinct areas.
Future World focuses on discovery and scientific achievements. The major attractions are Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey into Imagination, the Land and the Living Seas. In addition, the World Showcase spotlights eleven nations surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon.
Disney-MGM Studios, combines a working TV and film studio with a theme park. Visit Jim Henson's "Muppet Vision 3D," "Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage" and "The Spirit of Pocahontas Stage Show" with live performers, special effects, puppetry and animated scenery.
Discovery Island, a wildlife sanctuary and nature park, is located in the middle of Bay Lake at Disney World.
Discovery Island is home to dozens of different plant and animal life and provides a hands-on experience for visitors who want to "get close to nature."
Recreational activities abound at Disney with five championship golf courses and a nine-hole family-play course, tennis courts, pools and lakes for swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing, jogging paths and horseback riding. There are three water theme parks including: Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon and River Country.
After-hours, you can head over to Pleasure Island, a six-acre nightclub theme park, adjacent to the Disney Village Marketplace. The park features seven nightclubs plus shops and restaurants. It also houses a 10-screen theater complex and the unique 400-seat Planet Hollywood restaurant.
Where to Eat
Food is plentiful everywhere you turn at Disney World. We purchased Disney's Food 'N Fun package when we booked the trip, so we had all our meals at Disney restaurants. During each day of the prepaid program, we received two hours of recreation, plus two meals from a designated list of restaurants. We definitely came out ahead on this money-saving package. And we never had one bad meal served during our stay.
Our children especially enjoyed the Character Breakfast Stampede at Artist Point Restaurant in the Wilderness Lodge because they got a close-up visit with Disney characters. Advance reservations are a must for this show, which runs from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. daily. A fixed price includes an all-you-can-eat meal of fresh fruit, grain pancakes, stuffed French toast, scrambled eggs and thirst quenchers.
Another popular character show is Mickey's Tropical Luau, which is staged at the Polynesian Resort. The show begins at 4:30 p.m. Fire dancers, Mickey and Minnie, a luau feast and unlimited specialty drinks are part of the festivities. Our total bill came to $86, not an outrageous price for a dinner show.
You are in for a special evening at Pioneer Hall in Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, when you reserve a seat at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. It's the most popular dinner show at Disney, so make your reservations as soon as you plan your trip. Hilarious hoe-down style entertainment and unlimited country vittles are its hallmark. Prices range from $35 for an adult, $25 for a junior and $17 per child.
Two restaurants we previously dined at in Epcot and returned to were the Biergarten and Teppanyaki Dining Rooms. The Biergarten is located in Germany at World Showcase and features live Oktoberfest music, audience participation and authentic German food. For a taste of German cuisine, this restaurant is not to be missed.
Another restaurant we revisited was the Teppanyaki Dining Rooms in Japan at World Showcase. Guests sit around large flat grills, while white-hatted chefs chop vegetables, meat and fish rapidly, then stir-fry it all. The seating arrangements make it easy to strike up a conversation will fellow diners. Dinner prices start at $15 per person.
Where to Stay
When planning lodging, vacationers have two options: either stay within the boundaries of Disney or off the premises. Rates are generally higher at Disney resorts than at most other motels in the area with the exception of the new All-Star Sports and All-Star Music Resorts. Basically, you are paying a higher rate for the convenience of staying on Disney grounds. Guests are guaranteed park admission, free use of Disney transportation, including the monorail, bus and boat; closed-circuit TV announcing events as well as early admission to all parks during certain periods and free package delivery to your room.
Disney World offers over of 20,000 rooms. A special hotel reservation line has been established for Disney accommodations. Dial (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639). Resort rates vary depending upon the room type, location and season you select.
Great savings also are available at Disney Resorts if you are a member of the Magic Kingdom Club with its Gold Card status. A family membership entitles the bearer to discounts on hotels, Disney Store purchases and admission. Hotel discounts vary from ten to thirty percent, depending on the travel season you pick. Call (800) 56-DISNEY for a variety of membership options.
Our favorite hotel is Disney's Wilderness Lodge, one of the newer additions to Disney World. This beautiful 728-room hotel is nestled among the pines and provides a spectacular view of Bay Lake and Discovery Island. The hotel boasts the only geyser east of the Mississippi River and is based on turn-of-the-century National Parks lodges.
But if your vacation plans include more than visiting Disney, a variety of economical to luxurious accommodations are available, including hotels/motels, villas, suites, vacation homes and condos and campgrounds. The Kissimmee-St. Cloud area, which is ten miles from Disney World, offers more than 30,000 accommodations. Call (800) 333-KISS, 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, seven days a week.
Be sure to contact the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention and Visitors Bureau before planning your trip because you will receive vacation discounts to central Florida accommodations and attractions. For a free copy of the Vacation Guide with discounts, call (800) 526-KISS (5477).
Off the Disney Path
There is plenty to do once tourists leave Disney World for nearby Kissimmee-St. Cloud. Pilots can head for the Flying Tigers Warbird Air Museum at ISM. This flying and working museum specializes in the display and restoration of World War II aircraft. We took a guided tour of the hangar and came across the rare interior sections of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, including the cockpit, tail pieces and wing. Two Lockheed P-38 Lightnings were also in the process of being restored at an estimated cost of $1.7 million each! The museum is a pilot's paradise and is open daily, including holidays, on Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Aviators might also want to visit Fighter Pilots USA in Kissimmee. Become a fighter pilot for the day. Fly aerial combat with guidance from F-16 pilot instructors in a Marchetti fighter trainer, not a simulator.
Some of the other major attractions in Kissimmee include: JungleLand, which features alligators, exotic cats, birds and monkeys; Green Meadows Petting Farm, which offers two-hour guided tour of more than 200 farm animals, and Splendid China, a Chinese-themed park with 60 detailed miniaturized replicas of China's most historic landmarks. In addition, Water Mania, a premier family waterpark, encompasses over 36 acres of slides, flumes and a wave pool, while A World of Orchids showcases thousands of rare and exotic flowering orchids from the around the globe.
Other major attractions in nearby Orlando include Sea World of Florida, the world's most popular marine zoological park, and Universal Studios Florida, the largest motion picture and television facility outside of Hollywood with more than 40 rides, shows and attractions.
New Disney Projects
And that's not all. The magic of central Florida continues to grow as Disney World adds new exhibits to its theme park.
Disney's Wild Animal Kingdom, a new kind of live-action adventure park, opened in the spring 1998. It is the largest of all Disney parks in the world and will combine thrill rides, exotic landscapes and close encounters with great herds of wild animals.
The Disney Village Marketplace is being expanded to include two celebrity nightclubs, a 1,500-seat performing arts theater, an expanded 24-screen movie complex, two star-name restaurants and two Disney superstores.
The Disney Institute, the Walt Disney Company's first resort for adults and families with older children, opened in February 1996. The first-class resort features discovery vacations including a hands-on experience in a range of stimulating activities and an extensive Artists-in-Residence program.
Disney's Boardwalk, a turn-of-the-century waterfront resort and entertainment district, opened in July 1996; a new General Motors Pavilion opened at Epcot to replace GM's former "World of Motion" as well as the Walt Disney World International Sports Complex.
So if you haven't flown to central Florida in a while, now is the time to enjoy the excitement of the area's famous attractions at Walt Disney World and nearby Kissimmee-St. Cloud.
Kissimmee-St. Cloud Information
Area Code: 407
Zip Code: 34741 or 34742
Kissimmee Municipal Airport: 847-4600
301 N. Dyer Blvd., Suite 101
Kissimmee Jet Center: (800) 266-6354 or 847-9095
3031 West Patrick St.
Marathon FBO: (800) 327-9123 or 846-6128
301 N. Dyer Blvd.
Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention & Visitors Bureau: 847-5000 or (800) 327-9159
P.O. Box 422007
A Affordable Transportation: 846-3677
Budget Rent-A-Car: 933-8055Kelley Rent-A-Car: (800) 327-9123
Kissimmee/Orlando Airport Limousine: (800) 262-7979
Disney Hotel Reservations: W-DISNEY (934-7639)
Kissimmee- St. Cloud Hotel Accommodations: (800) 333-KISS
Walt Disney World Restaurants
Magic Kingdom Club, Gold Card: (800) 56-DISNEY
A World of Orchids: 396-1887
2501 Old Lake Wilson Rd.
4580 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy.
Fighter Pilots USA: 931-4333, (800) 56-TOPGUN
3033 W. Patrick St.
Flying Tigers Warbird Air Museum: 933-1942
231 N. Hoagland Blvd.
Green Meadows Petting Farm: 846-0770
1368 S. Poinciana Blvd.
Splendid China: 396-7111, (800) 244-6226
3000 Splendid China Blvd.
Water Mania: 396-2626, (800) 527-3092
6073 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy.
Major Attractions in Nearby Orlando
Sea World of Florida: (800) 327-2424 out of FL, 351-3600, ext. 3625
7007 Sea World Dr.
Universal Studios Florida: 363-8000, (800) 232-7827
1000 Universal Studios Plaza