Disney World: Ahead of the times

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If ever there was a family destination that has kept its finger firmly planted on the pulse of the public, the Walt Disney World complex and all of its entities in Central Florida is the place.

While WDW itself is in the process of adding new attractions (as noted previously) and improving and upgrading popular venues, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom Park, Downtown Disney and a host of dining options are being gussied up to add to the experience of guests.

One of the more popular attractions at Epcot has been the Chevrolet Test Track, located in Future World.  Now the venue, Re-Imagined Test Track, permits riders to enjoy an interactive experience.  They can create, ride and then be “scored” on the performance of their own “SimCar” vehicle designs.

Phineas & Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure is a new, interactive game that turns kids into secret agents.  Using high-tech secret agent devices (F.O.N.E. –Field Operative Notifications Equipment) to receive clues, guests solve mysteries around the seven World Showcase countries that form Epcot.  There are four Agent P Kiosks around the World Showcase where guests can pick up the F.O.N.E.s devices.

Animal Kingdom Park has a new and exciting activity for guests.  The Kilimanjaro Safaris has removed its Little Red story line and opened a zebra savannah in its place.  Guests can now enjoy the experience in expanded exhibit space with more animals.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios has tapped into the very popular Pirates of the Caribbean with the ever-popular character features in The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow Experience.

Guests at Hollywood Studios will be immersed in action and adventure of the Pirates of the Caribbean films where they are put to a “Pirate Test” to become a member of Captain Jack’s crew.  State-of-the-art technology brings the pirate life to guests and includes and epic ship-to-ship battle.

One of the more popular and relaxed areas in the entire WDW complex is Downtown Disney with its wide variety of activities, shopping options and just plain opportunity for downtime.  New there this year is Splitsville Brings Upscale Entertainment that opened at the end of 2012.  New there is the West Side Scene with added dining options and weatherproof fun for the entire family.  Featured will be live music, billiards 31 lanes of upscale entertainment.

The two-story complex also offers patio dining and lane-side delivery of a diverse menu of traditional and upscale dining choices ranging from sushi to pizza to hand-cut filet sliders.

Dining at any Disney venue has always been several steps ahead of any other attraction and arguably able to compete with upscale dining in major cities; and very affordable as well.  Dinner at restaurants in the France section of Epcot has always been a surprising treat.  New additions to the parks include:

Be Our Guest Restaurant opened last December in Fantasyland.  Situated in Beast’s Castle, it features a lavish ballroom where guests can dine on quick-serve lunches and table service dinner.  Beer and wine are available to adult guests.  The French inspired eatery seats 550 and is the first Magic Kingdom restaurant to offer adult beverages.

In Fantasyland as well is Gaston’s Tavern, a comfortable lodge-like setting for those seeking a quick bite to eat so they can get back out to enjoy the park.  Try a sample goblet of LeFou’s Brew, a frozen apple juice concoction with toasted marshmallow and fruit-mango foam.

For the kid’s (of all ages) there is Mickey Check featuring all table service menus as well as quick service menus.  Parents will love this as there are complete menus featuring the Mickey Check, Disney’s Magic of Healthy Living.

Don’t look for the California Grill this season as it will be closed through the summer, the recipient of a total makeover with the look and menu being tweaked.

The Grand Floridian Resort is host to Citricos, now offering a private dining experience in The Chef’s Domain for up to 10 guests.  The six-course meal there is offered Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for $155 p/p plus tax.

The Grand Floridian itself, a beautiful recreation of an old Floridian plantation resort, will offer total relaxation for mom (and perhaps dad as well) in the reopened Senses, a Disney spa.  Now owned by Disney, the spa provides the lighting magic Disney properties are famed for.  Music is piped into 15 treatment rooms to complete the relaxed atmosphere.

The spa will offer water therapy, sugar exfoliation body treatment, rejuvenating citrus facials for adults and a Princess Pedicure or Magical Manicure for those 8-12.

The Saratoga Spa, an equestrian themed, Victorian-style resort will be closing its spa through the summer while it undergoes a renovation.

For information and reservations, go to disneyworld.disney.go.com.