A Disney resort isn't just for children - so leave your cynicism at home and enjoy the rides...they're on the Mouse, writes JOHN WARD
SPYING those big black ears through the crowd, I abandoned my pancakes to join a stampede of fans brandishing cameras and autograph books.
Midway through breakfast at Walt Disney World in Florida, Mickey Mouse had arrived.
If you'd told me a week earlier I would have missed my brekkie for a picture of myself with a cartoon character, I would have said you were mad.
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But once you arrive at Disney, your inhibitions disappear and you are swept along on a tidal wave of mouse mania.
Glittering sets, thrilling rides and expertly choreographed shows turn happiness levels up to the max, making the daily grind seem a long way away.
I spent a week at the resort in sunny Orlando and from day one I regressed into my ten-year-old self, squealing at the sight of Buzz Lightyear, jigging along with the warthog from The Lion King and doing "no hands" on rollercoasters.
I stayed at the impressive Boardwalk Inn, designed to make you feel you have been whisked back in time to the elegance of 1940s Atlantic City.
The luxury, on-site hotel was the perfect base to explore the four theme parks and two water parks on the 30,000-acre resort.
We started at the Magic Kingdom, home to the iconic Cinderella Castle.
Along Main Street USA, which acts as the grand entrance to this section, Disney characters sang, danced and greeted joyful children with open arms.
Rides at the Magic Kingdom are billed as suitable for kids but the Space Mountain rollercoaster, the rollicking runaway train of Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, complete with dunking, are exciting enough for even the bravest thrill-seekers.
Little girls will love Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a salon where they can be transformed into Disney princesses and there's also the Pirates' League where kids can dress up as a buccaneer.
When the Florida sun goes down, the Magic Kingdom springs to life again.
The spectacular Main Street Electrical Parade of Disney favourites, led by Tinkerbell, is followed by an explosive digital light display which transforms Cinderella's Castle into a state-of-theart movie screen.
It's rounded off with the Wishes fireworks display, something Disney does so well, with enormous rockets and sparkling colours lighting up the sky. Next morning we dropped into Typhoon Lagoon water park to soak up some rays on the immaculate man-made beach and hurtle down the water slides.
On Crush 'n' Gusher, a giant inflatable ring is your craft as you are swept through hairpin turns and gravitydefying uphill climbs before being plunged into Hideaway Bay.
After drying off we hit the theme park trail again and stopped off at Disney's Hollywood studios.
Built like a movie studio from Hollywood's heyday, this park is a film fan's fantasy with live shows and themed rides.
My favourite was the white-knuckle Rock 'n' Roller Coaster that zips around at breakneck speed to the sound of Aerosmith blasting in the background. We then braved the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a shock-factor ride based on the TV show, which recreates a plunging lift in an abandoned hotel.
Shaken and stirred, the fun continued at Disney's Animal Kingdom, a wondrous animal sanctuary which transports you into the African wilderness.
The 500-acre park, divided into seven separate lands, is home to more than 1,700 animals.
The best way to see the giraffes, elephants, and monkeys is on the Kilimanjaro Safari trip, which takes you in a jeep up close and personal to the wild beasts.
It's just like a real safari and the animals' natural habitats are accurately recreated, plus you are guaranteed to spot your favourite beast without hours of searching or peering down binoculars.
But this is Disney and no section of the park would be complete without some rides.
The Expedition Everest that speeds through a man-made Himalayas is one of the best in the resort.
Its mix of steep ascents, sudden drops, howling winds and treacherous terrain make this high-altitude, high-speed rollercoaster a thrilling feast for the senses.
We topped off our trip with a visit to Epcot, famous for its Spaceship Earth, shaped like a giant golfball, which towers above the park.
There we walked through the World Showcase, where 11 detailed pavilions are each dedicated to a different country.
The UK managed to merit its own mini world along with Norway, Japan, Mexico, France and the USA. However, there was no hint of anything Middle Eastern, Russian, or even Australian.
It was interesting to see how Americans perceive the UK and I got a welcome taste of home with a pint of London Pride at the surprisingly authentic Rose & Crown pub and went for a mooch around the "British" shop which sold tea, Beatles T-shirts and a lot of medieval swords.
That wasn't the only beer I had at Disney.
In Downtown Disney the bars, including the House of Blues live music club and Raglan's Irish pub, were packed with tourists.
There are also more than 475 places to dine, from burger joints to top-class restaurants.
I ate sublime steak at the awardwinning California Grill overlooking the Magic Kingdom and enjoyed potatowrapped red snapper, the delicious signature dish of the Flying Fish Caf© on the Boardwalk.
While the parks offer endless excitement, Disney also has five top-end golf courses on site plus daily catch-andrelease fishing trips on the lakes.
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With efficient free transport provided to all corners of the sprawling resort - including the monorail - you can plan your days to pack in as much as possible - and you will, if you have the time, want to experience it all.
Disney is a sophisticated machine of fun, presented in a way that makes it OK, even for cynics, to let go and enjoy it. The place might be run by a giant mouse but cheesy is one thing it's not.
SEVEN nights at Walt Disney World, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic including Rockstar Service from Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, accommodation at the Boardwalk Inn on a room-only basis and transfers starts from £1,489.
Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room.
All applicable taxes and fuel surcharges are included.
Prices are based on departures from January 13-31, 2012.
Virgin Holiday guests can also take advantage of special Disney holiday packages which include Disney Dining Plans.
Or combine a Disney holiday with a four-night cruise on the Disney Dream, visiting Nassau and Disney's Castaway Cay island in the Bahamas.
For more information or to book, visit virginholidays.co.uk, call 0844 557 3859 or visit one of the 50 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.