Whole new World awaits at Disney's 'Awaken Summer' parties

TravelBy Robbie Farrell
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show at Epcot Studios in Disney, Florida
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show at Epcot Studios in Disney, Florida

The late, great Walt Disney said: “Disney will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

Well, if my recent visit to Disney World with my eight-year-old daughter, Ruby, is anything to go by, old Walt need never have worried.

The magicians at Disney’s flagship resort in Orlando, Florida, have once again turned dreams into reality with their new ‘Awaken Summer' spectacular.

Since it opened its doors back in 1971, Disney’s Magic Kingdom – along with its three other theme parks and two water parks – has been the most magical place on earth for both adults and children.

Anyone who has visited Disney before will know that, by day, the theme parks are home to the most-extravagant shows, parades and parties in the world.

But now, beginning this summer, all four theme parks are set to party from dusk till dawn with the introduction of its night-time extravaganzas.

So what’s new this summer in this theme park mecca?

Captain Phasma marches a squad of First Order Stormtroopers in formation

Hollywood Studios

Probably best known for its Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and its Aerosmith-themed Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is something a bit special.

But there is a new phenomenon making the headlines in this theme park - and it is out of this world.

Since its release last year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has taken the planet by storm, and reached out to a whole new legion of fans.

And Disney, who bought the rights to Star Wars in 2012, is breathing new life into a galaxy far, far away.

Ruby gets ready for the frightening Hollywood Tower of Terror

The Studios now feature a new live stage show celebrating iconic moments from the Star Wars saga with characters, such as Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and Darth Maul. 

The show takes place multiple times each day, and also features the menacing Captain Phasma as she marches a squad of First Order Stormtroopers in formation from Star Wars Launch Bay to the centre-stage area.

Again, new for this summer, die-hard Star Wars fans are in for a real treat in the shape of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.

This new evening show will light up the sky with Star Wars-themed fireworks, lasers, light projections and other special effects, combined with Star Wars-themed music and iconic characters and scenes from the saga.

The Festival of Fantasy Parade in Magic Kingdom is not to be missed

Magic Kingdom
I only had to look at my own little princess’s face to see how truly magical the Magic Kingdom really is.

From the Cinderella castle to the afternoon Festival of Fantasy parade on Main Street, there is no place like this on earth.

In addition to the big three – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain – the Park recently introduced the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to the public.

The attraction features a new ‘tilting-vehicle’ ride system that simulates the swaying and tipping motion associated with a mine cart, and it is one not to be missed.

Also new to the park this summer, Tiana (of Princess and the Frog fame) will join Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa from Frozen and a host of favourite Disney characters in the new Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire show.

Performed on the grandest stage in the Kingdom, the star-studded tale of friendship presents Mickey Mouse and his troupe of Merry Makers – Minnie Mouse, Donald, Daisy and Goofy – who invite 10 new friends from different animated worlds to join the celebration. 

This show combines dancing, fireworks and special effects in a fairytale spectacular. It’s one for all the family.

The Tree of Light shows colourful stories of wonder and enchantment

Animal Kingdom
Both Ruby and I have a real soft spot for Animal Kingdom, and it is possibly the hidden gem among the Disney theme parks.

By day, the park, which is set entirely around the natural environment and conservation of animals, is bursting with life. Much like the castle at Magic Kingdom, the Tree of Life is the centre of attention in Animal Kingdom.

This 145ft tall and 50ft wide artificial tree, carved with almost every animal on the planet, is like a wonder of the world.

And, new for this summer, the tree will now feature one of the most amazing night-time spectaculars that you will ever encounter.

For the first time in the park’s history, the gates will open after dark and reveal a whole new world for both animal lovers and thrill-seekers alike.

The new Rivers of Light show in Animal Kingdom is absolutely spectacular

The most spectacular for us was the Rivers of Light show.

This illuminating, musical experience celebrates the magic of animals, humans and the natural world, with a blend of performers, floating lanterns and theatrical animal imagery. It really is something special.

The Tree of Life also plays an all-important part in the evening festivities, as the animal spirits are brought to life by magical fireflies that reveal colourful stories of wonder and enchantment.

Or, if like myself and Ruby, you fancy something a bit different, you could always get your thrills on the mind-blowing Expedition Everest rollercoaster in the dark, or whirl your way down the wet-and-wild Kali River Rapids.

The night Safari at Animal Studios is amazing

Another highlight for us was the night safari. It is, by far, the best way to see the nocturnal animals in their natural habitat.


This year in Epcot, things are not just hotting up in this futuristic world - there is some cool stuff happening too.

Beginning next month, guests can explore the kingdom of Arendelle when Frozen Ever After opens in the Norway Pavilion.

This family-friendly adventure picks up after the events in the blockbuster hit Frozen and celebrates a Summer Snow Day.

A stone archway entrance greets guests to the kingdom of Arendelle. Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, trolls and Marshmallow join them on their boat journey through the frozen willow forest, past Troll Valley and up to the North Mountain to Elsa’s ice palace.

After disembarking, guests meet the regal sisters in the cosy Royal Sommerhus.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show at Epcot Studios

Another highlight in the Epcot studios is the Chevrolet Test Track. For a petrol head like myself, it represents a chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design your own car and put it through its paces on the virtual test track.

Both myself and Ruby, went for the muscle-car engines, and we were fastest on the track by far. 

You can choose body design, wheels, spoiler kits, engines and even sticker design that include flames.

It is a superb was to test both your design and driving skills, and is definitely one of the best attractions in Epcot.

Finally, for shoppping fans, the Disney Springs retail area is adding more than 30 new shops and dining venues in its new town centre.

This new ‘neighbourhood’, with lots of high-profile labels from New York to Paris, will give visitors even more options at Disney’s waterfront, dining and entertainment district.

No matter what park you choose, The Awaken Summer theme is an incredible line-up of new attractions and experiences which will reach out to people of all ages.

Ruby and I can guarantee you that you’ll have a truly magical time.

The Chevrolet Test Track in Epcot


Robbie and Ruby travelled to Orlando with Virgin Holidays, which has packages for all budgets.

They include: 14 nights 3* in Orlando from €859pp, with car hire: Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick to Orlando, stay at the 3* Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Price is per person based on two adults and two children travelling, sharing a standard room (incl. taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change) dept November 9, 2016. 
14 nights 5* in Orlando from €3,745pp, with car hire: Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick to Orlando, stay at the 5* Disney’s Boardwalk Inn.

Price is per person based on two adults travelling, sharing a standard room (incl all taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change) dept January 18, 2017. 

14-Day Disney park ticket for price of 7-Day ticket costs €415 for adults and €390 for children: Ultimate flexibility; come and go as you please to all SIX Parks at one great price.

Available for Walt Disney World hotel bookings made until 31 Dec, 2017 for arrivals throughout 2017.

To book: visit www.virginholidays.co.uk or call the Hotline on 0044 330 0378269.