Image: Expedition Everest
Expedition Everest, Disney World's newest attraction, involves a harrowing ride through the Himalayas and a yeti waiting inside Mount Everest.
updated 1/16/2007 12:31:39 PM ET 2007-01-16T17:31:39

When designers conceived Walt Disney World's Cinderella Castle in the 1960s, the plans included a special suite among the gilded spires for Walt and his family. But the private accommodation fell into disuse until recently, when it got a deluxe renovation for the "Year of a Million Dreams" celebration. The plan? During this special promotion, a Disney cast member will tap random Disney World visitors on the shoulder and invite them to spend a night in the 650-square-foot fairy-tale apartment.

Disney's practice of surprising people at the parks with fantasy adventures is what makes every guest to the Orlando theme park feel like a VIP. For Cara Goldsbury, author of "The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World Resort," that surprise was a random offer for a complimentary fireworks cruise, simply because someone had canceled at the last minute. "It's an example of just one of the many things that sets Disney apart," she said.

This individual attention may make a Disney vacation feel luxurious, but an extensive menu of concierge services ensures that Disney can make any little whim or grand dream happen — for the right price. "Disney World is a place where money talks," said Bob Sehlinger, author of "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World." "There's very little that money can't buy." Resort concierges and Disney event planners have been known to arrange unique moments like a creative marriage proposal on the monorail or an elaborate dinner party in the Haunted Mansion.

They'll even fulfill those bizarre requests that most hotel concierges would scoff at for anyone but big stars. "One guest needed needed 15 towels, 20 face cloths and 30 hand towels in one bathroom, and double that in another," said reservations agent Brock Botts. "The room looked like a linen closet afterward."

And Disney goes beyond special requests and random surprises. With the VIP Tour Service, guides work with guests to customize their tours of the park so they can hit as many attractions as possible in the least amount of time. This of course means cutting to the front of the endless lines, even for popular attractions like Expedition Everest. The service can also score VIP seats for popular shows like Cirque du Soleil's "La Nouba" and "Finding Nemo — the Musical," arranging for you to come in through the back door and be guided to your seat — the complete star treatment. (If anyone mistakes you for Brad or Angelina, don't correct them.)

Some of the most difficult tickets to come by are the ones for Cinderella's Royal Table (a meal with all the Disney Princesses). To reserve tickets, dedicated parents usually have to wake up in the early morning hours — and do it days in advance. But if the "Once Upon a Time Breakfast" is all booked up, you have other options, according to Bob Sehlinger. "The Walt Disney travel company can set up private functions," he said, "which includes renting characters." It's true — opening up your wallet will make Cinderella or Snow White magically appear at your dinner table. Sure, there are plenty of fun character meals, but the chance to have Mickey or Jasmine at your family's private table is wish-upon-a-star material.

And there's plenty of it to go around. Each year, the PGA FUNAI Classic is held on two of Disney's six golf courses: PGA pros give lessons and GPS-enabled golf carts dish on course strategy. The upscale Spa at the Grand Floridian offers romantic, candlelit couples' massages as well as the "My First ..." spa treatments for little girls. Guests looking for a posh evening can book the private Grand 1 Yacht and hire a butler to serve champagne as they sail around the Seven Seas Lagoon, getting a glimpse of the nightly fireworks display.

Guests can even upgrade regular experiences to make for a truly lavish affair. For instance, instead of checking out the aquarium from the The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion, book the Ultimate Dive at Epcot's DiveQuest — you'll have the six-million-gallon aquarium and its 65 species of marine life practically to yourself. Surfing lessons at the Typhoon Lagoon are available to anyone, but why not reserve the entire Surf Pool for a private party — the only time surfboards are allowed there.

If a theme park vacation brings to mind endless meals of burgers and fries, Disney World's slew of upscale dining options begs reconsideration. From celebrity chef Todd English's bluezoo to the Mediterranean-style Citricos and its award-winning wine list, signature dining options abound in all the resorts. John Frost, who started the independent Disney Blog, especially recommends California Grill and the Animal Kingdom Lodge's African-themed Jiko's, which he calls "the two must-not-miss restaurants on property."

Image: "Finding Nemo — the Musical"
After spending the day touring the parks, keep up the momentum by heading to one of Disney's live shows, such as "Finding Nemo — the Musical."
And luxury-focused author Cara Goldsbury offers a real insider's tip: the chef's table dinner at Victoria & Albert's, the elegant Victorian dining room, the only AAA Five Diamond restaurant in Central Florida. "It's the perfect spot for an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at Disney's top chef in action," she said, "and the most outstanding meal around, with up to 13 spectacular courses."

Given all the VIP options and specialized experiences, Disney World can be your family's five-star vacation or even a lighthearted but luxurious romp for a fun-loving couple. With some planning, guests can secure the best seats in the house, visit the most popular rides totally hassle-free, and arrange all sorts of unique, individualized visits to the attractions. You don't have to win a Super Bowl to have a luxury vacation at Disney World, but it helps to loosen the purse strings when you want Disney World to be a place where your dreams really do come true. Said Goldsbury: "As long as you're willing to pay the price, Disney can plan just about anything your heart desires."

Photos: Walt Disney World at 40

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  1. 40 and fabulous

    Fireworks explode above Cinderella Castle as dancers and Disney characters perform while taping a segment of "Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade" at the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 3, 2010, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 40th anniversary of the opening of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort will be celebrated in 2011. (Mark Ashman / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Star power

    Musical artist Yanni, right, plays the piano as the "Yanni Voices" perform an arrangement of "O Holy Night" at the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 3, 2009, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Yanni was taping a segment for the "Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade" holiday TV special. (Mark Ashman / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'I'm going to Disney World!'

    Tom Brady, quarterback of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, signs autographs at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on Feb. 2, 2004, one day after leading the Patriots to a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers. (Gene Duncan / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The first 25 years

    First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to a crowd as Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner applauds Oct. 1, 1996, during the rededication of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on the 25th anniversary its opening. (Tony Ranze / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Royal fun

    Prince William, right, grimaces after he and friends of the royal family finish their ride on Splash Mountain Aug. 26, 1993, at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Harry Soames, left front, was the prince's companion on the three-day vacation. Other passengers are unidentified. (Bob Pearson / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Celebrating two decades

    The 20th anniversary rededication ceremony of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in 1991 brought legions of Disney cast members onto Main Street, U.S.A. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A world-class welcome

    Roy O. Disney, brother of Walt Disney, is joined by the beloved Disney character that started it all, Mickey Mouse, in welcoming the first guests to the grand opening of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Oct. 1, 1971. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cinderella's future home

    In 1971, a blue-spired castle -- destined to become one of the world's most-photographed buildings -- rose in central Florida as the iconic centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom, which opened on Oct. 1, 1971. In the 40 years since guests first strolled down Main Street, U.S.A., Walt Disney World Resort has blazed brave new entertainment trails based on its founder's fertile imagination and vision that the resort would forever continue to evolve. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
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