Hey, man, you're on vacation!' came the shout across Main Street USA as a burly guy in shorts and flip-flops strolled through the gates, jabbering away on his mobile phone. The jibe was made half in jest, but carried a note of censure: the mobile phone goes against the vision of what the late Walt Disney had in mind for his theme parks. More so than the other Disneylands around the world, Florida's Walt Disney World is a place that is easy to feel safely cocooned in, a place where the real world is rarely allowed to intrude. Call it the 51st state of the United States of America if you will, but there is no doubt that Walt Disney World, at Lake Buena Vista 32 kilometres southwest of Orlando, is a 12,200-hectare autonomous kingdom which covers an area of 122 square kilometres. Everything in Disney World spells E-A-S-E, from your room-key-and-charge-card-in-one to less queuing time with the new FastPass which allows guests to get an allotted time for rides. There is no pollution, no traffic jams, no nosy neighbours, and a low crime rate. The eerie feeling only sets in when one realises that this could almost be a scene from Pleasantville: a perfect world that does not exist. Opponents of Disney plans in Hong Kong might well be forgiven for their fears of 'an SAR within an SAR' being created here. Streets are patrolled by 'Disney police', another term for their security, although Florida state troopers have been known to intervene in more major cases. Two hundred buses and two monorails sporting the Disney logo carry 'residents' around the four theme parks, three water parks and 27 resorts spread through the state. Television channels in the hotels carry a Disney radio channel and several Disney channels harping on the main attractions in the area. There is no escaping the Mouse. From any point within the resort area, the only 'high-rises' you glimpse on the skyline are the signature Snow White's Castle to the north and the eerie and forbidding Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror - the highest building in WDW at 61 metres - to the south. 'When Walt Disney planned his theme parks, he didn't want his guests to be distracted by any reminders of the outside world. He just wanted them to come and have a good time and not look up and see the freeway and think: 'I have to go back to work,' ' one Disney employee tells me. Naturally, the four glossy theme parks - Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and the new Animal Kingdom - make it easy to toss all cares aside. Whether it be whizzing through the 'streets' of Los Angeles at 100km/h at the Rock'n'Roller Coaster, waiting for the lift to plummet 13 floors down at the Tower Of Terror, or watching one of the sometimes daft but often entertaining live shows, there is more than enough to keep a person occupied for a couple of weeks at least - if you have the money. Admission tickets don't come cheap, ranging from US$25 (HK$194) a day at interactive centre DisneyQuest to US$44 at the theme parks. Despite the feeling of disconnection with the outside world, there is a lot to be said for the innovation - both on a technical and personal level - that Disney has injected into this make-believe world of colour and magic. Hong Kong is still being kept on tenterhooks as to whether negotiations will be successful for a similar park to be set up here. So far, the only comments have come from Hong Kong officials and the latest from Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in his Policy Address is that they hope to come to a decision by the end of this month. In Florida, the words 'Hong Kong' were being bandied around whenever an 'Asian site' was mentioned but it was amusing to see executives scuttle for cover when the inevitable question - 'has Disney really decided on Hong Kong then?' - was asked. One senior executive, who had been giving examples quoting what might be done in Hong Kong, backtracked quickly with a 'I'm not the right person to ask about that'. Paul Pressler, president of Walt Disney Attractions, responsible for all Disney's theme parks including those in Tokyo and Paris, was only slightly more forthcoming. 'We haven't reached a decision at this point. We're all anxious and we're hoping sooner rather than later. It's complicated as you can imagine but we're hoping we'll see something soon.' If talks are successful, Mr Pressler sees Magic Kingdom as the park they would most likely start with. With only about 230 hectares of land in total, there is not a lot more they can put in the park. At Lake Buena Vista, Magic Kingdom already takes up 43 hectares and Epcot covers 104 hectares - and this is minus the hotels. But Mr Pressler is confident that any of Disney's parks would translate well in Asia. 'We've clearly seen that our characters and our story-telling has worked around the world so we're confident our theme parks would translate extremely well. It's worked in Tokyo and Paris . . . and we're hoping to do something in Hong Kong soon.' Admittedly, things in the picture-perfect 'toon world can get a little too cutesy after a while; after all there are only so many times one wants to shake hands with Mickey the Sorcerer, Winnie The Pooh or Goofy. But there are many lessons that Hong Kong - not exactly known for friendly service and environmental efforts so far - can learn from Disney even if negotiations are unsuccessful for a Disney World in Penny's Bay. In the week I was in the Florida park, it was not difficult to be impressed by the level of service and discipline shown by Disney employees - or 'cast members' as they are called. No request was too troublesome or refused. Despite the heat, which can go up to the 40s Celsius, and a humidity level that lingers in the 90s, cast members had cheerful greetings for everyone. Training and instilling the Disney philosophy in its staff seem to play a big part in the administrative policy: new cast members are sent to Disney University - yes, this is correct - for a training period before they start work. Among the discipline instilled in them is the absolute no-no of eating, drinking or lounging around while they are officially working and have their name badges on. 'We concentrate on what we like to call the 3Cs: competency, culture and context,' says Kelly Frank, a senior human resource executive. One might be tempted to dismiss it all as company propaganda except for the cheerful evidence one encounters while walking around the theme parks. Bus drivers actually wait for passengers to sit down before they start driving. But the leaf that the SAR can take out of Disney's books - especially with the new Tung initiative on a greener Hong Kong - might perhaps be their efforts at environmentalism. 'Environmentality', Disney World's smart term for it, appears alive and well, even though the blasting air-conditioner and whirling fan in the hotel rooms at the Caribbean Beach Resort seem to suggest otherwise. The resort does conserve 1.8 million gallons of ground water a day by using treated waste-water for golf course and landscape irrigation; bubble packing has given way to a recycled and recyclable corrugated product; plastic flower pots have been discarded in exchange for biodegradable cardboard; and more than 500,000 unsold meals are given away to the poor each year. The resort also uses natural compost, derived from the sewage, and sets free ladybugs to decrease the use of chemical insecticides and fertilisers. The most vivid impression comes from the cleanliness of the theme parks. Despite 200,000 people tramping through them drinking an average of 137,000 Cokes every day, there is hardly any litter. Public toilets are a wonder compared to the nauseating state of many in Hong Kong. After one Fantasmic show at Disney-MGM Studios, it was heartening to see 20 cleaners separating the trash into bags of plastic bottles, aluminium cans and paper product: all the easier to recycle. This is not to say that Disney World's peaceful perfect equilibrium can never be upset by the outside world. The resort's new Millennium Village at Epcot, set up to celebrate the new millennium, raised a storm between Arab-American and Jewish communities fighting over the status of Jerusalem in its Israel exhibit. The new village showcases exhibits from 24 countries, including Brazil, Saudi Arabia and East Africa's Eritrea. However, on opening day on October 1, eager tourists queued for more than an hour to get into the Millennium Village oblivious to the controversy and the 50 American Muslims protesting at the entrance to Walt Disney World. The protests had taken Disney by surprise, admits Mr Pressler at a press event that day. 'As with all of our creations, we went through a process of long dialogues but it just never rang any bells. We had designed Millennium Village as not different from what we thought Epcot was at its creation. We would invite nations and cultures around the world to come and celebrate their heritage,' he says. 'As you do that, obviously there are different views and philosophies out there. [But]we're purely an entertainment company and here to create fun.' Less controversial and more fun would be two other millennium highlights: Tapestry of Nations and IllumiNations 2000. The former features 120 larger-than-life puppets - designed by Michael Curry who did the Broadway version of The Lion King - and 30 drummers aboard 15 rolling percussion stages in a twice-daily pageant around the World Showcase Lagoon. The finale of each night is IllumiNations 2000, a colourful showcase of fireworks, laser and special effects performed to a pounding score by Gavin Greenaway that far eclipses our New Year fireworks in Hong Kong. The highlight of the show is the Earth Globe, touted as the world's first spherical video display system. Even if Disney World comes to town, this would be an impossible experience here because the Penny's Bay location has ruled out fireworks due to the flight paths. But Epcot's millennium celebrations will last for 15 months anyway since their 2000 New Year packages have been sold out for the past eight to 10 years. As Mr Pressler says: 'We want as many guests as possible to be able to enjoy and reflect upon the millennium and one day is not going to be enough. So, for the next 15 months, every day is going to be New Year's Eve.' And, why not? It is fantasyland after all.