DISNEY WORLD?

Oh yes, she said, she'd like to go there.

"You're 84 years old!" I yelped, only half in mock shock. "Are you going gaga?"

"Maybe," she said, "but I'd still like to see it."

I guess I'm just not old enough. I didn't want to go. I went anyhow. Well?

Well, it's brilliant. I wonder if they'd consider taking over Chrysler.

You don't really understand Disney World until you see it, and even though it's now in its ninth summer, there are several million people who've still missed it? Can you indeed love it whether your're 8 or 80?

Eavesdroppng around the grounds, I concluded that the answers come in a lot more than 57 varieties. But do not doubt it: Central Florida's "Magic Kingdom" is in truth a magic kingdom -- and then some.

"Then some" has to do with the fact that the part called the Magic Kingdom is only a part, one where you ride in whirling teacups and sample the world of pirates, spacemen and cartoon characters. You can spend the day in just this amusement area, but you can also be a full-time guest. In the second case, you pay more and get more -- namely, the "World."

To grasp Disney World just a little, imagine a city after the ultimate in urban renewal. Picture all but the best buildings razed and replaced by expanded parks. Add only squeaky-clean, tastefully designed shops, restaurants, amusements and hotels, and let them be inhabited by nothing but smiling, considerate citizens, all on 43 square miles near Orlando.

Each morning you wake and face nothing but delightful decisions: Have breakfast aboard a Mississippi riverboat? Splash and twist down a curvy, fast-moving waterslide at an old-fashioned swimming hole? Toast yourself on a white sand beach only a few feet from a Polynesian-style "long house"? Play 18 holes at one of the top golf courses in the country? Take a trail ride on horseback.

You may now color me perverse. Disney World is beautifully executed. But after three days, I found myself face-to-face with the fact that I'm a traveler, not a vacationer. Given the choice of exploring Disney World or "doing," say, Italy, I'd take Italy and never mind that I've already "done" it a dozen times.

Moreover, I turned out not to be the only prune on the premises. Three 18-year-old males in a restaurant line came right out with "a lot of this stuff is boring, and there's nothing to do at night."

On the other hand, a hotel cashier related that some guests report having not merely a good time but a great time -- like the pair of honeymooners who came to Disney World because they met there.

But since a family of four can drop $200 a day without great effort (including Magic Kingdom ticket books at $7.50 to $11 per person -- or two-day, unlimited-use tickets at $16 to $20), clearly the adult who asks searching questions in advance does best. That was not exactly what I did, but since you also learn by experience, here's what I found out:

If you visit only the theme park and stay elsewhere, will Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang be mad at you? No, but it's conceivable that you'd hate yourself. Moving into either the Contemporary or the Polynesian (two of Disney's three hotels) is by far the best way to soak up the atmosphere and the easiest way to get around -- avoiding, for instance, parking-lot lines that in the summer sometimes stretch to Pennsylvania.

The Golf Resort Hotel is all right but ordinary, as are the four non-Disney-owned places on the periphery: the Dutch Inn, Howard Johnson's, Trave-Lodge and Royal Plaza. On the premises there's an area for campers (excellent) and a variety of kitchen-equipped apartments called "villas" and "tree-houses" (excellent too, though somewhat removed from the action).

But don't the Disney hotels cost two arms and a leg? Try two arms and two legs. They're priced up where virtually all big-city hotels are these days: $60 to $80 a night.

But the rooms are spacious enough to accommodate up to five persons easily (some even have "double" washing and bathing facilities), kids under 18 are free, and several freebies are thrown in, such as parking and transportation around the property. Resort guests also pay slightly less for Magic Kingdom ticket books, golf and tennis. And day guests can't use the hotel pools or beaches.

Furthermore, the peripheral hotels have taken some great leaps forward in price. The Orlando Chamber of Commerce (305/425-1234) keeps a price list for area accommodations and will even assist visitors without a reservation if they come to the office at 75 East Ivanhoe (I-4 at the northern entrance to Orlando).

For the next three months the Contemporary, Polynesian and Golf Resort hotels are pretty much sold out, as are a number of other spots. There's no waiting list, so frequent calls are the ticket; the first one following a cancellation gets the space.

Of course, the sensible visitor plans well ahead and writes to Walt Disney World Guest Information, P.O. Box 40, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. 32830, for a full information kit, even before calling (305/824-8000) for reservations. In fact, the truly sensible visitor probably avoids the whole place in summer -- school vacation or no school vacation. May and October are really the best months, since you miss both peak crowds and the hottest weather.

Does Mickey drink? Lord, no -- and neither does anyone else inside the Magic Kingdom. In terms of hard stuff, you're between a rock and a very dry place. However, at the Disney hotels and in Disney's Lake Buena Vista village, that's something else. There's also bar service in restaurants outside the Magic Kingdom, poolside at the hotels and aboard the sidewheel cruise boat. (Well, of course there's a sidewheel cruise boat. Also saidboats, bumper boats, pedal boats, ski boats, "flote botes" and mini-speedboats. Do you think they'd miss a thing?)

Okay, but is there anything to eat other than hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches? Technically, yes. But if blindfolded, you might not be able to tell the difference. That's perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it is curious how they can make so much so bland. Major exceptions: the Empress Room of the Empress Lilly riverboat, the Gulf Coast Room at the Contemporary Hotel and the Lake Buena Vista Club.

For those to whom quantity is more important, Disney World has to be pure pie-in-the-sky. All-you-can-eat service is all over the place. The buffet breakfast at the Contemporary's Top of the World is particularly popular. So is the no-limit Sunday champagne brunch at the Lake Buena Vista Club. What might go down best of all are the prices: While not cheap, they are modest. For example, the Top of the World breakfast is $3.25 for adults, $1.25 for children under 12.

If you get lost, will they return you to your mommy? Count on it, sweetums. The place is equipped -- you might even say crawling -- with security. If you feel faint or anything else abnormal, tell any host or hostess (that's Disneyspeak for a badge-wearing employe) and he or she will call First Aid, get a paramedic or get you straightaway to the hospital on the premises.

Can you meet Mickey? Daily and, with a little effort, more than once. Disney World is big on surprise parades as well as scheduled ones. Also, along with the famous mice, ducks, dogs and assorted big cuddly bears, somebody's slipped in a nifty Alice.

Then at night, little elves hop around cleaning everything? I think you've got it. Officially human cleanup crews turn up in the wee hours to sweep, polish, scrape off chewing gum, steam-clean the streets and vacuum the moat. But some startled hotel guests have also reported seeing plants and trees marching about, so who really knows?