Once upon a time, when a family contemplated embarking on a Disney vacation, they were burdened by only two possibilities — California or Florida. And when you were a kid, you could safely assume that Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs, and Peter Pan and Tinker Bell all lived at Disneyland or Disney World. It was a simpler time that offered a humbler proposition behind the slogan, “Where Dreams Come True.” But things change and so has the idea of a Disney vacation. What was once a simple East Coast/West Coast exhibition is now a global phenomenon.
The Disney Company and our long-time friend Mickey began in the 1920s. Next came Snow White in the ’30s, followed by the scalawags of Treasure Island and the Lost Boys of Neverland in the ’50s. Naturally, these characters needed a place to congregate, so it was on July 17, 1955, that Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., thus creating a one-of-a-kind destination steeped in storytelling and immersive experiences. What followed would redefine family entertainment all around the world. Sixty years later, after the introduction of Walt Disney World Resort in 1971, Tokyo Disney in 1983 and Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) in 1992, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts developed into one of the world’s leading providers of family travel and leisure experiences, serving millions of guests each year.
Today, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts consists of five world-class vacation destinations with 11 theme parks and 47 resorts in North America, Europe and Asia, and a brand new sixth destination in Shanghai set to open later this year. In addition to these land-based attractions, families can set out on the open ocean with one of Disney Cruise Line’s four colossal ships. And just when you think you have reached the end of the Disney lineup, they offer Disney Vacation Club with 13 properties and more than 200,000 member families, and Adventures by Disney providing guided family vacation experiences to destinations all around the globe. So it’s safe to say that planning a Disney vacation has become a little more complicated lately. Beginning with the classics, let’s consider our options.
The entire Disneyland Resort in California consists of three on-site hotels, two theme parks — Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park — and Downtown Disney and covers about 500 acres. Because of its comparatively small size, getting around between rides and attractions is a breeze. On the other hand, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida covers more than 40 square miles and consists of 24 on-site hotels, four theme parks — Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom — along with two water parks, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and Disney’s Boardwalk. Park hopping here requires extensive use of the monorails and boats and a multi-day commitment just to see half of the sites. While Disneyland and Disney World share many of the same attractions and shows, each offers plenty of exclusives.
To a large degree, the Disney experience is similar all around the world. Each park is divided into different lands, including Main Street U.S.A., Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland, and each park offers a collection of comparable rides and shows. But it would be careless to assume that when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In fact, Disney’s resorts in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo are really quite customized and remain true to their surroundings by offering a diverse selection of food, rides and layouts to make local visitors feel more at home.
At Tokyo Disneyland, you can wait in line for Splash Mountain while chowing down on donburi, a popular Japanese dish, or visit the Japanese curry stand on your way to the resort’s waterpark. Hong Kong Disney Resort offers guests a healthy dose of feng shui, including boulders at the entrance and a host of lakes, ponds and streams, to generate positive energy throughout the park. Meanwhile, a day at Disneyland Paris includes rides and attractions dedicated to the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Jules Vern, a taste of French cinema at CineMagique, and a ride and restaurant dedicated to that fleecy French mouse Ratatouille. Disneyland Paris is also the only Disney theme park where you can enjoy wine with your meal.
For families looking to branch out from the land-loving theme park experience, Disney Cruise Line serves up the Disney experience aboard four ocean liners designed for families. Like your typical cruise ship, these vessels come equipped with quick-stop eateries and elegant restaurants, nightclubs and lounges, and pools and recreational facilities; and they all visit the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, California and Alaska. The difference, however, is the Disney spectacle that saturates each ship from bow to stern. Meet your favorite Disney characters during one of the many surprise appearances, enjoy a Broadway-styled Cinderella show or a movie in the theater, or just spend your day riding the giant waterslides or lounging by the adults-only pool. All of this while making your way to the Bahamas.
But still there is more. The worldwide Disney vacation menu also includes a sprawling Hawaiian getaway. Opened in 2011 on the island of O’ahu, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, offers guests a world-class Hawaiian experience seasoned with just a hint of Disney magic. Dip your toes in the 8,200 square-foot Waikolohe Pool, spend a lazy afternoon riding the Waikolohe Stream, snorkel with colorful marine life in the private Rainbow Reef lagoon, and catch the Starlit Hui for luau music and hula dancing. Just don’t forget that Aulani is also a full-service spa with a wide variety of individual and family treatments. And, yes, your favorite Disney characters frequent this resort too, so keep your camera handy. You might discover that the only drawback to Aulani is finding time to experience the rest of Hawaii.
What was once “a small world after all” is now a wide world of seemingly endless possibility. So set out on a Disney adventure and know that no matter where you go, Mickey Mouse and every other childhood favorite will be there to greet you.