If the first question you ask yourself when you’re planning a Disney vacation is “Disneyland or Walt Disney World?” you could be missing a trick. From trips that take you beyond the parks to parks that take you beyond our borders, there’s a particular flavor of Disney magic out there to suit every taste.
This list could easily be twice as long, but these are our top picks for the best Disney vacations for a broad range of travel palates:
Best for: Disney purists and history buffs; Pixar and Marvel fans; a quick trip when you’re short on time
The park where it all began 64 years ago, “Walt’s Park” oozes history and nostalgia. Spot the lamp lit in the window of Walt Disney’s personal apartment overlooking Main Street and revel in the magic of strolling through the only Disney park Walt ever actually visited.
Marvel at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (WDW regulars, be warned – its diminutive stature compared to Cinderella’s Castle may shock you), eat classic Disneyland snacks like churros and Mickey-shaped beignets, and ride iconic attractions you won’t find anywhere else like the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. You’ll also find quite a few “better” versions of equally popular Walt Disney World attractions.
A couple minutes’ walk will put you in the shopping and dining district of Downtown Disney or at the gates of Disney California Adventure, which is a spectacular park and a must-visit in its own right.
DCA is also the ultimate park for Pixar fans – Cars Land is a mind-blowing recreation of Radiator Springs and features one of Disney’s best attractions anywhere, Radiator Springs Racers.
Currently, DCA is also really the only domestic Disney park where Marvel fans can get their fix, with character meet-and-greet opportunities and a great ride, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! When the full-blown Marvel-themed land, Avengers Campus, opens next year, this park will become a must-visit for Marvel fans.
Walt Disney World
Best for: Type-A planners; long trips; theme park aficionados
If you’re an easy, breezy, play-it-by-ear kind of vacationer, you might struggle with the upfront commitment involved in orchestrating a successful trip to Walt Disney World. On the other hand, if you’re a planner extraordinaire who lives and dies by your spreadsheets, a visit to WDW will make all your Type-A dreams come true.
Disneyland might be the original, but Walt Disney World is definitely the most epic (or epically overwhelming, depending on how you look at it) Disney destination. With four theme parks, two water parks, and 28 resorts spanning roughly 40 square miles, let’s just say there’s a lot to do – far more than anyone could easily cover in 10, or maybe even 100 trips.
So unless you truly don’t care what you end up doing on your visit, you’ll want to get very cozy with your My Disney Experience app and book those dining reservations 180 days out and FastPasses at 60 or 30 days in advance of your trip (depending on whether you’re staying on- or off-property).
If you’re reading this, you probably already know a thing or two about Walt Disney World, but the things we think set WDW apart most from other Disney destinations around the world are its two most unique parks, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the vast selection of elaborately themed resorts, many of which could be destinations in their own right.
Disney Cruise Line
Best for: Multigenerational travel; structure without all the planning
Hands down the best cruise line for families, Disney Cruise Line really is a one-stop-shop for all the elements of a perfect family vacation: high-end dining, Broadway-caliber entertainment, amazing pools, relaxation for grown-ups, and plenty of characters and Disney magic to keep kids engaged round the clock.
We’ve cruised on several competitor lines and can confidently say that even the most discerning travelers will be impressed with the level of service, quality of dining offerings, and overall experience you’ll find on a Disney cruise.
A huge range of destinations like Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean offer a vast variety of on-shore experiences: relax on the beach, get up close and personal with wildlife or see the sights in Europe’s greatest cities. Onboard, families get the perfect mix of togetherness and ‘me’ time, thanks to DCL’s amazing kids’ clubs where kids have such a good time, it’s tough to get them to leave. While the kids are occupied, grown-ups can kick back at the spa or the adults-only restaurants, pool and entertainment district.
Adventures By Disney
Best for: Hassle-free travel to bucket-list destinations; cautious adventurers
One of the reasons Disney devotees sometimes find themselves returning to Walt Disney World and Disneyland over and over is that they’ve grown so accustomed to the level of comfort, ease and hospitality Disney provides that they don’t want to risk the disappointment of a vacation that delivers a sub-par experience.
Enter Adventures By Disney, which pretty much applies the Disney treatment to world travel. From hotels and airport transfers to VIP tours, dining and activities, Adventures By Disney handles all the planning and logistics for you, so all you have to do is show up and enjoy your trip.
Go on a safari in South Africa, visit the Great Wall of China, marvel at the pyramids in Egypt, explore Italy’s Amalfi Coast, or cruise the Rhone River – there’s truly an adventure for every interest. This is the perfect time to push beyond your comfort zone too; your adventure guides ensure that you’re safe and that your needs are totally taken care of throughout your trip.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
Best for: Beach and pool lovers; culture seekers; families; couples
For the perfect mix of family fun, luxurious tropical escape and Disney Imagineering in action, hop a flight to Honolulu and check-in at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa.
Overlooking a tranquil cove on the coast of Oahu, Aulani is everything you’ve always dreamed Hawaii might be: turquoise waters, lush tropical foliage, the soothing sound of ukuleles carrying through the air. This place is truly a paradise for families, couples and, of course, Disney fans – though there’s no need to be a card-carrying member of the latter group, because the Disney touches throughout the resort, while magical, are subtle.
Fans of Disney’s Animal Kingdom will recognize the handiwork of Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde. Much like that park and its corresponding resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, the most “Disney” thing about Aulani isn’t its use of IP (which really is minimal), it’s the level of authenticity and immersion you get from the painstaking attention to detail and theming throughout the resort.
Highlights include the spectacular Waikolohe Valley, a network of pools, waterslides, splash zones, and a private snorkeling lagoon; Aunty’s Beach House, an engaging kids club much like those on Disney Cruise Line ships; and the KA’WAA luau, an authentic celebration of Hawaiian history, culture, food, and music. Speaking of food, the dining options at Aulani consistently upstage those of just about every other deluxe Disney resort.
Best for: Disney fans who also want to see the world; theme park obsessives; Disney bucket-listers
If you’re a WDW regular who’s starting to feel guilty that your knowledge of far-flung destinations is a bit too limited to Epcot’s World Showcase, it could be time to pack your bags for a more exotic Disney vacation.
Opened back in 1983, Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney theme park built outside the United States. Parts of it are reminiscent of both Disneyland park and Magic Kingdom, but with sprawling walkways, Country Bears that speak Japanese, and a glass canopy-covered Main Street, U.S.A. that’s actually called World Bazaar.
Getting the chance to explore Japan and check another Disney castle off your bucket list aren’t even the biggest reasons to book that flight to Tokyo though, because just minutes from Tokyo Disneyland sits the park that more than a few have confidently crowned Disney’s best theme park: Tokyo DisneySea.
Employing nautical/sea themes and comprising seven “ports of call” inspired by both real seaside places and ocean legends, this park delivers an unparalleled level of detail and immersion all other Disney parks should aspire to.
Best for: Adding on to a European trip
While Disneyland Paris might not warrant a dedicated trip across the pond (unless you’re fanatical about Disney parks, and let’s be honest, there are more a than a few of us guilty of such a charge), it’s so easy to tack a visit on to a trip to Paris (or London) that under those circumstances we call it a must-visit. Just 35 minutes by train from Paris and accessible via the Eurostar from London, you can visit for the day and spend the night in Paris, or spend a few nights at one of Disney’s seven resort hotels here.
The resort’s two parks, Disneyland park and Walt Disney Studios park, mirror the vibe and attraction lineups of Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure in Anaheim and Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Many of the attractions are the same or similar, but there are definitely enough variations to make it worth your trip.
Marvel fans should also take note that an Avengers Campus is being built here too, so East Coasters eager to visit this land might choose to hit up the Paris version as part of a European/Disney vacation rather than head out to California.
What is your ideal Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments!