A Disney holiday in the US is a dream for many families; that sense of wonderment that comes from exploring a fantasy world filled with castles, attractions and classic characters. While most Australians tend to visit LA's Disneyland because of geographical proximity, it's worth noting both parks (Land in California and World in Florida) have key differences.
The main discrepancy is size, Disney World is around 112 square kilometres – roughly the size of San Francisco – with four theme parks, while Disneyland is far more compact at about 200 hectares and two parks. Disney World also features the MagicBand and FastPass+ system (explained below), which is still to be introduced in California. In spite of its more diminutive stature, Disneyland still offers roughly the same amount of attractions as well as a vast array of shows and entertainment. Whichever coast you choose, both offer many reasons for a Disney vacation. Having experienced both parks, here are 20 of the best.
1 JOIN IN EVENTS AND PARADES
There's a lot more to the Disney experience than rollercoasters. Each day countless shows, parades and productions take place throughout the parks, many of which are included in the price of your ticket. Among the best are the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple and the much-loved Main Street Electrical Parade featuring thousands of dazzling lights paired with weird soundscapes. Pick up a Times Guide upon entering the park or check online. See disneyworld.disney.go.com
2 CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
Few family excursions offer as much variation in such proximity; where else could you ride on the back of a banshee through the world of Pandora, snack on a hotdog, train to be a Jedi Knight, goof about with Goofy, watch a marching parade of Storm Troopers and shop for souvenirs all in the space of a few hours?
3 SHOP FOR UNIQUE GIFTS
With most Disney attractions exiting via the gift shop, hunting for souvenirs isn't going to be an issue. To avoid lugging purchases around all day, guests staying at Disney Resort Hotels can now request free delivery of purchases back to the hotel. The process is straightforward and can be organised directly while making your purchase. See disneyworld.disney.go.com
4 MEET YOUR FAVOURITE CHARACTERS
Disney characters can be found all over the parks and nowadays the costumes are so elaborate, chances are your kids will think they're meeting the real deal. Character Dining Experiences also take place throughout hotels and restaurants so you and the family can meet and pose for memorable photographs.
5 STAY HOTELS AND RESORTS
Many Disney Resort Hotels are within striking distance of the parks, a major advantage if you want to combine a busy, fun-filled trip with plenty of time outs to relax throughout the day. Many resorts such as the Animal Kingdom Lodge have a decent outdoor pool as well as a plush bar and lounge area for enjoying downtime away from the crowds.
6 NEW AVATAR AND GUARDIANS ATTRACTIONS
In May this year, both Disneyland and Disney World unveiled their hottest new attractions in years. At Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Pandora – The World of Avatar is a mind-blowing 3D simulator that fools your brain into believing you're flying on the back of a banshee, while the accompanying Na'vi River Journey is a surreal cruise through a bioluminescent world. At Disneyland, the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is a thrilling freefall ride themed around your favourite characters from both hit films.
7 GET VALUE FOR MONEY
A Disney pass includes far more than just attractions. Once you enter the theme park your ticket gives you access to unique dining, shopping, a host of shows and parades, Disney characters, face painting, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and more. Depending on the type of pass you buy, you can also gain access to waterparks, golf courses, free photo download options and tours.
8 USE MYMAGIC+ /FASTPASS+
Since it was unveiled a couple of years ago, MyMagic+ has become an invaluable tool for those looking to plan a seamless Disney trip. Consisting of the My Disney Experience smartphone app, the FastPass+ and the MagicBand bracelet, it's the perfect way to seamlessly integrate the various aspects of a Disney experience. The technology allows guests to pay for meals, open hotel room doors, pre-reserve places on select attractions and more.
9 FOREVER MOMENTS
The sense of wonderment for kids at the Magic Kingdom and other parks can't be underestimated. After a full day riding some of the world's finest attractions in a mythical world filled with castles, ornate gardens and screen characters brought to life, the day wraps up with a spectacular light show parade or firework display; not something easily forgotten when your mind is like a sponge.
10 IN THE SWIM RESORT POOLS
Disney Resorts have a multitude of spectacular pools, spas and fitness centres perfect for unwinding and fighting the flab. For diversity, the two retro-themed pools and waterslides at The Disneyland Hotel take some beating while at Disney World the Saratoga Springs Resort offers a full-service spa and health club inspired by the wellness retreats of upstate New York. Another highlight is the boardwalk inspired rooftop pool at the Paradise Pier Hotel.
11 DINE WITH A THEME
From themed encounters to speciality packages, few if any resorts in the world offer as many diverse and unusual dining options. Don't miss dinner at Disneyland's Blue Bayou Restaurant, a Cajun and Creole-themed affair or the classic Americana comfort food and retro kitsch at Disney World's 1950s Prime Time Cafe. See disneydining.com
12 TAKE A TOUR
Disney offers a range of guided tours and excursions for those looking to delve a little deeper. Some of the most popular include the Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps tour, fusing the historical legacy of Walt himself with rides on some of his favourite attractions as well as access to certain sections of the park off-limits to most. Alternatively, VIP tours offer small groups the chance to target specific attractions minus the hassle of queueing with the help of a knowledgeable Disney "cast member".
13 PLAY, STAY, DINE AND SAVE
Between January 1 and March 10, 2018, Disney are running a special promotion on a five-night stay in a single room or studio with six-day Magic Your Way base tickets for a family of four. This allows you to potentially save up to $500 during this period at select Disney Resort Hotels. See disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers/stay-dine-package/
14 DISNEY FESTIVAL OF HOLIDAYS
Make the most of the festive season between now and January 7, 2018, with Disney's Festival of Holidays, a selection of culturally diverse entertainments ranging from a festive foods marketplace, visits from Santa, musicals, street parades and street parties. See disneyland.disney.go.com/
15 WAKE TO MICKEY
For a genuinely different way to start your day, swap the dreaded alarm bell for a wake-up call from one of your favourite Disney characters. On checking in to a Disney Resort Hotel, simply request the wake-up with a cast member at the front desk/concierge and await a special kind of start to the next day. At this time characters that call are random and can't be selected or chosen ahead of time.
16 SOAK SPAS
Disney Resorts offer a multitude of health clubs, spas and massage facilities to help you unwind after a busy day pounding the parks with the kids. Many of these facilities also offer facials, manicures and pedicures, make-up specialists and even globally influenced "spa journeys" incorporating a range of pampering treatments from around the world.
17 SEE THEATRE AND STAGE SHOWS
Be sure to check out Frozen (live at the Hyperion, Hollywood Land), the spectacular new theatrical interpretation of Disney's animated film as well as Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off! And Storytelling at Royal Theatre where legendary Disney tales come to life. See liveshows.disney.com
18 PLAY ESPN ZONE SPOTS ARENA
In Downtown Disneyland, this huge sports arcade is the ultimate entertainment zone. Featuring top-name sports-themed games and interactive arcade entertainment, you can try your hand at anything from basketball and air hockey to boxing or bowling. Afterward, the ESPN Zone Restaurant and bar downstairs is the perfect place to sink a few beers while watching your favourite sports team on the many HDTVs.
19 FIND DISCOUNTS AND DEALS
If your Disney holiday is likely to be more than a one-off, it's worth considering investing in one of the annual passport options. Depending on which package you opt for, perks can include anything from discounts on merchandise and dining to PhotoPass downloads, theme park parking and even admission to the parks every day of the year.
20 ENJOY ATTRACTIONS
Last but not least, perhaps the most iconic reason for a Disney holiday is the much-loved variety of attractions. From thrilling drop rides and hellraising rollercoasters to interactive animated experiences and leisurely boat cruises through the Congo, there's bound to be something to enthral each member of the family. See disneyland.disney.go.com
Guy Wilkinson was a guest of Disney