Unless you’ve been living in a media-free world for the whole of your life (in which case how are you reading this) you’ll have heard of Disney.
From their animated movies, their real-life films and Pixar masterpieces, there’s something for everyone. Not to mention their purchase of Marvel and rolling in the world of Star Wars for good measure.
But they’re not for everyone. A common preconception of Disney is that it’s for girls, pretty in pink, all glitter and so many princesses. And it’s a fair assumption since that’s what I always thought, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. As a child I adored The Little Mermaid and was devastated when my VHS copy got chewed up by the video player. I had to wait until its 10th anniversary to repurchase it on DVD because you couldn’t get the video any more.
When I was younger I never visited theme parks – they were too far away from home and just too expensive. My first park experience wasn’t until 2012, when my husband surprised me with a trip to Disneyland Paris. Until then I hadn’t considered the Disney parks. I knew they existed, of course, but it wasn’t something I’d ever take part in. I’d never been on a rollercoaster at that point, and I had no idea what I was in for.
By the end of that trip I was converted – to it all. The parks, the atmosphere, the theming and the rollercoasters. I never wanted to leave. I’d found my happy place!
As a child I liked Disney films but during the 90’s with the release of films like Tarzan, The Lion King and Pocahontas, which hadn’t interested me in the slightest, I moved away and grew up from them. (Don’t grow up, it’s a trap!)
But back on that trip to Disneyland Paris, I fell head over heels back in love with the Disney world. I still feel the same way about the movies I wasn’t fond of back then. But that doesn’t matter – and if you’re not a Disney film fan, it doesn’t matter to you either.
After having many conversations over the years I have discovered that people just don’t know about the Disney Parks, and they’re in the same boat I was in back in 2012 before I made my first trip. So, I thought I’d demystify the parks for your reading pleasure. I’m going to give you a little education in the Disney parks and maybe help you understand how taking a magical trip to one of these places might be the best decision you could ever make.
Let’s start with WHERE the parks are. There’s a bunch of Disneyland parks and only one Disney World – get that straight. If you’re speaking to a Disney park fanatic and you refer to the parks in Florida as Disneyland, you’re going to get a glare.
- Disneyland California – the original Disney Park, opened in 1955
- Walt Disney World Florida – next to open, in 1971
- Tokyo Disneyland – opened 1983
- Disneyland Paris (used to be called Euro Disney) – opened 1992
- Hong Kong Disneyland – opened 2005
- Shanghai Disneyland – opened 2011
I’ve only been to two of these locations, so my experience will obviously be focussed to those – Paris and Walt Disney World (WDW)
Disneyland Paris (DLP) and WDW are similar and very different. DLP consists of two parks – Disneyland (the one with the castle) and Hollywood Studios (focussed on the creation of film and animation), each with rides and attractions as well as shows, parades and fireworks. WDW has 4 parks and two water parks. It’s so vast that it’s basically a city of its own, with its own transport system. The parks here are
- Magic Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Animal Kingdom
To give you an idea of the size of the place, the carpark for Magic Kingdom alone would fit the whole of Disneyland California inside it (125 acres – for a carpark!)
I know what you’re thinking – great, here’s some dull facts about a park I have no interest in going to…. So, I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of each park. You have the world of the internet at your fingertips for that and once you’ve read this, you can go and look up the answers to any burning questions you might have.
But let’s get started on what’s in the parks for you:
They’re not just for kids or girls
I don’t have children. I’ve never been to a Disney Park with a child. In fact, I feel like going with a child might dampen my experience. But that’s just my personal experience.
There’s a lot of walking involved – and some of the rides are just too big for kids. So, I’d rather go without, thank you very much!
The whole theming of the parks, the food, the drink, the speed in which I like to take it all in, just works for me. There are so many aspects of nature, water, fire, looking out over the lakes, the rides, waiting for parades, watching parades – all seem fairly adult to me, BUT you will feel like a child again. I swear the Disney parks are made for adults so they could feel and act like a child again and not have any kind of guilty feeling.
Each of the parks has rides – and they vary from location to location.
- You’ve got dark rides (the ones where you sit in a little car and a track takes you around diorama-type scenes with music and special effects) These are usually suitable for kids and, at Disney, most often will take you around the storyline of a Disney film.
- There are only a handful of extreme coasters at Disney parks. The majority are fast and quick, and sometimes themed to a Disney story but mostly just themed – for example Big Thunder Mountain is gold mine themed.
- Thrill rides – these tend to be unique alternatives to rollercoasters. For example, The Tower of Terror, which is an amazing Twilight Zone themed ride, based inside an elevator.
- Castle parks – the ones with the castle in them – tend to be princess and knight themed. They will also have wild west, futuristic, pirate, Arabian, and adventure theme in different areas. Music plays as you walk the streets, characters wander amongst guests (what they call the visitors) and smells are pumped into the walk ways.
- Hollywood Studios – these parks bring in the creation of film, but also tend to include the Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel aspects of Disney. In Disneyland California, their second park is called DCA (Disney California Adventure) and this has an abundant Pixar area, with more being built as we speak.
- Animal Kingdom in WDW – this is for all the animal lovers. A plush green expanse of a park which has real animals in its skies and plains. You can go on a real safari and see an abundance of animals roaming free, see monkeys swinging above you whilst wandering the park, and also ride some pretty gnarly rides (Everest is my favourite!) Theming leans towards African. Since I was last there they opened Pandora, based on the film Avatar. I haven’t seen the film, but I’m interested to immerse myself in the theming when I next visit.
- Epcot in WDW (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) – This park is mostly known for Spaceship Earth (aka as the Golf Ball) and was historically known as the ‘boring’ park since it’s all about science and feels a little learny. But it also hosts some great festivals, most notably the Food and Wine festival. Epcot is home to the World Showcase with pavilions (areas) and food locations representing 11 countries from around the world.
Each of these parks has rides, fireworks and most of them have parades. There’s something for every kind of person. You can get alcoholic beverages in all the parks, there are food locations of every type of palette. For the kids, characters roam the parks (perfect for those autograph books and fun pics!) and the theming is enough for those who recognise them from the Disney films but not too much for those not really into the Disney entertainment side of things.
The staff at the parks are there to make your visit magical – no matter what. They know all the answers to your questions and will accommodate you to the max.
Oh, the food. Not only are there signature foods that you can pretty much only get in the parks (hello, Dole Whip and Citrus Swirl) but this isn’t all just typical theme park food. Yes, you can get your hotdog and fries on Main Street, but you can also get your chicken fried rice, funnel cake and all you can eat buffets. For more on the food at the Disney parks, I can’t recommend the Disney Food Blog enough. Plus, if you manage to book your WDW trip during the free Disney Dining Plan offer, all your food is basically free! And if you time that with the Epcot Food & Wine festival (I usually do!) then you’re laughing!
Try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious!
If you’re a fan of fireworks, like me, then staying for the castle fireworks at your chosen park is a must. They seem to go on forever – and did you know that Disney is the single largest purchaser of fireworks in the US? They’re only second to the US Department of Defence on purchase of explosive devices – mind blown (geddit).
Assuming you’re staying on property (by that I mean in an officially licensed Disney hotel) you’re in for a treat. OP (on property) hotels are themed in so many ways, so you can choose which one which will suit you and your style. They go from all-out Disney castle theming, to wild west, to camping, to New Orleans, Hawaiian, plush Colonial-feel, cartoonish, artistic, golfy – you want it, you got it. And each of these hotels are vast. And you can visit them even if you’re not staying there. They have activities, and show films ‘under the stars’, and have shopping and sports courts. At Animal Kingdom Lodge in WDW you can even go on a safari around the hotel grounds.
The Polynesian Hotel lobby at WDW is particularly special.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to shopping. Each of the Disney locations has a shopping ‘park’ which is separate from the actual park locations. In Disneyland Paris and California these are called Downtown Disney, and in WDW it’s called Disney Springs. These are basically leisure complexes, which you don’t need a park ticket to go to. There’s food, shopping (officially licensed Disney Parks merchandise can be bought here too, without the need for a Disney park ticket!), music, entertainment. There’s usually a bowling alley, a cinema and more often than not, these locations home a Rainforest Café. These areas are usually open later than the parks which means once they chuck you out, you can keep on going!
So, have I convinced you yet?
The long and short of it is: if you like fun, you like being entertained, you don’t mind rides (I mean you can always go on It’s a Small World and the Teacups), you like to eat, you don’t mind shopping and you miss the feeling of being a child, then Disney Parks are for you. Plus, there’s the planning (oh my, the planning!) If you decide to visit Walt Disney World, the planning is a long-term effort and half the fun of going…. When you enter a Disney park, the rest of the world falls away. You feel lighter, you lose all of everything outside and you become a child again. It’s fully immersive – and EVERYONE feels the same. It really is the happiest place on Earth.
You can’t tell me I haven’t convinced you….. go on, do a little research into your chosen park and tell me I haven’t convinced you….