Are Disney Parks for You?; Unlocking the Disney Mythos

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.

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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.

The Locations

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
  • Epcot
  • 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.

Rides

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.

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Parks

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  • 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.

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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.

Experience

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.

Food

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!

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Try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious!

Fireworks

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).

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Hotels

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.

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The Polynesian Hotel lobby at WDW is particularly special.

Shopping

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!

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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….

Why I…. Love Disney!

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This time around in my Why I series, I’m going to talk about why I love Disney!

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As a child one of my favourite films was The Little Mermaid. In fact, I was devastated when our VCR chewed up my tape of the movie and we had to wait until the 10 year anniversary of its release before I could re buy it (Disney videos were only on short release back then!) In the period between this though, I wasn’t really a massive fan. I didn’t go crazy for Mickey and I could take or leave The Lion King and Aladdin.

There are many Disney films that came out around my early teens that I still haven’t seen, and would never reach for.

But after meeting Gary and having the chance to visit Disneyland Paris, my love for Disney just grew and grew.

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There’s something about the parks that’s just…. magical! There, I said it.

I’ve always had a thing for Tinkerbell and had so much merchandise with her on it, so the fact that Disneyland Paris really focusses on her as a character, was something special.

If you’ve never been to a park, I’ll explain. They are so immersive. So much thought has gone into them and every detail is considered. And I don’t feel like it’s full of American over the top cheesiness that people might think it is. It’s full of happiness and joy. I adore the place.

If you’re not a regular reader of Musings of a So-Called Shutterbug, you might not know that I was able to visit Disney World last year to celebrate my 10 yr wedding anniversary. It was an incredible two weeks and really blew Disneyland Paris out of the water. Don’t get me wrong, Paris Disney is amazing and there are some elements that I prefer over Florida Disney (the Paris Castle is the prettiest in my opinion) but there is so much of it, with 4 parks, each of which bigger than you could even imagine, there’s so much to see and so much Disney magic to go around.

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You can go back and read my old post on my trip to Disney World if you would like. I’d been to Disneyland Paris twice before, which had cemented my love of Disney, but Disney World turned it into an obsession.

There’s so much detail involved in just the planning of a WDW holiday, and then once you’re there, you are (and I don’t mean this to sounds obvious) IN a world of Disney. I know that sounds stupid, but as I mentioned it’s completely immersive. It’s most definitely my happy place! You can be a kid again and all there is to do is have fun!

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There’s me looking pale as, at the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I think I could happily live at the Magic Kingdom.

As part of preparing to visit WDW we watched a load of Disney and Pixar films. I love a lot of the Pixar movies and have found a love for some of the older Disney ones. Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are firm favourites. Tangled and Frozen are up there too. But my favourite Disney film has to be Enchanted. It’s fairly new and not everyone has seen it, but I really love it every time I see it. I think my favourite Pixar film is Wall E. It’s so beautiful and the music is amazing. Considering the majority of the movie has no speaking in it, I think it’s probably more of a film suited to adults, but I could watch it every day. It’s so relaxing!

I don’t think my love for Disney will ever end. I would really like a Disney related tattoo at some point, and I have an idea of a couple I’d like. Later this year we’re visiting Orlando again, and there’s possibility we might visit Disney for one day. But if not, I’ll still revel in the Disney-ness at Disney Springs.

They say Disney Parks are the happiest places on Earth, and to me, they absolutely are!

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To Live Will Be An Awfully Big Adventure

And so I’m back, from the happiest place on Earth – Disneyland. We worked the parks hard and as a result I’m only just feeling recovered. Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last 7 days.

Last Monday was Gary and my 8 year wedding anniversary. We’d not planned on doing anything but decided to ditch the gym last-minute, put on our glad rags and head out to our favourite chinese restaurant.photo 1

I’d bought this dress quite a while back but hadn’t had the opportunity to wear it and as the weather had been warm that day, I thought why not!

Jen had given me a surprise treat earlier that day:

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A countdown sign for Disney! I adore it, and it’s currently hanging in my kitchen with zero days written on it – I’ll be writing some numbers on it again soon!

Tuesday we spent the evening packing and preparing for an early start, and then it was the big day! I’d been to Disneyland once before two years ago and loved it. But nothing prepared me for how much I would love it this time around. Here are my favourite bits:

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We stayed in a Disney hotel this time around (last time we stayed at one of the ones outside and around the parks) and it was so convenient. Simple, basic and clean rooms. About 15 minutes walk to the Parks from our part of the hotel (which was furthest block away) along a pretty path along a river. We stayed half board which meant a breakfast in their buffet hall and vouchers for either lunch or dinner elsewhere or in the hotel and afternoon snacks throughout the stay. Free wifi in the lobby and daily visits from Disney characters, made it great for the kids. A Wild West theme, the blocks of hotel rooms were lined up like an old Western. There was even a laundry section for those who felt like doing chores. Oh, and as we were staying in a Disney hotel we got to enter the Disneyland park 2 hours earlier than everyone else. Extra Disney magic? Yes please!

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I will never ever get bored with turning the corner onto Main Street USA and seeing that Castle. It’s breathtaking. This time around I managed to find the particular Minnie ears I’d wanted last time – covered in black sequins with red sequins on the bow. I was elated when I found them!

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I was a little disappointed that Frozen hadn’t been worked into the Disney Dreams show in France, since I knew it was in the Florida version, but I guess a lot of it is very French themed. I was not disappointed by the amount of Frozen merchandise in the shops since you can’t find it anywhere at home. As you can see from the photo, Olaf was very pleased to see me!

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I got to ride my favourite ride 3 times – Hollywood Tower of Terror, and each time I rode with my arms up and legs off the floor. This made the falling experience a lot more thrilling. I also grew to love Space Mountain more this time around, and we even got to experience it at the very front on one of our turns.

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I couldn’t resist taking a selfie in front of the Shutterbugs sign. Shutterbug by name, Shutterbug by nature!

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We were able to go on the brand new Ratatouille ride, which had opened in July. We had no preconceptions of this ride, having read nothing about it. The wait was 60 minutes but only 5 minutes for single riders so Gary and I went in on that queue. The first time we rode in the same cart with a family and the second time we rode in separate cars. It was like no ride I’ve ever experienced before and even going on it again we both got different variations of the same ride. It was amazing!

We worked out over the 3 days (well, Wednesday from about 3:30pm to Friday about 3pm) we were in the parks for about 25 hours. It was a perfect amount of time and we were able to have a go on pretty much everything and then go on everything we wanted to go on again and again.

It was a sad time when we had to leave for our train home, but I was comforted by the fact that the next time I’m in Disney will be Orlando in two years time for our 10th wedding anniversary.

Saturday and Sunday were spent recovering and pining over our Disney holiday – our first holiday in a while – and it really felt like a holiday. We had an awesome time in a place where everyone is encouraged to dream and wish…. and never ever grow up.

If you want to see more photos from my Disneyland adventure, feel free to follow me on instagram @groggits