It began as one man’s vision of a place where parents and their children could have fun together. Walt Disney came up with the idea for Disneyland while he was visiting parks with his daughters, Diane and Sharon, in the 1930s and 1940s, but it wasn’t until 1953 that he finally bought a 65-hectare site near Anaheim California and work began on the theme park he’d envisaged. Two years later Disneyland was opened on July 17, 1955, a magical place where the dreams that you dare to dream really can come true.
Since then four other Disney parks have opened around the world, welcoming millions of families through their gates – and the newest resort, in Shanghai, China, is set to open next year.
With their irresistible combination of rides, parades, firework displays, character dining experiences and Broadway-quality shows, the Disney parks provide endless entertainment – and fantastic value for money, too. No wonder so many people choose to include a visit to one of the parks in their annual holiday plans.
Here we take a look at the must-see attractions at the Walt Disney parks and offer top tips for getting the most out of your visit, plus advice on where to stay...
Disneyland Park, California
The original and much-loved Disneyland Park consists of eight themed “lands”: Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country and Mickey’s Toon Town. Disneyland Park is celebrating its 60th birthday in style – Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is bedecked in glittering diamonds with a large ‘60’ logo, and the Diamond Celebration includes the spectacular Paint the Night light parade and incredible Disneyland Forever fireworks display.
Must-see attractions Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Soarin’ Over California (where you really feel as though you’re flying over orange groves and mountains), Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and of course, It’s A Small World.
Top tips Staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel lets you into sections of the resort an hour before the official opening, so you could be zooming up Space Mountain before you’ve had your breakfast (probably a good idea). And the musical spectacular Disney’s Aladdin is a shorter (40 minutes) version of the Broadway smash-hit, but well worth seeing.
Where to eat Enjoy al fresco dining at Café Orleans in New Orleans Square, where specialities include the Mardi Gras blackened chicken sandwich. For fine dining, Napa Rose, in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the resort. Highlights include sushi appetisers and seasonal main courses.
Where to stay Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is an elegant resort with a stunning six-storey lobby constructed of stone and wood, themed pools including the Redwood Pool with its water slide curving around the stump of a giant redwood tree, and a luxurious spa.
Getting there Emirates flies from Dubai to LAX for Dh8,395 return.
Flight time from UAE 17 hours approx
Room rates Standard view rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, California, start from approx Dh1,392
Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
Guaranteed sunshine and its sheer size and scale has helped make Walt Disney World one of the most popular theme parks in the world, but it also has a fantastic atmosphere. There are four theme parks (the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach). You could easily spend a week here, or longer (and many people do).
Must-see attractions Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Tours, Kilimanjaro Safari, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Turtle Talk with Crush, Splash Mountain.
Top tips There’s so much to see and do at WDW so you’ll need to pace yourself – FastPass Plus when you can, and if you hit the parks early in the morning, have a rest and a swim at your resort in the afternoon before you return to the park of your choice for the fireworks display in the evening. That way you won’t miss a thing. It’s worth noting that while July and August are great times to visit (particularly if you need to travel during school holidays), spring and autumn are also good – you still get the Florida sunshine, but fewer crowds. Visit during the festive season (December) and you’ll also be able to see the incredible decorations displayed around the park, plus the mesmerising Osborne Family (don’t worry they’re no relation to Sharon and Ozzy!) Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
Where to eat Leaving aside the proliferation of fast food restaurants, there are some dining experiences at WDW that are simply not to be missed, including the Hollywood Brown Derby, which is known for its Cobb salad, and La Hacienda de San Angel, the excellent Mexican restaurant at Epcot. It’s also worth noting that once a year, usually from late September to mid-November, there’s a fantastic food festival at Epcot, where you can experience delectable specialities from around the world.
Where to stay While there are lots of options along International Drive, stay at one of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels and you will get the full magic experience, including those precious ‘extra-magic’ hours that give you early access to the parks. There are no fewer than 21 resort hotels to suit all budgets and tastes, but for a truly luxurious stay we recommend Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which celebrates the spirit of aloha, with white-sand beaches, a tropical ambience and exquisitely appointed rooms. Kids will love the new Kiki Tikis Splash Play area, and everyone will enjoy the Lava Pool, which even has a “volcano”. The resort is also within easy reach of the monorail to Epcot.
Getting there Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Orlando from Dh6,995 return.
Flight time from UAE 18 hours approx
Room rates Standard view rooms at Disney Polynesian Village Resort, Florida start from approx Dh1,575 per night
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
Located in Penny’s Bay on Lantau Island, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort has one park with three themed areas: Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point and Toy Story Land, and 10 themed areas based on Disneyland Park in California. Although not as big as its American counterparts, you could easily spend days exploring everything on offer.
Must-see attractions The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Jungle River Cruise, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters Top tip Visit on a weekday – it will be much quieter, and doesn’t get busy until midday.
Where to eat As you’re in Hong Kong, it’s worth trying Crystal Lotus for family-style Chinese food, or the Enchanted Garden Restaurant – both restaurants are at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel.
Where to stay Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel offers stately accommodation in a Victorian-style resort - with the added attraction of ocean views of the South China Sea.
Getting there Cathay Pacific flies from Dubai to Hong Kong, from Dh2,705 return
Flight time from UAE 7 hours approx
Room rates Standard view rooms at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel start from approx Dh1,207 per night
Tokyo Disney Resort
Relaxing and charming, and located about an hour outside Japan’s capital, Tokyo Disney Resort has two parks – Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, which features full-scale reproductions of Venice and Portofino and is arguably one of the most original Disney parks in the world.
Must-see attractions Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mermaid Lagoon, Raging Spirits and Aquatopia.
Top tips Unless you speak Japanese fluently, avoid the Turtle Talk with Crush attraction – it won’t make sense.
Where to eat Magellan’s at DisneySea is an ornate, fine-dining restaurant with lots of surprises in store (we won’t spoil them).
Where to stay The impressive Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is designed to look like an early 20th-century resort, and offers gorgeous, spacious accommodation.
Getting there Emirates flies from Dubai to Tokyo, from Dh5,805 return.
Flight time from UAE 10 hours.
Room rates Standard rooms at Tokyo Disneyland Hotel start from approx Dh1,117 per night
With two theme parks (Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios Park) and its location at Marne-la-Vallée, half an hour outside the French capital, Disneyland Paris has become one of Europe’s most popular attractions. While it doesn’t have the sunshine of its Californian and Floridian cousins, its compact size has made it a hit with Disney fans from all over the world, and its proximity to Paris means its easy to combine a stay in the parks with a cultural trip through the city of love.
Must-see attractions Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain, Snow White, Toy Story Soldiers Parachute Drop, Aerosmith’s Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups and the state-of-the-art Ratatouille dark ride, which features trackless ride vehicles and 3D projections.
Top tips Always take an umbrella and waterproof out with you – the weather can be very changeable at Marne-la-Vallée.
Where to eat Avoid eating in Disney Village – despite its proximity to Paris, the food here is quite poor. But there are some decent options within the parks. If you’re craving Middle-Eastern food, then the Agrabah Café in Adventureland serves a superb buffet, with halal options. Also worth checking out is Bistrot Chez Rémy, a French restaurant located in the new Ratatouille-themed quarter of the park. And the Manhattan restaurant at Hotel New York is very good.
Where to stay The Disneyland Hotel is a luxurious pink and white palace, located right at the gates to Disneyland Park. Built in the style of a Victorian mansion, the Disney touches are subtle and elegant. As well as a heated indoor pool, it also has a stunning spa.
Getting there Air France flies from Dubai to Paris, from Dh3,986 return.
Flight time from UAE 7 hours approx
Room rates Classic rooms at Disneyland Hotel start from approx Dh5,782 per night