Dizzy for Disney

The two Disney parks in the United States—Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida—draw millions of visitors from around the world each year seeking the magic only Disney can promise.

The two Disney parks in the United States—Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida—draw millions of visitors from around the world each year seeking the magic only Disney can promise. Run with impeccable quality and that special sparkle, the resorts delight children and adults alike, even certain skeptics who avoid crowds and contrived amusement. If you are considering a trip to either of these legendary theme parks, a little advance planning will help you make the most of your time and ensure everyone comes out smiling.

Covering just one square mile in Anaheim, California, Disneyland is the first Disney park, opened in 1955 and visited by Walt Disney himself. Other Southern California attractions surround the park, including beautiful beaches and the bustling city of Los Angeles, making Disneyland just one of many destinations for tourists in the area. The pleasant California climate and manageable scale of the park offer an appealing alternative to the massive Florida complex.

Opened in 1971, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida has countless attractions and takes several days to fully explore. The theme parks include Magic Kingdom (similar in many ways to Disneyland), Epcot (evoking a permanent World’s Fair), Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom (featuring a drive-thru safari). Spread across 121 square kilometers, the area also includes two water parks, several golf courses, and over 30 resorts and hotels. Many visitors to Disney World stay within the resort or at a nearby hotel for four days or more, visiting a different Disney park each day.

What’s the latest?
The Disney parks are constantly being improved and updated. Disney World, home of the Cinderella castle, offers an all-new expanded Fantasyland, including a sparkling castle for Beauty and the Beast. Technology-driven attractions such as the Phineas & Ferb Adventure search at Epcot or the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom provide fun, interactive clues for scavenger hunt games appealing to kids of all ages.
Disneyland Resort—home to Sleeping Beauty’s castle—recently updated a second theme park, California Adventure, adding Cars Land based on the popular Pixar movie. Long lines for a ride on the Radiator Springs Racers or Luigi’s Flying Tires signal the success of the park’s newest addition. Little Mermaid “dark rides” (Disneyspeak for an indoor ride) in California Adventure as well as in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom offer an undersea journey with Ariel and friends.


Family Travel Tips

Plan ahead
Two-to-four-hour wait times on some days at popular rides can turn a happy pile of kids into a cranky family pretty quickly. At the very least, review a map the day before you enter the park and pick the three or four must-see rides or attractions. Experts recommend going into the far end of the park and working your way backward toward the entrance, because most visitors tend to do the opposite.

Guidebooks and Web sites provide detailed information and customized routes based on visitors’ interests, ages and even heights! Some of the most comprehensive sites include touringplans.com, mousesavers.com, allears.net and the official disneyparks.disney.go.com.

Embrace the Fastpass
Take the time to figure out how to work the Fastpass machines, which allow visitors to reserve timed-entry spots on the most popular rides, avoiding long waits in lines. In general, you can only have one Fastpass reservation in play at a time, but read the fine print because visitors may reserve simultaneous spots in California Adventure and Disneyland (covering both your Pirates of the Caribbean riders and your Radiator Springs fans, for example).

Use technology
Loads of apps show current wait times for different rides, Fastpass availability, interactive park maps, show times and more, more, more! Just a few examples include MouseWait, Disneyland iGuide—Walkee, and Lines by touringplans. com, a Web site full of tools like crowd calendars based on school holidays and special events, customized touring plans, and menus for food stands and restaurants.

Go early/stay late
Plan to be at the gates when the park opens, or better yet, before that. Magic Morning hours are offered on certain days, allowing guests to enter the park as early as 7 a.m. Peak hours begin at 11:30 a.m., so early birds get the advantage of shorter lines for the more popular rides. Many suggest eating lunch around 11:00 a.m., to avoid the food kiosk lunch rush. Stay late at the park if the kids can handle it—as the sun sets, the park shimmers with nighttime Disney sparkle.

Take a break and see a show
Head to an indoor show to get off your feet and into the cool comfort of one of the many theaters offering performances throughout the day. Some restaurants provide free entertainment, such as a Goofy-led dance party at the Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. In the evening, spectacular water and fireworks shows include Fantasmic! at both parks, and World of Colors in Disneyland’s California Adventure park.

Plan to come another time…
…because you just can’t do it all at once! Enjoy what you can do without running the kids (or the parents) ragged. Just remember to pace yourself, smile and soak up that Disney magic!


Jane Varner Malhotra is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.