Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

Since the establishment of the first ever Disney resort in Anaheim, California in 1955, the term ‘going to Disney’ has entered the popular lexicon as something utterly magical – a trip, in effect, to another world. In the intervening decades, we’ve seen all manner of other Disney resorts launch across the globe, capturing the imaginations of generations of children.

So, if you’re arranging a trip with your family to one of Disney’s iconic parks, what can you expect and how can you be sure of enjoying a vibrant time, instead of a vexing one?

First of all – which Disney resort most interests you?

Given that the Disney brand in general is – after all – an American cultural giant, you may understandably look first to one of the two Disney parks in the United States – the original Disneyland or the much larger Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

When we say ‘larger’, well, the former occupies about 500 acres, or two square kilometres, compared to the latter’s more than 27,000 acres (109 square kilometres). Just to put such a figure even further into context, that’s more than twice the size of Manhattan.

Now, we don’t necessarily mean to be dismissive of the charms of the original Disney theme park, not least as there are definitely reasons to consider it. Opting for it would place you only an hour’s further travelling time away from Hollywood, for example, which could make it a sound choice for a larger California-based holiday, perhaps also encompassing the beach close by.

Florida’s Walt Disney World, though, is unquestionably the ultimate Disney destination. With its four theme parks, two water parks, 27 themed resort hotels, several golf courses and even a camping resort, it’s practically a city in its own right. You could be here for a week’s holiday and still not feel like you’ve covered it all, which means you won’t lack for stimulation.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

Then, of course, there are such other Disney parks around the world as Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disney Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort, any of which may make sense for you depending on such factors as your geographical location and budget.

When is the best time of year to go?

Spring generally makes sense for a family holiday to a Disney park, given that it helps you to strike the right balance between hospitable weather conditions and the resort not being too busy. After all, you won’t ideally want to be left waiting for as long as one and a half hours to get onto an especially in-demand ride with impatient kids in tow, in temperatures that can reach highs of 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) in the case of Orlando.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

Even in the spring, though, there are obvious times when you can expect the crowds to shoot up – think Spring Break in the US and Easter in the other territories. This might lead you to consider the quieter autumn when some parks close early, or even winter outside Christmas and New Year.

The first two weeks of December, for instance, may work better for you than you initially think. You’ll get to enjoy the festive vibes without the worst of the crowds having poured in yet, and while some rides may be closed for refurbishment during the low season, the queues for the attractions that remain open can be as little as a third of what they normally are.

Should you go for a holiday package, or a DIY approach?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at times by the staggering variety of Disney holiday packages offered by both household-name and much more obscure providers – such that you may be tempted to just ‘wing it’ or put together your own tailored holiday plan.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

As understandable as this temptation is, we would advise against it, especially when you’ve never ‘done’ Disney before and are bringing a young family along. Truly ‘spontaneous’ breaks to especially in-demand Disney parks like Walt Disney World are sadly largely a thing of the past. So many families who try to do this these days end up aimlessly wandering around the park due to getting exasperated about the queues, or finding that their desired restaurants are already fully booked up.

The latter common quandary helps to explain why the Disney Dining Plan package has become especially popular, this prepaid plan enabling you to eat at restaurants in the park without needing to have any cash on you.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

Ocean Florida, for instance, is currently offering some excellent packages for Disney World holidays in 2021, priced from barely more than £1,000 per person and including a free Breakfast or Dining Plan, the hotel, Disney tickets, flights, a free FastPass+ and much more.

Don’t forget to get well-versed with your FastPass

As we touched on above, another perk of booking a package for your family break to Disney is the inclusion of the FastPass, this being the virtual queuing system that operates across Disney’s parks and provides you with a window of time during which you can skip the queue for an attraction.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

FastPass+, meanwhile, is a reservation and scheduling system currently only in operation at Walt Disney World in Florida. It enables you to reserve access to select attractions, entertainment and Character Greetings at the park in advance, with selections able to be made up to 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of your stay, if you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel.

This is as opposed to the paper ticket FastPass system that presently operates at the Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong resorts, and the digital version of the FastPass system currently in use at Disneyland Resort in California.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

Whichever version of FastPass is operating at your chosen Disney destination, there’s no doubt that with the right forward planning, it can be an indispensable tool for ensuring you make the very most of your time during your stay.

Finally… remember it’s not just about Disney!

Yes, you’re mainly (or presumably!) planning this trip so that you can share in the magic with your little ones during those unforgettable moments when they get to meet their heroes… but you don’t necessarily need to spend all of your time away stuck in the park.

Planning a family holiday to Disney? The complete guide

Orlando, for instance, gives you plenty of options for fun and cheap dining out, including the not-always-very-healthy kids’ menus, as well as opportunities to purchase Disney merchandise all over town, thereby saving you from having to drag around a massive cuddly Mickey Mouse for most of the day.

As you can see, a family holiday to Disney can be utterly incomparable, and a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, your own break is more likely to be memorable for all of the right reasons when you are savvy with your preparations. Have fun!

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