The first question to ask when someone refers to “Disneyland” is to ask, “Which one?” Some people may actually be referring to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but that gargantuan property is not the same as Disneyland.
The First Disneyland
It includes all of the various “Lands” that you remember as a kid (icons like Frontierland, Tomorrowland and don’t forget the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland) and favorite attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Main Street USA, Space Mountain and those dratted tea cups on the Mad Tea Party, inducing nausea since 1955.
As always at Disney properties, consider special behind-the-scenes tours (at extra cost) because they can sometimes really add to your experience. Otherwise, the crowds can be so large and the lines so long that not much ends up being “magical.”
Disney’s California Adventure Park
An ode to the diverse, exciting Golden State, California Adventure is next door to Disneyland and includes the wildly-popular Soarin’ Over California ride (it flies visitors in simulated hang-gliders over various icons like the Golden Gate Bridge) and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (ever want to be in an elevator as it drops? You’ll love it, then!)
The park attempts to recreate, through physical models or entertainment or multimedia rides, or a combination of all three, everything that makes the state so appealing. Mountains, wildlife, beach culture, vibrant cities, Hollywood and the film industry all get their due.
Open since 1992, Disneyland Paris had a rather rocky and uncomfortable start; it was seen by many Europeans as an encroachment of American consumerism on their continent. If your family has never been to Paris and your time there is limited, I’d say to skip this park (why go all the way to Europe to see Main Street, USA?)
If you do have time and the kids insist, then by all means visit what is now the number one tourist attraction in France (almost half the visitors are French.) Favorites from the California Disneyland are here, including, yes, “It’s a Small World” and a great Jules Verne version of Space Mountain.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea
Open since 1983, Tokyo Disneyland in Japan was the first Disney property outside of the US, and it’s been wildly successful amongst Mouse-crazed Japanese visitors. It is laid out almost exactly like the California Disneyland.
Four of the classic Lands are available (Adventureland, Westernland (like Frontierland) Fantasyland and Tomorrowland) and there are many Disney hotel properties on site to accommodate visitors. As with other parks, splashy entertainment and imaginative parades like the nighttime Electrical Parade Dreamlights keep people coming back for more.
Adjacent is DisneySea, a maritime-themed park that has “ports” from around the world, with lots of water-related thrill rides and plenty of Ariel.
Hong Kong Disneyland
This is the smallest of all Disneylands (a blessing when your kids are toddlers) but with the same Disney rides and experiences, including fireworks shows at night. There are local touches: Mickey and the gang celebrate Chinese New Year with elaborate performances full of dragons and drums, and the outdoor snack carts feature chicken legs, Korean squid, chicken pies and fish balls.
The location (very close to Hong Kong airport) makes it handy for travelers, but less convenient to visit if you are already deep in the main city.