I’ve Been to Every Disney Park in the World—And These Are My Favorites

Get the insider scoop on Disney parks around the globe from an expert who's visited them all.

The first time I visited a Disney park, I was two and a half years old—just a wee thing, but old enough to know I’d found my happy place. That first visit launched a tradition (perks of living in southern California) and sparked a love for Disney that has brought me—and my family—to the castle steps of all 12 Disney parks.

Years later, I’m still a huge fan of it all: the Disney characters, the rides, the variety of attractions, and the food. Which is why I spend my days writing the “Dining in Disneyland” column for the Disney Food Blog. It’s a good excuse to visit the park again (and again), and it lets me focus on something I love: all things edible in Disneyland Resort.

I’ve learned a lot about the parks in all my visits—like which one wins the Disneyland vs. Disney World debate—and I love sharing the knowledge with other would-be guests. Here are my insider tips and park highlights to enjoy the best Disney vacations around the globe.

Disneyland

Heather Siever's first trip to disneyland at 2 years oldCourtesy Heather Sievers

Disneyland is by far my favorite. It’s the original park that Walt Disney created and is where the magic started. I was born and raised in Orange County, where the Anaheim park resides, and I’ve been going regularly since I was a toddler. I’ve certainly seen the Disney parks through the decades. These days, I average a visit nearly every week! It’s also the park that my two boys (now 20 and 17) were brought up in, so it’s very nostalgic for my family as well.

Some of my family’s Disneyland insider picks include stopping at the Plaza Inn for fried chicken, riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at night, and grabbing a churro in front of the castle. There are so many attractions to see that you won’t miss a single one of the discontinued Disney rides.

Over at the adjacent Disney California Adventure park, our family favorite for a quick bite is Corn Dog Castle. And you’ll often find us having a family competition at Toy Story Midway Mania. We also love a staycation at the Disneyland Hotel.

Park favorites:

  • Fried chicken at the Plaza Inn
  • Nighttime ride of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Corn dog from Corn Dog Castle at Disney California Adventure
  • Friendly competition at Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney California Adventure

Tokyo Disney Resort

Heather Siever And Family At Tokyo Disney ResortCourtesy Heather Sievers

Tokyo Disney Resort, the theme park in Japan that includes both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, is my very favorite international park. The people, the culture, the food, the entertainment—I love literally everything about it. My family first visited in 2014 and then again in 2017, and I have visited several more times since. Our plans to visit in 2020 were derailed by the pandemic, and we’re now waiting for the day we can finally return and experience the new normal for Disney parks.

Tokyo DisneySea is gorgeous, and the attractions are so much fun. Do not miss Journey to the Center of the Earth or Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, the latter of which features a cute tiger named Chandu. He’s a very popular character here.

The most fun things to snack on in Tokyo Disney Resort are the flavored popcorns. They sell everything from curry and soy sauce to honey and chocolate, along with the cutest popcorn buckets I’ve ever seen. My very favorite snack—I’d go so far as to call it my No. 1 must-eat food there—is the pizza spring rolls in Toontown, which is in Tokyo Disneyland. The park also makes the prettiest Mickey waffles at the Great American Waffle Co.

Tokyo Disney Resort wins for best Disney souvenirs. The merchandise is unlike that at any other Disney theme park. Mickey-shaped foaming hand soap? Check. Tiny Mickey hand tongs for eating popcorn so your fingers don’t get messy? Check. Adorable little washcloths to dry your hands or wipe away sweat? Check.

As for where to lay your head after a day of exploring the park, you can’t go wrong with the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel or Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta. I’m a fan of both, but beware: They are very expensive. You can save money by staying off property. My family loves the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay, which is along the monorail route that takes you to both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

Park favorites:

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth in Tokyo DisneySea
  • Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage in Tokyo DisneySea
  • Flavored popcorns
  • Pizza spring rolls in Toontown in Tokyo Disneyland
  • Mickey waffles at the Great American Waffle Co. in Tokyo Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disney Courtesy Heather SieversCourtesy Heather Sievers

This the most over-the-top park, and it sports the giant Enchanted Storybook Castle. It’s both the newest and the largest of Disney’s castles, measuring nearly 200 feet. We adored this park when we visited in 2018, only two years after it opened. The newness of the park—and the myriad attractions—provided so much to see and so many new experiences, even for Disney regulars like ourselves.

Do not miss the Tron ride in Tomorrowland or Shanghai’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean. Both are fantastic and cannot be compared to any rides at any other Disney park, though Walt Disney World will have a Tron ride soon, making the thrills more easily accessible for U.S.-based Disney lovers.

Of course, I can’t overlook the food. It’s adorable here. There were so many delicious treats. We had an amazing meal inside the castle at the Royal Banquet Hall. The themed food and desserts were so unique, and visits from the characters made dinner extra fun.

I highly recommend staying on the concierge level at the Disneyland Hotel. The lounge has full meals all day, and the staff can help you book special activities, dining, and more. Before you hit the attractions, make sure you know the list of items banned from Disney parks.

Park favorites:

  • Tron in Tomorrowland
  • Pirates of the Caribbean in Tomorrowland
  • Dinner at the Royal Banquet Hall
  • Concierge level accommodations at the Disneyland Hotel

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World EpcotCourtesy Heather Sievers

I’ve been to Walt Disney World multiple times and first brought my kids in 2007. Epcot is our favorite park here. There’s nothing like cruising the World Showcase through various “countries” for snacks and shopping.

The cheddar cheese soup and Le Cellier at the Canada pavilion are not to be missed. We also love the Karamell-Küche in the Germany pavilion for any snack but especially for the caramel corn.

For Epcot attractions, Living with the Land is a family favorite, as is Journey Into Imagination With Figment. And of course, you can’t miss a ride on Spaceship Earth. Our favorite place to stay is Disney’s BoardWalk Inn; from there, we can walk to Epcot. I would be totally fine going to Walt Disney World and only visiting Epcot—I just love it so much!

We normally don’t spend a whole lot of time at Magic Kingdom because we have Disneyland at home, but we do love a nostalgic ride on the PeopleMover and the Carousel of Progress. We also can’t visit without getting a Citrus Swirl in Adventureland.

Hollywood Studios is a fun stop too. We love eating at ’50s Prime Time Café, and Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land is a must. You can also get one of my very favorite treats at Hollywood Studios: the Carrot Cake Cookie from the Trolley Car Café.

At Animal Kingdom, a visit to Pandora: the World of Avatar at night is amazing. I love to ride Avatar Flight of Passage and then have a Night Blossom frozen drink at the Pongu Pongu Lounge. We also love Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a thrilling roller coaster, and checking in on animal friends on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. If we’re not staying at the BoardWalk Resort, we’ll check in at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which is right next to Magic Kingdom.

Park favorites:

  • Living with the Land at Epcot
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment at Epcot
  • Spaceship Earth at Epcot
  • Carrot Cake Cookie from the Trolley Car Café in Hollywood Studios
  • Pandora at Animal Kingdom
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn

Hong Kong Disneyland

Heather Sievers and family at disneyland hong kong parkCourtesy Heather Sievers

This park is pretty small, but it’s located in a tropical area, which adds to its beauty. But be careful when you go—I have never felt hotter at a theme park than when we visited Hong Kong Disneyland in June 2018. It felt like we were vacationing on the sun!

Our favorite attraction here was Mystic Manor, Hong Kong Disneyland’s version of The Haunted Mansion. It features a cute monkey named Albert.

Before you leave, make sure you order the signature dim sum at the Crystal Lotus in the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. The restaurant serves it in the shape of Disney characters, and it is absolutely adorable. I planned our visit around this meal—it’s only served on weekends, and it’s one of the things you must order and book in advance at Disney—and it was well worth it. We ordered everything on the menu!

Out in the parks, frozen, Mickey-shaped watermelon and pineapple spears were one of our favorite treats here. As for where to rest your head at night, try the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel (and not just because it puts you that much closer to the to-die-for dim sum). My family stayed there, and we loved it.

Park favorites:

  • Mystic Manor
  • Dim sum at Crystal Lotus
  • Mickey-shaped frozen fruit
  • Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel

Disneyland Paris

Heather Sievers and family at Disneyland ParkCourtesy Heather Sievers

Disneyland Paris was a one-day whirlwind trip for my family back in 2011, and was our first international Disney visit. We were in Paris for the ending of the Tour de France, and I told my cyclist husband that I’d only go to that event if we could do a Disney day too. So we took the train for the day and did both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. That may sound like a packed schedule, but it’d always been a dream of mine to visit all the Disney parks.

Our favorite attraction was the Big Thunder Mountain ride. It’s set on its own little island and the setting is so pretty. It was fun to see how the names of the U.S. and French attractions differed. For example, Disneyland Paris calls its Haunted Mansion the Phantom Manor. It’s just as fun as the one in my neck of the woods.

We ate at Walt’s restaurant and snacked on some beautiful “candy floss” on wooden sticks. At the end of the night, we hit the souvenir shops as the park was closing. Yes, this is definitely a top way Disney gets you to spend more money. I remember just tossing things into my shopping basket without even knowing what I was grabbing! I have a Mickey Eiffel Tower statue to prove it! We had plans to go back in summer 2020, but that was obviously canceled. Hopefully we can have a redo in the near future and spend more than just one day. Next, find out how Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Park favorites:

  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Phantom Manor
  • Walt’s

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