When I started working for The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) almost a decade ago, I made an off-handed comment that it would be really cool to have a photo in front of every Disney castle. At the time, #ShanghaiDisneyland hadn’t even been built yet, and I still never thought it would actually happen.
Fast forward to this year, and I accomplished a bucket list item that I had never even written on my bucket list. I joined the “Castle Club,” by visiting every #Disney park around the world!
It is truly because of working for such an amazing company I was able to achieve this feat; and I am so grateful! Each park is unique and deserves a visit in its own right.
Below, I want to highlight each Disney park and why you should visit if you ever get the chance.
Walt Disney World
This is where the magic all started for me. I have vivid memories of walking down Main Street, USA as a little girl and I never would have imagined spending seven years creating magic at this happy place.
#WaltDisneyWorld is one of the top international tourist destinations for a reason. Or really, a lot of reasons. One advantage it has over all the other properties is that it is HUGE. Seriously, the WDW property is the size of Manhattan. With four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses, and over twenty themed resorts, you can easily spend weeks here and not get to everything.
Heck, we live right behind the Magic Kingdom and we still discover new things to do all the time. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of our favorite parks, and there is no equivalent anywhere else in the world.
Epcot has a rotating array of festivals—we see Disney Broadway performances during Festival of the Arts and eat our hearts out during Food & Wine or Flower & Garden.
Walt Disney World is my home resort, and I’m a little in love with it—I’m sure you will be, too!
Don’t be put off by their tiny castle (sorry, West Coast friends—you know I had to tease you a little!), but this resort’s claim to fame is their heritage.
Walt Disney passed away before the completion of Walt Disney World, but he walked the streets and had a direct hand in the creation of #Disneyland. At night, look above the Main Street fire department to see Walt’s apartment, where Cast Members still keep a light on to symbolize that Walt’s spirit will never leave Disneyland.
But don’t get me wrong, Disneyland also has some amazing attractions, live entertainment, and some of the tastiest snacks and food. One of my favorite items to get is the Monte Cristo sandwich at Blue Bayou.
If you are a Disney heritage fanatic, ask about riding in the Lilly Belle, named for and designed by Walt’s wife Lillian. Or join the “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps Tour” a chance to visit Walt’s apartment.
Shanghai Disneyland Resort
Who would have thought my first international Disney park would be in #Shanghai, China?
After serving my term as Walt Disney World ambassador, my husband and I made a daring leap and moved abroad to work with Disney English in China. It was an incredible, challenging, enlightening, amazing experience. (You can check out my whole section on expat life on my blog!) And one of the best parts was being so close to the park!
In actuality, Shanghai Disneyland isn’t in Shanghai proper—it’s about an hour by metro. But it is one of the most impressive parks for its ambition.
Shanghai Disneyland has the largest castle of all the parks in the world. Storybook Castle is home to all the Disney princesses and it is spectacular. Definitely my favorite worldwide. There is a water attraction that goes beneath the castle and the murals inside are works of art.
Hands down, the most important reason to go to Shanghai Disneyland might surprise you. It’s to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
Now, if you are a Disney fanatic, you already know there is a Pirates attraction at every park and they are all pretty similar. The attraction in Shanghai Disneyland is the best, most immersive attraction Walt Disney Imagineering has evercreated. Of course, this is my opinion, but I dare you to ride that attraction and not have your mouth hanging open the entire time. It is visually spectacular; weaving technology, practical effects, and lighting together seamlessly—and it is probably what I miss most about the park to this day.
Another unique attraction at SHDR is the adventure ropes course. I can’t imagine this ever being allowed in the US, but we loved exploring the different paths around the mountain. Cast Members strap you into a harness and attach you via carabiner and rope to a central overhead track. The track splits, allowing you to choose your own adventure—which might lead you over a rolling log or through caves, skirting the precipice of a waterfall, or a number of other “daring” pathways. (Don’t worry, there is always a less adventurous option as well.)
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea Resort
While we were teaching in China, we booked a 48-hour trip to Japan just so we could see the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. (We still need to make our way back so we can pay Japan proper respect and visit some of the actual country.)
Folks, this resort is STUNNING. Tokyo Disneyland is an eerily similar version of the Magic Kingdom (kind of jarring when you go where you think the bathroom is supposed to be and it’s not). (While we’re on the topic, can we talk about their bathrooms!? They are beautiful and have soothing music playing in each stall.)
But the real gem of TDR is Tokyo DisneySea—the most beautiful Disney park worldwide. It’s obvious that a lot of money was poured into this property. While other Disney parks use forced perspective to ingeniously make Main Street appear longer or Cinderella Castle appear taller, everything at TDR is just huge. It feels like you have actually stepped into the Mediterranean when you first enter the park. Honestly, I don’t even remember the attractions or the shows as much as I remember the beauty of the park.
I will say the nighttime spectaculars at both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea were amazing. They may have been my favorite worldwide until WDW came out with Happily Ever After (and Festival of Fantasy is still my favorite day parade).
On an interesting side note, we had the pleasure of visiting all the Asian parks in the month of October, which was really fun. TDR’s Guests were the absolute best. I cannot believe the lengths they went through to create their costumes. Some of them looked like they could have been professionally crafted. We watched Guests scattered in front of the castle, many with professional photographers, conducting their own photoshoots. It was an attraction in its own right!
If you are a popcorn fanatic, definitely take the time to try all of the interesting popcorn flavors scattered at snack stands across both parks. My personal favorite was the curry.
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
Hong Kong Disneyland is one of the smaller Disney parks, and some people might consider it a half day park. But this little gem surprised us!
First of all, HKDR has the most dramatic background for its castle. Hong Kong is a beautiful city built into hills and mountains, and the castle is no different! In fact, I may need to make a return to HKDR because they are in the process of renovating the castle and it looks like it will be beautiful! They will also be adding Frozen and Marvel themed lands.
Most people rave about one of Disney’s best attractions—Mystic Manor. But I actually might have found one of my favorite shows at HKDR—Mickey and the Wondrous Book. Princess Tiana gets a segment of the show to really sing and it brought tears to my eyes!
We also visited during Halloween and Hong Kong has been known to be definitively “spookier” than the other parks. Case in point, we went into a Disney-fied haunted house, which was actually quite intense. At one point, there was a room with wooden dolls hanging everywhere and Pinocchio was chained to a stage, creepily intoning, “I got….no strings…to hold me down…” It was kind of like the Imagineers had the chance to bring some of their darker Disney ideas to life and I absolutely loved it! I did wonder who approved it, though…
Overall, HKDR shouldn’t be a trip on its own, but Hong Kong is a very cool city. I even put together a 3-day itinerary!
The final castle on my list…was reached without Andrew. Sadly, he doesn’t have a great vacation policy, so Andrew had to stay home for this one. However, I was able to take an amazing vacation to #Morocco with my work-husband and former co-ambassador, Nathaniel Palma.
But before heading to the African continent, we stopped over in Paris. While the palace of Versailles was beautiful, I was most excited about seeing that final castle on my Disney bucket list.
To be fair, many of the things I was most excited about at DLP were closed—Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain. But Disneyland Paris was absolutely charming!
Since Europe is home to, you know, actual castles, Sleeping Beauty’s castle is much more whimsical than the castles state-side. First of all, it is pink and if you go inside the dungeons, you can see an incredible animatronic Maleficent!
For me, this park will always be special because it was my official final stop on my castle tour. It was the only park I visited as a non-Cast Member, because I had already left the Disney company to pursue a new opportunity at a technology startup. Which just makes me extra excited that I will be returning to Disneyland Paris this summer since newly rejoining the family!
Every Cast Member that joins Walt Disney Parks and Resorts attends a first day cultural orientation called Traditions. I had the honor of teaching the class as part of the 40th anniversary team and we would always tell new Cast Members that the sun never sets on Disney. There is always a park open somewhere in the world, where Guests are creating magical memories that will last a life time.
Visiting each Disney park has definitely been a dream come true—but my journey isn’t over! Since the parks are always changing and evolving, it means that I will always have reasons to return. Shanghai Disneyland is expanding with new lands and attractions, as is Tokyo Disneyland. Disneyland in California will be opening their Star Wars themed land this summer, and thankfully, Walt Disney World is always adding new offerings and it is right in my backyard.
Plus, there are plenty of other Disney properties and cruise ships to visit! While I've done all of Disney's external resorts (Aulani in Hawaii, Vero Beach, and Hilton Head), I've only done two out of four cruise ships and three more are being built! Seems like I have some more Disney traveling to do!
Have you been to all the Disney parks? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below!