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How to Choose the Perfect Disney Vacation Destination for Your Family: Comparing 5 Options

How to Choose the Perfect Disney Vacation Destination for Your Family: Comparing 5 Options

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Are you considering a Disney vacation but aren’t sure where to go? Keep scrolling to see my comparison of 5 popular Disney vacation destinations!
This comparison of 5 Disney vacation destinations was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

My family LOVES Disney vacations! In fact, we do at least one Disney vacation every year.

Since Disney vacations usually come with a hefty price tag, it’s important to choose the right Disney vacation for your family’s needs and expectations.

In this post, I will compare our personal top 5 Disney vacation destinations: Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Disney Aulani Resort, and Disney Cruise Line.

Understanding Your Disney Destinations

Choosing the right Disney vacation can be as exciting as it is challenging, especially with so many magical options available.

Each Disney destination offers its own unique brand of enchantment. We’ve been to each one and we have some big thoughts about them.

Let’s explore what makes each one special so you can pick the perfect place for your family’s next big adventure!

Disneyland in California

Known as the original “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland Park opened in 1955. Here, you can walk in the footsteps of Walt Disney himself and feel the nostalgia in every corner.

My kids love the Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures at the Grand Californian.

This park is packed with classic attractions, like the spinning teacups and the soaring Peter Pan’s Flight. It’s a bit smaller than its Florida cousin, making it easier to see in a shorter time.

Plus, right next door is Disney California Adventure Park, where you can experience the thrills of Pixar and Marvel stories.

If your family loves the idea of a historic charm mixed with modern fun, Disneyland in California is the spot for you!

This is my personal favorite Disney vacation spot and we’ve been here countless times!

Walt Disney World in Florida

This is the big cheese of Disney vacations! Walt Disney World is massive, with four unique theme parks and two splash-tastic water parks.

Epcot with toddlers can be a lot of fun!
My kids loved meeting Anna from Disney’s Frozen at Epcot. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

You can explore different countries in Epcot, hang out with animals at the Animal Kingdom, dive into Hollywood movie magic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and of course, meet Mickey Mouse at the Magic Kingdom.

If your family wants to see and do as much as possible and doesn’t mind a lot of walking, Walt Disney World could be your dream destination.

While you can easily see Disneyland in a few days, Walt Disney World really needs a longer stay. Our family has done 3 Walt Disney World vacations.

Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii

Now, if you’re looking for a tropical getaway with a side of Disney, Aulani Resort is your paradise.

This resort is nestled on the beaches of Oahu and offers a perfect blend of Hawaiian culture and Disney magic.

I geek out every time we meet Mickey & Minnie at Aulani!

There are no theme parks here, but the resort offers storytelling, a real-life lagoon, and even a chance to meet Moana or Mickey in his vacation gear.

Choose Aulani if your family’s looking for a relaxing beach vacation with just enough Disney to make it extra special.

I personally love the Aulani Resort in Hawaii and we’ve visited here twice.

Disney Cruise Line

Imagine waking up each morning to a new adventure on the high seas while enjoying all the Disney entertainment and dining you could wish for.

Disney Cruises are a blast! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Disney Cruise Line takes you to various destinations, including the Caribbean, Bahamas, and even Alaska.

Each ship is like a floating theme park, complete with Broadway-style shows, fireworks, and character meet-and-greets.

If your family loves the ocean and wants to experience different places while still enjoying Disney hospitality, consider setting sail on a Disney cruise.

Our family did the Star Wars DCL cruise in the Caribbean and it was a huge hit with my husband and boys.

Disneyland Paris

Last but certainly not least, Disneyland Paris adds a sprinkle of European elegance to the Disney experience.

Disneyland Paris is a great side trip if you’re exploring Europe. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

You’ll see Sleeping Beauty’s castle in a whole new light and enjoy attractions that you can’t find in the U.S. parks.

Plus, with Paris just a train ride away, it’s a great option if you want to combine Disney with a bit of sightseeing in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Our family has visited Disneyland Paris twice. The first time we did it as a day trip from Paris. The second time, we stayed on-site and spent a few days in the parks.

Assessing Your Family’s Disney Wishes

When planning a Disney vacation, picking the right destination is a decision that should sparkle with everyone’s input, like a good fairy tale! It’s not just about choosing a place; it’s about crafting memories that your family will treasure.

Here’s a cool way to make sure the whole crew gets to pitch in on the decision:

Family Meeting

Start with a family meeting, and make it fun—maybe with some Disney-themed snacks!

Lay out the options: Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World in Florida, Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii, a Disney Cruise, or Disneyland Paris.

I like to show my family videos on YouTube that highlight unique rides, experiences, or resort overviews so they can get a better understanding.

Now, it’s time to chat about what everyone is dreaming of!

Ask Questions

Ask questions like, “What makes you most excited about a Disney trip? Is it the wild rides, the amazing shows, meeting characters, or learning about new cultures?”

Maybe your little brother is all about the roller coasters, while Mom is looking forward to a tropical lounge by the pool, and Dad is eager to snap a selfie with Captain Mickey on a cruise.

I also like to leave time for my kids to ask ME questions about the different destinations.

Family Values

This is where the magic ingredient comes in: identifying what your family values most.

For thrill-seekers, the rides at Disneyland or Walt Disney World might be the ticket. If it’s top-notch entertainment you’re after, every destination has shows that will drop your jaw.

For a slice of culture with a side of Disney, Aulani or a cruise that docks at exotic ports could be just the thing. And if the word “vacation” means relaxing to you, imagine the serene beaches of Aulani.

Once everyone’s wishes are out on the table, you can weigh them like Scrooge McDuck with his gold.

Which place offers the experiences that match up best with your family’s wish list? That’s your ticket to the happiest vacation on Earth!

Budgeting for Your Dream Disney Vacation

Choosing the perfect Disney vacation is super exciting, but it’s also important to talk about the dollars and cents so you can turn those dreams into reality without breaking the bank.

So, let’s dive into some smart ways to budget for each Disney destination.

Budgeting for Disneyland in California

This magical place can be a bit kinder to your wallet if you plan a shorter stay because it’s smaller.

Since we live in Seattle, it’s pretty easy for us to pop down for a long weekend.

Check out this list of the best Disneyland hotels within walking distance of the parks recommended by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of Marcie Cheung, owner of Marcie in Mommyland in front of the Disneyland entrance
There are tons of hotels across the street from the parks. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Look for hotels nearby that might have deals and remember, you can sometimes find discounted tickets through special promotions or during off-peak seasons. I find that Get Away Today usually has the best Disneyland deals.

Walt Disney World in Florida

It’s huge! With four theme parks and two water parks, you might want to stay longer to see it all. That means budgeting for more days, which can add up.

Consider staying at a Disney resort to save on transportation, and think about purchasing multi-day passes which can reduce the daily ticket cost.

Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii

This slice of paradise doesn’t come cheap, with its resort pricing and the added cost of flights to Hawaii.

This is the lagoon in front of Disney Aulani on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

But, you can cut costs by booking in advance, traveling in the off-season, and using points or miles for flights or stays.

Our family likes to do split stays. So, we’ll stay in Waikiki for the first half of our trip and then head up to Aulani to just soak in all the resort amenities for the rest of our trip.

Disney Cruise Line

Cruises can seem pricey, but they are pretty much all-inclusive. Your room, food, and most activities are covered.

Watch out for extra costs like shore excursions and souvenirs, though! And if you’re leaving from Florida, it’s always tempting to add a few days at WDW before you depart.

Check out the best Disney Cruise Line deals here.

Disneyland Paris

A European adventure for sure! Keep an eye out for package deals that include hotel and park tickets.

My kids like riding Aladdin’s carpet! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

You’ll probably want to extend your trip to include more time in Paris or somewhere else in Europe. This will make it a pricier trip.

Remember, flying to Paris can be expensive, so start watching flight prices early to get the best deals.

Each destination has its own price tag, and they can be quite different when you add everything up.

Talk with your family about what’s most important to you all. Maybe you’d rather go all-out on a shorter trip to Disneyland or stretch out the fun at Walt Disney World. Maybe you’ll save up a bit longer for that dream cruise or Hawaiian getaway.

The key is to start planning early, keep an eye out for deals, and save up gradually so that when the time comes, you’re ready to enjoy every moment of Disney magic without worrying about your wallet.

Timing and Length of Stay

Picking when to go on your Disney vacation is almost as important as choosing where to go.

Each Disney destination has its own best times to visit, and figuring out how long to stay can help you make the most of your trip.

Timing for Disneyland in California

You’ll find the sun shining most of the year here, making it a great pick anytime. You’ll even have a good time when it rains at Disneyland.

But if you want to dodge the crowds, aim for late winter or early spring, except for spring break weeks, when it’s slightly less busy.

We love visiting Disneyland at Christmas! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

If you want some holiday festivities, I highly recommend visiting Disneyland at Halloween or Christmas for a totally new experience.

Best Time for Walt Disney World in Florida

Florida is super hot in the summer, and the parks are packed! So, it’s best to visit during the cooler months, like January and February or the fall.

Just watch out for holiday weeks, because they get super busy. But, they also have really fun Halloween and Christmas decorations and activities.

When to Visit Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii

Hawaii is beautiful year-round, but if you want fewer people around, try mid-April to June or September to mid-December. These are the shoulder seasons.

Sailing with Disney Cruise Line

Cruises are awesome almost any time, but if you don’t like a lot of hustle and bustle, avoid school break periods.

Castaway Cay Activities: a Complete Guide to Beaches and Events featured by top US Disney blogger, Marcie and the Mouse: Things to do at Castaway Cay on a Disney Cruise
We love visiting Castaway Cay! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

The weather in the Bahamas and the Caribbean is usually warm, so it’s always a good time to set sail.

Exploring Disneyland Paris

Spring and fall are amazing in Paris, with fewer tourists and mild weather. Summer can be busy and a bit hot.

Our first trip to Disneyland Paris was in April and it was way colder than I expected. So, if you go in the spring, remember to bundle up!

Recommended Length of Stay

  • Disneyland: 3 days should do the trick to explore both parks.
  • Walt Disney World: With four theme parks, give yourself at least a week.
  • Aulani Resort: A week is perfect to relax and enjoy the island vibes.
  • Disney Cruise: Depending on the itinerary, cruises can be from 3 days to over a week.
  • Disneyland Paris: Spend at least 2 to 3 days to see both parks and enjoy the magic.

Remember, these are just tips. Your perfect Disney trip depends on what you and your family want to do. Maybe you’ll find your happy place hanging ten in Hawaii or taking selfies with Mickey in Paris.

Accommodation Options

When planning your Disney trip, where you’ll sleep is a big deal. You’ve got two choices: stay right in the middle of the Disney magic at one of their resorts (on-site) or find a place to stay outside the park (off-site).

Let’s see how each Disney spot handles your zzz’s.

Staying On-Site at Disneyland in California

Disneyland’s got a few hotels right there where the magic happens: Disney’s Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.

Here’s the pool area at the Grand Californian. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They’re super close to the parks, and you get some cool perks like extra time in the park.

But, Disneyland also has some great non-Disney hotels close to the park. Some even have free breakfast!

On-Site at Walt Disney World in Florida

This place is huge, and they’ve got over 25 hotels! You can choose from budget-friendly spots to fancy-schmancy resorts.

We really liked staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge because we could see giraffes and zebras from our room!

Photo of zebras on the grounds of Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World #zebras #waltdisneyworld #disneyworld #kidanivillage #animalkingdom #animalkingdomlodge
I’m still in awe that we could see zebras from our balcony! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Staying on-site means you’re always close to the parks, and you get to jump in line quicker on some rides.

Aulani Resort Accommodations in Hawaii

Aulani is special ’cause it’s just one big resort with rooms, suites, and villas. It’s a mix of Disney fun and Hawaiian culture, with the bonus of being right on the beach. Read my full review.

Disney Cruise Line Staying Options

On a Disney cruise, your room’s on the ship. You can pick from cozy inside rooms to rooms with windows or balconies. The fancier the room, the more bucks you’ll spend.

We splurged for a room with a balcony and it was SO nice to be able to sit outside and get some privacy.

Lodging at Disneyland Paris

You can choose from seven on-site hotels, each with its own theme. They’re all close to the parks and give you that extra park time.

We loved the size of our room at the Disney Newport Bay Club. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

We really liked staying at the Disney Newport Bay Club, the largest hotel in France.

Now, staying off-site can save you some cash and can be more chill, without the 24/7 Disney vibe.

But remember, you’ll need to travel a bit to get to the parks, and you might miss some of the early bird perks.

Dining Experiences

When you’re choosing where to go for your Disney vacation, you’ve gotta think about where you’ll eat—because Disney food is a big part of the fun! Each Disney destination has its own yummy treats and cool places to chow down.

Here’s the scoop on what you can munch on at each spot:

Disneyland in California

It’s classic! From churros and corn dogs to sit-down restaurants, Disneyland’s got it all. Our favorite spots include Carthay Circle and Blue Bayou.

Carthay Circle is a great fine dining experience. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

And hey, you can even eat with Mickey and his pals at character dining experiences, which are super fun for the whole fam!

Walt Disney World in Florida

This place is a foodie’s dream. With four parks, they’ve got hundreds of places to eat. You’ll find everything from quick snacks to fancy dinners.

Safari Daisy greets my son during our Tusker House character breakfast at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in the Harambe Village. #daisy #waltdisneyworld #disneyworld #tuskerhouse #daisyduck #characterbreakfast
Tusker House is one of our favorite character meals at Disney World! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

WDW also has dining plans you can buy before your trip, which can save you time and money. And don’t forget character dining here—it’s a blast!

Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii

Aulani gives you a taste of Hawaii with a Disney twist. You can grab quick bites by the pool or enjoy a luau with storytelling and music.

Photo of Minnie Mouse at the Disney Aulani Character Breakfast at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu #aulani #oahu
We were thrilled to meet Minnie Mouse at the Disney Aulani Character Breakfast! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They don’t have meal plans, but they do offer character breakfasts, so you can start your day with a smile.

Disney Cruise Line

Eating on a Disney cruise is all about variety. There are buffets, cafes, and family restaurants included in your cruise price.

Disney Cruise Line, ice cream cone, Disney Fantasy
There is free soft-serve ice cream on the pool deck! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Plus, you can dine in themed restaurants with foods from around the world. Some ships even have special dinners where the characters join in!

Disneyland Paris

Get ready for a European twist on Disney dining. You can snack on crepes, have a fancy French meal, or enjoy a character breakfast with croissants and more.

No matter where you go, if you want to dine with characters or get meal plans, book early—these experiences are super popular and can fill up fast!

Unique Experiences at Each Destination

Picking the right Disney vacation is like choosing the perfect ice cream flavor – you wanna get the one that’ll make you say “wow!”

Each Disney spot has its own special magic, so let’s talk about what makes each one super cool.

Disneyland in California

This is where the Disney magic started! It’s got the original Sleeping Beauty Castle that looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale.

Get the top tips and tricks for visiting Disneyland Toontown by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of a woman taking a selfie at Mickey's Toontown in Disneyland California.
Disneyland’s Toontown is super fun! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

My favorite spot at Disneyland is Toontown. They just renovated the whole place and it feels like you are in a cartoon.

And if you’re into thrills, check out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where you can pilot the Millennium Falcon!

Walt Disney World in Florida

I know I keep saying this, but it’s HUGE! Four theme parks mean four times the fun.

We had to get a family photo in front of the Epcot globe with a Disney PhotoPass photographer to add to our Memory Maker at Walt Disney World in Florida #epcot #waltdisneyworld #disneyworld #memorymaker #photopass
We loved all the Disney PhotoPass locations at Epcot! Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass Photographer

You can explore the world at Epcot, go on a safari at Animal Kingdom, and even hang out with Toy Story pals at Hollywood Studios.

And Magic Kingdom? It’s got the iconic Cinderella Castle where dreams come true.

They have all kinds of transportation to get you from your hotel to the parks including boats, buses, and even gondolas!

Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii

Aloha, adventure! Aulani’s not just a resort; it’s a Hawaiian experience. You’ll learn about the islands through stories, dance, and art.

We love seeing Disney characters in their Aloha shirts!

Want to know the coolest part? You can chill with Disney characters in a tropical paradise – imagine meeting Moana by the ocean!

Disney Cruise Line

Set sail for excitement on the high seas with Disney’s signature style. Each ship has a special surprise, like the AquaDuck water coaster or meeting Marvel heroes.

My kids (and hubby) geeked out during Star Wars Day at Sea! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

It’s like a floating piece of Disney magic with Broadway-style shows and fireworks under the stars!

Disneyland Paris

Bonjour, Disney with a French twist! Check out the stunning Sleeping Beauty Castle with its own dragon lurking beneath.

Disneyland Paris is ALWAYS a good idea! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

You can swing into action at the Marvel-themed campus or have a royal encounter in the Princess Pavilion.

Maximizing the Magic – Tips and Tricks

When you’re picking your Disney adventure, it’s like grabbing the best tools to make the biggest, most sparkly sandcastle on the beach. You want all the right tips and tricks to make your trip extra magical.

So here’s how you can sprinkle that pixie dust on your Disney vacation, no matter which one you pick!

Genie+ Service

Think of Genie+ like your personal Disney wizard. At Disneyland and Walt Disney World, this cool tool helps you skip the long lines on some of your favorite rides. It’s like having a fast pass to fun!


With PhotoPass, photographers are ready to snap your picture at the prettiest spots in the parks. At Disneyland and WDW, you can take home professional photos of your family with that Disney sparkle.

And guess what? On a Disney Cruise and at Aulani, they have photographers too, so you can capture the fun without worrying about your camera.


At Walt Disney World, these nifty bands are like a magic wand on your wrist. They open your hotel room, let you into the parks, and even pay for your snacks!

They recently launched MagicBands at Disneyland and Aulani, but they don’t do as much as they do at Disney World.

Accessibility and Accommodations for Families

Choosing the right Disney vacation means making sure everyone in the family can have a blast, no matter what.

Disney’s super good at this, making sure that if anyone in your crew has special needs, they’ve got the stuff to make their trip awesome.

At every Disney destination, from Disneyland in California to Walt Disney World in Florida, from the tropical Aulani Resort in Hawaii to the high-seas excitement of the Disney Cruise Line and the fairy-tale magic of Disneyland Paris, they’ve thought about accessibility.

This means if you’re in a wheelchair or need some extra help getting around, Disney’s got ramps, special lines, and even rides that you can roll right onto.

They also have services for guests with hearing disabilities, like handheld captioning devices and sign language interpreters.

Plus, if anyone needs a quiet break from all the excitement, there are break areas where you can chill out for a bit.

If you’ve got someone with you who finds big crowds and loud noises a bit too much, Disney’s got special maps that show where the sensory-heavy spots are. This way, you can plan a day that’s fun without being overwhelming.

What about service animals? Yep, they’re welcome too! Disney has special spots for them to rest and take breaks, so they can help out their humans without getting too tuckered out.

And here’s a cool thing – you can get a Disability Access Service (DAS) pass. This pass helps you wait for rides without actually having to stand in line, because sometimes waiting is hard. We’ve personally used this service at Disneyland and WDW and it’s been SO helpful.

So, no matter what kind of help your family might need, Disney’s thought of ways to make sure you’re all set for an amazing time. Because everyone deserves to feel the magic of Disney!

Final Considerations Before Booking

Alright, you’re almost set to book your dream Disney vacation, but there are a couple more things to think about.

Sometimes the rides at Disney theme parks are under refurbishment. This means they are closed due to scheduled maintenance.

I suggest checking out the list online before your trip so you can manage any disappointment of rides being closed.

Now, if you’re traveling out of the country, like to Disneyland Paris, make sure to check if there are any travel restrictions.

It’s also a good idea to get your passports ready way ahead of time because they can take a while to process.

And one last tip: sometimes things change, like travel rules or even your own plans. So, it’s smart to check if you can change your tickets or get your money back if you need to cancel.

Disney’s usually pretty good about this, but it’s best to know the details before you hit the “book” button.

We love doing Disney rides! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Disney Vacation FAQs

Which Disney destination is best for young children?

Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World are ideal as they’re more manageable in size and have plenty of classic attractions for little ones.

How do I decide between Disneyland and Disney World?

Consider the length of your trip, desired experiences, and budget. Disneyland is more compact, while Disney World offers a broader range of experiences.

Is a Disney Cruise a good idea for a family vacation?

Yes, it offers Disney-themed entertainment, childcare, and stops at various destinations, making it a hit with families.

What makes Disney Aulani unique for families?

Aulani provides a culturally rich Hawaiian experience combined with Disney magic, offering both relaxation and adventure.

Is Disneyland Paris much different from the U.S. parks?

It offers unique attractions, shows, and a European flair, making it a fresh experience for those familiar with the U.S. parks.

What should I consider when budgeting for a Disney vacation?

Factor in tickets, accommodation, food, souvenirs, and travel expenses. Look for package deals and consider off-peak seasons to save.

How far in advance should I book a Disney vacation?

Typically, booking 6-9 months in advance is ideal, especially for Disney World and cruises to secure dining reservations.

What are the benefits of staying at a Disney Resort hotel?

You’ll get early access to the parks, complimentary transportation, and immersive theming.

Are meal plans worth it at Disney parks?

They can be, especially if you plan on eating at the parks for most meals and prefer having your dining budget paid in advance. But it really depends on your family.

How can I make the trip special on a tight budget?

Focus on free activities like fireworks, parades, character meet-and-greets, and enjoy bringing in your own snacks and meals.

What’s the recommended length of stay at each Disney destination?

For Disneyland, 3-4 days, Disney World at least a week, Disney Cruises vary by itinerary, Aulani 5-7 days, and Disneyland Paris 2-3 days.

How do I plan a Disney vacation with a child with special needs?

Disney destinations offer services for guests with disabilities, including rental wheelchairs, access services, and dietary accommodations.

Best Disney Vacations Wrap-Up

So, how do you choose the right one? Think about what your family enjoys the most.

Do you like to explore and have non-stop adventures, or do you prefer to chill by the pool and take it easy? Maybe you want to combine Disney fun with a cultural experience.

There’s no wrong choice—just think about what will make everyone smile the most and you’ll find your answer. Whichever Disney destination you pick, you’re in for an unforgettable trip!

Looking for more Disney vacation travel resources? Check out What’s the Best Disneyland Paris Hotel for Families?, 7 Experiences You MUST Have On Your Disney Cruise with Kids, How to Survive Disneyland with a 3-Year-Old, A Dreamy Walt Disney World Hotel for Every Budget, Which is the Best Disneyland Resort Hotel, and The Best Disney Aulani Activities for Teenagers!

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