Coolest New Disney Vacations
Disney spent more than four years perfecting this brand-new role-playing interactive scavenger hunt, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. And it’s just one of the company’s inventions this year: cool new experiences are rolling out on every front. Huge expansions at Disney World and Disneyland as well as new guided trips make Disney vacations more appealing than ever.
New Disney rides and adventures will naturally charm kids, but some will resonate more deeply with grown-ups, who can better appreciate the sheer genius that goes into melding the latest technology with nostalgia and Walt’s original vision.
A fan of cruising, Walt would surely approve of Disney Cruise Line’s Fantasy, which sets sail on its maiden voyage at the end of March 2012. “She was built in Germany at the finest shipyard in the world, Meyer Werft,” says Anita Dunham-Potter of ExpertCruiser.com. “No expense was spared, no corners cut; it’s first class all the way.” Luckily, Art Nouveau–inspired décor and an elegant French restaurant coexist with features like the super-cool AquaDuck waterslide, making Disney vacations on this ship fun for all generations.
Walt would also love the big changes happening in Anaheim, where Disney California Adventure is finally poised to lose its always-the-bridesmaid rap. Visitors have long compared DCA unfavorably to its sister park, Disneyland. But now Disney is about to complete a major overhaul that pays homage to the era when Walt’s career as an animator was taking off during the golden days of Hollywood. “The old Disney California Adventure will be all but unrecognizable when they’re done,” says Jill Safro, editor of Birnbaum’s Official Guides to Disney. “The changes are very, very special.”
More Walt, it turns out, is always a good thing. Could it be that our love of Disney is as much about his idealism and optimistic take on life as it is about character breakfasts? By pulling our heartstrings and reminding us of happy childhood memories, the company is managing to persuade folks of all ages that we’re never too old for Disney vacations. As Walt said, “Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”
Disney California Adventure (Disneyland Resort)
Now in the final stages of a $1.1 billion extreme makeover, the new Disney California Adventure evokes the retro glam of a Los Angeles colorized postcard. The park’s centerpiece re-creates the iconic Carthay Circle Theatre, where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937, and there will be a Red Car trolley clanging along Buena Vista Street. But the most highly anticipated addition is Cars Land, based on the Pixar film. Three new attractions, including a Radiator Springs Racers ride, will delight Lightning McQueen fans.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World)
A pack of Disney villains wants to take over the Magic Kingdom, and it’s up to you, as Merlin’s apprentice sorcerer, to stop them. Imagineers spent more than four years perfecting this role-playing interactive scavenger hunt, which pairs the allure of collectible trading cards with more than 95 minutes of original Disney animation. Armed with a map of the Kingdom and cards featuring different Disney characters, players use spells to unlock clues to the evildoers’ whereabouts and save the day.
New Cruise Ports (Disney Cruise Line)
With four ships now in its fleet, Disney Cruise Line is departing from more ports. As a result, there are more families able to drive instead of fly to meet a ship—saving money in the process. To wit: in Summer 2012, the Disney Magic will sail out of New York, offering eight-night cruises to the Bahamas and five-night sailings up the New England coast. In the fall, the ship will relocate to Galveston, TX, for seven-night western Caribbean itineraries. Meanwhile, the Disney Wonder will continue sailing seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises from L.A.
Art of Animation Resort (Walt Disney World)
Got more than two kids? Your new favorite Disney hotel is the Art of Animation Resort, a value-category property opening near Hollywood Studios in May 2012 that’s themed around Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. You get oodles of space in suites that accommodate up to six people, with three sleeping areas and two bathrooms. (Standard rooms will be available by the end of 2012.) Outside, it’s decisions, decisions: swim with Nemo, Ariel, or the gang from Cars? Take your pick of three pools, each with its own courtyard and high-detail theming.
New Itineraries from Adventures by Disney
Disney’s high-end line of guided tours sends families out to explore destinations both far-flung (Peru, China, Australia) and homespun (Yellowstone, Gettysburg, Grand Canyon). The secret sauce? Immersive experiences that often come with VIP access to exceptional venues. New itineraries offer a lesson in goat-cheese-making with a Greek mountain shepherd, a painting workshop in Monet’s garden in Giverny, and an exclusive snorkeling expedition in Egypt’s Ras Mohammed Underwater National Park. Disney sweats the details so you don’t have to.
Fantasyland (Walt Disney World)
Beyond the turrets of Cinderella’s castle, big changes are under way in the Magic Kingdom. Highlights include an area themed to Beauty and the Beast, an animatronic-populated Little Mermaid ride, and a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train indoor coaster. “The level of detail in the themed settings is just amazing,” says Jill Safro, editor of Birnbaum’s Official Guides to Disney. At Storybook Circus, the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride will get a second carousel and a Big Top waiting area lined with fun, interactive distractions. Double the Dumbo? Entertainment while you wait? Sign us up.
Disney Fantasy (Cruise Line)
Disney operates four cruise ships, and the new 4,000-passenger Fantasy is arguably the fairest of them all, loaded from the keel up with more bells and whistles than you can shake a wand at. Starting March 31, 2012, the Fantasy will offer seven-night alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries out of Port Canaveral, FL. Kids will love the top-deck AquaDuck raft ride (“the neatest thing I’ve seen on a ship,” says Anita Dunham-Potter of ExpertCruiser.com) as well as the themed clubhouses. There’s grown-up appeal, too; look out for sophisticated Art Nouveau details and the elegant French restaurant.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa (Oahu, Hawaii)
It had us at Aloha. The first Disney-built hotel not connected to an amusement had a soft launch in August 2011 and will be fully open by summer 2012. Aulani is an impeccably manicured paradise of carved woods and batik fabrics, with nary a plastic lei in sight. You won’t want to leave the spectacular volcano-themed pool area, which features a lazy river, a zero-entry pool with a tunnel body slide, hot tubs, and a private, man-made snorkeling lagoon swimming with angel fish, yellow tangs, and butterfly fish.
Test Track (Walt Disney World)
Ever since it opened in 1998, EPCOT’s ultra-popular GM-sponsored Test Track attraction has made us sit through a series of safety tests before we get to the good stuff: a speed trial around the steeply banked course where cars hit speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. Test Track is closing for renovation, and when it reopens in Fall 2012, Chevrolet will be the sponsor. Instead of safety testing, we’ll get to design a custom car in an automotive center before buckling ourselves into the SimCar to see how it holds up on the Test Track. Smart, very smart.
Royal Guest Rooms (Walt Disney World)
The hottest innovation in Disney accommodations is the new line of Specialty Rooms—lush, highly themed, and chockablock with imaginative touches. Have a little prince or princess in your midst? Book a stay at Port Orleans Resort, where the Royal Guest Rooms have cool regal touches like beds with fiber-optic headboards.
Alaska Redux (Disney Cruise Line)
Disney debuted its Alaskan cruises out of Vancouver in Summer 2011, but this summer’s sailings will depart from Seattle. Expect exclusive-to-Disney excursions, such as panning for gold in Skagway alongside Donald Duck and the Juneau-based Enchanted Taku Glacier Lodge adventure. It begins and ends with a spectacular 30-minute flight over glaciers in a turbine-powered seaplane. New in Ketchikan: a guided eco-tour of the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary that includes a walk along elevated viewing platforms to spy bald eagles, black bears, and seals.
Exotic Driving Experience (Walt Disney World Speedway)
While the Richard Petty Driving Experience has been a fixture for years, this new rarefied Exotic version just opened in January 2012. Here’s your chance to get behind the wheel of a supercar—Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, or Porsche—in a racing environment. A valid driver’s license and $189 gets you six laps around the one-mile circuit, which combines an oval backstretch with street course elements like switchbacks, S-curves, and hairpins. Alternatively, for $99, you can white-knuckle it in the passenger seat while a professional driver takes the wheel.
Disneyland Hotel (Disneyland)
Fresh off a multiyear refurbishment, the moderately priced Disneyland Hotel pays tribute to the early days of Disneyland. Imagineers restored the hotel’s original mid-century style and paired it with sleek amenities, earning a AAA Four Diamond award for the first time in 25 years. “The new monorail-inspired pool and waterslides alone make this hotel a great choice,” says Jill Safro, editor of Birnbaum’s Official Guides to Disney. “And my new favorite lounge is Trader Sam’s, a cross between the Jungle Cruise and the original Tiki Room.”