This Is the Ultimate Bucket List for the Most Devoted Disney Theme Park Fans
You’ve stayed at every hotel on the monorail line, visited Disneyland for its 60th birthday — maybe you’ve even braved Walt Disney World on New Year’s Eve. As all big-time Disney theme park fans know, it’s more than just the rides that make visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland special — it’s the experiences.
Leisurely visitors may be all about catching that mid-day parade and taking a spin on Dumbo The Flying Elephant, but for regulars, there’s an entirely different kind of Disney dream to achieve at the parks and beyond. When you’re a full-on Disney devotee, riding Splash Mountain just isn’t as exciting as eating “Toy Story” dim sum, touring a Disney museum, or visiting Walt’s secret apartment on Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A.
Wondering if you stack up among the biggest Disneyland and Disney World superfans? This bucket list has every monument, attraction, restaurant, office and secret passageway Disney obsessives must visit. From the Disneyland Railroad’s VIP car to Japan’s impeccable dark ride and everything in between, here’s everything a Disneyphile should see at least once in their lifetime.
Walt Disney drew inspiration from this Zermatt, Switzerland mountain peak while creating Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction, which became the park’s first roller coaster-style ride. If a European vacation isn’t on the books anytime soon, there’s an easy way to conquer the treacherous Alps range in the meantime: the park’s Matterhorn-shaped macaroon.
Cinderella Castle Suite
Tucked within the ornate spires of Magic Kingdom’s emblematic castle is a private medieval suite, complete with turreted beds and an elegantly tiled bathroom fit for a queen or king. Sadly, visits to this regal respite cannot be booked or purchased — lucky guests tend to be VIPs and invited celebrities — but overnight stays are often given away as contest prizes, allowing a select set of Disney lovers to know what it feels like to hit snooze as a princess.
Tokyo Disney Sea
The entirety of this Japanese theme park exists nowhere else, making for a one-of-a-kind Disney experience. The lands are phenomenal — a Mediterranean Harbour offers Venetian gondola rides, Ariel from the “The Little Mermaid” has her own indoor Mermaid Lagoon — and so are the rides, particularly Journey To The Center of the Earth’s stunning and surprising turn that won’t be lost in translation. From dark rides, like the Alan Menken-soundtracked Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage to the nexus of all things Duffy the Disney Bear, it’s pure magic.
Magic Kingdom Utilidor
Yes, the subterranean tunnels are famously closed off to anyone who isn’t a Disney employee, but you can actually get a peek at the walkways below the Magic Kingdom on the park’s guided tours. Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom and Backstage Magic tours take guests through the “ground floor” for a look at Walt Disney World’s secret tunnels.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure
Experiencing new Disney attractions is a badge of honor among park connoisseurs and nowhere is that more true than at Shanghai Disneyland Resort. The flight alone is worth it to for Disney’s largest-ever castle and TRON Lightcycle Power Run, but this tech-savvy take on Jack Sparrow’s antics proves more than an eye-popping reinterpretation of the classic Disneyland ride. With awe-inspiring screens, oversized set pieces and advanced audio-animatronics that bring Johnny Depp’s swashbuckler to life, it’s unlike anything else Imagineers have dreamt up — for now.
If the name sounds unfamiliar, here’s three words that do: Disney dim sum. The Hong Kong Disneyland hotel restaurant goes viral about once a year when a new audience gets word of the character-shaped delights and dumplings this overseas eatery turns out. From a Mickey seafood pancake and Baymax buns to pork and vegetable buns shaped like Toy Story’s little green aliens, it’s upscale Chinese dining with a once-in-a-lifetime twist.
Walt Disney Family Museum
The San Francisco, California, museum takes guests through the entirety of Walt Disney’s history from struggling animator to Mickey Mouse’s inceptor to the heralded genius he’s known as today. There are rotating exhibitions and screenings of old films, but the greatest sight comes at the museum’s end — a stunning scale model “imagining” of Disneyland Park throughout the years.
Membership for this private restaurant and bar — it’s the only location in Disneyland serving alcohol — comes with plenty of perks, but costs tens of thousands of dollars. Have the dough? You’ll still have to endure the multi-year waiting list, making Club 33 the most exclusive place in all of Disneyland Resort. The best way to cross this off your bucket list is by nabbing an invitation from a member, or better yet, by being patient. Club 33 is all but confirmed to arrive at Walt Disney World’s four parks in the next year.
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
Tokyo Disneyland has become a pilgrimage for die-hard Disney devotees, but there’s more to it than Toy Story mochi dumplings, flavored popcorn stands and the very best souvenirs. Tokyo’s Winnie The Pooh ride is a cult favorite for in-the-know aficionados because it pioneered trackless ride systems for Disney Parks, allowing vehicles to move unpredictably in multiple directions, making for a new every single time. Since its debut, the technology has been adapted for other attractions — namely Disneyland Paris’ Ratatouille: The Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor and Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters at Disney California Adventure — but the original here reigns supreme.
Did you know Walt had a home right in the middle of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A.? His apartment, located above the Main Street Fire Station, served as a getaway during the park’s construction that still stands today. It’s long been hidden from day guests, but Disneyland visitors can walk inside and visit the Victorian-style second-story home on the ticketed Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour.
The biennial convention held in Anaheim, California, brings fans together from around the globe to celebrate the movies, films, attractions and history of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. When they’re not busy listening to major Disney Parks reveals or watching sneak peeks of forthcoming movies at larger panels, attendees can learn about the history behind their favorite rides, films and shows, meet celebrities, buy exclusive merchandise and see archival exhibits at this massive weekend-long event.
The town where Walt spent his childhood is full of nods to the creative’s beginnings and a worthy visit for any Disney devotee. Marceline’s downtown served as inspiration for Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland Park and beyond, while the Walt Disney Hometown Museum focuses on the early years of Walt’s life with mementos, personal letters and early artifacts. It even hosts one of Disneyland’s defunct rides — Midget Autopia, which debuted at the Anaheim park in 1957 before later being donated to Disney’s hometown. (It is no longer in use, but ride vehicles are on display.)
The famed Los Angeles restaurant may be a 95-year-old relic, but much of its history is tied to Walt Disney, who famously took his animators here for meals after working at his nearby Hyperion Studio. Table 31, where Disney would sit, still holds a plaque with his name, while drawings from Walt Disney Studios artists and Disney himself line the entrance of the Scottish eatery, recalling the company’s past.
The Lilly Belle
It’s no secret that Walt Disney was obsessed with steam trains, and the detail executed on this Disneyland Railroad observation car proves just that. Originally intended for VIPs, the special velvet chair-lined car — whose interiors were designed by Walt’s wife Lillian — has since become a legendary park experience. Getting aboard has always been somewhat of a phenomena, with the Lilly Belle appearing randomly in the park and tickets required to board, but these days there’s an easier way. Guests can now take a ride in the turn-of-the-century caboose and learn about the history of Disneyland Railroad aboard the park’s new ticketed offering, the Grand Circle Tour.
Disney on Broadway
It’s not just the magic of Disney movies that’s so enticing. Seeing them brought to life has become a quintessential part of the Disney experience. If you’ve ever fallen for “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion” at Disney California Adventure or “Festival of the Lion King” at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom park, seeing the real thing in New York City is a must. Disney has been a household name on the Great White Way since “The Lion King” debuted in 1997, which later became the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time. Since then, two more beloved Disney films have been turned into staged shows: “Aladdin,” which opened in 2014, and the much-anticipated “Frozen,” which will land on Broadway in 2018.
There’s plenty to see between both Disneyland Paris parks — don’t skip the impeccable nighttime fireworks! — but this thrilling play on “Finding Nemo”’s East Australian Current scene is the highlight. Guests board double-sided turtle shells and spin on an unpredictable and unexpected ride through the underwater depths of the Great Barrier Reef that can only be found at Disneyland Paris’ Walt Disney Studios.
Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar
Though many visitors are long-time Adventurer’s Club fans — Kungaloosh! — this watering hole packed with floor-to-ceiling accoutrement still goes unbeknownst to plenty of Disney Parks ticket holders. Whether you visit Disneyland Hotel’s Enchanted Tiki Bar or sip HippopotoMai-Tais at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Florida’s Polynesian Village Resort, you’ll have plenty of unexpected surprises to toast to within Disney’s very best themed bar.
The adults-only Disney Cruise Line restaurant isn’t just known for its divine food. With perfectly poured cocktails, impeccable service and that antipasti cart (!), it’s up there with Disney’s all-time best dining experiences. Palo requires a small surcharge for each guest visiting, but a Disney sailing on the Magic, Dream, Wonder or Fantasy just isn’t the same without one glorious dinner (or extravagant brunch) at this scenic and idyllic getaway. Don’t cross it off your list unless you order a souffle at the meal’s end — those made-to-order desserts are iconic.
Thanks to archivist Dave Smith, Walt Disney’s office has now been painstakingly restored to how the legend once had it, right down to the tables, furniture and knick-knacks lining Disney’s desk. It was here in this two-room office where the theme park innovator read over scripts, plotted Walt Disney World’s location and even formulated ideas of Epcot back when it was intended to be a standalone city. The hallowed office, which is located on the Walt Disney Studios lot, is closed to the public, but members of D23, the official Disney Fan Club, can sign up for tours taking them through the sacred space.
Happily Ever After
The innovative new show debuted at Magic Kingdom just this year but has already become the best nighttime entertainment at Walt Disney World bar none. Stunning projections overlay atop the castle, bringing scenes from movies like “Moana,” “Zootopia,” and “Toy Story” to life as fireworks glimmer overhead and a brand-new soundtrack soars. If you liked Wishes, this performance will blow you away, making it a top travel priority for your next Disney World trip.