Melbourne travel agent Rebecca Mason, from Mr Chocolate’s Travel, is one of the top 10 sellers of Disney destinations in Australia. She and her son Lachlan share their ultimate guide to Disneyland – visiting Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida
How did you become a Disney expert?
As a child I enjoyed Disney stories and movies and always dreamed of one day visiting Disneyland. Lachlan inherited this love for Disney. At the age of 11, he was our guide at Disneyland Hong Kong on one of our family holidays. He studied the maps, FastPass systems and character meet and greet times to ensure we had the most magical family holiday. While Lachlan continued to research ALL the Disney parks, I studied to become a travel agent and launched Mr Chocolate’s Travel, with Disney experiences becoming our number one focus and destination. After visiting the parks several times, we took a keen interest in the Disney brand, with Lachlan even living the dream as a cast member in January and February 2020 as an attendant at Epcot’s Journey into Imagination with Figment ride. Lachlan now speaks fluent Disney, while I enjoy researching the best Disney options and experiences for all travellers, especially big families.
What do you love about Disney?
Disney is a happy, all-accepting, family inclusive destination that lets us immerse ourselves in a fantasy world outside of reality. It’s also the best place to encounter our favourite childhood Disney characters and have real-time interactions. Dreams come true at Disney and it’s the perfect place to spend time together with family and friends.
What’s the difference between Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida?
Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is bigger and grander than Disneyland Resort in California, with four theme parks, more than 30 hotels and two water parks. It’s like Disneyland on steroids. The pathways are wider, and the castle is bigger. Disneyland Resort in California has two theme parks, Disneyland Park (the original, which opened in 1955) and Disney California Adventure Park, and three on-site hotels. But it is actually the only resort that Walt Disney has been to. Many attractions are similar at both resorts, with only minor differences.
Which is your favourite and why?
Disneyland is our favourite because it is classic, closer and more affordable for Australians to get to, and it is also where Walt had his vision.
Where do you recommend people stay?
At Disneyland Resort, any of the three Disney-run hotels or the Good Neighbour hotels nearby. Our favourite Good Neighbour Hotel is the Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance. Our favourite Disney Hotel is Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.
At Walt Disney World Resort we recommend that you stay at any of the 30+ Disney hotels, due to the on-site perks and ease of transportation options going to and from the parks. It comes down to your budget, the size of your family and general accommodation preferences.
What is the best age to take kids?
We believe that any age is the perfect age to visit, from 0 to 99 years, but between the ages of five and nine the Disney magic is really apparent. Everything is still magical in the eyes of a child and, from the age of five, children are able to experience most rides.
When is the best time of year to go?
The crowds are smaller from January to March, and in September. There is more entertainment in June and July, and the second half of December due to bigger crowds, so even if it is busy there is a lot more going on. If visiting from mid-September to early January there will be Halloween, Christmas and New Year decorations and theming.
Any tips on how to have the best experience possible?
Arrive early before the park opens and experience the more popular rides first thing in the morning. After a couple of hours, have a break and enjoy different entertainment options, including shows, parades and characters, while the ride lines are busiest. Towards the end of the day experience more rides.
Before COVID-19, Disney’s “skip the line” system, FASTPASS allowed people to reserve a return time earlier in the day to go on the ride with “little to no wait” later in the day with their return time ticket. If people used the system well, many lengthy waits could be avoided. MAXPASS is an add-on option that Disneyland Resort California introduced in 2017, which allows you to make FASTPASS reservations via your phone instead of visiting a distribution point. Disney is now introducing a Premier Access at Disneyland Paris, which it will slowly expand to its other parks around the world. Premier Access allows people to pay to skip the lines and will likely replace the free FASTPASS system. Exact pricing and options are currently unknown and will morph and change as Disney works out what will work best, but the prices in Paris start at €15 euros per person per ride (around AUD$25). Overall, this will ensure standby lines are shorter than when FASTPASS was taking up two-thirds of the capacity.
What are the must-see shows and parades?
Disney is constantly changing its entertainment offerings. At the moment highlights include Happily Ever After Fireworks, Festival of the Lion King and Fantasmic at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, and World of Color, Mickey’s Mix Magic Fireworks/Projection and Fantasmic at Disneyland Resort in California.
How many days do you need to do each theme park properly?
To properly experience Walt Disney World Resort, you should spend seven to nine days across the four theme parks. To properly experience Disneyland Resort in California, you should spend three to five days across the two theme parks.
What else can you do while you’re there?
There is a shopping and entertainment precinct outside of both parks, called Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort in Florida and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. There are also character dining experiences and a monorail. At Walt Disney World Resort there are ferries and a skyliner gondola, and extra shows such as Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-long.
Where are the best places to eat?
At Disneyland Resort in California, we’d recommend Golden Horseshoe Saloon and Pym Test Kitchen. At Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, we’d say Satu’li Canteen, Ronto Roasters, Pinocchio Village Haus and EPCOT Food and Wine Festival.
What’s one thing people probably don’t know about Disney resorts?
There are hidden Mickey silhouettes dotted throughout every Disney destination. It has become a popular game to find as many hidden Mickeys as possible. Disney has also introduced the Play Disney Parks app. This app provides quizzes and games for your group to play while waiting in line for the rides. It also allows you to interact with certain elements in the lines.
Any tips when it comes to flights?
For Disneyland Resort in California, you can get a direct flight to LAX from most Australian capital cities. For Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, I’d recommend flying with Hawaiian Airlines via Honolulu to Orlando.
How far ahead should you book?
It is more cost effective to book early. We recommend booking flights and accommodation 11 months in advance, due to greater availability and cheaper prices. It is possible to book now before international borders open, but our advice is to book as soon as the reopening of international borders is officially announced.
Any tips for getting cheap tickets?
As Mr Chocolate’s Travel is one of the top sellers of Disney in Australia, we offer very competitive pricing. We advise that you purchase accommodation and tickets in Australian dollars through us to avoid price fluctuations associated with purchasing tickets in US dollars. In Australia, we also have access to promotions available exclusively for the Australian and New Zealand markets, including the 10 Day Pass.
How do you think the Disney experience will be different post-COVID?
Immediately after the Disney Parks reopened there were strict measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however over the past couple of months these measures have been almost completely removed. Mask rules have been on and off recently. Park Pass reservations will still be required for the foreseeable future, meaning you will have to choose which parks you are wishing to visit and specify the days beforehand. The magic of Disney will remain, and it will always be a top destination for families to create lifetime memories.
Rebecca Mason is the owner of independent Melbourne travel agency Mr Chocolate’s Travel, and author of Holiday Dreaming: The Expert’s Guide to Large Family Travel, which is available online at travel.mrchocolate.com.au
This story is not sponsored or endorsed by The Walt Disney Company and all the interviewee’s views are her own
Must-do rides in Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida
- It’s a Small World
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway