BREAKING NEWS: I (Michaela) love Disney World. I really do. I love it so much that I help other people get there. I love it so much that I cohost a podcast dedicated to all things Walt Disney World (and Disney Parks….and beyond…)
But, it is not the ONLY vacation destination that I love. Aside from a podcast host, I’m also a full-service vacation planner, and that means ALL THINGS *VACATION* – not just Disney World vacations. And I am the last person to tell you that Walt Disney World is the perfect vacation for everyone, in every situation. It simply is not. There’s a great big NOT-DISNEY world out there to see, and lots of reasons to consider some alternative vacation options this year. Here are but a mere 10 that I can think of – starting with the first five.
1) Been there, done that.
For lots of people (though certainly not all), a visit to Disney World is akin to a developing some sort of infectious disease. It gets under your skin want to go back as soon as possible. You start making plans for your next trip the day you leave the last one.
But even the most die-hard Disneyphiles can start to get tired of the same-ol-same-ol after several visits. Maybe this is you. But maybe you still want to scratch that Disney itch WHILE creating some new experiences for your family.
That’s right, see the ORIGINAL park that started it all (plus the newer Disney California Adventure!). There’s a certain magic to Disneyland that feels different than the magic at Walt Disney World. Something about it being the park that Walt walked, and something about the smaller size makes it quaint in a way that Disney World is just massive. For folks west of the Mississippi, I often suggest it as a first option, as it is a much easier and manageable gateway to the Disney Parks. Plus, it has some amazing hotels, rides and attractions that can’t be found at Walt Disney World, such as World of Color, California Screamin’, Hyperspace Mountain and all of Cars Land. Bonus: Disneyland can also save you MONEY. It is much easier to do in 3 or 4 days, and you can find lots of hotels at a great price within walking distance of the parks. Add an extra day or two and visit the beach, do a Hollywood Tour, or visit Universal Studios Hollywood!
2) Your kids are older.
Now, you may already know that I think it is a fallacy that teens and tweens won’t like Disney World. There’s lots to do there that teens will enjoy (not least of which being all things Star Wars). But let’s face it—there’s a lot that Disney World doesn’t have.
Here’s a short list:
- Harry Potter.
Alternative: Universal Orlando Resort
Need more? How about Marvel characters (it’s complicated, but Universal has the rights to Marvel characters in the theme parks east of the Mississippi, even though Disney now owns most Marvel properties), Halloween Horror Nights, Jurassic Park, Transformers, Kong, and lots, lots more. Universal Orlando is truly a fantastic option for families with tweens and teens. But really, if you only go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter and do nothing else, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. (But be sure and do the rest!) And I haven’t even mentioned the Universal Orlando resort hotels, some of which I believe are BETTER than some Disney resort hotels.
3) Your kids are younger.
“We want to wait to go to Disney World until the kids are older and can remember it better.” While Disney caters VERY well to families with babies and toddlers (I took my son at the tender age of 5 months!) I completely understand this point of view as well. But that doesn’t mean that you have to skip vacations all together!
Alternative: Beaches All-Inclusive Family Resorts
All-inclusive resorts are often only considered while people are planning for their honeymoon or a romantic anniversary, but there are LOTS of great family all-inclusive resorts! For those with little ones, I personally recommend Beaches (a Sandals-owned line of family resorts that include babysitting and kids clubs in the price so parents can go have fun!), in part because I have a Sesame Street fan in my house, and they have some awesome Sesame Street-themed adventures. (But plenty of non-Sesame Street themed action for older kids in your family too.) Try Beaches Turks and Caicos for the ultimate in luxury family all-inclusives.
4) Your kids are GONE!
You spent 18+ years wiping noses (and butts), waiting in school drop-off lines, and anxiously waiting for your teens to get home from the school dances. Now that the kids are away, the parents can play! You’ve earned your kid-free trip. While lots of empty-nesters still love Disney World, use this time between kids in your house and when THEY have their own kids (because Disney with grandkids is a blast!) to see THE world!
Alternative: AmaWaterways River Cruises
While there’s literally an entire world of options for this one, I would check out a European, African or Asian river cruise. Like other cruises, you get to pack and unpack just once, stay in the same room every night, AND see a number of cities and sometimes even countries. Everyone who watches PBS knows about Viking River Cruises, but I (usually) recommend AmaWaterways River Cruises for my clients. Check out their 7-night Enchanting Rhine cruise in 2017, including France, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. Have I mentioned that wine and beers are included with dinner – and sparkling wine for breakfast? They speak my language. And every room is a balcony room!
5) The Prices.
While there are ways to do Disney on the cheap, one can say it’s rather complicated, and the more you want to do there, the more it costs. Every family has those years when unexpected expenses arise that can cut into your vacation fund. But that doesn’t mean you have to skip the family vacation entirely, or even skip your usual Central Florida vacation entirely…
Alternative : Discovery Cove (plus SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens!)
This is one of my favorite travel planner secrets! Discovery Cove is an amazing little hidden gem in Orlando, and is truly a UNIQUE vacation experience that even Disney can’t offer. Discovery Cove is a mix of an all-inclusive day resort (meals and drinks – even alcohol – are included in your price!) and nature water park, where you can swim with dolphins, hang out with otters (my favorite!), or just be lazy in a cabana or on the lazy river.
But as an added bonus, in 2016, they started offering a deal that one cannot refuse. With a single day admission to Discovery Cove (starting around $175/person, varied by date) you ALSO get 14 days (TWO WEEKS, PEOPLE) of free passes to SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica water park. For only an extra $25/person, you can add a day at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, as well as free parking at all the parks.
This means you can spend around $1500 for a family of four with 5 nights (the 5th night is free at SeaWorld Official and Partner Hotels), and get your hotel stay, free parking, some meals and drinks included (in addition to your Discovery Cove day, many partner hotels include a free breakfast each day), and tickets to Discovery Cove, SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica and Busch Gardens. This is an INSANELY GOOD DEAL, and costs about $1000 less than 4 days at 4 parks with a hotel stay at some other nameless theme parks in town.
STILL haven’t got you convinced to try something new? Are you more concerned with the crowds, the Florida heat, or seeing new parts of the (wider) world? CLICK HERE for PART TWO of my Top 10 Reasons NOT to Visit Walt Disney World This Year!
Need help deciding, or want to know more about any of these options? Email Michaela at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the information form on our website here. I’ll get back to you ASAP!