The thing I love about a Disney vacation is that it’s safe. I know that whatever I decide to do, wherever we stay, it’s going to be good. A lot of the planning of a Disney vacation goes into making it spectacular, because just walking through the gates means it’s going to be a good day. Carefully planned dining reservations and touring plans are just building on an already Good Thing.

The variety of Disney destinations also means that our family can travel within the Disney brand and still have a nice variety of experiences. But this brings up a problem – which of them to choose? Here’s how I break it down:

Disneyland and California Adventure

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland

The original Disney destination! I choose this park if I’m short on time. Disneyland and California Adventure is perfect for a 3-4 day getaway. If you have more time, you can also include other Southern California attractions – Knotts Berry Farm is right down the street from Disneyland (and is absolutely amazing during the Halloween and Christmas seasons!). Universal Studios is relatively nearby, and Sea World and the San Diego Zoo are about a three hour drive South. You can definitely make a week-long vacation out of it, but you’ll need a car. It’s So Cal – of course you need a car!

Walt Disney World

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World. Image courtesy of Katie Rommel-Esham

The easy choice for a lot of families. There really is something for everyone, and you could stay for months and not do everything. I choose this resort if I have at least a full week of vacation time. Just like it’s California cousin, there is also the Universal Orlando resort, Busch Gardens, Sea World, and a host of other attractions within an easy drive if you want to add some extra fun to your trip.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Fantasy

If you’ve never cruised before (or have and loved it) Disney Cruise Line is a great option. Their three- and four-night cruises leave from Port Canaveral near Orlando, and are a great way to extend a Walt Disney World vacation. Because let’s face it, you’re never quite ready to leave!

Aulani

Aulani Resort in Hawaii. Image courtesy of David Snyder.

You want to go to Hawaii? No problem, Disney’s got you covered. What I love about this resort is that unlike most Hawaiian hotels, Disney really tells the story of the islands and their people. They actually brought in native Hawaiian storytellers and historians to help design the resort, and have authentic stories and activities going on all the time. I’m not a huge beach fan – I get bored too easily – and Aulani has plenty of things for me to do in case I get tired of hanging out on the beach.

Disneyland Paris, Tokyo, or Hong Kong

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris

If you’re eyeing Europe or Asia, why not spend some time at Disneyland? These resorts, while they do bring in some local flavor, will also feel very familiar to an American visitor.

Adventures by Disney

Andean woman weaving. Image courtesy of lilDeMented via Flickr.com

All of the Disney resorts are about transporting you out of your actual environment into a world of fantasy and storytelling. Adventures by Disney does the opposite! These guided vacations immerse you in the culture and history of the place you’re visiting. Unlike piecing together a vacation yourself, Adventures by Disney handles all the transportation, attractions, meals, and all those little details. Forget about getting lost in the wrong part of Cairo! Your tour guide does more than point out the sights – they tell you the stories of the place, and help you participate in those stories through activities for both kids and adults.

These are the criteria I use to decide which Disney destination to visit next. Do you like to mix it up, or do you stick with your “home” Disney resort? How many of the Disney destinations have you visited? Share your stories in the comments!