Our #1 Disney Destination of the Year for 2024
With the holiday season winding down and the doldrums of winter setting in, it’s that time when everyone starts looking forward to the coming year. This includes daydreaming about destinations to visit and making travel plans for 2024.
The next month-plus is huge for Disney. Why do you think the company spends big bucks on the ABC Christmas Day Parade or the “I’m Going to Disney World!” Super Bowl spot? They’re hugely expensive, but worth every penny. Those ads put Disney destinations front of mind as families and friends are gathered for holiday-time (and beyond) events.
In that spirit, we thought we’d crown our #1 Disney Parks & Resorts Destination for 2024, while ranking the other theme park complexes in the coming year. For this list, we’re looking specifically at the pros & cons of visiting in 2024–what’s new & next, the value proposition of visiting now vs. waiting, and what each destination is doing in the coming year. Since we’re based in the United States, we’re making this list for and from the perspective of American tourists…
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6. Shanghai Disney Resort
In mid-2023, the U.S. Department of State issued an advisory that warns against traveling to mainland China, due to the possibility of being wrongfully detained for espionage and the arbitrary enforcement of laws. The State Department has designated mainland China as Level 3, recommending that Americans “reconsider travel.”
So that’s the U.S. government’s position on China. We don’t purport to know more than the State Department, but our view is that we would still visit China–and probably sooner rather than later–if it were an absolute bucket list must-do destination for us. But in a world with thousands of amazing places, it’s just not worth the risk or hassle to us.
Then there’s the matter of whether visiting is a tacit endorsement of the regime. We subscribe to the Rick Steves’ philosophy of travel as a political act, and think that could be applied to traveling to China in ways good or bad. While we’d love to see Zootopia and all of the other changes at Shanghai Disneyland in the last few years, the pros just outweigh the cons.
5. Disneyland Paris
Coming off its hugely successful 30th Anniversary, the coming year is a time of transition for Disneyland Paris. On the plus side, the new Disney Symphony of Colours drone show looks with its “parade in the sky” looks like a wowing tribute to Main Street Electrical Parade. There’s also a new show, A Million Splashes of Colour, coming in Winter 2024.
Nevertheless, the big celebration is over and it none of the entertainment that’s been announced for 2024 at Disneyland Paris truly impresses. This also exposes the biggest weakness, which is that Disneyland Paris is overdue for more meaningful additions on the attractions front. The parks have used entertainment to paper over this, and I guess Avengers Campus should count for something, but it’s relatively small and lackluster. Suffice to say, the dry spell of major new additions at Disneyland Paris that are high-quality is really starting to show.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the large-scale expansion of the Walt Disney Studios Park won’t be finished until 2025. In our view, that’s an odd and downright dubious decision, as the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics all but guarantee a spike in international visitor numbers this year. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Disney dragging its feet on construction created a bad crowds and capacity dynamic.
As much as we love it, it’s difficult to recommend a visit to Disneyland Paris in 2024. You should’ve gone last year, or should wait until next year. There’s absolutely no point in visiting during a year when prices and crowds will likely be elevated due to externalities, but the parks themselves won’t be keeping pace.
4. Disneyland Resort
Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom is in a similar position. The Disney100 “celebration” is over, and there isn’t much on the horizon beyond Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the reimagining of Splash Mountain that got a delayed start as compared to its Florida counterpart.
You can never count out the possibility of a surprise announcement of new entertainment, seasonal events, or something else to help spike attendance. With revenge travel to California on the precipice of exhausting itself, it stands to reason Disneyland has something up its sleeve for 2024. Right…right?!
With the Full Calendar for 2024 at Disneyland already being released, it sure doesn’t sound like it. Pixar Fest is returning, but that likely won’t be worth traveling to see. We love Disneyland and will be visiting regularly ourselves, so it pains us to place Disneyland in this spot. On the plus side, maybe crowds will start to return to reality?
3. Walt Disney World
If you’ve yet to take your first trip or return to Walt Disney World post-COVID, then a strong case could be made that 2024 is the year to visit. Starting January 9, a lot will be back to normal for the first time in nearly 4 years, with the removal of reservations, restoration of full Park Hopping, return of the Disney Dining Plan, and more. Sometime in the spring, advance booking of Lightning Lanes will also debut.
On top of that, pent-up demand has finally exhausted itself. That means lower attendance and crowds (relative to the boom of the last couple years–it’ll still be busy!), plus more discounts on resort rooms as Walt Disney World attempts to entice guests. Operationally, the flagship Florida theme park complex will be pretty close to what it was in 2019.
Then there’s everything that has been added during that time, as Walt Disney World has wrapped up its last big development cycle with the completion of the EPCOT overhaul. This is where Walt Disney World is really distinct from Disneyland Paris (or California, to a lesser extent), as the Florida parks have added a ton in the last several years.
If your last visit was before mid-2019, the following is all new to you: Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Luminous: Symphony of Us, TRON Lightcycle Run, and the Skyliner gondolas transportation system. And those are just the major additions–once you count smaller scale stuff, Walt Disney World has added more in the last 5 years than any other Disney theme park.
By contrast, if you’ve already seen all or most of that…there’s not much new on the horizon in 2024. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is slated to debut at some point (officially in Late 2024, but there are rumors of a summer opening), but that’s really about it. Beyond that, there is nothing major scheduled to open in 2025 or 2026, at present. Waiting until 2025 could make sense if you’re excited for Epic Universe, but that’s over at Universal and these are Disney destinations rankings.
Runner Up: Hong Kong Disneyland
As with mainland China, the State Department issued an advisory for Hong Kong, but with a Level 2 status, recommending that American travelers “exercise increased caution.” This is one level below mainland China and, as such, the United States does not advise avoiding trips to Hong Kong.
For us, this is a more complicated matter. Ostensibly, the “one country, two systems” principle still governs relations between Hong Kong and mainland China. For our part, we feel perfectly safe in Hong Kong and want to support the country and its people to the extent that they have a degree of autonomy, and their own economic and administrative systems. But the extent to which that’s still the case is murky, at best. I would like to think that Americans being willing to visit Hong Kong but not mainland China does send a message, but that’s probably wishful thinking.
Setting aside that dilemma, Hong Kong Disneyland is “only” the runner up because there’s no scenario in which it’s a destination resort for the average American who needs to fly 16+ hours to get there. As much as we love the charming little park, it just isn’t. This is why it ranks #5 in our List of the Worldwide Disney Parks & Resorts Rankings. That’s the glass half empty perspective.
The glass half full outlook is that Hong Kong Disneyland punches far above its weight, having only one park but managing to surpass all but one of the multi-park destinations. It does this thanks to the new World of Frozen area that looks absolutely amazing, as well as several of the best lands and rides on the planet outside Arendelle. The trio of exceptional hotels and excellent entertainment program also don’t hurt, and HKDL remains both reasonably priced (depending upon airfare) and relatively uncrowded.
Basically, Hong Kong Disneyland is the antidote for the Disney fans who have complained about the crowding and complexity of visiting the domestic parks in recent years. And as we’ve said countless times, if you can master Walt Disney World, you can visit anywhere. (Especially a former British colony where English remains fairly common.) Hong Kong Disneyland still has that quaint and laid-back old school Disneyland vibe, but with groundbreaking new attractions. Best of both worlds!
Don’t look at second place here as the first loser. Hong Kong Disneyland being runner up is massive triumph for this once-troubled little clone park that’s now blossoming into its own as something special. While we don’t recommend dedicating more than a couple of days to the park itself, it’s easy to pair HKDL with the city (one of the best in the world) or our #1 Disney Destination for 2024…
Winner: Tokyo Disney Resort
Longtime readers might roll their eyes at this selection and accuse us of a Japan bias. To which we’ll start by responding that we’re only biased towards quality. We’d add that we’ve actually published two separate articles on why ‘now’ is a bad time to go without any strong recommendations to visit in between: Should You Avoid Tokyo Disneyland Until 2020? and Should You Wait Until 2024 to Visit Tokyo Disneyland?
The first of those is from mid-2019 and ultimately recommended visiting in April or May 2020. In retrospect, that’s probably some of the objectively-worst advice ever published on this blog–all the proof you should need that we don’t have a crystal ball. Our Christmas 2019 trip to Japan was amazing, whereas our Spring 2020 visit was not allowed to happen.
Arguably, it has not been a great time to visit Tokyo Disney Resort ever since. For one thing, the border just reopened around this time last year–so it wasn’t even possible for a couple of years. We returned to Japan last Christmas, and that entailed a lot of compromises–which prompted the second article recommending that most travelers wait. Point being, we haven’t been recommending Tokyo Disney Resort for several years now, even if we were very enthusiastically endorsing it from 2013 to 2018.
That will change again in 2024, when our hype levels for Tokyo Disney Resort once again return to stratospheric heights. The first time we recommended waiting, it was for the debut of the large-scale expansion at Tokyo Disneyland that includes the Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast attraction, Fantasyland Forest Theatre, Minnie’s Style Studio, and the Happy Ride with Baymax. All of that is open, so it’s one reason to visit now.
The biggest reason Tokyo Disney Resort is our #1 destination of 2024 is Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea, the $2.3 billion expansion featuring Frozen, Tangled, and Peter Pan. This eighth themed port of call will add multiple blockbuster boat-based rides, restaurants, retail, and a second in-park hotel to Tokyo DisneySea. Fantasy Springs will be the most expensive expansion to any existing theme park anywhere, ever. It looks like a true game-changer that showcases when Imagineering is capable of when given the resources to create something special.
Substantively, those are the main reasons Tokyo Disney Resort is our top pick. But there’s more than just that. It’s the expectation that there will be more normalcy. This has already improved in the last year thanks to policy changes, the reopening of restaurants and retail, and easing of staffing shortages. Still, it’s fairly undeniable that Tokyo Disney Resort is not what it was in 2019 and earlier.
Seasonal celebrations have not fully returned and Tokyo Disney Resort’s once formidable live entertainment lineup remains greatly diminished. Crowds and congestion are exacerbated by there being less to absorb them. Things are getting better, but there are still ways that Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are like the Florida parks, circa late 2021.
In large part, this is only relevant to guests with the ‘curse of knowledge’ about how things once were. For first-timers used to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, the Tokyo parks are still much better. The core themed design of Tokyo DisneySea is intact and Tokyo Disneyland exudes happiness in a palpable way. You can’t help but smile in these parks. There’s a reason they routinely rank #1 and #2 on our List of the Best & Worst Disney Theme Parks in the World–even right now.
All of this restoration of normalcy is going to peak at a time when pent-up demand is finally starting to die down. Crowds have been extremely elevated for the last year at Tokyo Disney Resort and other tourist destinations throughout Japan, which is a result of the downgrading of COVID and resumption of travel. That should begin burning off by 2024.
The fear is that it’ll be replaced by localized high demand for Fantasy Springs. That Japanese locals will postpone trips to Tokyo Disney Resort in the first half of 2024 until the new port-of-call opens, leading to below-average crowds in the winter and spring and astronomical crowds in the second half of the year. There is undoubtedly validity to this–we are worried about Fantasy Springs being insanely popular and busy! So that’s definitely a “point” against Tokyo Disney Resort as being the Disney destination of 2024–but not enough to knock it out of the top slot.
One final thing to consider is the strength of the dollar as compared to the yen. The yen remains near its weakest levels against the dollar in several decades, and that’ll likely continue to some degree (even with a more dovish Federal Reserve) in 2024. The strength of the dollar means greater purchasing power when traveling abroad, and to Japan in particular.
This makes Tokyo Disney Resort seem much more reasonably priced to Americans, with everything from park tickets to food to souvenirs costing far, far less than at Walt Disney World. Between lower base prices and the favorable exchange rate, you can even splurge on Disney Premier Access to Fantasy Springs (their version of paid FastPass), so you don’t have to worry so much about those chaotic crowds. And if you really want to make the trip more laid back, pair Tokyo Disney Resort with our runner-up destination, Hong Kong Disneyland. The perfect Disney destination 1-2 punch in 2024!
(If you’ve never been to Japan, we would NOT recommend actually combining Tokyo with Hong Kong. Rather, you should allocate more of your time to other non-theme park spots within Japan. Kyoto is our favorite city in the world, and we highly recommend spending at least 3 days there. You’ll definitely want to dedicate multiple days to the city of Tokyo, too. Not to mention the other many great spots from Mount Fuji to Miyajima!)
Planning a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort? For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea Trip Planning Guide! For more specifics, our TDR Hotel Rankings & Reviews page covers accommodations. Our Restaurant Reviews detail where to dine & snack. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money post. Our What to Pack for Disney post takes a unique look at clever items to take. Venturing elsewhere in Japan? Consult our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan and City Guide to Tokyo, Japan.
What would you name as the #1 Disney Parks & Resorts Destination of 2024? Would you place the Asia parks at the top for all of their additions, the domestic ones higher out of convenience, or Disneyland Paris near the top thanks to its reliably excellent entertainment programming? Do you agree or disagree with our rankings? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Facebook Twitter Pinterest With the holiday season winding down and the doldrums of winter setting in, it’s that time when everyone starts looking forward to the coming year. This includes daydreaming about destinations to visit and making travel plans for 2024. The next month-plus is huge for Disney. Why do you think the company spends…