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The happiest place on earth: Disney theme parks [an interactive timeline]

Disney theme parks began in 1955 as one humble park bearing the face of a famous mouse. Now they welcome more than 120 million guests to 11 theme parks located in five resorts around the world, from Florida to Tokyo – and in 2014 there’s a brand new Disney theme park due to open in Shanghai.

Although the original Disneyland resort was opened in California in 1955, the largest resort (opened by Walt’s brother, Roy) is in Florida near Orlando. Featuring four theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom – as well as two waterparks – it’s easy to see why Florida is the home of all things Disney.

Iconic Disney rides are instantly recognisable from pictures and videos taken over the years. Have a look at our interactive timeline of Disney theme parks to get a sense of which ones are not-to-be-missed!

Orlando is a hotspot for non-Disney entertainment as well, and visitors can head to famous attractions including SeaWorld and Universal Studios, swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove and enjoy thrilling rides at Busch Gardens. But for many, Disney is the main event – the headline act – and for some, a dream come true.

*Here’s a tip: If you don’t want to be restricted to just the one Disney Park, buy Disneyworld tickets and Park Hopper passes in advance; the passes let you switch between Florida Disney’s six parks without paying separate entrance fees.

The iconic Disney day-out

Visiting Disneyland is easily a bucket-list item for kids. However, the sheer size of it (40 square miles, the same as a large town!) can be really intimidating. So, we’ve planned a day out in Disneyland, visiting some of the oldest and most celebrated rides in the resorts.

In the morning
It’s a good idea to get there early if you want to avoid the crowds, so start at the oldest Florida park, Magic Kingdom, in comfortable shoes before 9am. Hotfoot it over to Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain, the oldest operating rollercoaster in the state, and breeze through the waiting area before heading over to the Pirates of the Caribbean; the inspiration for the successful film franchise starring Johnny Depp.

In the afternoon
Head over to EPCOT and take a journey through 40,000 years of human history in this park’s iconic golf-ball time machine. A not-be-missed ride is Mission Space, which simulates an astronaut’s mission to Mars, while adrenaline junkies can take a hang glide over California in Soarin’.

In the evening
Time to cool down after a day’s excitement on a sunset ferry to Disney Hollywood Studios and watch one of Disney’s slick live shows that feature beloved characters like The Little Mermaid or Belle from Beauty and the Beast. While you’re heading back to your hotel, don’t forget to watch out for the nightly fireworks show over Magic Kingdom’s iconic castle!

Have you been to Disneyland? Tell us about it in the comments!