No matter where you travel or who you meet, you learn something new that changes your perspective in a positive way. Interactions with different cultures in iconic, far-flung places, or even with people of diverse backgrounds in your own city, ultimately teach you more about yourself and the world around you. For many Americans—like myself—our first introduction to foreign lands happens in Disney–“the Happiest Place on Earth"–which offers a fascinating cultural melting pot of people from across the globe.
Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in 1955, and later welcomed visitors to a larger park resort—Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida—in 1971. He wanted to build a place for adults and children to share in cultural exploration, with a bit of imagination.
“Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning, together with every variety of recreation and fun designed to appeal to everyone,” Walt Disney said.
Disney Parks’ visitors can discover more about different cultures than ever before during Disney World’s Incredible Summer celebration and Disneyland’s Pixar Fest—this is where you can see the lights and fireworks show Together Forever—A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular (Spoiler Alert: My favourite part is when the skeletons from Coco dance on Main Street’s rooftops for Día de Los Muertos).
And while you’re there this summer, Disney will inspire you to seek adventures. As Walt Disney said: “Here you leave today—and visit the worlds of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” See the Disney interpretations first, then book a trip to these five iconic destinations.
Located in the Himalaya of Nepal, the world’s tallest and most famous mountain attracts thousands of courageous and highly experienced climbers in April. Everest presents dangers in an extreme environment, but its beauty and mystery captivates many—even from a great distance. Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom takes adventurists to the tallest attraction in all of the Disney Parks, traveling around the fictional “forbidden mountain” guarded by the yeti, or the creature that is said to inhabit the Himalaya, according to folklore in Nepal. Adventurists discover interesting facts about Everest and the local culture of the Tibetan-inspired village decorated with prayer flags.
Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest coral reef system expands over nearly two thousand miles, and includes the largest collection of coral, tropical fish, dolphins, birds, and other marine life off the coast of Australia. Not only is it one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but it’s the only living thing on earth visible from space. Nemo, arguably the most beloved clownfish, lives in the Great Barrier Reef and the Seas with Nemo and Friends in Epcot highlights his home and the EAC, or the East Australian Current, which transports his friends and family of sea creatures to save him. Here, you can learn what you can do to protect coral reefs and its marine wildlife—but remember you can save their habitats even from your own home.
Redwood National Park
National Parks are America’s greatest natural treasures. The world’s tallest trees on Earth grow in Redwood National Park, but lesser-known prairies, oak woodlands, and wild riverways also fill the park. Grizzly Peak in Disney California Adventure Center pays homage to our great outdoors, particularly California’s vast landscape. Young adventurers can participate in the Wilderness Explorer program with Up’s Russell and Dug as they explore the Redwoods, just in time for National Parks Week.
The most iconic American highway, also known as the Main Street of America, opened in 1926 in response to the great migration west to California. The historic road runs through cities like Tulsa, Oklahoma; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Amarillo, Texas; and Los Angeles, California, where drivers can still see the famous neon signs and quirky, rustic hotels. Take a step back in time to Cars Land in Disneyland where the fictional town of Radiator Springs pays tribute to Route 66 with the looking Cadillac Mountains (inspired by the Cadillac Ranch roadside attraction). Flo’s V8 Café references the vibrant diner scene well known to Route 66 travelers, and visitors get a glimpse of some of the thousands of roadside attractions found along Route 66.
It’s one of the liveliest cities in the world—if not the most animated in the U.S. every Mardi Gras season—and NOLA celebrates its 300th anniversary this year with even more events, festivals, and exhibitions to entertain locals and guests. New Orleans Square welcomes guests with traditional jazz and spicy food, while the haunted mansion awaits those who dare to venture through its eerie hallways. If you escape the ghosts, then take a tour through NOLA’s flowering courtyards surrounded by architecture influenced by French, Creole, and Cajun design.
LEAD IMAGE: Disney wanted to build a place for adults and children to share in cultural exploration, with a bit of imagination.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FINDLAY, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO