The Down and Dirty Disney Resorts Guide

The magic of Disney has been translated into everything from personalized parasols to classic films and from enormous resorts to theme parks so big you can't see them all in just one day.The magic of Disney has been translated into everything from personalized parasols to classic films and from enormous resorts to theme parks so big they can't be seen in just one day. And while that magic touches the hearts of many, it's not on the top of every adult's holiday wish list. But when the kids are old enough to have a say in where to spend Christmas, it's time to throw them a bone and take them on a Disney-centric vacation.

Heading for a far-flung Disney resort is a great place to start - book a trip to Disney Tokyo. Same goes for the resorts in Hong Kong, Paris, and, soon, Shanghai.

Related: A Disney Dining Guide

Opening later this month, the Aulani Resort and Spa in Hawaii is a family-friendly resort with a host of activities, dining options, a full service spa, and excursions that have as little to do with Disney as you want them to. Instead, they're focused on all things Hawaii, like Hawaiian cooking courses, kayaking, visiting a museum, or surf lessons.

Disney's Animal Kingdom villas lets guests experience the thrill of having animals all around, along with the magic of Disney - and at a fraction of the cost of a real safari. It may be located within the Animal Kingdom area at Walt Disney World, but they sprung for décor and food that makes visitors think they're in Africa.

The good people at The Daily Meal rounded up the best Disney resorts (there are many) for parents in the market for a kid-perfect vacation without a flock of princesses checking them in.

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The Down and Dirty Disney Resorts Guide

Combining the thrill of traveling to a country like Costa Rica (pictured) or Egypt with the pure kiddie delight of Disney is a smart move for parents looking to avoid Florida. Adventures by Disney books guided tours in a slew of countries around the world that offer family-friendly, and still adventurous, vacations. (No, the guides don’t dress up like Mickey.) For instance, spend 12 nights exploring China (and dining on authentic cuisine) or join the cowboy cookout on a Grand Canyon hike.

The quaint 1940s charm of the Atlantic City boardwalk is the inspiration behind this Florida resort that looks less like Disney and more East Coast boardwalk on steroids. Disney’s Boardwalk Inn has a red and white candy-striped décor and classic boardwalk attractions like fire breathers, salt-water taffy, and arcade games. It also boasts the only working brewpub at Walt Disney World, the Big River Grille and Brewing Works. This hotel also has Disney character-less dining options like a Chef’s tasting wine dinner at the Flying Fish Café and delicious kid-friendly sweets at the Boardwalk Bakery. It's also home to celebrity chef Cat Cora's Greek-inspired eatery, Kouzzina.

This is the newest of the Disney Vacation Club resorts, and the Mouse memorabilia seems to be at a minimum. The Aulani Resort focuses on the natural, lush surrounds of Oahu, Hawaii, with locally-inspired cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Think island-caught fish with tamago and vegetables or tropical fruits for breakfast, steamed Manila clams for lunch, and Hamakua mushroom tarts and the day’s freshest catch for dinner. Tack on local excursions like surf lessons, horseback riding, or a hike nearby (with lunch provided).

Vero Beach Resort may be in Florida, but it’s two whole hours from Disney World. And, it doesn't smack guests in the face with all things Disney. Instead, designers “hid” little Mickeys around the resort so kids and parents both get what they came for (though with a Mickey-shaped pool, “hidden” is somewhat relative.) The Vero Beach Resort is a beachfront hotel with a full-service spa, mini golf course and sing-along campfire. Avoid the Shutters restaurant during Disney Character Dining times and opt for Sonya’s instead — steaks, seafood, and wine pairings go down easier than seven dancing dwarves.

Roughing it with young kids can be risky, considering their potential video game-less boredom in the wild. Taking them to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground offers all the experiences of camping (tents, sleeping bags, s’mores) with the added bonus of Disney-approved activities all around. (There are cabins, too, for the less rugged.)

Mickey’s Backyard BBQ may sound fun, but be warned, it is a Character Dining experience. So, expect crowds and sugar-crazed kids. Instead, make your way to the Trail’s End Restaurant for homestyle dishes like pan-fried catfish, chili, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken. Then, cool off at the Meadow Swimmin’ Hole or take in a movie under the stars.

As much as Walt Disney loved drawing that mouse, he also loved wildlife and was active in conservation projects. On that front, the grounds of Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are inhabited by giraffes, zebras, impalas, flamingos and antelope, among others, and within the resort guests find safari-inspired décor like thatched, woven ceilings, African artifacts and hand-carved columns. Book a table at Jiko, which offers an African-inspired feast featuring dishes like Durban shrimp curry and corn samosas.

Koi ponds, bamboo and rattan décor, and a white-sand lake-beach all serve to create the serene Polynesian paradise of Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Located on the monorail in the Magic Kingdom resort area of Disney World, the hotel is a far cry from “It’s A Small World.” With a Nanea Volcano pool (featuring a 40-foot high “volcano” waterslide), parasailing, waterskiing and a Polynesian fire-knife dance in the evenings, guests may not venture into the park after all. The 'Ohana restaurant features characters from Lilo and Stitch at breakfast, but the resort also offers Asian-inspired dishes all day at the Kona Café. Not even Disney-phobes can resist pineapple macadamia nut pancakes.

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