Ranking the Disney theme parks: What is the world's best Disney park?
Written by Robert NilesOver the past 12 months, I've had the good fortune to visit 10 of the 11 Disney theme parks around the world. (And, yes, that is just as much fun as it sounds!) So why not wrap up my Grand Tour de Disney with a blog post ranking the 10 parks I visited?
Published: July 31, 2012 at 12:02 PM
To rank the parks, I considered each of them head-to-head against each other, then ranked them in the order in which I'd most want to visit each of them for a full day. In doing that, I tried to consider each park on an equal basis - assuming a sunny, 78-degree day with an average crowd level, no rides down for refurbishment, and an equal amount of time since I'd last visited all the parks. In other words, on a perfect day. :^)
The weather factor is important, because, let's face it, if you've got one day in February to visit any Disney theme park in the world, you're probably going to pick Florida, simply because of the weather. But I wanted these rankings to reflect the quality of the parks themselves, and not where they sit on the globe.
Also, Hong Kong Disneyland's not on the list because it is the 11th park - the one I didn't visit this year. (FWIW, I'm thinking about a visit to HKDL in 2014, after the park finishes its current expansion next year.)
What I decided was that there was one clear winner at the top of the rankings, one clear loser at the bottom, and the eight other parks bunched pretty close together in between. But I nitpicked to get a 2 through 9 ranking for those, anyway.
So here it is: Robert's rankings of theme parks at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Disneyland Paris Resort.
Theme Park Insider readers named DisneySea not just the best Disney park, but the best theme park in the world overall this year, and I wholeheartedly agree. By any standard I can imagine, Tokyo DisneySea offers the world's premiere theme park experience, with lushly decorated and immersively themed lands hosting some of the world's most engaging theme park attractions. The clear number one.
Now, we start the tough decisions. I think Theme Park Insider underrate Tokyo Disneyland - its attractions simply don't get many votes on the site, leaving it ineligible for consideration on our top parks and attractions lists. But I rate Tokyo Disneyland as the best of Disney's "Magic Kingdom" parks. Not only does it offer as many attractions as the original Disneyland in Anaheim, it offers what I think are the best versions of several classic Disney attractions, including Splash Mountain and my beloved Tom Sawyer Island. Tokyo's Pooh's Hunny Hunt (which was down for rehab when I visited) has won raves for its innovative ride system and clever setting, and I think Tokyo Disneyland offers the best staffing and food selection of any Magic Kingdom park, by far.
The original Disneyland's nearly as good as Tokyo Disneyland, but falls behind it on several details. The closed fort on Tom Sawyer's Island. Fewer cast members staffing queues. Food that's good, but too rarely great. Disneyland does have the new Star Tours and a better Tiki Room, but I loved the Monsters Inc. flashlight tag and the awesome Queen of Hearts restaurant in Japan, so I'm still giving the nod to Tokyo. But if I can't go to Japan, there's no other Disney parks I'd rather visit than the original.
You can't call DCA in the fourth slot a shocker, since Theme Park Insider readers have named it the third-best park in the world this year, after DisneySea and the original Disneyland. Cars Land gets so much of the recent attention, but I think it's Buena Vista Street that's elevated California Adventure to elite status, making this one of the most comfortable theme parks in the world to visit. It's just a fun place to hang out - and so many of the new rides, including Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania and, yes, even Luigi's Flying Tires, are just awesome.
The next four spots might as well be ties, as far as I'm concerned. But I give the nod to Paris because of its best-in-the-world version of Big Thunder and Space Mountains, as well as its innovate takes on the Mansion and Pirates. (Of course, if you visit in winter, when Thunder and the Indiana Jones coasters are closed, Paris falls far in the rankings. But I said I wouldn't consider weather.) The mediocre counter service food almost cost Paris the fifth spot, but the wonderful Walt's kept Paris in the top half of all Disney parks for me. Plus, you gotta love a castle with a dragon in the basement.
It's really hard for me to rate this park right now, with the much-anticipated Fantasyland expansion nearing completion. The Magic Kingdom ties Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios among Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in our ratings for the number of highly-rated attractions, but the park's depth puts it in the lead among WDW parks for me. And the one-two combination of the fried chicken waffle sandwich and citrus swirl helps seal the deal, too.
With Kilimanjaro Safaris and Maharajah Jungle Trek, Animal Kingdom offers two of the better attractions that are unique to a single Disney theme park. And I love the Finding Nemo and Lion King live shows, as well. If Disney would just fix the damned Disco Yeti, Animal Kingdom would move into the number five spot on my list. And Avatar might push it even higher. But I refuse to move Animal Kingdom any higher until Disney fixes some of the troubling maintenance issues in the park, including the Yeti, the disintegrating Tree of Life, and the scummy waterways.
My first draft of this list placed Epcot much higher. But as I started looking at your attraction ratings, I realized that I love Epcot as a great place to spend a couple hours in the evening: Watch Impressions de France and eat at one of half a dozen great restaurants. But beyond that? Epcot's really fallen behind the other Disney parks - there's just not enough to do here. It's telling that Epcot's most popular attraction - Soarin' - is a dupe of an attraction that's not even among the top three at California Adventure.
So Hollywood Studios moves ahead of it by default, even though it still has some of the inherent theming flaws of a studio theme park. But DHS still has the world's best version of the Tower of Terror ride (though I continue to prefer DisneySea's theme and preshow) and great attractions in Toy Story Midway Mania and the new Star Tours.
And speaking of Tower of Terror, here's another big drop. ;^) I said all have I to say about this woeful theme park here.
Not rated - Hong Kong Disneyland
Hong Kong Disneyland opened with a fraction of the attractions we've come to expect from a Magic Kingdom park, but the park's in the midst of a major expansion that just added the Grizzly Peak land and will see a new Mystic Manor attraction next year.
I hope you'll notice that all of the Walt Disney World theme parks ended up in the bottom half of my list. And that's the message I'm hoping to send with this list: If you're a Disney theme park fan and the only Disney resort you ever visit is Walt Disney World, you're missing out on the best that Disney has to offer.
Yes, visiting Japan or France is expensive for Americans. But if you love theme parks, I think you'll be thankful one day if you do make the effort to plan a trip to one of the top Disney theme parks. Maybe it'll take 10 years put aside the money. Maybe you'll have to wait until after the kids are grown (and you won't have to pay the airfare to take them along). But if you get started planning now, you're bringing yourself closer to the day when you can walk into Tokyo DisneySea and enjoy the world's best theme park.
Even if Japan's out of reach now, perhaps it's time to consider a trip to Southern California, in the meantime. I think every American family ought to experience a cross-country roadtrip at least once in their lives. You can find good hotel rooms in Anaheim for the same price as in Orlando - and many of those rooms are within walking distance of the parks. The food's better and cheaper than Orlando, too. If you still need to stretch your vacation dollars, spend a day or two at one of Orange County's free beaches. (They're closer than any beach in Florida is to Disney World.) If you love Walt Disney World, I think you'll be amazed by what's happening now at the Disneyland Resort. And spending your dollars in Anaheim helps send a message to Disney that the public supports theme parks that get billion-dollar investments. :^) Maybe if a few Disney World fans switch to Disneyland, Disney will send some more love out Orlando's way to catch up. (And we'll get a better Avatar land out there, sooner rather than later.)
Great theme parks are waiting for you.
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