Universal's Islands of Adventure: North America's Best Theme Park

November 21, 2020, 6:09 PM

Three years ago, I made my first visit to Florida, and while I enjoyed all of the parks I visited, Islands of Adventure stood out above the rest as my favorite. Granted, there were reasons that could have swayed my opinion. Part of it could be first park bias, as it was one of the parks I visited on my first day, but I visited Universal Studios Florida first that day and that's not only my least favorite of Universal's three parks, but my least favorite of all the major Florida parks. Part of it could be Disneyland bias lowering my opinion of WDW, but to be honest I find Magic Kingdom a more enjoyable park to visit than Disneyland these days (even though the rides are inferior), and would take any of Florida's second gates over DCA. Part of it could be that IOA was featured in many of the theme park TV shows that aired when I was a kid, so it's always been a bucket list place to visit. And part of it could be that I spent the most time there (portions of four separate days). Regardless of why, though, I was interested to see if the park would hold up to my high standards on this visit.

On my trip last month, I spent one full day at Islands of Adventure, plus portions of a second day there. I am happy to report that it has maintained its position as Florida's best theme park, and I would go as far as saying it is the best theme park in North America. Such a claim surely deserves some justification, so lets break it down...

Rides: No other theme park I've visited has as diverse of an attraction lineup as Islands of Adventure, nor as complete of a selection, as within the gates of the park, there is truly something for everyone. The park contains four separate quality dark ride attractions, each utilizing different technologies to achieve the desired effect and each offering a different level of thrill, ensuring there will be something for everyone. For those looking for a roller coaster, the park has everything from a tame junior coaster to one of the most intense coasters in the state, plus they've got one (soon to be two) highly themed adventure that immerses guests in the story better than a fair number of dark rides. For those who just want to get wet, the park offers three water rides with different strengths, all of which are guaranteed to cool you off on a hot Florida day. Lastly, a collection of smaller (but well themed) flat rides rounds out the offerings at this park nicely.

Shows: If there is a weak point to Islands of Adventure, this is it. Unlike most theme parks, this one doesn't have a big theatrical production. Instead, their show-based attractions are mostly small scale interactions, or are framed more like a walk-through. That said, the shows they do offer tend to draw a crowd, and complaints about the lack of these are few and far between.

Restaurants: Mythos, the park's signature table service offering, is near the top of the list for theme park restaurants from both a quality perspective and a thematic perspective. As far as I can remember, it is the only full service restaurant at a non-local park that I have taken the time to dine at twice. Beyond that, I generally find the quick service offerings at this park to be of better quality and faster service than those elsewhere, with sufficient offerings to cover all the bases even if there could be a little more originality amongst the menus.

Theming: Islands of Adventure contains eight separate themed areas, all of which are extremely well done and create an immersive environment for guests. Additionally, with the exception of the small Skull Island section (which feels like an extension of Jurassic Park), every section is distinct, adhering to its own unique architecture, color scheme, and atmosphere. While there isn't an overall unifying theme among the islands besides the general concept that each is a different adventure, the different areas complement each other and cover most of the genres visitors are likely to be looking for.

So, is Islands of Adventure the best park in the world? I can't say, as I have yet to visit almost all of the widely renowned parks of Europe and Asia. However, as someone who has been to nearly every noteworthy park in the United States and Canada, I can proclaim Islands of Adventure as the best theme park in North America, at least in my opinion. But, as with everything, that's just one enthusiast's opinion.

Agree or disagree? Got a different park you'd like to nominate for this title? Comment below, and thanks for reading my different musings from last month's Florida trip.

Replies (36)

Edited: November 22, 2020, 4:57 PM

I was last there in 2016, so haven’t been on Hagrid’s MBA yet, or anything else that has been added since. But Universal Studios Hollywood has always been my favorite Universal Park.

Show’s have always been a glaring weakness for IOA, and when you consider that USH has Waterworld and Dark Arts, that’s a pretty big impact. The Special Effects show in Hollywood is a quality show, but if you’ve seen the Horror Makeup Show in USF it likely won’t seem as good. Then there is the rescued pets show at USF, which is nice, but those type of shows always seem so similar between all the different parks.

The Studio Tour gets a lot of points for USH as well. Not only is it unique, but it includes a few quality rides from the Florida parks integrated into it, and is the last place you get to see “jaws” (even if it’s inferior to the old Florida ride).

I’ve been to Mythos, and yes it’s easily the best restaurant within a Universal Park, but the bar isn’t set too high. Disney’s in park dining options, put Universal and SWE’s to shame very easily.

Lastly, the Jurassic World vs Jurassic Park theme makes a big difference too in my opinion, but there could be a shift of power there soon with the velocicoaster.

My favorite park overall ? Hard to pick, especially with how many quality attractions were getting added in recent years. But I would say back in 2016, Busch Gardens Tampa was certainly a great candidate. Unfortunately budget cuts have taken a few things away since then, so until Iron Gwazi gets added, I’d have to say the current park experience has dropped in quality over the past few years.

November 22, 2020, 7:13 PM

I completely respect those who believe Islands of Adventure is the best, but It is not for me.

Taking your points...

Rides: Island's certainly offers an impressive and diverse lineup of attractions. It has weakness in two areas for me: family-friendly dark rides and an overabundance of attractions that make people ill. Aside from Dr. Suess, there is little by way of attractions that really appeal to families with children. And I am not sure what it is, but most people I know (myself included) cannot make it through every ride at Islands without getting quite ill. Forbidden Journey is the worst in this regard, but taken with Spiderman, Kong, and Hulk, it gets unbearable for us.

Theming: I actually do not like the theming in Islands. Potter is obviously fantastic, but Marvel's Superhero and the cartoon area just come off as tacky. This may be simply personal taste, however.

Shows: Agree with you here. Though I'll say Poseidon's Fury is one of my favorite shows merely for the hilarity of it.

Restaurants: There are no restaurants at Islands that I enjoy. Again, I may be the minority, but my family and I were very disappointed in Mythos after all the hype it got on this site. It was too expensive for what it offered.

That being said it is still a fantastic park, it just doesn't do it for me. Instead, I would point to either Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom as the best park in North America. Though I will grant that they have their flaws as well (looking at you DinoLand USA).

November 22, 2020, 8:46 PM

Islands of Adventure is an excellent park. It does offer some of the best theme park attractions I’ve ever ridden. For example, Spider-Man, Harry Potter the Forbidden Journey, and The Hulk. The layout of the park is well designed as well. Mythos is a good restaurant too.

I do, however, agree with Jack H. Islands of Adventure doesn’t offer enough family friendly rides. Most of the rides are roller coasters, and rides that may be too intense for children to ride. The park tends to cater towards teenagers, and young adults. Where as Disney caters more to children, and families.

My overall favorite North American theme park is still Disneyland. Growing up in New York, I’ve visited Disney World, more than I’ve visited Disneyland. However, Disneyland has a certain nostalgia about it...that can’t be replicated in other theme parks. Although Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom share many of the the same rides...Disneyland’s versions are superior.

Disneyland is much easier to navigate. I typically stay at the Grand Californian Hotel, and it’s very easy to visit both theme parks. I also enjoy Downtown Disney, before entering the parks. The Napa Rose, in the Grand Californian hotel is an excellent restaurant. The Blue Bayou Restaurant is also very good.

As good as Islands of Adventure is, to me, it still doesn’t top Disneyland. It’s the original. The one that started it all. The old saying goes, “nothing beats the original.”

November 23, 2020, 1:15 AM

While definitely in my top five, I don’t think I can name Islands my favorite since I haven’t ridden Hagrid yet. Between Cars Land, Toy Story Mania/Soarin’, and the fun spirit of the park overall, CA Adventure wins best North American park in my book. That could very well change with Hagrid and the Velocicoaster however if the latter is as well-themed as the Potter rides...

November 23, 2020, 9:51 AM

To each his own. I still prefer Disney Springs over IOA.

November 23, 2020, 10:45 AM

Sorry, but IOA isn't even the best park at Universal Orlando. IOA may have been the top park a few years ago, but there are too many stale areas of IOA that really drag it down.

1. Suess Landing may get a new coat of paint every year or 2, but the land as a whole needs improvement. Cat in the Hat is a fine dark ride for a mid-tier park, but is really showing its age. There is also a lot of wasted space in this land.

2. Lost Continent is a complete waste now with the Sinbad show gone. It's basically Mythos, Poseidon, and a bunch of great theming that serves no purpose. I love the look of this area, but without any major attractions, it's just a walk-thru now. You talk about shows, but Sinbad was THE show for IOA, and its demise has really dragged this park down in terms of live entertainment.

3. I haven't been since Hagrid's opened, and obviously Velicicoaster is on the way, but in terms of overall attractions, IOA is still lacking. Over the past 20 years, IOA has only gained 2 net rides over that period (Kong: Skull Island and Forbidden Journey). Think about that for a second....

4. If you're not a fan of water rides or coasters, IOA is not a terribly fun place. Also, having two of the water rides in a land with IP that no longer resonates with the modern guest is a HUGE problem. Toon Lagoon is a clever concept, but is in need of an overhaul. Also, I understand why the park's 3 big water rides are all pretty close to each over, but logistically can be an issue for guests.

I don't think any park is truly perfect, but IOA might have been close back in the 00's, but its overall lack of growth and allowing certain areas of the park to linger unchanged for too long keeps it from being a top park in my mind.

November 23, 2020, 11:32 AM

RM: "Over the past 20 years, IOA has only gained 2 net rides over that period (Kong: Skull Island and Forbidden Journey)."

Me: GASP! That's pretty frickin' astounding. Did you count the Triceratops Encounter and that Pterodactyl thing? It might even be lower.

November 23, 2020, 11:48 AM

Those aren't rides, so NO I didn't count them. Not to mention they have 2 HUGE amphitheaters on opposite ends of the park that are sitting EMPTY - one has been sitting empty for nearly 15 years.

Edited: November 23, 2020, 2:37 PM

Enough of the Magic Kingdom bashing - MK is better than Disneyland!
Splash Mountain at MK is better than DL.
Thunder Mountain at MK is better.
Swiss Family Treehouse - better.
Jungle Cruise - better.
Haunted Mansion - better.
Peter Pan - better.
Winnie the Pooh - better.
Snow White - better.
Dumbo and Orbitron - better.
Pirates is longer at DL, but better at MK. (boom)
Main Street USA - better.
Tomorrowland - better.
Adventureland - better.
The castle - better.
Layout and spacing - better.
Fireworks and castle show - better.
Plus Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, The Peoplemover and TRON at MK make it better than Disneyland.

November 23, 2020, 2:49 PM

Sorry Keith, can't agree there.

BTMRR at DL is loads better than MK because of the new affects on Lift C.

The 2 Jungle Cruises are virtually identical, except that skippers at DL are more likely to have taken real acting lesson living in the LA area. I have NEVER had a bad skipper at DL, whereas I've had a couple of generic/boring skippers at WDW. I think given that the experience is based solely on a human performance, it's difficult to say one version is better than the other.

DL has Galaxy's Edge, Star Tours, Nemo, Matterhorn, and Indy, which MK doesn't have. Those attractions alone top virtually anything at MK. DL's Space Mountain is superior to MKs, and DL has all the extra Fantasyland rides (the Peter Pan rides are virtually the same, so I don't understand how you can say MKs is markedly better).

Fantasmic! on the Rivers of America is a million times better than any castle show at MK.

November 23, 2020, 3:03 PM

@Keith-

It seems that your opinion is very subjective... but Disneyland is objectively better in every way. /s

In all seriousness, IOA is in fact a great park. It's 2nd on my list and every visit I've had has been fun. However, I wouldn't call it North America's best park. That would be Disneyland. Everyone else has already stated why and I'd agree, but I really want to drive home the importance of ride lineup and overall ambience.

The ride lineup at IOA is pretty good, dont get me wrong, but it's missing family attractions. Like @Jack said, there isn't much that appeals to children and families. Apart from Seuss landing, which isn't even that impressive, the only other "family attractions" are Storm Force Acceleration, Flight of the Hypogriff, and Camp Jurassic. I think we can agree that these attractions, while fun, were not the focus of this park. You can tell that Universal did not put in the effort to make entertaining family rides, apart from Camp Jurassic cuz that area is cool.

In almost every land at Disneyland, there is so much kinetic energy happening. Main street has the car, trolleys, horses, and bands playing. Tomorrowland has the Astro Orbitor, NOS and Frontierland has the Rivers of America with the two ships and canoes passing by, Fantasyland has the carousel, casey's train, and storybook land canal boats, and every land also has the Disneyland train passing through (except GE). Upon all this, there are (well were, they all got fired) multiple daily performances in Frontierland, Main street, and NOS. Everywhere you look, something is always happening. With IOA, that is not the case. While yes you can look at Hulk or Velocicoaster from anywhere in the park, I'd argue that coasters do not add to kinetic energy. You can go to SFMM and everywhere you look theres coasters, but there is still something missing. The only kinetic energy in IOA are the characters that walk around Marvel land, the performers in Hogsmeade... and I think thats it (someone correct me if I'm wrong).

The music in the entry area though is amazing and really sets the tone for the rest of the park.

Edited: November 23, 2020, 3:08 PM

@KeithSchneider, I never said Magic Kingdom wasn’t a great park...because it is. I just prefer Disneyland over Magic Kingdom.
Splash Mountain - they are pretty much equal. But I would still take Disneyland’s version, since it’s the original one.
Space Mountain - Better at Disneyland. They change it for Halloween to Ghost Galaxy, and Hyperspace Mountain.
Thunder Mountain- Better at Disneyland.
Haunted Mansion- I may give a slight edge to Magic Kingdom. However, I like when they overhaul it for the Nightmare Before Christmas.
It’s a Small World - Better at Disneyland.
Pirates - Better at Disneyland. Not only is it longer, going past the Blue Bayou adds ambiance to it, that you don’t get at Disney World.
Peter Pan - better at Disneyland. They updated for the 60th anniversary, in 2016. I was there during it.
Winnie the Pooh - basically the same. One isn’t better the other.
Snow White - you can’t really compare them, since it’s two very different rides. The original Snow White is a Disneyland. While Mine Train is at Disney World. Two totally different rides.
Main Street- better at Disneyland. It has a certain nostalgia. Walt, himself, walked the street, and even stayed in a room on Main Street.
Tomorrowland - I will give that to Disney World.
Adventureland - basically the same. It’s a toss up.
The Castle - Yes, Cinderella castle is bigger. But bigger doesn’t necessarily always mean better. I prefer Sleeping Beauty Castle. It’s more quant. Plus, they just redid the castle.
Fantasyland - Better at Disneyland. They have the original 1955 opening day rides, such as Toad, Snow White, and Peter Pan. Plus, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, and Storybook Land Canal Boats.
Disneyland also has rides such as Indiana Jones, Matterhorn, Roger Rabbit, Star Tours, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Finding Nemo that Orlando doesn’t have.
I also like the fact that Galaxy Edge in in the park, and you don’t need to travel to another park, like in Disney World.

Edited: November 23, 2020, 5:33 PM

Galaxy’s Edge was a mistake to place in DL. Compared to SWGE, Disneyland is small and claustrophobic. Galaxy’s Edge is open and spacious. Entering SWGE after walking through most of DL is rather jarring. Unfortunately, the design of SWGE exposes DL’s most glaring weakness, its lack of space. Compared to the other lands in DL, SWGE sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t add to the aesthetic of DL, it detracts from it. In the end, SWGE should have been placed in DCA and not DL.

November 23, 2020, 5:32 PM

Stormforce and One Fish are the best flat rides in Florida and the thrill and dark ride combo is hard to beat. Entertainment has done away with traditional stadium shows for stuff like the Raptor encounter and Hogwarts projection mapping shows. Theming and detail are still top notch in every land except for Jurassic which is getting plussed for the new ride.

November 23, 2020, 5:35 PM

BTW, The Hall of Presidents is better than Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Edited: November 23, 2020, 6:50 PM

As far as Disneyland’s space, that’s the only drawback one can say about it. The resort just happens to be built in the middle of the city of Anaheim. The amount of space they have is limited. As opposed to Disney World, where Disney bought acres upon acres of land. They basically have their own city in Florida.

Unfortunately, Disneyland doesn’t have the same access to that amount of space. I agree, Galaxy Edge could have fit into California Adventure a bit better. But I don’t think it’s location in Disneyland takes anything away from its ambiance.

I have to disagree that the Hall of Presidents is better than Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. I wouldn’t say one is greater than the other. To be honest, the American Adventure is the best out of the three historical shows.

November 23, 2020, 7:12 PM

@Aaron-

"Stormforce and One Fish are the best flat rides in Florida"

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not... I hope you are

November 23, 2020, 7:50 PM

The One Fish song is amazing and the interactivity makes it endlessly re rideable. Stormforce’s lighting package makes it the best night ride at Universal.

November 23, 2020, 10:52 PM

Haha, well then

Edited: November 24, 2020, 6:02 AM

While I agree mostly with what Aaron says, after MUCH analysis I can only rate the song a 7.6 out of 10. So in other words, the song comes up a little short of an “amazing” distinction, in my book.

Could I ride it from the moment the gates open, until park closing ? Without a doubt !

November 24, 2020, 10:59 AM

As someone who grew up going to MK but moved out to Los Angeles after graduating from college, I think both parks are magnificent, and it truly is a matter of personal preference. Disneyland has an incredible attraction slate and a one-of-a-kind nostalgia, while MK is just an absolutely grand, regal place. Even though they are sister parks, it is almost like comparing apples and oranges; the commonalities they share are worth debating over which park's version is superior, but there are enough unique qualities in each to truly differentiate their experiences from one another.
TL;DR: Both parks are incredible. Neither is markedly worse than the other.

November 24, 2020, 11:22 AM


IOA is by far our favorite park in Florida. It has everything from water rides, coasters, Themed rides, dark rides and some attractions for the young ones.

Yes, they do cater to an older crowd compared to Disney younger crowd. That for me is one of the best parts of IOA, never see child meltdowns at 10 PM and no stroller wars.

It was my second time visiting Orlando and we decided (after looking at the pamphlets at the Sheraton Vistana resort) to try Universal.. We bought a 2-park ticket for one day. We had no clue what to expect since we were new to vacationing in Orlando.

First, we went to the USF side, we enjoyed it very much. But when we hit the IOA side with only two hours of operation left in the day, we quickly fell in Love with IOA… And have never looked back. My wife went on Hulk and I took my daughter to the water rides. We quickly ran out of time for the Day… Now we never miss hitting Universal when in Florida.

Also Busch Gardens Tampa is a great park for rides but if not often mentioned.

November 24, 2020, 1:31 PM

@KeithSchneider

I would have to say that FL and CA are very different:

As for who I would say has the best version:

Florida
Haunted Mansion (More scenes, more story, interactive queue)
Splash Mountain (More contenuity, story easier to follow, better sound and lighting)
Jungle Cruise (Longer version, the temple, better queue)

California
Pirates (Launch area, more of a throwback and homage to Pirate lore, 2 drops, the ending scene and going up a waterfall)

Thunder Mountain (Special effects alone, not even by a nose) MK is now going to recreate same effects)

Adventure of Winney the Pooh, (Placement in Critter county, woods, and outdoor queue give this the nod)
Space Mountain, (Smooth, great sound, and better visual effects)

Disenyland RR: (Pre-Historic Area, Grand Canyon, The new tress bridge, the reworked scenes and the inclusion of the Columbia River Basin.) Alo used to enhance staging for a night time show.

Of cousre FL has wider concourses as it was created 16 years later and is far easier to walk through.

Looking further, I am also a little curious with your GE reference, each land is unique with the exceptions of the rides. Disneyland has 3 perspective entrances that open to different parts of the story. Also, more forrest area. It also includes a smaller expansion pad. If I gave any nod to Florida's version, it is that it will receive furute considerations for a shows/dinning experiences.

Let's also consider that if you want GE, Star Tours and Indiana Jones, you will get all of them in CA's version of the Magic Kingdom. At WDW, your going to Hollywood Studios. If I only have 1 day, I'm visting Disneyland.

November 24, 2020, 3:55 PM

For also "best" in DL, obvious It's a Small World has the fantastic clock stuff although a debate can be made over whether the characters in the ride is good or not.

I go with Pirates better in DL and Mansion in WDW (especially after the rehaul) but obviously DL gets an edge with the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.

I'm just amused how a talk on IOA transformed into the classic Disneyland vs WDW debate....

Edited: November 24, 2020, 4:11 PM

Wow, this spawned quite a discussion! Lots of very good points here from many different parties, and several park nominations as well. I guess it's my turn to explain why said parks fall short of Islands of Adventure for me.

Busch Gardens Tampa: An outstanding park (probably top 10 for me), and actually one I enjoy more than any Walt Disney World park individually. The reason this one falls a bit short is because it is so coaster dominant, with a very small number of worthwhile attractions for those who aren't into dynamic ride experiences. Williamsburg on the whole offers a more rounded experience, however, and if they still had Curse of DarKastle it would probably be on par with Universal for me.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: While much improved with the recent additions, I still feel this park falls a bit short of the Disney castle parks. It has a wonderful collection of E-tickets, but very few quality attractions of lower scale, and many of the older attractions are starting to show their age (particularly the shows). In my opinion, DHS is also weakened slightly by using themes that aren't quite removed enough from the real world to feel immersive, especially if the Toy Story and Star Wars areas are excluded.

Disney's Animal Kingdom: I love this park, and I was really disappointed that I was unable to fit it into my most recent trip. That said, of the four parks in Walt Disney World, this one has the lowest quantity of attractions, with only a handful that feel worthwhile on a return visit. Theming is spectacular, shows are great, food offerings are the best in the parks (except perhaps World Showcase), but ultimately I visit theme parks for the rides, which is why this one falls short for me.

Disneyland: Confession time...if you wind the clock back ten years, Disneyland easily wins for best theme park. For those who are non-local and only visit every couple years (or even less frequently), I definitely see it still holding the magic. However, as someone who has lived local to the park for my entire life, I've watched the experience degrade over time (especially since the mid-2000s), and as such my opinion of the park has slipped. It's still a spectacular park and one that I love visiting, but it doesn't have quite the same magic anymore and too many visits have had frustration lately. I suspect I'd feel the same about Florida's parks if I lived in Orlando, but the fact that I only visit once every few years probably makes me feel about them the way a non-Californian feels about Disneyland.

Disney California Adventure Park: Not only does this have the same issues as Disneyland, but the changes over the past few years have actually rendered it as my least favorite Disney park in North America. Cars Land is great and Guardians is spectacular, but Pixar Pier was a significant downgrade and the park as a whole feels like a random mishmash of ideas with no clear identity. If they had stuck to the California theme while improving quality, the park would have been spectacular. Instead, it feels like a dumping ground for IP Disney can't fit in elsewhere rather than cohesive park.

Disney Springs: After visiting it this trip, I consider it less of a theme park than my local shopping center. Next!

Magic Kingdom: Here's the conundrum here...on a technical level, I think Disneyland is the better park, as they've got more attractions (especially modern attractions) and more variety in their offerings. However, I find Magic Kingdom the more enjoyable park to visit, as it handles crowds well and generally has more detailed theming. That said, Magic Kingdom does have the issue of lacking attractions aimed at older children, which knocks it back a peg (Tron will help in that respect). It is a fantastic park, and with a couple more modern, more adult attractions it could probably overtake Disneyland (and possibly even IOA), but the current offerings skew too young for it to top the list.

And since this thread has turned a bit into Disneyland vs. Magic Kingdom, here's how I weigh in on which has the superior version...

Superior at Disneyland:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Enchanted Tiki Room
Gadget's Go Coaster
It's a Small World
Peter Pan's Flight
Pirates of the Caribbean
Space Mountain
Railroad
Castle
Parades
Theming for Fantasyland, Main Street, and New Orleans Square

Superior at Magic Kingdom:

Haunted Mansion
Jungle Cruise
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Snow White (though both attractions are so different it's not really fair)
Splash Mountain
Tomorrowland Speedway
Treehouse
Fireworks
Theming for Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland
Layout and scale

Toss-Up:

Buzz Lightyear (better ride at MK, better gaming at DL)

I'd also say that for the most part, the Disneyland attractions that don't exist at Magic Kingdom are better than the Magic Kingdom attractions that don't exist at Disneyland.

Edited: November 24, 2020, 8:20 PM

AJ, I have to respectfully disagree with your castle assessment. Magic Kingdom has the better castle! Cinderella’s Castle is THE ultimate weenie. It‘s a definitive upgrade from Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. There’s just nothing like getting a glimpse of the castle from Seven Seas Lagoon or the monorail before entering the park. And then to view it from town square of Main Street USA (MK’s is better than DL’s) is magical! Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle can barely be seen from inside the park unless at the hub.
Yes, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle has the charming walkthrough tour, but Cinderella’s Castle has Cinderella’s Royal Table, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the Dream Suite. Nothing at WDW or DLR tops it, literally. Not to mention, it is the icon of Walt Disney Productions. So, Cinderella’s Castle gets the nod over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, no contest.

Edited: November 24, 2020, 7:47 PM

AJ, I also have to respectfully disagree with your Peter Pan assessment. Magic Kingdom has the better Peter Pan’s Flight! We all can agree that Peter Pan is a short ride, and any chance to lengthen the ride time to savor the experience is a bonus. DL’s Peter Pan ride time is about 2:15 and MK’s ride time is about 3:00. Magic Kingdom’s Peter Pan offers 33% more ride time! Also, MK’s Peter Pan has a more detailed London from a slightly higher perspective as well as a more detailed Neverland from a much closer perspective (including a look down into the volcano!).
Yes, DL’s Peter Pan has added special effects that enhance the ride, but MK’s Peter Pan has better laid out scenes (including Hook and Pan sword fighting from high atop the Jolly Roger) and the highly detailed queue through the Darling family home. So, Magic Kingdom’s Peter Pan gets the nod over Disneyland’s Peter Pan, decisively.

November 24, 2020, 9:08 PM

Keith, those are fair arguments. Here's my thoughts...

If you were to look at the castles independently, Magic Kingdom's is far grander and iconic. However, I do feel it throws the proportion of other elements in the park a bit out of whack because it is such a dominant structure. For that reason, I prefer the smaller Disneyland castle that is large enough when you're nearby but small enough to not overshadow everything else. I also like the fact that you can't see it until you're on Main Street, as to me that draws you in more since you need to get close to actually see the full thing properly. I suppose this one could be moved to the toss-up category for me, where Magic Kingdom has the better castle but Disneyland incorporates it better into the park design.

As for Peter Pan's Flight, I have admittedly only ridden Florida's one time while I've ridden the installation at Disneyland more times than I can count, but I remember the Florida incarnation being very forgettable. To me, Florida's felt more like the omnimovers where the scenes run on a loop, making it feel like a passive experience that doesn't fit the idea of the ride. Disneyland's, on the other hand, spaces out the vehicles enough that each scene activates as you go past, allowing for more detail in the scenes themselves. Yes, half the ride is still occupied by flying over models that could use an upgrade and it is shorter than Magic Kingdom's (though not by 45 seconds...more like 20-30), but I think the pacing is better in California, not to mention the superior soundtrack. Like many Disney attractions, I do feel there is a strong bias toward which you rode first and/or which you rode as a child. For me, Florida's fell flat. For someone who grew up going to Magic Kingdom, I can see Disneyland's being a bit disappointing (personally I find both among the more overrated Disney attractions, but that's a discussion for another time).

Edited: November 24, 2020, 9:46 PM

AJ, very good counterpoints! It’s great to get some meaningful pushback.
As for the Tiki Room, Magic Kingdom’s loss of the enchanted fountain during its most recent renovation was a huge loss. I also miss the enjoyable sing-along (and whistle-along) that still exists at DL’s Tiki Room. Though, the unobstructed views of the magical island setting outside of the Tiki Room windows is a big plus in Magic Kingdom’s favor. But yeah, Disneyland has a better Enchanted Tiki Room. Point to Disneyland.

Edited: November 25, 2020, 6:24 AM

As an East Coast guy, who has been to Disney World more times than Disneyland, I prefer Disneyland. Appreciating the less frequent trips more could certainly be a factor, but is not everything.

Here are my comments on the comparison already made:

Superior at Disneyland:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Agree. But I usually skip this ride.
Enchanted Tiki Room - Agree. It’s actually the pre-show that makes the difference for me.
Gadget's Go Coaster - No opinion, and this shouldn’t be too much of a factor in the big picture.
It's a Small World - Agree, no contest here.
Peter Pan's Flight - No opinion, I tend to skip the ride at both due to slow moving lines.
Pirates of the Caribbean - Agree, and it’s not even close.
Space Mountain - Agree, better car type and I like the ghost galaxy version as well.
Railroad - Agree, it’s more than just an open air train ride here.
Castle - Disagree, and it’s not close.
Parades - Agree. Paint the Night
Theming for Fantasyland, Main Street, and New Orleans Square - Agree

Superior at Magic Kingdom:

Haunted Mansion - Disagree. Haunted Mansion holiday blows away the normal version.
Jungle Cruise - No opinion. I could never tell a difference between the two.
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - No opinion. I always find an excuse to skip it.
Snow White (though both attractions are so different it's not really fair) - Agree (to both)
Splash Mountain - Disagree. They are close enough to each other, but log design is correct at DL
Tomorrowland Speedway - No opinion. I don’t waste time on either (and they don’t belong in TL)
Treehouse - Disagree. This is a kids thing, and most kids don’t know about Swiss Famiky Robinson
Fireworks - Disagree, but in fairness when I’ve been at DL, there usually is a special show going on.
Theming for Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland - Agree on TM for sure. The other two I’m not as sure about.
Layout and scale - Disagree. I give DL the nod, for doing more with less.

Toss-Up:

Buzz Lightyear (better ride at MK, better gaming at DL) - No opinion. I hate those shooting game rides.

I'd also say that for the most part, the Disneyland attractions that don't exist at Magic Kingdom are better than the Magic Kingdom attractions that don't exist at Disneyland. - Agree, and I’ll give DL an extra point just for NOT having the Country Bear Jamboree.

Omitted Items:
Casey Jr Train - Magic Kingdim’s soak station gets the nod.
Dining - This one Magic Kingdom wins hands down. Be Our Guest makes a big difference all in itself.
Traditional Weather - SoCal is way better in this department.

November 25, 2020, 11:11 AM

@ AJ I'll bet your local shopping center is AWESOME!

November 25, 2020, 11:29 AM

It is interesting to me to see the DL rides not at WDW like Indiana Jones and Star Tours being in the DL Tomorrowland sparks it up more. I just wish DL would bring back the People Mover, an underrated WDW gem that deserves a new life.

But do give DL credit for keeping the submarines, I still miss 20,000 Leagues, slow waits and all.

Edited: November 25, 2020, 4:09 PM

AJ, I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of California Adventure. I do agree that Disney should have stuck to the original California theme. I also agree that some rides have been mixed in, and don’t necessarily fit the theme. However, it’s still overall a very good park. Not my absolute favorite, yet, I wouldn’t call it my least favorite Disney park.

As you said, Cars Land, and Guardians of the Galaxy are spectacular. One can argue that Radiator Springs may be the best Disney attraction...at least in North America. Guardians was a great update to Tower of Terror. Soarin” is another great ride. Grizzly River Run is fun, especially during the summer months. The Incredicoaster was a nice update to California Screamin’. I love Buena Vista Street. It’s a throwback to old Hollywood.

I feel California Adventure is a better park overall then Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Yes, Hollywood Studios has Galaxy’s Edge, and Toy Story Land. However, before that, I felt the park was becoming outdated. Galaxy’s Edge, and Slinky Dog definitely brought back more attention, and interest to the park for me.

Animal Kingdom is a nice park to walk around, but it lacks overall attractions. Yes, Flight of Passage is spectacular. Again, one can argue it’s the best Disney ride in North America. Expedition Everest is another excellent ride too. But...that’s pretty much it. The animals are nice. But I live in New York. If I want to see animals, I can just go to the Bronx Zoo. When I’m at Disney, I’m looking to go on rides.

Overall, California Adventure is a very good park. It’s not my #1. That would be Disneyland Park. But, in my opinion, it’s still better then Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

November 26, 2020, 2:11 AM

Timbo, I do think part of the dislike I have for DCA is definitely due to visit frequency. In a typical year, I'll spend at least a few days at the parks, and sometimes go as frequently as once a month (though every two to three months is more typical). By comparison, I've visited Walt Disney World only twice. Hollywood Studios was indeed disappointing on the first visit, but on my most recent one I found the park much improved. Animal Kingdom I have only visited the one time so I'm curious how it will hold up on a revisit because there are really only three standout attractions (Expedition Everest, Flight of Passage, and Kilimanjaro Safaris).

One of the big issues I have with DCA is that I always get tired of the park fairly quickly. For example, when I go for a full 15 hour day, I generally spend approximately four hours of that inside DCA, because that's all the time I need there. On a typical visit to the park, I'll ride Racers, Soarin', Guardians, Grizzly (if it's sufficiently warm) and Incredicoaster, but beyond those five attractions there is very little else of quality at the park. TSMM is worth a go when I can get a Fastpass good within a couple hours, but often you're looking at 4+ hours out for that one, and the only other ride in the park I'll occasionally do is Mermaid. For someone who hasn't visited the park before, or someone who visits infrequently (at most once a year), there's enough to fill a full day, but the park just has too many one and done attractions among a relatively small attraction lineup (about the same as DHS, especially if flat rides are excluded). By comparison, DHS has at least eight attractions I'd consider worthwhile, and while the shows are definitely dated the help round out the park.

My other big issue with the park is the constant downgrading of attractions. Soarin' Over California was great, and while Soarin' Around the World is still good it is inferior to the old version. As much as I love Guardians, I miss the former Tower of Terror and feel that was a better overall attraction. Pixar Pier is awful, and the Incredibles overlay actually decreased my opinion of California Screamin'. But the worst offender might be ending Aladdin, possibly the best performance I've ever seen inside a theme park, and replacing it with a dull Frozen stage adaptation that couldn't even last five years. That leads to another issue I have with the park...DCA is the weakest Disney park in the US in terms of shows, with my least favorite of the nighttime spectaculars (though I haven't seen DHS's yet) and nothing else really worth watching.

I know DCA has its fans (your opinion is certainly a valid one), and I even have some friends who prefer it to Disneyland, but to me the park has slowly slid downhill since Cars Land and really fallen apart in the past few years. It is my least favorite Disney park in the US, second least favorite overall (only beating out Walt Disney Studios Paris), and actually lands behind every other Los Angeles area park in my personal rankings. It's not a bad park, but it's also not a park I would be likely to seek out either.

Edited: November 26, 2020, 8:01 AM

AJ, you definitely make valid points. To be honest, if I visited the parks as frequently as you, I would get bored of them too. Since I live in New York, I tend to visit Disneyland every 2-3 years. I last visited summer, 2018. I was supposed to visit this summer, to see Avengers Campus. But obviously due to the Pandemic, it never materialized. I visit Disney World more often, being that Florida is only a 2-hour plane ride, compared to California which is 6 hours, and 3,000 miles from me.

When visiting Disneyland, I always stay at one of the on site hotels. Usually the Grand Californian Hotel, and sometimes the Disneyland Hotel. I don’t typically spend hours upon hours in the park. My family and I will go back to the room, go in the pool, and go back to the parks later on in the day. Especially with kids, it gets to be too much to spend all day, and not take a break.

California Adventure could use more attractions, and in the future, I do feel they will, starting with Avengers Campus. Racers, Guardians, Grizzly, Incredicoaster, and Soarin’ are all excellent rides. Monsters INC, Toy Story, and the Little Mermaid, are nice fill ins. Yes, Soarin” over California was superior to Soarin’ over the world. However, the ride is also at Epcot, not just California Adventure. California Adventure actually brought back the original last year, for a short period. Due to the popularity of Star Wars. I do like the original Tower of Terror, but I also enjoy Guardians. I’ve ridden the original in Hollywood Studios so many times, that it was nice California changed it to Guardians. It’s nice to have a different perspective of the ride, and it’s good to change things sometimes. I actually like Pixar Pier. The area is always popular, and I like the atmosphere from the crowd. The Incredicoaster didn’t change my opinion of the ride. It gave it more of a theme, and a story line to follow. California Adventure could use more shows. Although, they just recently added mickey's philharmagic, from the Magic Kingdom.

Hollywood Studios has improved recently, with the additions of Galaxy’s Edge, and Toy Story Land. Prior to that, there were only a few rides worth visiting for. Animal Kingdom has three (Avatar, Everest, and the Safari) that are worth visiting for. It’s a nice park to walk around. However, for some reason, during the summer months, it’s the hottest of the 4 parks in Disney World. I feel like I’m walking through the jungle, and it gets very warm quickly. To repeat, the animals are nice to see. But I visit Disney for the rides. I can easily visit the Bronx Zoo, and see more animals.

Walt Disney Studios Park, in Paris, is my least favorite Disney park I’ve visited so far. California Adventure is definitely a huge upgrade over that park. California Adventure does have some really good attractions. I feel they will improve the quality of the park in the future. I do enjoy the park. I like the fact that I can park hop between Disneyland park effortlessly. It’s much easier to get around than in Disney World. Where you have to take one of the buses, monorail, or ferry. Overall, I think it’s a very good park.

November 27, 2020, 12:02 AM

A big thing in that "Imagineering" doc series on Disney+ is them openly acknowledging the mess of Disney Studios Paris and how it's a notable mistake of the time.


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