Ranking the Disney theme parks: What is the world's best Disney park?
Over 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?
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.
1. Tokyo DisneySea
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.
2. Tokyo Disneyland
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.
4. Disney California Adventure
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.
5. Disneyland Paris
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.
6. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
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.
7. Disney's Animal Kingdom
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.
8. Disney's Hollywood Studios
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.
10. Walt Disney Studios Paris
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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It's an interesting point you make about Epcot. Going into your list I assumed the two Tokyo parks were 1 & 2 and then I figured Epcot would be 3. When I finally found it in there at 9 and read your reasoning, it really got me thinking.
When I visited Disneyland Paris last December, Big Thunder was certainly open my entire stay, and, if I recall correctly, even on the days it snowed. The fact that you can see the Chateau in the snow is a plus for me, rather than a negative.
We were just visiting DCA and I have to agree with you. It really is one of the more comfortable Disney Park experiences.
I have not been able to travel to the parks outside of the US, but I have to agree on all your assessments. I just got home yesterday from a trip to DLR and DCA and agree. DCA is finally a park that I can spend a whole day in. I do like the new entry (even though it is strongly similar to DHS) but the Carthay Circle Theater and the Red Trolleys make it really enchanting. I will be returning to the parks in early December to see if I can actually ride Radiator Springs with my group rather than opt for the much shorter Single Rider lines (175 min vs. 45). I was disappointed that Luigi's Tires was so short. I would have liked at least 1 more minute (and then another...)I absolutely loved the available character meetings but would like to see a bit better food selection (I had teens that would not eat at FLO'S- EVER!). I disagree about the food overall. When you compare Florida with California, there is no comparison. Our favorite is the French Market. Unique options and fresh choices.
I went to Disney Land California and DCA this spring for the first time ever. I will have to say that it may have been because of the short time I had (just one day at each park) or maybe the fact that there were so many more locals in the parks or I don’t really know for sure, but the parks just did not seem nearly as magical to me as the Florida parks. The cast members running the rides didn’t seem to be into their part nearly as much as at the cast member in the Florida parks either, and seeing the cast members walking through the park wearing something that didn’t fit the theme also took away from the feel a little bit. I will say that Cars land was not open yet so it is hard for me to judge DCA to its new potential. My wife and I just didn’t feel the "magic" nearly as much as in Florida. That being said we did have a great time and it is really hard to judge the U.S. parks because they are all so great in their own way. I also will say that World of Color was our favorite night time show by far that we have ever been to. It was awesome!
I feel that your rankings are pretty much on the mark. Not sure how one working animatronic could move Animal Kingdom two places up, but then I'm not a particularly big fan of Everest or AK. Busch Gardens Tampa is the superior park in my mind.
Long post alert: ye be warned
This is my first post on Theme Park Insider - I've read the site for a long time, but have never previously felt compelled to contribute. However, ever since reading mention that Robert would be ranking the Disney parks I've been anticipating this article, and I'd like to commend him for a great if unexpected analysis. I do however have a couple of comments. As a small piece of background, I've always been enamored with theme parks, but for many years rollercoasters were my main focus. However, over recent years I've found myself more concerned with overall theming and environment over big thrills, and have found myself drawn to the ultimate 'themed' parks - most notably Disney and Universal.
California Adventure higher than Magic Kingdom? No no no no NO.
Hey Andrew, I'm sure Robert may have a different view, but I think it's also possible that being so close to Disneyland can also hurt it.
Thanks for the comments, everyone. Something I'd wished I'd written:
Toy story mania! in disneysea!
I disagree. I feel that the Florida parks are ranked too low, especially after TPI's favorite punching bag:DCA
Why is DHS always ranked so low? I genuinely love it so much and is way better than Animal Kingdom.
I enjoyed reading through these rankings although the only one that causes controversy with me is Tokyo D-land over the original D-land. A quick countown of the attractions missing in Tokyo D-land, but found in Anaheim include:
California Adventure has ALWAYS been a better park than EPCOT, Disney Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios. The park opened in 2001 with more attractions than the later two parks offer today. I would agree that California Adventure has now passed Magic Kingdom.
I haven't been to all Disney parks, only the EU and the Florida ones so I can't judge them by visiting them.
Wow Robert I agree with your listing 100%
Can really agree with much of this list, but can't really say anything for most of the list(only been to USA parks). But there is NO CHANCE AK is better than DHS. Also Robert(and any other commenter who feels like responding), did you notice how you were mostly ranking resorts, not parks? Tokyo parks-1 2 California parks-3 4 WDW parks-6 9. Robert, if you were to rank the DLP resort, would it be before or after WDW?
I think Epcot should be higher on this list, it has the best dining options of any park in the world. The world showcase, although lacking in attractions, makes up for it with all of its dining and drinking possibilities.
I agree with most of it, except for TDL over DL. TDL has hardly it's own identity, or at least that's the way I see it. I don't think that cloning most of the things DL has makes it better than DL.
What a great review! Thank you for posting this! This is my first post here and I found your site by accident.
Let's break down TDL vs DL because, well, because we're geeks.
Pirates better at TDL? No way!
When I went traveling overseas, I never made it to a Disney theme park although I had the chance. It seems like there is a whole new world out there that doesn't involve Disney. The problem with the Disney theme parks is it tries to offer something that the foreign lands already has like more authentic theming and food. Disney works better in America where there is little to do except visit a theme park on occasion. Disney is best enjoyed with the family with children instead of as a tourist diversion especially in Europe where there are more things to see and do.
I think all of us Disneyphiles have waited for this list! Kudos to you Robert for putting it out there. Agree with it or not, you are the expert and have vastly more experience than most of us.
Anon ...I work at San Diego international airport and many people come to the States to visit New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston and San Francisco. Many american cities have a mystique and unique charm to foreigners. Also many people come to visit natural wonders such as the california coast, red woods, grand canyon etc. So there's actually a huge tourist draw here besides theme parks, although that's a big draw too. Don't forget that the US is the second most visited country in the world after france.
I scrolled down this post expecting to see Epcot at number 2 after DisneySea. I am so relieved it wasnt. I say it time and time again - I just dont get it. The only draw there for me will ever be Illuminations, which is without doubt an incredible (and moving) night show.
As of next week, the only one I will have not visited is Tokyo. I need to get there!
The enjoyment from theme parks is not all about the rides. The atmosphere is very important. This is particularly so for the Disney parks. While DCA may previously have been lacking in certain areas, I felt it still had a Disney feel to it, although not as strong as it should have been. The French parks are awful. They simply have no atmosphere, especially WDS where you just do not feel any Disney 'Magic'.
Now I have not been to any Disney parks outside the US and additionally I have not been to DCA post -refurb, but on here it seems that WDW isn't actually the vacation kingdom is soiled up to be. IMO, it's without a doubt my favorite vacation destination in the world. However, I am not blind to its flaws. Such as the constant DVC construction, constant land selling (come on Walt got 30,000 acres for a reason, stop giving it away), and the lack of maintenance on attractions. Look at it this way, WDW constantly ranks high in attendance so Disney does not think anything is wrong; however, of they actually conducted personal surveys based on experience they would see. Epcot is need of attractions, face it. There's a lot of dead space in Epcot. Mainly the "Imagination" pavilion and the Wonders Of Life Pavilion. World Showcase could use an E ticket. Animal Kingdom has made the step in the right direction with Avatar Land. I'll hold my breathe until then. I've given up on the Yeti. I guess it's to expensive for a multi-billion dollar corporation to fix so that's that. Magic Kingdom's west side is ok and New Fantasyland will help out, but Tomorrowland is quite a disgrace at the moment. Especially the eyesore that is Tomorrowland Speedway. If a Tron attraction could make its way onto this land, Magic Kingdom could quite possibly be complete. And now DHS. DHS needs an identity first. Is it going to be a movie studio or is it going to be a theme park. If its going to be a movie studio, then Disney should consider making investments into more soundstages and sets. Now if it takes the theme park route, the studio should take guest into adventures within showbiz. I'm not saying it can't be both, but Disney can't seem to make up its mind.
This ranking is spont on as an international perspective. Most people here are just WDW fanboys here that they don't know anything other than "WDW is the best". I think HKDL should be in top 6 when Mystic Point is ready. And Epcot is definitly overrated as far as I am concerned. WDW is declining and other parks in CA and Asia are rising to a different level. Time has changed. WDW is no longer "the best".
Great article - really cannot wait to see the new DCA and really can't wait to one day get over to Tokyo
I'm sorry I can't agree with your decision to place Disneyland paris ahead of the Disney World Parks. Being from the UK its proabably easier for us to get to paris than the USA, but given the choice I'd chose the American parks any day. Maybe its seeing all the signs in French rather than English I don't know, but for me, the Paris park loses some of the Magic compared to Disney World and Disneyland. Also huge negatives for me for the Paris park are the numnber of people smoking everywhere (in restaurants, in ride queues etc - though I'm hoping this has changed in the last few years) and also the rudeness of some of the continental guests. Joining a line and waiting patiently without any queue jumping, pushing etc just doesn't seem to happen in the Paris parks and the character meet and greets there are a free for all, not as well organised as the American meet and greets which are well organised by cast members. Add to the fact that it is SO expensive to go to the Paris parks, it costs as much for a 3 day/4night stay there as a week in Florida, then its an easy decision as to which park to chose.
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