Ranking the world's best theme parks

January 8, 2020, 6:25 PM · Today we wrap up the 2020 Theme Park Insider Awards with the announcement of our readers' collective choice for Best Theme Park last year. Our winner returns to the top spot after a bit of an absence and is followed on our top 10 parks list by four other former winners of our Best Theme Park honor.

Islands of Adventure

1. Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure had a big year with the debut of Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, our winner this year for Best New Roller Coaster. It also features our Best Table Service Restaurant winner, Mythos Restaurant, and three of our top 10 attractions overall.

Disneyland

2. Disneyland

Attendance might have been down at Walt Disney's original theme park in 2019, but the park looked better than ever thanks to its Project Stardust renovations, and the smaller crowds just made the park's classic attractions all the more enjoyable.

Efteling

3. Efteling

A two-time winner of our Best Park honor, Efteling remains our readers' pick as the best theme park in Europe, with additions to its Fairytale Forest and a new 4D film from Academy Award winners Aardman in 2019.

Tokyo DisneySea

4. Tokyo DisneySea

A six-time winner for Best Park, Tokyo DisneySea continues to wow visitors with its beauty, detail and line-up of amazing attractions, including a new, plussed version of Disney's Soarin' this year.

Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

5. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

Last year's winner in this category returns to the top five after its first full year of operation in 2019. According to our readers, the world's largest indoor theme park is also its best.

Shanghai Disneyland

6. Shanghai Disneyland

Disney's newest theme park continues to impress our readers, with its new take on Pirates of the Caribbean dominating our attraction ratings until Rise of the Resistance opened.

Universal Studios Hollywood

7. Universal Studios Hollywood

The debut Jurassic World highlighted 2019 at Universal's Hollywood park, which continues to impress with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Waterworld stunt show, and the iconic Studio Tour.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

8. Disney's Hollywood Studios

This Walt Disney World park celebrated its 30th birthday this year by wrapping a years-long reconstruction. And, oh yeah, a little thing called "Rise of the Resistance" helped, too.

Disney California Adventure

9. Disney California Adventure

Disneyland's second gate holds its own with several top-rated attractions, including Radiator Springs Racers and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, which will be part of the new Avengers Campus that opens this summer.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

10. Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney World's newest park wins over our readers with its Pandora - The World of Avatar land and some of the most beautiful scenery in any Orlando-area park.

2020 Theme Park Insider Awards:

About Theme Park Insider: Theme Park Insider is a consumer's guide to the world's best theme park resorts, reaching more than five million unique readers via its website annually and winning multiple honors for its reporting, including from the Online Journalism Association and the Webby Awards. Winners of the Theme Park Insider Awards are those locations that received the highest average reader rating, with a minimum number of votes, in their categories over the past year.

Replies (32)

January 8, 2020 at 7:09 PM

What is with the Universal bias in these awards every year? Maybe when IOA opened it was one of the best theme parks in the world, but other than Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I don't think anything else about it is world class about it nowadays. And how in the hell is Portofino the best "luxury resort" ?? If you were to look up mediocre in a dictionary there should be a picture of Portofino. Most of the WDW deluxe and even moderates are far superior in almost every way. Even Royal Pacific, which is right next it, is much nicer.

January 8, 2020 at 7:33 PM

WOW! Congratulations IOA! A well deserved win for Universal. And it will only get better with the upcoming update to Jurassic Park. Hulk is a world-class coaster, Spider-Man and Kong are world-class dark rides, Popeye’s is a world-class rapids ride, Dudley’s is a world-class flume ride, Seuss Landing is a world-class children’s area/land, AND The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the best and most immersive theme park land in the world!

January 8, 2020 at 7:57 PM

I wonder if part of the swing back to UO in these categories has to do with the fact that, with the crowds, FP+ and the obsessive planning needed to secure a ride on your favorite attraction or eat at your favorite restaurant, Disney just isn’t that fun anymore. It’s more like work than a vacation.

At Universal on the other hand, it’s still possible to walk into any table service restaurant without a reservation, and single-rider lines make most attractions accessible, even without that best of onsite hotel perks, Unlimited Express.

Speaking of that, I too agree that Portofino is a bit over-rated for the price. I much prefer RPR myself (though I’m not very happy with their renovations — pretty much kills that lovely 1930s island vibe it had originally ... ). But I’d rate all of Universal’s top tier hotels above anything at Disney due to the value of the express pass.

Overall, Universal just offers a much more relaxing vacation than Disney.

January 8, 2020 at 8:01 PM

I can totally agree with this. Universal is the pro at bringing amazing dark rides to life. Islands of Adventure is a park that is still very well balanced for visitors. It still has one of the most solid attraction line ups of any park as wells as being easy to navigate. Very much looking forward to seeing what’s in store for this great park. All in all the parks are rated very well 1 thru 10.

January 8, 2020 at 8:59 PM

Islands of Adventure has also been ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor the last few years. I think it rates high just because it has a great mix of rides. water, kids ,dark rides. Potter and coasters and with the new coaster coming In the future it’s only going to get better.
Watch any family on Popeyes or Jurassic Park and they are simply having fun rather than thinking 3 months ago we reserved this ride for 2pm to 3 pm and our next ride is scheduled 5 pm and our dinner is reserved at 7

January 8, 2020 at 10:10 PM

Sorry I thought we were going on best theme park for the theme park itself, not most pleasant experience at a decent theme park. Because if that were the case the only Disney theme park on here would be Hong Kong because Disney Sea especially is frustrating as hell. Have you ever been there? The wait times for all of the major attractions are over 100 minutes like all day every day. I have a picture with me standing next to the wait time sign for Toy Story Mania posted at 180 minutes and that was on a cold weekday in spring. And the wait times there are consistently longer than WDW and they don't even offer the reserve in advance nonsense.

But if we're going on best theme park based on the parks merits itself and not the gigantic crowds that descend on it, yes TDS deserves to be on the list. And it is.

January 8, 2020 at 10:08 PM

IOA is an amazing park and I can't wait to ride Hagrids but I'll always have a soft spot for Disneyland. However, how did DCA beat Animal Kingdom? And how did Universal Hollywood beat both of those? I've been to all those parks multiple times and Universal can't compete with AK in my opinion. I haven't been to a park that has surpassed Animal Kingdom's theming and detail. I love the Studio Tour and Forbiddean Journey but I'd rather go on FOP or Expedition Everest.

January 8, 2020 at 11:00 PM

I can't speak for the international parks, but I can say this: As someone who has visited pretty much every major park in the US and Canada, Islands of Adventure remains my single favorite park. Disney World as a whole is superior, but no single park there is as complete as IOA is alone. No matter what type of attraction you're looking for, the park has something that fits the bill, and with the addition of Hagrid's and the Jurassic World coaster next year it only helps to round out the parks offerings.

Of the other US parks, only Disneyland is worthy of inclusion here IMO. None of the secondary Disney gates are sufficient to stand on their own, and USH is a joke compared to either of the parks in Orlando. I can think of at least a dozen parks I consider superior to those without consulting my official rankings. I do think it is a shame that so many great parks in this country get ignored simply because they don't get the visitor counts of the giants, and that is one of the reasons I write such detailed trip reports of my adventures. Everyone who calls themselves a theme park enthusiast should absolutely visit Disneyland, Disney World, and Universal Orlando, but I would challenge anyone who has visited all three to take their next theme park vacation to one of the many other great parks around the country (such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Cedar Point, Dollywood, or Holiday World) and see that if you go beyond the IP giants, you can have just as much fun on a much smaller budget.

January 9, 2020 at 3:49 AM

I love universal, both parks & IOA are fantastic, and I have great, truly amazing times at each. But none of them should top this list.

For me while IOA has some great attractions (I haven't ridden Hagrid's ride but the rest I have done) the overall park is average at best and 1 new ride wont change that. for me it lacks the magic that some of the other parks on this list have.

It certainly lacks the visual amazement factor that DineySea has, nor does it inspire the feelings of wonder that parks like Efteling continue to inspire in me on multiple visits.

Being 100% honest UO and IOA aren't on my radar to return to, even during a return to Orlando. (their 3rd gate might get me into that park, but I won't bother with IOA and UO)

January 9, 2020 at 4:11 AM

"The best" is very subjective.
So yes, fun at a theme park is very important for me and the Disney theme parks aren't fun anymore but work and frustration and that is just not what I'm looking for. Universal Studios Orlando resort is my prefered destination because of that and the amazing selection of rides and entertainment. The quality of the service, cleanliness and hospitality of the team members alo add to the experience.
I love Efteling for a whole other reason. It's unique with their own ip, culture, style and how much amazing rides they create on a relative small budget.

January 9, 2020 at 9:09 AM

I do think IOA is probably one of the most well-rounded parks in the world, but in it's current state, I think it's tough to say it's the best theme park in the world. The Lost Continent is a strange ghost-town like place, and while Dudley Do Right and Bluto's Bilge Barges are two of the best rides of their type anywhere, Toon Lagoon is a land that just doesn't connect with modern theme park audiences. Throw in the Jurassic World coaster construction and insufferable downtime from one of the park's biggest draws, Hagrid's, and there are a lot of warts here, not to mention the complete lack of accessible nighttime entertainment outside of the Hogwarts show that stuffs thousands of guests into a dead end.

The addition of Galaxy's Edge pushes Disneyland ahead of the pack for me. The park is a breeze to visit compared to its Florida siblings, and the shear volume of attractions make it next to impossible to consume in a single day even if lines are short. There's just a wide variety of different things guests can do in Disneyland, making the park infinitely re-visitable.

I haven't been to any of the international parks on this list, but between the top 2 here, I would definitely reverse the rankings. How USH is #7, while EPCOT and MK are nowhere to be found, is beyond me.

January 9, 2020 at 11:49 AM

I agree with IOA being a bit rougher these days even with the Hagrid ride. Disneyland still has that magic few parks can touch but think Universal Hollywood a bit high as it's still mostly the studio tour with a few other rides, not as great as DAK or DHS. I would have put Disneyland first even if IOA can still offer a great day of fun.

January 9, 2020 at 12:14 PM

A bit of perspective... You will find more empty space in the Hagrid's queue than you will find between some of these parks. It's so close between the parks at the top. You can't go wrong with any of them - it's really just a question of which park is the best fit for you or your family.

Another thing to keep in mind about the rankings: It's not just about having great attractions that push up your average - it's also about not having dogs that pull it down, too. That helps well-rounded parks and hurts inconsistent ones. (Chester? Hester? I'm looking at you here.)

It's impossible to create a definitive top 10 list simply because quality is ultimately subjective. But crafting a list based on collective judgment at least gives you an idea what kinds of parks a community prefers. Obviously, we value the work that Disney and Universal have done. But I also love seeing Efteling and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi on this list, because they certainly belong in that class.

In my ideal world, a list such as this might inspire some fans to plan trips to other parks that they hadn't considered before, but that showed up next to their favorites here.

January 9, 2020 at 12:21 PM

Rock on, Islands of Adventure! From the moment one walks in and "The Adventure Begins", there are so many thrilling attractions and so much immersive themeing.

A top list of theme parks is difficult because everyone has that special park that appeals to just that person. Bravo to Robert for his efforts on this difficult task.

January 9, 2020 at 12:27 PM

Robert .... it would be interesting to see a top ten list, that doesn't include Disney and/or Universal.

That way it might encourage people to look beyond their comfort zones. As we've seen by the comments, the divide between Universal and Disney fans is as wide as ever.

We have both Disney and Universal pass holders here at work, but no one has both. Interestingly enough though, like myself, quite a few have SeaWorld as a 2nd pass.

January 9, 2020 at 1:32 PM

I just went to Universal Studios Hollywood for the first time in almost 20 years, and I really don't see how it can make the list.

Harry Potter? Copy of Orlando.
Despicable Me? Copy.
Transformers? Copy.
Simpsons? Copy.
Mummy? Worse Copy.
Kung Fu Panda? Copy.

Not to mention....every single one of them, outside of the Mummy are primarily or entirely screen-based.

Jurassic World was good, but only the Mesosaurus tank seemed new/different from the past iteration.

Studio Tour is really good, as is Waterworld. But that's it.

Not to mention, you have to spend 10 minutes going up/down the escalators.

I was not impressed with USH.

January 9, 2020 at 2:30 PM

My mom visited with her grandkids last year and agrees as so much of it is a copy. The only really notable original attraction is the Waterworld stunt show (still going strong after almost 25 years) and much prefers Orlando. Good park, yes but I wouldn't put it over DAK or DHS.

January 9, 2020 at 2:53 PM

USH will become worth visiting for a brief two-ish-year span when Nintendo World (or at least the abbreviated version Hollywood is getting) is open there before Epic Universe opens in 2023. Otherwise, I am in complete agreement, and would suggest that even for non-coaster folks that Knott's Berry Farm, featuring a terrific role playing area and two treasured classics in Calico Mine Ride and Timber Mountain Log Flume, is a better investment of time and money. California Adventure might be even worse, with only Radiator Springs Racers saving it from being the worst Disney park in the world.

I'm with Russell on Disneyland over IOA. Lost Continent is an abandoned nothingspace, and throwing out the hube-and-spoke model, while admirably bold, forces you to go through it every time. I'd also argue that every land other than WWHP has become fairly dated without really feeling classic the way something like Disneyland's New Orleans Square does. It's like IOA has WWHP and four Toontowns. I still think it's a remarkable park, and I go back and forth on it and MK as the best in Orlando, but I think Disneyland, especially with Rise of the Resistance, is the blowaway number one.

MK not being on here while USH and DCA make it is pretty disgraceful, but I also think Disney and Universal are largely over-represented on this site, so it's not so bad. I actually don't love Warner Bros. Abu Dhabi's inclusion, as there's virtually no way enough people have experienced it to make its ranking mean anything. I'm also stunned not to see Europa Park here, as its probably the park I want to see more than any other in the world outside of maybe the Tokyo Disney parks.

January 9, 2020 at 5:03 PM

Our problem with IOA has always been that whilst the individual attractions are pretty strong there just haven't been enough of them... Visit at a quiet time of year (or maybe with Universal Express) and you can do it all in half a day. Disney's Animal Kingdom may suffer equally from a lack of attractions but at least there the landscape and park itself is part of the attraction and enough to engage us for a full day without any sense of 'now what?'....

January 9, 2020 at 7:28 PM

Makorider, gimme a few weeks as to avoid list burnout here, and I will post that!

January 10, 2020 at 3:26 AM

My personal favourite will always be Magic Kingdom just because of the incredible theming, blending of the theming, backstories to everything including the queue lines, ferry v monorail approach, Main Street, Haunted Mansion, Hall of Presidents and Cinderalla castle to name but a few. However, the crowds do detract from the experience, hence, why I always do the separate ticketed events.

IOA has always been the park which I enjoy the most probably because I am a water ride addict and it has three of the absolute best. The lands are distinctive, completely different, excellent theming, great rides of every description and far more pleasurable crowds. I agree with Russell that the Lost Continent needs replacing but for a "day at a theme park" is there any which gives a better overall experience.......even without an Express pass?

January 10, 2020 at 7:03 AM

Thanks Robert .... I look forward to that list.

Animal Kingdom is my favourite park, but in 2nd I'd put Alton Towers. What's not to like about the UK's best theme park? It has a great selection of rides, good kids area, and the opportunity to walk those beautiful grounds .... superb.

January 10, 2020 at 1:32 PM

@evanweston - I don't think DCA is as bad as some make it out to be. The Avengers CAMPUS construction has made a real mess of the flow around the park, which makes GotG:MB a dead end. I also think the Hollywood section of the park needs a serious revamp once they move the Marvel meet and greets into CAMPUS over the summer. Aside from that, DCA has a great balance of attractions. I actually think GotG:MB is the best ride in the resort (better than Indy, RSR, and MFSR - though RotR may top it once it's open - I haven't ridden it yet), and Incredicoaster is a slight improvement over California Screamin', while the remaining big attractions (Soarin', GRR, and TSMM) offer solid alternatives to the better rides mentioned above. Top it all off with a viewing of WoC, and for me, DCA is easily better than USH, though I agree that MK is conspicuously absent from this list.

I'm also with you on Knott's but while the western theming is top notch, outside of Calico, the rest of the park is nothing more than a glorified carnival. I think Calico on it's own could hold its ground with the parks here, but when you have to take all of Knott's into consideration, the rest of the park really brings it down, even though the less themed areas have some pretty good attractions.

January 10, 2020 at 9:03 AM

Just looking at the pictures, IOA doesn’t belong on this list much less number one. A good park yes but not best in the world. A non Disney-Universal list is much needed. Most people aren’t judging Disney or Universal by individual parks anyway, they’re judging the entire resort.

January 10, 2020 at 9:09 AM

Mostly replace Poseidon adventure with slightly longer USO Revenge of Mummy type ride (updated projection mapping, no screeens!)

Steal, yes steal, all good ideas from Mickey and Minnie new ride, and use for new Grinch and dog “dark ride” in Suess.

IOA wins top slot for decade!

Bonus: create inner loop bypass trail next to lagoon with tiki bars every 100 feet.

January 10, 2020 at 11:40 AM

@evanweston: Good point on how Disneyland has a timeless quality few other parks can touch while a lot of IOA is showing its age (especially Toon Lagoon and Lost Continent).

@David Brown: I do remember getting to IOA back on a weekday in November of 2012....and really was able to do it all easily long before closing time. Even Harry Potter didn't take too long and while more has been added since, it's still not the in-depth experience some claim it is. Again, putting it at number one is baffling.

January 10, 2020 at 12:55 PM

@Russell - I do not share your opinion of Guardians, to be charitable; I found it massively disappointing. I have no issue with Disney using its IP in its own theme parks, but I appreciate an actual effort to get it to work within whatever area they're presenting, and Guardians is the single worst offender of IP being callously wedged into a park at any Disney property in the world. The ride itself is a pretty significant step down from the superior Tower of Terror theme, removing the anticipation for a more jovial experience where the jokes don't land and the heavy reliance on screens caused nausea even for a strong-stomached rider like me. It was a one and done for me and I don't anticipate returning.

Pixar Pier is likewise a pretty major step in the wrong direction vis a vis IP being wedged into something rather than well-integrated, and I found Incredicoaster tacky and cheap in the worst possible sense. California Adventure is a park completely lacking identity at the moment, and there's nothing to suggest that will change. Other than Radiator Springs Racers, it honestly feels like the overflow of what wasn't good enough to make it into the world-class park across the street.

January 10, 2020 at 1:34 PM

@evanweston - That's an interesting take, and one that's pretty pervasive even among some theme park fans. GotG:MB is probably one of the most "fun" Disney rides I've ever been on. Maybe it's because I really like the IP, and connect with the irreverence of the characters (along with the soundtrack that hits the bulls-eye of my musical tastes) - I also LOVE drop rides of any type. The old DCA ToT was always a let down IMHO because of the missing 4th Dimension room and variable drop sequences and effects on the original installation in Florida. As far as I'm concerned, if Disney wasn't going to figure out a way to make DCA's ToT be better than DHS's within the Twilight Zone theme, changing IPs was pretty much a necessity. If DCA's version was a pure clone of Florida's version, I'd be far more critical, but it was vastly inferior (to the point where the first time I rode it I said to myself, "That's it?"), so re-skinning it with Marvel IP was a brilliant move, though the exterior look of the attraction is borderline FUGLY.

Pixar Pier is not great, but is a definite improvement over what was there. California Screamin' was a mediocre coaster, and Incredicoater is still a pretty mediocre coaster, but at least has some story to it now. I wish the theming was a bit more dynamic on the attraction, but it's still a step up from some generic carnival music playing in the background. The rest of the land is meh, but generally unoffensive. Disney could have done so much more here, but they at least took a step in the right direction. If you think about it, aside from tearing the enter back of the park up (thus closing off access to TSMM, one of the most popular attraction in the park), Pixar Pier is probably the best guests could have expected.

January 11, 2020 at 3:47 AM

I went to Efteling this year and it was a fun park but highly overrated if you have been to anything Disney but Symbolica was fantastic...An overlooked theme park is Phantasialand in Germany which I like better than Efteling....And with the steampunk themed area and rollecoaster for this year it should certainly put Phantasialand on this list next time around.

January 11, 2020 at 4:04 AM

In my personal ranking, "Best theme park of the world", would be : Puy du Fou. It's never mentioned and it blows away even all Disney parks...
(At less then 1/10 of the budget any Disney park "consumes")

January 12, 2020 at 9:40 PM

If were not overlooking theming, guest satisfaction, ride quality, and impeccable grounds and landscaping, while the hell isn't BGW on the list? F.O.H
DisneySea is good but they dont have a good variety of rides, and I love IOA, but I agree with others about the outdated and graveyard sections. One the list yes, but not number 1. To be honest I dismissed the entire list when I saw USH.

January 13, 2020 at 2:54 PM

I haven't been to any of the international parks but have been an AP at all US Disney and Universal parks and live 20 minutes from Disneyland, and while I like USH, I agree with the others, it's inclusion in the top 10 is ridiculous. It's not even a full day park. We could finish everything, every ride and show and many character meets by 5 pm and would only stay later for the Hogwarts Castle show. It's the same experience every time you go because there's not enough to do to change it up at all. If not for WWHP I would not feel the need to go back. Disneyland is my favorite, and I love IoA but #1?

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Top Attendance

  1. Disney World Magic Kingdom
  2. Disneyland
  3. Tokyo Disneyland
  4. Tokyo DisneySea
  5. Universal Studios Japan
  6. Disney's Animal Kingdom
  7. Epcot
  8. Shanghai Disneyland
  9. Disney's Hollywood Studios
  10. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom
  11. Universal Studios Florida
  12. Disney California Adventure
  13. Disneyland Paris
  14. Islands of Adventure
  15. Universal Studios Hollywood

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