The biggest development in the theme park industry over the past decade or so has been the rise of immersive, single-IP lands. Starting with Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, both Universal and Disney have created multiple lands themed to a single entertainment property, where the land itself is as much an attraction as the rides and shows contained within it.
In these spaces, you become a character within the franchise. You can feel like you are walking within the story itself, something that previously you might have experienced only momentarily within a single attraction. For many of us, that makes these immersive lands the new gold standard for themed entertainment design. The best of them keep drawing us back, much like great theme parks have been luring us to return for years.
But which of these immersive lands holds the greatest appeal to you?
I recognize that Super Nintendo World might enjoy an advantage here. Almost no one outside of Japan has gotten to visit Universal's video game-themed land yet, due to pandemic travel restrictions. So Nintendo is likely going to get votes simply because it's the one relatively few Theme Park Insider readers have had the opportunity to experience. It's the next big, unknown thing.
But what I really would like to get at here is which of these immersive lands have the most enduring appeal to you. What is the space that draws you back - the place where you would love to spend more time, returning again and again? It might represent your favorite entertainment franchise, but it might not. Great execution of attractions and other design features might help a land themed to a less-beloved IP move to the top of your list - just as poorly envisioned concepts might depress a land for an IP you love most.
For what it is worth, I thought about including Jurassic Park on this list, but the recent addition of the Jurassic World VelociCoaster muddled that land for me. The land just doesn't seem as much an attempt to create a space within the Jurassic universe as it is yet another collection of disconnected attractions sharing that IP, if that distinction makes sense to anyone. Same goes for Marvel Super Hero Island and Seuss Landing at IOA. Islands of Adventure in 1999 planted the seeds for what would become the single-IP immersive land revolution, but it wasn't until Potter opened in 2010 that we saw the current iteration of this ideal.
That said, Toy Story Land does make it on the list because of the "Andy's backyard" backstory, as elusive as that might be for many visitors.
So, given what you have seen or read about or know about these lands below, which is the one where you can see yourself wanting to spend the most time? To help you make that decision, here are some of our video tours of these lands.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Toy Story Land
Super Nintendo World
Star Wars Galaxy's Edge
Pandora - The World of Avatar
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Andy had to tear down all his Mom's trees to clear space for his rides, you know?
I’d love a psychedelic nightmare Toy Story “haunted” attraction themed to Sid’s room next to Andy’s scorched earth backyard
I'm with fattyackin, as I'm torn between Cars Land (where I've heard more than one kid say, "is this where they filmed the movie?") and Diagon Alley. Both feel so real, day or night, with Cars Land truly coming alive when the neon lights up. Going with Diagon as it's just so well done.
Galaxy's Edge: needs more John Williams, more aliens, and to make use of all those stages it has all over the place.
Interesting that you predicted Nintendo Land would have an advantage and yet it’s languishing almost at the bottom of the pile.
I am still to be convinced that Nintendo is actually going to translate into the sort of popularity that we’ve seen attached to Harry Potter or Star Wars or even Avatar. I think it might be an age thing but I’m not sure.
To me Frontierland in Disneyland Paris is still THE best themed land of all parks I've been to so far.
I know it's not single IP but man, is it well done and detailed.
If we're doing non-IP stuff, Liberty Square at WDW. Not just detail in the buildings but nice aura to it and love how it forms a logical gateway from the Old West feel of Frontierland to the European themes of Fantasyland.
In terms of overall appeal, I'd probably rank the lands as Diagon Alley > Galaxy's Edge > Hogsmeade > Cars Land > Pandora > Avengers Campus > Toy Story Land. In terms of attractions, all of them except the last two have at least one attraction that's worth doing every visit. However, only the first three are really lands I'd be interested in hanging out in, and only Diagon Alley and Galaxy's Edge feel truly immersive. Would I want to spend the day in any of them? No...I don't think any provide enough to be worth spending more than a few hours there. However, if I had to pick a land to spend two hours in before moving on, Diagon Alley would be my choice.
It will be interesting to see where Nintendo lands next spring. I'm omitting that from consideration until I have a chance to judge it in person.
This is really tough, because purely based on the IP represented, I would have to go with Galaxy's Edge. But based on the immersiveness of the land, I would go with Pandora. However, the land I feel myself wanting to return to more often than not is Hogsmeade.
I think a few things lead to Hogsmeade being my number 1 choice, but most important is the music. Is it immersive to hear John Williams' score absolutely blasting through speakers a mere 5 feet apart from each other throughout the land? Absolutely not. But that's not exactly what I'm looking for. I don't want to just feel like I'm in Hogsmeade, I want to feel like I'm in a Harry Potter movie. That's something that I think is missing in Disney's Galaxy Edge and Pandora. Imagine hearing a swelling Star Wars score as you turn the corner from Ronto Roasters towards the Millenium Falcon. Or Avatar music (whatever that is, the music was not really the highlight of that film) when you see the giant floating rocks. I don't go to theme parks for realism, I go for magical experiences. Yes, it's realistic to hear aliens screeching in the forests of Pandora, but please just also put an ambient pan-flute track or something. Anything.
I also think Hogsmeade has the best lineup of attractions and experiences of all these lands. ROTR is fantastic, and Smuggler's Run is really fun, but in one of the biggest themed lands in the world, I would expect more than 2 attractions. I'm not one for meet-and-greets, but I do enjoy seeing Star Wars characters just walking around Galaxy's Edge. I just wish they did something. Something similar to the Triwizard Spirit Rally would be cool, having a Star Wars band play with a martial arts demonstration. Just spitballing. Hagrid's is just unmatched though. I would pick Rise over it, but Hagrid's with Forbidden Journey along with Hippogriff and the experiences throughout the land lead to Hogsmeade just being the best choice for me.
Cars Land, Pandora, and the original Harry Potter land are easily the best to me (I don't ride Forbidden Journey anymore because it makes me dizzy, but I do really like the queue). I really enjoy Toy Story Land at DHS as well although obviously that is not on the same level.
Funny enough my least favorite is Diagon Alley though its leading this poll. It's too small/cramped/hot, and the ride, like many other rides at Universal, is nauseating.
I'm not a Star Wars fan so while I appreciate the amazing engineering and budget that went into the two rides there, I have no idea what's going on during the rides and TBH the land is ugly and depressing to walk through.
While i'm not a big fan of the Toy Story Lands in Hong Kong and Paris (which were obviously thrown together just to give the parks some kid friendly stuff that was quick and cheap), I absolutely love the land at DHS. Its really bright and colorful, Slinky is a great ride, and Toy Story Mania is way better than having some useless flat rides. And at WDW now it also has 3 tracks so the line usually isn't bad (though the first ten or so years the ride was around it was a nightmare).
I haven't been to DLR or DLRP since before Avengers Campus but nothing about it looks even remotely interesting to me.
While I don't have any attachment to Avatar, I was absolutely captivated by Pandora at Animal Kingdom. I also love Hogsmeade partly because the presence of Hogwarts makes it such a special place to me.
That said, my first choice would have been the Marvel area of Islands of Adventures if that were in the poll. I love literally everything about its theming. It also holds my favorite ride of all time (Spider-Man) and one of my favorite coasters (Hulk). Every time I visit Orlando, I spend an extra day at Islands just to soak up the atmosphere and theming in this land as well as the rest of the park.
I know the focus is on IP and specially universal and Disney, but don't sleep on Knott's ghost town! To this day I still feel it's offers more than star wars galaxy edge.
Without question or hesitation, 'Pandora - The World of Avatar'. The scale and beauty of the Valley of Mo'ara -- Joe Rohde's masterpiece opening just before his retirement -- is extraordinary. The winding pathways, waterfalls (effects) and the incredible floating mountains are amazing. The way the environment changes dramatically from day to night is beautiful and unique. The queue areas for both "Flight of Passage" and "Na'vi River Journey" -- as well as the attractions themselves -- are pitch perfect. PTWOA stands well-above the other choices.
Disney imagineers not on top even after billions spent - oh my !
the-man: "Funny enough my least favorite is Diagon Alley ..."
Me; I get where you are coming from. Don't get me wrong, it's a magnificent production. Especially Knockturn Alley. But in the end it's pretty much a well-themed mall that features a dragon figure that doesn't move. Just sayin'.
This was a really hard vote for me. I think that Hogsmeade has set a standard that has yet to be met. I was very fortunate to have experienced it during the first soft opening day and it was absolutely fantastic. Compared to every other "IP Land", it still has the best lineup of rides and I think you could really spend several hours taking it in. However, I can't stand it when it's crowded. I wish Universal had gotten JK Rowling to cave a little on the scale and narrowness of it.
I also really appreciate Pandora. The FoP and the food and drink choices are really unique and engaging and I'm jonesing for the food from Satuli Canteen and that drink stand outside constantly. I think what Pandora is missing is that the experiences are not well spaced apart so everything feels clustered in one spot. Also, it just needs more entertainment in general.
Honestly, I'm really over single IP-driven lands. I am really not one for buying souvenirs (and shopping in general) and many of these lands just feel like colossal shopping malls (especially Galaxy's Edge). It also feels many times like 75% of the budget went to the land and it diverted the budget away from the attractions themselves.
Ultimately, I think I'd like a nice half-way compromise. Something akin to Legoland's mini-land approach but with a bigger budget. That way if the IP becomes stale it won't be difficult and expensive for the parks to replace.
I know I am biased towards star wars but galaxy's Edge is amazing. And if you count the star wars hotel ( if you can afford that of course ), can make out an incredible experience. Both the wizarding World and Nintendo looks fantastic ( yet to experience super Nintendo land and avengers campus )
I am really surprised to read the breadth of opinion, above. Whilst not experiencing all of them mentioned I find Diagon Alley to be easily the most immersive and detailed which I have experienced and I'm no Potterite. I agree the ride is not the best but the walk-through Gringott's is stunning. Together with the multiple opportunities of interaction with your wand and the scale of unique merchandise at the appropriate shops puts Diagon Alley in a league of its own.
As with others, I can't judge a land I've never visited (Nintendo and Avengers CAMPUS), so I'll leave those out of my ranking.
At the bottom of my list would be Toy Story Land. While I really like TSM and SDD is a good family coaster, it's nothing I would be willing to go out of my way to experience. Woody's Lunchbox is a surprisingly good counter service option in a park that was devoid of decent quick-serve food (before Galaxy's Edge opened). Hopefully Roundup Rodeo BBQ will similarly improve the table service landscape at DHS. However, as far as theming, attractions, and overall immersion, TSL just doesn't measure up, and borders on the "corny" side for me with the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" Playground and "Bugs Land" vibes that don't translate consistently throughout the land.
Next up for me is PtWoA. FoP is one of the best e-ticket attractions WDI has ever created, and the Valley of Moara is one of the most beautiful artificial environments ever created. However, for as jaw dropping as the visuals are throughout the land, it comes off so cold given the premise of the land and the lame interactive elements scattered throughout. Satu'Li Canteen is one of my favorite theme park counter service restaurants ever, but it can't make up for an overall impression that leaves me wanting more from this amazing feat of architecture and design.
Cars Land would be next on my list. RSRs is by far the best application of the Rocket Rods/TestTrack ride system, and is just plain fun. While the 2 flat rides in the land aren't anything spectacular (I preferred Luigi's Tires to the dancing cars) but the theming of them along with the rest of the land are top notch. Flo's and the Cozy Cone offer great food inside the theme (though Flo's menu is a shadow of its former self due to catering to the lowest common denominator), and the theming around the rest of the land are amazing. As with PtWoA, the land changes its look at night, and I would argue that Cars Land is arguably almost as jaw dropping as DAK's land when the sun goes down.
Next for me is Galaxy's Edge (I do actually prefer DL's version to DHS's because of the extra entrance, allowing for better flow). As a HUGE Star Wars fan, GE is a dream to visit, and both attractions are among the best and most immersive attractions I've ever been on, and the addition of the Galactic Starcruiser at WDW gives an additional layer of immersion to the land that is unmatched. However, that level of immersion is difficult to attain for the average guest, and the use of aspects of the land to extract more money out of guests is no doubt frustrating to many. Also, the DataPad and other interactive aspects of the land just don't live up to the promises made by WDI before the lands debuted. Docking Bay 6 is a good CS eatery (and Ronto Roasters is a good alternative as well), but Oga's is problematic being so small and lacking in seating.
Coming in second for me is Hogsmeade (USH), which fixed many of the problems from the initial WWoHP land (larger store spaces, more interactive wand elements, and smarter configuration (main walkway oriented N/S instead of E/W in Florida)to allow for better shade and effectiveness of wand effects that are behind glass). It's hard to improve on something that was already close to perfect, but UC managed to do it in a space that is even more limiting than what they faced at IOA. HPFJ is still one of the most unique attractions in the world (I'll forgive UC for trying to make the attraction 3D since they discovered the error of their ways pretty quickly), and the land as a whole is just full of rich detail that guests can instantly recognize and appreciate the effort it took to bring it to life.
That leaves Diagon Alley at the top of the list. My one gripe would be the lack of a good secondary attraction, but everything else about the land is so close to perfect. The London façade (as well as King's Cross Station and Platform 9 3/4) set the standard that gives you that wow moment of PtWoA along with the immersion of Galaxy's Edge. Everything about Diagon Alley seeks to improve upon the original Hogsmeade, and it succeeds save for distinguishing Leaky Cauldron's menu from Three Broomsticks making failing to both eateries a "must-do".
funny story, i am a huge fan of the progressive rock band Yes...when i saw Avatar the movie, i kept thinking Pandora is just one Yes album cover after another so of course, for those reasons, i loved it. apparently James Cameron was somewhat "inspired by" those covers but never gave credit to the artist Roger Dean. there was a groundswell of fans who convinced Dean he should sue and he reluctantly did and subsequently lost. nevertheless, when i walk into Pandora, i always call it YesWorld and marvel at the floating mountains come to life that were so prevalent in early 70's Yes covers. both FOP and the Na'vi River ride have many elements as well, so to me Pandora is YesWorld and i often wear a Yes tee-shirt and have their music in my earbuds while there. for that reason, it is my special happy place.
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Diagon Alley is so full of detail. Its like they plussed the already incredibly
immersive Hogsmeade village. A lot of great placemaking on this list. My vote also tied Diagon with Cars Land. Pandora is stunning but I think I almost prefer to visit it at night. Toy Story Land to me gets negative votes for its total lack of shade, backyard theming be damned.