Top 10 Disney Theme Parks

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Disney has 11 worldwide theme parks at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Hong Kong Disneyland (with Shanghai Disneyland opening June 16, 2016–we’ll update this list with its ranking once we visit). While each of these resorts has a Disneyland/Magic Kingdom style park, not all of these parks are of the same quality, and their second gates and beyond are all fairly different. Some of you have been asking me to rank all of the Disney Parks for a while, and while this technically won’t do that since it’s leaving one off to fit within the “Top 10” format, it really will since it’s only leaving one off.

Think of this list as like my ‘power rankings’ for the Disney Parks. It’s my attempt at objectivity in ranking the parks, but my personal biases and most recent impressions undoubtedly will creep in a little. Like power rankings, my actual rankings could vary month to month or even week to week depending upon maintenance, new attraction announcements, seasonal improvements, and a litany of other variables. It’s all very scientific. 😉

Keep in mind that this list is all in good fun. Like sports fans, most Disney fans have strong allegiances towards their home park and take offense when they feel it’s slighted. Although I view the parks of Walt Disney World as my “home” parks, I don’t really think I have allegiance to these parks that prevents me from seeing their faults (although I do have admittedly strong nostalgia for 3 of the 4 parks). In any case, remember that this is one random dude’s opinion on the internet. At the end of the day, it doesn’t impact your enjoyment of your “favorite” park if I rank it at number 8, nor does my opinion matter (at all) in the grand scheme of things.

With that said, here are my rankings of every Disney Park, minus the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris…

10. Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Even in its present state of closed attractions, disjointedness, and construction walls for Star Wars Land & Toy Story Land, Disney’s Hollywood Studios still manages to surpass the Walt Disney Studios Park in France, even if the La Place de Rémy Ratatouille mini-land opening did improve the Paris park significantly.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios still has great theming in its Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, and Echo Lake areas. The park still has an excellent version of Tower of Terror and Great Movie Ride is a classic. Other attractions like Star Tours, Toy Story Mania, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but it needs more. Thankfully, it’s getting exactly that. We suspect that come 2020 or so, this park will be much higher up the list.

9. Hong Kong Disneyland

I don’t quite feel right putting Hong Kong Disneyland in the #8 spot on this list. Since its opening less than a decade ago, it has taken a lot of grief from fans who criticized it for opening on the cheap and bringing nothing original to the table. There was undoubtedly some validity to these remarks at first, but since its expansion concluded with the opening of Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point, that hasn’t been the case. This expansion included Mystic Manor and Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, two of the best attractions in the world, which really helped the park shed its stigma.

These new areas, plus great dining, plus a beautiful natural environment serving as a backdrop to the park, plus impeccable maintenance all make my opinion of Hong Kong Disneyland very high. Although I’m not the biggest fan of the park’s new Disney Paint the Night parade, it is another step in the right direction, and hopefully the same will prove true of the Iron Man Experience set to open in Tomorrowland. All in all, I think Hong Kong Disneyland has a very bright future, and is on the right trajectory to be an elite Disney theme park by its 15th anniversary.

8. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The largest gap on this list is between the #9 and #10 spots. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is starting to emerge from its construction walls, and Summer 2016 should prove to be its coming out party in some ways (with Pandora being another exciting addition for 2017). Even before that, it was better than DHS. If you’ve read my I Was Wrong About Animal Kingdom article, in which I praised the park, you know it has grown on me.

Relative to how I used to feel about the park, Animal Kingdom has moved up a lot. Its themed design is mostly first-rate, and the lands transport you to a different time and place. It’s an interesting departure from the normally romanticized versions of real places that Disney does, but it’s impressive theming, nonetheless. In terms of attractions, there are some standouts, especially those that are hybrids of zoological exhibits and theme park offerings. It loses points in that it arguably skews too much towards the zoological side, and in that the number of “regular” attractions is too low. Animal Kingdom’s future is a big question mark: based upon what we’ve seen, I think Pandora: World of Avatar will be the ‘fantasy’ area the park needs. If it’s light on substance, design, or feel too much like a land dedicated to poor-fitting intellectual property, Avatar Land could detract from the overall theme of the park.

7. Disney California Adventure

I could not contain my excitement for Disney California Adventure after Disney pulled the curtain back on the “2.0” version of the park. Now, over two years since then, no noteworthy subsequent projects have been commenced nor are any in the (announced) pipeline. It seems the Phase 2 plans for the park have all been abandoned, with nothing substantial happening until Cars Land runs out of gas in terms of driving new business.

This is unfortunate, and not because I’m any less enamored with the park than I was. I still think the overhaul was a brilliant success, and I love just spending time at the park. Cars Land is wonderfully immersive, Buena Vista Street is a proper park “opening act,” and Grizzly Peak does a great job of recreating California’s natural beauty. However, the park still has plenty of room for improvement, especially in Paradise Pier and Hollywood Land, where areas still feel like circa-2001 DCA, or have become the dumping grounds for random junk that doesn’t fit elsewhere.

6. Epcot

Despite having its original mission statement and vision largely decimated, Epcot still has numerous bright spots, almost all of which are holdovers from its early years. While I am not a fan of its current direction, when viewed as a whole, Epcot still has a lot to offer. World Showcase, although peppered with temporary kiosks, is still gorgeous. Spaceship Earth remains an awe-inspiring icon and pretty good attraction. Newer attractions in Future World haven’t always hit the mark, but some are quite solid. I firmly believe Epcot is not as good of a park today as it was in 1993, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a good park.

5. Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Resort ParisDisneyland ParisSleeping Beauty CastleDisneyland Paris' Sleeping Beauty Castle is the fairest of them all. With the exception of the Enchanted Storybook Castle in Shanghai that is presently being built, I've now seen every version of Disney's castles (Tokyo and Hong Kong feature substantial clones of the castles in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, respectively), so I feel fairly confident making this assessment. Read more: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneyland-paris-sleeping-beauty-castle-beautiful/

Disneyland Paris is simultaneously the most beautiful Magic Kingdom-style park ever built, and the park with the most squandered potential. Disneyland Paris is a love it or hate it place. I’m firmly in the “love it” camp. The detail and the design made me fall in love with the place, and it’s somehow simultaneously charming and large scale. This is best embodied by Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, far and away Disney’s top castle, and like an attraction unto itself. The story and design of Frontierland (Thunder Mesa) also help Disneyland Paris’ cause, as does its Discoveryland and Adventureland, both substantial departures from the norms of these lands.

As far as criticism goes, I’ve never quite understood the complaints about other guests and Cast Members, but I do agree with concerns about maintenance, food quality, and a lack of new attractions. Still, with attractions like Phantom Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean (the best version in the world), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and more, the park has a solid attraction roster. I view it as the perfect locals park, as there are so many quiet corners and intimate little spots to go and relax.

4. Magic Kingdom

Since I last sat down and thought of my rankings, the Magic Kingdom is probably the biggest mover on this list. In that time, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Festival of Fantasy parade have both opened, and construction has concluded. Many fans have been underwhelmed by New Fantasyland, and while I can understand that reaction, I love New Fantasyland as a whole. I find it to bring some charm and beauty to this part of the park, and something otherwise completely missing from the tent style of Fantasyland.

Maybe the Magic Kingdom is benefiting from my nostalgia here, but I think it’s looking better than it has in years. Its mix of classic and contemporary attractions scores it points, with personal favorites like Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress, and the Peoplemover all adding to its appeal, even if they are underrated. While it lacks the charm of Disneyland, it makes up for that in grandeur, and has plenty of charm of its own.

3. Disneyland

minnie-mouse-tabebuia-trees-blossoms-disneyland-night-bricker copy

The original. The only park Walt Disney walked. Now, I am not one of those people who believe there’s a certain “magic” to this park or that you can somehow “feel Walt’s presence” here (the only ghost I want to make contact with is Slimer). However, I think by virtue of the park’s age and its origins, Disneyland has a different tone than every other Disney park. Some of this is due to the many things that haven’t changed over the years, from the quirky details to the intimate spaces.

This sense of intimacy and quaintness wouldn’t mean anything if the substance of the park weren’t up to snuff. Fortunately, it is. It has an impressive roster of attractions, including castle park standards and non-standards like Indiana Jones Adventure and the Matterhorn. It has engaging live entertainment and good food. Its nighttime shows are the best anywhere. It oozes nostalgia and probably could do pretty well resting on its laurels and tugging at the heartstrings of guests, but fortunately, it keeps people coming back not just for the nostalgia, but for its solid substance. Disneyland is pretty much the complete package.

2. Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland arrives in the #2 spot not thanks to impressively original themed design, a surplus of brilliant original attractions, or a ton of charm. It really doesn’t have any of these things. Its attraction lineup is mostly a mix of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland (with a few brilliant surprises, like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt). Its design is a bit of a hodgepodge in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland (thankfully, much of this will be fixed soon with the addition of the Beauty and the Beast expansion). On paper, it doesn’t seem superior to Disneyland or Magic Kingdom. In fact, it could even be criticized as being a coldly-assembled “greatest hits” park. (I don’t agree with that assessment, but I can see how some people might think that.)

Think of Tokyo Disneyland as the sports team that wins not because of its lineup of superstars, but because it executes on all of the fundamentals, not making any mistakes. While Westernland, Critter Country, and Adventureland are excellent, it’s not these lands that make Tokyo Disneyland shine. Maintenance, attention to detail, show quality, dining, Cast Members, entertainment, and more are all unsurpassed in the Tokyo parks. Plus, if it is a “greatest hits” park, that does mean the attraction lineup is pretty solid!

1. Tokyo DisneySea

I would hazard a guess that 99% of people who say “[blank] is the best Disney theme park!” with [blank] being a park other than Tokyo DisneySea do so only because they have not been to Tokyo DisneySea. Now, this is not to say that no reasonable person who has been to Tokyo DisneySea can still think another Disney theme park is superior, but…well…I’d be curious to hear their reasoning. Let’s just leave it at that.

I have already dedicated an entire article to the Top 10 Reasons Tokyo DisneySea is Disney’s Best Park, so I’ll just defer to that. Succinctly, I view Tokyo DisneySea as Disney’s best theme park in the world, and it’s not even a remotely close call.

Hope you enjoyed my look at the top 10 worldwide Disney theme parks. I really do love all of the parks that made the list, as it’s fun for me to compare and contrast all of the different parks. It’s like a hobby, of sorts.

Looking for Disney trip planning tips? Make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide.

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Your Thoughts…

How would you rank the Disney Parks you’ve visited? It doesn’t matter how many parks you’ve been to, I’m still interested in knowing! Do you think I mis-ranked any parks, or made any poor choices? If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.


42 Responses to “Top 10 Disney Theme Parks”
  1. Riley Andersen October 28, 2015
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