Beyond Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California, there are theme parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. This list ranks all 12, with pros & cons, rides, shows, parades, fireworks, and more to determine the best & worst Disney parks worldwide. (Updated June 24, 2021.)
Each of the Disney resort complexes has a castle park, but not all of these parks are of the same quality, and their second gates (and beyond) are all very different. The list is our attempt at objectivity in ranking the parks, trying to the greatest extent possible to eliminate personal biases and pesky things like nostalgia.
Like the BCS and other power rankings, no one is bound to agree with these, despite them being very scientific and downright infallible. Joking aside, it’s entirely possible that you’ll appreciate various attractions, entertainment, or the themed lands more or less than us, in which case your list would differ. As with anything like this, your mileage may vary…
Our update to these rankings for 2021 comes as all Disney theme parks around the world are open for the first time in 17 months. The road to reopening has been long and full of false starts, but they’re all finally operating together at once!
They’re also back with new lands and attractions to debut. The biggest of these is Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast, which is part of a blockbuster $750 million expansion of Tokyo Disneyland. There’s also phase one of Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure, Cars Road Trip at Walt Disney Studios Park, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Harmonious arriving at Epcot, Disney Enchantment coming to Magic Kingdom, and more.
This won’t be the last update to the power rankings for this year, as several Disney theme parks are celebrating milestone anniversaries: 5 years at Shanghai Disney Resort, 15 at Hong Kong Disneyland, and Walt Disney World will kick off the World’s Most Magical Celebration in honor of its 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021!
Between the new entertainment arriving for these anniversaries and new attractions opening that had planned debut dates postponed last year, 2021 should be a big year for changes and improvements at several parks on this list. For now, here are our updated 2021 Disney Parks Power Rankings…
12. Walt Disney Studios Park
After improving thanks to the addition of the Ratatouille: the Adventure trackless dark ride a few years ago, Walt Disney Studios Park is once again a park in transition. Several attractions have closed to make way for a brighter future, with only Cars Road Trip opening in 2021.
The good news is that a $2.5 billion plan to inject Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen into the park is under construction, and will start paying dividends in 2022. Walt Disney Studios Park has a promising future, but we’re still years away from it being a theme park truly worthy of the Disney name. For now, it’s far and away the worst entry on this list.
I have a soft spot for Epcot, but even I cannot deny that it’s a mess right now. World Showcase is largely looking good, and will further improve on October 1, 2021 with the debut of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Harmonious. However, Future World is a veritable maze of construction walls and will be to varying degrees for at least the next few years. “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is definitely apt when it comes to Epcot.
With that said, Epcot still has a lot to offer. World Showcase is still gorgeous and offers some of Disney’s best ambiance, anywhere. Spaceship Earth remains an awe-inspiring icon and pretty good attraction. Some Future World pavilions remain solid. Here’s hoping that new additions debuting in the next few years help nudge this up the list a tad, and the reimagined park emerges to reclaim its rightful place in the top 5 of this list!
10. Disney California Adventure
Nearly a decade since Disney pulled back the curtain on DCA 2.0, the much-maligned second gate at Disneyland Resort continues to improve, albeit minus a cohesive “California” theme. This has been done slowly, with a two steps forward, one step backwards kind of approach.
The most recent addition is the first phase of Avengers Campus, which includes the previously-reimagined Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout and newcomer Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure. Both are fun additions, as is the land itself, which is full of life thanks to the Marvel characters. However, the land’s blockbuster thrill ride hasn’t even started construction, and might still be 5 or more years away from opening. Disney California Adventure still needs more to make it a good companion park to Disneyland, and it also needs unified creative vision.
9. Hong Kong Disneyland
Hong Kong Disneyland has languished for the last few years since its huge expansion consisting of Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point. That expansion included Mystic Manor and Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, which are two of the top 10 or 15 attractions in the world. The two new Marvel rides have also proven to be a pleasant surprise, even if (like DCA) the E-Ticket is still years away.
Smaller, less splashy additions have been made over the last few years, but Hong Kong Disneyland still has a long way to go in terms of being a unique park that offers compelling draws. The upside to this is that HKDL has is in the process of building huge new Frozen and Marvel lands, and the castle expansion is now finished! While there’s the potential for this to strip Hong Kong Disneyland of its quaint charm and intimacy, it really needs these additions–and an identity of its own. If all goes well, Hong Kong Disneyland could be an elite Disney theme park by its 20th anniversary.
8. Shanghai Disneyland
Disney’s newest theme park falls in the middle of the pack, which is unlikely to please anyone. Some fans have proclaimed its superiority to all other parks, while critics have derided it as franchise-driven and tacky. We disagree with both polarized stances, finding it to be the best opening day park relative to debuts in the post Euro Disney era of half-day parks, but still pretty far behind the decades-established castle parks.
Among its “home runs” are Treasure Cove (especially its revolutionary Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for the Sunken Treasure attraction), Camp Discovery, Tron Lightcycle Power Run, and Peter Pan’s Flight. We also give it points for Enchanted Storybook Castle, which is more impressive in person than its divisive design looks in concept art and photos. Zootopia Land is the next big addition–hopefully that’s a home run.
7. Disney’s Animal Kingdom
A strong argument can be made that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the best theme park in Florida. When you emphasize the theme in theme park, we’d rank it #1 of Walt Disney World’s parks. That’s high praise, and sentiment that seems shared by the general park-going public given Animal Kingdom’s soaring attendance.
The problem for us, and one not resolved by the lovely Pandora: World of Avatar, is that there’s a lot of style, but still not enough substance. Sure, the park is beautiful and the purest example of unblemished (or close to it) theme at Walt Disney World. And we’ve already written about how most people overlook some of the park’s biggest gems. (See also, “I Was Wrong About Disney’s Animal Kingdom” from a few years ago.)
While the zoological exhibits, walk-throughs, and even entertainment are wonderful, Animal Kingdom could use more on the ‘traditional attraction’ end of the spectrum. Expedition Everest was a start and Pandora furthered this, but that’s still only 3 high profile rides since the park opened. Animal Kingdom could still use a family-friendly dark ride (or two…or three). Sadly, those don’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon with so much work occurring elsewhere. Perhaps minor shortcomings to some, but enough for Animal Kingdom to slip to #7 overall.
6. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney Hollywood Studios has seen its stock soar in the last few years, going from #11 on this list to #6. Its latest gains come from Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which is another solid addition. The higher ranking also reflects other improvements in the last couple of years, including the opening of Toy Story Land, Grand Avenue, and Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.
The most important addition remains Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and its mega E-Ticket Rise of the Resistance, which lives up to every bit of the hype and is tied for the #1 attraction (out of 94!) at Walt Disney World. However, the new headliner is unreliable and a chore to access–and Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a whole is easily Walt Disney World’s most frustrating park. (That, coupled with the current lack of shows, might make this #6 ranking a bit charitable.)
In addition to a top-heavy slate of attractions, it’s the thematic elements, particularly on Sunset & Hollywood Boulevards and Echo Lake, that give the park a boost. Those areas are gems, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios is still light on attractions, and little has been added in terms of entertainment during its massive overhaul to help round out its offerings. This can make it fairly frustrating park, and still not even close to on par with Magic Kingdom.
5. Magic Kingdom
Again, nostalgia comes into play. My opinion of Magic Kingdom will most likely always be colored by nostalgia for my youth–this remains my “home” castle park. Sitting here evaluating the park online, I can look at it with a critical eye, but in person all of that melts away as I feel like a kid again when walking down Main Street.
Aside from the stellar Happily Ever After, Magic Kingdom hasn’t received much attention in the last few years. New Fantasyland is not-so-new, Tomorrowland is ironically the most dated and tired land, and the park is without a nighttime parade. Still, Magic Kingdom has the most well-rounded attraction lineup of any park at Walt Disney World. It’s also home to plenty of fan-favorites like Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress, and the Peoplemover.
Additionally, Magic Kingdom has a certain beauty, grandiosity, and sentimentality. This sense of escape and suspension of disbelief makes it really appealing. Go from Adventureland to Frontierland to Fantasyland, and you remain immersed in each of these environments. Still, as the crown jewel park at Disney’s largest and most popular resort complex in the world, Magic Kingdom deserves better, and it’s finally receiving some overdue attention that should poise it well for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide.
4. Disneyland Paris
After being dragged down by years of maintenance neglect, Project Sparkle got things back on track. The most recent fruits of this have been extensive overhauls of Pirates of the Caribbean and Phantom Manor, the latter of which is France’s unique take on Haunted Mansion. Disneyland Paris still has plenty of room for improvement (mostly on the operational front, where it’s a disaster), but Disneyland Paris looks better than we’ve ever seen it.
This is coupled with the always-exceptional design work at Disneyland Paris make it one of the top parks in the world. This is particularly true for those who favor parks as themed spaces, rather than collections of attractions. On the ride front, Disneyland Paris is still a step or two behind the other castle parks, but it compensates for this with so many amazing spaces and intricate details. Oh, and it has the best Disney castle in the world. It can be a frustrating place to visit, but also incredibly enchanting. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Disneyland Paris Vacation Planning Guide.
3. Tokyo Disneyland
For the moment, Tokyo Disneyland relinquishes the #2 position. It’s really a matter of timing, though. Tokyo Disneyland has been in a period of pre-Olympics transition. With the Tokyo Summer Olympics slated to occur in July 2021 and Tokyo’s state of emergency ending, things should kick into high gear by Fall 2021.
Tokyo Disneyland’s attraction roster is a greatest hits of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, with the best version of numerous iconic Disney rides. In addition to a formidable lineup of classics, Tokyo Disneyland also has two headliners of its own in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek.
However, it’s not the ride roster that puts Tokyo Disneyland near the top. The entertainment is amazing, with a regular lineup of great seasonal offerings, plus Dreaming Up (Disney’s best day parade) and Dreamlights (Disney’s best night parade). Beyond that, Tokyo Disneyland’s maintenance, attention to detail, show quality, dining, and Cast Members are all unsurpassed. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Tokyo Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide.
Disneyland backs into the #2 slot thanks to a couple of things. Project Stardust has revitalized areas of the park and improved crowd flow, something that had been a persistent issue for years. This has improved the guest experience in ways many visitors will never notice–but would’ve noticed had the improvements not been made.
Then there’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the debut of its flagship attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Both the land and the ride are among the very best in the world. Galaxy’s Edge is beautifully-done, immersive, transportive, and represents the evolution of themed lands. Disneyland doesn’t score quite as many points here as perhaps it should, as the new Star Wars Land feels isolated and removed for the rest of the park–also like a park within the park–rather than a coherent space that congeals with the greater whole.
However, this separation has one tremendous upside, and that’s the preservation of the charm and intimacy of Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom. The ‘traditional’ side of the park still oozes whimsy, beauty, and warm. Moreover, Disneyland has some of the best themed spaces in the world, with the Rivers of America, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Main Street all being incredibly inviting.
Equally as important, it has an incredible slate of attractions, ranging from intimate Fantasyland dark rides like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Alice in Wonderland to blockbuster E-Tickets like Indiana Jones Adventure and Hyperspace Mountain. Disneyland is incredibly attraction-dense, with great versions of the classics, plus a solid slate of entertainment. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide.
1. Tokyo DisneySea
The undisputed, indisputable king. Anyone who ranks another park ahead of Tokyo DisneySea either hasn’t been to Tokyo DisneySea, is leaning heavily on nostalgia, or just plain hates awesomeness.
Tokyo DisneySea loses a couple of points by virtue of retiring A Table is Waiting and replacing StormRider with Finding Nemo: SeaRider, but that’s like a receiver dropping Brady’s screen pass when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are up 44-10. On the other hand, the unsurprisingly excellent Soaring: Fantastic Flights (that’s the ride–and its show building–pictured above) is like a garbage time handoff somehow taken 83 yards to put the score at 51-10.
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 for what else makes this park so unbelievably special. Tokyo DisneySea is still Disney’s best theme park in the world, and it’s not even a remotely close call.
Hope you enjoyed this new edition of the Disney Parks Power Rankings. 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. 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.
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? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!