In addition to Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California, there are Disney theme parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. This list ranks all 12, covering pros & cons, rides, shows, details, and more to determine the best and worst Disney parks in the world. (Last updated July 21, 2019.)
We visit every Disney theme park annually to check on everything that’s new, with our most recent visits being to Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea this month to see its new entertainment and Disneyland last month to see the debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. We’ve also made monthly visits to Walt Disney World, and will be on hand for the opening of its Star Wars Land this August (after which we’ll update this best & worst list once again).
While we call these our Disney Parks Power Rankings, it’s unlikely these parks will ever throw down with one another, pro-wrestling style, I think there’s little denying Disneyland could deliver a sick People’s Elbow to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Joking aside, my point is to acknowledge that this is all a pointless exercise and for entertainment only. I find it fun to compare the different parks, but your mileage may vary…
Each of the worldwide Disney resorts has a Castle Park, but not all of these parks are of the same quality, and their second gates (and beyond) are all fairly different. Hence these rankings. The list is my attempt at objectivity in ranking the parks, trying as best as 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 infallible. It’s entirely possible that you’ll appreciate various attractions, entertainment, or the themed lands more or less than me, in which case your list would differ. As with anything like this, your mileage may vary.
With that said, here are my current Disney Parks Power Rankings…
12. Walt Disney Studios Park
We’ll start with an apology. Last year, we ranked Disney’s Hollywood Studios as tied for 11th place with Walt Disney Studios Park. As weak as DHS is right now, it’s got nothing on the glaring weaknesses of Walt Disney Studios Park. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking when I made this list last year. Perhaps I had just finished a rousing experience on Armageddon – Les Effets Speciaux and was high on adrenaline? Nah, can’t be it.
Disney Hollywood Studios’ higher ranking reflect a few improvements in the last year-plus, including the opening of Toy Story Land, Grand Avenue, and Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. In August 2019, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will debut, which should further propel the park forward.
Nevertheless, the park is still light on attractions, and little has been added in terms of entertainment during its massive overhaul to help round out its offerings. After Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway open, it’ll still be in need other another attraction or two (perhaps the ‘blank slate’ dark ride?), but all in all, it’s poised for the future.
For now, it’s the thematic elements, particularly on Sunset & Hollywood Boulevards and Echo Lake, that give Disney’s Hollywood Studios a needed boost. Those areas are gems, with Tower of Terror arguably being the pinnacle of modern Imagineering.
10. Disney California Adventure
Over five years since Disney pulled back the curtain on DCA 2.0, not a whole lot has happened to continue the positive momentum. To the contrary, the placemaking and effort to establish a cohesive theme are being undone. First with Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout!, followed by Pixar Pier last year, and Marvel additions next year.
We understand Disney’s motivation here, wanting to quickly inject new life into Disney California Adventure to make it a hot draw with the general public to reduce the crowding burden of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening across the Esplanade. However, we view these moves as short-sighted, and a hodgepodge of fun individual attractions without thematic cohesion does not a good theme park make.
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. Iron Man Experience has also proven to be a pleasant surprise–a far better attraction than we expected, even if it’s not the Marvel E-Ticket the park needed (that’s coming in a few years).
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.
There is no denying that Shanghai Disneyland is an ambitious park, even if you might contend that some of its ambition is misguided at times. In our estimation, Shanghai both scores and loses points for its significant deviations from the traditional castle park formula.
Some of these changes work really well, while others fall a bit flat. Among its “home runs” are Treasure Cove (especially its revolutionary Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for the Sunken Treasure attraction), Camp Discovery, 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. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Shanghai Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide.
I have a soft spot for Epcot. No, it’s not the EPCOT Center of my youth, a park that was far superior and more ambitious to what exists today. Setting aside my personal biases and nostalgia is a tall order when it comes to Epcot, but I think I’ve done that by ranking it #7 instead of #4.
This is because Epcot still has plenty of bright spots despite having its original mission statement and vision largely decimated. When viewed as a whole, Epcot 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.
Epcot is another park on this list that’s in the midst of a massive overhaul. Oddly, we know that big things are on the horizon because Walt Disney World has announced that many closures will occur in September 2019 (and we see construction elsewhere), but Disney isn’t revealing the full scope of Epcot’s reimagining until the next D23 Expo.
6. 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 and walk-throughs 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 to allow us to slip Epcot and Magic Kingdom ahead of Animal 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. Even as I now live within driving distance of Disneyland, Magic Kingdom 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 solid entertainment, and the most headliner attractions 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 in the next few years 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 Disneyland Paris is a disaster and needs a top-down house cleaning of management), 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. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Disneyland Paris Vacation Planning Guide.
3. Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland drops from the #2 position not because Disneyland overtook it, but because Japan’s castle park is in a period of transition…albeit one that’ll only last about 6 months. As we cover in our Should You Visit Tokyo Disneyland in the Next Year?post, Tokyo Disney Resort is gearing up for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, and there are a lot of refurbishments and construction right now as a result.
On the plus side, Tokyo Disneyland’s attraction roster reads like 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.
As for Tokyo Disneyland’s #3 ranking? It’s safe to assume it’ll retake the #2 spot come Spring 2020, when its much-needed Beauty and the Beast mini-land, plus projects in Tomorrowland and Towntown debut. As cool as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is, these offerings should not only be excellent on their own merits, but they should also bolster the thematic strength of those three lands. Plan your visit with our comprehensive Tokyo Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide.
Disneyland backs into the #2 slot mostly by virtue of Tokyo Disneyland’s current growing pains, but this is not to diminish what California’s flagship park has accomplished. Project Stardust has revitalized areas of the park and improved crowd flow, something that had been a persistent issue for years.
While only one of its two rides are open, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has also proven to be one of the best theme park lands in the world. It’s beautifully-done, immersive, transportive, and represents the evolution of themed lands. However, 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 Patriots are up 44-10. On the other hand, the unsurprisingly 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? If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.