Worldwide Disney Resort Complex Rankings
There are 6 worldwide Disney Parks & Resorts complexes, which are made up of theme parks, hotels, and entertainment complexes. Recently, we’ve been thinking about how these resort complexes rank as vacation destinations unto themselves, and thought we’d highlight the pros and cons of each in this post.
We won’t be fixating on the parks in these rankings, as that’s something we’ve already done in our Updated 2018 Disney Parks Power Rankings. Obviously, the quality of each resort’s theme park offerings factors heavily into the rankings below, as most people probably wouldn’t be going to any of these places in the first place but for the parks.
The major cities around each of these parks is also something upon which we won’t fixate…nor will we take that variable into consideration in the rankings. Since they are not part of the Disney resorts, that might seem like an obvious move. When it comes to choosing a vacation destination, it’s probably something that should be taken into account, but we think that is too much of a complicating factor.
Unless you have no intention of visiting any real world locations on your trip, the major cities near each complex do factor heavily into the overall calculus. For what it’s worth, my city rankings would be: 6) Orlando, 5) Shanghai, 4) Hong Kong, 3) Tokyo, 2) Los Angeles, 1) Paris. The top 3 would also all be on a list of my top 5 cities in the world.
6. Hong Kong Disneyland
Despite having three hotels, Hong Kong Disneyland does not feel like a destination resort. The intimate atmosphere of the park amplifies this, and makes it feel a lot like Disneyland in Anaheim would have pre-2001.
Someday, we expect that to change. Hong Kong Disneyland is masterplanned in a way that will allow it to grow into a fully-fledged resort, and already some trappings of this are visible today in the walkways and streets. With neither a second gate or entertainment district on the horizon for a long time, we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
It’s not that Hong Kong Disneyland is an unsatisfying destination–we think it’s an underrated park with a trio of solid hotels–it’s just a place more conducive to day trips or 1-2 night stays.
5. Shanghai Disneyland
Being the newest of the bunch, Shanghai Disneyland evokes the same type of “it’s too soon” reaction as Hong Kong Disneyland. As with that, we think Shanghai Disneyland has been masterplanned nicely, and will grow into its own someday.
In the here and now, Shanghai Disneyland has one big advantage despite having one fewer hotel: Disneytown. This shopping and entertainment district provides a counterweight to the parks, and while it’s not a ton, it’s something. Although even without Disneytown, we are tempted to rank Hong Kong Disneyland higher if only because we prefer its hotels to Shanghai’s.
4. Disneyland Paris
One of the reasons I’m most excited about the upcoming investments in Disneyland Paris is because I think there is so much potential for it as a resort. The layout of the two parks, hotels, and Disney Village around Lake Disney is lovely, and the entire resort complex is walkable.
Disneyland Paris is already a pretty enjoyable place to spend time outside of the parks, but the hotels and Disney Village definitely need more substance to make them compelling for visitors. If these investments go according to plan and really improve Walt Disney Studios Park along with several of the resorts, Disneyland Paris could be a top-notch standalone vacation destination worthy of a long stay.
In the here and now, there are flickers of brilliance, but a ton of squandered potential. This is most evident in the resorts, several of which have been neglected for well over a decade; it’s also apparent with Disney Village, which is almost a caricature of the 1990s at this point. Then there’s the second gate, which is not so much a matter of squandered potential as it was dead on arrival. Even without the huge capital investments on the horizon, improvements in the place-making of Disney Village and the resort hotel restaurants would really go a long way.
Disneyland Resort is an example of making lemonade out of lemons. Although we’ve criticized Disneyland recently for its reticence at building out infrastructure that will be necessary once the crushing crowds arrive for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s still fairly impressive how this has gone from a single park around which a surplus of latchers-on sprung up, into a resort destination.
The high points of this expansion have been the Grand Californian Hotel, and additions to Disneyland Hotel (like Trader Sam’s) have strengthened that. Disney California Adventure has also come into its own as a solid second gate, which has helped Disneyland Resort work as both a local’s hangout and a tourist destination.
There’s still a ton of room for improvement, especially with Downtown Disney and Paradise Pier Hotel. With the new luxury hotel about to significantly expand the on-site room inventory, we anticipate Disneyland’s quality as an actual resort complex continuing to grow (likely at the expense of that “local’s park” reputation). Improvements to Downtown Disney will come with this, and change seems inevitable at Paradise Pier Hotel given the whole “Pixar Pier” thing.
2. Tokyo Disney Resort
If going by theme parks alone, I’d take Japan’s two over those at any other resort destination in the world, and that includes the four at Walt Disney World. Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are an unparalleled one-two punch, and have an incredible amount of repeatability thanks to their strong lineup of seasonal events that feature refreshed entertainment, special menus, and cool decorations.
Outside of the parks is where Tokyo Disney Resort stumbles. Ikspiari is its version of Downtown Disney, but it’s a non-Disney concept. We think Ikspiari does not get enough credit–there’s some great dining and decent shopping there–but this is also understandable because it’s ultimately just another mall. The same thinking applies to the on-property hotels clustered around the Bayside Station monorail stop. Most are very nice and some have good restaurants…but through the Disney prism it’s tough to get too excited about a Hilton or Sheraton.
On the other hand, Tokyo has three of the best Disney hotels in the world, including the best, Hotel MiraCosta. Each of these are interesting places to visit with solid dining options. Those hotels, plus excellent monorail service, and those incredible parks locks Tokyo Disney Resort into the #2 spot, but we still wonder ‘what could have been?’ if OLC and Disney were more collaborative on developing this Tokyo Bay site into a wholly Disney resort complex. (Then again, we probably couldn’t afford to stay on-site if that were the case, so maybe we’re fine with things as-is!)
1. Walt Disney World
We have plenty of quibbles with Walt Disney World’s parks, but it feels like they are reaching a turning point after over a decade of underinvestment and resting upon their laurels. We’re still at least three years away from seeing the peak of the investments currently being made, but the parks are trending the right direction. The hotels are more of a mixed bag, as efforts to make them more broadly appealing have stripped away some character, even as additions and enhancements like the Skyliner strike us as positives that will make several hotels more accessible.
Ultimately, the reason Walt Disney World tops this list is not because it has “double” the number of theme parks as California, Japan, or France. As we’ve noted, we’d take Tokyo’s two parks over Florida’s four…and it’s a closer call than it should be with Anaheim’s parks versus Orlando’s. While there are definitely some bright spots in Florida’s parks, they are not the strong suit of Walt Disney World. At least, not today.
Instead, Walt Disney World ranks #1 here because of everything outside of the parks. No other location on this list has the sheer quantity of exceptional resort hotels like Walt Disney World. There are over a dozen hotels that we love in Florida, and these sprawling resorts are great places to spend time, dine, and relax while not in the parks. Crescent Lake, Polynesian Village & Grand Floridian, Fort Wilderness & Wilderness Lodge, the Port Orleans Resorts–the list goes on and on. Then there’s Disney Springs, which is by far the best Disney shopping and entertainment district in the world.
The cumulative effect of this is the best Disney vacation destination in the world, and by a pretty wide margin. There’s a reason its old moniker was the “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” and it’s still apt after all these years: Walt Disney World is the only place on this list where we think a 10+ day trip is possible.
Then again, part of that is out of necessity, as it’s also the only Disney Parks complex on this list that is not located within close proximity of a world city. Still, Walt Disney World’s strengths make it easy to see why it’s a destination so many people visit and revisit, and it has such an advantage over Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Resort, and Disneyland Paris that the “lead” is pretty much insurmountable at this point.
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How would you rank the Disney Parks resort complexes you’ve visited? Do you give much weight to the resort hotels or shopping/entertainment districts, or is your interest in each destination solely the theme parks? Do you think I mis-ranked any resort complexes, or made any poor choices? We love hearing from readers, so please share any your own rankings or questions you have in the comments below!
I have only been to CA, FL and Tokyo, but I definitely agree. I loved Disneyland growing up, but it is pretty easy to get burnt out at those parks. Tokyo’s parks are amazing, but the lack of amenities at the hotels are surprising. I splurged for the $500 a night at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel and it really had the same amenities as Celebration (minus the distance to the park). I dragged my feet on Disney World, but I was very wrong. Port Orleans Riverside was awesome with of the pools, food and shopping options, Disney Springs was surprisingly fun. Not to mention 4 parks that were brand new to me!
This makes me wonder: have you ever done a top 10 Disney hotels worldwide? If so, I can’t find it. You seem like you would be in a relatively unique position to weigh in on these. Cheers!
I would also like to see this. Thank you, and good job on this list!
Was trying to guess your rankings before reading and only had #1 and #2 swapped. I agree HK desperately needs that shopping district that all the others have today. I’d have to put TDR in first place just because quality far outweighs quantity for me. TDR has quality nailed across the board from staff to entertainment to hotels to food to ride maintenance. Ikspiari may in fact be the weakest shopping area by Western standards, but I think the locals appreciate it. I struggle with WDW because to me the theme parks are the core of the resort and the parks at WDW seem too light on attractions when compared to every other resort except HK.
The theme parks are the core but when you add all the extras it puts wdw number one I agree with tom. Tbh its not a stretch that you could stay a entire month and not run out of things to do. You could also spend a week at wdw without even going to a park and it would still be very enjoyable. You have a movie theate, bowling alley, water parks, mini golf, 18 hole golf courses the pros play on, horse riding, carriage rides, many resorts to explore, the disney springs shopping center, many fine restaurants, within short proximity not only to its own 4 parks but also very close to sea world, universal studios, and close to Lego land. I think when you put all these things together it puts wdw number one. Yes the parks need work but it looks like they are finally going to spend some effort into it. Not to mention you can stay the entirety of your vacation in the disney bubble. Soon they will not just have the busses and monorail but you’ll have the gondola. Sorry maybe I went to far but your talking about someone who absolutely loves wdw and has since he was old enough to enjoy it
Sorry Paul should have read yours first thanks for the two of us thinking alike
Point taken and I agree WDW as a whole is great, but I can’t look past what I see are Disney’s “lightest” attraction parks outside of WDSP and HKDL. Tokyo by comparison has a stellar attraction lineup at both parks. While you don’t have the true resort feel at TDR, you are in a Disney bubble, and what’s more, they just consistently deliver on all fronts. I’d rather have that experience for a week than have a month at the current WDW. Overall though, I would still probably put WDW as a whole in second place. Certainly by the 50th it may be in my top spot. Tokyo is just a tough experience to top.
Unlike his other ranking this is on disney resort areas as a whole. Tell me does tokyo have 46 miles of stuff to do or visit. I think not their parks might be better for now, but soon even that will change.
I agree with your analysis, though only in a theoretical sense, having solely gone to WDW. And I think you hit it on the head: Everything outside the 4 theme parks. However, I think you just barely scratch the surface for that superiority, basically relying on all of the Disney on-site resorts.
Do the names Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach ring a bell? There are better water parks in the world, but these are two of the best, and I’ve yet to come across the level of theming for the two, with TL being the best (and our favorite). Miniature golf? Horseback rides? 3 Dinner Shows? Golf? Sure Paris Disneyland has golf, but where there are 3 9-hole courses there, WDW has 3 course of 18 holes (2 of which are used for PGA events), and a 4th 9 hole course. ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (which can be a mixed blessing, for those who stay at some of the All-Star Resorts, especially Sports). And then there’s boating. Some of my best memories are the fun I had with my brothers, each of us setting out from the Polynesian in a Searaycer for an hour. There’s a ton of additional boating activities available, including fishing. WDW has a level of sporting activities, which are traditional to resorts, that none of the other Disney resorts can even come close to touching.
This is spot on, Paul. We have gone to WDW many, many times, and each time it is different because of the incredible variety of activities available. We have had weeks when our main focus was only the parks and our resort pool; when we included water parks in the mix; when I added a couple of rounds of golf in the mornings; and when we’ve added in boating activities (oh, how I long for the days when I could captain a small canopy boat from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney). And of course, be it Downtown Disney or now Disney Springs, we’ve always had a variety of other evening activities. Our trips have always been at least 5 days (8 this year in May), and we never want for anything to do while there. Outside of WDW, we’ve only visited Disneyland Resort, and it was just two days of a 10-day trip in CA. Absolutely loved it and could have easily gone 1 more day, but just didn’t feel like a “resort” to me. (No experience with any of the other Disney resorts.)
Great post (and I agree on the rankings of the 4 resorts I’ve visited). My big question now comes from the preface where you ranked cities. Paris, LA, Tokyo…and you’ve stated elsewhere that Kyoto is your #1 … what would claim the last spot on your top 5 world cities list?
Of the 3 parks we’ve visited (not the Asian ones), I’d agree with these rankings. We can easily spend a week at WDW, and ~3 days felt just right at Disneyland and DLP. This is probably a good thing due to the “city” part of the equation, as I don’t have a desire in Orlando beyond theme parks, while SoCal and Paris are definitely worth exploring.
As much as I love DLP, I think the current state of it means it should take place number 6. Disney Village is not pleasant to walk through, is filled with tacky shops and restaurants and feels like it has grown haphazardly, the security setup which has been there for years still feels temporary, buses from hotels to the parks actually take you to the station, meaning you walk past hawks selling tourist rubbish, Lake Disney is a white elephant and is never used for anything good, and although Hotel Cheyenne and NPB are both in stellar condition, Hotel Santa Fe is in desperate need of some serious restoration and Hotel New York is in terrible state with a poor-man’s Autopia outside.
To be completely honest, I am not actually sure how any reasonable mind can’t put this at number 6, and it’s the only resort where I wouldn’t hesitate to stay off site. Conversely, HKDL is so tranquil that I make a point of staying on site every time there. I do however agree with all your other rankings!
My basis would be this: I simply ignore the things I don’t think add value. Arguably, Hotel Santa Fe is so bad that its removal would be addition by subtraction, but in my calculus of how Disneyland Paris rates as a resort-destination, I can easily just ignore it (and its location makes it easy to physically ignore).
Disney Village is pretty awful, but it has a handful of substantive offerings that are worthwhile. By contrast, Hong Kong Disneyland has ~nothing~ in its place.
I just see your post as one of size, not quality. People do take 10 day visits to Tokyo (know any bloggers?) and Anaheim and Paris. The logic here seems to be 1.) Disney has some great hotels (leaving out the value proposition, the loss of theming at most, the construction mess at multiples right now etc.); and 2.) They have the best mall complex; and 3.) If you add up the actual attractions at their four parks, you might equal the number at the non-China resorts.
Honestly, I get it. WDW is your bread and butter for this business. You have at least a dozen fewer years of visits than I do and the addiction is still strong in you. But it is a sickening mess of construction and wetlands/greenbelt destruction and security that makes you believe they think a mass murder is coming sooner rather than later. There are wonderful things there … DAK … World Showcase at night … HEA at the MK … and the water parks. But look at what most people pay to get in. I am guessing your out of pocket expenses for simply Annual Passes for the USA (I know you have TDR as well) are close to $4,000 annually for you and the wife. That is not a small amount. Or an insignificant one.
TDR is hands down No. 1 if you are talking about value, quality, quantity and seasonal entertainment. DLP is close behind if you again talking about the above. Of course, that’s just my subjective opinion. But like you, I have been to every resort in the world multiple times and have been a local at WDW, DL and HKDL and, now, semi-local to DLP.
WDW constantly gets graded on a curve where having 20 new places to eat (about half that are really great) and loads of typical upscale mall outposts counts while having attractions in disrepair doesn’t. And WDW just becomes more crowded (and not as much due to having more Guests, but having dead parks), more homogenised and just more unpleasant to visit.
I don’t know where I would rate it. But I live partly three hours away, own DVC, have an AP that literally was half off (because Disney is having a huge issue with DVCers who use their timeshares for vacations, but no longer include the WDW theme parks), have cast friends for shopping and dining discounts of 20-60%. I would in no way advise anyone paying close to retail to visit the mess that exists now. The three day $159 FL Resident ticket is exactly what the resort is truly worth.
When it comes to value, the big question is going to be one of hotels, as that’s where the big differences between Walt Disney World and Tokyo lie (right?). Since we’re comparing resorts as a whole, I think it’s impossible to compare hotel costs. Not when you are talking both Grand Floridian (ridiculously overpriced and poor value) and Port Orleans Riverside (a good value if you get good pricing).
As for the parks…I even say I’d take Tokyo’s 2 over WDW’s 4, and would even consider taking Anaheim’s 2 over WDW’s 4.
I think Tokyo has a product that is consistently good. Unlike Walt Disney World, it doesn’t have the same glaring problems, some of which have gone unaddressed for a while. However, as with Paris, I think it’s possible to set aside some of WDW’s issues when evaluating it as a vacation destination (at least, to the degree that they can be separated–i.e. ignore the All Stars since they are not an integral part of a regular trip). Obviously, you disagree.
Ultimately, these are rankings in a vacuum, anyway. The biggest advantage Walt Disney World receives here is me not including the major cities near each resort complex in the rankings. Factor those into the mix and WDW drops to the middle of the pack (at best).
As another poster has said, when considering the total resort, wouldn’t you ahve to compare vs 6 parks at WDW? I think the differences are more than just the hotels as well. We know some people who went and I don’t think the dad stepped foot in a theme park – he golfed for the week. You don’t get that at the other locations.
Great ranking! I love your ranking posts! I was wondering when there is a top 10 Tokyo Disney Resort Rides list. I would love that list!
I love your blog! Keep up the good work!
Thanks for your objective review. We have not had the opportunity to travel outside of the U.S. We have visited WDW on a regular basis since 1971, average twice per year. Los Angles is much closer in distance from our home (Seattle) but we choose to visit WDW, not because of the city and not necessarily because of the parks but because, as you say, “everything else”. Our frequent visits have have given us the ability to explore much of what there is to offer. I sincerely wish everyone who visits could have or would take the time to explore outside of the parks on the WDW grounds. It makes the vacation so much more worth while!
Have you ever been to Disneyland/Los Angeles? If not, that’s definitely something to consider–great city and great parks! (Just be sure to go during the off-season.)
I am enjoying all of your comparison and ranking posts so much!