There are 6 worldwide theme park complexes: Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland. This list ranks those as vacation destinations unto themselves, highlighting the pros & cons of the parks, hotels, entertainment & shopping, transportation, layout, and overall atmosphere. (Updated December 17, 2023.)
We won’t be fixating on the parks in these rankings, as that’s something we’ve already done in our updated List of Best & Worst Disney Theme Parks in the World. 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.
However, the theme parks are just one piece of the puzzle. The overall experience includes so much more–the quality of the resort hotels, layout of the complex, transportation or walkability, atmosphere, and what else there is to do. There are some Disney Destinations where you could spend weeks without running out of things to do, whereas others only have a couple of days worth of fun.
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:
The top 3 would also all be on a list of my top 5 cities in the world. The problem with Los Angeles is that it’s not easily accessible for visitors (weak public transportation and awful traffic), but it’s a world-class city if you can get past that. The problems with Hong Kong and Shanghai are their government(s). Hong Kong used to be one of our favorite cities in the world, and it breaks our heart to see it lose its autonomy.
Orlando is a nice place, to be sure, but it is a city built around theme parks. That’s great if you love theme parks! But it’s just not a world city on par with the other entries.
6. Shanghai Disneyland
Being the newest of the bunch, Shanghai Disneyland is less than a decade out and is still in the process of being built out. The good news is that Shanghai Disneyland has been masterplanned nicely, and will grow into its own someday. Even since opening, Shanghai Disneyland has grown nicely and added nice new lands, most recently with Zootopia.
In the here and now, Shanghai Disneyland has one big advantage over Hong Kong Disneyland 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. However, it’s hard to give too much weight to that type of ‘district’ when the real cities are short train rides away, and offer something superior.
5. 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.
We hope that changes someday. 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.
Nevertheless, Hong Kong Disneyland is such a satisfying place–the little park with the big heart–with several of the best lands and rides on the planet. The trio of exceptional hotels also helps with that, and helps Hong Kong Disneyland edge out Shanghai Disneyland for the #5 slot.
4. Disneyland Paris
One of the reasons I’m most excited about the ongoing 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, Walt Disney Studios Park, 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. It’s fairly impressive how this has gone from a single park around which a surplus of latchers-on sprung up, into a bona fide resort destination with two exceptional theme parks, two fantastic hotels (plus Pixar Place), and an okay-ish shopping and dining destination.
The high points of the 2000s expansion have been the Grand Californian Hotel, and additions to Disneyland Hotel that 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, and we’re optimistic that’ll happen eventually with whatever DisneylandForward ends up being.
In the here and now, Disneyland Resort might be the least-removed from the real world, but it has such a formidable entertainment and ride roster that it’s easy to overlook. Lands like New Orleans Square, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Grizzly Peak, Fantasyland, and Cars Land are essentially unrivaled–and there are a ton of great attractions at Disneyland that you either won’t find anywhere else, or that are higher quality than anywhere else.
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…heck, we’d rather stay at the Hilton or Sheraton there than just about any other hotels (taking price and amenities into account). 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 at the end of an investment cycle, they’re in a much better place than they were a decade ago in 2013. The hotels are more of a mixed bag, as efforts to make them more broadly appealing have stripped away some character. Transportation additions and enhancements like the Skyliner have unequivocally improved, and made 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. (It’s a closer call than it should be with Anaheim’s parks versus Orlando’s, but we might even take California’s 2 over Florida’s 4.)
There are definitely some bright spots in Florida’s parks–Animal Kingdom and EPCOT are still unlike anything else in the world. New additions like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, TRON Lightcycle Run, and several other attractions have also helped elevate the parks. Nevertheless, that’s not the reason why Walt Disney World takes the top spot.
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.
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!