Ranking Every Disney Theme Park From Worst To First
Disney Parks sit at the top of the theme park industry. What began in Anaheim California as a man wanting a fun safe and clean place to take his children has grown into 12 theme parks across 6 resorts, located all over the world. Yearly attendance easily exceeds 140 million, dwarfing its nearest competitor.
One of the things that make Disney parks so special is time and effort that goes into theming. The details matter. Creating a whole world and story around each park, land, and attraction Walt Disney Imagineers bring guests into the story like no other. Disney Parks are made for exploring. They bring your imagination to life and in turn stir your imagination to dream even bigger.
How do the parks stack up against each other? Here they are ranked from worst to first.
12. Walt Disney Studios – Disneyland Paris Resort
Without question, the Walt Disney Studio’s in Paris ranks as the worst Disney theme park. It displays some of the weakest theming Disney has ever produced as well as lacking quality rides and attractions. The new Ratatouille ride and mini land attempted to breathe new life into the struggling park. It is definitely a step up, but having a land themed to Paris, while in Paris, is a bit of a disappointment. Disney has committed to reworking the park. A large scale expansion has been announced that will complete by the time Paris hosts the Olympics in 2024.
11. Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s – Walt Disney World
Studio parks in general scream cop out for a theme park theme and there is little surprise that both studio parks sit at the bottom of list of Disney parks. Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s was built to be a real working studio. That didn’t last long and the park has been a bit of a mess ever since. It also suffers from a lack of attractions with the lowest count of any Disney theme park. A large scale expansion is underway that will bring lands based on Star Wars and Toy Story into the fold. Once the expansion is complete it is possible the park will be better thought of. The highlight is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which is Disney at its best. The park needs more quality attractions to raise its ranking.
10. Disney California Adventure – Disneyland Resort
The second gate in California sits only a few hundred feet from the original Disney park. Disney California Adventure opened in 2001, and fell flat on its face. The theme park in California, about California, with primarily California visitors, suffered from a poor theme as well as looking cheap and kitschy. Band aids kept trying to prop up the park, but it finally took a billion dollar plus makeover to bring the struggling park to Disney quality. The injection of cash worked and DCA finally became a hit with the public. Carsland and Buena Vista Street are standouts. Overall it does still has too many leftover issues from its beginnings to be considered a top tier Disney theme park.
9. EPCOT – Walt Disney World
The daring vision that began as Walt Disney’s idea to build a futuristic idealized city to life, was transformed into a bold idea for a theme park that challenges and inspires guests to build a better world. EPCOT remains Disney’s most unique park and the one with the most potential to be great. The park now suffers from a lack of vision and lack of updates. For a park with a land called Future World, it is stuck in the past. Many of the rides depicting the future have not been updated since the early 1990’s.
World Showcase remains a highlight, but you have to wonder whether it is still relevant in today’s age of travel. The park is propped up by several festivals relying on food and beverage sales. The park is in desperate need of reinvestment and a return to a more unifying theme. While investment is coming, the choices made do not keep the theme of EPCOT alive. One has to wonder what direction the park will go in the future.
8. Shanghai Disneyland – Shanghai Disney Resort
The newest Disney park makes its debut in the middle of the pack. Theme parks famously open under built which hurt it when compared to parks that have been around much longer and that is certainly the case here. While attractions and shows are a strong point for Shanghai Disneyland, the primary issue is lacking enough of them in a park built for massive crowds. As the park builds out it should move up the rankings. It is a very good theme park with the ability to be great.
7. Hong Kong Disneyland – Hong Kong Disney Resort
Possibly the most underrated Disney park, Hong Kong Disneyland recreates much of the charm found in the original Disneyland. It is one of the easiest parks to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere that is a trademark of the Disney brand. While many may find it too similar to the original Disneyland, the park has taken on its own identity as it has aged and now is Disney’s most relaxing park. Being one of the lowest attended Disney parks, crowds are minimal compared to others and makes it much more manageable and pleasant.
It opened with an extreme lack of things to do. In recent years they have bulked up the ride count, including the amazing Mystic Manor. Overall the attraction roster still remains one of the weaker points of the park. A new plan to add more high profile attractions from the worlds of Frozen and Marvel are designed to raise attendance figures.
6. Magic Kingdom – Walt Disney World
The worlds most attended theme park still has a long way to go to be considered the best. When stacked up against the other parks it has a solid roster of attractions, but lacks a standout compared to other Disney parks. In many ways the Magic Kingdom has played it safe with attractions, theming, and shows. Add everything up and we have a quality park that has few flaws but few touches that distinguish itself from the rest.
5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Walt Disney World
Perhaps the most controversial ranking on this list, Animal Kingdom is my pick for the best theme park in central Florida. The theming is top notch and the experiences are unlike anything you will find in another Disney Park. While there are some similarities of a zoo, Animal Kingdom takes on more of a nature preserve vibe than zoo.
The parks primarily weakness is a lack of traditional theme park rides. It makes up for it with shows and walk thru experiences that put you at one with nature. Those who may not find Animal Kingdom appealing are those looking for more traditional theme park rides and those who are not interested in animals.
4. Disneyland Paris – Disneyland Paris Resort
Many Disney parks reflect the locations they are in. That is certainly the case with Disneyland Paris as it is the most elegant and beautiful Disney park. The design of the park is outstanding and reflects many of the best practices seen in any Disney park. This is the park built by Disney park nerds for Disney park nerds.
Disneyland Paris has some standout attractions. It has the best versions of Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and classic Pirates of the Caribbean (not counting Shanghai.) Its biggest flaw has been a lack of maintenance as the park was looking to cut costs due to poor financial decisions made in the development phase. The resort was overbuilt in its first phase with too many hotels built on site and were unable to reach the lofty financial expectation placed on it. The maintenance issues have been addressed for the 25th Anniversary and hopefully they can sustain it. The most picturesque Disney park should always look its best.
3. Tokyo Disneyland – Tokyo Disney Resort
Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland are neck and neck with either being the second best park without much criticism. Disneyland barely edges out Tokyo due to the attraction count and the charm factor. Tokyo Disneyland has some theming issues in areas such as Fantasyland being a concrete jungle compared to Disneyland.
Tokyo Disneyland however does boast one of if not the best attraction rosters out there. When comparing them to the American parks, they took a best of approach. They have Disneyland’s superior Pirates of the Caribbean. They have Magic Kingdom’s superior Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion. It also has some of the best unique attractions such as Pooh’s Honey Hunt and Monster’s Inc Hide and Go Seek.
Other standouts include the Dreamlights nighttime parade as well as famously having the best snacks in a theme park. Also something to consider is the cast members are the best found in any Disney park (even if you don’t speak the language) and the Tokyo Disney is easily the cleanest and best maintained resort. It is rare to find show elements in a ride not working 100%, unlike what you find in any other park where it has become commonplace.
2. Disneyland – Disneyland Resort
The original has stayed near the top of any best theme park list for over 60 years. Disneyland manages to largely pay homage to its historic past while continuing to stay relevant with cutting edge rides and entertainment. A big focus recently has been updating classic attractions with new technology. While one of the smallest parks in acreage, it packs a pound for pound punch as it has the most attractions of any Disney park as they literally stacks rides on top of each other. That ride count will only go up as a new Star Wars land opens in the coming years, which will certainly bring in even larger crowds.
1. Tokyo Disney Sea – Tokyo Disney Resort
The undisputed champion of theme parks. Opening in 2001, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of themed entertainment. With a nautical theme, areas are ports instead of lands. Tokyo Disney Sea is the gold standard for its consistent top level theming. Most theme parks have one or two great lands and the rest significantly lag behind. Disney Sea’s strength is the consistency in its top level theming and attention to detail.
Tokyo Disney Sea also has an amazing lineup of attractions. Wonderful unique rides such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Sinbad, to unique versions of other rides like Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones. All in all any theme park fan should make a pilgrimage to visit the best theme park on the planet and a title that it may not give up for a long time to come.