Now that Shanghai Disneyland is open, Disney has 12 worldwide theme parks: Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, Hong Kong Disneyland, and the aforementioned Shanghai park. This list takes a look at the strength of each park as of 2016, which should be a helpful resource for those of you preparing for your Fantasy Theme Park Drafts.
While 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. Suffice to say, this is all a pointless exercise and for entertainment only…but I find it fun to compare the different parks.
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. (You’re welcome to disagree and be wrong, though. )
With that said, here are my 2016 Disney Parks Power Rankings…
T11. Disney’s Hollywood Studios
In its present state of closed attractions and construction walls for Star Wars Land & Toy Story Land–and with scant temporary entertainment as a substitute–Disney’s Hollywood Studios has very little to offer. It’s a park that will be very strong in 3-4 years. It does not take a mathematician to tell you that 3-4 years is not today.
This current state of the park allows the Walt Disney Studios Park in France, anchored by the La Place de Rémy Ratatouille mini-land and other recent additions, to catch it. What Disney’s Hollywood Studios does have is theme, which is more than can be said for WDSP. Even though it is not a thematic gem compared to Walt Disney World’s other parks, it is a gem relative to that other Studios park, and this keeps Disney’s Hollywood Studios from being dead last. It’s the thematic elements, particularly on Sunset & Hollywood Boulevards and Echo Lake, that give DHS a needed boost. Of course, it still has Tower of Terror, Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, Toy Story Mania, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but it needs more.
T11. Walt Disney Studios Park
Since debuting as little more than a smattering of rides plopped down on a Wal-Mart parking lot (more or less), the Walt Disney Studios Park has been a lightning rod for criticism, and an insult to its namesake. Little by little, the park has improved, and while it still lacks any semblance of cohesion as a theme park, its attraction roster is respectable.
The new Mickey and the Magician show is exceptional (10/10), and upcoming Star Wars nighttime spectacular will help, but what this park needs is a redesign. We’re talking something more than a Disney California Adventure 2.0 makeover to its front entrance and a few lands, not just light placemaking. It’s not a total embarrassment to the Disney naame anymore–thanks mostly to another rodent–but it’s still mediocre.
10. Hong Kong Disneyland
On the heels of its 10th Anniversary, 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, two of the best attractions in the world, which vindicated HKDL as more than just a weak clone, but it has been pretty quiet since.
The expanded areas, dining, and beautiful natural environment are all great, but Hong Kong Disneyland still has a long way to go in terms of the resort experience as a whole, and even the park in isolation. Hopefully, Iron Man Experience will give the park a nice bump and further investment can be justified. If building continues, it could be an elite Disney theme park by its 15th anniversary. If the park stagnates, Shanghai Disneyland will totally eclipse it by then.
9. Disney California Adventure
Over two years since Disney pulled back the curtain on DCA 2.0, not a whole lot has happened to continue the positive momentum. Sure, the Frozen Musical opened this summer and Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout! opens next year, but the park needed/needs thematic help (particularly in Hollywood Land), and it’s receiving the opposite of help.
On the plus side, Grizzly Peak Airfield was a thematic improvement and the return of the OG World of Color is nice to see. Likewise, the overhaul did a tremendous job of transforming the park, and I still love spending time there. Cars Land is wonderfully immersive, Buena Vista Street is a proper park “opening act,” and Grizzly Peak does a great job of recreating California’s natural beauty.
8. Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Well, Disney’s Animal Kingdom didn’t have the coming out party that we predicted it would have this summer, but thanks to Animal Kingdom After Dark, it still moves up. Once Rivers of Light and Pandora: World of Avatar finally debut, it’ll likely climb even further. The question (I think) is whether Animal Kingdom will be Walt Disney World’s best park come 2017?
In the here and now, Animal Kingdom’s themed design is mostly first-rate, and its lands transport you to a different time and place. It’s a departure from the romanticized versions of real places that Disney does normally, but it’s impressive theming, nonetheless. Attraction-wise, there are zoological exhibits, traditional attractions, and hybrid offerings. Still, it could use more on the traditional end of the spectrum. (Which is where Pandora comes into play.)
Given that Epcot opened two well received attractions this summer in Soarin’ Around the World and Frozen Ever After, you might expect it to see a big gain. The problem is that neither offered real solutions to Epcot’s stagnation, particularly in Future World, where Innoventions is now a ghost town.
Although I have a soft spot for Epcot, and it does have some bright spots despite having its original mission statement and vision largely decimated, the park needs a lot of help. While I am not a fan of its current direction, 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 the one park on this list that’s not as good as it was in 1993 (of those that existed back then), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a good park.
6. 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 (including former head of Imagineering Marty Sklar, who stated “Shanghai is the best park we’ve ever done.”) 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. We think 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.
5. Magic Kingdom
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.
Magic Kingdom hasn’t received much attention in the last couple of years. New Fantasyland is not-so-new, Tomorrowland is ironically the most dated and tired land, and the park is about to be without a nighttime parade. Still, Magic Kingdom has the most headliner and classic attractions of any park at Walt Disney World, and personal favorites like Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress, and the Peoplemover. It also has a certain grandiosity and sentimentality–for all guests, not just me–that makes it really appealing. As the crown jewel park at Disney’s largest and most popular resort complex in the world, it is disappointing that there are no large projects on the horizon for Magic Kingdom in the foreseeable future, but with the other 3 parks needing attention, this is somewhat understandable…
4. Disneyland Paris
We waited to post this until having a chance to revisit Disneyland Paris, which was looking pretty sad in places during my last visit nearly 2 years ago. Since, “Project Sparkle” has begun as a revitalization effort to get the park back on track in time for its 25th Anniversary in April 2017. After spending 3+ days in the park last week, we have to say that this plan is going quite well. Areas of Disneyland Paris look pristine, which is a word we would’ve never used to describe pretty much anything there in the past.
There’s still a good amount of work to go (Pirates of the Caribbean was looking sad, and dining–both food quality and restaurant operating hours–remains an issue), but Disneyland Paris is most definitely on the right track, and moves up a spot on our list thanks to that. This new level of maintenance and cleanliness coupled with the always-exceptional design work at Disneyland Paris make it one of the top parks in the world, particularly 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.
I am not one of those people who believe there’s a certain “magic” to Disneyland because it’s the only part Walt walked, but it does have a certain charm and intimacy that every other park (save for Hong Kong Disneyland–which will probably be the only park with that intimacy once Star Wars Land opens) lacks. 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.
If this list were published at the start of the Diamond Celebration, Disneyland would be #2. New entertainment in the form of Paint the Night parade and Disneyland Forever, plus refreshed Fantasyland classics and other parts of the park looking great really elevated. As we enter the post-Diamond Celebration hangover, that’s no longer the case. As such, Tokyo Disneyland once again reclaims the Castle Park Throne. We’ll see how long that lasts with new fireworks, Fantasmic 2.0, and more coming in 2017.
2. Tokyo Disneyland
In a battle for #2, Tokyo Disneyland retains its position thanks to executing on all of the fundamentals. The attraction roster (and design, for that matter) reads like a greatest hits of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, plus two headliners of its own in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Monsters Inc. Ride and Go Seek. The design is a bit of a hodgepodge in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland (in fairness, the same could be said about any Tomorrowland), but Westernland, Critter Country, and Adventureland make up for that.
Then there’s the entertainment, which is amazing. With Happiness is Here (Disney’s best day parade), Dreamlights (Disney’s best night parade), and Once Upon a Time, Tokyo Disneyland has an all-star roster. Beyond that, maintenance, attention to detail, show quality, dining, and Cast Members are all unsurpassed in in Tokyo Disneyland.
1. Tokyo DisneySea
The undisputed, indisputable king. Anyone who ranks another park ahead of Tokyo DisneySea either hasn’t been to Tokyo DisneySea or is leaning heavily on nostalgia.
Tokyo DisneySea loses a couple of points by virtue of replacing StormRider with a Finding Nemo attraction, but that’s like a receiver dropping Brady’s screen pass when the Patriots are up 44-10. 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. 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 2016 edition of the Disney Parks Power Rankings. I’ll return with another edition at some point in 2017 once a few key additions have opened (and I’ve had a chance to experience them).
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.
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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.