Thrilla in Parkzilla Round 1

Which park is best?

Six years ago I wrote a series of articles for our friends at The purpose was to evaluate and compare each of the Disney parks to see which one truly reigned supreme. In a tough fought brawl to take it all one park emerged as the ultimate victor.

But six years later lots has changed.  Huge expansions are going on in some parks, lots of new attractions have opened while others have been shuttered, even a whole new park has been born.  It’s time that we revisit the topic, pit these parks against each other in a no holds barred ultimate fight to see who is DEADLIEST

Oh wait… strike that.  We want to know which is truly the best park in the world and to do so we we will carefully evaluate the parks on a range of topics. None of our normal snarky type of stuff here folks… this is the real deal, a deadly serious topic and one that demands our respect.  No rules, no safety, no mercy this is the…

Who is Deadliest?
First we will take a look to the past and re-run the previous three part series.  We will reveal who was the champion last time around, then in round four we will re-evaluate all the parks as they stand today and see if a new heavyweight has emerged.

The combatants are ringside, the smell of this savage bloodsport is in the air and without further ado we will let the fight begin!

(originally run late 2004 and early 2005, some facts have changed over that time and will be addressed in round four.  This is the original series):

May the Best Park Win:

Some questions haunt man; Why are we here? What is the meaning of Life? Are we alone in the universe? Meaningful subjects that keep scholars up at night.

And then there are the really important questions for discerning readers such as yourself, like which Disney park is the best?

I have been fortunate enough to visit all of the Disney resorts the world over and more so I have been to each within the last two years. It’s about time we tackle a serious subject, the answer of which has eluded mankind for decades and so once and for all we will answer the burning question: which is the best Disney theme park in the world?

Judging the parks fairly takes more than just a casual poll or a throw away opinion. There are thousands and thousands of elements that must gel together in order for a theme park to click into high gear and fire on all cylinders. All of these must be considered. It is also important to have some sort of level playing field for the judging. I’ve only taken two trips to Tokyo DisneySea for a total of eight days or so, while I have been to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World dozens of times and hundreds of days. It’s only human nature to start to become bored with a park you have seen so many times. On the other hand a newer park holds all sorts of possibilities and potential, if not careful this newness can be blinding and perhaps lull one into an artificial sense of grandeur.

In addition there are factors that change and evolve. Things like the upkeep and maintenance of the parks fit into this category. For example Disneyland endured years of neglect which plunged it into a sad state of disrepair. Currently a massive rehab program is underway which is correcting many of the problems Disneyland has accumulated over recent years. In this case we will look at the most recent changes and judge the parks on not only how they look right now, but also how they will be AFTER current rehab projects are completed.
Keeping Count
In order to keep things fair we have developed a rating scale. This scale takes into account four major aspects of any theme park and weights the scale to the most important factors. The scale the parks will be judged on is as follows:

Read this, it’s important, or click on it to make it big.

While this is by no means a scientific poll I have asked several people (as well as myself) to rate each park. Only those who have been to the parks have rated them so there is no speculation. I have asked numerous people ranging from frequent visitors to first time guests to rate the parks they have experienced. The averages have been calculated and represents the parks final overall score.

So now we have a system to rate the parks, but in a head to head battle, a brawl to take it all, in a clash of world class parks what is the ultimate park? Which park will earn the title as the world’s best?
In round one we pit all the Magic Kingdom style parks against one another in a no holds barred cage match. Which Magic Kingdom reigns supreme?
Calling All Challengers
Lets introduce the contenders and check out the stats:

Hailing from Anaheim in sunny California U.S.A., we have the original, the innovator and the granddaddy of them all, ladies and gentlemen I give you Disneyland!

The old man is tough

Entering the ring next, the east coast cousin of Disneyland, the most popular park 
in the U.S., from Orlando Florida I give you Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!
Built to be bigger and badder than Disneyland
Next up we have the beast from the far east, the Godzilla of theme parks, the most visited single park on the globe, from Tokyo Japan lets hear it for Tokyo Disneyland!
What exotic fighting style may be lurking up it’s sleeve?
And last but not least, now entering the ring is the most popular tourist attraction in Europe, a technological tour de force and the only Magic Kingdom you can drink wine in, from Paris France it’s Disneyland Paris!
Drunks always fight harder
(What about Hong Kong Disneyland?  Remember, this was written before that park even opened but in round four Hong Kong will have a chance to compete… wish it luck, it will need it)
Lets get ready to rumble and may the best park win.
This is an incredibly close competition as each park has a unique strength and a unique weakness. While many people may dismiss them all as being virtual clones of each other the truth is that each excels in some areas, and falls short in others.

Lets look at Disneyland first. The park delivers a near knockout blow in the attractions category. Featuring ALL of the classics like Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain it also boasts the original and still best version of Pirates of the Caribbean. The attractions are varied and far flung. There is something for everyone here of all ages and all tastes. It is the only Magic Kingdom style park with the Indiana Jones Adventure and has more Fantasyland attractions than any of the others. However Disneyland has faltered with it’s latest version of Tomorrowland. The removal of the Submarine Voyage (rumored to return but we don’t know that yet) and the removal of the Rocket Rods has made Tomorrowland into a mere shell of it’s former self. All is not perfect, but overall Disneyland does very well with it’s selection of attractions (when they are all functioning) and so the park manages to pull down a near perfect 14 out of 15 for attractions.

However Disneyland takes a bit of a beating in the atmosphere category. While it is a beautiful park full of old growth trees it is by far the smallest of the parks, roughly 50% the size of the others. No matter how hard it tries Disneyland gets caught on the ropes because of the tight spaces. Odd relationships pop up like Haunted Mansion nearly touching Splash Mountain, and Sleeping Beauty castle is Lilliputian when compared to the competition. There is no doubt that Disneyland has a wonderful atmosphere but it’s size works against it and it comes up short of the other combatants with a score of 10.

Watch out though because Disneyland battles back with a vicious series of jabs when it comes to intangibles. Here the park really shines. It has all the history any one could want. It has transcended being simply a theme park and has become a true American icon. it is the only park Walt himself worked on and walked within. It oozes charm at every corner and has a brilliant layout that has become the template for all the others to copy. Disneyland rocks back with a 5 out of 5 in this category.
Finally Disneyland comes in the middle of the pack when it comes to dining. With the wonderful environment of the Blue Bayou restaurant the park delivers a solid body blow, but sadly it’s big gun, Club 33 is not open to the public and therefore does not count here. Other options include a variety of counter service and fast food establishments as well as Churro and pop corn carts. Disneyland pulls out a respectable 3 out of 5.
So as the bell rings Disneyland comes away with a 32 out of 40… very solid, but is it enough to take the title?
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Coming on strong and chomping at the bit is the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Bigger and flashier than Disneyland it may have the raw firepower to take down it’s older brother.
In the attractions Department the Magic Kingdom is solid, but cannot go toe to toe with Disneyland. While it matches Disneyland with most of the classic attractions it’s version of Pirates pales to the original. More over it is missing the Matterhorn and Indiana Jones entirely. Sure, it counters with a solid combination of Stitch’s Great Escape (just opened) and Buzz Lightyear (Being added to Disneyland as you read this) but it has far fewer attractions and comes up slightly shy with 12 points.

The Kingdom rallies back in the atmosphere category. It is bigger than Disneyland and takes great advantage of that space. The castle is majestic, the building facades more encompassing and the mountains stand taller. The Magic Kingdom avoids the cramped spaces of Disneyland while still creating an engrossing and enveloping experience. It stands tall and pulls down an impressive 13 points for atmosphere.

In the intangible category the Magic Kingdom comes in with a solid score. It shares the same theme as Disneyland and is well laid out. However the Magic Kingdom does not have the history nor quite the same charm as Disneyland… it gets a 3 in this category.
Finally the dining, The Kingdom comes out swinging with A restaurant right in the castle as well as a couple other sit down affairs. However no Blue Bayou hurts it’s chances. It rallies back with a nice selection of counter service options and ends up with a 3 out of 5.
Dazed but still standing the Magic Kingdom pulls down a total score of 31.
Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland is a fierce competitor. It draws a larger attendance than any other single park the world over for good reason. In the realm of attractions Tokyo Disneyland is a powerhouse. Unlike the stateside parks Tokyo Disneyland has had virtually nothing removed, yet has added rides and shows at a constant pace. The result is a plethora of options with a wide range of appeal. One of the newest attractions at Tokyo Disneyland is Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and it packs a mighty wallop. This state of the art attraction blows the doors of of any similar dark ride found in the other parks. Pooh crushes the competition and along with top notch versions of Splash Mountain and Buzz Lightyear as well as all the classic attractions delivers a big 13 out of 15 in this category.

Tokyo Disneyland is clobbered in the atmosphere category though. While it puts up a good fight it is ultimately over powered by the rest of the combatants. Many may think that Tokyo Disneyland is a virtual clone of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World but they would be wrong. First of all all of main street is covered in a glass canopy (and rechristened World Bazaar). This feels a bit like being in a mall, much of the charm is lost. Furthermore most of the park lacks the level of detailing found in the challengers. Facades on Main Street are greatly simplified and detail is stripped away. The same cannot be said about Tomorrowland which features an elaborate version of Star Tours which from the exterior outshines the attraction anywhere else. However Tomorrowland has not been updated and while it is in like new condition it feels like in belongs in 1977, not 2077. Some odd placements happen as well such as the Haunted Mansion being located in Fantasyland with the Walt Disney World facade that feels out of place here.

Perhaps its biggest weakness is that the park lacks the defined separation of lands that the other parks enjoy. This was done to allow for a feeling of openness for the often crowded Japanese, but it hurts the park in the atmosphere category. While it is not knocked out Tokyo Disneyland can only pull a 9 in the atmosphere category.
The park rallies back in a big way when it comes to the intangibles. It is immaculately maintained and the cast is impeccably trained and go far out of their way to be helpful. Tokyo Disneyland also enjoys an intangible that no other park here can match, it is lucky enough to be located in Japan. The Japanese guests have a very different approach to the parks that those in the states or Europe. Rather than attacking what they see and feeling the need to touch and destroy everything around them they are respectful of their surroundings. The result is that the park is pristine and feels new. Tokyo Disneyland takes a big swing and knocks down 5 out of 5 for this category.
Finally in the dining category Tokyo Disneyland holds it’s own. The park features it’s own version of the Blue Bayou as well as the wonderful new Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall in Fantasyland. It has a wide selection of both sit down and counter service restaurants and all are nicely themed. 4 out of 5.
When the dust settles Tokyo Disneyland is standing tall with yet another score of 31.
Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris comes roaring out of the corner, gloves flying. It has the advantage of being decades younger than the competition and all the technological improvements can be seen in it’s attractions. Space Mountain crushes the other versions and Pirates features cutting edge dueling swash bucklers. The attractions in Disneyland Paris have a tendency to be even larger and more elaborate than those featured in the other parks. However just when it looks like the park will score the TKO it runs out of major rides and shows. Disneyland Paris is missing Splash Mountain and the Jungle Cruise (found in all the other parks) and has a pale coaster based imitation of the real Indiana Jones Adventure found in Disneyland. Further injury is inflicted because for some odd reason the Parisian version of Haunted Mansion loses most of the humor and charm of the others and comes up as the weakest version out there. While most of the attractions at Disneyland Paris are wonderful, it is sadly missing a few key attractions and slightly misses the mark with an 11 in this category.

The park is certainly not out for the count though, it stages a major comeback in the category of Atmosphere. Everything in this park is insanely detailed and meticulously laid out. This is arguably the prettiest of the parks in this competition and it is a pleasure to stroll the grounds. Adventure Isle is a cinematic combination of Tom Sawyer Island, skull rock and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree house. It adds a tremendous amount to the atmosphere of Adventureland. Big Thunder sits majestically on an island and all of Tomorrowland is a cohesive, and beautiful tribute to past visionaries. Main Street has more detail than any of the other parks plus two covered arcades. In fact every corner of this park is pretty and makes you feel good to be in it so Disneyland Paris throws a powerful roundhouse and lands a 14 in this category.

For intangibles Disneyland Paris has run into some recent troubles. In general it is well run, however its financial woes can be seen in lowered maintenance standards. On one recent visit I observed a piece of wood trim work fall lose of a display on Main Street and nearly hit me on the head! It also does not have many old growth trees or the history of either of the American parks. It almost feels too designed and everything is positioned a little too perfectly. It does not yet have the charm that comes with age and therefore feels a bit prefabricated. The park lands a wobbly body blow with a 2 out of 5.
Finally Disneyland Paris is rock solid in the dining category. It has it’s own version of the Blue Bayou, re-themed to a more logical Caribbean setting and dubbed the Blue Lagoon (no sighting of Brook Shields as of yet). The park also is home to Walt’s, a wonderful tribute to Walt Disney that has each room themed to a different land of the park. In fact Disneyland Paris would have scored a perfect score if not for several closed locations no longer in operation. The designers perhaps overestimated the need for dining and it has since been scaled back. Still, it has a wide variety of generally high quality food and comes in at a very strong 4 out of 5.
Disneyland Paris has survived the bout and comes away with a very impressive 31 out of 40.
Scoring the Round

The final bell has rung and all the parks are locked in a virtual tie. There is no single one that blows the others away. Each park has individual elements going for it, and working against it. Any of these destinations is worthy of being called one of the best in the world and they each offer a unique twist on a shared theme. But as in a title fight there can be only one winner and today, despite being nearly 50 years old, Disneyland in California comes away the winner, the other three parks are tied just one sole point behind the ultimate champ.

It is worth repeating that this margin is so close that it is a near tie. However Disneyland offers the best combination of strong, varied and numerous attractions, history and charm, pretty atmosphere and varied dining opportunities.

Disneyland finally won because it has the benefit of real history. Fans of the parks can sense Walt’s personal touches and the way it fits so much into such a limited space creates a charm that the larger and better designed parks cannot match. However for many first time visitors Disneyland feels small and cramped and the history is lost on them. Through the surveys we took it became clear that fans of the parks preferred Disneyland while average visitors leaned towards the other parks.

The bell has rung on round one and a winner has been titled… but the fight is not over. Waiting in the wings are six other parks, all ready and willing to take the title form Disneyland. Next time we will pit all of the non Magic Kingdom style parks against one another in a vicious bout which will leave only one park standing.

Which park will take on Disneyland in the final battle to claim the ultimate title of Worlds Greatest Disney Theme Park?

Stay tuned for Round 2…

Post fight analysis:

So sure, some things have changed since this war was originally waged. Disneyland has had a huge improvement in maintenance and has opened some major attractions.  Hong Kong Disneyland has joined the fight and Tokyo Disneyland continues along it’s impressive course of constantly adding attractions and AMAZING upkeep.  Meanwhile both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Paris have languished along and the Stitch attraction has tanked.  But is any of this enough to have tipped the scales or changed the rankings?  We shall see.  But next time we will continue with the re-post and watch as all the non Magic Kingdom style parks climb into the octagon and battle to the death.

Comments (7)

  1. Well it is all subjective of course, as is any critique of anything. However you are the first person I have ever heard say that they felt the Magic Kingdom version of Mansion was superior at all to the Disneyland version, so much “vastly” superior.

    Remember, the original article was written prior to the recent updates to the MK Mansion but most people (including myself) feel that they are roughly on par with each other with DL getting the edge because of it’s much more dramatic (and practical) stretch room sequence.

    Jungle Cruise is arguably better at MK though updates a couple of years back may put DL ahead again… really neck and neck.

    But DL has so many more attractions including really big ones like Indy, Matterhorn and Nemo, plus things like Star Tours that may exist at WDW but not within the MK. Add to that the history and the charm of DL and frankly it is not (for me) as close as the score says it is.

    But again, all just opinions. In a relatively short space we could not mention every good or bad point of each park so we tried to hit some highlights and lowlights of each. And truly, at the end of the day it was nearly a tie.

    Thanks for your thoughts and opinions, love to hear them!

  2. I am shocked to see that DL’s superior Pirates of the Caribbean mentioned but no mention of MK’s vastly superior Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise, as well as the presence of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.

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