Thrilla in Parkzilla: The Rematch!


For the last 2 months the Parkeology offices have been abuzz with debate, arguments and the occasional arm wrestling match as we tried to definitively answer once and for all which Disney park was the best in the world. Catch up here, here or here:
Lets do this thing!
Shane suffered a pretty nasty graph paper cut as he was attempting to diagram his theory of why Disney Hollywood Studios was superior to Epcot or some such nonsense (or was it the other way around?).  Meanwhile I’m getting sick of fight metaphors and Photoshopping blood splatters on perfectly good park pictures. I think we are all going to be glad to see this epic battle finally come to a fitting (or even a not so fitting) conclusion, but not before one last grand battle.
Sorry Shane, I’m not buying it.
Despite being a bit punch drunk the fact is that the previous three rounds looked at the state of the parks as they were 5 years ago, and honestly a lot has changed since then.
In Round One we saw that Disneyland barely eked out a victory over the other Magic Kingdom style parks emerging with a scant one point victory.
“Floats like a butterfly… smells like Mickey”
(now this is lame, I admit… got something better?  Let me know and I’ll change it)
In Round Two Tokyo Disney Sea handily toppled the other none Magic Kingdom style parks and looked to only be getting stronger.
“Floats like a butterfly… lives by the sea”
(come on, I’m trying here)
So this time we are tossing out all the charts and rulebooks and just looking at each park as it is today and as they compare to one another.  No more bell curves… this is just flat out brawl to decide which park is the best. In other words if you could only visit one more park in your life which should it be?
Of course nothing can be easy and we quickly realize that which park is best largely depends on who is asking that question.  Disney geeks are going to value certain aspects of a park (like it’s history) a whole lot more than a casual visitor who still does not quite understand what Fast Pass is, thinks the Magic Kingdom is called “Disney World” and once rode “That giant Golf Ball” when they were 10.
Disney World is WONDERFUL, now lets go to the Worlds Fair thing.
We can assume that if you are reading this you fall into the Disney Geek category (be proud baby!) but we will try to be as balanced as possible.
Stealing logos since 1996
But these guys are cool… they don’t mind… I hope. See for yourselves.
It’s worth noting that while these are subjective opinions they are all based on personal experience. Since the last round I have again visited each and every one of the parks personally, most on several (or more) occasions.

Disneyland has seen massive changes since the conclusion of the fight… and these changes are making the titleholder stronger than ever.

Already a stone jawed bruiser Disneyland has pumped up and can deliver a real beat down when it comes to attractions.  Now boasting a new version of the Submarine Voyage, better upkeep a new version of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln plus many small upgrades (such as the revamped castle walk through) Disneyland is a powerhouse.  In fact since Tony Baxter started looking after Disneyland he has made it a personal mission to attend to many of the small problems that were nagging it in the past.  Call Baxter the corner man for Disneyland… there to make sure the park is well taken care of, and the differences show.

It’s sad when he dies in episode three.
Disneyland still has all the charm it ever did and continues to age gracefully while the other aspects of the park are substantially unchanged.
You’re darn right I am going to re-use the same shots!
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom however has seen very little growth since the bell last rang.  Sure, Fantasyland has a huge, if somewhat unclear, expansion going on but that is still sometime out and is more meet and greet than knock you off your feet.  Otherwise there have been some nice upgrades to Mansion and Space Mountain but also a lot of downgrades to the various shops.  For the most part the Magic Kingdom of today looks and feels a lot like it did half a decade ago.
 Disneyland Paris has seen even less growth.  A decent fighter back then it continues to weaken as the rest of the combatants surge ahead.  It still packs a punch in some areas but has failed to grow in any meaningful way.
Tokyo Disneyland has added some major expansions such as the Monsters Inc. ride and it’s incredible maintenance and upkeep will always keep it in fighting shape.  Still, while a better fighter than before it is more or less the same.
We have an all-new fighter who has entered the ring; Hong Kong Disneyland.  It pretty much takes a beating in all areas.  Extremely light on attractions it really cannot compete with any of the others.  It does have a vey pretty physical setting with mountains rising behind the castle and is undergoing a large if misguided expansion as well.  Hong Kong Disneyland reminds me a lot of Animal Kingdom about 10 years ago.  It is pretty, it has a great theme, it has a great atmosphere but there is precious little to do. It may prove to be a formidable challenger someday, but that day is not today.
All right, the new guy gets one too.
 Bottom line:  Disneyland once again proves to be the best Magic Kingdom out there only now the distance is greater than ever.  If I were to rank them it would be Disneyland first, Tokyo Disneyland not too far behind followed by both Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Paris in a virtual tie with Hong Kong Disneyland limping along in last place.
With one challenger clearly determined we can take a look at who will face Disneyland in the final fight.
Turning towards the non Magic Kingdom parks things are more or less as they were in 2005.  Tokyo Disney Sea continues to be an impressive world-class park.
It has added an amazing version of the Tower of Terror as well as a surprisingly well themed take on Turtle Talk with Crush.  Sinbad has had a complete over-hall and already strong attractions such as the Fortress Explorations have been made stronger yet.  Tokyo Disney Sea has been eating its Wheaties for sure.
Fortified with pure awesomeness.
Epcot has seen changes to Inoventions, a rehabbed Space Ship Earth and of course the addition of Soarin.  Many improvements to the already stellar dining scene around World Showcase help build on its strengths yet at the end of the day nothing game changing has taken place.
Animal Kingdom has added Everest, a HUGE score as well as the Finding Nemo show, both help boost the park in key areas.  A much needed sit down restaurant was built (Yak and Yeti’s) and the park is looking good. 
Disney Hollywood Studios had it’s name changed, added Midway Mania and still has the stinking hat…
California Adventure is the big mover and shaker in this group.  Having added Tower of Terror, Midway Mania and World of Color it is in the midst of even more sweeping changes. It is clearly emerging as a much better experience than it originally was and has seen the largest jump in quality out of the bunch.  One can now reasonably argue that while California Adventure will never be the equal of Disneyland it can at least be a viable neighbor.
Lastly we have poor little Walt Disney Studios Paris.  Sure, it has added a weak version of Tower of Terror, yes it added a somewhat themed wild mouse coaster (with it’s Nemo overlay) and it is true that some areas have been made to look slightly more presentable, but this is a park that touts a very cheaply thrown together Toy Story land filled with carnival rides as something to be proud of.  
I will not pretend to know exactly how or why this park was built or expanded the way it has but I can tell you it is a complete failure even now.  Walt Disney Studios Paris is a 99 pound weakling, the kid who gets sand kicked in his face and still a blight on the face of Disney parks.
Sorry pal, it ain’t going to help ya.
Much as they were 5 years ago two parks stand towering above the rest with Tokyo Disney Sea chomping at the bit to seek some revenge on Disneyland.
The other parks have strong points and supporters for sure but it is these two parks that must be considered the cream of the crop… but who is better today?
Sweet, I get to re-use this baby!
Making this type of call it virtually impossible… I feel certain that casual fans would be wowed by Tokyo Disney Sea… blown away by the scope, the uniqueness and the originality. One can walk through Tokyo Disney Sea and find areas that look nothing like a theme park, that are totally enveloping and are unlike anything else in the world.  Mysterious Island is unbelievable in its complete commitment to theme.  Everywhere you look, everything you hear, every surface you touch is 100% in theme and fits perfectly with the incredible setting.
Still a park
Likewise with the American Waterfront section… now filled out with the most incredible version of the Tower of Terror yet it is a sight to behold.
TDS is ready to rumble.
On the other hand you have the charm of Disneyland, the history of the only park Walt Disney personally oversaw and visited.  Disneyland holds a special place in the hearts of millions of fans, some of those fans being the guys running the place!
Who, me?!?
Disneyland has so many classic attractions, so much history and such a beautiful design that it is hard to imagine any true Disney fan not falling in love with it.
Just remember, it all started with a rich eccentric guy.
But we have to look t the facts…nostalgia should not come into play. In terms of dining options it is not even close, Tokyo Disney Sea crushes Disneyland.  It has many more options, much more variety and a much higher level of overall quality in both the environments and the actual food.
For the intangibles I may tip it back to Disneyland… for all the reasons mentioned above it is unlikely that any park will ever match Disneyland, the park that more or less invented the genre to begin with.
For atmosphere though Tokyo Disney Sea again rallies back… it has sweeping vistas, massive set pieces and a freaking volcano sitting in the middle of it all… a volcano people!
Come on, seriously.
So it looks like it is coming down to the attractions… the real heart and soul of a park. Disneyland is against the ropes and sweating it out, Tokyo Disney Sea is moving in for the kill…
Finish Him!
Disneyland certainly boasts some of the best attractions in the world.  It has the classics such as the best version of Prates of the Caribbean and the original Haunted Mansion.  It has newer classic such as the Indiana Jones Adventure and Splash Mountain and it has a Fantasyland stuffed full of familiar (if a tad simple) and fun rides.  From a sheer mass point of view Disneyland is going to be tough to beat.

But what if you’re not into red heads?

But Tokyo Disney Sea is not shy about flexing its considerable muscle.  It boasts it’s own version of Indiana Jones, the aforementioned killer version of Tower of Terror, original attractions such as the awesome Journey to the Center of the Earth and even it’s own all new version of Fantasmic.

Again… come on!

With all things considered attractions are a near dead heat with Disneyland possibly taking a small lead.

But the bell just rang and with both combatants beaten silly I must say that it looks like a new champ has emerged.  Yes, Tokyo Disney Sea is the king.  As much as it pains me (as the Disney park purist that I am) Disneyland can no longer claim the title of “Best Disney Park” in the world.  It is still INCREDIBLY close, in fact perhaps even closer than the last fight…. but Disneyland has run out of room and has failed to really add an all new major attraction in many years.  Conversely Tokyo Disney Sea has expanded in many meaningful ways and has room for more.  Where Disneyland depends on it’s compact size and charm Tokyo Disney Sea soars with space and stunning design.  The addition of major new rides with more to come (they are currently adding Midway Mania, no doubt the best version yet) has overtaken Disneyland and the old man has finally hit the matt.
The next generation is this generations champion… for now.
Word is that Disneyland is finally gearing up for an expansion of it’s own!  It could be a Tomorrowland rehab or it could once again push beyond the berm for a Frointerland expansion.  Whatever the case the power may then tip back to Disneyland in this see-saw clash of the titans… but for now, where se stand today Tokyo Disney Sea is king. 
It boasts the most amazing atmosphere and theme, the absolute highest standards of maintenance an epic assortment of dining options and above all a masterful blend of magnificent attractions… combined it is enough to claim the title.  LONG LIVE THE KING!
And with that this never ending flight ends!  I am finally free to get back to writing about obscure Disney snack foods of the past…. Now please leave the arena in an orderly fashion and drive safely.

Comments (2)

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter- It’s been a few years since I first read this series and reading it again, a few years removed from even the final round, is really surreal! Do you think you’ll ever do something like this again, now that Shanghai Disneyland is open and most of the parks are undergoing serious renovations and installations?

    • Hi Hannah, thanks for the comment and being a long time reader! Things have certainly changed and many of the parks are quite different for sure. We also live Shanghai Disneyland so a rematch of sorts may be interesting. Time will tell.

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