What Do You Need to Know about Every Disney Theme Park?
The Walt Disney Company owns, operates, or licenses six theme parks worldwide.
While Disney writers tend to presume that you know the differences between them, the reality is that most people don’t. So, let’s take a little time to rectify that.
Here’s what you need to know about each Disney theme park in the world.
This theme park started everything in this industry…including the industry itself.
When Walt Disney decided to turn 160 acres of orange groves into a family entertainment locale with themed attractions, nothing else like it existed.
A masterful promoter, Uncle Walt built such a buzz for his theme park that 90 million people watched the (admittedly disastrous) opening day.
All this happened by 1955, which underscores that Disney has dominated the theme park business for 67+ years and counting.
Several of the rides at Disneyland remain from the park’s opening day, while others like Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones Adventure remain exclusives.
Disney has since introduced a companion theme park, Disney California Adventure. It’s half-Pixar and half-Marvel, making it all a delight for Disney fans.
Disney fans call this park the Happiest Place on Earth, and there’s ample evidence to support this notion.
Even better, Disneyland often updates specific parts to keep them relevant but timeless. So we’ll get a new version of Mickey’s Toontown in a matter of months.
Two of the parks on this list struggled mightily at first. While the one in the next section comes closer to being a failure, Disneyland Paris bore that reputation for many years.
When the park opened in 1992, many Europeans derided the concept. One critic infamously dismissed Disneyland Paris as a “cultural Chernobyl.” Words can hurt.
Even worse, reputations like that linger in the public consciousness. But thankfully, Disneyland Paris eventually overcame them.
This park now qualifies as the most popular paid tourist destination in Europe.
While many of the attractions operate similarly to their American counterparts, some receive unique twists.
Specifically, Phantom Manor is the Haunted Mansion of Paris, while Big Thunder Mountain Railroad includes a substantially different track layout.
In 2002, a second Disney park opened here as well. Walt Disney Studios Park hasn’t proven as popular as its more successful sibling.
However, the tide is turning a bit thanks to the 2022 opening of Avengers Campus. This version of the themed land even hosts an exclusive roller coaster, Avengers Assemble: Flight Force.
Hong Kong Disneyland
The pandemic accidentally revealed how little Hong Kong citizens care about this park. I hate typing that, but it’s true.
Disney repeatedly closed but then reopened Hong Kong Disneyland. It was the first Disney park to shut down due to COVID-19.
Then, the subsequent reopening/closing took less than a month in June/July 2020. The current count is up to four, and I’m not totally confident we’ll stop there.
Chinese officials have acted much more stringently in enforcing COVID-19 health measures. In fact, that’s one of the vital aspects of this park.
Disney liaised with the Chinese government in its creation. For this reason, Disney had less control over Hong Kong Disneyland than other parks.
Still, this place hosts several unique attractions and tourist spots. Mystic Manor is a delightfully cartoonish take on the Haunted Mansion premise.
Meanwhile, Iron Man Experience is arguably the best non-American Marvel attraction.
I say this partially because Avengers Assemble: Flight Force hasn’t been that well received, while Iron Man Experience claims glowing reviews.
Finally, the castle at Hong Kong Disneyland started out as a pale imitation of Sleeping Beauty Castle. That’s no longer the case.
The majestic Castle of Magic Dreams stretches 167 feet into the sky and is perhaps the most ostentatious of all Disney structures.
Currently, Hong Kong Disneyland is pushing back hard against its reputation as the worst Disney park.
Then again, the “worst” of Disney is better than the best of anything else in the industry. And Mystic Manor justifies the existence of the whole place:
Disney constructed two new theme parks during the 2000s. Both of them are in China, and they’re wildly competitive with one another.
I just mentioned Hong Kong’s castle. That upgrade occurred because the Enchanted Storybook Castle put HKD’s previous effort to shame.
Disney’s then-CEO Bob Iger personally took an interest in Shanghai Disneyland as the theme park that would define his legacy.
Iger inherited the HKD project, which opened only months after he earned the job. So, he wanted to put his stamp on the Shanghai project.
Not coincidentally, this state-of-the-art theme park has earned acclaim and awards for its innovative design and attractions.
Somehow, Disney has combined its intellectual properties with Chinese customs in a way that’s pleasing to locals and international tourists alike.
Also, Shanghai Disneyland operates two of the most impressive Disney attractions ever made. Here’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Battle for the Sunken Treasure:
Those underwater elements are stunning, aren’t they? Still, this may not even be the park’s best ride. That honor belongs to Tron Lightcycle Power Run:
That shiny beauty is coming to Magic Kingdom next spring, but the original belongs to Shanghai Disneyland.
Everyone has a favorite Disney theme park, and there are no right or wrong opinions here.
Still, one place qualifies as a bucket list experience for many fans. Tokyo Disneyland has earned its reputation as the best theme park overall in the world.
I realize that statement sounds hyperbolic, but there’s ample data to support it. The explanation stems from the unique arrangement here.
The Oriental Land Company (OLC) sought a Disney theme park and did everything necessary to get one.
Disney wasn’t interested in international theme parks at the time (this was more than 40 years ago) and offered ridiculous terms.
Basically, Disney made a “take it or leave it”/”leave us alone” offer that executives never expected OLC to accept…but they did.
Now, Disney maintains final approval on all OLC projects at Tokyo Disneyland and its sibling park, Tokyo DisneySea.
For this reason, OLC takes no chances and constructs every project to the highest possible quality.
Frankly, all theme parks should utilize this sort of process because it ensures excellence.
In fact, many theme park analysts describe Tokyo DisneySea as the greatest individual theme park in existence, and it keeps getting better!
The OLC recently added a Beauty and the Beast ride and will introduce an entire themed land next year. This place is a destination vacation for Disney fans.
Walt Disney World
Well, if you don’t know about this place, you don’t know much about Disney.
Walt Disney World is the most successful paid tourist locale in the country and arguably the world.
Magic Kingdom alone has stood as the most attended theme park for many years in a row. However, it’s only one of four individual gates.
The others are EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
That’s the home to the international World Showcase, a combined zoo/theme park, and an entire Star Wars themed land.
Suffice to say that you’ll never run out of things to do at Walt Disney World, and I’m saying that as someone who has vacationed here for two full weeks before.
Disney’s Orlando campus also includes two entertainment districts, including Disney Springs, two water parks, and an entire sports complex.
ESPN Wide World of Sports has hosted championship events across multiple sports, a few NFL Pro Bowls, and even the NBA Championships during the pandemic.
This place is a fully functional city disguised as a tourist mecca. It’s home to any number of exceptional exclusive attractions like Expedition Everest, Slinky Dog Dash, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
While all the Disney parks around the world are spectacular, Walt Disney World is the one you’re most likely to visit frequently unless you live on the West Coast.
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Photo: Hong Kong Disneyland