June 25, 2024

Top 10 Rides That Are Better at Disneyland Than Disney World

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Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland is a debate that's been done to death, including on this blog. There is no actual answer, just an "it depends." With that said, it's fairly undeniable that the California




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Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland is a debate that’s been done to death, including on this blog. There is no actual answer, just an “it depends.” With that said, it’s fairly undeniable that the California parks have the definitive version of several attractions, besting their counterparts at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. This list covers the cloned rides that Disneyland does better than Walt Disney World.

The average guest may not notice many, or even any, differences among most of the rides on this list. First-timers (well, technically “second-timers” since you’d need to experience each version at least once) probably don’t know or even care about the differences. But the diehards do, and will pore over both the big-picture aspects and little details that make the way an attraction is presented superior at Disneyland or Walt Disney World.

Anyway, think of this as both a just-for-fun sibling rivalry post that lists our favorite rides that are better at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World and a practical list for WDW fans who are first-timers to Disneyland and want to know which clones aren’t skippable. Oh, and before you Florida fans grab the pitchforks in disagreement, just be aware that we’ll have another list with what’s better at Walt Disney World coming soon.

Our hope is to offer as objective of a list as possible (with some subjectivity and nostalgia creeping in–it’s impossible to avoid!), and think we’re uniquely situated to do that. We are lifelong Walt Disney World fans who consider that our “home” resort, we’ve lived near the parks (under 30 minutes, depending upon traffic) on both coasts, and also done dozens of trips to each as tourists. We love both for different reasons–each have strengths and weaknesses.

Should this and these twin clone lists go well, we’ll consider doing versions for Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland, too. (I’m not sure there’s sufficient interest in those given that they’re separated by oceans as opposed to an Orange County to Orange County flight–but let us know in the comments if so.)

Anyway, on with this top 10 list of rides that are better at Disneyland than Walt Disney World…

N/A. Space Mountain – Objectively speaking, Space Mountain at Disneyland is far superior to the Magic Kingdom version of the attraction. Entirely redone back in the early aughts, Space Mountain looks, sounds, and feels like a modern roller coaster at Disneyland. There’s on-board audio, the potential for seasonal overlays (such as Hyperspace Mountain and previously Ghost Galaxy for Halloween), side-by-side seating, and more.

By contrast, the Magic Kingdom version of Space Mountain is a blast(off) from the past. It feels like a spinal adjustment that you may not be able to get up from at the end, and those of us plagued by “bony butt syndrome” (it’s a thing; there are dozens of us…dozens!) will be grimacing as it rockets over the random bumps in the track. Oh, and if you do Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain at night when your eyes have adjusted to darkness, be prepared to be a little too much…such as how little clearance there is overhead…in the less-than-total darkness.

Nevertheless, there’s a reason Space Mountain is “N/A” instead of top 3 (where it objectively belongs), and that’s because this is my list and one of my most unpopular Disney opinions is that Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain is the better attraction–meaning the whole package, not just the ride (which is unquestionably an upgrade at Disneyland).

Magic Kingdom’s superiority comes down to the old school effects in the queue, iconic star tunnel music, dual track layout, and even the post-show scenes. To me, it’s the most complete version of Space Mountain from start to finish, and that scores it big points in my book. Admittedly, I view Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, as it has a huge place in my heart. Perhaps the same way many lifelong Disneylanders would claim that Matterhorn bests Expedition Everest (it does not).

10. Mad Tea Party – This is a simple and straightforward one. Mad Tea Party is better at Disneyland due to being open-air and thanks to its surroundings. Due to Florida weather (read: rain), it doesn’t have the luxury of going roofless, and that alone is a big loss.

The views are also better at Disneyland, and that’s true whether you actually ride the teacups or just stand outside and watch. The latter is arguably the seminal version, as you can watch the teacups, monorail, and Matterhorn all at once. Disneyland’s kinetic energy remains undefeated.

We’re going to end up snubbing at least a few “bigger” attractions that Disneyland does best, but I can’t not include Mad Tea Party. There’s a certain beauty and charm in the simplicity of the Disneyland version that I think is mostly lost at Magic Kingdom.

9. Haunted Mansion – There was a time when I probably would’ve put Haunted Mansion on the Walt Disney World version of this list. Even today, there are a lot of little things to love about both versions. Same goes for the Tokyo Disneyland incarnation of Haunted Mansion, which is essentially the OG Magic Kingdom version. Heck, we could even expand that to Phantom Manor and maybe Mystic Manor, both of which share bloodlines (although the HKDL is more like extended family who you can claim or disown as you see fit).

A few questionable decisions at Magic Kingdom in the last decade-plus give a slight edge to Disneyland, especially for the Haunted Mansion purists out there. For the decidedly non-purists, there’s also Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland and not Walt Disney World, which seems to encompass more of the calendar each year.

Every year for Halloween and Christmas (now starting in late August and running through mid-January), Sandy Claws decks the halls in a ride overlay inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although I’m not a fan of the film and err on the purist side for most things, I actually love Haunted Mansion Holiday. It’s incredibly thorough, to the point that it’s almost a brand new ride using Haunted Mansion as a canvas to create something new. (It makes me wish we did have a standalone NBC ride, especially as the holiday seasons get longer.) In any case, this twofer pushes Haunted Mansion at Disneyland into the lead, even if only by a bit.

8. “it’s a small world” – Originally created for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, “it’s a small world” is a Walt Disney original with a storied history and collaboration among several Disney Legends–the Sherman Brothers, Alice Davis, Mary Blair, and Rolly Crump. After being a huge hit at the World’s Fair, “it’s a small world” was shipped to Disneyland and opened in 1966.

Disneyland diehards know all about its place in Disney history and rightfully view their version of “The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed” as a masterpiece. By contrast, most Walt Disney World guests could take or leave “it’s a small world” at Magic Kingdom. Many wrongly think it’s antiquated or annoying, and it’s viewed as a second or third-tier Fantasyland attraction.

While I actually do think there are small and subtle ways the actual ride-through at Magic Kingdom is superior, the whole package at Disneyland is better. This begins with the whimsical facade and outdoor opening act, which are a more joyous way to set the stage for the upbeat attraction about world peace and living in harmony. I think nailing the vibe in the queue is really important, and sets the tone for what’s to come. And of course, there’s the holiday version at Disneyland, which is so good that it makes our list of the top 10 Disney attractions in the world.

7. Autopia – We’ve often “joked” that Tomorrowland Speedway at Magic Kingdom is a great way to enjoy loud noise, vehicle exhaust stench, and incur some mild brain damage. I suppose that’s all part of the fun–everyone knows cognitive abilities are overrated. (This blog is proof positive of that!) Also part of the fun is that about the only thing to see is a flat, barren landscape. It was previously known as the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, fitting since it felt like the monotonous and tedious highway drive through the fields of Indiana.

Autopia is one of many attractions that’s better at Disneyland, thanks to its more engaging track, lush environment and interconnectedness of Tomorrowland. It’s oozing kinetic energy thanks to the monorail and railroad, and just has a better vibe. Autopia also received new life back in 2016, with the addition of ASIMO and Bird–two characters who now appear in show scenes thanks to the Honda sponsorship. To be sure, I’m not a fan of either version of this attraction and usually skip both–but if forced to ride one, Autopia is the hands-down winner.

6. Disneyland Railroad – Both of these are train rides that loop their respective castle parks with stops at a few stations along the way. As such, most casual guests are going to treat them as interchangeable transportation rides. And that’s even most of the fans who enjoy both.

The obvious advantage of Disneyland Railroad is that it has a scene with real (okay, Audio Animatronics) dinosaurs called Primeval World. But it’s not just that. Disneyland Railroad has superior scenery, a more engaging layout, and far more ‘dead’ areas of nothingness.

This is probably an overly-serious take based on weekly rides aboard the Disneyland Railroad, but it’s so much better upon closer inspection. Even if you just want to get off your feet and from point A to B, the Disneyland version is superior thanks to its stops!

5. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – As a video game fan, the first time I rode Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Walt Disney World, I was really impressed. It combined two of my favorite things–shooter games and dark rides in a fun albeit clumsy way. That was over 20 years ago, before Toy Story Mania burst onto the scene or even subsequent versions of the Buzz blaster.

Time has since passed it by, and Buzz makes our List of 10 Attractions That Have Aged Poorly at Walt Disney World. I love the idea of the ride: an interactive shooter ride that uses physical show scenes to make it engaging for guests who want to enjoy the attraction passively or actively. Staging, props, and Audio Animatronics are really cool. The problem is that the Buzz is basically busted at Magic Kingdom, with unresponsive blasters and too-easy hacks to max out your score.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland fixes the key issues. While you can get blasters that don’t work well (or at all), it’s far less common. Ditto non-working targets. Most importantly, the shooting is smoother, gameplay is more responsive and engaging, and the guns are handheld offering greater range of movement. This may not be noticeable to non-gamers, but it’s akin to the difference between Super Mario Wonder and Disney’s Magical Quest. Both fun games, but one is clearly superior whereas the other is stuck in the past.

4. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway – The newest ride at Disneyland is also better than its recently-added counterpart at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for reasons we explain in the aptly-titled Why Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Is Better at Disneyland.

Although the ride-through portion of the attraction is largely a clone, there are subtle ways the Disneyland version is best. This starts with its location in Toontown, where the ride is housed inside El CapiTOON Theater–a riff on an opulent old Hollywood cinema, right down to the Art Deco design underneath all of the toonified artifice. It also helps that Disneyland opted to make Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway an expansion–and in what was previously its weakest land. By contrast, Disney’s Hollywood Studios replaced an iconic attraction and thesis of the park in Great Movie Ride.

But what’s done is done, so that part arguably doesn’t matter when evaluating the rides as they exist today. One huge way that El CapiTOON Theater bests its Walt Disney World counterpart is the queue. Thanks to the cartoon style in Toontown, Imagineering had a lot more latitude with the queue at Disneyland, and it really shows.

The end result is something far superior, with the details added to El CapiTOON Theater are fun and engaging. The poster art at the start is really clever, and makes El CapiTOON feel like a real theater. From there, it continues with an exhibit showcasing the evolution of Mickey Mouse. The queue for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disneyland is one of the best in the world, and it’s basically a walk-through attraction.

3. Peter Pan’s Flight – This list is a bit deceptive by limiting itself to cloned attractions, as it overlooks anything that no longer exists in both locations. As a whole, Fantasyland at Disneyland absolutely trounces Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. It’s not even a remotely close call, even with the relatively recent (well, a decade ago) addition of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Fantasyland at Disneyland is home to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and more. Not only do none of those exist at Walt Disney World, but the Disneyland versions of many have received enhancements over the years to modernize and keep them fresh.

This includes Peter Pan’s Flight, which is now better at Disneyland as a result. The added effects, maintenance, and slightly superior layout all make Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland a markedly improved experience than at Magic Kingdom. On paper, the differences seem relatively minor, and it’s probably true that first-timers would miss most of them.

As someone who rides both versions of Peter Pan’s Flight a lot (probably too much!) for strategy field testing, the difference to the keen eye is night and day. Peter Pan’s Flight is such a superior experience at Disneyland, and deserving of its top 3 spot on this list. (Doubly so as a ‘representative’ for the definitive Fantasyland.)

2. Indiana Jones Adventure – There’s no Indiana Jones ride at Walt Disney World…for now. Arguably, this shouldn’t be on the list at all as a result, as comparing ride systems is like opening Pandora’s box and invites them between Radiator Springs Racers and Test Track, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout and Tower of Terror, and pretty much every Omnimover dark ride. But I’d argue that the overlap between Indiana Jones Adventure and DINOSAUR at Animal Kingdom are much more pronounced. Not only that, but Walt Disney World fans are currently mired in a debate about replacing DINOSAUR with Indiana Jones Adventure, so this feels timely and apropos.

Those who have done both have probably noted some similarities between DINOSAUR and Indiana Jones Adventure. This may come as a surprise to fans who have done both–and assume they’re very different as a result of the on-ride experience–but the underlying ride is basically a clone. The track layout is almost identical, ride vehicles and system are all the same. That’s where the similarities begin and end.

Indiana Jones Adventure is so far superior to its prehistoric counterpart that it’s completely understandable that guests don’t realize they’re (basically) the same underlying ride. Whereas DINOSAUR leans heavily on darkness, more darkness, empty show scenes and non-working effects, Indiana Jones Adventure is jam-packed with brilliantly-staged show scenes and an interior that’s far more engaging and satisfying. There are a number of effects, and the way these interplay with the track and everything coalesces is just incredible. It’s a definitive demonstration of why ride systems aren’t everything–or really, anything–and it’s all about how they’re utilized.

Indiana Jones Adventure is a masterclass in themed design, worldbuilding, and storytelling in thrill rides. It’s also Exhibit A in how Walt Disney World did dinosaurs dirty with that land at Animal Kingdom. Dinosaurs are, by every measure, the coolest creatures to ever have roamed the earth. They would eat Harrison Ford in 99 battles out of 100. (He’d get lucky and crash his plane into them 1 time.) As the newer attraction based on these beautiful beasts, DINOSAUR should be light years better than Indiana Jones Adventure. And yet, it’s not even remotely close.

Prior to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Indiana Jones Adventure was the most groundbreaking addition to Disneyland ever. Indiana Jones Adventure was a generation-defining attraction and paved the way not just for future rides, but influenced entire lands. Even three decades later, it’s still a revolutionary ride that feels fresh. Everything about Indiana Jones Adventure is excellent. The queue setting the tone, the humorous pre-show, and the daring journey aboard a transport vehicle deep into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in search of unimaginable rewards.

As Sallah would (and does) say, “it is unlike anything you have ever experienced, I assure you!” Walt Disney World fans are in for a treat, especially if (as rumored) the Animal Kingdom version of Indiana Jones Adventure ends up being the definitive one, surpassing even Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea!

1. Pirates of the Caribbean – This easily nabs the #1 spot, and the reasons are so obvious as to anyone who has ridden both that not much explanation is even warranted. If you’ve only done the Magic Kingdom version of this boat ride, you haven’t truly experienced Pirates of the Caribbean. This significantly longer version features a frame narrative (think Heart of Darkness) that establishes a foreboding atmosphere and presents what’s to come as a cautionary tale. What follows is a series of vignettes featuring Audio Animatronics pirates engaging in swashbuckling mayhem in huge and impressive sets of a burning town.

Pirates of the Caribbean deftly balances lighthearted humor alongside the dastardly deeds of pirates in what should be a jarring juxtaposition, but it just works. Pirates of the Caribbean is a quintessential slice of mid-century Americana, and with that a sometimes cavalier attitude that has landed the attraction in hot water (so to speak) with modern audiences. Nevertheless, it continues to resonate, immersing guests in a pirate attack while also delivering personality and emotion.

The one thing I will say for the Walt Disney World version of the attraction is that both its exterior, queue, and miniland (Caribbean Plaza) are superior. We argued above that “it’s a small world” at Disneyland is better thanks to all of these things, despite the ride itself arguably being better at Magic Kingdom. Well, the difference here is that there’s no argument about the ride-through portion of Pirates of the Caribbean–it’s such a massive improvement at Disneyland that it renders all other arguments moot.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Which Disneyland attractions do you think are better than their Walt Disney World counterparts? Any rides that this list snubbed that are superior in the California parks? Anything on this list that you think is actually worse at Disneyland? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!




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