Recently, we wrote about eight rides at Disneyland that we think are way better than the Walt Disney World versions. Most of you agreed with our choices and some asked us to do a Walt Disney World version of the article.
Truth be told, this one was harder. While we adore the Disney parks on both coasts, where two versions of the same ride are concerned, Disneyland comes out ahead more often – and more forcefully.
We did manage to come up with seven attractions that we think are definitely better at Walt Disney World than Disneyland, but sometimes the only way they managed to one-up their California siblings was in the queue. Still, if we could only choose one version, here are seven times we’d head to Florida for the better ride:
Blending audio-animatronics, iconic music, beloved characters, and big-time thrills for a hugely satisfying experience, both versions of Splash Mountain deserve a spot high on the list of top attractions. But, there are a few main reasons we prefer Magic Kingdom’s version, opened in 1992, to Disneyland’s, which opened first in 1989.
At 52.5 feet, the big drop packs the same punch on both coasts, but Florida’s ride includes two additional drops (five total) and an extra minute and a half of ride time. Walt Disney World’s seating is much better too, with riders positioned two across rather than single file like at Disneyland.
The audio-animatronics are also noticeably superior at Walt Disney World, which makes sense – they were created specifically for the attraction, while many of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain animatronics were repurposed from an earlier attraction, America Sings. This is the main reason the story on Walt Disney World’s ride flows better – Imagineers had the flexibility to prioritize storytelling and create bespoke audio-animatronics to support it rather than create a story around existing audio animatronics as they did at Disneyland.
An opening day attraction at both Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom, Jungle Cruise is an iconic must-do. The rides share many similar scenes, though not all follow the same order. As hardcore fans of this beloved attraction know well, the difference between a good cruise and a great cruise has more to do with your skipper than which park you’re at. If you don’t believe us, you’re in de-Nile.
But seriously, the biggest difference between the rides themselves is that Walt Disney World’s version includes an indoor segment where your boat travels through the ruins of a Cambodian temple filled with spiders, snakes, and even a Bengal tiger. We think this dark and spooky change of scenery really adds to the overall ride experience and is enough to make us put the Florida version at the top.
We’re also big fans of the 2015 addition of the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen restaurant across from the attraction at Magic Kingdom. Here, you’ll get great food, awesome theming, and skippers serving up plenty of puns with your meal. Try combining dinner and the ride for the ultimate immersive Adventureland experience.
While the ride mechanisms are basically the same and both queues are painfully slow with no FastPass option, Walt Disney World’s Astro Orbiter is the hands-down winner thanks to its height standing three stories off the ground.
Take an elevator to the platform atop the PeopleMover loading area to board this space-themed, Dumbo-esque spinning attraction. The height adds an extra level of thrill to an otherwise tame ride, and the views of Tomorrowland from up high are impressive, particularly at night.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Some parents who grew up riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant end up in a love/hate relationship with the nostalgic favorite as adults, thanks in no small part to having to wait in a slow-moving queue in the blazing Florida or SoCal sun with crabby toddlers.
That all changed at Walt Disney World in 2012, thanks to a renovation and expansion that included a new indoor, interactive queue where guests receive a pager alerting them to their turn to ride. In the meantime, children are free to play in an air-conditioned, big top-themed play area.
The only problem now? Getting them out of there and onto the actual ride. The expansion also created two side-by-side spinners, doubling the capacity and speeding up wait times – always a good thing.
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
While the rides themselves are virtually identical at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the location, exterior queue, and theming make Star Tours matchup a no contest.
In Walt Disney World’s outdoor queue at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can weave among the tree trunks of an Ewok village on the Forest Moon on Endor and beneath a towering AT-AT. If you get your timing right, Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple will be going on right alongside the queue, and you might catch a glimpse of Darth Vader and Kylo Ren and hear Yoda’s voice guiding the young padawans.
All of this helps set the stage for the oldie-but-goodie attraction that we hope isn’t going anywhere after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens (Hollywood Studios will need all the help it can get to swallow some of the crowds clamoring to get into the new land).
Pro tip: If you miss the ride’s original pilot, droid RX-24, don’t worry, he’s reinvented himself as DJ R-3X. You’ll find him dropping beats over at Oga’s Cantina in nearby Galaxy’s Edge when it opens Aug. 29.
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
Here’s another identical ride made superior by the queue. At Disney California Adventure (there called The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure), the ride has always felt a bit out of place amidst the California theming. It’s housed in a structure modeled after a 20th-century aquarium, and now even the building’s exterior feels like less of a fit at the park with the transformation from Paradise Pier to Pixar Pier.
Meanwhile, Imagineers really went the distance creating Magic Kingdom’s version of the attraction, which opened in 2012 as part of the park’s New Fantasyland expansion. This magical recreation of Prince Eric’s castle looks straight from the movie, and details like waterfalls and thousands of tiny shells underfoot really give you the sense that you’re near the ocean.
Inside, you’ll enter an underground cavern, and can pass the time in line doing an interactive scavenger hunt with Scuttle. Once you board your giant clamshell and head under the sea, this Magic Kingdom dark ride is just like Disney California Adventure’s version. Kids will love both, but for total immersion, there’s no comparison – Walt Disney World is the clear winner.
Peter Pan’s Flight
An opening day attraction at both parks, Peter Pan’s Flight is a nostalgic favorite for grown-ups that’s perfect for the whole family, and indisputably deserves its place as a must-do attraction.
While the concept and overall experience on this classic dark ride are basically the same at both parks – board a flying pirate ship and sail out of the Darling’s nursery, over the rooftops of London and off to Neverland – there are some subtle differences that we think justify putting Walt Disney World’s on top.
First, Walt Disney World’s version at Magic Kingdom is noticeably longer than Disneyland’s (the former is about 2 minutes, 45 seconds while Disneyland’s is around 2 minutes, 10 seconds). When you’re looking at regular standby wait times of an hour or more, any extra ride time can make a big difference to the perceived value of your time in line; it also makes the ride feel less rushed.
Although recent updates have given California’s version some more modern effects, we still prefer the Florida version’s flight over London. And, once again, brownie points go to Walt Disney World’s incredible interactive queue, which opened in 2015. Guests get to step inside the Darling family nursery and watch Tinker Bell get up to her signature mischief. Like Peter Pan, guests can have fun with shadows, “catch” butterflies on their fingers and ring bells overhead. Check out our video of the queue to see what we mean.
Pro tip: Even though this queue is awesome, if you’re short on time, we recommend prioritizing a FastPass for this attraction (another point for Walt Disney World – there’s no FastPass option for Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland).
Did we get this one right or do you have a favorite Walt Disney World attraction you think belongs on this list? Let us know in the comments!