Disneyland and Walt Disney World are so special in their own ways that we flat-out refuse to say one is better than the other – you just have to visit both. Still, it’s fun to compare some of the same-but-different elements.
Where nostalgia is involved, there’s no denying that Disneyland, “Walt’s Park,” has that special something that just edges out its younger sister on the other coast (but don’t worry, Magic Kingdom, at least you have 106 extra feet of castle to hang your hat on).
Another place we think Disneyland wins out more often? Rides. Some attractions really are similar enough that you can fairly say if you’ve ridden one, you’ve ridden them both. But in these eight cases, these rides aren’t just superior, they downright demand at least one trip to Disneyland to experience them.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean
At nearly twice as long as Walt Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom, the length of the ride alone could make this face-off a no contest. We’ll give Florida the edge in only one category: the queue, which winds through the cool, dark archways and corridors of an old Spanish fort, while at Disneyland you’re mostly outside baking in the SoCal sun.
But as soon as you board your boat, Disneyland takes the lead, as the whole first half of Disneyland’s version is absent from Walt Disney World’s. Float through perpetual twilight, hearing the sounds of frogs, crickets, and clinking tableware as you pass Blue Bayou, the New Orleans/Cajun-style restaurant that opened the same day as the attraction in 1967.
Take two exciting plunges (versus just one at Walt Disney World) and travel through extended scenes featuring skeleton pirates, stormy seas, and cursed treasure. From the battle scene on, the rides are largely similar, but overall Disneyland’s is undeniably superior.
2. It’s a Small World
Even if It’s a Small World isn’t everyone’s favorite attraction, most Disney fans have a healthy appreciation for the ride (and that ‘love it or hate it’ earworm of a theme song), which was originally created for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
The ride was shipped to Disneyland park in 1966 and has been a mainstay there ever since, and at Walt Disney World since its 1971 opening. From artwork by Disney Legend Mary Blair to the song by Academy Award-winning brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, this ride has such a rich history that it’s not surprising that purists were up in arms when Disney opted to update Disneyland’s version of the ride with characters from Disney films, each placed in their native land (think: Peter Pan in England, Cinderella in France, and Pinocchio in Italy).
We’re going to disagree with the detractors here and say that this fun update added a refreshing element of interactivity to a ride that can get stale after too many visits. We love enjoying this classic attraction while also trying to spot all of the Disney characters as we ride. Also worth noting: Disneyland’s breathtaking façade put Walt Disney World’s boring exterior to shame.
3. Space Mountain
It may look the same from the outside, but from the moment you board Space Mountain, you’re in for a vastly different experience at each park. To start with, you’ll be far more comfortable in Disneyland’s ride vehicles, which sit two across and are positioned like standard seats.
At Walt Disney World, you’ll sit single file and low to the ground, with your legs effectively straddling the seat in front of you (similar to the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland). Once the ride starts, Disneyland guests get a far smoother ride, while necks and backs at Walt Disney World take a beating. Disneyland’s Space Mountain also features an iconic score by composer Michael Giacchino that plays through speakers in the actual ride vehicles. This facilitates immersive seasonal overlays throughout the year, like the Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain and Halloween-themed Ghost Galaxy.
Walt Disney World’s ride vehicles don’t have their own speakers, and during the regular season, you’ll instead hear “Starry-O-Phonic Sound” playing from external speakers positioned throughout the ride. Walt Disney World does change it up during the holidays with different music and special effects, but the immersive quality falls far short of the experience at Disneyland.
Know before you go: If you’re a regular at Walt Disney World, where Space Mountain has a 44-inch height limit, you should know that kiddos only have to be 40 inches tall to ride at Disneyland!
4. Indiana Jones Adventure
We know, there’s no Indiana Jones ride at Walt Disney World, but if you’ve ridden Dinosaur at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ve probably noted some similarities between the two attractions. Believe it or not, these rides are basically clones, sharing the same layout, ride vehicles and system. However, that’s where the similarities end and Indiana Jones Adventure rises far above its prehistoric counterpart.
From one of the most immersive and elaborately themed queues Disney has ever created, to a ride show modeled after one of the most beloved film franchises in history, to that iconic John Williams soundtrack propelling you from one scene to the next – there’s really no comparison. Dinosaur is a darker, scarier ride that relies more on the suspense that comes with keeping you mostly in the dark, wondering when the terrifying Carnotaurus will pop out at you.
Know before you go: Even though Dinosaur and Indiana Jones Adventure are basically the same ride, Indy has a 46-inch minimum height requirement while Dinosaur is only 40 inches.
5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The wildest ride in the wilderness is a can’t-miss on both coasts, but hold on to your hats and glasses, because there’s a bit more excitement on the Disneyland version, thanks to a 2014 update that upgraded the track, restored the Rainbow Ridge Mining Town (which doesn’t exist at Walt Disney World), and added some impressive theatrical elements. Projection mapping technology creates the illusion of an impending explosion with plenty of smoke adding to the effect. Giving credit where it’s due, we do prefer WDW’s queue.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
Now before you get too angry, no one is saying Tower of Terror isn’t one of Disney’s best-themed attractions. We’re just saying Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is even better (as your writer now runs and hides for fear of backlash from that statement).
It was high time a Marvel-themed attraction entered the fray and Mission: BREAKOUT! is so well done it’s hard to believe the ride was ever anything else. One incredible queue has been replaced with another, as you weave among the Collector’s treasures, which include his latest additions, the captured Guardians of the Galaxy. Get your mission from Rocket, board a gantry lift, and let the fun begin.
This ride replaces sheer terror with awesomeness: many riders who couldn’t stomach Tower of Terror have found themselves coming back for more on Mission: BREAKOUT! because simply put, this ride is so much fun! Rise and plunge to an epic soundtrack before bidding farewell to the grateful Guardians you’ve helped escape.
7. The Haunted Mansion
Both versions of The Haunted Mansion deserve to rank near the top of any list of Disney’s all-time greatest attractions. Working in Walt Disney World’s favor is a decidedly spookier Gothic-style exterior and a more elaborate, interactive queue.
The actual rides are pretty similar, but where Disneyland’s Southern plantation-style mansion again takes the proverbial cake (in this case, black widow bride Constance Hatchaway’s wedding cake) is Halloween through Christmas time, when the ride is transformed into “The Nightmare Before Christmas”-themed Haunted Mansion Holiday, starring Jack Skellington, Oogie Boogie, and the rest of the residents of Halloweentown.
Calling this transformation merely a seasonal overlay doesn’t do it justice – it’s stunningly elaborate and becomes a completely different attraction. We could never be forced to choose between Haunted Mansion Holiday and the original Haunted Mansion, but we love that at Disneyland we get to enjoy them both!
8. Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
There’s not much to differentiate this attraction from Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom, and for many, this ride gets a pass altogether. But if we’re splitting hairs, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland Park gets our vote with one major leg up on its Floridian sibling: its laser blasters are attached to the vehicle by a cord and can be removed from their mounts, giving the rider more ability to control their aim.
On Space Ranger Spin, the blasters are mounted and riders instead must rely much more on spinning the vehicle to aim accurately (a feature some actually enjoy since it adds an extra layer of challenge).
Do you agree with our picks? Tell us which rides you think are better at Disneyland or Walt Disney World in the comments below!