The Best Disney Parks (When You Have to Make a Choice)
Overwhelmed by the idea of deciding which Disney parks to visit on your next trip? You're not alone.
In Anaheim, California, you'll find not only the original Disneyland Park, but California Adventure and Downtown Disney. Orlando's massive Disney World is even more intimidating, encompassing multiple parks and complexes spread across 40 square miles — about the size of two Manhattan islands.
When you have limited time and funds, how do you make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck? We turned to TripAdvisor to determine which of the main parks and destinations in both Anaheim and Orlando are the most (and least) beloved.
Let this be your guide on what to prioritize, including info on can't-miss rides and attractions — all from the perspective of other travelers who have been there, done that.
10. Disneyland's Downtown Disney
Just 51 percent of visitors consider this entertainment, shopping, dining and hotel complex in Anaheim "excellent," the lowest score for any destination at a U.S. Disney park. (Excluded from this list? The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, since it primarily serves as an athletic park for sporting events.)
The main issue is that Downtown Disney doesn't offer much for kids, save for a pretty good bowling alley, which is weird for such an ostensibly family-friendly place. Plus, many travelers lament, the complex's shops are touristy and overpriced.
The bar scene for adults is pretty good, though, should you be traveling sans kids (or with grandparents or older kids who can watch the little ones while you steal away). After a hot and hectic day at the park, a cold beer or two can go a long way.
Sample good review: "Attached to the happiest place on earth — and it carries over. We loved the stores and dining. Very clean and inviting place to do some shopping. Great idea to stretch security to include Downtown Disney area as well." - Chris_and_Bethany
Sample bad review: "Pick any other attraction in the area and you will thank me later. Biggest money trap and waste of time we’ve ever experienced." - minnspa
Downtown Disney Fan Favorite: Splitsville
Forget dark and dank bowling alleys with questionable shoes. At Splitsville Luxury Lanes, you'll find a retro vibe with an upscale spin. Twenty lanes are available, with indoor and outdoor dining spots serving gourmet fare.
Jam out to local artists at the Splitsville Kingpin Stage, showcasing live music 365 days per year.
9. Disney World's Boardwalk
Only 53 percent of travelers deem this Orlando entertainment, shopping, dining and hotel complex "excellent," making it about as unpopular as Downtown Disney.
Why the lackluster response? Visitors say the complex has gone downhill in recent years, becoming an overpriced party zone with too few family-friendly attractions. More enthusiastic travelers appreciate the Boardwalk's walkability and lively performers, though, so it's certainly not all bad.
Sample good review: "Loved taking a stroll down the boardwalk, enjoying the shops and the atmosphere, there were even some strolling musicians that were a delight to pause and listen to." - mbywaterrn
Sample bad review: "This place may be decent if you've never seen a boardwalk before, but it really isn't much of anything. We were completely underwhelmed when we visited. There is a few places here and there... not much to see or do." - Barry F
Boardwalk Fan Favorite: Jellyrolls
Adults looking to unwind after a day with the little ones love this lively dueling-piano bar at the Boardwalk, featuring musicians playing classic jams from stars like Billy Joel, Mariah Carey and Elton John.
Travelers say the talent is top-notch, the drinks are excellent and the dancing is vigorous. What else could you ask for?
8. Disney World's Disney Springs
If you want to shop, dine and enjoy live entertainment at Disney World, consider Disney Springs instead of the Boardwalk. It boasts better reviews than the Boardwalk (58 percent consider it "excellent"), and is often explicitly cited as the superior of the two Orlando entertainment-complex options.
Disney Springs touts multiple shops, restaurants, nightclubs and attractions, including bowling, boat rides and Cirque du Soleil, so there's no shortage of things to do.
Complaints tend to focus on how expensive everything is, and the lack of Disney-themed attractions.
Sample good review: "OMG we came here at sunset! This place was amazing! So many shops! So much entertainment! Tons of restaurants!" - prettynia
Sample bad review: "For me its not the place it used to be. It seems to of had its soul ripped out. Too many shops way beyond some peoples purse strings." - wheatabixes
Disney Springs Fan Favorite: Aerophile
Ride the world's largest hand-painted helium balloon above Disney Springs in this tethered flight attraction. Soaring 400 feet high is surprisingly affordable: just $10 to $20 per person.
Travelers call the views extensive and beautiful. After an exhausting day of rides, it's an ideal way to take a deep breath and unwind.
7. Disney World's Hollywood Studios
Orlando's Hollywood Studios earns rave reviews from 60 percent of travelers. Complaints hone in on the park's long lines and relatively limited options compared to the other parks at Disney World, like the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.
Still, though, there's plenty to recommend it.
Competing with the nearby Universal Studios Resort, the park (formerly called MGM Studios) focuses on movie- and TV-based attractions, from the stomach-dropping "Twilight Zone"-themed Tower of Terror to a "Frozen" sing-along show.
Plus, since opening in 1989, it has continued to update and upgrade; in 2018, Toy Story Land, inspired by Disney/Pixar's movies of the same name, opened an 11-acre themed area with coasters and spinning rides. And in August 2019, the much-anticipated "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge" will offer even more exciting thrills and spills.
Sample good review: "Toy Story Land, Rockin' Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and everything Star Wars! Other than Magic Kingdom, this was one of my favorites! I spent a full day here. When Galaxy's Edge opens, it's going to be amazing!" - Deonna2
Sample bad review: "The park is very cool, visually - but there is not much to actually DO." - PrincipalCellist
Hollywood Studios Fan Favorite: Slinky Dog Dash
The "Toy Story"-themed Slinky Dog Dash is a huge favorite for all ages (though it will likely soon be surpassed in popularity by everything at "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge"). The coaster is just exciting enough to cater to thrill-seeking adults without scaring off the kiddos.
6. Disney World's Epcot
When Epcot opened in 1982, it became Walt Disney World's second park after Magic Kingdom — and, at an astounding 300 acres, it was twice as big as its predecessor.
Epcot offers visitors a chance to taste the world by journeying through different country-themed areas with dining, shopping and entertainment, plus Future World to explore imagination and curiosity.
Sixty-two percent of travelers have ranked Epcot as a must-visit park, noting its educational qualities, excellent food representing many cultures and lack of overwhelming crowds, a Disney World rarity. Those looking for more traditional, thrill-based rides, though, tend to find it a little boring.
Sample good review: "It's like traveling around the world in one day — lovely scenes, markets, rides, food, shows and much, much more." - emmanora1
Sample bad review: "We found Epcot very boring not that much to do but look around but it might interest others just not my scene if you paid 100 dollars to get in you would be disappointed." - anthony f
Epcot Fan Favorite: World Showcase
Epcot's World Showcase spotlights 11 different countries, including Morocco, China and Norway, to give visitors a chance to experience different cultures all in one place. Buildings are replicas of architecture and landmarks found in each country, and even the staff working the rides, restaurants and shops of these "lands" come from the countries to provide more authenticity.
If you're looking to expose the kids to international diversity in one place, there's no better spot to do it.
5. Disney World's Blizzard Beach
One of two water parks at Disney World, Blizzard Beach opened in 1995. Heated water rides and pools include some of the world's tallest and fastest free-falling waterslides, and a snow-castle play area caters to smaller kids.
Of the more than 6,500 TripAdvisor reviews, 63 percent of visitors give this park an "excellent" review. Park-goers appreciate the entertainment options for all ages, high-quality food and service, and mix of high-adrenaline slides and chilled-out attractions, including a wonderful lazy river.
On the downside? The park is starting to look a little worse for wear, according to many reviewers, who note that it could benefit from some upgrades, and soon.
Sample good review: "We had the most amazing time here, great for all ages. Water slides were fab and queuing times were satisfactory. Very clean, lovely food, helpful friendly staff." - Brandonnicole123
Sample bad review: "In theory, Blizzard Beach is a good park. But for some reason, it isn't being kept up the way Disney is known for. It looked dirty and run down." - snubbosass
Blizzard Beach Fan Favorite: Toboggan Racers
This slalom-style waterslide features eight lanes and can accommodate any height and age, taking riders along a 250-foot race with three dips and hills.
"Our favorite family rides are the TobogganRacers, where up to 8 guests race each other down the hill on toboggans," said Shar1234567 of Toronto, one of many travelers who singled this out as the park's best attraction.
4. Disney World's Animal Kindom
Sixty-three percent of more than 30,000 reviews say the largest of the Disney World parks, Animal Kingdom, is superb. The 500-acre park is home to 250 animal species and more than 1,700 animals, making it the largest animal-themed park in the world.
The park touts inventive rides like Expedition Everest, a steel coaster themed around the Yeti, and Kali River Rapids, a river-raft ride through a faux jungle. But what really sets Animal Kingdom apart is its devotion to educating people about wildlife, while working to research and care for the animals.
Bad reviews are scarce, with just a few gripes about poor customer service, expensive food and a lack of shade to beat the heat on sweltering days.
Sample good review: "This was my favorite park. It is amazing. I love that you get to see many animals. The Kilimanjaro Safari was so much fun and we saw many animals such as giraffes, lions, hyenas, etc." - garciak234
Sample bad review: "I wasn't really a fan of AK . it was just ok, I feel I could go to the zoo in my own state." - lanell
Animal Kingdom Fan Favorite: Kilimanjaro Safari
When you cannot travel to Africa for a true safari, Disney's Kilimanjaro Safari offers the next best thing. Visitors love the diversity of animals to see (including giraffes, cheetahs, ostriches, cougars, lions and warthogs) and the top-notch guides. With 75 percent of travelers calling it excellent, this is the clear highlight of Animal Kingdom.
3. Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon
It may surprise some to discover that the second-most-beloved spot at Disney World is one of its water parks. But believe it: 65 percent of travelers call this park first-rate, with many preferring it to Blizzard Beach.
Typhoon Lagoon opened in 2001 as a tropical paradise in Orlando with waterslides, kids' rides, children's play areas, a lazy river and a wave pool. As the newer of the water parks, it boasts better-kept facilities than Blizzard Beach, and visitors love its free parking (not common in Disney parks!) and friendly staff.
Complaints tend to focus on (surprise, surprise) the park being overcrowded and overpriced.
Sample good review: "Typhoon lagoon is my favorite water park! Free parking, plenty of shaded areas, clean restrooms and clean water and rides." - JMBARR
Sample bad review: "Wow! What a waste of time. I was sincerely unimpressed with this specific area of Disney. It was a waste of money. My kids wanted to leave within the first hour of arriving. Crowded and lack of seating. Not enough shade and expensive." - ragtoprabbit
Typhoon Lagoon Fan Favorite: Surf Pool
Anyone looking to catch a wave will love this pool, which features a 6-foot swell that rolls through every 90 seconds. Reviewers note the massive wave is "not for the faint of heart," but adrenaline-junkies get their fix riding it.
Plus, because this isn't a time-limited attraction, you can spend hours here surfing happily.
2. Disneyland's California Adventure
When Disneyland opened its California Adventure Park in 2001, it was an immediate hit. Today, 68 percent of visitors to this park — 9.9 million in 2018 alone — rank it as "excellent."
Attractions include East Coast-inspired boardwalks, a "Cars- themed land and the Carthay Circle Restaurant, modeled after the theater where Walt premiered "Snow White" in 1938.
Another perk of the park? Alcoholic beverages are available (not common in Disney parks).
Sample good review: "We were surprised at how well they did the building and street designs, especially in Cars Land. It was fun and really put you in the spirit if the park. They are still adding to the park but there are still great rides. Loved Guardians of the Galaxy ride and the Cars ride and the roller coaster. Adults can get adult beverages there whereas they can't in Disneyland." - Zoomie70
Sample bad review: "The rides were shutting down left and right which made for an unpleasant and aggravating experience. We literally would have to leave a ride because it shut down... go to another to be told they were shut down too!!!" - tiffanyemanuela
California Adventure Fan Favorite: Radiator Springs Racers
Disney recreated the fictional cartoon set of Radiator Springs for its Cars Land in 2012, providing such a realistic experience that fans of the films starring Lightning McQueen will gasp as they stroll along Route 66.
The best ride is Radiator Springs Racers, where dueling cars on a race-track coaster compete for first place. Ninety-seven percent of reviewers love this ride — cash in a FastPass for this one!
1. Disney World's Magic Kingdom/Disneyland
Turns out the original parks — Disneyland Park and Disney World's Magic Kingdom — are still the best. Nearly three-quarters of visitors call these parks, which are almost identical to one another, excellent.
Here, it's all about the classics, from Cinderella's castle, to bustling Main Street USA, to idolized rides like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Entertainment in the form of parades and shows are first-rate, and of course, there are beloved Disney characters everywhere, ready to meet-and-greet (and delight) your little ones.
Travelers note the park is surprisingly clean and the indulgent food is excellent. The most commonly cited drawbacks? Epic lines, massive crowds and extravagant prices, of course.
Sample good review: "From the beginning this park was unbelievable from the parking to the ride to the front of the entrance, from security to the sheriffs officer’s to customer service — everything at this park was good. The food was great. This is a very beautiful park. The lines were long but they were quick. There are no words to describe the laser show parades and fireworks. This is a must-do park a 100+ times. This park made our vacation!" - Leonp1281
Sample bad review: "I have no idea what happened to Disney but our visit was far from magical. The park was overcrowded at noon on a Monday... really!? We couldn’t walk anywhere because people were everywhere blocking pathways, side walks, streets, you name it, people were on it. The lines were so long and thank God we did the fast pass so we could ride 4 rides THE ENTIRE 12 HOUR DAY!" - ecd555
Disneyland Park Fan Favorite: Matterhorn Bobsleds
Though Disneyland is very similar to the Magic Kingdom, it does have one thing its sister park doesn't: the Matterhorn.
This steel coaster ride journeys through the "Alps," passing ice caves and an abominable snowman named Harold along the way. At some points on the ride, you have views of the entire park!
Magic Kingdom Fan Favorite: Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Although there are many favorites at the Magic Kingdom — and everyone has a strong opinion on what is best — the classic flying Dumbo ride is one every visitor has tried at least once, and usually raves about. The ride doesn't have many bells or whistles, but its gentle movement and classic aesthetic offers fun for all ages.
Plus, because there are actually two Dumbo rides now located at the park, you won't (usually) have to wait in a super-long line to jump on.
Which Disney rides are best? Check out Disney Rides, Ranked from Worst to First.