Every Disney theme park is a unique and special place. There are a dozen different theme parks spread over six different cities across the world. However, the two places that were first are still the most popular locations.
Disneyland opened in 1955 and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom came along in 1971. The two parks were essentially the same from a design standpoint, and so it stands to reason that many successful Disneyland attractions made the jump to Florida. However, over the decades, just as many attractions have started in Florida and made the trip west as well.
Today there are nearly two dozen attractions that exist at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but many have slight differences, while others are drastically different rides. Here are 10 rides that exist at both locations, but are better at Disneyland.
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: Space Mountain at Walt Disney World actually has more in common with Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds than it does the Disneyland version of the ride. The roller coaster uses single seat ride vehicles that let your legs stretch out before you. It then sends you off into near darkness as you zip through the black at high speed.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: The Disneyland version of the attraction followed the Walt Disney World version in short order, and so it is largely the same ride. However, there are two key differences. One is that the cars are more traditional ride vehicles, where two people sit side by side. The other is that the ride vehicles have speakers, so the ride’s music plays right by your ears.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: The single-seat ride vehicle of Walt Disney World actually allows for a smoother ride, though another reason for that may be that the Walt Disney World version actually goes slightly slower. In the end, however, the on-board soundtrack, composed by the great Michael Giacchino, makes the Disneyland version more immersive and exciting.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: Big Thunder Mountain’s queue at Walt Disney World is pretty nice. It’s mostly indoors, likely due to frequent Florida rain, but that makes it feel like you could be inside an actual old-time train station, though you actually feel like you’re inside a mountain when you board. The coaster itself is outdoors as you go racing through the mountain at speeds faster than Space Mountain, past animatronic wildlife.
What the Ride Is Like At Disneyland: The queue at Disneyland feels less themed, mostly because it’s outside and thus doesn’t contain a lot of the signage that you see at Walt Disney World. The ride itself is a mirror image of the Walt Disney World version, which means the ride itself is essentially identical except that it goes left when the other ride goes right, and vice versa. However, Disneyland's version of the ride does have one major difference, and it's a big one.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: With the rides being identical, the only real difference is that during the attractions most recent refurbishment at Disneyland, a segment where one of the tunnels gets dynamited, explosive noises go off and smoke begins to fill the tunnel, was added. Walt Disney World doesn’t have this addition.
Pirates of the Caribbean
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: Because New Orleans Square doesn’t exist at Walt Disney World (actual New Orleans isn't that far away), Pirates of the Caribbean can be found in Adventureland in Florida. Again, the queue is entirely enclosed, and it has some cool stuff to look at, like pirates who died playing chess, to check out. The ride itself is a simple boat ride through a variety of different scenes. All the iconic bits (the pirate ship attack on the fort, the pillaging of the village and the dog holding the key to the cells) can be found here.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: The queue is less themed at Disneyland, though you do get to see the end of the ride as you walk through. Everything that you see in the Walt Disney World version of the ride can be found in the original version at Disneyland. However, there’s just a lot more here. There’s an entire opening sequence with a series of pirate skeletons, the part that inspired the entire movie franchise. This makes the Disneyland version a much longer ride.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: Pirates of the Caribbean was a late addition to Walt Disney World, it wasn’t ever supposed to be there, and that’s made clear by the fact that it got crammed into the park. Disneyland’s version just has a lot more to see, making it clearly superior.
It’s A Small World
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: It’s a Small World is located in a back corner of Fantasyland, near the border with Liberty Square. The queue tries to be everything that the Disneyland version is, but because it’s all indoors, it feels less grand, because it’s all literally smaller. When you get to the actual ride, it’s essentially the same: a slow boat ride through a variety of cultures represented through stylized dolls, singing the most ear worm of a song ever created.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: It’s a Small World is located at the back of Fantasyland near Mickey’s ToonTown. It has to be there because it is, unlike its name, a massive ride. The outer facade is a huge clock that marks every quarter of an hour with a parade of dolls. At Christmastime, the whole thing is done up in lights and it looks amazing. One major change inside the ride itself is the somewhat recent addition of dolls that look like classic Disney characters in their appropriate locations. Mulan can be found in Japan and Alice and the White Rabbit are in the U.K.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: The addition of the Disney characters to the Disneyland version of the ride was a controversial one, but I actually like it. The first time you see them, they’re like easter eggs hidden among the rest, and they don’t take away from the ride. Otherwise, the exterior of the Disneyland version is enough to give it the win here.
Mad Tea Party
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: What is there to say about this one? It’s teacups that spin around while being attached to platforms that also spin. There’s a central teapot that sees the dormouse pop out at regular intervals. Also the ride is covered by a tent-like structure.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: It’s the same ride. The only differences are that the ride is open to the air, and the tea pot and dormouse are not there.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: With only two minor differences, it’s tough to pick a winner, but in the end, the lack of a tent over the Disneyland version makes the ride slightly better. On a pleasant sunny day, the spinning just feels more free and fun.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: Technically at Walt Disney World, the name of the ride is Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, but at this point pretty much all the Disney parks have this ride, and it's called something different pretty much everywhere. You sit in an omni-mover vehicle in the colors of Buzz Lightyear and roll through a series of rooms where you shoot at targets with a blaster mounted to the front of the ride car in order to defeat Emperor Zurg and also score points.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: It's the same track with basically the same setup. The only difference is that at Disneyland, the blaster isn't mounted directly to the front of the car, but is instead attached by a cord, allowing you to pick it up and aim it more freely.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: The one difference here is the reason that Disneyland wins out. Using the blaster is just easier, and therefore more fun, at Disneyland since you have more freedom to aim.
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: As with Buzz Lightyear, we're technically comparing two rides that don't actually have the same name, even though they are really the same. At Walt Disney World, it's called the Tomorrowland Speedway, but it still has you drive a tiny gas powered car on a track, where you have minimal steering capability. The attraction recently underwent a minor track adjustment, but the ride itself is the same as it was when it opened in 1971.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: It's basically the same ride, only you drive the cars in Southern California, where traffic is even less fun.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: This is a close one, but if you can actually enjoy the scenery of Autopia and not be overcome by the smell of burning gasoline, it's a more pleasant drive than the Tomorrowland Speedway. Also, you get to hang out with ASIMO the Honda robot.
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: Both theme parks offer a railroad that circles the park. It's not the fastest way to get anywhere, but it's a pleasant way to get off your feet for a bit and see the park from a different point of view. The railroad at Walt Disney World has three stops: Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, and Fantasyland.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: Railroads were a passion for Walt Disney, so of course he built one at his flagship theme park. He would even take over driving it from time to time. The Disneyland version has four stops on its round trip, Main Street U.S.A., New Orleans Square, Mickey's ToonTown, and Tomorrowland. It also has a cool Dinosaur diorama using animatronics and it passes through Splash Mountain at one point.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: Whether you're looking for a "ride" experience or simply transportation, Disneyland has the railroad game won on both counts. It has an additional stop, making it more useful as transportation. It also has more stuff to see that you can't experience elsewhere, making it a better ride.
The Enchanted Tiki Room
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: Heading into the Enchanted Tiki Room at Walt Disney World, you get in a fairly standard line as you would expect for most attractions. There's a brief pre-show with a couple of animatronic birds conversing outside the actual show, then you take your seat for Jose, Pierre, Fritz and the gang to give you a great musical revue.
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: The show itself is essentially the same at Disneyland, since it was first seen there, but everything leading up to it is different. Rather than the queue being a normal line, guests are able to mill about freely in an open area before the show. In addition, before the formal show gets started, you get to meet the various Polynesian gods via a series of statues that come to life.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: The show itself is the same and both pre-shows are good in their own right, so we have to judge which one is better based on one simple factor: Dole Whip. The popular soft serve treat is available at a stand just outside of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, but not at Walt Disney World. And since this is one of the few places where you can bring food to an attraction, that's worth it.
The Haunted Mansion (Sometimes)
What The Ride Is Like At Walt Disney World: The Haunted Mansion is located in Liberty Square at Walt Disney World and is built in a gothic revival style. After you enter the famous stretching room, you board your Doom Buggy and are then carried through the mansion to meet the 999 Happy Haunts in residence. You meet Madame Leota and you get a rousing chorus of "Grim Grinning Ghosts."
What The Ride Is Like At Disneyland: Because Disneyland has less space than Walt Disney World, the stretching room actually lowers you down below Disneyland and you take a short walk to a second show building to board your Doom Buggy. Here you see some of the effects, like the busts that seem to turn to follow you, on foot that Disney World gets on board the ride proper. The ride itself is largely the same otherwise, though the Disneyland version is missing a couple of effects, such as the M.C. Escher inspired staircase, and a shadow ghost piano player.
Why Disneyland Is Ultimately Better: Eight months a year, I'm not sure I could say that Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is actually superior, but four months a year, from September to December, Disneyland's version gets a Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired overlay that the Florida park does not get. It integrates into the existing attraction perfectly, and is just fun to experience every year when it comes around.
Of course, the beauty of Disneyland and Walt Disney World is that these attractions are all worth visiting no matter which park you visit. Even if one is better at Disneyland, it's still great at Walt Disney World. And of course, there are a lot of attractions at both parks that aren't on this list, so maybe there's more to say down the road.
Images courtesy DisneylandNews.com/Disney