5. Expedition Everest
Sprawling, imposing, and legendary, the Modern Marvel: Expedition Everest is arguably one of the icons of Walt Disney World. The larger-than-life ride is elevated beyond being a mere roller coaster thanks to the decadent world-building that’s layered on top of it. On board, guests venture through the “Forbidden Mountain” en route to Everest, finding themselves caught in the grip of the mythical Yeti. As a result, the ride managed to both introduce the first of the “imagined” creatures promised by the park’s dedication while also venturing deep into the myths and legends of Asia’s Himalayan region.
Disneyland does have an accidental counterpart to Everest: the historic Matterhorn Bobsleds (the first ever modern steel coaster). Though both include snow-capped peaks and run-ins with a mythical mountain guardian, the comparisons end there. Naturally, the sight of the Matterhorn rising above Disneyland is as iconic as any of Disney’s legendary peaks and we wouldn’t change it for the world! But Everest is a sensational, multi-sensory, cinematic, technological adventure that really is one of the best Disney rides on Earth, period, and should top many Disneyland fans’ lists of Disney World exclusives they’d love to experience.
Okay, so we’re deviating just a bit from our promise of featuring only concrete attractions and experiences… But bare with us.
First of all, MyMagic+ is the billion-dollar rollout of a unified technology infrastructure across Walt Disney World that defined the resort’s growth in the 2010s. Built around multiple information systems that (sometimes, clumsily) communicate, the system was meant to simplify a Disney World vacation by centralizing planning (which now occurs months before you step foot on-property) and increase guest spending and satisfaction.
Boots on the ground, the system revolves around the My Disney Experience app and the customizable and collectable MagicBand RFID bracelet, melding your park ticket, room key, FastPass+ reservations, transportation, Dining Plan, and room charging privileges into one wearable. Even with (or perhaps, because of) the MyMagic+ initiative, Disney World remains one of the more complex family vacations to plan, frustrating fans and putting tourists in turmoil. And even when Disney threatened (er, um, promised) that a version of MyMagic+ would come to California, we countered that the system was inherently at odds with the more relaxed, locals-focused resort. (We were right; it never came to Disneyland.)
In fact, at the semi-annual D23 Expo in 2019, Disney announced another new app, Disney Genie, that will essentially take the brunt of pre-planning and coordination off of guests’ shoulders… Seemingly a Disney-made solution to a Disney-made problem!
So why would Disneyland fans be jealous of MyMagic+? Though the laborious pre-planning, pre-scheduling, and pre-booking that defines a Disney World trip can be agonizing, it also makes a trip… dare we say?... magical. There’s something spectacular about engraved MagicBands arriving in the mail; knowing you’ve got a few Fastpass rides booked beforehand; the MagicBand granting park access with a musical tap; your on-ride photos “magically” appearing in your phone as you exit a ride; watching your plans come together as you check My Disney Experience every few days. Would the system work at Disneyland? Nope. But for a Disneyland-regular to visit Disney World, it can be a fun change from the ordinary.
7. New Fantasyland
Both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom started off with similar Fantasylands, offering a “Medieval faire,” tournament tent style of pastel awnings and castle walls - a look Walt was infamously unhappy with. Disneyland’s was the first to get a facelift in 1983, emerging as a storybook European village of quaint architecture to house its five classic dark rides.
Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland came much later, only shedding the “faire” aesthetic in 2011 (and even then, only half of the land). However, the re-emerged “Fantasy Forest” expansion (built mostly on the ruins of the Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) was born of a much different era and the “Wizarding World” model. Cinematic sub-lands themed to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Dumbo feel evergreen and “real,” but are also spectacularly modern. A similar undertaking in Tokyo is based almost entirely on Beauty and the Beast (but includes a cutting edge trackless dark ride as its centerpiece) while Hong Kong Disneyland is hedging on a New Fantasyland expansion based on Frozen.
Disneyland’s European village version of the land (now nearly 40 years old!) is still timeless and perfectly scaled for the park. In fact, randomly adding a mega-sized Frozen or Beauty and the Beast sub-land would look wildly out-of-sync. But we would love to see the park adapt some of New Fantasyland’s fixtures (perhaps including that trackless Beauty and the Beast dark ride or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) in one of the park’s rare expansion pads.
8. Signature Dining Experiences
One of the ways that Disneyland and Disney World have substantially diverged over their lifetimes is in the role of dining in the resorts. While Disneyland has a handful of remarkable table service restaurants (the Blue Bayou, Carnation Cafe, and the Carthay Circle come to mind), most of the park’s offerings are quick service stops.
At Disney World, meanwhile, eating is practically as ingrained in the experience as rides! ADRs are as hot a commodity as FastPass+ reservations, days are often defined around meal breaks, and guest laboriously track and spend meal and snack credits redeemed through Dining Plans. Reservations become available four months out, meaning if you don’t act fact enough, you’ll find yourself locked out of many full service restaurants whose tables are 100% spoken for months ahead of time.
Take Be Our Guest Restaurant, one of the starring elements of the Wizarding-World-esque New Fantasyland, giving guests the chance to dine inside the Beast's castle. What's best about Be Our Guest, though, may be that Disney did something uncharacteristically equitable. While they could've commanded big-budget prices for this sought-after experience, the restaurant is open for breakfast ($$), lunch ($), and dinner ($$$), transitioning in the afternoon from a quick service order-at-kiosk experience to a full-on fine-dining restaurant. That gives everyone a chance to dine in splendor… if you snag a reservation at least.
Elsewhere, one of the more clever and unique offerings is the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where guests sit under the stars in “cars” picturesquely pointed toward a “drive-in theater” screen that cycles through laugh-out-loud trailers for made-up sci-fi spectacles of yesteryear. Old timey “carhops” act as waiters, bringing sci-fi inspired entrees.
Though any number of these fun, personality-filled, distinctly-Disney dining experiences would be welcome at Disneyland, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is especially envy-inducing because Disneyland was supposed to have one! Concept art of the idea was part of the package of imagery meant to advertise Cars Land! For one reason or another, the unique dining experience was cut, and the land once set aside for it is soon to be home to Avengers Campus showbuildings. It’s a shame Disney can’t find a way to add the fan-favorite restaurant to Cars Land, which - nearly a decade after opening - could use the “Phase II” growth.