13. Disney World Resort Hotels
It’s often been said that Disney World’s primary business isn’t theme parks, at all; at the end of the day, Team Disney Orlando is really in the hotel business. Disney World's beautifully designed resorts are attractions unto themselves. Whether or not you choose to stay at them, Disney's Contemporary, Boardwalk, Polynesian Village, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Coronado Springs, Art of Animation, Swan and Dolphin, Pop Century... each is a fun place to see, basking in the personality, detail, entertainment, dining, and history of each. In fact, changes, updates, and upgrades at Disney's resort hotels are as well-covered and ellict just as strong of reactions as changes in the theme parks!
Naturally, fans can and do argue over the merits of staying “on property,” and whether any hotel room is worth the prices Disney can charge. We won’t say whether Disney’s pricing is fair for the product, but we will say that Disney World’s inflated prices at least come with real incentives beyond ethereal promises of “magic” and "Disney guest service." Disney World Resort Hotel guests get early FastPass+ booking, free rides to and from the airport, the “magic” of the MagicBand (see #6), and access to essential transportation (see #3). Unsurprisingly, it's all part of Disney's not-so-sneaky "walled garden" approach, ensuring guests ditch the rental car and remain on Disney property for the entire length of their stay.
One of Michael Eisner's biggest goals in the '90s was to export Disney World's "walled garden" resort culture to California, which is why a massive Hotel District was key in the never-built Possibilityland: WESTCOT Center plans that never came to be. Instead, Disneyland offers only three hotels (two “deluxe” and one “moderate”). Though hints of “resort culture” exist at Disneyland (like the must-see Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel, or the Storytellers character breakfast at the Grand Californian Hotel), the inherent scale and history of visiting the resort hotels is (unsurprisingly) just not really a big element of a Disneyland visit.
14. Astro Orbiter & the Peoplemover
A quintessential element of the classic idea of Tomorrowland, both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom once offered swirling aerial rocket rides of similar style, positioned atop mid-century pedestals at each lands’ center. Gantry lifts would carry batches up guests up to the third level platform, literally elevating the otherwise simple “Dumbo”-like experience to loom over the land and the Lost Legend: The Peoplemover beneath.
In the ‘90s, the two Tomorrowlands diverged from their Space Age styles in intentional bids to make them more timeless. Magic Kingdom’s became a pulp, comic-book future by adding technicolor sci-fi fins and spacecrafts, transforming the Rocket Jets into the elaborate and hypnotic Astro Orbiter.
Now a giant astrolabe of silver rings and color saturated planets, the Astro Orbitor is as iconic as ever, drawing guests into the heart of Tomorrowland, with the curving mid-century Peoplemover wrapping throughout the land beneath it.
Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was reborn in the ‘90s, too, but after the financial crisis caused by Disneyland Paris. A cancelled Possibilityland: Tomorrowland 2055 was replaced with the subject of a Declassified Disaster: New Tomorrowland ‘98. Double-dipping on the earthy, European styles developed for Paris, California’s reborn land was all wrong, rebranding the land in dreary brown and gold paint. An ornate, golden Astro Orbitor cloned from Paris was added, but like its French sister, it was relocated from its sky-high platform and dug down into the earth at the land’s entrance, surrounded in brown and red rocks.
The end result is that neither Tomorrowland is what fans hope. But at least Magic Kingdom's still features the revolving rockets high up on the land's central pedestal over the effortless and timeless Peoplemover, while Disneyland features neither.
15. Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Each of Walt Disney World’s theme parks is so unique; each a product of a very particular set of circumstances in the industry; each carrying the voice of the designers behind it. Removed from their historical context and fans’ nostalgia, which of Florida’s four parks would be most needed to fill an (imaginary) open plot of land in Anaheim? It has to be Animal Kingdom.
Disney’s “living” theme park has evolved beautifully over the years from a practically-preachy, too-serious zoological park into a spectacular showcase of myths, legends, adventure, and storytelling. Part of that is, as we already discovered, Expedition Everest, but it goes well beyond that. Animal Kingdom is a park of glowing jungles, ancient temples, rhythmic music, delicious food, and that kind of transformational, “magical” aura that Disney fans talk about.
Unlike Magic Kingdom, it’s original; unlike Epcot, it’s timeless; unlike Hollywood Studios, it doesn’t rely on flavor-of-the-week films or Disney characters. It’s also way too large to have any chance of squeezing into Southern California. It’s celebrational, organic, and adventurous… and we haven’t even mentioned the animals yet! While Pandora - The World of Avatar is icing on the cake, the fact is that Animal Kingdom is simply astounding... A one-of-a-kind, ambitious, and spectacular feat of Imagineering, storytelling, and design.
16. TRON Lightcycle Power Run
When Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016, it radically reinvented what a Disneyland-style park could be. The mainland China park remixed the traditional land layout and purposefully excluded classic E-Tickets in favor of a new generation of headliners. Rather than the white, Space Age conical Space Mountain, its Tomorrowland was reigned over by an undulating glass canopy - the “Upload Circuit” of the Modern Marvel: TRON Lightcycle Power Run.
Even then, rumors suggested that the ride would come to both U.S. resorts, albeit in different forms: first, as a TRON clone in Florida, then as a Captain America moto-coaster in California. So far, half of that has turned out to be correct. A copy of the TRON ride is coming to Magic Kingdom, aligning with a redressing of the land’s aesthetic. But in California? Don’t hold your breath for a Captain America coaster, given that the park’s Avengers Campus land was relegated to a relatively small plot of land in the land-locked California Adventure.
But could the TRON version come to California? Like Test Track, we can imagine TRON being a spectacular answer to the park’s jumbled Tomorrowland identity, perhaps even positioning its “Upload Circuit” canopy over the land’s entry corridor. Given that a major reimagining of Tomorrowland is always rumored to be “just a dream away,” it at least seems possible that Disney will yet again leverage their new futuristic go-to coaster as a possible solution… And one that would give Walt’s original park a very cool new ride.
Let's face it: the so-called "rivalry" between Disneyland and Walt Disney World will never, ever end; for generations, folks new to Imagineering fandom will continue to stoke old, tired arguments in attempts to compare these two very special places.
And while our Ride Count Countdown, our “E-Ticket” Award count, and our list of 16 Disneyland Exclusives that Should Make Disney World Fans Jealous try to cut to the facts, the undeniable truth is that Disneyland and Walt Disney World each have some spectacular features the other lacks. For fans, that's good news; it's all the more reason to keep both of Disney's U.S. resorts on your bucket list... and don't even get us started on the international parks...