The Great Debate, Part Three: Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland – Walt Disney World (Guest Post)

(Rachel is taking over the blog again today with Part 3 of “The Great Debate: WDW vs. Disneyland”)

It’s part three, y’all: when I will finally (hopefully) pick a “winner” between the U.S.-based Disney theme parks. Who will come out on top? Will I lose my nerve and not pick one?! You’ll have to read and find out!

In this post, I’ll focus on my “home” park: Walt Disney World. The park I grew up going to, and the one I’ve visited the most of any theme park, ever. So…feelings.

Magic Kingdom

Starting big with the O.G. park at Walt Disney World. Somehow this park, to me, has managed to evolve and grow over its 45 years and yet stay exactly the same. My earliest memory of Magic Kingdom is riding 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a classic that’s long gone at this point (next time you’re riding Voyage of the Little Mermaid, think about how there used to be a zillion gallons of water there). I can remember the glass-bottom boat and the fake sea creatures – and how they felt totally real to me. (We’ll skip over the part of me that was totally freaked by the idea of a floor made of glass. Underwater.)

And that’s just the thing about Magic Kingdom: you feel like the fantasy is real. You don’t have to be in Fantasyland to experience it, either. Take Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland, for example. When you’re listening to “Big Rock Candy Mountain” while riding a train through what’s meant to resemble an old mining town, you really do feel like you’re transported to a simpler time (put those phones away, kids!).

In Adventureland, you can truly feel like you’re on a pirate ship – these days, complete with sea spray! And I might be alone in this, but I truly love the corny jokes on the Jungle Cruise. Depending on your worldview, they’re delivered with either complete sarcasm or an utter lack of sarcasm (I choose to believe the latter).

In Tomorrowland, you can board a spaceship and take flight in a confined space! Or try to defeat the evil Emperor Zurg with Buzz Lightyear! Or – my absolute favorite – sit in a revolving theater and learn about progress! Yes, the Carousel of Progress seems kind of lame now, but Walt Disney himself imagined the ride and presented it at the World’s Fair in 1964. That’s utterly fascinating history, and I unabashedly love it. Also, what better way to get out of the Florida heat than riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover?

I haven’t even touched Fantasyland (save my childhood memory), but suffice to say it’s replete with magical experiences. And then there’s Liberty Square… Reader, I absolutely love Liberty Square. It only boasts one actual ride (and one show, for a total of two fun attractions!), but I seriously love it. I could sit and listen to “Stars and Stripes Forever” for an absurd amount of time. I know. I don’t get it, either.

The Other Parks

I’ll be honest. I’m not as attached to the other parks – EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom – as I am to Magic Kingdom. When Allen and I visit, we always, always, always visit Magic Kingdom. We frequently visit EPCOT. But we sometimes visit Hollywood Studios, and rarely visit Animal Kingdom.

These parks all have their merits, of course. EPCOT, as diverse as it is thematically jumbled, is very cool and has tremendous potential to be a truly awesome futuristic and educational park. I think EPCOT has lost its way a bit as of late, but I do really love Soarin’, so there’s that (see: last week’s Disneyland Resort post). The Food and Wine Festival in the fall and Flower and Garden Festival in the spring are always super fun and yummy, and we try to hit both festivals each year (sadly, no Food and Wine for us this year).

The park I remember most as a kid is Hollywood (formerly MGM) Studios. I vividly remember riding The Great Movie Ride, playing in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area, watching the Beauty and the Beast and Indiana Jones shows, and going on the Backlot Tour (so much water and fire!). Sadly, some of those attractions are no longer around. With all of the new lands planned, Studios is going to look completely different in the next few years. But for better or worse? Time will tell!

Animal Kingdom is probably the park I have the least attachment to, although I still enjoy spending time there. It also feels a little disjointed in the way that EPCOT has felt lately, but again, it has its merits. (I feel like I should say more, but honestly, I have spent very little time in this park except to ride Expedition Everest.)

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It was cold that day in Florida!

The Verdict

I said several weeks ago (in my part one post) that I was going to select a winner between Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. The truth is, I really have attachments to both that can’t easily be compared (sort of like apples and oranges). The bottom line is, I obviously love both parks, and will continue to visit both as long as I can.

However, I promised you a winner, so here we go:

Objective winner, based on initial points and also awesomeness: Disneyland Resort

Subjective winner, based on nostalgia and transportive feeling: Walt Disney World (specifically, Magic Kingdom)

There you have it, folks! (I’m just glad I was able to sort of pick a winner! Decisions are hard, you guys!)

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