As millions of people flock to Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, each year from all over the world to visit Walt Disney World and Disneyland, it’s easy for casual visitors to forget that there are four other Disney resorts around the globe, each offering up unique experiences and that signature sprinkle of pixie dust that you can only find at a Disney park.
Aside from the parks on both American coasts, die-hard Disney fans make the journey to all six Disney parks around the globe – the Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and the Shanghai Disney Resort.
It’s a common misconception that all Disney parks are merely just carbon copies of each other – and while each individual city has plenty of incredible, awe-inspiring places to see and things to do, it’s equally worth it to pay a visit to see Mickey Mouse, because you’re sure to find magical experiences no matter where in the world you are.
These are 10 of the biggest differences between the Disney parks around the world.
Local culture is celebrated by way of merchandise, holiday celebrations, and guest traditions.
As soon as you enter the main gates at every single park, you’re sure to find crowds of people donning their Mickey ears. And even though you’re unmistakably in Mickey’s territory, the worldwide parks do a great job of celebrating local culture.
At the Tokyo Disney Resort, the first Disney resort built outside the United States, crowds can get massive hours before the parks even open, with eager visitors of all ages fully decked out in Disney gear.
In fact, don’t be surprised to see people run as soon as the gates open – this tradition is informally called the “running of the bulls,” and while it might seem alarming at first, guests here are encouraged to be polite and respectful.
In Paris, where visitors come from all over Europe, guests tend to move at a more relaxed pace. But you might notice more smoking within the parks and ride lines.
Both Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland celebrate Chinese New Year have elaborate festivals and parades, but every park has their own special holiday celebrations and traditions, making special times of the year all the more magical.
The iconic castles differ around the world, too.
Each Disney destination around the world features a “castle park,” celebrating iconic Disney princesses and characters.
Perhaps the most famous example is Cinderella’s Castle, which you can find at Magic Kingdom in Orlando and at Tokyo Disneyland. Aside from slight differences, these two castles look nearly identical.
Up until 2018, both Disneyland in Anaheim and Hong Kong Disneyland featured similar version of Sleeping Beauty Castle, but Disney recently announced plans to upgrade the castle in Hong Kong, which will pay tribute to the princesses, in 2019. Disneyland Paris has a slightly different version of Sleeping Beauty Castle, called Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant.
Shanghai is home to the biggest castle, a princess-themed structure called Enchanted Storybook Castle, and it’s the largest one Disney has ever built, towering at 197 feet tall, compared to Anaheim’s 77 feet.
Visitors enter the Disneyland parks to a slightly different version of Main Street USA, but Tokyo’s version, called World Bazaar, is covered to account for extreme weather in the city. Shanghai is the only park without this signature opening land, instead featuring a unique Mickey Avenue and the Gardens of Imagination, paying tribute to traditional Chinese gardens and the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac.
The parks vary greatly in size from each other.
Though each Disney park is a solid vacation destination on its own, some are simply much bigger than others.
The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando is by far the biggest property, with five traditional theme parks (Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), as well as 21 different resorts, eight golf courses, the Disney Springs shopping and dining district, and so much more.
US City Traveller cites it as the most popular theme park in the world, bringing in more than 52 million guests annually. And if you wanted to do everything Disney has to offer in one trip, it’d be next to impossible – popular Disney blog TouringPlans estimates it’d cost around $US30,000 to do and see everything, and they have been chipping away at it for nearly two decades. At roughly27,000 acres, it’s massive.
For comparison, Disneyland Paris has two parks and seven resorts, while Tokyo Disney Resort and Disneyland each have two parks and three resorts.
The Shanghai Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort each have one park and two resorts, with Hong Kong is one of the smallest in the world at about 68 acres.
Expect different weather at each park.
While you can generally expect warm, sunny days year-round stateside, weather conditions are very different in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Paris.
During winter months, you can expect to see snow in Paris and Tokyo, and though Shanghai and Hong Kong each have all four seasons, you likely won’t see freezing temperatures or snow and ice in these two locations.
Still, extreme weather (such as typhoons in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai) don’t stop guests from enjoying their time at the parks, but it’s worth being prepared before you visit.
Each park is situated in a different part of its respective city.
Disneyland Paris is actually located in Marne-la-Vallée, a suburb of the city that takes approximately 45 minutes by train and is around 20 miles from central Paris.
Compare that to Disneyland, which is in the heart of downtown Anaheim – you’re so close to the parks that you can see the rides from the city streets nearby.
All the other parks are separated from the center of their respective cities, making for an even more immersive experience.
The Tokyo Disney resort is roughly one hour by train in Urayasu, Chiba, Japan, just 7 miles east of Tokyo. The Hong Kong DisneylandResort is located on Lantau Island, and can take more than two hours by mass transit to access. Shanghai Disney is in the eastern part of Pudong, so while it’s within Shanghai city limits, it can take up to two hours by mass transit to get there.
And while Walt Disney World is part of the Orlando metropolitan area, the Walt Disney Company actually operates two of its own municipalities, Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, which service everything within the Disney property in Florida.
You’ll find unique versions of classic and new rides no matter where you are.
Of course, one of the major reasons people visit a theme park is the world-class rides and attractions, and none of the global Disney parks disappoint in this area. But if you’re of the notion that it seems silly to travel all the way around the world to ride Splash Mountain in Japan, you’re truly missing out.
Disney rides utilise some of the most impressive technology in the world, and there are few things cooler than hearing the French version of “It’s a Small World” or listening to the cheesy Jungle Cruise jokes spoken in Japanese.
Sure, plenty of the classic rides exist at nearly all of the parks, like versions of the Mad Tea Party, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain (except in Shanghai, which doesn’t have these classics), each version is slightly unique to its home park, making it fun for Disney fans to compare the differences between them.
Fans sometimes argue that Paris has the best version of Space Mountain, since it’s the only one taking guests upside down, while Shanghai’s twist on Pirates of the Caribbean takes the cake for most immersive technology.
Other beloved international rides include Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland, a trackless spin in a honeypot, Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea which Travel + Leisure cites as “full of thrills worthy of the international flight,” Shanghai Disneyland’s Tron Lightcycle Power Run (which is making its way to Florida in 2021), the Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland, a 3D motion simulator attraction, and Ratatouille: The Adventure at Disneyland Paris, where guests are “shrunken to the size of a mouse” and sent on an unforgettable journey. Epcot’s France Pavilion will be getting this ride soon.
Stateside, guests love to compare the parks’ 11 iconic matching attractions, as well as enjoying the dozens of other rides unique to each destination.
Design elements differ among the properties, as well.
Sure, when you’re in a Disney park, you’re unmistakably in a Disney park, but it’s fun to notice the small details and design elements that differ in each one.
For example, the BBC reports that Hong Kong Disneyland“incorporates feng shui and traditional Chinese elements” to appeal to Chinese visitors, and that the main gate of the theme park is situated facing in a north to south direction for good fortune, and you’ll see lots of red everywhere, which the Chinese consider a lucky colour.
In Tokyo you’ll find extraordinarily wide walkways, meant to cater to large crowds and parades, and both Tokyo and Paris feature covered areas near the entrance of their Disneyland parks to shield from rain, wind, and snow.
And the parks themselves are equally as distinctive.
The Disney parks have some distinct parks within the larger areas that can provide one of a kind experiences.
Tokyo DisneySea, which celebrates the sea and nautical exploration instead of land is sometimes called Disney’s best theme park in the world, because its theming is breathtakingly beautiful. Instead of themed lands, DisneySea has seven themed ports of call. From Mediterranean Harbour with its Venetian gondola ride to the “Aladdin”-themed Arabian Coast, you can truly forget you’re in Tokyo.
In Florida, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom both offer one of a kind experiences, whether you prefer to enjoy a safari ride and see giraffes, elephants, and tigers, or meander around the world at Epcot’s World Showcase.
There’s also Disney California Adventure, which artfully pays homage to the original park’s home state.
Each park is home to incredible food options.
An international visit still means you’ll be eating iconic Disney food – there are Mickey-shaped treats everywhere you go around the globe.
In fact, the cool thing about visiting the parks outside of the US is trying out classic theme park staples like burgers and fries and also cultural twists on American favourites, like Mickey-shaped Peking duck pizza in Shanghai.
Japan has a variety of delightful snacks – the popcorn in the Tokyo parks is the stuff of legends, and you can choose from a plethora of unusually flavored popcorn, like milk chocolate, soy sauce and butter, black pepper, honey, and many more.
Tokyo Disneyland is also the only park to have its own restaurant dedicated to Mickey waffles, called the Great American Waffle Co.
Fans flip over the character-themed dim sum at Hong Kong Disneyland, and what can be better than eating around the world at Epcot in Florida or enjoying a Mickey-shaped pretzel during a hot day at Disneyland?
Though Paris is home to some of the best food and drinks anywhere in the world, Disneyland Paris is often criticised for its limited dining options. The Walt Disney Studios park features a Blockbuster Cafe, so things are definitely a little bit outdated on that front.
There are different things to do outside of the parks, too.
Of course, you’re probably going to be tired just by heading from ride to ride as well as spending time in each respective city, but when you’re already on property, you should definitely check out what Disney has to offer right outside the park gates.
Walt Disney World has two water parks, as well as Disney Springs, a large downtown shopping and dining complex, eight golf courses, and 21 resort hotels with activities, dining, and pools, so you could certainly enjoy your vacation without even stepping foot inside a park.
Similar to Disney Springs, each of the parks is home to their own downtown area for daytime and nighttime entertainment, save for Hong Kong Disneyland. Anaheim has Downtown Disney, Tokyo has Ikspiari, Paris has Disney Village, and Disneytown in Shanghai. These areas make for the perfect way to spend time in the Disney bubble without crowds and lines, trying out local cuisine, as well as American favourites.
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