5. Tomorrowland – Shanghai Disneyland (Pudong, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China)
If Sean and I had to pick our personal favorite-favorite area, we’d probably have to settle on Shanghai’s Tomorrowland based on TRON alone. And while TRON has been focused on in many a Coaster Kings article, there’s more to this high-gloss world of the future(?) than lightcycles. Many of Disney’s most popular space-y intellectual properties call Shanghai’s Tomorrowland home (from newcomers like The Avengers and Big Hero 6 to Tomorrowland fixtures Buzz Lightyear and Stitch), but none reside in this post-modern lightscape at the expense of the area’s aesthetic – and that’s a notable departure from the clashy mishmash of “future” themes found in other Tomorrowlands.
4. Cars Land – Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, California, USA)
For a brief period of time, Disney’s California Adventure was near-perfect: A Bug’s Land was still buzzing with life, Hollywood still had a marquee thrill ride, and Paradise Pier had not yet been spoiled by an abundance of Pixar clutter. Whatever changes time has in store for Disneyland Resort, there’s no doubt in our minds that Cars Land will remain the crown jewel of California Adventure, if not the entire resort. We draw lofty-praise comparisons to Tokyo DisneySea when we consider the area’s use of forced perspective, sophisticated world-building, and a commitment to a singular theme/intellectual property, and often muse that a clone of Carsland would be a picture-perfect power move for Shanghai Disneyland Resort’s inevitable 2nd gate.
3. Frontierland – Disneyland Paris (Marne la Vallee, Chessy, France)
Leave it to Disney to produce some of the most flattering American-West propaganda on Earth – complete with rosy depictions of colonialism – and scatter them throughout their theme parks. Disneyland Paris saw a major improvement of this archetype with their focus on a single dynasty, The Ravenswood Family, and their troubled work (Big Thunder Mountain) and home life (Phantom Manor). As if having two of Disney’s most iconic attractions in one iteration of Frontierland wasn’t enough, Disneyland Paris ensured that their super-sized Big Thunder and boomtown-tinged Haunted Mansion were the very best of their 4 respective installations.
2. Pandora – Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA)
We’ll admit first and foremost that we’ve never seen Avatar, but from our understanding it’s essentially Pocahontas in space; in any case, the plot of the source material for Pandora: The World of Avatar has hardly any bearing on the area’s slam-dunk success. Avatar: Flight of Passage tells its volunteers all they need to know about Pandora, while the underrated Na’vi River Journey invite guests to enjoy the sights without troubling itself with explanations. Plants and animals of both the terrestrial and Pandoran varieties mesmerize visitors to the Valley of Mo’ara while indigenous music echoes over and under its gravity-defying peaks. The food’s no slouch either – you won’t find better quick service than the Satu’li Canteen.
1. Mysterious Island – Tokyo DisneySea (Arayasu, Chiba, Japan)
Of course it had to be the literal and figurative crown of Tokyo DisneySea: our pick for the best themed area of any Disney theme park is the Jules Verne-themed Mysterious Island. Situated inside and around the seismically-active Mt Prometheus, Mysterious Island is your nature-centric steampunk dream come to life, complete with submarines, boats, and high-speed excavators fit for exploration. Well ahead of the game, Mysterious Island demonstrates an unwavering commitment to sight-line conservation and thematic submersion unparalleled by other theme parks at the time, and to this day remains the best-case-scenario for Disney’s insurmountable feats of Imagineering.
We hope you enjoyed our countdown of Disney’s best themed areas! If you’re wondering why a favorite Disney area of yours is missing, there’s a good chance we covered it in the “honorable mentions” introduction of this article’s companion podcast. As always, thanks for reading, and we look forward to hearing you weigh in on Coaster Kings’ various social media platforms.