Top 5 Rides Disneyland Does Better

Top 5 Rides Disneyland Does Better

If you are anything like me, and I’m guessing you are in some small way because you are reading this, then you love to dream about what lies ahead.  Before going to Disneyland for the first time, I had so many questions, and so many things I couldn’t wait to discover.  Chief among these were the rides of course!  I was so excited to see where many of the rides I have grown up loving got their start.  I was anxious to see the similarities and the differences of the rides shared between the parks.  I was curious if there were any that I would actually enjoy even more than the Walt Disney World versions I am so familiar with.

Well, the answer to that last question is yes!  I did find some rides that I liked even more at Disneyland and DCA.  Today, I want to share with you my Top 5.  Normally, I invite someone else to join my on our Top 5.  Today though, I really wanted to share with you my own personal experience.  This list is by no means comprehensive, and it will probably change the next time I visit California.  Also, when I say that Disneyland does this ride better, I am in no way criticizing the Walt Disney World version.  Trust me, all the rides I’m about to talk about are among my favorites at both parks.  What I hope you take away from this podcast is that both parks may offer many of the same rides, but they offer very different experiences.  These next 5 just happen to be the experiences I found particular pleasure in on our visit.  So, are you ready?  Let’s get started!


5. Soarin’ Around the World

This is one of our family’s favorite rides in the parks!  Having now experienced both the California and Florida versions, it is easy to say you can’t go wrong with either one.  Here what you need to know about the two:

Walt Disney World

  • Soarin’ opened in Epcot on May 5, 2005.  Soarin’ was updated with the new film and re-opened on June 17, 2016
  • The building contains 3 theaters
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass+ is available

Disney California Adventure

  • Soarin’ Over California opened on February 8, 2001. Soarin’ Around the World opened on June 17, 2016
  • The building contains 2 theaters
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass is available

This is a close one, and the reason this ride comes in at #5 on the list.  The two rides are virtually identical.  Both were recently updated with the new film.  Even though Soarin’ at Epcot has not changed its name to Soarin’ Around the World, it is the exact same film with the exception of the final scene.  At DCA you end the hang gliding adventure with a bang, watching fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.  At Epcot, you watch a similar fireworks show bursting over Spaceship Earth.  Other than that, you can expect to visit the same breathtaking panoramas around the globe.

The only real difference comes in the queue and surrounding land.  It’s for this reason that I am giving a slight edge to the DCA version of Soarin’ Around the World.  Let me start by saying I love the Land Pavilion in Epcot!  This pavilion is home to Soarin’, Living with the Land, the Behind the Seeds Tour, and two great dining options.  It is one of our favorite retreats when our family needs a break from the heat and humidity.  With that said, the theming of Grizzly Peak Airfield at DCA is the perfect backdrop for Soarin’ Around the World.

This area of the park reflects the theme of the nearby Grand Californian, which is also reminiscent of the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World.  Everything has a refined, rustic feel.  The ride building looks like a giant aircraft hanger, and once inside the theme is fleshed out even more.  Here in DCA, the queue of Soarin’ takes you past the Wings of Fame.  Large pictures with plaques line both walls, commemorating significant moments in aviation history. It helps to inspire you to be an aviator yourself, and further appreciate the flight that awaits you on Soarin’.  In contrast, the queue at Epcot is very long, dark, and lacking in theme.  There are some interactive elements at Epcot, but overall the feel of DCA is much more immersive and enjoyable.  For that reason, I’m giving the DCA Soarin’ my stamp as a ride Disneyland does better!


Photo – Disney

4. Indiana Jones Adventure

Did I just say Indiana Jones? Wait, Walt Disney World doesn’t have an Indiana Jones ride.  It does have Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, but that’s not what I’m thinking about.  Nope, I’m thinking about a ride over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom called DINOSAUR! Maybe these two rides don’t come to mind right away when comparing the different destinations, but I can assure you they are worth discussing.  Here are the quick facts:

Walt Disney World

  • DINOSAUR opened in Disney’s Animal Kingdom on April 22, 1998
  • The ride is 3 minutes long
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass+ is available
  • Fright factor is 5 out of 5


  • Indiana Jones Adventure opened on March 3, 1995
  • The ride is 4 minutes long
  • Must be 46” tall to ride
  • Fastpass is available
  • Fright factor is 5 out of 5

If you have listened to our podcast on DINOSAUR, you know it is near and dear to my heart, even though I’m alone in that feeling in our family.  It is an exciting thrill ride, different in nature from anything else at Walt Disney World.  Still, I have been hoping for an update to the ride as it has fallen into disrepair over the years.  Thankfully, that refurbishment is going on as we speak.  So, I’m anxious to see what the ride looks like when it’s all shiny and new again.  While I will have to wait a while before getting to see that for myself, I have an idea of just how much room for improvement there is, that is thanks to riding Indiana Jones Adventure!

This is a far better version of DINOSAUR.  Obviously these two rides have very different themes.  However, they both employ the same ride vehicle and take riders on a tumultuous journey through their respective stories. Indiana Jones does so in a more dynamic way, with a very recognizable hero and setting.

The queue of Indiana Jones may be my favorite queue in all of Disneyland and DCA.  You start your expedition in the jungle of Adventureland.  Soon, you are making your way through ancient temples, and long forgotten underground passages.  This is a long journey, but one I highly enjoyed as I felt like Indy discovering a lost civilization for the first time in hundreds of years.  The scale is grand and the detail exquisite.  The Imagineers got everything right on this one.

I wish I had more time to go into detail of the ride itself, but time is short.  The real difference here as opposed to DINOSAUR is the scale and depth of the ride.  On Indiana Jones, the rooms are much bigger than those of DINOSAUR.  Also, the ride showcases a greater variety of effects.  You can feel the heat of flaming explosions, and the whip of wind as spears fly around you. The lighting is more dynamic, allowing you to take in the elaborate scenes surrounding you.  Overall, it is just a better executed theme park ride.

Add to this, you must be 46” tall to ride Indiana Jones, versus 40” tall for DINOSAUR, and you avoid the mistake of taking very young children on a scary ride.  It should be pointed out that both rides are very scary and loud.  Even with the taller height requirement, parents may want to test out Indiana Jones before taking their children along for the ride.

When you do ride, be sure to grab a Fastpass.  This is a very popular ride and the line is usually very long.  I attempted to utilize the Single Rider Line all 3 days we were at the parks to no avail.  In other words, don’t count on using the Single Rider Line.  When the wait gets long, they don’t utilize this option very often.

We will definitely have to come back and do a full podcast on this ride in the future, but for now let’s move along.

Photo - Disney

Photo – Disney

3. Pirates of the Caribbean

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life begins here.  Yes, Disneyland is the place that launched a franchise now known as Pirates of the Caribbean.  This is a ride that Walt Disney was very proud of, and for good reason.  Through the years, the ride has proven a fan favorite, and can now be found in 5 parks worldwide.  That being said, many claim the original can’t be beat.  Having sailed alongside the Audio-Animatronic scalawags in California, I’m inclined to believe them.  Let’s take a quick look at the two rides here in the states:

Walt Disney World

  • Pirates of the Caribbean opened in the Magic Kingdom on December 15, 1973
  • The ride is over 8 minutes long
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass+ is available


  • Pirates of the Caribbean opened on March 16, 1967
  • The ride is over 11 minutes long
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fastpass is available

The old adage of bigger is better certainly applies to the Pirates ride in Disneyland.  This ride is several minutes longer than its Disney World cousin, boasting multiple show scenes not found in the Magic Kingdom.  If some Pirates is good, more Pirates is better.  That may not be grammatically correct, but hey we’re talking about pirates!  So, the real question becomes, “Why is the Walt Disney World version smaller?”  Well, listen to our podcast on this ride and you will get a good idea of how quickly the Magic Kingdom version was thrown together.  It was not planned out with the luxury of space found at Disneyland.

This can be seen in how the two rides begin very differently.  The Disneyland version is part of a larger theme in New Orleans Square.  The boats leave dock from a Louisiana bayou.  In fact, there is a restaurant right next to the ride, much like that of the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.  I must say though, the outdoor feel of this interior loading dock is more realistic than the Gran Fiesta Tour.  We rode Pirates at night and the majority of the queue is outside.  You only step inside the building a little ways before boarding your boat.  For a moment I thought the queue had meandered back outside and the restaurant had outdoor seating.

After passing through the bayou, the boat enters the heart of the ride and from here on it feels much like the ride in Walt Disney World.  “Dead men tell no tales,” can be heard echoing in the distance, soon the skeletal remains of pirates can be seen, and before you know it, the Redhead is on auction in the town square.

I really enjoyed the additional scenes of the Disneyland version and I can see why the Disneyland faithful proudly proclaim their ride as the best of the bunch.  Perhaps it is the Walt Disney World kid inside of me, but I do have to say I like the queue of the Magic Kingdom better.  The feeling of meandering through the fort is more fun than passing by the same group of people in line as you zig zag through the rope line outside.  Plus, some of the scenes found in the ride at Disneyland have been incorporated into the queue at Walt Disney World.  The eery feeling of entering the pirates’ world is felt earlier on at the Magic Kingdom.

It is this difference in the queue that puts this ride at only #3 on my list.


2. Radiator Springs Racers

I know what you’re thinking, “Walt Disney World doesn’t have Radiator Springs Racers!”  Well, that is true, but there is a ride so similar that I think we have to compare the two.  Of course I’m talking about Test Track over at Epcot.  Here’s the quick know before you go comparison:

Walt Disney World

  • Test Track opened on March 17, 1999 with an updated version re-opening on December 6, 2012
  • Top speed of 65 mph
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fright Factor of 3 out of 5


  • Radiator Springs Racers opened on June 15, 2012
  • Top speed of 40 mph
  • Must be 40” tall to ride
  • Fright Factor of 1 out of 5

Despite having very similar ride vehicles (each car holds 6 passengers) these two rides are different as night and day.  Before riding Radiator Springs Racers, I heard many people compare it to Test Track.  Usually, the common message was that Racers was a more tame version of the Epcot thrill ride.  Having always liked Test Track, I was excited to see how the two compared.  Well, after experiencing Racers, I have to say the rides are as different as night and day.

Test Track takes place mostly indoors, with the ride’s climax shooting you outside to take the hard bank before reaching top speeds of 65 mph on the straightaway. If you have listened to our podcast on Test Track, you know it was a replacement ride for the original World of Motion.  That is an important tidbit because Test Track feels like a ride retrofitted to an existing space.  That space being primarily dark with streaks of neon color, and minimal theming.

On the other hand, Radiator Springs Racers was built as the dessert flower of Cars Land.  The landscape housing the ride is truly spectacular!  This land is impressive during the day, but comes to life tenfold at night.  The color variation within the rock landscape is stunning.  Each detail from the film has been recreated here, including the bridge Lightning and Sally drive over before looking back down on the valley of Radiator Springs below.  The Imagineers used their trusty friend, forced perspective, to give the illusion the bridge and waterfall are high up in the hills.

Beyond the amazing outdoor scenery, Radiator Springs Racers also offers some fun indoor encounters with the films stars.  Life-size versions of Doc, Mater, Guido and more can be found inside.  The ride does a nice job of retelling the story from the movie, all while mixing in some tight turns and quick accelerations. Your car will even get a custom paint job courtesy of Ramon, or fresh set of imported Italian tires from Luigi before hitting the final track.

I really could go on and on about this ride, but before I move on, I want to offer two perspectives other than my own.  My mom really enjoys Test Track, but when I asked her what she thought coming of Racers for the first time she said, “It’s like Test Track on steroids!”  That was a good thing.  Her eyes lit up like a 5-year old kid when she came off this ride.  Meanwhile, one of my little nephews was nearly frightened to death the first time he rode Test Track as a 5-year old.  However, he could not have loved Racers more.  So, Radiator Springs Racers has enough thrill for my mom to describe it as Test Track on steroids, but does so in surroundings that are less frightening for young children.

I think the best thing I can say about this ride is that it may be the most perfect family ride in all of Disney.  Now, Test Track gets points for having a Fastpass+ option, a Single Rider Line, and an interactive queue where you can design your own vehicle.  Still, the overall theme of Cars Land coupled with the immersive environment of Radiator Springs Racers puts this ride over the top.  Pay attention to the Fastpass return times and try to secure a Fastpass for a ride after dark.  Adults will be struck by the beauty of this place while kids will have a blast stepping inside the world of Cars.  It certainly qualifies as a ride Disneyland does better.


  1. It’s A Small World

It is the classic Disney ride, and the first ride we covered on the WDW Ride Guide Podcast.  It was the ride I was most looking forward to seeing at Disneyland, and the ride I was most pleasantly surprised by.  It is now the first Disney ride ever experienced by my newest nephew, Leighton. It’s a Small World continues to find ways to warm my heart and bring a smile to my face.  Before we set sail on the Disneyland version here is the quick comparison.

Walt Disney World

  • It’s a Small World opened on October 1, 1971
  • There is no height requirement
  • The ride is over 10 minutes long
  • Fright Factor of 0 out of 5


  • It’s A Small World opened on May 28, 1966
  • There is no height requirement
  • The ride is almost 15 minutes long
  • Fright Factor of 0 out of 5

If you have ever seen pictures or talked to anyone who knows the Disneyland version, you will quickly notice the queue of It’s a Small World is located outside the main show building.  The trademark facade of stylized buildings from around the world greets you from a 100 feet away.  This giant collection of white architecture, highlighted by gold trim glistens in the California sun.  As you walk down the winding path to the boats, you pass by well manicured gardens.  Everything about the ride’s exterior makes you feel like you have stepped back in time to Disney’s early days.

Of course, the Walt Disney World is very different.  Only a small sign signifies the ride in Florida, and the scale of the architectural facade is much smaller inside.  The ride begins in the darkened building instead of the bright sunshine.  At Disneyland, the mood of the ride has been set even before the first line of the theme song can be heard.

Once inside, the differences seem minimal at first.  You can hear the familiar music and lyrics of the Sherman Brothers and see the familiar faces of the Audio Animatronic children.  However, it doesn’t take long until you spot the first Disney character mixed into their native country.  Is that Peter Pan and Tinker Bell flying over London?  Why yes it is!  Next thing you know Pinocchio is putting on a show in Italy, Mulan is flying a kite in China, and those crazy Three Caballeros are at it again in South America.  By the end of the ride you will have passed 30 characters!  Each one is cleverly worked into the ornate, colorful scenery.  I found this added another dimension to the ride, making it fun to look for the Disney and Pixar characters as you float from room to room.

One other thing I noticed as we floated along, was the canal channeling our boat’s journey.  At the Magic Kingdom it feels as if the whole room is full of water and the scenes full of children start at ground level and move up from there.  At Disneyland the canal is elevated, cutting through each room with the ground several feet below.  This allows the scenes to begin below your eye level, making the environments feel slightly more immersive.

The biggest difference of all is simple: the Disneyland version is several minutes longer.  As we moved from room to room I was astonished that the ride kept going on and on.  There were more countries, more scenes, more stories to tell.  While I’ve never felt the Magic Kingdom version was too short, I loved soaking up all the extra scenery provided by the Disneyland original.

Combine the outdoor queue, the fun discovery of Disney characters alongside the classic AA figures, and the extra show scenes, and it’s easy to see why Disneyland does It’s a Small World better.  I will always enjoy the Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed at Walt Disney World, but I can’t wait to get back and set sail again at Disneyland.

So, there you have it, the 5 Rides Disneyland Does Better!  Soarin’ Around the World, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean, Radiator Springs Racers, and It’s a Small World.  I do have to give an honorable mention to the Haunted Mansion Holiday.  What’s this?  Why it’s an overlay of The Nightmare Before Christmas and it can only be found at Disneyland.  This is a complete transformation of the iconic ride, and a really fun change of pace.  Maybe we will do a podcast on it someday!

For now, we have to be going.  I hope you had a little fun today, I know I did!  If you liked my list will you please let me know?  If not, you can keep it to yourself.  Just kidding!  I would love to hear your thoughts either way.  E-mail me at or send me a message on our Facebook page.

Come back next week and find out the Top 5 Rides that Walt Disney World does better!

Thanks for listening, now let’s all make each day a ride worth taking!

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