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Disneyland or Disney World? Is there really any difference? Most people would say the only difference is that one is in California and the other is in Florida. But, in reality, the two resorts have as many distinctive features as they do similarities. So, how do you know which one is better? Which one should you visit? Let’s compare and contrast the two to help you decide which is better for your family. (Please note: Disneyland refers to the entire resort while Disneyland Park refers to the specific park within the resort.)
Size is not only the biggest difference between the two resorts, it’s also the reason for many of the other differences.
Disneyland is the original park, located in Anaheim, California. It covers 160 acres. The resort includes two theme parks, three hotels, and Downtown Disney (a shopping, dining, and entertainment district.)
Walt Disney World, on the other hand, spans over 27,400 acres in Orlando, Florida. This is larger than the entire city of San Francisco! This vast “world” holds four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, two miniature golf courses, 25+ hotels, Disney Springs (their version of Downtown Disney), an entire transportation system, and endless entertainment options. You could easily spend two full weeks at Disney World and not run out of things to do. Walt Disney World is a vacation destination unto itself, whereas Disneyland is usually part of a larger trip to southern California.
Parks and Castles
Disney World has four theme parks which are all very different from one another. Animal Kingdom and Epcot are unlike any other theme park in the world. While the parks at Disney World give you a nice variety of experiences, they are spread out, so you need to use some mode of transportation to get from one to another. This distance also means park hopping will eat up some of your time.
In contrast, Disneyland’s two parks are different interpretations of the standard theme park experience. It is worth noting, however, that Disneyland Park was the original park to create this experience. The upside to Disneyland’s small size is that its two parks sit side by side with only a promenade in between, making it easy to hop from one park to the other.
Of course, Disney is famous for its castles. Both Disneyland Park and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom have one. Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom is three times larger than Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Park. Cinderella Castle makes a dramatic statement that commands your attention as you walk down Main Street USA. Sleeping Beauty Castle is much more subtle and understated.
Both Disneyland and Disney World are crowded most of the time due to millions of visitors each year. But, because of its larger size, Disney World is better equipped to handle the masses. The pathways are larger, and there are more things to do to spread out the crowds. Plus, most queues at Disney World are inside, so it doesn’t feel as crowded as Disneyland. There are parts of Disneyland Park that are confusing because there are so many people in such a small space.
The two resorts also differ in the types of crowds they receive. Most visitors to Disneyland are locals, while most people at Disney World are tourists. This affects the behaviors and the timing of arrivals of the crowds to the parks on each coast. Disneyland crowds tend to arrive later in the day than those at Disney World.
Downtown Disney/Disney Springs
Downtown Disney is also much smaller than Disney Springs at Walt Disney World. Because of this, there are fewer stores and restaurants there. But, it is more convenient and more accessible to the parks than Disney Springs. Downtown Disney is an area to experience before or after a visit to the parks as opposed to a trip to Disney Springs that is made specifically to visit the entertainment district.
Some rides are unique to one coast or the other while some are shared by the two resorts. Of the shared rides, none are identical. Most people agree that Disneyland has the better version of most shared rides. Disney World has the superior version of Tower of Terror and Mad Tea Party (tea cups). Disney World’s Toy Story Mania and Voyage of the Little Mermaid have better queues than their Disneyland counterparts.
Walt Disney World has 25+ hotels onside with three more in various stages of planning or construction. Disneyland has only three Disney-owned hotels. There are many third-party hotels within walking distance of Disneyland however. Disneyland has the edge when it comes to the price of a hotel stay due to all of these offsite hotels. But, when it comes to theme and convenience, Disney World gets the nod in the hotel category.
Both Disneyland and Disney World have numerous restaurants featuring a wide range of cuisine and prices. You can easily find a snack kiosk, counter-service joint, or table-service restaurant to please every palate at either resort. They both have a variety of character meals as well.
There are two big differences between them when it comes to dining. First, at Disney World, you need to make advance reservations for table-service restaurants. To get into the more popular places, you need to make your reservations six months in advance. At Disneyland, on the other hand, advance reservations aren’t really necessary. Even if you want to make a reservation, you can’t do so until you are within 60 days of your trip at Disneyland.
The second difference is the Disney Dining Plan. At Disney World, if you book a vacation package, you can add on the dining plan, which allows you to prepay for your meals. For more details, read about the Disney Dining Plan. There is no dining plan offered at Disneyland.
When it comes to transportation, it is all or nothing. Disneyland has no transportation to get from one park to the other, but they are so close that it’s not needed. Disney World, at the other extreme, has a whole system to get you around the resort. It includes boats, a monorail, buses and Minnie vans (Disney’s version of Uber). Beginning in the Fall of 2019, the system will also include gondolas.
As far as transportation from the airport to the resort, Disney World wins. They have the Magical Express which will transport you from the airport to your Disney hotel and back for free. Disneyland doesn’t offer this service.
Both Disneyland and Disney World have their own security teams. At both, you will have to go through security checkpoints and have your bags searched in order to enter the parks. Disneyland does this more efficiently however. There, you have to go through security once you enter the resort. At Disney World, there are security checkpoints at each park and at each monorail stop. This means if you hop from one park to another during the day, you will have to go through security multiple times.
Fastpasses and Magicbands
Disney World gives each person staying at one of their hotels a free Magicband to wear which stores your park tickets, fastpasses, dining reservations, and hotel key right on your wrist. You can buy a Magicband if you are staying offsite and link it to your plans. Disneyland does not have Magicbands.
Who has the better fastpass system-Disneyland or Disney World? I have to say, Disney World wins this category. In Florida, you can reserve three fastpasses per person per day up to 60 days in advance of your trip on their website or the My Disney Experience app. Then, once you have used those, you can get more, one at a time on the app. All fastpasses are stored on your park ticket or Magicband. There is no additional charge for this.
At Disneyland, you can get fastpasses for free by going to a kiosk near the ride and inserting your park ticket. Alternatively, you can pay $10 per person per day for MaxPass, which allows you to make fastpass selections on the Disneyland app. You must be in the parks to use either system.
The Disney Bubble
For me, the bubble is the biggest factor in deciding which is better-Disneyland or Disney World. Because of its size, Walt Disney World allows me to stay in the Disney bubble (a place of perpetual happiness where the real world doesn’t exist) for my entire trip. At Disneyland, I have to leave the bubble each night. This doesn’t give me the same sense of escape as Disney World’s bubble.
The answer to which is better Disneyland or Disney World comes down to personal preference. Most people will lean towards which ever one they are most familiar with. Personally, I prefer Disney World because of the bubble. If you have the chance to visit both, I highly recommend it because they really are two difference experiences. However, if you can only visit one, I think you should choose Disney World because it is more of a complete vacation destination. To book a trip to either, visit the Disney website. For help planning your Disney World vacation, see my step-by-step guide, quick tips, and best resources. Happy travels!