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Disneyland or Disney World? Is there really any difference? For most people, the only difference is that one is located in California and the other is in Florida. But, in reality, the two resorts are very different. So, how do you know which one you should visit? Which one is better?
Here, I will compare and contrast the two resorts so you can decide which one is best for your family’s next vacation!
(Please note: In this article, Disneyland refers to the entire resort while Disneyland Park refers to the specific park within the resort.)
The first major difference between Disneyland and Disney World is the actual size of the two. This 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. This 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. It is larger than the entire city of San Francisco! It has 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 in and of itself, whereas Disneyland is usually part of a larger trip to southern California.
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, on the other hand, 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, Disney World gets more visitors than Disneyland does.
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.
The pathways at Disneyland are a lot smaller, which creates bottlenecks in some spots. 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. Disney Springs, on the other hand, is seen as an entertainment district to visit as part of your stay at Disney World.
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. But, Disney World has the superior version of Tower of Terror and Mad Tea Party (tea cups).
Additionally, 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 onsite. 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 gondolas, and Minnie vans (Disney’s version of Uber).
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.
Genie+ and MagicBands
One thing that is now the same at the two resorts is the use of Genie+. Both now allow you to pay for the privilege of getting a pass to skip the lines at select rides and attractions. You can read my post on Genie+ for more details on this.
Disney World does have MagicBands, while Disneyland does not. These are plastic bands that you wear like a watch. They function as your hotel key (if staying onsite), and hold your park tickets and all of your dining, park, and Genie+ reservations.
These must be purchased separately and are not required. You can, alternatively, use the My Disney Experience app on your phone instead of the MagicBands, but I find that the MagicBands are actually very convenient to use.
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. If you have the chance to visit both, I highly recommend it because they really are two difference experiences.