What's the difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World?
Visiting Disney has become a rite of passage for many American families. Kids grow up with the Disney characters — from the classic "Big Five" of Mickey Mouse and friends, to all the Pixar movies, to more modern Disney-owned characters such as those from Star Wars
and Marvel Comics. Disney is family for millions of people around the world, so when it comes time to plan a family vacation, it's no surprise that many choose to spend that time with their Disney family.
But which Disney should fans visit? Disney has six theme park resorts around the world: the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, Tokyo Disney in Japan, Disneyland Paris in France, and its two newest properties, Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland in China. For most visitors, the best choice is to visit the Disney resort closest to them, especially if it is in the same country. That minimizes your travel hassles and expenses.
Americans have two relatively easy choices for a Disney vacation: Disneyland on the west coast, or Disney World in the east. Beyond their location, what's the difference between these two choices?
Disneyland offers two theme parks and three hotels in a small, walkable resort in an urban community while Walt Disney World offers four theme parks, two water parks, and dozens of hotels on a sprawling development on the outskirts of its city. Yet both resorts offer a comparable number of rides, shows, and attractions, thanks to Disneyland packing so much into its relatively small space.
Size and density aren't the biggest differences between the two resorts, however. In my experience, the biggest difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is what you need to do to plan a visit to each one. With its large number of local visitors, Disneyland is more conducive to a spur-of-the-moment visit, while the huge percentage of out-of-town visitors at Walt Disney World demands more advance planning at that resort.
In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about the differences in planning Disney vacations on each coast, including the differences between Disneyland's Fastpass ride reservation system and Walt Disney World's relatively new Fastpass+. I also talk about getting restaurant reservations on each coast, differences in ticket options and what you need to do to get around each resort... without losing your patience.
As a Southern California native and resident... and a former Orlando resident and Walt Disney World cast member, I've spent countless hours at both resorts and know them both well. Ultimately, I prefer visiting Disneyland for the convenience of its smaller size and lack of need for advance reservations. But I love Walt Disney World, too. Having all those advance reservations can provide some comforting peace of mind for someone who's only going to visit Disney once or twice in a lifetime. And Disney World seems to have a wider range of price points for families looking to save (or splurge!) on their Disney vacation.
Dedicated fans can argue about all the details in one resort versus the other: which has the better version of Pirates (Disneyland), Haunted Mansion (Disney World), Space Mountain (Disneyland), or the Tower of Terror (Disney World)? Disneyland fans can point out that only their resort has the Marvel characters. (Marvel is located at rival Universal in Orlando). And Disney World fans can counter with the upcoming Avatar-themed land that only they will have. Frankly, these debates can go on forever, and they're part of the fun of being a Disney fan — no matter on which coast your loyalties lie.
Ultimately, there's no "wrong" choice here. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer wonderful vacation experiences to families who take the time to investigate them and choose the vacation package that best fits their needs. But the differences between the two resorts are real and worth that consideration.
You Might Also Like:
I live in Eastern Canada, so WDW is a lot closer. But I also visit DLR, for the unique attractions available there and elsewhere in California. Because we visit in alternate years, there is always something new at either resort by the time we get back there.
Anytime the question is, "Anaheim or Orlando?" the answer is always, "Tokyo."
WDW has always been my thing, lived in Florida for a few years to go there a lot. Plus, just so much more in Orlando with the multiple parks and amazing hotels and just overall experience better.
My family and I usually go to Orlando, when we go to Disney, in February and it is simply for convenience. We do not spend all of our time at WDW and it is simply easier to get to Universal or Sea World if we so choose. Also spring training is on so if we wish to watch the Yankees its less then an hour away and then spend some time on the beach before heading back. As for travel from where we live in Canada, north of Montana, DLR is about 600 miles closer then WDW but flight costs aren't much different, it is just because the things that interest us are more accessible for us in Orlando.
I think Robert hits the nail on the head. The 2 resorts are really too different to compare. For a week long vacation getting lost in Disneyworld is more attractive. For a quick 2 or 3 day trip Disneyland is better as you get way more attractions per park. And yes, I would agree that Tokyo is still the King of Disney resorts (any extra time you have can easily be spent exploring the adjacent worlds largest/cleanest/safest metropolis). I do think that Shanghai could rival Tokyo, that is if they can come up with a park that matches DisneySea.
There really is no "wrong" answer here. Both are great, and are unique in their own way. However, I chose Disneyland in the poll. Even though I live on the east coast (New York), and closer to Disney World, I still prefer Disneyland. To me, there is something more magical about it. There is more of a charm at the parks, especially Disneyland park. Maybe it's because Walt himself was there, I don't know?
Gosh, tough question but I went with Disneyland. It's still the place where the family can meet and spend a day together. My kids and siblings, nieces and nephews and extended family can always make time. WDW is a planned vacation, when we can pull it off it's a better time. Depends where you live I guess. I live in TX now so I go both ways and still prefer Disneyland.
our family lives in Texas and we went to Disney World every year for 9 yrs. We now go to Disneyland every year. We aren't fans of the new magic bands and the new fastpass system at Disney World.
I have been to both and I prefer WDW because it is more immersive experience. Also,I think the cast members are better in Florida. Having said that,if I had small children and limited time, DLR is a better choice. Everything is concentrated together in the two parks which makes it easier to do more in less time. No bus rides saves time. I also think there is more attractions for smaller children.
Both are great resorts and strengths and weaknesses. However, I would say that Disneyland has the better in park experience. Better rides and It is great having them all so close to each other. New Orleans Square alone is just a great land. That being said I think in recent years that the cast members are better at being energetic and creating magic at Disney world. I think this is is due in part that cast members stay shorter amounts of time and know that it is more of a limited time thing.
Walt Disney World Resort is better overall than Disneyland Resort. But Disneyland and California Adventure are the 2 best Disney parks in America.
Both WDW and Disneyland have their advantages that make them each magical. The theming, size, spectacle,the transportation system (monorails, the magical express, ferries)! the hotels, the uniqueness of each park including the water parks, the shows, the variety of things to do that suit every taste plus how it separates itself from the real world creating a true vacation gives WDW it's advantages.
The Happiest Place on Earth vs The Most Magical Place on Earth.
Disneyland due to its intimate nature and the feeling that Walt himself built it. The bus transportation at WDW ruins some of the magic. I love how I can walk everywhere at Disneyland Resort. I'll be there next week and won't be renting a car, and won't be needing any transportation at all while at the resort. It's a great feeling, and definitely adds to the magic and happiness. Also better weather in SoCal than Central Florida helps as well.
I would say for a lot of people the choice may boil down to location. I live in Canada in the same time zone as Orlando. So I typically go to there because I get more parks for less travel cost and time getting there.
I think that both parks have a different vibe to them because WDW in Florida feels like it's just tourists and the Disneyland park feels like locals who live in California with not many tourists.
You forgot to mention the ride overlays at Disneyland. Went to WDW thinking their haunted mansion would have the nightmare before Christmas overlay as well as space mountain's ghost galaxy overlay. However, they were the same ride as if I went during the spring.
Tokyo Disney and Universal Studios Orlando
I was eleven when WDW opened. I loved the place. Then EPCOT CENTER opened and I loved that. Now I have to make reservations for everything 6 months in advance. That is not my idea of fun. I don't go anymore.
Disneyland: A universe where you can escape into.
Before Fast Pass Plus, it would be easy. WDW is a complete vacation package. Assuming you have the money, you can really go big. It really is a world in and of itself. However, it is now much more difficult to maximize your stay if your goal is to experience as many attractions as possible. Gone are the days of riding Haunted Mansion three times in 30 minutes, or walking on Mission Space. Best case for our family is six days at WDW and finish with three at Universal with their Express Pass. Now, if I want to experience Classic Disney, it would have to be California. The old system is much, much better, and the weather is not unbearably hot. My dream is that I will wake up and hear that WDW has decided to go back to the old system. The last time we went to Orlando, we completely skipped WDW and spent four days at Universal, which was a blast.
I choose Disneyland because I have a lot more memories at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World.
Robert is right of course: no wrong choice. However, I have the feeling that personal history may play a role. WDW was the first theme park I visited (in 1976) so I know I have a nostalgia factor. Also, I saw EPCOT coming and the first visit was like stepping into the future, so it's my favorite park despite well known issues. My rational part tells me that Tokyo is fantastic, that Disneyland is Walt's park, but my heart sticks to WDW...
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.