Which is more crowded on holiday week: Disneyland or Disney World?

December 28, 2017, 4:10 PM · Theme park fans know that this is the busiest week of the year at the nation's top theme parks. But if your children's school schedule dictates that it's this week or nothing for a vacation — and everyone's heart is set on Disney — are you better off spending the week between Christmas and New Year's at Disneyland or Walt Disney World?

Let's look at the data. In an attempt to create an apples-to-apples comparison between the two resorts, I looked at the posted wait times for comparable attractions from Florida's Disney World and California's Disneyland at 1pm local time today. (FWIW, I started to do this comparison yesterday, but the power outage at Disneyland scuttled that plan. If that dissuaded anyone from visiting today, it didn't prevent Disneyland from getting to the point where it stopped selling tickets into the park. So I am confident that we are looking today at the upper end of modern capacity and demand for these resorts.)

The top wait times at each park were:

Now let's look at some comparable attractions:

Keep in mind that the hourly capacity for some of these rides — including Midway Mania, Tower of Terror, Soarin' and Star Tours — is greater at Disney World than it is at Disneyland. So is Disneyland less crowded this week than Disney World?

Well, hold on there a minute, pardner. Let's not rush to that conclusion.

You can fit 70,000+ people into the Magic Kingdom more easily than getting up to 40,000 into the park at Disneyland. Walt's original park sits on just 85 acres, compared with the 107 at the Magic Kingdom, which is the smallest of the four Walt Disney World parks (counting areas under construction at Hollywood Studios). And Disneyland crams many more attractions into that smaller space. That comes at the cost of extra space for queues, pathways, and sitting areas, which makes Disneyland inspire claustrophobia with much smaller crowd loads than at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Disneyland simply doesn't have the queue and pathway space to overload its attractions at the same rate as the Walt Disney World theme parks can, thus, the generally shorter wait times in Anaheim.

It's getting to those shorter queues that's the trick, though. While the data might suggest that Disneyland is less crowded than Disney World, you're going to feel much more crowded inside the park at Disneyland than you will visiting Disney on the east coast. That's especially true if you are rolling in an ECV or with a bulky stroller. Navigating the Disneyland Resort with those this week can feel darned near impossible.

So here is my suggestion for a family considering spending next Christmas week at Disney: If any of you need a wheeled conveyance or you carry bulky diaper bags or backpacks, you likely will feel more comfortable at the Walt Disney World Resort, which will have the physical space to better accommodate your needs than Disneyland will. Yes, you will need to work your Fastpass+ reservations well in advance and get on the app to try to book extra reservation times to minimize waits, but that's the added cost of visiting Disney during the holidays.

But if you all can walk through the parks and travel lightly, consider Disneyland instead of Disney World and squeeze through the best you can. Spring for the Maxpass upgrade and get into the park at opening to manage the waits and not get caught out by a front gate closure. Consider bailing over to California Adventure between noon and 6pm, when Disneyland gets gridlocked, too.

And if you don't have kids or do have scheduling flexibility, enjoy all the same holiday decorations and most of the events by choosing to visit either Disney resort earlier in the season. Both resorts break out their Christmas overlays by mid-November, when crowds are a fraction of what you will encounter this week.

More advice:

Replies (12)

December 28, 2017 at 9:49 PM · I voted Disney World. Having the Disneyland Parks right next to each other causes the areas outside the parks to get massively congested, especially the local roads.
December 28, 2017 at 10:50 PM · Strong point. But I do love being able to park the car once, forget about it and walk everywhere on a theme park visit, too.
December 28, 2017 at 11:49 PM · Having done both (as an Orlando native and an annual Los Angeles visitor - I was at DL on Tuesday, in fact), I can tell you Disneyland is far, far preferable. Disney World in the Christmas to New Year's week is so crowded on the property roadways that it's nearly impossible to go anywhere. The parks are packed to the brim and unless you're a whiz with FP+ you're not going on anything. Disneyland really wasn't bad at all this week, especially considering MaxPass now offers the ability to essentially game the FP system all day long. We managed well north of 20 rides in a full day with considerable breaks, taking advantage of MaxPass and the ample and underused single rider lines. If you can only go to one for the holidays, definitely pick Anaheim!
December 29, 2017 at 2:44 AM · Florida native here and been to both at well, and yes, James, I agree it is convenient to have access to the parking area that covers both parks, but on the day we were there, the parking lots were full and we had to park a great distance from the parks and take the tram over to Disneyland. My biggest complaint was the security lines were a nightwear at Disneyland. It took a soled 45 min. to get past that point. Disneyland is smaller and almost impossible to navigate when there are so many people compared to MK. I much rater go to MK anytime, but I was impressed with CA. Loved it there.
December 29, 2017 at 7:10 AM · Disney World for the simple fact is that there is more rides and space. We are talking about 4 parks vs 2 parks.

I find Disneyland sometimes claustrophobic in places. It is part of the charm, but the crowd control is sometimes insane. Disney World has it down to a science!

Not to mention that Disneyland is just outside of the second largest city in the US.

December 29, 2017 at 7:56 AM · Disney World has turned into a "once in a lifetime" experience for a big chnunk of the planet. Waiting 180 minutes for Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios is bad, but it kills me to get to the front of the queue and see the bored expressions on the faces of international visitors exiting the ride, especially the older men.
December 29, 2017 at 7:57 AM · Disney World for the simple fact is that there is more rides and space. We are talking about 4 parks vs 2 parks.

With everything under construction/renovation, Disney World is effectively 2 3/4 parks right now.

December 29, 2017 at 11:48 AM · They are both too crowded. Stay home!
December 29, 2017 at 12:20 PM · I voted Disneyland because Disney World just seems so overwhelming with all of the chooses and the larger crowd they can pack into the parks. Also I think the walk-up service food choices are better at Disneyland. We really choose to go to Disney well before the Christmas break starts (my birthday is conveniently in mid-November), so it's been a while since we have even gone to a Disney park in the last week of the year. We really do miss a time when Disneyland did a "private party" for New Years Eve. It was great - limited admission attendance, all of the attractions and food locations open, at least 2 shows at all of the show venues and finely midnight fireworks no matter what the weather; one year it is pouring buckets of rain and they still had the fireworks show. And when I say buckets of rain, on Main Street it was running curb to curb with water. What Fun that night was!!
December 29, 2017 at 12:46 PM · This seems like comparing an orange to a Watermelon. DW covers a LOT more than just the MK. Crowds cover the kingdom, and the surrounding area. Everyone that I know who has been to both WDW and DL will tell you that they enjoyed DWD a lot more. The variety is the selling point. Park your car? Why? I start at The Orlando Airport (MCO) and from there, I may as well be in WDW. No car is needed.
December 29, 2017 at 6:34 PM · Agree with George "....like comparing an orange to a Watermelon."
December 29, 2017 at 9:33 PM · Maybe I'm spoiled by having WDW so close, but I actually prefer the DL park to any of the four WDW parks. It has that "original" feel and there's just so much more to do in a compact space. I like the cozy feel of it. The "cloned" attractions are also generally better - I massively prefer DL's Pirates, Space Mountain, BTMR, Test Track-style ride, rapids ride, Indiana Jones-style ride, and small world, while WDW's only real "far superior" attraction is their Splash Mountain, with the rest (Haunted Mansion, Fantasyland coaster, the direct clones) being about equal. If I only have 2-3 days, I'm going DL over WDW, but obviously you'd do WDW if you have more time.

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