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Which is better – Disneyland or Walt Disney World? The answer to that truly depends on what you want from your Disney vacation experience. Read on to explore the differences and help answer this age-old Disneyland vs Disney World question!
For as long as the Disney parks have existed (Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California in 1955 and the Magic Kingdom opened at Disney World in Orlando, Florida in 1971) the question has been asked: Which is better?
People often ask why I would fly across the country to go to Disney World when Disneyland is only an hour away from my house. And don’t you already go to Disneyland all the time? Is Disney World really that much better?
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My answer is always no; one is not definitively better than the other. They’re just…different. Let’s compare the various elements of a Disney vacation to help you decide which destination is right for you!
Does Size Matter?
If you are a “bigger is better” kind of person, Disney World without question takes the cake in this department!
While Disneyland has two theme parks – Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure park – Disney World has four! They are the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Walt Disney World also has two water parks, two miniature golf courses, and the ESPN Sports Zone. There are nearly three dozen Disney resort hotels on-property in Orlando, while the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim has three.
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Both have shopping and entertainment districts – Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort and Disney Springs at Disney World – but here again, Orlando wins as Disney Springs is significantly larger.
But with all this real estate comes considerable sprawl. And not only is bigger not always better…to some it can be downright overwhelming!
Everything at Disneyland is basically adjacent to one another and within walking distance. Disney World requires a network of buses, boats and monorails to get from one place to another. But there is a lot more to enjoy if you don’t mind the time.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Speaking of time, the question of which park is better greatly depends on how much time – aka how many days – you have to spend at the parks.
The advantage of Disneyland’s smaller size is that it is much easier to navigate. If you stay at a Disneyland resort hotel or at one of the Good Neighbor hotels walking distance to Disneyland, you can reasonably expect to hit all the high notes at both parks in 2-3 days.
Disney World is big. Like, really big. If you don’t give your family a minimum of 4-5 days, you’re going to leave feeling like you didn’t get to see everything you wanted. And that’s not even considering all the restaurants, shows, pool time and everything else WDW has to offer. Anything less than four days, even with the Park Hopper option, you’re going to have to seriously pick and choose what you can afford to skip!
Disneyland vs. Disney World – Resort Hotels
Walt Disney World makes it very easy to spend your entire vacation blissfully sealed in a magical Disney bubble. It’s a fully immersive experience. They will pick you up at the airport, whisk you straight to your hotel, give you more options for food and fun than you can ever possibly complete, and provide free and relatively convenient transportation throughout the entire 40+ square mile area.
Compared to Disney World, the bubble at Disneyland is relatively small and easy to pop. Even if you are splurging on a stay at one of the three on-property Disney resort hotels in Anaheim, reality is never far. I mean, you can literally see the nearby freeway and neighboring hotels from the top of Mickey’s Fun Wheel.
However, there is still something to be said for the convenience of the Disneyland resort hotels’ proximity to the parks. All three hotels – the Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel and the Grand Californian – are in walking distance. The Grand Californian even has an entrance directly into Disney California Adventure!
The three hotels all feature great pools, spacious rooms and lots of perks. They are also extremely pricey, with average nightly rates in the $400+ zone and often way higher.
In comparison, Disney World’s 30 or so hotels cover the gamut of styles and price ranges, with options falling into the categories of Value, Moderate and Deluxe.
Disney World also has several non-traditional resorts, including the campgrounds at Fort Wilderness and several DVC Disney Villa Resorts, which feature multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, gorgeous décor and often breathtaking views (is that a giraffe out my window?). There are also a number of non-Disney resorts on Disney World property, including the Swan and Dolphin resorts.
A value resort at Walt Disney World will save you money, but a deluxe resort delivers nicer pools and fancy dining options. And the Disney moderate resorts…they fall somewhere in the middle. So the key to choosing where to stay is figuring out what is most important to you (and your budget).
For more on Walt Disney World Resorts, read this article.
Disneyland vs. Disney World – Transportation
Disneyland’s more compact size makes it easy to walk between the parks, hotels and Downtown Disney. The entrance gates to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are literally across from each other and they share the ticket booths. If you stay at any of the three Disney hotels, you are in easy walking distance to the parks. You can also hop on the monorail in Downtown Disney and be transported directly into Tomorrowland inside the Disneyland park.
Disney World is much larger geographically and has more of everything (parks, hotels, golf, etc.) so, with a few exceptions, walking is not an option. All Disney hotels offer complimentary transportation to the parks and Disney Springs. Depending on where you stay, transportation may include buses, boats, the monorail or the Disney Skyliner, which is a new aerial gondola system connecting Epcot, Hollywood Studios and several hotels.
Disney World provides the added perk of free airport transportation to and from your Disney hotel via the Magical Express. Airport transfers are also available if you are flying into Los Angeles or Orange County in Southern California for a Disneyland vacation, but there is a fee.
TravelingMom Tip: Walt Disney World has announced it will be ending its Magical Express airport service at the end of 2021, but transportation will still be available for a fee.
Disneyland vs. Disney World – Rides & Entertainment
The Disneyland Resort has two parks and Walt Disney World has four, and each of those six theme parks is unique and magical. Obviously, there is more to do overall at Disney World, but that does not mean there is any shortage of fun to be had at Disneyland.
In fact, some people are surprised to learn that there are more rides per park in California. And, although they are not always in the same park/land or provide the exact same experience, Disneyland and Disney World share many of the same rides. Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones and the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge are a few examples.
There are also some fantastic rides, entertainment and experiences you can only have in one place. For example, Pandora Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest are 100% unique to Animal Kingdom at Disney World, while you won’t find Disney California Adventure’s Radiator Springs Racers and Cars Land anywhere else but on the west coast. Disney California Adventure park is also home to the new Avenger’s Campus.
Both Disney parks have a variety of shows and entertainment. While both have parades, nightly fireworks and shows like Fantasmic, each park has a variety of popular shows unique to their location. Keep in mind Disney World has twice the number of parks, so by default will have many more options to choose from.
The FastPass Situation
Surprisingly, Disneyland and Disney World handle their approach to the FastPass system very differently. When you book a vacation at Walt Disney World, you can use the Disney app to make your FastPass reservations up to 60 days in advance and they are locked in to your Magic Bands. If you need to change them, just go back to the app and make adjustments any time.
Disneyland FastPasses are available same-day only, and you need to go to the kiosks in the park to get one. If you want to use the Disney app you can, but again only on the day of your visit and it will cost $15 extra to get the MaxPass.
The good thing though – especially if you are a non-planner like me – is that you don’t have to worry about all the good time slots for a ride filling up weeks in advance. At Disneyland, everyone starts the day on a level playing field.
TravelingMom Tip: Due to Covid-19, FastPass services are currently paused. Check for availability when making your reservations.
Find out everything there is to know in this Complete Guide to MaxPass at Disneyland.
Disneyland vs. Disney World – Dining
Food is one place I will firmly state that Disney World rules. How could they not? With more than 30 resort hotels – many with numerous specialty restaurants and buffets – four theme parks and Disney Springs, Disney World is a foodie’s paradise. (And let’s not forget Epcot’s World Showcase with its amazing cuisine from all around the globe!)
But don’t worry, you are certainly not going to go hungry at the Disneyland Resort. Disneyland doesn’t have as many table service restaurants, but their many quick service restaurants are great and there are tons of unique places to grab a snack.
You’ll also have better luck making last minute reservations or simply walking in to a sit-down restaurant at the Disneyland Resort, since many people make their dining reservations months in advance for their Disney World vacation and availability is limited.
A favorite spot at the Disneyland Resort is Pixar Pier, where all the snack stands are themed around characters from favorite Disney Pixar movies!
There are also lots of opportunities to enjoy meals with Disney characters, including a character breakfast buffet at each of the three hotels.
Our favorite place to eat at Disney California Adventure is Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta. In addition to said pizza and pasta, they also have a nice selection of salads. At Disneyland, we love Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante in Frontierland for Mexican food.
Disneyland vs. Disney World – Which is Better?
So, which is better: Disneyland or Disney World? If you weigh all these factors, the answer should come to you. In many ways, asking if Disneyland or Disney World is better is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are both delicious, fresh and healthy; it really just depends on what kind of fruit you are in the mood for!