I hesitated immediately when writing the title of Disneyland vs. Disney World because I truly believe, first and foremost, that Disneyland and Disney World are two vastly different and largely incomparable experiences. Unfortunately, nobody is searching Google for how Disney World and Disneyland are different but largely that will be the bulk of this article in all honesty (so we’re making that title work lol).
You see, I had this goal that started in the spring of last year to find some way to get out to Disneyland. Traveling from Kentucky, air travel costs were largely prohibitive and often increased costs astronomically for our typical 4 guest travel group when in comparison to an hour and half (or so) direct flight to Orlando. Nonetheless, I put a metaphorical date on the calendar and told myself I’d find a way out to the west coast.
Thankfully, through a series of shocking events that have been a huge blessing over the last year, the opportunity arose to head west with a few awesome friends (Jason of Here With The Magic and Carlos of Ponto Orlando). Plus, now you get this Disneyland vs. Disney World article as a bonus! Even better, you could have followed the journey in near real time with us over on Instagram (@Guide4WDW).
When I went, I had full intentions of comparing these two parks from an experiential standpoint but as you traverse the parks you quickly realize that these are largely two very different entities and that’s a wonderful reality. So much for my Disneyland vs. Disney World title… but hang in there with me!
These Have to Be Considered Two Different Groups: Disneyland (West Coast) and Disney World (East Coast)
These two separate entities of WDW (all 4 parks) and Disneyland (coupled with Disney’s California Adventure) largely have to viewed as entirely different. Sure, Magic Kingdom and Disneyland park are very, very, similar in layout and the array of attractions, but they are also incredibly different. Truthfully, that’s the best way I can explain it.
To be a little less vague, here’s how I would describe it. Disneyland and the west coast parks as a whole, in so many ways, feel incredibly familiar, but also incredibly confusing. So much so that you walk into a land and think you know where you are but quickly realize you are no where near where you thought you were. Assuming that makes any sense at all.
For example sake, let’s look at Fantasyland. Sure, the carousel is in the same spot, the dark rides line both the left and right side after walking through the castle, but if you go right you find Mr. Toad’s wild ride where you’d find the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Disney World. However, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Disneyland is in Critter Country, an entirely different section of the park.
In many ways, that’s the story of the whole experience. It’s not a bad thing, but it does feel at times to the Disney World guest as if everything in Disneyland is somewhat out of place. Of course, that’s even more magnified when you’ve been touring Disney World for 20 years. You might want to keep that perspective (my perspective) in mind when traversing this Disneyland vs. Disney World article).
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Size
It’s been said that 51 Disneyland’s could fit in one Walt Disney World. Whether that’s 100% true or not is a different story. Nonetheless, it certainly shows up from an experiential standpoint. It’s not a negative aspect at all and in reality I actually quite prefer the size of Disneyland over the size of Disney World on a park by park basis.
Disneyland park is undoubtedly smaller than Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, but the attraction count isn’t all that different. Ultimately, at the end of the day you notice a huge difference in your energy level when you’re not having to walk as far on a daily basis.
Attraction Size Comparison: The Part Nobody Ever Explained to Me
The odd part about this to me and the part that isn’t always communicated is that the physical attractions in Disneyland tend to be shorter and more compact. Again, that’s not a bad thing. Actually, I tend to prefer it. But let me explain.
Since we were taking about Fantasyland above, why not continue with a Fantasyland example here using Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. The attraction is great and there really is no equivalent at WDW, but the attraction queue is only about 3 turns in length. The queue itself is so tight that two adults will have a hard time standing next to each other to talk and pass the time. That’s not being nit picky because I have no issue with it at all but it is something to note.
Another oddity is that many attractions at Disneyland can be operated by a single individual. In fact, a lot of the dark rides still operate that way today. In many cases there are no loading gates, and sometimes you just step on the attraction when the cast member tells you to. It’s a bazar reality compared to Disney World and I kind of like it.
Of course, the bigger and newer attractions like Thunder Mountain are an exception to that and so is Disney California Adventure for that matter. Either way, it is interesting to note. Oddly enough, California Adventure feels like it would be an easier fit for Disney World than Disneyland park would be. I know that sounds strange but the park is very reminiscent of Hollywood Studios.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Cost
I’m sticking this category of comparison early on in my Disneyland vs. Disney World analysis because I believe it’s a common misconception. Many guests assume California is going to be inherently more expensive than Orlando when it comes to the cost equation. Truthfully, that’s not the reality you face when trying to compare the two.
Food prices are quite similar, ticket prices overall actually tend to be less expensive (you’ll typically be buying fewer park days), and ultimately the array of resorts around Disneyland within walking distance can make it a bit more affordable than Disney World. That is assuming you can find an affordable flight ticket or can drive to the park. That will all depend on where you live.
Another oddity to mention in this section is the fact that quick service dining offerings are far better than those at Walt Disney World in my opinion. Plus, there’s a far larger variety of food offerings at the west coast parks on a park by park basis (with the exception of Epcot in World). Part of that is obviously going to be opinion based, but when I can walk less than 200 yards in Disneyland and find 3-5 different locations and they’re all serving different food, there’s something to be said for that.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Weather
When it comes to weather and weather conditions on the two coasts, 90 times out of 100 the west coast is going to have better weather. It’s more consistent, it’s typically not nearly as hot, and in the long run it’s often very very dry. Florida, in comparison (as many of you already know) can be quite the opposite and tends to be rainy in the summer months, very hot, and incredibly humid. Personally, I do tend to prefer the humidity in some cases. especially in early spring when there’s still a nice breeze in the air on certain Florida days.
However, most guests will vastly prefer the weather of Disneyland. Oddly enough, even the sky tends to give the park a different feel in Disneyland and part of that is weather related. Part of it is also air quality related, but Disneyland adapts for it with a different color pattern on Main Street and to me it seems different in other areas of the park as well.
In a true, straight up, comparison of Disneyland vs. Disney World this is probably the closest topic to a real comparison you’ll find on this list.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Resorts
There’s no doubt in my mind that Disney World would win in the realm of resorts if this were a competition of Disneyland vs. Disney World but it’s not and it shouldn’t be because we’re comparing apples to oranges. Disney World is a growing resort empire of over 25 resorts in all different price ranges before you even get to the non-Disney owned resorts in the area.
Disneyland simply offers three resorts and only one of which is worth the price in my opinion. The Grand Californian. It’s an incredible resort but for nearly twice the price of local area hotels from Hilton, Marriott, and other chains within walking distance of the parks, it’s hard to recommend ponying up the extra money to stay on Disney property in California.
You’ll never hear me say that about Walt Disney World. Even the wonderful Double Tree near Disney Springs of WDW you’ll rarely see me recommend over any Disney World resort. Disneyland is a whole different story because of the sheer convenience of the off property hotel options. If nothing else, it’s something to think about in a big way before paying the extra money to stay at one of Disneyland’s own resorts. No matter how nice they are.
Personally, I stayed at the Hilton Anaheim (which I’ll review soon), and it was budget friendly and quite nice. It’s even the hotel that is closest to the conference center where the D23 expo is held.
Ending It On A Historical and Nostalgic Note
In the end, it’s not a comparison of Disneyland vs. Disney World. Instead, it’s a tale of two theme park destinations. Disneyland is never going to be the scale of what Disney World is and that was the full intention from the very beginning. In the same way, Disney World will never have the historic charm of Disneyland. It just doesn’t work that way.
When you walk in Disneyland it’s a different feel, it’s a different sensory experience of walking through an actual turnstile, and even the sounds of the experience are different. The grand, open area between the two parks, the ticket booths and Downtown Disney steps away, and ultimately everything as a whole is just different. It’s very familiar but it is also very different. Comparing the two on a park by park basis truly isn’t fair.
In the grand scheme of things I’ll always be partial to Walt Disney World. My answer to those of you who ask why is pretty simple. It’s not about the attractions, the resorts, or even the sheer size of Disney World compared to Disneyland, but rather the memories of touring the WDW parks with family for years on end. No matter what’s offered in a park, I truly believe that’s all that really matters at the end of the day. That, my friends, is what I will always stick to. It truly is what matters at the end of the day. Those moments you spend with the people you care the most about.
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
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Last but certainly not least, if you’re starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2019. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2019 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2019 are a great place to begin!
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