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Which Is Better: Disneyland Or Disney World?


Heading to Disneyland this fall, I expected it to be a re-do of our Walt Disney World vacation three years ago. But the parks are more different than I expected, and I actually like the original better because of its smaller size and classic feel.

A lot of parents wonder how the parks compare and want to know which is “better.” I thought I would point out the biggest differences for me to help other parents decide which Disney resort is best for their family and most worth the ample budget it costs to visit. Here’s how they compare:

For more on Disney Resorts, check out Southern California at Glance and  Disney World at a Glance.

6 Ways Disneyland and Disney World Are Different

Size

Disney World is its own metropolis. Its 43 square miles holds four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, multiple golf courses, nearly 150 restaurants and more than 35 hotels. You go in knowing you can’t see it all and the constant array of choices can make planning even a short trip seem epic.

The Anaheim park is far smaller and exceedingly manageable. The Disneyland and California Adventure parks face each other across a plaza right next to Downtown Disney. With a 3-day hopper ticket from CityPass* we did everything we wanted to at a leisurely pace and revisited our favorite things a few times.

Rides

Walt Disney World tea party

Disneyland tea partyI really like Animal Kingdom, Epcot and California Adventure; I think they are unique and interesting parks. But when it comes to choosing between the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland, the West Coast wins hands down.

We love the classic movie-themed rides and Disneyland has more of them, including several originals (Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Alice’s in Wonderland, Mr. Toad). And at nearly 8, Tiny Traveler still likes aptly named Toon Town (above), especially checking out Mickey, Minnie’s and Goofy’s houses.

Mr. Toad's Wild RideAnd the crowds seem far more manageable in Anaheim (though I’m sure it has its peak days).

The trade-off is fewer Disneyland rides have room for a FastPass entrance. Nothing in Fantasyland offers FastPass, for example. So there is no way around the wait for rides like Peter Pan or the Matterhorn, which always have one.

Anaheim still uses the physical FastPass tickets, which I actually like. You can’t plan ahead and so don’t worry about it.

To Hop or Not to Hop

While a hopper ticket gives you flexibility in Orlando, skipping it and focusing on one park a day is a reasonable strategy given how spread out things are.

In Anaheim you really can “hop” between the parks all day long to use FastPasses, dine and time the lines in both places.

Note: With or without the hopper, Disneyland’s tickets are less expensive than Disney World’s.

Dining

The dining standout for me in Orlando is Epcot. Each country runs the restaurants in its respective pavilion and the food is authentic and impressively good. The higher end hotels have unique restaurants, too, like the South African Jiku at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen at DisneylandDisneyland has fewer and less exotic options, but we didn’t have a bad meal. The PCH Grille buffet at Paradise Pier appeals to kids without leaving out the adults. And I liked the West-Coast cuisine at Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure.

Disneyland has only one character-dining option in each park and each hotel. They all have breakfast; some have lunch and dinner.

Ariel’s grotto is the place for princesses. Goofy’s kitchen (left) is colorful and fun; parents will most appreciate the Storytellers Café. Orlando has more than three times as many options, including dinner at Cinderella’s castle.

Despite having fewer options, I get the sense that choosing and booking these meals in Anaheim can be easier.

Hotels

Disney World has more than more than 25 Disney hotels and a very posh campground. No matter you’re budget you can find a way to stay on property if that’s important to you.

The off-property hotels are further away in Orlando. If you don’t have a car you’ll be spending a lot of money on cabs, or time waiting on shuttles. So if you are only doing Disney World on your Orlando visit, staying on property makes a lot of sense.

Disneyland has only three Disney hotels. All have nice pools with waterslides, good dining options and Magic Hours at the parks. They don’t offer the free airport shuttle Orlando does and there is no “value” option like Orlando’s All-Star hotels.

the magical disneyland hotelThe classic Disneyland Hotel is a celebration of Walt and his park. Beach-themed Paradise Pier is the most casual. The Grand Californian is the most luxurious and connects directly to California Adventure.

Here is the thing that’s unexpected and quirky. A bunch of smart hoteliers bought plots of land around the park when it first opened and Disney has never been able to buy this land. So you can stay at a Best Western or Fairfield Inn and be directly across the street from the parks, possibly closer to the entrance than guests at the Disney hotels.

The caveat is that they are all fairly small budget hotels; several are local and very retro. And they are some of the pricier budget hotels you’ll ever book. If you want bigger, more upscale options like a Hyatt or Wyndham you’ll be further away.

Getting Around

Orlando has an impressive network of buses, boats and monorails to get you around the resort. It can take some time but allowed us to save our walking for the parks.

While Disneyland is compact and walk-able, we pretty much had to walk everywhere and it gets tiring. The monorail is limited, doesn’t stop in the hotels (it goes to Downtown Disney) and closes if it gets too hot (when we really wanted a break from walking).

There are for-fee public shuttles between the non-Disney hotels and the parks, but no hotel within a certain distance can have its own shuttle. So plan on doing a circuit to and from the park.

Vibe

Buena Vist street at California Adventure ParkThe Anaheim park felt very connected to its southern California locale while WDW felt like world apart to me.

The Disneyland Hotel lobby has a beautiful wall map of the original park and California Adventure’s Buena Vista Street (left) resembles southern California in the 1920s, when Walt arrived. The park evokes its own history and I liked that.

On balance, Orlando is probably the better bet with a big group, especially if you’re trying to accommodate lots of ages and interests. And it’s more accessible to East Coast families, of course.

Disneyland was more manageable and relaxing for us because of it smaller size, fewer crowds and less overwhelming options.

Which park do you prefer and why?

 

Planning a trip?
Check reviews and rates for hotels and activities near Disneyland and Disney World on *Trip Advisor. 

Find the lowest hotel rates across booking sites with *HotelsCombined.
Use *GoCard Los Angeles or GoCard Orlando to save up to 50% on your choice of more than 30 attractions in each city.

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Disney world vs Disneyland, how do they compare? Which is better for your family? We compare rides, hotels, character meals and more. #disneyland #disneyworld #compare #howaretheydifferent? #whatage?

*CityPass provided us with tickets for this visit. We did not promise coverage in exchange and our opinions are always our own.

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16 Comments

  1. November 23, 2015 at 7:41 am — Reply

    Hi,

    I love both Disney Parks. Disneyland has a local feel and you can literally walk from your Disneyland resort to both parks in just a few minutes.

    Walt Disney World offers four main theme parks and so much that you could spend easily a full week+ there and still not see it all.

  2. November 7, 2015 at 11:03 pm — Reply

    We’ve been to both one time each – and I think I preferred the more intimate and classic feel of Anaheim. But I loved Orlando overall as a destination. So a vote each way! (Came via #TheWeeklyPostcard)

  3. November 7, 2015 at 3:00 pm — Reply

    I thought Orlando was far superior to Anaheim and Paris. Could be it was my very first time at the parks 🙂 Was in Hong Kong, but didn’t stop by.

  4. November 3, 2015 at 6:07 am — Reply

    As I used to live in California, we have been to Disneyland many times. I have only been to Disney World once (according to my sister), so long ago that I don’t remember it at all. I like the personal touch of this post.

  5. October 31, 2015 at 8:33 pm — Reply

    We haven’t been to either park, but many Australian families head straight to Disneyland (probably because it is closer to us than Disney World is). We had an opportunity to go to Disneyland Paris this year but passed- we’d much rather experience the “real thing” in Anaheim someday. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • November 3, 2015 at 7:18 pm — Reply

      the week we were there was apparently a school break Down Under. We heard a lot of Australian and New Zealand accents.

  6. October 31, 2015 at 7:50 am — Reply

    I’ve only ever been to Disney World and found it overwhelming. I’m thinking I would like DisneyLand more. I had no idea it was so much smaller – makes a big difference when you have tired little children with you.

  7. October 31, 2015 at 2:28 am — Reply

    The last time I went to Disney was two years ago, but I think it’s fun no matter how old you are!

    • November 3, 2015 at 7:20 pm — Reply

      in some ways it’s probably more fun without a kid. you probably didn’t ride on It’s a Small World 6 times. And you were probably allowed to go on Space Mountain if you wanted. 🙂

  8. October 31, 2015 at 1:12 am — Reply

    Nice comparison and a great guide to these places…

  9. October 30, 2015 at 11:05 pm — Reply

    We both have Disney on the mind this week. I’ve been to both places tons of times and still enjoy myself. I think that Disneyland is less overwhelming and perhaps ideal for parents who want to give their kids the Disney experience but want to keep it relatively low-key. The Florida version is so huge now that you practically need an entire week to feel like you fully explored it. I agree that Orlando is the better choice for big, multi-generation groups.

  10. October 30, 2015 at 10:36 pm — Reply

    Very interesting comparison. It appears that DisneyWorld have better accommodation options. but Disneyland has the better feel.

  11. October 30, 2015 at 7:49 pm — Reply

    Great guide! I’ve often wondered this myself. I’ll be going back to Disneyland with my 4 yr old next year, and saving Disney World till she’s several years older.

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