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What is the difference between Disneyland and Disney World? If you’re planning a Disney vacation for your family, you’ve probably asked yourself this question a time or two. If you’re an avid fan of one or the other, you’ve probably asked yourself this question when deciding if it’s worth it to make the trip to the other resort. The answer to the question of Disneyland vs Disney World comes down to two big things: personal preference and time. But here are 10 big differences between the two to help you make the decision.
Disney World consists of four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. These are part of the greater Disney World Resort. The Disney World Resort also includes Disney Springs, Disney’s BoardWalk, two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), and over 25 Disney World Resort hotels and campgrounds. ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and four golf courses complete the property. All of this sits on over 40 square miles of land near Orlando, Florida. When I refer to Disney World in this post, I’m referring to the resort in its entirety.
Disneyland consists of two theme parks: Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. Together, these are part of the Disneyland Resort which also consists of Downtown Disney and three hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. The Disneyland Resorts only occupies about 500 acres in Anaheim, California. When I refer to Disneyland in this post, I’m referring to the resort in its entirety or the Disneyland park itself.
When considering Disneyland vs Disney World, it’s important to note that Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are similar theme parks. Disney World’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s California Adventure are also very similar.
Disney World easily wins the battle of size. As you can see from the sheer number of parks, shopping areas, and hotels, the Disney World resort is significantly larger than the Disneyland Resort. Yes, more space means more to see, but it also means more SPACE. Walkways seem wider which means crowds seem smaller. That means less strollers running into the back of your legs. It also means you can easily maneuver your stroller around people who stop in the middle of walkways aka people who should be banned from theme parks for life.
Before I break down ticket details, let’s talk about park hopper tickets. Park hopper tickets allow admission into more than one theme park per day. They are significantly more expensive at both Disneyland Resort and Disney World Resort. But they really aren’t necessary at Disney World. There is so much to see in each park and there is such a great distance between parks, that seeing two parks in one day is ambitious. Perhaps, overly so. Although park hopper tickets also aren’t necessary at Disneyland, the parks at Disneyland are much closer together. They share an entry plaza which means you don’t have to get in a car, bus, tram, monorail, or ferry boat or go through security screening again to switch between parks. This makes park hopping much easier at Disneyland.
Tickets for a single day, single park at Disneyland Resort range from $97-$135 depending on the day of the week and season. Tickets for multiple days range from $64-$105 per day. The more days on your ticket, the cheaper the per day cost of entry.
Single day, single park tickets at Disney World Resort range from $102-$122 depending on the day of the week and season. Prices for multiple day tickets range from about $45-$105 per day depending on the number of days. Again, the more days on your ticket, the cheaper the per day cost of entry. At Disney World, you also pay a premium for Magic Kingdom tickets where single day tickets start at $109 rather than $102 for value tickets.
Both parks offer military discounts and discounts for locals. Florida residents receive discounts at Disney World and Southern California residents receive discounts at Disneyland. Both resorts also offer annual passports for their respective parks and the mother of annual passports which includes both Disneyland and Disney World. (Someday, Disney Premier Passport. Someday.)
Disneyland has a slight edge over Disney World when it comes to ticket prices. That’s based on the cheapest single day ticket alone. But you can also see all of Disneyland in fewer days which means spending less on tickets.
Look, I’ve lived in California my whole life. I’m obviously incredibly biased in this category. But you cannot argue with stats. Average highs at Disneyland range from 70 degrees Fahrenheit in December to 87 degrees Fahrenheit in August. Lows range from 47 and 65 degrees and Anaheim experiences very little rainfall throughout the year. Ask a Californian what a heat index is, and they probably won’t know the answer. Yes, I avoid Disneyland anytime the forecast is above 80 degrees because a lot of the queues are outside. However, those temperatures are not very common outside of the summer months.
Average highs at Disney World range from 90 degrees Fahrenheit in July to 71 degrees in January. Low range from 52 and 75 degrees, but Orlando receives significant rainfall all year round. (There’s a reason ponchos are on everyone’s Disney World packing list!) With humidity, the heat index can easily push those numbers 10 degrees higher into what I like to call the “OMG, Please Kill Me” range. Although more of the queues at Disney World are inside or shaded, the humidity makes those small enclosed spaces unbearable. I was at Disney World in January on an 80-degree day and felt claustrophobic in certain queues.
In this Californian’s opinion, Disneyland obviously wins the weather category.
If you ask me which is better, California or Florida, of course, I’m going to say California. But honestly, both Disneyland and Disney World are easy to get to and both areas offer a lot of non-Disney options nearby.
The closest major airport to Disneyland is the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It’s about 35 miles north of Disneyland. However, Los Angeles has the worst traffic in the country so that drive can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half or more depending on traffic. All major airlines fly to LAX so there are lots of options for air travel. In my opinion, travel to and from LAX is a nightmare and the food and dining options past security aren’t very good.
The Orlando International Airport (MCO) is closest to Disney World. It’s about 25 miles east of Disney World. That drive only takes about 30 minutes. Again, all major airlines fly to MCO, so you’ve got a lot of options. Compared to LAX, getting to and from MCO is a breeze. They also have Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld stores before security for last minute gifts and large food courts both before and after security. I’d much rather spend a few hours at MCO than LAX.
Regardless of which destination you choose, make sure to read my tips on using points and miles for a Disney vacation.
In terms of non-Disney activities, both Los Angeles/Orange County and Orlando offer a lot of options. I’m not going to extol the virtues of Los Angeles and Orange County, but there is an endless amount of activity to be found from museums to beaches and everything in between. Orlando has those things too, but they also have alligators and mosquitoes. And humidity.
My completely biased opinion is that Disneyland is in a better location. But that has more to do with its proximity to my home than anything else. If you’re flying and then driving to the parks, Disney World wins in terms of ease and lack of frustration.
5. One Weekend vs One Week (Or More)
Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure can easily be seen in one weekend. You can certainly see everything in a three-day weekend. Keep in mind though that three-day weekends are always busy at Disneyland Resort. When planning your vacation, check school schedules for both Los Angeles County and Orange County school districts.
It takes a lot more than a long weekend to see everything at Disney World. It probably takes more than a week. Disney World is more of a destination than just a theme park getaway. If you focus on one or two parks, you can see a lot of Disney World over the course of a weekend. But most people will want to wait to visit Disney World until they have time to see everything.
This may be the deciding factor in the debate between Disneyland vs Disney World. If you have more vacation time, go to Disney World. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, go to Disneyland.
Planning a Disneyland vacation involves only a few choices that must be made in advance: how many days, which of the two parks to visit, where to stay, and where to eat. Most of these decisions can be made last minute. That’s how Southern California residents do it. You can make dining reservations at Disneyland up to 60 days in advance at select restaurants.
At Disneyland, FastPass selections are made once you’re inside the parks. In fact, you cannot reserve a FastPass until a park ticket has been activated upon entry. This means mom or dad can’t leave the kids sleeping in the hotel to go get FastPasses. Everyone must have entered the park first. Now, you can use MaxPass to reserve FastPasses on your phone, but again, park tickets must be activated upon entry first.
Disney World requires a lot of advanced planning. It also requires deciding how many days, where to stay, and where to eat, but you must choose between the four theme parks and two water parks. Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance and they fill up quickly. If you stay at a Disney World Resort hotel, you can make dining reservations 180 days in advance and for the following 10 days. Dining reservations open at 6am Eastern Time.
At Disney World, you can make FastPass+ reservations in advance. These reservations can be made 60 days in advance if you stay at a Disney World Resort hotel. Otherwise, these reservations are made 30 days in advance. FastPass+ reservations can be made at 7am Eastern Time.
I think Disney World wins when it comes to planning. I like making dining and FastPass+ reservations in advance. It makes it easier to ensure that you can see and do all the things you want to do. But there’s something to be said for the spontaneity of a Disneyland trip that requires no advanced planning.
At Disneyland, cast members are sticklers for the rules. If your toe is touching the yellow line at a tram stop, you’ll be the target of a loudspeaker announcement. If you’re running to catch the tram, it will leave without you. I’ve also experienced more standoffish and abrupt cast members at Disneyland compared to Disney World. Although, that’s not very common.
At Disney World, cast members are more relaxed. Tram drivers will wait if they see you running even if they’ve made their final boarding announcement. I’d describe the atmosphere at Disney World as more relaxed in general. This probably goes back to my point about needing more time to see everything. If you have planned an extended trip, you’re in less of a rush and that attitude spills over to the people around you including cast members. We experienced a lot more Disney magic from cast members at Disney World.
As with all things, your attitude influences your atmosphere, but I think Disney World wins in terms of nicer, more relaxed, and more accommodating cast members.
I’m just going to say it. Disneyland is a pain. My biggest pet peeve about Disneyland is parking. Either you park at the parking garage and take a tram to the parks or you park in the parking lot and take a bus. Both require you to fold your stroller and it’s nearly impossible to walk to your car. I don’t like to keep track of paper tickets and paper FastPasses. Although MaxPass has alleviated some of this problem, you still need to keep your paper ticket on you. This probably isn’t a big deal for pin traders who wear lanyards, but I’m not one of them. The lack of space also means firework/parade viewing areas are smaller, and they are usually standing room only. That’s very inconvenient at the end of a long day. However, because the parks are smaller, overall there is less walking at Disneyland compared to Disney World.
But Disney World is easy. I love magic bands that keep track of your ticket, FastPasses, and photos all in one wearable decide. Also, except for Magic Kingdom, parking is more convenient at Disney World. Parking lots at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios are located right outside the parks. You can easily walk straight to your car. (Yes, you do have to fold your stroller if you choose to take the tram.) And even though you must go through the ticket and transportation center to access Magic Kingdom, you don’t have to fold your stroller on the ferry boat or the monorail to the park. Look, I make a lot of decisions based on whether I have to fold a stroller.
Even though it’s bigger, I find Disney World to be more convenient. It’s easier to drive to the parks. It’s easier to park. And it’s easier to keep track of your park necessities.
There are over 25 rides that exist at both Disneyland and Disney World. Some rides have the same names at each park like Astro Orbiters, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Enchanted Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion, It’s a Bug’s Life, It’s a Small World, Jungle Cruise, Mad Tea Party, Monorail, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Railroad, Soarin’ Around the World, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Star Tours, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tom Sawyer Island, Toy Story (Midway) Mania!, Turtle Talk with Crush, and others.
There are also many rides that feature the same mechanics at both Disneyland (DL) and Disney World (WDW) but with different names or theming. These include Autopia (DL) and Tomorrowland Speedway (WDW), Grizzly River Run (DL) and Kali River Rapids (WDW), Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout (DL) and Tower of Terror (WDW), Indiana Jones Adventure (DL) and DINOSAUR (WDW), King Arthur Carrousel (DL) and Prince Charming Regal Carrousel (WDW), The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Under the Sea Adventure (DL) and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, Mark Twain River Boat (DL) and Liberty Bell River Boat (WDW), Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (DL) and Cinderella’s Castle (WDW), and Tarzan’s Treehouse (DL) and Swiss Family Treehouse (WDW).
As I previously mentioned, most of the attractions from Disneyland can be found in the Magic Kingdom except for some Disneyland classics like Matterhorn Bobsleds, certain Fantasyland attractions, and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. (Ok, the Nemo theme isn’t classic, but the submarines will always be classic to me.)
Disney’s California Adventure has Cars Land which cannot be found anywhere at Disney World. Both California Adventure and Hollywood Studios are getting Pixar areas. However, California Adventure is just retheming the Paradise Pier area whereas Hollywood Studios is getting a new land complete with slinky dog roller coaster. As mentioned above, Hollywood Studios still has Tower of Terror which is worth a visit for nostalgia alone.
Due to the size difference, there are numerous areas and attractions at Disney World that have no counterpart at Disneyland. The newest area is Pandora in Animal Kingdom. Flight of Passage is one of the best rides in any of these parks and it only exists in Animal Kingdom.
Disney World has a significant advantage over Disneyland in terms of live action shows, character experiences, live entertainment, fireworks, and nighttime spectaculars. Disney World has live action shows like Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios and Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – The Musical at Animal Kingdom.
Each Disney World park has its own firework/nighttime spectacular. Some are better than others. Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom is fantastic whereas IllumiNations at Epcot is terrible. The fireworks and castle show at Disney World are longer than at Disneyland. Rivers of Light uses similar effects as World of Color at California Adventure, but Rivers of Light isn’t nearly as sad. (Yes, I cry every time I watch World of Color.) Fantasmic occurs at both Hollywood Studios and Disneyland. I haven’t watched either show since it was recently updated, but my understanding is that they are very similar.
In this category, I think Disney World takes the cake. Again, this is largely due to size because there are just so many more rides and shows.
10. Food and Drinks
There are more than enough options at both Disney World and Disneyland to keep anyone fat and happy. My favorite Disneyland treat is hand dipped corn dogs. Despite reports otherwise, you can find these treats at Sleepy Hollow in the Magic Kingdom. Whether you love churros, Dole whip, mickey bars, or turkey legs, you’ll find them at both resorts.
The biggest difference between the two resorts is alcohol. At all Disney World parks, you can buy alcohol at most food locations. It’s even appropriate to wear drinking shirts to Epcot because it has its own drinking game: Drink Around the World. You can even get rum in your Dole whip at Tamu Tamu Refreshments in Animal Kingdom.
For me, it’s a sign of respect that Disney World believes adults can consume alcohol responsibly. By comparison, Disneyland restricts alcohol to a few locations in California Adventure. This is just another example of the more relaxed atmosphere at Disney World.
While food is a toss-up, Disney World wins in the drinking category.
Final Thoughts on Disneyland vs Disney World
Look, it’s hard for me to say and they might kick me out of California for it, but Disney World is the winner. Don’t get me wrong, Disneyland is awesome. It’s great for a weekend getaway or even just a day. It will always have a place in my heart and I’ll probably visit Disneyland more in my life than I ever will Disney World. However, overall Disney World has more of everything. More rides, more shows, and more magic!